I’ve been struggling to write a story for Christmas this year, and it hasn’t worked at all…

The story I’ve been working on just hasn’t come together, and I’m getting the feeling, that just like some stories have to be published at a certain time (hard to explain, but it’s true – some stories have this urgency as I’m writing them that just can’t be ignored, and later, in either comments, feedback, or just people talking to me, I often find out how important it was to get a story out at a certain time.

The story I was working on, however, is giving me the other impression.  It isn’t ready, and needs to wait until it is ready, and I don’t know when that will be.  On the other hand, another story showed up just this last weekend, and I think that one might have peeked out of the shadows just in time.  As I write this now, I don’t know how it will end, so join me in that discovery.

I’m thinking, over the years, as I see what has happened around not just “the holidays” – but Christmas, that people (myself included) often have such high hopes and expectations of Christmas that it can’t possibly live up to those expectations, and that we end up being sad, or depressed because of that…

I was thinking about it, and realized that we often try to replicate the good parts of the Christmases we had in our childhoods, and sometimes, in those memories, forget the bad stuff that happened that made the good stuff stand out.  Often we find ourselves wanting “something” – but not being sure what exactly it is.

We often do what Madison Avenue wants us to do – which is to “Stimulate the Economy” – but that just causes problems in other ways.

Where am I going with this? – Well, stay with me for a bit, we’ll find out together.

I found myself thinking of Christmas trees… I’ll tell you about three of them that I remember having.  Two as a kid, one as an adult.

When I was a kid, we were poor.  There’s no other way to say it.  My dad was off at college trying to get a degree so he could help make life better for us. He could only come home on the weekends if he came home at all.  There were several years when the money was so tight that we couldn’t even afford a tree at Christmas, much less presents to put under it. In fact, one year, we got the tree the church had used and set it up on Christmas Eve.  I don’t know if many people have had a used Christmas tree, but we did.

Ironically, we didn’t think it was weird at the time, we thought it was kind of neat that at the last second, everything fell into place, and we got a tree, for free.

It was during those years that I had a paper route, earning me about $40.00 a month.

One year, we were praying for both Christmas presents and a tree, and while mom made Christmas presents, God answered the prayer. One Saturday morning as I was on my bicycle finishing my paper route, I saw a Christmas tree laying in the ditch beside the road.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but there it was.  I delivered the last few papers, and came pedaling back as fast as I could, where I picked the tree up and put it on my left shoulder with the butt facing forward so I could steer and shift the bike with my right hand.  I could see through the branches, but if someone were driving by (and several people did) they’d see a rather large Christmas tree riding a bicycle, rather unsteadily, I might add, down the street.

No one crashed, including me, which was good – and we were again blessed with a Christmas tree that year.

One that we couldn’t have afforded otherwise.

The thing I realize now is that we didn’t even have a Christmas tree stand.  Over the years, Dad, being home from University over Christmas, would make a tree stand with me out of 4 boards that we’d nail or screw together, then to the tree, with notches at the bottom so there’d be enough room for a pie tin of water underneath.

If we’d had a tree stand like everyone else, I wouldn’t have this memory.

The next year, finances were still pretty rough, and we were still just scraping by. At the time, we had a large garden, and were very familiar with what passed for food banks back then.  We didn’t drink soda, couldn’t afford it, but we did drink apple cider we made from all the apple trees we had on the property.

Hmmm… if we’d been able to drink soda like everyone else, I wouldn’t have that memory.

I’ll write about that someday, but that December, even with all the things we’d done to save money, a tree was still not in the budget.

I think that might have been my last year with the paper route, and I was looking for a tree beside the road like we’d had that one year, but there were none.

In fact, it’s safe to say, that in that year, God did not have Christmas trees falling out of the sky for us.

Well, actually… I take that back.

He did.

A tree did fall out of the sky, but it was in kit form.

And actually, it wasn’t a ‘tree” per se…

It was a branch.

No, really.

