Each December the weather in Chicago transforms into a super-villain, wielding the cold like a weapon, freezing everything in its path. A few years ago, with winter’s formidable appearance on the forecast, I sent my husband and three sons to choose a Christmas tree before the roads were rendered useless. I stayed behind and began unpacking ornaments, heating up cocoa, and digging out holiday music, all to set the tree-trimming mood.
A few hours later they returned, mischievous smiles on their faces. “Guess what we got?”
My husband lugged six enormous cardboard boxes into our living room. The boys declared, “Surprise, Mom! It’s the biggest tree in the world!”
I pride myself as an easy-going woman. I live with four of the male species, so I’m not generally rattled when they come home with things like dead cockroaches or the latest fart joke. But, I also consider myself a cultivator of beauty and simplicity. When I imagined our Christmas tree, it was charming. It was tasteful. It was alive.
I never envisioned a monstrosity of a plastic tree masquerading as a Douglas fir and towering three times the height of my husband. Standing eighteen-feet tall, six-feet wide, and pre-lit with brash blinking lights, the thing is gaudy enough to have its own act in Vegas.
Still, I could’ve responded with a teeny bit more patience.
“What in the world were you thinking? I don’t care if you get a refund or ya’ burn it. Get it out.”
And just in case my point wasn’t clear, “By the way, you’ve ruined Christmas.”
The boys started crying. My husband slammed a door.
The winter villain had struck down in our home, crushing everyone’s dreams, all because I wasn’t getting the picturesque Christmas I demanded.
That night, after everyone was in bed (cocoa untouched, ornaments unhung), I snuck downstairs to examine the tree, trying to muster some ounce of grace for it. Instead, I sat on the couch and bawled. God, I need you to help me let go.
The boys spent the next day unwrapping their great-grandparents’ handmade ornaments— the wooden rocking horse, the toadstool, the steeple, the manger— and hung them on the new tree with wire that my late Papa himself, fifty winters earlier, had twisted with love.
He, a soldier, fell for my grandma when she asked what he did in the army.
“Tanks,” he answered.
“You’re welcome,” her witty response.
They were married the following year, for fifty-six more, until the day he died.
I imagined the two of them carving, sanding, and painting these ornaments. Fantasizing about future grand and great-grandfingers that would one day unwrap their advent treasures.
I realized that my family and our Christmas memories are the fullness of that dream.
“Hey guys,” I confessed sheepishly, “Mama owes you and daddy an apology. I’m so sorry about how I acted last night. Can we please start over? Thank you for bringing home this…this…absolutely incredible tree.”
That evening, in a pile of giggles and whispers about gifts to come, the boys fell asleep under their beloved giant. Their chubby cheeks flashed red, green, and blue under the twinkling lights.
This year, as winter begins her ascent and as we set up the tree that won’t quit, there is a part of me that still craves a postcard Christmas; white lights on a quaint blue spruce. But, then I stop to praise God for our oversized tree.
It is, after all, my very tangible reminder that He creates warmth and light.
He thaws even the coldest of seasons.
Enjoyed this post. There is always a lesson to learn. Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to you, Barbie!
A beautiful, grace-full, vulnerable story. So encouraging to remember even if we blow it initially there are always second chances for redemption. Thank you so much for sharing! Merry Christmas, and may the Lord richly bless your endeavors as you use the good gifts He’s given you for His glory!
Aubrey Sampson says
You’re awesome, Aleah! Merry Christmas and so much grace and peace over you and your precious family!
With 3 now grown sons….2 daughters in law ….and one pretty serious girlfriend….I am learning to manage my expectations of so many different things.
Today, as we gather for family Christmas, I am trying to keep my focus on what is important and want to enjoy each moment….and remember that Norman Rockwell we have NEVER, EVER been! 🙂
Larry Travis says
Aub, love the story. Please remember you and Kevin are creating a lifetime of Christmas joy embedded in the hearts of the “boys”. Mom and are so thankful that your joy of Christmas surrounds baby Jesus in this season. Jesus and your parent and your family love you for it.
Amy Morrow says
Thanks for the reminder, Aubrey.
And, Merry Christmas from Zambia
Cheers to that, Karen! And merry Christmas Amy! Miss you guys!
shelli littleton says
Thank you for your precious honesty to let the rest of us know we aren’t alone … bless you.
Blessings in you, Shelli.
Richard Ochoa says
Great story & Very nice Conclusion! Merry Christmas Aubrey to you & your family from us here in N. Idaho!!!!
Beth WIlliams says
Growing up we didn’t have a new smelly tree. We had “Bruce the Blue Spruce”. A taller than life you put together tree that we decorated. It served it’s purpose and was a pretty sight to behold.
Christmas, to me, is more than a tree, gifts, etc. It is about the birth of a Savior and being with family and friends sharing this special occasion.
Happy Birthday Jesus! 🙂
Aubrey Sampson says
Bruce the Blue Spruce! I love it!
I so appreciate this post. Through it, you remind me that when something snaps inside of me, it needs to send me to God. Then I need to seek forgiveness from those I’ve hurt. There is always redemption. This it a heart chord with me.
Hey Aubs! I loved reading this. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and response to life’s unpredictable curveballs. I can definitely relate to wishing for (actually, more like expecting) those “kodak moments” and reacting without much grace and love. It gives me another chance to see how I am in need of the saving grace of Jesus. Merry Christmas to your family of boys from my family of boys!
Gaye Parnell says
Oh Aubs, that tree is amazing. It is so cool how God teaches us through the every day stuff. Great tree, great story to share, great family tradition. I know Papa is smiling. Plus I get to say I know someone with a beautiful 18′ tree. (I am a little jealous…) Love and hugs
Sara Flores says
A little late responding to this, but wanted to say what a lovely reminder this is: of the power of asking for forgiveness, and the sometimes heavy burden of expectations. When I was given the gift of parenthood, that has been (and honestly, continues to be) my hardest lesson: that sometimes you just have to show up, and not have that preconceived idea of how you think things SHOULD be, and enjoy how things ARE. I’m sure you’ve also experienced that when you can let go, sometimes the way things actually ARE is way better than what you wanted it to be. It’s just using that muscle to let go of our vision of happiness, and actually experience happiness. I have to exercise that muscle daily. I’m also astonished–daily–at my children’s ability to forgive my many mess ups. But the power of “I’m sorry” can never be underestimated: thanks for the lovely reminder in this lovely essay. Merry Christmas, Aubrey, and blessed New Year!
aubrey sampson says
Thank you Sara! Happy New Year to you, woman!
Joyce Orr says
Aubrey, what a wonderful act of courge and love. I,m so proud of you and thank God for each of you. Love Memaw