Uncategorized

The Gravity of the Familiar

Change. Most of us hate it. Everything from adopting a new normal after tragedy has struck to sitting in a different row at church, is enough to send many of us over the edge. Unless the change is our idea, we’re going to have strong negative feelings about the idea of doing something different.

It’s one of the reasons why drug addicts stay addicted, spenders stay broke, alcoholics keep drinking, the abused stay with the abuser. Even if the change promises infinitely better results than our current experience, with proven results from others, it’s oftentimes too much of a risk to take the plunge.

I was especially struck by this phenomenon while listening to a presentation by someone who runs a crisis pregnancy center, a place where women get free health care from conception to delivery. One girl in particular had actually left an abortion clinic and instead of going through with the abortion that day, got involved with this ministry. She was on track, going to her appointments, getting the care she needed only to eventually return to the clinic and have the abortion. I’ll never forget the words of the presenter:

“She couldn’t resist the gravity of the familiar.”

Isn’t that all of us? We wallow in our muck and mire because as painful as it may be, it’s familiar. We know what to expect, it’s controlled. The comfort of the knowable. The gravity of the familiar.

In negative situations remaining in the comfort of familiarity leads to spiraling down a dark hole where the light at the top becomes more dim the farther we fall.

The last two and a half years have been full of change. At one point the only thing that hadn’t changed was my address. Everything else was different. My job. My husband’s job. The method of schooling for our son. Sending our daughter to college. Within three months it was all different. I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable if I’d tried.

All of the changes were good, but I found myself pining after the old job I’d left, the one I couldn’t wait to get out of, the one that was replaced by a job doing exactly what I’d gone to college for. I wanted the old job back. It was familiar and required very little of me beyond being awake.

I wanted my husband to have his summers off the way he had for the last 14 years as a teacher despite the fact that his new job was a breath of fresh air.

I wanted my daughter home safe and sound instead of at a school she’d worked hard to get into, the school where her father and I had met, a place she’d always wanted to go.

I wanted my son back in a regular classroom because it was easier, and he’d be around his friends even though it was a much better fit for him.

All of the changes we were experiencing were good but we were uncomfortable, and I would have gone back to my miserable existence if given the chance because I was scared.

The thing I’ve learned about God is that He really isn’t the least bit concerned about our comfort. Why should He be? He was anything but comfortable while His Son hung on a cross with the weight of the world’s sin bearing down on Him.

His chief aim is to form us to the likeness of His Son, and because we look nothing like Him, doing so requires a bit of effort and a level of unfamiliarity that we humans are not comfortable with.

While I don’t care to relive certain moments in my life, I am grateful for the effort God puts in to making me more like Him no matter how uncomfortable and unfamiliar the path.

 

 

 

Faith · Just Give Me Simple · Uncategorized

On Being Intentional

One of the main reasons my husband and I wanted to get out of debt was because of the choke hold it had on our freedom and peace of mind. We knew that until we were out from underneath the weight of it, we would never be able to fully live the life God had for us. By God’s grace we were able to get out of debt, but that was only the beginning.

During our journey out of debt, we stayed out of stores and restaurants and started to notice that we really needed very little to stay alive and enjoy life. Enter minimalism. It’s been five years since I first wrote about the concept, and I had no idea it would change our lives so much.

We started asking things like what if we didn’t really need a house? What if we did something radical and sold it and, dare I say, rent? What if we got rid of all of the stuff that just lays around the house but serves no purpose?

Slowly we started paring down. Just getting rid of things here and there. We sold some of it and gave away a lot of it. We started finishing up little projects in the house that hadn’t been touched. And then we took the plunge and put a for sale sign in the yard to test the waters.

Four months ago, our house sold. We sold or gave away most of our stuff and moved from our four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment. A dream come true. I cannot tell you. Less space to clean. Less stuff to clean around. More time to do things that matter. Instead of spending weekends working on something that broke around the house or worrying how we’re going to pay for whatever broke around the house, we have time to hang out with friends, take a day trip somewhere, and money to do those things.

