We have a family tradition that I absolutely love of cutting down our own Christmas tree every year. There’s a beautiful Christmas Tree farm just a few miles from our house, family run, word-of-mouth advertising only, that we found the year Theo was born.
That year, he was only four months old and I carried him in a Snugli under my down coat. This year, he was big enough to help hold the tree as Don sawed its base. Together, the two of them dragged it out from amongst the hundreds of other candidates, and Don secured it in the back of his pick-up truck.
Some years, it’s been so cold that we literally step out of the truck, run to the edge of the lot, do a quick left-to-right scan, and point to one. Don cuts it down, and we are outta there! This year, we were a bit smarter and got lucky. We decided to go the weekend after Thanksgiving — when temperatures were hovering near the 60 degree mark. That meant we could take our time, stroll through the various types of pines, consider height, width, type of needle.
And, of course, we had to check the tree’s trunk to be sure it was straight. When I was growing up and we went in search of a tree as a family, my Mom, Dad, two sisters and I would split up and search and search for the perfect tree — then call out to the others when we found it, jumping up and down and screaming, “This is the one! This is the one!”
Dad was notorious for ignoring the perfection of the tree’s shape or the fullness of the branches. Instead, he’d bend down, tip his head and look at — of all things! — the TRUNK of the tree. If it wasn’t straight, it was a no-go. “Can’t put a tree properly into the stand with a trunk like that,” he’d say. And we’d all be off in search once again.
This year’s winner was a White Pine. The needles are oh-so-soft and the scent of Christmas filled the house as soon as Don dragged it through our front door. This is really the first year that Theo was able to hang bulbs all by himself. We have a collection of Winnie the Pooh ornaments given to us over the years by our friends Doris and Jim Hildebrand, and that’s what caught Theo’s eye. His contribution was to carefully hang each and every one.
The tree is gorgeous, and with its wide girth, reminds me of a jolly Santa Claus. I love that when we plug in the lights, they shine through our windows and out into the night, where our neighbors across the lake can see and enjoy them. Christmas is about so many things, and right there at the top of the list is sharing its light for all to see.
What am I thinking about as this Christmas quickly approaches? Well, I am anxiously awaiting the joy and delight in Theo’s eyes as he opens his presents on Christmas morning. I am also looking forward to our annual Christmas Eve tradition with my sister, Lisa, and her family. We have a potluck at her house, then continue on to the most beautiful church service of the year — Christmas carols sung by candlelight. And, we are spending Christmas Day as we’ve never spent it before — with friends instead of family. Theo’s best friend, Kai, and his family have invited us over to share the day with them and to enjoy their traditions. We will be experiencing Christmas Japanese, German and American style! And, Kai’s Dad, Marc, will don full garb as a German Santa Claus. We are filled with anticipation at the wonders the day will bring.
There’s also a certain sadness that wells up inside me every now and again. Though I miss my parents every single day of the year, there’s something about Christmas that makes me miss them just a little bit more than on other days.
I also miss the blissful innocence of Christmas just one year ago. Though I was at that time just weeks away from my Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, I had no idea and we celebrated the holiday season with the joy and relief that our lives had finally settled into a peaceful, happy routine. I was nearing my five-year all-clear breast cancer marker following my Stage 1 diagnosis and treatment in 2006. Don’s business was doing very well, as was my free-lance writing and editing business. Theo had settled happily into his Kindergarten routine. Just days before Christmas, Don and I had popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, poured a couple of glasses and clinked them together to celebrate how far we’d come, the joy we were experiencing as a family after some tough years.
That peace was rocked by my January 12, 2011 diagnosis. And the word that the cancer had spread to my vertebrae just two weeks ago really shook me and my family to the core.
What does it all mean? Of that, I’m unsure, although I do believe God has a plan for me and will continue to use me and my diagnosis to help fulfill that plan. God never promised us that the road would be easy. He only promised that He would be there beside us, every step of the way.
Whatever road you’re traveling right now — be it bumpy or silky smooth — the wish and prayer from my family to yours is that you feel His presence, know without a doubt that He is right there beside you, and that you allow His light to shine through you everywhere you go. As my childhood pastor, Reverend Bill Ritter at Nardin Park United Methodist Church used to say, don’t hide your light under a bushel basket, but take it to the mountain top so that it may shine for all to see.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May your holidays be merry and your New Year be bright.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson