A Christmas tree story

Special thanks to my friend Betty Gail Jones for writing today’s post.

NO!! The lights are failing, row by row, on our 10 year-old, very favorite, pre-lit, secondary Christmas tree!!

bg treeThe top went first.  Ah, we can fix that… it is probably a fuse.  The mid section… now this is more serious.  What to do, what to do…  What to do?? Really.  Should we try to find some new fuses?  Is there one of those red tipped bulbs that can be replaced,  magically bringing the others back to life?  Should we just wrap a strand around the tree for this year and hope the best for next?

Alas, there is only one real solution (outside of buying a new tree).  The strand that has a choke hold on the tree, factory direct, must come off.  So then, there is a new problem… how to accomplish that task the fastest, easiest and most efficient way?

There is no way to figure it out by just looking at it.  This job requires jumping in with both hands and all fingers and making a discovery probe.

I began at the very beginning (Julie Andrews would say, “A very good place to start”) – of course, the top.  I twisted and pulled and poked and turned every limb, wire and bulb.  This proved to be an impossible job.  It was easy to see why other less determined people would toss it out on the street with a “free” sign!  The harder it seemed, the more determined I became to beat this beast- this bearer of all Christmas nightmares!

As I worked, I began to think.  I had so many good thoughts, ones that I believed would make good lines in a Christmas tree story.  I found myself wishing that I had another person there – not to help me with my untangling feat, but to write down the wonderful thoughts as I was having them.  I could never remember them all.

I do, however, remember one query that weighed on my mind heavily as I puzzled my way through those pokey branches.  “Why?  Why would I be so intent on finishing this job and in the way that I am doing it?  It is a little insane, I suppose.  There is this undeniable desire to complete the task successfully,” I thought.   As I pored over several reasons in my mind to answer the probing question, I began thinking about my persona – my make-up.

My mother would have just put some lights over the old ones for this year or maybe just stopped plugging them in.  Next year she would just throw the whole thing away and get a new one.  She likes pretty things and yet has had to make do for many years with what she has had.  Truly her answer would be more glitter, more gold, more ribbons or more icicles or something… more.  No, my mother would not have the patience or take the time to do what I found myself bound to as I wound one wire around another making slow progress.

“Aha! This is not what I thought it was,” I almost stated out loud.   It was something that I hadn’t seen before. It was unexpected,  and it made me want to explore an idea more.  Each limb had its own strand of lights tethered at the end by a small green clip.  When the clip was removed, the wire could be manipulated easily and the branch unwrapped with ease.  Finally I had found a method and a pattern to the work to be done.

BG dadMy mind went to my dad.  I had seen him meticulously sit with projects of small pieces of broken glass and just as carefully restore what he had clumsily broken to a not nearly perfect state but still moved by a sense of accomplishment at his task.  He worked things to the end when he started.  He didn’t give up or give in.  He began a crossword puzzle, and he might keep it for several days, returning to add or change a word until its completion.  He collected all of the millennium quarters from each state.  Even in his elderly years, it was important for him to see his collection complete.  Doing tasks were important.  Seeing things through.  Taking something that was once used for one purpose and making it useful in another way gave him great pleasure.  One of my mother’s greatest treasures is the skeleton of one of his bonsai trees that had died.  He could not stand to throw it away so he bought little red ribbon roses and glued them on the ends of the branches to make an eternal bouquet of what was once his prized bonsai.

That is where this task driven effort was coming from.  I have a friend who rightly calls me a “piddler”.  I love to sharpen all of the pencils, check the ink in a box of markers, put all the puzzle pieces in the right box, and check to make sure all of the game pieces are in the correct section of the game box.  I wanted to see how the lights on this little tree were actually twisted on at the factory,  and I wanted to discover the best way to remove them from our beloved tree – no matter how much time it piddled away.

I had a great time, rolling the tree around in my lap, thinking about the way my dad would have done it.  I took pleasure in “using it up, wearing it out, making it do…”  I had a moment with my dad, and in the end, I was moved by a sense of accomplishment as the last bulb fell from the tree.

*Although not my dad’s original jingle, the following was something his family often heard him repeat.  Coming from the Great Depression era, it was something that he not only said, but something he practiced.

 

USE IT UP

WEAR IT OUT

MAKE IT DO

OR DO WITHOUT

Positive opposites

I catch myself worrying constantly.

I know I’m not the only one. Last week, a friend of mine expressed the high level of anxiety she’s been feeling and the thoughts that have been churning in her brain related to her daughter’s situation at school. Another friend admitted that in preparation of her big move overseas, she’s been plagued by multiple worries despite her efforts to battle them by doing her best to prepare for the move.

Much of the time, I don’t even realize how plagued by anxiety I really am. The mental dogs begin to bite. The bees sting. And I catch myself making agreements with the negative, pessimistic, cynical worries rummaging through my brain. As a Christian, I believe this is a form of spiritual warfare. Each time I make an agreement with Satan, I negate what God is trying to do in me.

“You’re gaining so much weight while you’re pregnant. You will never look the same after this.”

“You’re going to be tied to the house forever after having this baby. You won’t ever get to do anything fun or adventurous again, and you will be alone doing it, because your husband will be able to go and do as he pleases while you’ll be stuck at home.”

“Don’t you think your husband is going to find some younger, prettier, skinnier, non-pregnant woman to pine after?”

On my worst days, my response to these nagging negative thoughts is, “Yes. You’re right. I am fat. My life is going to be miserable. My husband will probably find someone else.”

The minute I succumb to these thoughts and agree with their negative messages, the minute I’m forfeiting the truth that God is ultimately in charge, and only He knows what lies ahead. I’m choosing to align myself with darkness rather than light. I’m also giving up my peace of mind and making room for more anxiety in its place.

I don’t want to give up what God’s given to me. I want to be free from insomnia caused by anxiety. I don’t want to spend my time contemplating upcoming events and decisions, attempting to plan out what I have no control over. But how can I fight such a pervasive force? How can I overcome a problem that is so subtle that I often overlook its onset?

This morning, I read Philippians 4:6-7.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When I read these verses, a spiritual lightbulb turned itself on inside of me (either that, or my one daily cup of coffee kicked into gear). Ah. Positive opposites.

In the anonymous 12-step recovery program I’m part of, we utilize the tool of practicing positive opposites in order to overcome our own negative tendencies or to counteract character defects. Am I feeling extremely critical of my boss? I’ll do the opposite and choose to praise her for the good things I notice instead. Do I tend to wallow in self-pity because of the difficult situation I find myself in at home? Instead of eating a gallon of ice cream, watching a sad movie, and tearing through boxes of Kleenex, I’ll do the opposite and invest my time in paying attention to the needs of others and making efforts to help them through their difficulties. I’ll volunteer with a local non-profit or pray for friends who are hurting.

It’s quite simple.

And this morning, I noticed it’s also quite Biblical. Am I anxious? Instead of letting anxiety overwhelm me, I will actively pray (repeatedly) with gratitude and thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on the what ifs, I’ll focus on what is. God Is. And He has showered me with countless beautiful blessings, some obvious and others donned in clever and humorous disguises. And thankfully, God promises me that if I combat the anxiety with grateful prayers, His peace will guard my heart and mind.

I need that.