Minimalism is more than just the absence of the extraneous. It encourages a life lived with intention rather than just being moved along by the current of activity and wondering where the last year went. Most of us spend a lot of time doing good things, but in the clutter of activity we miss out on the moments.

So in an effort to create a life more in line with what we value most, we moved out of a place that required more of our time and money than we were wanting to give and into one where broken dishwashers and water pressure problems are solved with a phone call to maintenance and repaired at their expense.

In the spirit of intentionality, I’m tackling another area in my life. Health. Though I don’t suffer from disease or serious health problems, I’m becoming more aware that my steady diet of caffeinated beverages and sugar-laden goodies is contributing to my lack of energy, constant need for a nap, and general overall feeling of not experiencing optimum health.

This year I’m committing to spending the first seven weeks of the year doing a cleanse. The very term strikes both fear and anticipation in me. What will I have to give up? Is it sustainable? Will I be able to stick to it until the end? How will I feel when I’m done? Will I have more energy and fewer stomach aches? The questions are endless, and there’s no other way to find out than to just do something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts to undertake.

I will be following the RepairVite gut repair program where the list of foods not approved for consumption is longer than the list that is. I won’t go into it. You can read about it here. Suffice it to say, it will not be easy.

What this is not:

  • A resolution to never drink coffee or eat dessert again.
  • A weight loss plan. There are much easier ways to lose weight.
  • Some crazy hair-brained idea I came up with on a whim. Lots of thought and consideration has gone into this.

What this is:

  • Freeing up another resource God has given me, my health, from my obsession with sugar and coffee.
  • An exercise in tenacity. Because of my dreamer tendencies, I am a great starter. I can imagine anything and start anything. It’s the finishing and sticking to it when things get hard that I struggle with.
  • Becoming untethered from yet another thing that is more of a hindrance in my life than a help.

Looking back I realize that getting out of debt and downsizing our living space were actually steps toward intentional living. Minimalism is great, but it doesn’t answer the deeper question of why. Intentional living takes what minimalism has freed up, resources, and directs them with razor-sharp focus at what matters most. It’s about getting rid of the clutter in all of its forms so that we can live the life that God has designed for us.

Here’s to setting ourselves up for a year of soul-mending service and life-giving experiences. Happy New Year.

Money · Uncategorized

A couple of months ago, my friend and I started using the Qapital app as part of our savings plan. Check out her blog to get her thoughts on how it’s working for her. Below are my thoughts based on my experience.

The Pros:

  • You make the rules. For instance, I had every dollar amount I spent with my debit card rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference would be deducted from my checking account and deposited into my Qapital account. So if I purchased something for $5.45, then 55 cents would be taken out and dumped into my Qapital account. I also had a portion of each check withdrawn and put into the Qapital account as well. It took very little time to build up a decent amount of money.
  • You can change, update, edit the rules at any time. If things are tight, you can freeze withdrawals for as long as you need. Qapital also has a safety net of $100 so if your available funds get to $100 or below, they stop withdrawing money.
  • It was easy and as no-brainer as a person can get. For those of us lacking the appropriate amount of discipline to put money away themselves, the automated aspect of it was golden. Set it and forget it.

The Cons:

  • This is where it gets interesting. I wanted to test how easily it would be to get the money back into my regular bank account. I attempted to take all of it out at one time, but they wouldn’t allow that. You can only withdraw a certain amount at a time.
  • It takes three days to get your money.
  • The customer service is not good. At one point, it looked like they had withdrawn $100 out of my bank account twice. I freaked out, and attempted to get in touch with them. There is no phone number. At all. Anywhere. So the customer is left with the only option of email. It took 72 hours to get a generic response.
  • You can’t close the account until the money has been withdrawn. But remember they wouldn’t let me take it all out at once so now I have an open account without access to all of my money.
  • It wasn’t until I sent a scathing response to their generic email insisting that they close my account, that I got a quick response.

