Only a Christmas Tree
“Here’s your paycheck, Pete.” Isaac handed his warehouse supervisor the slip of paper that represented two weeks’ labor. “There’s a little extra … you know … for the Holidays. Sorry it’s not more. Business has been slow … you know ….”
Pete nodded and took the check. “Things haven’t exactly been flying off the warehouse shelves this winter,” he agreed.
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 1
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 2
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 3
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 4
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 5
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 6
Audio: Only A Christmas Tree, Part 7
Isaac shuffled awkwardly. “Well, have a good Christmas!” He tried to smile, but it was unconvincing.
“You too.” Self-conscious, Pete moved toward the warehouse door.
“Good Christmas!” he muttered. “This will barely pay the bills, let alone buy gifts.” Pete had been a frustrated man for some time, and the dam of his discouragement broke loose as he got into his rusty pick up truck. Without warning, hot tears filled his dark-circled blue eyes. He pounded the steering wheel, turned the key, and listened to the click-click of the starter he couldn’t afford to replace.
Wiping his flannel sleeve across his eyes and nose, he stepped out, grabbed a hammer from behind the seat, raised the creaking hood, and rapped on the starter. Climbing back in, he turned the key again, and with relief heard “gr-rr-rr” as the engine fired to life. Grinding the pickup into gear, Pete pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway that led home.
Home. Twila was there – doing her best to put a nice meal on the table. She rarely complained. What a good woman the Lord had given him. The girls would be helping set the table and maybe even talk Mama into lighting a candle to make things “more pretty.” They were good girls – little Megan, six, and Jennie, eight. They were the light of his life.
“I’ve got to do better for them!” Pete struck the wheel again and fought back a choking sensation. They had always told Pete, growing up, that he needed a college degree to be successful. He had one of those – in Business – earned twelve years ago. A lot of good it had done him. His present job description stated: “GED or high school diploma preferred.” It was all he could find in this down economy – all he was really qualified for, with his resume full of sales clerk, assembler, and warehouseman jobs. This was a supervisor position at least, but the prognosis for career advancement was not promising.
Pete was not just frustrated with himself though. He was frustrated with God. It was a feeling he rarely allowed to surface, but it was there, like an ache. God is God, after all, and He gives good gifts to His people. He’s a good Father. He doesn’t give His kids stones or snakes. It’s right there in the Bible!
But Pete felt like he had a whole pocket full of rocks. He had prayed, worked hard, held out his hands to God … and gotten a rock every time. At least it seemed that way.
Yet, he knew it must be his fault. “I just haven’t worked hard enough or been focused or courageous enough! That’s got to be it.” In his heart he wasn’t sure though. It didn’t feel that way. Deep inside dwelt the chilling suspicion that God wasn’t a good father – wouldn’t come through for him. No, of course it had to be his own fault somehow, but … what more could he have done?
It was in this mental state that Pete pulled into the driveway of his family’s two-bedroom rental house on the edge of town. As the engine went quiet, he gripped the wheel until his knuckles whitened, breathed deeply, shot up a “Lord help me” prayer, and climbed out of the old pickup, slamming the creaky door behind him.
It was dusk on this mid-December evening, and Pete saw the blur of two little forms in the front picture window. He knew what was coming. This homecoming ritual was usually the highlight of his day, but tonight he couldn’t shake the dread that weighed on his soul. Seeing the front door fly open and the warm light pour down the sidewalk, Pete dragged up a smile and called out, “There’s my girls!”
“Daddy, Daddy!” came the chorus. “Daddy, what did you bring us?”
He didn’t miss his cue. “A big, Daddy-Bear hug for each of you … and for Mama too if I can catch her!” His smile broadened now as he wrapped his girls in a thick-flannelled embrace.
Stomping the snow off his boots, he stepped into the warmth, light, and fragrance of the home Twila made for them each day. They had decided early in their marriage that it was important for Mom to stay home with the little ones. Many of Twila’s friends told her she was wasting her degree and chances for a career, but she would smile patiently and tell them she and Pete had agreed things were better this way.
“Where’s that pretty mom of yours?” Pete kept smiling, though the heaviness was returning. “She’s hard to catch ‘cause she’s always working, but I’ll bear-hug her too if I can!” The girls giggled. Pete meant it too. If his daughters were the light of his life, Twila was his life.
