As I was growing up my family moved constantly. And there were times that all of our worldly goods had to fit into the back of a faded red, Ford station wagon with no reverse gear. And I too had to fit into the back of that old station wagon…which often served as my bedroom. My parents were missionaries to the Navajo and Apache Indians and sometimes we lived like gypsies and that became my unusual/dysfunctional normal.
Living on an Indian reservation, there were many times I didn’t attend school at all, and by the time I did graduate from high school I had attended fifteen different schools in ten years. (But that challenge is another whole story in itself.) So by the time I reached twenty years old, I had moved forty-three times across the United States and was working a full-time job plus two part-time jobs, all at the same time.
I was the oldest of three girls each born seven years apart. I grew up fast and always took on a lot of adult worries and bore a lot of responsibilities from a young age. And any money I earned always went to help out our family to put food on the table and pay bills.
I will never forget one particularly lean Christmas when I was about the age of eleven. And as usual, my family was totally unprepared. It was only a week before Christmas and I began to fret that my little four-year-old sister, Cindy, was not going to have a Christmas at all. And I was not going to let that happen.
So I found some old wrapping paper and put my hairbrush in it to give to Cindy…who had beautiful long, thick hair. Then I also wrapped up one of my old Barbie dolls that I didn’t play with anymore to give to her as her Christmas presents. I wanted to make sure Cindy would have something to unwrap for Christmas day.
My plan was working beautifully until the next day when my mother went searching for the hairbrush and couldn’t find it anywhere and she asked me to help her look for it. So, I had to confess what I’d done and I began to cry as I handed my mom Cindy’s Christmas package to unwrap with the hairbrush in it.
I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when she opened up that package and held up the hairbrush looking at me confused. Was she angry? Would she punish me? And through my tears I said…”I just wanted Cindy to have a Christmas.”
My mom never said a word as she stood there. Then she threw the hairbrush down and stormed out of the house slamming the back door behind her. I watched her out the kitchen window as she walked far out into the desert. I thought for sure she had completely lost her mind and I wondered: what was I going to do?
I watched her as she kicked at the dirt and finally stood there motionless, staring up at the sky for a long time. I felt scared as I thought…”She’s gone crazy.” Then she started wandering around in the desert until she picked up the biggest tumbleweed she could find and headed back towards the house dragging it behind her.
Mom was puffing and red-faced by the time she came through the door…which I held open waiting for her. Now I was sure she had lost her mind. “What’s next?” I thought as I held my breath.
Mom said “Chris we are gonna have a Christmas. Now go find some rope and I’m gonna go find a string of lights.” Mom turned on the radio playing Christmas music while we wound that tumbleweed with the string of white lights. Then we hung it from our ceiling like a chandelier. We acted silly and giggled and danced and Cindy squealed with delight as we created our tumbleweed Christmas tree. It was beautiful as it hung there and sparkled and swayed with the slightest breeze.
I was so proud of our tumbleweed Christmas tree that I couldn’t wait to show it to my friends. Pretty soon people who lived near us came knocking on our door bringing us Christmas treats asking to see our tree. And they liked our unusual tree so well that some of them even copied our mom’s idea and created their own tumbleweed Christmas trees, hanging them in their yards and houses.
It seems my mom had started a fad. But my mom always was the most creative and resourceful person I ever knew. She could turn nothing into something and make everything fun. She taught us, girls, to laugh at adversity and to always laugh at ourselves the hardest, and that laughter would somehow diminish our problems. I learned that laughing in the face of fear and adversity could give us back our power and our perspective. And everything changes and passes with time.
That Christmas morning my mom wrapped up the hairbrush again and along with my Barbie doll… Cindy was excited to unwrap them. And then my mom surprised me and handed me a small wrapped present too. In it was my grandmother’s Christmas tree pin that she used to wear on her coat. My mother also wore that brightly decorated pin and now it was mine.
Both women are in heaven now but I still wear that Christmas tree pin gratefully and humbly today. And one day I will pass that pin along as well. But the love and the memories that pin represents will never die.
On our tumbleweed Christmas, my mom popped popcorn and we munched on it as she read to Cindy and me about the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. Then a knock came on the door and when we opened it no one was there, but a box was sitting on the porch. We brought it in and it contained eggs, bread, milk, oranges, colorful, hard Christmas candy, and a small ham. And that became our Christmas dinner.
My mom overcame childhood abuse and many hardships, and she chose to forgive the unforgivable. And in doing so she turned her misfortunes into strengths and became kinder and wiser because of it. She rejected all forms of victimhood and self-pity. And she chose to be happy every day and to love instead of hate, or spend her life seeking vengeance.
I’m grateful my mom showed me, by her own example, how to let love overcome hatred. She was bold and fearless because she knew she had already survived her worst nightmares.
My mom taught me how to let my faith become bigger than my fear and to keep looking up for my salvation. I learned that the joy of the Lord is my strength. And I learned that I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me if I remember to have faith and to call upon Him for help. And then God gets the glory…not us.
I have been blessed more than I deserve in my life. I have had many amazing Christmases since my humble, tumbleweed Christmas, and I am grateful for every one of them. But none of them are as memorable, or taught me as much, as my mom did that tumbleweed Christmas long ago.
I still enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them, and I know that the gift of love and those around me is priceless, and that is the greatest gift of all; one that I carry with me all year long.
Whether your Christmas is elaborate or simple this year, I pray it somehow remains gentle and sweet. And I pray the true meaning of Christmas burns brightly in your heart this season.
And I pray that despite any disappointments you may have in this world, those troubles fade away as you reflect upon God’s greatest gift to us: His love and faithfulness.
And I hope you think about that first quiet Christmas day when Jesus was born…a glorious King who came to save us… wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a humble manger.
I wish you LOVE, PEACE & JOY & A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS.
By Guest Author Christine Holm