My guess is that some of my problem was simply user error. However, not having immediate access to funds for three days and less-than-stellar customer service is enough to convince me that the Qapital app is not for me, and I would not recommend it. In the end, I got all of my money and closed my account.

What I wanted more than anything was the convenience of automated savings. That can be done anywhere. Maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged or maybe because I don’t understand how everything works, but for things like money, I’d rather open a separate account at a brick and mortar bank and have my money automatically deposited there than with some app out in cyberspace.

Have you ever used any savings apps? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Money · Uncategorized

Hacking My Way to a Fatter Savings Account

In my last post I gave you the whole story of how we got out of debt. This week it’s all about saving.

We may not be in debt, but our savings is nowhere near what it should be. In fact, according to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, “more than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts.” 1

Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I would make excuses: I couldn’t save because there were too many things that kept coming up, or I’m out of debt isn’t that good enough? While I’m thankful that in our current state, the things that have come up have been taken care of with cash, a healthier savings would eliminate the what-are-we-going-to-do-if -something-major-happens question.

Despite our bad choices over the years and our emaciated savings account, God has ALWAYS, without fail, provided for our needs. I could spend the next 1,000 words singing His praises and give you example after example of how His goodness is not dependent on our behavior, but that will have to be for another day. On to the matter at hand.

In 2000, my family and I moved to Chicago so my husband could pursue graduate school. We sold our house, cancelled our various accounts, and closed our checking account. One of the habits I had gotten into was rounding up the amount I wrote a check for in my check register to the nearest dollar. I mainly did it because it made the math easier–you know, round numbers and all. Surprisingly, when we closed the account, we had a surplus of $1200. I had inadvertently saved what, for me, was a massive amount of money.

Enter 2018, and there are now apps that do basically the same thing. The Qapital app, does this very thing. Here’s how it works: open a free FDIC-insured account with them and set up how you want to save money. For instance, I have set it so that every time I use my debit card to pay for something, it will round up to the nearest dollar and dump that change into the Qapital account. It can be set up anyway you want.

I’m joining forces with my blogging friend, Amy, who has hers set up so that every time she spends a certain amount of money at Starbucks, it dumps a specific amount of money into her Qapital account. Check out her blog to see the specifics of how she’s using this app.

We will be checking in every three months to share our progress. I love the idea because I’m lazy, and it requires nothing from me. I will not get rich this way, but every little bit helps, and if you sign up using my referral link, we both get $5. Free money, people!

There are a myriad of ways to save:

  • Pay yourself first (which we’re also doing)
  • Invest-my ultimate goal
  • 52week money challenge– This one is easier if you start backwards, saving $52, then $51, etc, or so I’ve heard.
  • Get a side job and save the earnings. Anything from tutoring to picking up dog poop for people who don’t want to do it themselves.
  • Sell stuff and save the proceeds. I’m guessing most of us have way more junk in our houses than we need unless you’re a minimalist. If only….

The key is to find something you will do and stick with it. Saving is hard because it involves exercising the stiff muscle of delayed gratification, but it’s worth it. Join us. Your future self will thank you.

How are you saving this year? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/13/how-much-americans-at-have-in-their-savings-accounts.htm

 

Faith · Money · Uncategorized

Pulled From the Money Pit

For anyone who knows me, my debt story is old news. In fact, I originally started confessionsofamaterialgirl.com as a means of documenting what God was teaching me through the use and misuse of money. However, my actual story of debt never appeared on the blog. The reason for posting it now is to give a little background as I move into the new year and begin an experiment on this blog.

I may be out of debt (except my mortgage), but like most people my habit of saving could use some tweaking. Stay tuned for a blog coming up that will introduce a fairly new (to me) hack we can all use to beef up our savings. In the meantime, enjoy the reminder of what God rescued me from. You can also enjoy this same story on in the Samaritan Ministries Newsletter and blog here.

