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The tree was artificial and the top was bare. It didn't feel quite like Christmas.
Our new, artificial Christmas tree was more convenient than a real one. That’s what I told myself as I helped my husband, Mike, set it up.
It was less expensive. It came in three easy pieces that opened out like umbrellas. The branches were pre-wrapped with tiny white bulbs. No pine needles to vacuum, no water tray to refill.
So why was I unsatisfied? “It’s not the same,” I said as Mike and I finished. “A real tree is a bit of nature brought inside.”
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“But it looks great,” Mike said. “Perfect, in fact.” We’d chosen the tallest model in the store. The branches brushed right up against the ceiling. “It’ll look even better when we get our old ornaments on it.”
I opened the storage boxes while Mike strung extra lights. One by one we hung our familiar decorations from years past. The pipe cleaner reindeer Andy made in second grade. His sister Kate’s snowflake covered in blue glue glitter.
The kids were grown and on their own now. They wouldn’t miss the piney smell of a real tree in our living room. But I did. The bayberry and pine candles I’d lit on the windowsill just weren’t doing the trick.
The tree was finished—except for one thing. The star at the top. Maybe that will turn this into a real Christmas tree, I thought as I took our topper out of the box.
I climbed up on the stepladder and reached into the branches. “Mike!” I said. “It won’t fit! The tree’s too tall.”
“That’s one advantage to a real tree,” Mike admitted. “You can lop off the top.” We stood there frowning, wondering what to do.
“I could hang it,” I said. Mike threaded some wire through the star and I climbed back up the ladder to hook it on. But the star was made to be supported by the strong trunk. The tree top sank under its weight. The tip of our extra-large pine flopped over like the scraggly tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
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“Maybe I can find something at the mall,” I said, putting the old star away. The tree top looked bare—and artificial—without it. All the nice tree toppers were sure to be gone by now.
That night I lay in bed listening to the wind blustering and blowing outside. God, you know how much I love to have a star on my tree. Help me find something. Wind rattled the windows. Otherwise God was silent.
The next morning I went outside to get the paper. Evidence of the windstorm was everywhere. Twigs, sticks and branches littered the lawn. Our driveway was full of pinecones from a tree all the way up the block. As I leaned down to pick up the paper, my eye fell on a pile of twigs lying on the ground.
They look almost like a star, I thought, my mind going back to my Christmas tree. Remember, God, I asked you for help with this last night. I looked at the branches again. Had the wind really made that pattern all on its own? I had an idea.
I grabbed some branches and a handful of those cones from the neighbor’s tree. I took everything inside and got out my glue gun. The paper could wait. At the kitchen table I arranged and rearranged them in a star pattern until I got it just right. I didn’t even look up when Mike said bye before he left for work.