“Mama, Daddy’s home!” called Megan. Her blue eyes sparkled under a mop of curly blond hair. Most of the unruly curls had escaped the pink hair band she had donned this morning – to match her pink and purple sweater. Jennifer, the older, was more subdued. She wore a blue and green sweater and blue jeans with holes in the knees. Her shoulder-length brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail.
Twila peeked around the corner. Her smile was genuine, though weary. She always made Pete feel welcome, though he knew she often struggled with discouragement. Neither of them had expected to be where they were now – after ten years. When they were courting, they had anticipated how God might use them – with all their life before them. Now it felt like life had somehow seeped away … into the parched ground of lost dreams, small paychecks, and the dailyness of it all.
Twila was a pretty woman, with auburn hair and green eyes. Those eyes had once shined at Pete in a way that melted his heart. Now they were mostly … well, tired. He couldn’t think of a better description. He understood. The bags under his once-bright blue eyes made him look older than his 34 years. He felt like 64 most of the time.
“Hi Babe!” Pete gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. That was all she really wanted or had time for these days. It had become their normal morning and evening ritual. Pete missed the early days of their marriage, but – again – he understood. He had not given his wife an easy life.
“Daddy, do you like the table?” It was Megan again. She beamed, pointing to what she and Jennie had created. “We bought a vanilla candle at the dollar store today; doesn’t it smell wonderful?”
It did. And the table testified to his little girls’ artistry with paper, scissors, glue, and crayons. Adorning the festive table cloth Twila had sewn were lovingly made Christmas creations that brought a smile to Pete’s face. “It is beautiful, girls! Getting ready for Christmas I see.” They giggled with delight.
Christmas! Pete remembered his paycheck. He pulled off his boots, donned his tattered slippers, and made his way into the kitchen, where his wife was pulling dinner out of the oven.
“Smells great, Twila. I don’t know how you do it every day. Put such a good meal on I mean. You’re amazing.” He rubbed her shoulders, and she paused for a moment to receive the touch of his rough hands.
“Umm, I got the before Christmas paycheck from Isaac today, and … well …” Pete looked down. “It’s not much.”
“I didn’t expect it would be,” Twila sighed. “Enough for any presents?”
“I don’t know, Love. It’s gonna be tight.” Pete suddenly felt heavy as lead. A deep sadness enveloped him, and he turned away. Things were usually tight during the holidays, but this one was going to set a record. “I’m so sorry, Twila,” he began.
“Don’t, Pete. Don’t.” He could feel her sadness too. They stood in the kitchen, not speaking, eyes not meeting. “We’ll do the best we can,” Twila said finally.
“Yep.” Pete pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his nose. He tried to smile but failed.
As the family sat down at the cheery table, Pete looked round at his blessings – his three girls. He was grateful for his family, and his prayer reflected that. As they all said “Amen” and began to eat, Jennie began, “Dad, we don’t have a Christmas tree yet. Chrissie’s family got theirs a couple of weeks ago, and it’s so pretty! A great big one – bigger than we’ve ever had.”
“Could we get a great big tree this year, Daddy?” It was Megan this time. We could make a million decorations for it. It would look beee-you-tiful!”
“Honey,” Pete began. Then he caught Twila’s glance. “Sweetie,” he started again, trying to sound more cheerful. “We’ll find something. It might not be as big as the one Chrissie’s family has, but it’ll be just right!” He forced a smile.
“A really pretty one, Daddy?” Megan begged.
“Yes, Dad, a nice one this year … please?” added Jennie.
Pete looked from one, sweet, hopeful face to the other, then to his wife. She smiled slightly. “Daddy will find the right tree for us, girls. He always does.” Twila’s tone was reassuring.
This galvanized Pete. He would find a nice tree this year! There were a few U-Cut places outside town. They might have a good tree, cheap enough.
“I’ll go tomorrow after work,” Pete assured his girls. “Don’t expect anything very big, but it’ll be a pretty one – you’ll see. Old Dad will take care of this.” He smiled broadly.