 

Money is a strange thing. It worries us, motivates us, and dictates how we spend our time.

But because many of us don’t know how to handle it wisely, it often leads to debt, a condition as common as the common cold.

According to a 2017 study by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co,1,

  • About half of Americans with debt have balances of at least $25,000 (excluding mortgages), averaging roughly $37,000.
  • More than four in 10 Americans with debt (45 percent) spend up to half of their monthly income on debt repayment.
  • More than one-third of adults with debt (36 percent) anticipate that they will be in debt for six to 20 years, and 14 percent expect to be in debt for the rest of their lives!
  • About four in 10 American adults say debt has a “substantial” or “moderate” impact on their financial security. The same number say debt is a “high” or “moderate” source of anxiety.
  • Despite their debt, after basic necessities, Americans, on average, spend about 40 percent of their monthly income on discretionary expenses such as leisure travel and hobbies.

My husband, Bruce, and I were in this pit of debt. After reaching a point where our debt was almost equal to our salary, we had finally had enough. Distracted by the chokehold it had on us, we weren’t serving God and living the life He had for us.

With the help of a couple from our church, who are master money managers, we set out on a path of debt-free living. It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever dealt with, but now, with the exception of our mortgage, we are totally debt free.

Here is what we did:

  1. We got help.

This doesn’t mean begging family and friends for money. That will merely put a Band-Aid on the wound rather than heal it.

Our mentors helped us set up a budget, held us accountable, and provided a shoulder to cry on when I’d just missed the greatest sale of the century and had to let all of those beautiful clothing possibilities go home with someone else. It was not easy. We had to do things like get on the phone and talk to creditors and arrange payment plans, ask for late fees to be waived, close credit card accounts, budget, say no to dinners out with friends. We wrote down every expense imaginable. If I purchased a 25-cent gumball out of a machine somewhere, I wrote it down.

But the hardest part of all was admitting our situation to people who thought we had it all together. It was a blow to our pride, but we got over it. There’s something about admitting to one another our sin and need for help that allows God the freedom to work in ways that make lasting change. It forces us to deal with the deeper issue that no one sees.

God designed us for community. We are not meant to do life alone. We had to be willing to swallow our pride and ask for help.

  1. We faced our reality.

Burying our heads in the sand, hoping it would go away, seemed like the least painful move, but not only would it not pay the bills, it would have only prolonged our agony. For us, this meant taking the pile of bills out from the bottom of the drawer, laying them out, and really looking at what we were dealing with.

Imagine an emergency room doctor with a patient who was in a terrible accident and whose wounds are so grotesque, the doctor couldn’t bear to look at them. So he ignores the patient, hoping that somehow the wounds will heal on their own. Meanwhile, the longer he waits, the worse the patient gets. Infection  sets in, internal organs begin to shut down, and every minute without treatment pushes the patient closer to death. How ludicrous. In the same way, our debt wasn’t going anywhere on its own, and the sooner we faced it, the more quickly we could stop the madness and reverse the effects.

  1. We tithed.

One of the first things we were told to do was tithe in the sense of giving back from our income. We started following the principle found in Malachi 3:10, that says,

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

This is an absolute necessity, not because God needs our money. He doesn’t. He has plenty.
“For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:26, NASB). Rather, tithing forces us to exercise the often-atrophied spiritual muscles of faith, surrender, and obedience.

Faith says we trust God with our finances even though one more dollar to Him is one less going toward debt or food or whatever. Surrender means we’re handing over the control of our finances to Someone much more trustworthy than us. Obedience is our response to a command in Scripture surrounding basic money management.

  1. We changed our habits.

For me, this meant staying out of the stores. I didn’t darken the door of a shopping mall for two years. I had to find a new hobby to replace window-shopping, which, let’s face it, rarely stays at just the window.

