All Christmas trees are beautiful aren’t they? My wife, Sabrina, looked at the artificial Christmas tree and shuddered. “That thing’s been in my family forever. Why we haven’t thrown it out is beyond me. When I was a kid, I thought it was ugly, and I still think it’s ugly. I’ve despised it for years.”
But let me back up. How did we come to be looking at the ugly Christmas tree?
Over the last several Christmases, Sabrina and I have felt an emptiness. Not totally empty; just empty in an important place in our hearts: the Christmas place. Too much running, too many gifts for people who already have everything they really need, and even if they don’t, they can go buy it. For us, Christmas was becoming all wrapping, no present.
Sabrina felt we should try something different this year. We should adopt a family for Christmas. But who?
We called the Bradley Free Clinic and told them our dilemma. A family was chosen. The mother had captivated the folks at the clinic: her kids are well-cleaned, well-mannered, and well-churched. This single mom takes her kids every day after work at the YMCA to be sure the family spends lots of time together.
We were told the family had neither tree nor trim for the Yuletide. Okay. First things first. My son Ches and Sabrina went out and bought lights, ornaments, tinsel and such. Later we stood in our attic in front of the ugly Christmas tree.
Sabrina concluded, “Well, let’s take it along. If they don’t want it – and who could blame them? – we’ll just find them another.”
We three loaded the car and drove to the family’s home. In addition to her three adolescent kids, the mother was baby-sitting four others. Ches and I struggled the big tree box into the house and down into the sparsely furnished basement where it would be set up. The mother chose a dimly lit corner so the lights, once strung, would cast a more festive effect. The three of us began to assemble the dilapidated tree as the children stood silently by. No surprise. We were white strangers who had arrived in a car which probably cost as much as their house.
I set the first limb into its hooks.
A hesitant voice at my elbow asked, “Can I help?” One of her sons.
“Sure! Set the limb right there.” I turned to the other kids. “Fact is, we could use lots of help.”
What followed can only be described as a pandemonium of excitement. “Me!” “Me!” The children grabbed boughs, bulbs, garlands and ran towards the bare tree frame. That’s when my emptiness began to fill. I knelt down and showed them how to spread the branches out to fill in the tree’s appearance. Two little tikes scrambled under the tree and almost reverently arranged the tree-apron. One of them stood, backed off from the tree and said softly, “Man, that’s beautiful!”
Sabrina was quiet on the way home. At last she spoke. “He was right, you know. The tree was beautiful. I don’t know, it’s like it… bloomed.”
There is an old metaphor which bears here. Viewed from behind, the most artful tapestry is but a confusion of thread and colors clustered here and there to no identifiable purpose. Yet, from the front, the artist’s intention is made clear.
So it is that the disparate strands of unrelated lives are patiently braided by the Master’s hand, and of His wisdom, those strands take on a pattern no human could have foretold. A young mother of three, pressed hard by circumstance, determines that her children will be well-raised. She permits no claim and no excuse as deterrence. Her resolve is noted by folks at the Free Clinic.
Sabrina and I, our Christmases slowly drained of color and meaning, call the clinic, and of these isolated biographies a connection is made. A rock breaks the water and ripples are born. How far will the ripples spread? What will they touch, and to what effect? Sabrina’s family learned what we were doing; they want to help. For the young mother, what future influence? For her children, who is to say?
Therein lies the magic and the mystery.
Son Ches calls a friend later. “It was pretty cool.” His friend’s family used to adopt Christmas-families. Because of our story, they’re thinking of doing it again.
One thing is certain: for Sabrina and I, this Christmas will be unlike those of the recent past.
Finally, what effect on me? The mother kept saying to us, “Thank you for being a blessing. Thank you for being the blessing.” Well, in fact, she’s probably the one who’s conferring the blessing.
Blessings are complex. Perhaps a benefaction passed along increases many fold, thereby given wings. Perhaps a hoarded blessing is reduced by half. As we are given, so we must give that we may enter the heart of living.
Thus my gift, bestowed upon me in the silent wisdom of the ugly Christmas tree is this: I learn, once again, it is through giving that we receive; it is through helping others that we are helped.
– Lucky Garvin