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 ordinary.
Some of the ornaments are from my childhood. Every Christmas, my parents used to give my sister Kathy and I an ornament. Our tree includes a flying angel, singing angel and Mrs. Claus on a rocking chair, to name a few. After my children were born, my mother passed these ornaments down to me. As I pull them out each December, I remember the Christmases of my childhood.
All of my early Christmas memories include trees that would barely stand up. I don't know if it's because the stands that we have now are more supportive or if we have straighter trees, but all of the Christmas trees of my childhood were secured by wires strung from the adjacent walls. It made stringing the lights a bit more difficult, but it kept the tree standing -- except for the year my parents gave my sister and I kittens.
The kittens were under the tree when we woke up: short-haired, black, white and gray kittens. I named mine Cutie Pie, and my sister named hers Nosey. A few days later, we added a third cat to our household when its owners went out of town. I'm sure they knew what they were doing when they asked my parents to "watch" the kitten for a few days. We called the third kitten White Paws. They weren't very imaginative names, but they were great fun for little girls.
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. We have ornaments from places that my husband and I visited before we had children and some from places that we have visited as a family.
We also have ornaments that our children have crafted -- balls, 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. 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, forgiveness and -- because of those gifts -- our redemption.
We did nothing to earn these gifts, nor could we earn them if we tried. They are simply gifts from God.
When I look at our family's tree, I don't see a hodgepodge of ornaments. Instead, I see an assortment 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 similar moments to come. As my gaze rests upon our tree, I am thankful for God's gift of love and grace, and I pray that it can be seen through me.
This Christmas, I will celebrate the greatest present of all: God's love, redemption and grace.