November, 2003...the year of the fires; devastating the hillsides all around us and the adjoining counties. Ash darkened the sky and thickly coated our cars, smoke filled our lungs and activities were cancelled. There were many people loosing their homes. I was thankful that we did not live near the hills. That was the first two weeks of that month. At the end of the month, Thanksgiving would soon be here along with the beginning of the Holiday Season.
Decorating for Christmas was my time to shine. No sooner were the leftovers from Thanksgiving sealed up in their plastic containers and the silver put away, did those crates filled with extravagance for the holiday line the living room floor. After twenty-five years of marriage and twenty-three years in this house, there was not much I had thrown away and every year my collection seemed to expand. It was the most important month, and then this "stuff" would be packed back away, into hiding for eleven long months. There was the homemade Christmas decor from the early years and things the kids had made. Multitudes of Christmas attired stuffed animals turned the house into a menagerie. There were candles, bows, holly and angels. Of course the garland with pinecones and who could not forget St. Nick and all his entourage. The Nativity, was always significantly placed so no visitor would miss it. Usually no later than the tenth, the tree would arrive, the second round of decorating would begin, and there was never an ornament left in the box. I collected Hallmark ornaments, but with some control, only purchased those that showed some relationship to our family and our years activities. When the final ornament was in place, I was always amazed that everything just seemed to belong where it was placed, and it would stay until New Years Day.
The fires were other people’s tragedies. Until one morning, two days before Thanksgiving, other peoples' tragedies did become ours. Up in smoke and melted were many plastic boxes and crates of Christmas, stored in the garage. (The garage, two bedrooms, partial living room and my roof were gone too). I would later sift through the rubble to salvage a few items, amazed what little was barely recognizable.
Restoration was a long process, which involved many moves and many tears. God showed me through his merciful patience, that my priorities and relationship with Him was what really needed to be restored. Four years later, we faced another Christmas where what is in our heart becomes so much more significant than what we may see. We had lost our oldest son earlier in the year after a long battle with an illness. As the holidays approached, all that decorating now came down to a few salvaged and very few replaced items. None of it really seemed important except for one thing. How it survived...well, God only knows. It was a simple wooden sleigh cut-out, glued together in a cub scout meeting, then painted as an eight year old would do with holly and berries and a jute twine hanger. This was Christmas's most precious possession. My son's chunky-cheeked face in his scout uniform posed in front of a Christmas tree, framed with matting, singed on one side, the picture was glued to the front of the sled.We haven't had a real tree since Tim's passing. I have two tabletop Christmas trees and I decorate each with the kids' ornament collection over the years, so I guess you could say I have two "Charlie Brown" trees, but I call then a Timmy tree and a Corey Tree. Next to the sled is a poem my friend Becky gave me about celebrating Christmas in Heaven. Christmas will always be simpler now, and what better way to truly worship and focus on God's gift to us, both the tangible and the spiritual promise of eternal life.
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
2To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
4Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins,
They will raise up the former devastations;
And they will repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.