“Yay, Daddy!” the little girls chimed. “We’re going to have a Christmas tree, Christmas tree, Christmas tree,” sang little Megan as she twirled. Pete beamed. If it were only that easy to be a hero every day! Well, tomorrow should be a cinch.
“See you, Pete. Thanks for staying a little late today.” Isaac was locking up the front of the shop.
“No problem,” Pete returned. He was tired, but the half hour of overtime would help after the holidays when the bills came due. The current pay check would have to stretch for Christmas. He had a fresh ten dollar bill he had pulled out of the bank over lunch. It was his tree money – all they could afford. He was hopeful.
“Have a good weekend,” called Isaac.
“You too. See you Monday.”
As Pete pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway (after the customary tapping of the starter), he headed toward home. The tree farms were a couple of miles outside town in that direction, and as he drove by the little house, he saw the welcoming light streaming from the front windows. He imagined his girls running tonight not just to greet Daddy, but to welcome their beautiful Christmas tree. He was excited too. Memories of going with his dad to the woods to find the perfect tree occupied his mind as he headed out into the gathering dusk.
“Just enough daylight left to pick a tree,” he thought. Some of these places had electric lights too. The U-Cut Christmas business had become popular, and many farmers made a good income each year. “Bet their families have nice presents,” Pete mused. Well, he needn’t begrudge them their blessings. He would just have to work a little harder and find that better job by this time next year. Things seemed possible tonight somehow.
The first place appeared around a curve on the left. As he waited to turn in, he glanced at the lights, the hot cocoa stand, and the decorations. “This place looks pretty fancy,” he mumbled. “Well, they’re bound to have something small for ten dollars or less.”
“How you doin’ tonight, Mister?” called a young man as Pete climbed out of his truck. “Some really nice trees over here. Good prices too.”
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” returned Pete. He wasn’t ready yet to ask for the smallest and the cheapest. Despite his worn flannel jacket, he didn’t want to seem desperate. “How ‘bout this beauty right here?” He pointed to a broad six footer at the edge of the lot.
“For that one, I’ll make you a special deal,” offered the young man. “Pines aren’t going too well this year, so I can let you have it for $25.”
Pete tried not to let his face register the shock. “Well, that’s pretty good…. Um, how about a fir or spruce?”
“Oh, they’re a little more, but still not bad. Here’s a pretty little five foot spruce for $35.”
“Hmm, it does look good.” Pete looked around at the waning light and thought of his three girls waiting at home for their Christmas tree. He decided it was no use bluffing. “Listen,” he began. “I can’t afford much, and my family’s expecting a nice tree. What do you have on the … uh, the low end?”
The young fellow sized him up now and knew instantly what he was dealing with. “Well, those are pretty good prices compared to a lot of places. We do have these little scrubby things on the edge of the lot over here. Pines of course, and they haven’t done too well in this boggy ground.” He led Pete to a muddy patch a few yards down the gravel road. “What about one of these?”
They really were pathetic, but they were Christmas trees. “How much for this one?” Pete queried. He touched the top of a four foot pine with sparse branches.
“Well, I guess I could let you have it for … say, $15.”
Pete buried his pride. “All I have is $10,” he said, tiredly pulling the now crumpled bill out of his pocket.
The man eyed the ten, cleared his throat, and then shook his head. “You’ll find we have the best prices around, Buddy. $15 is the best you’ll do, I’ll guarantee it. I know my neighbors, and they’re higher. We’ve got fertilizer costs, trimming, you know – overhead to pay.
Pete was growing obstinate now. “I’ve got $10, and that tree stinks. Take it or leave it!”
“Sorry Mister!” The young man was walking back to his tent. Pete followed – chastened but still stubborn.
“Can’t believe you’re passing up a sale!” he called after him. “In my warehouse, that would be crazy.”
“Merry Christmas, Bud! Good luck.” He had poured himself a cup of hot coffee and was now heading for the next customers – a well-dressed couple stepping out of a Mercedes SUV.
Pete was disgusted – mostly with himself. “What a rip off,” he muttered. But he was really thinking, “What a loser I am! Those prices weren’t bad. Why the dickens can’t I do better for my family?” He was slipping into a dark mood again. His usual mood.
