Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Our Christmas tree

As a teenager I lived with my dad in a small apartment in Southern California. Christmas was spent in between my grandma's house, with uncles, aunts and cousins, and my mom's house. Even then I loved Christmas: the decorations, gifts, food and family, but deep in my heart I always had a sense that something was missing.

Each Christmas, I pestered my dad to buy a tree to decorate, one that would look perfect in the living room window, one that would make our apartment feel like a home. Being the practical guy that he was, my dad saw no reason for a tree because we were never home on Christmas day. Why buy what you aren't around to enjoy?

My husband and I have been together since I was 17 years old. We had a rocky start, break-ups were common but, for some reason, we always came back to each other, vowing to spend the rest of our lives together. During one of our many times of separation, Craig's mom invited me to go Christmas shopping with her. We spent the day talking about Craig's positive points and what a perfect couple we made. On our way home from the mall that day, we turned onto my street and I saw my apartment window, framed with painted-on snow, a beautifully decorated tree right smack in the middle of it. Tears came to my eyes and I said, "Oh my gosh, my dad got a tree! He got a tree!"

My cheeks became flushed with red when I realized that, while the apartment building looked identical, mine was the next one, the one with the bare, curtained window. I was mistaken. Craig's mom left me with an understanding hug and a Merry Christmas wish and I walked up the stairs to my apartment, alone. The afternoon dragged on. Wrapping the few gifts I had purchased took only a short time and laying on the couch, eyes closed, seemed the only reasonable way to pass the quiet afternoon.

Later, a knock at the door woke me from an early evening nap. I opened the door and found myself greeted by, of all things, a Christmas tree. Excitement and hope flooded in when Craig peeked around the tree and said, "Hi, Honey!" More tears. Voices from behind the branches said, "Merry Christmas, Randi!" His mom, his brothers and some friends had come carrying boxes of ornaments, lights and garland. Squeezed into my tiny living room, Craig and I decorated our first Christmas tree together; the first of many.

Our dating years and our marriage have been full of good times but we have also fought our way through times of trouble. The constant thread of hope has been commitment. We both know that, no matter what, our hearts are focused on sticking together; failure is not an option.

Every year, on Christmas Eve, after the kids are in bed, Craig and I stand in front of our tree, lights twinkling, knowing full well how blessed we truly are. Not only for the years settled in our memories, but also, for the ability to look forward to Christmases to come when we will decorate another tree. Together. Again. Always.