"Mom, are we really not going to put up a tree this year?" my son asked me.
It was December 20. There was no hint of Christmas around our house. I wasn't sure there would be.
Most years, our tree was up the day after Thanksgiving—a magnificent, fragrant, 20-foot fir with gorgeous, color-coordinated ornaments. All December, Christmas music played on the stereo, and luscious aromas filled the air. The doorbell rang again and again. For as long as my kids could remember, our house had been Christmas central.
Not this year. This year was different.
My 20-year marriage had just dissolved in divorce. I was now a single mom with four teenagers. My budget was stretched past the breaking point, and my spirit was strained even further. Some days I could barely manage to get out of bed.
"What's the point in putting up a tree?" I said. "Christmas will never be the same."
Then I saw Sam's sad face, and guilt surged. My kids were counting on me to give them a little taste of normal and joy this Christmas. And I just wasn't capable of doing that.
"I'll get the tree tomorrow," I told him.
Two days later, all four of my kids were home on Christmas break. And there was still no tree. No sign of Christmas.
"This is really depressing," I heard one of them grumble, and my heart broke again.
"I'll get a tree tomorrow," I repeated. Even I didn't believe my words.
That evening, while cleaning up after dinner, I heard voices downstairs, in the finished basement. Then my oldest appeared.
"Mom, we have something to show you."