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Christmas Cheer

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Christmas memories fill our Christmas tree. It stands in our living room, filled with white lights and ornaments. Our ornaments reflect the life of our family: varied and interesting, some old, some new, some precious and some common.

Some of the ornaments are from my childhood. Every Christmas, my parents used to give my sister Kathy and me an ornament. Our tree includes a flying angel, a Mrs. Claus on a rocker and a singing angel, to name a few. My mother gave me back these ornaments a few years ago, and as I pull them out each December, I remember the Christmases of my childhood.

My early Christmas memories all include trees that would barely stand up. I don't know if it's because the stands that we have now are better, or if we have straighter trees, but all of the Christmas trees from my childhood were secured by wires strung from the adjacent walls. It made stringing the lights a bit more difficult, but at least the tree remained standing. Except for the one year that my parents gave my sister and me kittens.

They were under the tree when we woke up: short-haired, black, white and gray kittens. I named mine Cutie Pie (because, of course, she was cute), and my sister named hers Nosey (yes, she was a curious cat). A few days later, we added a third cat to our household when its owners went out of town. I am sure they must have realized what they were doing when they asked my parents to "watch" the kitten for a few days.

We called the third kitten White Paws, (yes, she had white paws). They weren't very imaginative names, but they were great fun for little girls.

That was the year that the tree fell over -- as the kittens crawled up the tree trunk.

Other ornaments on our tree include an angel that I made in first grade, and an ornament with my picture in it from later in grammar school. We have ornaments from places that my husband and I visited before we had children (Seattle) and ornaments from places that we have visited as a family, (Key Biscayne, Fla.).

We also have ornaments that our children have crafted -- balls and stars, sand dollars and snowmen. These are among my most treasured ornaments. Gifts from the heart, crafted by hands with love.

The tree reminds me of life. It is not perfect, it is not without challenges, drama or changes. However, life is full of tender moments: weddings, births, anniversaries and celebrations. As many of us pause this week to remember and celebrate the birth of Christ, we will remember the greatest gift that has ever been given. God's only son. We are given God's love, his forgiveness and, because of those gifts, our redemption.

We didn't do anything to earn these gifts, nor could we earn them if we tried. They are simply gifts from God, by his grace.

When I look at our family's tree, I don't see a hodgepodge of ornaments. Instead, I see a melange, a mixture of moments from our lives. I remember the memories of treasured family time that warm my heart and nourish my soul, as well as the anticipation of more such moments to come. As my gaze rests upon our tree, I am thankful for God's gift of love, for his grace, and pray that it can be seen through me, by others. The greatest present of all, God's love, redemption and grace.

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