The next farm was just up the road, on the right, and the young man’s prophecy proved true – at least with this neighbor. “Wow,” Pete shot back over his shoulder at the retreating back of the owner. “That’s robbery!” Pete was getting cranky and spoke the words he would normally have grumbled. The man just shrugged. He had paying customers pulling in and didn’t have time for a loser.
Three more fruitless stops later, Pete was driving dejectedly back to town in the darkness. What was he going to do now? “Oh, how about that little lot down by the mall? It’s Boy Scouts I think. They must have something reasonable.” It was so late! Twila would have dinner on by now, and his girls would be wondering what had happened to their daddy and their Christmas tree.
Pete turned into the parking lot and pulled up where a tall, hand-lettered sign announced, “Boy Scout Trees … Good Prices!”
“This must be the place!” he said to himself, hopefully. As he got out of his truck, for what felt like the hundredth time that evening, a couple of uniformed boys in their late teens greeted him.
“Free hot cocoa with every tree purchase!” one young fellow called out, bored and cold. It was almost closing time.
“Well, let’s see what you have,” Pete replied. “Now, listen, I’ve only got ten dollars. What can you do for me?” He had swallowed his pride whole a couple of hours ago! This was cut to the chase time.
“Well, Mister,” the less bored and cold teen began. “We did have a couple of ten dollar trees. Let’s see….” The Scout led Pete down one of the dimly lit aisles. “Hmmm … they were right about here. Oh, looks like they’re both gone. Sam, did you sell those two little ones?”
“Oh, yeah, called Sam. Guess I should have told you; I forgot.”
“Well, thanks a lot!”
“I said sorry! Hey lets get things closed up; it’s past time!”
“Yeah, yeah, just a minute. Mister, we do have some nice ones – a little bigger – for $15. Could you go that much?”
“I just can’t.” Pete replied heavily. “Look, this ten dollar bill is all I can spend … really … and I’ve got to have a Christmas tree!” He was trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.
“I’m sorry, Sir. Our Scout Master told us not to haggle … that the trees were a good deal and the profits would help the troop. $15 is the best we can do.”
“Well, you’re an honest kid … and a good Scout.” Pete replied. “I was a Scout too – a long time ago. Made Second Class rank.” He trailed off – lost in his thoughts. “Second Class,” Pete mused. “That’s the story of my whole life!”
“Okay, I understand,” Pete trudged toward his pick up, shoulders slumped.
“Merry Christmas, Mister!” called the youths. Pete didn’t hear.
Lost in his inner darkness, Pete pulled out of the parking lot. Defeated. Loser. Wash up. This was the last of a seemingly endless stream of disappointments. Years of anger began to spill. “God, all I needed was a Christmas tree tonight! Only a stinking Christmas tree. Is that too much to ask?” He was immediately sorry. Was God going to smash him? No, more likely He wasn’t even listening. It seemed like He was never listening. Too busy for Pete’s miniscule problems. Small things to God, maybe, but this was Pete’s life – scrabbling the thorny ground for his precious girls – never quite making it. Always wondering if it was just his bad luck (or “lack of faith,” in Christianese) or his cowardice in not trying harder. Maybe it was just his personality type? Type A’s seemed to achieve their dreams, but more thoughtful, passive people like Pete … they became the beasts of burden that carried those dreams. It took all kinds, right?
“What, God, what? What was I supposed to do? Where did I go wrong?” Pete pummeled the steering wheel for the fiftieth time in the last two days. The old Ford was forgiving and kept rumbling down the road.
Where was he? Rousing from his poisoned thoughts, Pete found himself on a dark street with no other traffic. Then he recognized the tall buildings of the University campus – emptied by the recent holiday exodus. It was surreal, with a full moon brightening the tree-lined avenue and snow glittering on the ground. If only he could stay in this peaceful place. The bright winter stars pierced him with their coldness. If only they would draw him up there among them to numb his pain. Pulling the pickup over, he turned it off and stepped out into the winter scene. Crunching through the snow, he continued to gaze up at the stars, hardly thinking anymore. Just feeling. Feeling the ache of a lifetime of disappointment. Wishing, yearning for relief.
