Big lessons from a tiny friend
When my life fell apart in 1990, due to divorce, with the accompanying emotional and financial disasters that brings, I was determined to try and make life as normal for my small child as possible. As a single mother, in debt and without extra money to spend on Christmas, I fretted over how to purchase a Christmas tree for our small apartment. My neighbor worked at a facility housing battered women and their children. She told me that as a fund raiser, they were selling artificial trees for the holidays. When entering the sales room, I saw a very small tree in the corner that looked like it had seen better days. It was thin, asymmetrical and stood out from the other trees because it appeared to be completely alone. I found myself drawn to what I considered a kindred soul in an inanimate object.
I bought the little tree for $5 and took it home. I had salvaged some meager decorations from previous years and did my best to add a bright spot to what was a strained, sad holiday time. I spent that first Christmas, with the little tree, alone as my son was with his father and I had no invitations from other family or friends. So, my new found buddy (an artificial 3-foot tree) and I spent a quiet day eating a TV dinner and drinking hot apple cider from a home-made cider batch given to me by a friend at church.
I remember that day vividly as the scene still plays out of a newly divorced, single woman with no money, sipping cider, eating a TV dinner and feeling alone, abandoned and hopeless while staring at snow falling outside the window. I waited in the apartment for my son to return with his bounty of expensive gifts from his dad and grandparents. I prayed he wouldn’t be too disappointed when he opened the one little gift I had purchased for him in a thrift shop the week before.
Now, I realize my friends that this sounds like a miserable holiday experience to say the least. But it was perhaps one of the best Christmas celebrations I have ever had. That is because during the day I felt God reach down and assure me that I was not alone and forgotten by Him. He told me that lots of presents and big, highly decorated trees were not the meaning of that day. In the forced simplicity of my situation, distractions fell away. And I was shown that the best part of Christmas is when we accept the true gift of a little child who came to offer hope to the hopeless, comfort to those who feel lost and community to those who feel abandoned and alone. Like that little tree, Christ was/is humble and by all accounts not flashy or flamboyant on any level.
That was not my last Christmas spent alone (physically). Nor was it the last financially lean situation I have endured in seven decades of living on the earth. But it was perhaps one of the richest and most blessed days of my life. In the stillness and silence of solitude I was reminded that through the good and the not so good times, through the lean and not so lean times and through the happy and not so happy times, several truths are constants. I am not now and never have been alone. I am now and always have been loved. I possess now and always have possessed richness beyond measure.
Over the past thirty years, I certainly could have replaced the wee tree with a larger and more festive one, adorned with more ornaments and frills. But I have not. I have chosen to keep my friend the small tree. I have transported it from dwelling to dwelling and from city to town because it holds more value for me than all the riches someone could offer. It holds the memory of the Christmas Day when God soothed my broken heart, offered me the glimmer of hope and assured me that the gift He gave on Christmas is the same gift He gives every single day – His love. Nothing large or sparkly can ever compare to that.
This year after I set up my tiny tree and decorated it with some of the same ornaments from that first, leaner Christmas, I sat in my favorite rocking chair in silence and solitude, wrapped in a shawl and warmed by the fireplace. In the dark, with just a small string of lights shining, I remembered the great holiday times and the ones that were somewhat sad. I’ve often heard it said that it is okay to look back but not to stare – and so I do, and I don’t. I held the precious lessons I’ve been taught close to my heart as I recalled memories of good times, embraced and no longer feared memories of the not so good and looked with hope to the future. As I cradled my cup of hot cider, I wrapped all memories in the ribbon of gratitude and rested in the glow and friendship of we three – the Lord, me and the wee tree.
Copyright December 21, 2022 by Laura L. Padgett, Montrose, CO