In my days of overspending, most of the time I wasn’t looking for something specific. I was just in the mall for something to do, and, all of a sudden, I would see things that I didn’t know I needed prior to walking in the store. How could I possibly live without $200 leather pumps? It would be a tragedy not to buy them, especially if I took out a store credit card and could save 30 percent. A no-brainer, right? Right. No brain was used in the making of that decision.

It’s no different than if an alcoholic is trying to become sober. How mindless would it be to hang out with his friends in a bar? I stopped going where temptation lived.

  1. We cut everything from our budget that did not contribute to staying alive.

Basically everything but food, shelter, and clothing were cut from the budget. This is where coming to terms with need vs. want paid huge dividends in stretching our money. For some people, something as simple as downgrading a phone plan, cutting out cable, and not going out to eat is enough to loosen the chokehold. For others, it could mean selling a car or putting college on hold for a time. In our case, we did all the little stuff, but it still wasn’t enough. Our situation was desperate and called for desperate measures.

At the time, we were living in a house we couldn’t afford. We overbought. It was bigger, better, on a quieter street, had more square footage, more bathrooms, a pool, attached two-car garage. The works. Our white-carpeted castle was way out of our league. So we downsized in the middle of the 2008 crash. We didn’t make a dime off of it, but miraculously, by the grace of God, we didn’t lose anything either.

6). We found a way to make extra money.

I know. The thought of adding more work to an already-stretched schedule seems daunting, but it’s just for a short time. Leverage some hidden skill or talent you may have. Are you a math whiz? Great. There are plenty of kids out there who could use your tutoring skills to get them through the necessary evil of geometry. I know because I raised a couple of them!

I took on extra cleaning jobs, my husband started umpiring for Little League on the weekends, and we got very familiar with Craigslist. For some reason our home had become the collection site for unwanted furniture from family members who were either moving or updating their decor. So we sold their stuff along with our unnecessary stuff and put the money toward debt.

All of these steps helped us to realize that debt may be common for the world, but it doesn’t have to be common for the believer. My husband and I learned that we were created for so much more than the useless collection of trinkets.

As believers, we have an awesome opportunity to show the world how to do money differently. In so doing, we can serve them better without the restraints debt places on us.

The simple truth is this:

1). Being content with what you’ve been given is priceless. Looking back, I can see just how true Proverbs 27:20 was about us:

“Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied” (KJV).

2). When possessions become more important than people, we become slaves to the very things we own.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NASB).

3). What stuck out to me the most is that God does the heavy lifting. He does the fixing and redeeming. None of us, no matter what we have done, have wandered beyond the reach of  His redemption. Not even my husband and I after accumulating thousands of dollars in debt. Our job is simply to surrender and obey.

Psalm 103:4 says that He “redeems your life from the pit.”

  1. (https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/2017-planning-and-progress-the-debt-dilemma.pdf)

 

Faith · Uncategorized

What Child is This?

Today’s post is a nod to my pastor, John King, and a sermon he delivered a couple of weeks ago. You can watch it here.

I used to fancy myself as an easy-going, roll-with-the-punches kind of person who loved change and adventure. Truth be told, the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that I am not nearly as flexible and welcoming of change as I would like to think. In fact, my stubbornness regarding the subject is not so unlike that of a pig I once knew.

The fact is, life is changing. Some of it’s good. Some, not so much. Either way, I’m finding it challenging to deal with much of it. But I’m reminded that God is still God. The following four points are those laid out by my pastor along with my own two cents.

1) . Lay claim to the nearness of God. “You will never be where God is not.”

In fact, Psalm 139:7,8 says the same thing:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”

Just because it doesn’t feel like God is there in the middle of our chaos doesn’t mean He isn’t. Emotions are God-given and have their place, but when the rubber meets the road, truth is what we fall back on. And the truth is that God will never leave us or forsake us.

2). Rely on the character of God.

