I cannot remember exactly when I purchased my three-foot tall artificial Ponderosa Pine.  But I do remember it being boxed up in the hall closet of my apartment some three years before.  I had bought it because my “ex” had kept our Christmas tree and all of our Christmas decorations when we separated. 

That year, Christmas was so depressing that I didn’t even bother to break the seal on the Christmas tree box and pretty much skipped the holiday altogether. It was my first Christmas alone after the demise of my 23-year marriage.  My son was two states away at school and my daughter busy with her own little family.  Both kids were making themselves scarce because of the warring going on between their father and me. 

But the following Christmas was better.  I had met my fiancé, Lloyd, and when we moved in together, my Christmas tree had been included in the “merger” of Lloyd’s stuff with mine.  His “ex” had gotten custody of all their Christmas decorations, too.  So that first year, when I put up the tree and hung the seven little ornaments on it that I had purchased from Wal-Mart, I felt like that year I could begin to celebrate Christmas again.  And we did.  Later in the season I bought more ornaments and stenciled the names of our pets (four dogs and two kitties) on them.  I hung up felt Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantle and put up a miniature Christmas village.

We celebrated an early Christmas with my daughter and grandchildren.  It was a little bit awkward because of our new family arrangement.  But we went through the motions anyway.  We also flew out of state so that I could meet my fiancé’s family.  It was the best trip of my life.  My fiancé’s family was warm, loving and accepting.

A year later, when Christmas rolled around, it was – again – better than the one before.  I put up the little Ponderosa Pine in the corner of our living room – this year with a tree-top Christmas star and the “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments that my daughter had passed along to me of her and her brother.  I added more houses and an ice skating pond to my miniature Christmas village.    

Again, on Christmas Eve my daughter and grandkids celebrated with us.  Our house was a joyful chaos of small children, wrapping paper, and toys.  My fiancé’s son spent Christmas Day with us, and I cooked a turkey dinner.  Now, like beads on a thread, I had managed to string together two Christmases of good memories.

The next year, my fiancé and I were married, and I inherited his two adult children, in addition to my own.  Suddenly, I was a mother of four! 

Now we have two more grandchildren, and our oldest son has finished his deployment to Iraq.  Our youngest daughter is in nursing school, and our youngest son – who will be returning home next week from Afghanistan — is marrying a fabulous girl two weeks before our third wedding anniversary in October.  So this year, we will add her family to our own.

Time has brought my family healing and reconciliation.  My children have worked out new Christmas traditions with their dad, and my husband and I have developed our own traditions with our children and grandchildren.

Now that I can afford to get a bigger, nicer Christmas tree or maybe even a real one, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  My little Ponderosa Pine has too much sentimental value to just pack it away and forget about it. 

We all have times of extreme difficulty and sadness, and six years ago I couldn’t even imagine the happiness that is mine today.  But God helps us, time helps us, and we learn to help ourselves.  

This December, as with the past six, my little Christmas tree will bring me a fresh supply of gratitude.