Sometimes my breath catches as I carefully unwrap each of them. Waiting with anticipation to see which memory will unfold – which little package holds color or light or tears or joy.
As I hang the moments on the tree, I walk back through my memories. So many events and people are there on my tree.
There’s the angel that hangs near the top every year. She lives on my tree to represent my sister who didn’t get to live long enough to even have a “first Christmas” ornament. She hangs there because all I’ve ever had of her is a heart-shaped tombstone and an angel on the Christmas tree.
Every year, there are more ornaments with a carefully written date. In my hand, permanent marker notes the passage of time from days of being engaged, to newly married, to parents, to everything else life has been. There are years that changed our lives and years that we changed.
There are ornaments from my grandma. One shows not only Mary and Jesus, but the fact that my grandma was a valued part of a church ministry that was gone before I was even able to make a memory. Another is a nativity in an eggshell, and I can’t help but wonder if the crafter ever thought this ornament would have a prominent place on a tree for over thirty years.
Some remind me of the giver. One given for our wedding, from a sweet neighbor who is gone too soon. It reminds me of her laugh and the goodies she delivered. Although it’s Christmas, it calls to mind the Halloween and Easter treats she put together for our boys…but never got a chance to for our girl.
I hang a flower with a picture of a boy I will never again see. I knew him so little. He was here for a month and then gone. Lost because he is an orphan, and therefore doesn’t seem to matter much in the midst of the Russian and Ukrainian political upheaval. But I will continue to put his picture on my tree, because I will never know if he has anyone else in the world putting his picture on their tree.
In the past few years, I’ve been intentional about placing ornaments that remind us of what truly makes the season special. A nativity that I nestle in the branches, a wise man given by a former pastor, a star with scripture – all to help us not get so caught up in the holiday that we forget Jesus was the best gift ever given (so we might as well stop trying to top that one!).
Yet, I don’t shed tears as I decorate the tree. I’ve learned all of these things are a part of the journey. I’ve learned to stop wishing the past was different and to start thanking for the lessons learned from the pain. What happened then led to what’s happening now. And now looks pretty good from where I am.