A brighter light intruded on his consciousness. It was the moon – huge and silver and seemingly warmer than the stars. “The moon…” Pete whispered. He had somehow overlooked the moon. “Twila loves the full moon.” He was slowly returning from his reverie. “Twila! Oh my gosh! The girls! What the heck time is it?” He fumbled for his watch and found he had been gone from work now for three hours. He should have been home a couple of hours ago. Hot tears filled his eyes. “A total screw-up!” Lacking a steering wheel to attack, he savagely kicked a small tree.
Peering around him in the moonlight, he found he had wandered a few yards off the road into a little clearing. In the summer, it was manicured lawn, landscaped with trees and shrubs. Now it looked like a white forest clearing with small evergreens scattered about. “Pretty,” Pete thought. “Those are nice little trees too. If only they were for sale!” Fingering the wadded $10 bill in his pocket, Pete continued, bitterly, “No trees for us po’ folks!” Turning, he trudged back to his truck.
Climbing wearily in, he kicked something under the seat. Reaching down, he felt the bow saw he had thrown in that morning, never dreaming he wouldn’t be using it that night. “You’re no use … just in the way!” Pete griped at the tool. Stowing it more securely, he reached for the key. Click, click.
Sighing, Pete threw the pickup door open again and reached behind the seat for the more useful tool. After tapping the starter he slammed the hood and started back to the open driver door. Glancing up, he saw again the group of small evergreens. Fir trees, they looked like, about six feet tall. They’d been nicely pruned.
Then a foreign thought struck him. Perhaps it has occurred to you already, but you’ll have to forgive Pete. You see he was (or thought he was) a loser, but despite many weaknesses, he had one great strength. It was a strength that had helped him land and hold several low paying jobs. His employers liked him you see, not just because he was a hard worker, but because he was unwaveringly honest.
Pete was not, perhaps, quite himself after the last emotional few hours. This may help explain his next actions. Without hesitation, he reached under the pickup seat and walked quickly toward the clump of trees. He inspected one after another, finally stopping next to a nice, full fir – about the right size for the family’s small picture window. Kneeling in the snow, he found the trunk with his left hand and – pausing briefly – took a deep breath, pursed his lips, and touched the blade to the tree.
The little fir resisted valiantly, and as Pete labored behind it, he failed to see the headlights that had moved up the street, slowed, and now shone on the tailgate of his old truck. It was only as the trunk broke loose with the last saw stroke that Pete first heard footsteps and looked up to be blinded by an intense light.
“Sir, what in the world do you think you’re doing?” queried a gruff voice. The light moved from Pete’s face to the slaughtered ornamental, then back to Pete. In the brief time this took, Pete saw the incredulous face of a middle-aged policeman. It wasn’t an unkind face, but it was all business. “It’s my duty to inform you that you have defaced public property. You’d better come with me.”
As the officer led him to the patrol car, Pete protested, “Look, it’s only a Christmas tree. Come on, man, my family needs a Christmas tree!”
“It is, in fact, an ornamental tree – part of the landscaping of a public university. Public property, Sir, and you are under arrest.”
Twila had just put the girls to bed after a late dinner and now sat down at the kitchen table – cleared and cleaned – to pray. “Lord, I don’t know where my husband is, but we need him home. You know what’s happened, God. Please, please bring Pete home!”
She had tried not to frighten the girls as they had finished dinner and gotten ready for bed. “I’m sure Daddy just had a little trouble finding exactly the right tree for us,” she had explained to them. “He’s okay. God will take care of him and help him.” This was so unlike Pete, though, and Twila was worried. She had strong faith … had needed it for all their years of marriage … but tonight it was hard to trust. Could it have been an accident? Or maybe the old truck had refused to start and Pete was walking home. “Where is he, Lord? Please help us!” Tears reddened her weary eyes.
As Twila sat, head in hands, the phone rang. She jumped up, wiped her eyes, cleared her throat, and picked up the receiver. “Jackson residence,” she answered with wavering voice.
“Twila Jackson?” queried a man’s voice on the other end.
“This is Twila Jackson,” she replied.
“The wife of Peter N. Jackson?” Twila was almost beside herself now.
“What’s happened to my husband?” she demanded. “Is he all right? Where is he?”
“Ma’am, please settle down. Your husband is fine. A little shaken up, but fine.”