It was a huge branch from a tree on Fort Lewis – on one of those side roads that’s made by an 18 year old kid driving a 60 ton tank at 35 miles per hour and leaving a trail of wanton destruction in his wake.  (Yes, there were kids that age out there doing that.  They were, however, in the Army when they did it.)

I don’t remember exactly how I got it home, but I did.  The huge branch was far too long to get into a tree stand without gouging holes in the ceiling or chopping holes into the floor, so I got out one of my dad’s old saws and whacked off a good chunk of it so that it would fit.  (That cut-off part unwittingly became our Yule Log) I then started cutting branches off and drilling holes into the trunk where I wanted to put them.  I whittled them so they’d fit into the holes I’d drilled and ended up moving almost every branch that way.

Then I made the stand for it like I did every year.

And we did have a Christmas tree that year.  It was beautiful, really.  Complete with decorations, and even some presents.

If I’d been able to buy a tree like everyone else, I wouldn’t have this memory.  I’d have forgotten about an anonymous little tree in one of many Christmases a long time ago.

That got me thinking.

Those weren’t easy times that I’m writing about.  Seriously.  But it feels like it was those parts that made me grow in ways I couldn’t have grown if life had been as easy as I wanted it to be.

Many years later, I’d grown up, become an adult, and was now in the position of trying to support my family, and for a number of years, life was pretty rough, and I got to thinking about where every penny was going, and spending any more money than I had to on a Christmas tree was just impossible to comprehend, and for years we bought our trees at a now defunct store called “Chubby and Tubby’s”.

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ll remember that Chubby and Tubby trees could be had for $4.61 ($5.00 with tax).  Oh you could get nicer trees, for more money, but we bought the trees we could afford, (here’s one of them, picked out by our then two year old Michael, his mittens dangling from his sleeves).

One of our Very special trees.

And for a number of years, I made a Christmas tree stand like I did when I was a kid, and I drilled holes in the trunk and moved branches around so they’d look nice, just like I did when I was a kid.

Only this time I was doing it with my son, not with my dad.

I did some more thinking – because we’ve been able to have some pretty neat Christmases over the years in spite of things.  There was the year we were able to make it to church Christmas Eve.  That might seem “normal”, but I’d just gone through my 4th and last round of chemo, and we had to leave right afterwards – but we made it.

That was cool.

And over the years we’ve found that Christmas comes every year, whether you’re ready for it or not.

And it’s a mixed bag, isn’t it?

Sometimes life happens to be good and you can have a “good” Christmas.  That’s a blessing to cherish.

But sometimes – and you can probably figure that I could tell you stories about this: Life is just life, and it isn’t as kind and gentle as we’d hope, or as we might remember.  Without going into great detail, a number of people I know are at this moment going through some of the worst challenges a human can go through, the loss of a parent, a sibling, a child, the loss of a marriage, or relationship, and they’re still trying to celebrate Christmas, and trying to figure out how and why they even can, through all the struggles. They’re looking in vain for that blessing.

And after awhile, being pulled in all sorts of directions, it’s easy to lose sight of what Christmas is all about.

I don’t have answers to why this kind of stuff seems to happen more at Christmas, but amidst the turmoil we’re all experiencing, whether it’s spiritual, or health, or relationships, or economy, I’ve come to the conclusion that we crave the opposite of that turmoil, especially at this time of year.  It’s one thing: Peace.

A friend who’s experienced his share of turmoil (he’s a medic) noted, “Perhaps that’s why people wish others “Peace” during this season. That doesn’t just mean “absence of war” but inner peace. I wish you both senses of the word.”

His comment about both kinds of Peace got me to thinking of the original words about Peace in this Season, and while you can read the words here, we heard one of the great philosophers of our time do a pretty good job explaining it to his depressed friend, who was also pretty confused about what Christmas was really all about.

In a crystal clear voice he said to him, and to all who would listen,

“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid … And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord.”

“And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.”

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” – Linus Van Pelt

And so it is.

So whether you have a beautiful tree and all that goes with it, or whether you are struggling to make a tree out of a branch that fell out of the sky, above all else, I wish you God’s blessings, and Peace this Christmas season.

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