Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Christmas Tree Tales

Well, 2 tree tales and some pictures of the other one.

When we lived in Alaska and money was so tight, I was over-the-moon grateful for a woman who stopped by every month or so on her way to the food bank. She volunteered to pick up slightly outdated Nabisco products and deliver them to the food bank at our church. We only had one car, and that made getting to the food bank during business hours almost impossible. So every few weeks, this woman showed up on my doorstep with a few boxes of cookies or crackers. It probably didn't seem like much to her. But during that time, we had guests at the house several times a week, sometimes large groups of young adults coming for a small group meeting or just dropping by (we came home one day to find that friends had disarmed our four-legged security system and rearranged our living room for maximum movie viewing pleasure...both couches turned and one blocked up to create stadium seating) and the ability to offer them a little bit of tangible hospitality made me feel rich, blessed to both receive and to give. We always had enough. Just when we were running low, a new shipment would arrive. In those years, God's grace came in an Oreo package.

One November we were given a case of Barnum's Animal Crackers. A case. (You know, the ones in the little red boxes.) We had left all our Christmas decorations here when we moved and my family was coming for the holidays. We cut a Charlie Brown tree from the Chugach National Forest (yes, legally), splurged on a string of lights and hung candy canes and animal cookies all over that most beautiful of trees. By the end of the holiday, the branches could barely hold their own weight, but my brother helpfully extracted the contents of the boxes and hung the empties back on the tree.

A couple of years later, we planned to come to Oregon for Christmas, but a few days after Thanksgiving, we got the shattering news that Bryan's dad had died that day. Bryan caught the next flight out and I followed with Hannah a few days later. If you've been through anything similar, you can imagine the aftermath, yup, lots of tears and numb/heart-wrenching days. A few days before Christmas, we had to go back. After Dad died, the cheapest way for Bryan to get to Oregon had been to buy a new one-way ticket. He had planned to fly back on the other end of the round-trip we already had purchased. But apparently, when you don't fly the first leg, they cancel your reservation for the return flight (now you tell me). Even after we explained the circumstances the airline was, shall we say, less than helpful. So we scrambled a bit and found a friend who had come down to buy a used car and was driving it back. Bryan was welcome to share the drive.

I flew home without him, pregnant and with child (both--Hannah was just 13 months and I was about halfway along with Meira). The hope was that he would be able to get across all the borders with limited proof of insurance and registration and make through the snow up the Al-Can in time for Christmas. I can't tell you how thankful I was for the friends who met me at the airport, helped to wrangle the bags, the car seats and me into someone's vehicle and home to my empty house. These same friends had spent most of the afternoon setting up a tree, lights and ornaments from who-knows-where illuminating my living room and my dreary spirit.

Bryan did make it home in time for Christmas, such as it was. And the story of digging out of that dark time is full of the grace of God in the face of others (some of them those sneaky elves).

This year our tree is a lot less memorable, (although it's the first year the girls did all the decorating without necessitating major ornament relocation after bedtime). But my heart is no less grateful. And God's grace still shows up in unexpected packaging.

That's my Christmas story this year. What's yours?