My 6 year old son told me that he had a good idea. He thought I should decorate for Christmas while they were visiting their dad and then surprise them when they got home.  Oh, joy!  As though there is nothing I love more in the whole world than decorating for Christmas, now I get to do it alone while my children are subjected to visitation with their abuser.

I got it though.  He’s six.  He doesn’t hate Christmas like I do.  He wanted something pleasant to look forward to after the weekend of torturous forced visitation.

Last Christmas I was still not feeling physically very strong.  Emotionally I was even weaker.  I was not receiving any form of support from my husband, and I had not been able to find a job.  My mom had just died, and my dad was gravely ill.  My 15 year old and I were both seeing mental health therapists.  It seemed like every day was spent preparing for the next court date.  My life truly sucked.

It was strange though how people came out of the woodwork to help us.  Everyone had “the Christmas spirit” and wanted to spread their joy to the destitute, abandoned old woman up on the hill with seizures and too many kids.  I kind of liked it.  It was nice to be remembered and to feel cared for.

One family dropped off a stocking at our house while we were gone.  It was the biggest stocking I’ve ever seen, and it was filled to the brim.  Some brought food.  Some gave the kids clothes.  Some sent money.  My DV advocate gave us gifts and took my kids “shopping” at a little “store” they’d set up at the safe house.  We were invited to parties.  The kids were invited to participate in a Christmas program.  It was the best Christmas I’ve ever had.

That’s what my kids think about when they think of Christmas.  And, that’s why my son wanted the decorations up to soothe his tattered nerves after seeing his dad. He wanted to see the reminders of the season when friends, neighbors, and strangers loved him.

I dutifully pulled Rubbermaids from the attic and began the arduous process of removing the tangled mess of malfunctioning lights from the artificial tree.  I grumbled and finally, in frustration, just took a pair of scissors and cut the tree free of its wiry restraints.  It seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.  I certainly did.

As I began unfolding the branches that had been smashed upon themselves I realized I was starting to tenderly fall in love with the little bits of brown wire and green plastic in front of me.  Though I hate Christmas trees, this little tree will forever have a place in my home and my heart.

Last year when everything seemed dark and daunting, we enjoyed an evening of respite at a friend’s house.  My 6 year old stood before their 6 foot, highly decorated tree with his mouth gaping open and his eyes fixed.  He thought it was the most lovely thing in the world.  When their 12 year old son asked about our tree, my son responded that we didn’t have one.  They glanced at each other privily, but I caught it.  I assumed I’d  been found out.  The jig was up.  They now knew poor little J had Scrooge for a mother.

I was wrong.

Their 12 year old son was adopted at 3 1/2 from a foreign orphanage.  He couldn’t walk or talk yet.  He had never crawled.  Not only had he never had a Christmas tree, he’d never had anyone hold him or love him.  His soft-hearted parents bought each of their boys a little artificial Christmas tree for their respective first Christmases in America, in their new home, and those trees adorned the boys’ bedrooms every Christmas since.

A few days after J had revealed that we didn’t have a tree up, that family delivered a gift for each of us.  Their 12 year old son was broken over our situation.  He led his family in a prayer, asking God to reveal to them what they had in their home that was nice and unused that they could give to us.  The Lord led them on a scavenger hunt of their closets.  One thing the boy did not have to pray about though was a tree.  He insisted that he wrap his first Christmas tree and give it to us, and his mother allowed it.

I can’t think about that tree and that boy without weeping.  He’s always held a special place in my heart anyway.  He’s exquisite to look at.  He has more talent in his little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies.  Yet, as a teenager he does not hesitate to hug warmly even in front of other teens.  He loves other people…deeply.  It’s in his eyes, his expressions.  He oozes compassion.

That little tree, the tree of compassion, stood proudly with a new strand of lights and a few ornaments that commemorate each of my children and grandchildren’s first Christmases.  I could feel myself melting like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought about that boy and his giving heart.  I thought about his self-sacrificing parents.  I thought about my own wounded son.  I thought about the generosity of so many people who have carried us throughout the last holiday season and the entire last year.  And, resolution rose up within me.

The next morning, my daughter’s birthday, I dropped my kids off to their dad and went Christmas shopping.  The local craft store was having door buster specials, all kids’ boxed sets were 50% off.  I wandered the aisles, trying to decide, and asked a little boy for his opinion.  I then ran to the big one stop shopping place where I found Christmas lights on a special five hour sale for a ridiculous rock bottom price. I put little white lights on the mantle and around the kitchen window and little purple lights around my bedroom window.

Today I hid in my bedroom in my pajamas until after noon, wrapping presents.  I brought the gifts out one at a time and carefully placed them around the tree.  The children jumped up and down with excitement and rearranged the placement of the presents.  My 6 year old figured out that he has to wait exactly thirty days to find out what is in the shiny boxes.

Late this afternoon my children and I bundled up and went outside to hang the plethora of new blue and clear lights.  We found one strand of old snowflake lights that still work so hung those by the sliding glass door.  We put blue and white lights along the entire front of the house.  We plugged in the gigantic, wooden cross that we made twelve years ago.  It has become a landmark out here.  I’ve been in town and heard people giving directions, “Go over the bridge, past the market.  You’ll see a big, lit cross on the hill.  We’re about a mile past that on the right.”

It was after dark by the time we finished, so we went for a drive to see if you can see our lights from the road, through the trees.  When we got home the older boys wanted to know how many we had left.  They decided they’d also like to put little white lights around their bedroom windows.

There’s an excitement in the air of our home tonight.  Our home is old and dilapidated.  Most of it is too cold.  Parts of it are too hot and smell funny, like unburnt kerosene.  It doesn’t look like anything you’ll ever find in Better Homes and Gardens.  Our tree is small, but it is sweet and lovely.  I’ll make fudge and put it on cheap paper plates only to have it soften from the heat of the wood stove.  I bought my kids mostly practical things like backpacks and school supplies.

It’s nothing fancy, pretty plain and simple.  But, our Christmas last year was and this one will be warm and honest.  And, I have to admit……..I’m beginning to catch the Christmas spirit and don’t feel quite so much like Scrooge.