MYSTERIOUS WAYS: A Christmas Reawakening
Eleven months after their wedding, Richard and Mary Shepherd spent their first Christmas together in a small, one-bedroom apartment in Bismarck, North Dakota. Their first Christmas tree was a short, scrubby little thing sitting on an end table, with a dozen plastic ornaments and one string of blinking lights. The only other decorations they could afford consisted of a cheap plastic wreath for the front door and a string of artificial mistletoe hanging over the love seat. Sitting under it, they kissed and laughed and felt the baby kick in Mary’s bulging tummy.
The following Christmas they sprinkled silver tinsel on a four-foot tree, connected up their second string of lights, and bought a small ceramic nativity scene from a secondhand store. They baked sugar cookies for everyone they knew and tried their best to get their nine-month-old baby girl to take her first step before the New Year.
By the time little Angela was a year and a half old, the Shepherds had graduated to a five-foot tree with three strings of lights and four-dozen glass ornaments. Mary’s handcrafted decorations adorned the walls, and three red stockings hung from nails in their make-believe mantle over their crepe-paper fireplace.
Corinna came to them that January, and the Shepherds rented a house in the suburbs. Before Corinna’s first birthday, Angela had taught her little sister how to topple their seven-foot tree, breaking many of the five strings of lights and the six-dozen glass ornaments. They hung their four felt stockings over a real fireplace, and while the logs crackled and popped, they sang “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
Like most everyone in the western world, Richard Shepherd loved Christmas. Every dollar saved and spent was more than worth the resulting sparkles in his little girls’ eyes and the squeals of delight as they discovered their shiny new treasures.
Those were the days.
Then, tragically, only four months before what would have been their fifth holiday season together, he lost them all in a disastrous accident . . . Mary, Angela, Corinna . . . all gone—erased from his life like a cruel dream, leaving him reeling from the shock and staggering into the bitterness of life alone.
For Richard, Christmas became the most dreaded, most miserable, and most depressing time of year. No more squeals of delight or treasures to discover. No more carols to share or cookies to frost. No more ceramic wise men to arrange. No more lights, ornaments, or handmade decorations. No more trees . . . ever.
The fairytale died.