In his sermon, Pastor King told the story of JJ Jasper who was given some devastating news that he was going to have to tell his family. Before he did, though, he sat them all down and asked them to start listing off everything they knew that was good and true about God.

This is quite possibly the most valuable exercise we can do for several reasons:

  • It’s an exercise in recalling what God has done for us up to this point. What characteristics of God has He displayed in the past? How has He answered prayer in the past? How have you seen Him work in your life?
  • It’s an exercise in renewing our mind: It replaces the doubts, questions,  and worry we have regarding our situation and replaces it with truth.
  • It’s an exercise in reciting His praises. There is nothing quite like singing the praises of God to drag us out of our pit of self-pity and into the realm of truth.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9, ESV).

3). Pray your pain out.

“When you’re going through tough times, it’s not a time to stop praying. It’s not a time to pray sweet little prayers.”

We have the freedom to tell Him how we feel. He already knows anyway. I have found myself over the years praying something like this: “Lord, I don’t know what to pray anymore. I feel like the magnitude of my situation requires words I don’t have, that the ones I’m using are just not reaching your ears, that possibly my situation is too big for you.”

Ever felt that way? Ever wondered if your situation is the one situation that will trip God up?

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:25-27, ESV).

Tell me one other belief system in the world whose god, in spirit form, intercedes on behalf of his followers when they’re too distraught to know what to say. There are none. Only our God is so intimately involved with the daily goings-on of His people who even when words fail them, he fills in the gaps. Amazing.

4). Don’t isolate yourself.

I will admit that when things get hairy, my initial reaction is to hibernate, to hole up in the deepest corner of my house and sulk. The last thing I want is to be surrounded by other humans with just as many problems as me especially if it’s other people who have contributed to my current state of frustration. Besides the fact that this is a case of me pointing one finger at someone else with three pointing back at me (immaturity at its best), it’s also unbiblical. We are not an island meant to do life alone.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

Adoption into the family of God comes with unparalleled perks. Just as the Holy Spirit speaks for us when we can’t, the family of God is a built-in support system for whatever we’re going through. Don’t run from the one thing that God designed so specifically for the way He made us. We are relational. We need each other.

What Child is this? The simple truth is this:

The Child is everything we need. There is no substitute for Jesus. God’s plan of redemption is complete in this Child.  We don’t need, nor can we, add anything to Him. He’s completely perfect. Completely redemptive. Completely restorative, loving, all-encompassing, not lacking in anything, completely gracious, merciful, and good.

I pray this Christmas will be especially meaningful to you as you remember God’s great Gift of hope to us. Merry Christmas.

 

Uncategorized

An Ode to Christmas Trees | Blogmas 2017

I had the opportunity to be part of Blogmas with some of my blogging friends. In case you missed this post from three years ago, I resurrected after determining it was too perfect a fit for the theme my friend, Jaclyn, was going for. So I resurrected it, and it appeared on her blog.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

see all Blogmas 2017 Creators

By Kathryn Nielson

Like most kids, I grew up loving Christmas. Hands down the best part about the whole season was decorating the Christmas tree. My mom and dad would drag it up from the basement, pull it out of the box and assemble it, fitting the branches into their color-coordinated holes in the base. I loved it. We doused it with colorful felt ornaments, homemade ornaments, sparkly ornaments, colored lights and a truckload of silver tinsel. To my young eyes its grandeur stood unmatched dwarfing every other ornament placed around the house.

Scan 2014-12-1 0004

But…there was always this niggling frustration in the back of my head. The tree wasn’t real. I don’t know where the obsession with real trees came in. I didn’t know anyone who had one. But the oddity of placing something real from the forest in the middle of my house taunted me.

In moving to an apartment, to college, and back to apartment, I had all shapes and sizes of trees. Short trees, emaciated trees, skinny trees. No matter what they looked like, they all had one thing in common: they were fake. I wanted a real one, and it was a dream that would not die.

