A friend of mine confessed on a recent girls’ night that her Christmas tree was still up. It was past mid-March. New Year’s resolutions had already been forgotten, Cupid already shot his arrow, leprechauns already spent their pots of gold, and cumulus clouds were already forming April showers in the skies, so I didn’t really know what to say.
She seemed relatively nonchalant about it, and I told her I didn’t know whether she had become fully liberated or if she had simply gone over the edge. There seems to be a fine line between those things.
She explained that she hasn’t had time between working, chauffeuring children, and the daily demands of life. She was mortified recently when another couple stopped by unexpectedly. After all, a fully-decorated Christmas tree isn’t something you can just jam in the closet or under a couch cushion. But the other couple was more interested in her company than her Christmas décor, and they sat around the tree drinking wine and catching up. It sounded rather peaceful, like one of those made-for-TV moments that we are too busy to have during the actual Christmas season.
We are told time and again to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. But not in our living rooms. Keeping your heart red and green and glittery gold all year sounds wonderful, but your living room should have delicate hints of spring tucked into the décor by now. That’s what my Better Homes and Gardens magazine says anyway.
But what my friend’s better way of living suggests is that her priorities are less interested in decor and more aligned with devotion to others. Maybe it’s because of this that she had such ease making her Christmas tree confession. There was no blaming her husband or kids, no claiming it was going to be one of those seasonal trees, no plans to take it down the following day, no guilt, just a shrug of indifference that she hasn’t had time to get to it.
I thought back to a few weeks earlier when another dear friend passed away unexpectedly. I had been at the hospital all day hoping, praying, and comforting. I was with her husband, daughters, and another friend throughout the tragedy. After everyone left, I stayed behind with my husband to meet the priest and deacon to pray over my friend’s lifeless body. It was a long, horrible day. That little baby that was born in a manger on Christmas felt terribly far away.
I came home depleted, dreading the many phone calls I still had to make to share the devasting news, having already said over and over again, I’m sorry, to too many people. It felt like the most apologetic day of my life, and there were still more apologies to make.
I was surprised to see a Styrofoam cooler on my dining room table. On top of it was a bouquet of long-stemmed sunflowers that suggested the return of sunny days. Inside was dinner for my family. I started sobbing, overcome with humility that someone had thought of extending mercy to me. The day had been about my friend, her husband, children, and other friends, and now it had been about me, too.
Marked on top of the cooler were two words: Mercy Matters.
My friend who hasn’t had time to take down her Christmas tree did that for me. No one knew that there would be a terrible loss that day. No one had planned for it. No one ever does. So how remarkable it is when people show up anyway, rearrange their plans, give their time, are generous and thoughtful and reminiscent of a holiday that for most of us is packed away in boxes in the attic.
As unorthodox as it is for her Christmas tree to still be up, this girl knows what matters. She lives it. The red and green and glittery gold of her heart shines year-round. She reminded me how much mercy matters, and that’s a better gift than anything I’ll ever find under a tree.
Did you ever have anyone do something so unexpected and kind for you? I was desperate for mercy that day and sure enough, it showed up for me. I would love to hear how it has shown up for you too.
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