What will you remember most about Christmas? The week after Christmas gives time for reflection, cleaning, taking down holiday décor, and preparing for New Year celebrations? Christmas lingers as we store decorations in our homes and memories in our hearts.
I will miss tranquil times sitting in my chair sipping hot cocoa while watching the Christmas tree twinkling in the still of the night. A family tradition I continue is putting up the tree when Thanksgiving meal is enjoyed and kitchen is cleaned. Christmas trees have taken center stage in our family’s celebrations since 1975 when Tim could barely fit our first tree in our mobile home. We’ve had silver, live, pencil, artificial that looked real, huge, small with roots, and singing trees through the years. Tim loved the one I bought at an auction with my mother in 1995. It was so large no one else would bid on it. My favorite was the first live tree we had when Cameron was three years old. Christmas morning, Tim had love letters tied to nearly every branch. The last one I read directed me to the top of the tree. There was a velvet box with my first diamond ring from Tim. I cried tears of joy in the arms of the man I loved while our son played with his toys. Don’t you just love Christmas memories? I do!
James’ favorite was the singing tree we bought 90 percent off the original price on our first after-Christmas shopping trip. He could not believe we filled up three shopping carts. Stopping by McDonalds for our senior coffee and biscuit brought blessings we never expected. We talked about Christmases past with Tim and Sarah, our first wedding anniversary on Jan. 5, and the wonder of it all…living a miracle. Then, a teenage girl and her caregiver seated near us pricked our hearts. She had physical and mental limitations that prohibited her from enjoying many blessings most of us take for granted, but her sweet disposition drew us to her like a magnet.
After two cups of coffee, lots of talking and telling James how much I loved him, my heart was stirred to give the girl a gift. I told James I would be right back. When I returned from our car, I was holding an angel we bought that morning. He grinned with joy as I introduced myself and gave it to the young girl. She gasped and held it close to her heart. I wiped tears in the middle of McDonalds as she tried to thank me. Her caregiver gave permission to talk to her but couldn’t share her name; that didn’t matter – I named her – Angel! I kneeled beside her chair and prayed with the angel God put in our path that morning. When I returned to our booth, James took my hand and shared words of love that are safely stored in my heart. I will never, ever forget the blessing God gave James and me the day after our first Christmas together as man and wife. God was giving us kisses from heaven as His plans for our lives were unfolding; our time together was more precious than we realized.
We could hardly wait for the year to pass to put up our tree. Thanksgiving came and up went our singing tree. God stirred our hearts to have family celebrations and show off our treasured tree. We had no idea these would be our last family Christmas gatherings before our circle would be broken… again, but God did as we planned, cooked, and enjoyed time with our families. Our four children and families came for Christmas at Thanksgiving, James’ family came the next Sunday, my family gathered at Sean’s house ( the home place) – the first time we had gathered there since mother passed away, my niece and her children drove from Atlanta to share a few days with us, the second week end of December we hosted an overnight Grandchildren Christmas party. James loved this most of all. Watching seven beautiful grandchildren decorating gingerbread cookies, eating smores, enjoying a light show, and taking Christmas packages to a family in need was like heaven on earth.
Then, James and I counted down the last days ‘till Christmas while watching our Christmas tree perform just for us and enjoying our time together. We shared special Christmas memories one night as the tree danced and my head rested on his chest. He told me he never thought he could celebrate Christmas again after his Sarah passed away; I told him how hard it had been to carry on traditions with Tim gone.
I told James my favorite memory with him was when he hid my gift inside the tree at my house. His gift was a cross necklace that hangs near my heart as I write. Oh how I thank God for the gift of memories. Then, my sweet husband held me tight and we thanked God for our miracle of love. We fell asleep in the chair that night with visions of growing old together dancing in our heads. Three days later, God called James home to heaven. Our singing Christmas stood silently where James had perfectly placed it a few weeks earlier while people gathered in our home two days after Christmas.
Friends came to comfort grieving hearts of a blended family who loved James Earl Vann deeply and devotedly. Thoughts danced through my head of never being able to celebrate Christmas. Then, His Comforter settled on me like the comforter James and I wrapped up in to watch television. His promise to bind my wounds and heal my heart rose up inside. Even in shock, I knew James, Sarah, and Tim were happy in heaven and God would take care of me here. Our home was so sad; people tried to console us, death came so suddenly, but James and Tim would want Christmas to continue and the tree to sing and dance. So, I asked Cameron and Glenn to get it going. They found James’ iPad and soon our tree was lighting up our home with special songs and dancing lights. Our home was filled with a comforting spirit that soothed hearts and brought smiles as we told stories about James and Tim around the table.
The spirit of Christmas was greater than the sting of death. The star on top of our tree seemed to shine brighter than ever and boldly proclaim…’Peace on earth – good will to men. I am with you always…’ And He is…and they are…and we will be okay when we put our trust in God and keep Christmas in our hearts every day of the year!
May your hearts be filled with joy and good cheer as this year ends and a new one begins. There are many things we do not understand happening in our world today…we see Biblical prophecies unfolding while truth, honor, love and respect for God fade away. What can we do? We Can Pray!
Becky Spell Vann is the owner and operator of Tim’s Gift and The Learning Station.