Enter Bruce, my husband, the quintessential New Englander. Unlike my history with fake trees, he’d never had one. He knew they existed, but no true self-respecting New Englander would actually have one-at least not as their only tree. One could accessorize with the copycat version, but to have a plastic evergreen heralding the season in one’s home was unthinkable.

Our first Christmas came two months after we were married. We decided to spend it alone in our little apartment watching Christmas movies, eating steak, and gazing at what I insisted would be a real tree to which my husband responded with a look of is there any other kind?

So one Sunday afternoon while my sister was in town we set off for a tree farm to pick out our own tree and cut it down. Not only would the blessed thing be real, but Bruce was going to show me what picking out a tree was really all about. Ritualistic in nature, it involved the tedious task of finding it, cutting it down, mounting it to the top of the car and driving it home. Lest you think all trees are created equal, you couldn’t be more wrong. A Fraser Fir, considered by my husband as the Cadillac of trees, was simply the only option. The whole thing was incredibly romantic, and I almost couldn’t take it.

About an hour and a half into the search, I got a little tired. We walked all over the stinking farm looking for the perfect tree. In my head, they were all perfect because they were real and big and smelled like Christmas. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this painstaking search for perfection would be how my sweet my husband would research all future purchases from baby strollers to sandwich bread. I could appreciate that he excelled at the skill of tree shopping. Apparently, he was so good at it that his family would not purchase a tree until he was home from college on break and able to go get it, no matter how late in the season it was. It was impossible for anyone to pick out a tree like Bruce. So I’d been told.

Weary of the whole thing, my dream of authentic foliage dashed by the sheer absurdity of the search, I suggested that a fake one from Walmart would suffice and marched off in the snow back to the car with my sister in tow. We waited another hour and a half. Finally, from the distance I saw a tree moving toward us. As it got closer I realized that buried under this mass of foliage was my husband manhandling this thing proud as a peacock. We waited another half hour as he hoisted onto our little Ford Tempo, triple checking the bungee cords to make sure it wasn’t going anywhere while we drove home.

To say that it was large would be an understatement. It literally took up most of a the wall where the sliding glass door sat, protruding out into the living room leaving no one to wonder what season we were in. I could not wait to get my hands on that tree and decorate it, bringing to life what I was feeling inside.

Scan 2014-12-1 0006
The decorating of a Christmas tree is much like accessorizing an outfit. “Forest fashion” represents the “wearer” to the outside world. In this instance, my “forest friend” donned blue Christmas balls, red tinsel, and big white lace bows leftover from my wedding representing my newlywed bliss and diehard patriotism.

In my humble opinion, no more beautiful a tree could be found anywhere. Every morning as I sipped my coffee, I would sit and stare at its blinking lights and be taken back to that beautiful childhood tree-though fake-that I found so mesmerizing.

In the 24 years we’ve been married, only twice have my husband and I ignored our tree standards, disappointed both times. In moments of strict frugality, my romantic visions of the perfect tree were thwarted by the price, and we succumbed to plastic simplicity one year and something real but very pokey the next year. We decided that like saving for Christmas presents, saving for a tree that lasts a month at best, then dies and is thrown to the curb, is a priority that cannot be ignored.

These days my house is filled with trees; one in my bedroom decorated with all of the ornaments created by my kids through the years; one in the dining room, white with lime green, fuchsia and turquoise decorations, a nod to my lime green walls; two in my daughter’s room because there is no other person more obsessed with Christmas than she; one in my son’s room, and finally the rock star of them all, the big Fraser Fir in the living room crammed with white lights, Nielson ornaments tracking the years we’ve been a family, cat ornaments because next to the Christmas tree in importance is the cat (of course) and a variety of others we’ve collected over the years. Take all the other decorations away, and you can still eek out a bit of Christmas cheer. But take away the tree and none of the other decorations make sense. Plus, where would the presents go?

Whatever makes Christmas merry for you, enjoy it with your family, rejoice in it, and for heaven’s sake, get a decent tree!

Post navigation