Monday, December 9, 2013

All He Wanted was a Christmas Tree

Sometimes Christmas is about the gifts and sometimes it is about love and giving.  Sometimes it is about both.  And this was the case on a cold night in December long ago.

Some friends of mine were working at our church on that cold night, selling Christmas trees to help raise money for our outreach programs.  The Christmas tree sale was a large event at our church and most of the men were involved, selling trees during the day and at night.

On that particular night a woman walked onto our lot and told them a story that would change the way they would view Christmas and Christmas trees forever.  She was a Teacher Assistant in a first grade classroom.  On that particular day the first grade teacher was letting each child in the class tell their classmates the things they would like to receive for Christmas.

Each child named the typical things; bicycles, computer games, dolls, footballs.  And then the teacher turned to a boy in the back of the class and asked, "And what do you want for Christmas?"

"A Christmas tree."  he said.  The teacher, thinking she did not hear him correctly, asked him again.  "A Christmas tree," he said again.  Some of the other children began to laugh.

"If I can get a Christmas tree then Santa Clause will come." he continued.  Realizing her error, the teacher changed the subject and quickly moved on, but neither she nor the teacher assistant would forget the child's words.

So, the Teacher Assistant stood on our tree lot, tears streaming down her face, the men holding them back.

"We will take care of this."  they assured her.  And on that night they delivered a Christmas tree to a happy first-grade boy and, unknown to the boy, they delivered a truck load of gifts to his mother that they bought at a nearby store.

Whenever I am putting up my tree, I wonder if we don't take too many things for granted and I wonder if we don't realize that we have been blessed many times over.  I wonder if we don't complain too much about things that do not matter.  What I don't wonder about is the power of love; the power of love to transform us;the power of love that caused those teachers to reach out; the power of love that caused those men to shut down their tree lot and respond to a boy's cry for help.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Blackberry Blues

In May of 1992, wild blackberry vines began to grow next to my backyard fence.  For two weeks I mowed them down, regarding them as a nuisance.  The vines were persistent and, by default, I decided to let them grow.  They flourished and began to bloom.

My son, Jeremy, soon noticed them and asked what they were.  Being a person who loves to tell a story, I not only told him what they were but I told him of my boyhood adventures picking blackberries and of blackberry pies; how good they smelled when they were baking in the oven; and how warm and sweet and juicy they tasted when they were served.

Jeremy's eyes widened as he swallowed and licked his lips.  After that, each day I would see him checking the vines looking for the red berries that had turned black.  As we would pick the berries he would ask, "Do we have enough for a pie?"

We didn't get enough berries that summer.  So, Jeremy waited.  All fall and winter we would walk over to the vines and I would tell him about my boyhood blackberry picking and of blackberry pies.

As the spring arrived the vines began to grow and bloom.  We watched and waited each day for the berries to appear.  Each day, as I walked into the house from work, Jeremy would meet me at the door with a blackberry report.  Soon the bloom turned to red berries and the red to black and we began to pick them.  Each day we would pick a small bowl full and dump it into a larger bowl.

"When that bowl is full we will make a pie," I told him.

Slowly the bowl filled.  Each night before going to bed, Jeremy would open the refrigerator and look the bowl; staring at it wishfully.

The bowl finally filled.  Jeremy watched as Melanie, my wife, prepared it and put it in the oven.  He sat in the kitchen, breathing in the smells.

As I entered the kitchen from outside, Jeremy yelled to me, "Mama made the pie!  Mama made the pie!"

After supper, we stood watching as Melanie brought the pie from the oven.  Jeremy was dancing with anticipation.  " I get the first piece!" he shouted to his sister, Erin.

"I don't care," grunted Erin, "all I want is the crust."

Melanie scooped the pie from the pan and into Jeremy's plate.  The smell of it was as I remembered.

"Let it cool a bit before you eat it," cautioned Melanie.

Jeremy blew on his fork then put the contents into his anxious mouth.  The light in his eyes immediately went out.  His face contorted.  He swallowed hard, then drank a glass of milk.

"What's the matter?"  I asked.

"It doesn't taste good." said Jeremy.

I tasted it.  It tasted just like I remembered.  "It does taste good.  Give it another try."

He tried again, with the same result.  "I'll just eat the crust," he said.

After everyone had left the table, I sat alone looking at Jeremy's plate.  It was filled with blackberries.  I tasted them.  They were warm, and juicy, and sweet.  Just like when I was a boy.  And I ate them all.