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.
Dad has been joyfully running around heaven for almost 20 years now, quite likely spinning hilarious tales and grinning like a possum, just like he did on earth.
When he was running around down here, Dad was a real study in contrasts. He could rattle your teeth with some of his clothing ensembles but select a gift for my mom that would take your breath away. Dad just slap-dab loved Mom to pieces, and his gifts reflected that love. With six kids to feed, he rarely had two nickels to rub together. But one year for their anniversary, he gave Mom a few pieces of exquisite china he most likely found in a dusty but delightful antique store. The pattern was unique: delicate tea leaves framed by a rich teal band trimmed in gold. The china’s cups, elegantly curved and ever so feminine, most likely reminded my dad of the woman he loved so much. As a little girl I would gaze with awe at those exquisite cups, not daring to touch. Even then I knew they represented far more than beautiful china that could hold liquid; they represented a big heart overflowing with love.
A few years ago, to my heart’s delight, my mom gave me one of the cups to “Daddy’s China.” Showing it to my husband, Billy, I told him the story behind it and expressed how I would love to find more pieces of the set.
Now Billy is a real guy’s guy; china is not his thing. But for months he traipsed along with me as I combed every antique store in Tennessee and beyond, searching for pieces of “Daddy’s China,” always hopeful but always leaving empty-handed.
In many ways, Billy reminds me of Dad. He can spin a hilarious tale and grin like a possum, too. Gift-givingis also his love language. On my 46th birthday, Billy served me breakfast in bed. In he walked, grinning like a possum while balancing a covered breakfast tray. After a hilarious version of the “Happy Birthday” song, he removed the soft cloth that covered the tray. There was my breakfast, lovingly showcased on a place setting of “Daddy’s China.” I burst into tears — not quite the reaction Billy was expecting! As tears splattered my eggs and bacon, I could almost hear Daddy chuckling and telling Billy, “Atta boy, son! Those are ‘you done good’ tears!”
Finding a place setting of “Daddy’s China” was no small feat for Billy. But just like my dad, this husband of mine searches long and hard for gifts that represent his big heart, which is — to my amazement and utter delight — overflowing with love for woefully imperfect me. Billy’s big-hearted love has me sharing sweet tales and grinning like a possum.
Daddy would be proud.