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An old cassette tape of Christmas carols—received in a package twenty years ago when we had first arrived in France as missionaries—fills our den with delightful piano music as I place one more ornament on the already over-laden Christmas tree. This one is a little white wooden rabbit with pink ears that move back and forth. It actually doesn’t look much like a Christmas ornament, but I bought it for our baby Andrew when my husband Paul was in seminary, and I was working for less than minimum wage in the library. This ornament was literally all I could afford.
As I hang it on the tree today, I get goose bumps and then a rush of warmth. And that’s why I decorate for Christmas. Not to impress but to remember. I remember those lean, lean years, and God’s faithful provision for us.
There are the cross-stitched ornaments I made our first year in Montpellier—for the boys (for by now we had two sons) and Paul and me. How I ever had time to do that, I don’t know. I remember our puny little tree—the kind they sold in France back then—in a pot so that it could be replanted later. We perched that tiny tree on a small table out of baby Christopher’s reach. I guess I watered it too much, because about halfway through December, it started smelling and then stinking, and it rotted there on Christmas Day!
I smile with these memories.
I look at the other ornaments on the tree. Many were purchased—one for each boy—when we attended conferences around Europe, and that makes me smile too. Getting to travel on a missionary’s budget to exotic places! There are the waxed red bear and red baby carriage from Wales, the brightly painted clay sun and moon from Portugal, the blue and white porcelain windmill and wooden shoes from Holland, the hand-blown glass Snoopys sitting on gondolas from Venice, and the delicately decorated eggs from Prague.
Other ornaments include the little pinkish shiny ball ornament with Paul’s name written in glitter—I think he made it when he was about six , and the little red velvet bows, bought at Michael’s after Christmas one year for a dollar. They bring a unifying theme to the tree. I say this, smiling, because our tree is, and has always been throughout the years, a hodge-podge of our life. And I like it that way. I don’t think I could ever have a ‘theme’ tree. Mine is a ‘memory’ tree.
The music plays softly in the background and I smile through tears, remembering God’s incredible faithfulness to call and keep us here in France for so many years. Heart-breakingly hard years, overwhelmingly joyful years—the same years, the same amazing God, our keeper.
Before we left for the mission field, I memorized Psalm 121 in English and in French, and over the years I have held on tight to those last beautiful words of the psalm: The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (NASB)
Of course He will. He is God with us.
We decorate to remember Christmases past, our lives, our legacy, and mostly, for those of us who have embraced Christ, we decorate to honor and praise Him for coming to us—Emmanuel! We make our homes ready to receive the Christ Child, with soft music and candles burning and the sweet flickering of angel wings on an over-laden evergreen.
Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser, an Atlanta native and the bestselling author of The Swan House, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ For over twenty years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions work with International Teams. They presently live near Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons and a daughter-in-law. The Sweetest Thing (Bethany House, 2011) is Elizabeth’s eighth novel. To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, and to find discussion questions as well as photos of sites mentioned in the stories, please visit www.elizabethmusser.com and her Facebook Fan Page.