I remember the first Christmas I celebrated with my blended family. Courtney, my stepdaughter, was 10 at the time. She and her daddy hauled in a mountain of decorations from storage. Together we began placing the items. It didn’t take long to notice that Courtney moved or rearranged every decoration I touched. I was confused and a bit hurt when she grabbed a decoration and said, “That’s not where it goes!” But her next sentence explained everything: “Mom always put that on the coffee table.”
Courtney’s mom, Barbara, was a beautiful woman who died of cancer when she was 38; Courtney was 6 at the time. When Courtney grabbed that Christmas decoration, I realized she was not rejecting me; she was trying desperately to hang on to the memories of her mom and the Christmases they shared.
After that revelation, I simply asked Courtney where each item I unpacked should go, and I gently prodded her for memories about her mom. Both she and Billy shared stories of Christmases past, and I felt I knew Barbara a bit better by the time the last ornament found its home. We decorated the tree that year using small honor bows, each one placed to celebrate the life of a specific person. Barbara’s special bow found its home in the center of the tree.
Later that evening, as Billy and I sat on the couch surrounded by twinkling lights, I explained that I understood where Courtney was coming from but that, somehow, Christmas in our home would eventually need to have my fingerprints on it, too — without erasing Barbara’s touch. He agreed, and together we brainstormed ways to slowly accomplish that.
The next year, I added a few new decorations to the existing mix and replaced a weary wreath with one I created by weaving bits of the old one with new ribbon — a blending of the past and present. Together, Courtney and I decorated the den tree. I also decorated a small tree for our living room. Billy called it the “don’t touch froufrou tree.” Courtney called it beautiful because I decorated it with red roses in memory of her mom, whose portrait hangs in that room. Barbara’s favorite flower was the red rose. I told Courtney that even though her mom is gone, her love and influence live on, blooming in Courtney’s life. She liked that.
Each year Barbara’s Christmas stocking hangs from our mantel in celebration of the beautiful life she lived and the legacy of love she left for Billy and Courtney. I cannot grasp why God chose to take Barbara home at such a young age. Nor do I understand why He chose me to stand in the gap for her. Over the past 13 years, I’ve felt so inadequate. But my prayer is that, in small ways, I’m helping Courtney grow to become the young woman of her mom’s dreams. I see Barbara in Courtney. I see Billy in Courtney. And, some days, I see a bit of myself in our brown-eyed girl. We are indeed a blended family. And that is a great Christmas gift.