Twila sank back onto the chair and nearly sobbed with relief. “Well, can I speak with him? Where is he? Can I come get him? Or can he drive home?”
“Mrs. Jackson, please try to calm yourself. Your husband is okay, but he can’t come home until some paperwork is taken care of. You can come and get him, but you should know that you’ll need to post bail.”
“Bail?” Twila rolled the word around in her mind. “Bail? You mean … you mean Pete did something … he’s in jail? Why is my husband in jail?”
“Ma’am, can you come on down to the police station? We can explain everything when you get here. And you’ll need to bring $100 cash.”
Twila hung up the phone and leaned on the table with wide eyes. “What, God, what?” she cried. “What could he have done, and … why, Lord?” She roused herself and picked up the phone again.
“Sue,” she said quickly. “I need a huge favor. Can you come over and stay with the girls for a little while? No, I can’t explain now, but I will later. And, another thing … can you call the prayer chain and get people praying? All I can tell you right now is that Pete is in trouble and we really need prayer. Thanks, Sue, you’re a lifesaver!”
Hanging up, Twila went immediately to their bedroom and reached into a dresser drawer. Pulling out a small box, she opened it to make sure of its contents. Back out in the hall, she retrieved her coat from the closet and placed the box in her pocket.
Should she wake the girls? No, she decided. They would probably sleep right through and not realize she had been gone. There was a quiet tap on the front door. Good for Sue! She knew the girls would be asleep and remembered not to ring the bell. Twila answered, hugged her neighbor, and then rushed out the door. She got into the older model Toyota that was the family car, started it, and pulled out onto the road.
“Peter Jackson,” the guard called into the holding cell. Pete leaped up, and the intoxicated, unkempt, older fellow who had been leaning against him – snoring quietly – slowly listed onto the bench where Pete had been uneasily camped. Brushing himself off and looking around at the broken humanity that filled the cell (typical of a Friday night), Pete fervently hoped this meant he was finally going home.
“Your wife is here,” continued the guard, as he relocked the barred door behind them.
“Oh, thank God!” It was no mere cliché. Pete truly, deeply meant it.
At the end of the long hall, the guard stopped and pulled out his ring of keys again. “I’ll take the cuffs off now, Sir.” He had been polite, if not quite friendly, and Pete appreciated that. What a fool he felt like though. What would Twila think; what would she say?
The guard unlocked the last door that led into the waiting room, and Pete could see his wife sitting, waiting, her eyes red, but her face brave and calm. “I’ve never deserved her, Lord,” Pete confessed. “What an amazing gift she is….” His prayer was interrupted as Twila ran to him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him – right then and there.
Pete wasn’t expecting this. Anger maybe, disappointment, the beginning of a lecture about how stupid he had been. This embrace flustered him, and tears filled his eyes.
“Mr. Jackson,” interrupted the sergeant at the front desk. “Your wife has posted bail. There will be a hearing. We’ll send you notice of the date. Um, the arresting officer will not press assault charges, Sir. Said he understands. That his last job was in a warehouse. He said you would know what he meant.”
“Thank you! Thank you so much. Can you thank the officer for me too? He was very patient to listen to me after I tried to punch him and he wrestled me to the ground.”
Pete turned to his wife, sheepishly. “I didn’t hear that part,” she smiled.
“Um, I’ll fill you in later. Thanks again, Sergeant.”
“Good night, folks. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Pete returned.
When they reached the car, Twila handed Pete the keys. “Okay driving?” she asked.
“I think so. If you trust me after all this.”
“I trust you, you goose!” Twila was close to tears again, as relief rushed over her.
“You’re such a gift, Twila. I’ve never deserved you.”
“And I’ve never deserved you!” Twila’s eyes sparked, and the corners of her mouth twitched upwards.
“I think I know how you mean that, and you’re right, Hon; dead right!” Pete felt the old depression returning after the intense relief of the last few minutes. “Wait a minute … Twila!” A realization slammed him in the gut. “Where did you get that $100 bail money?”
His wife looked down at her hands. Then she met Pete’s eyes with a clear gaze. “You know I’ve been keeping Grandma’s ring to pass on to one of the girls some day. The Pawn Shop was just closing, but the owner agreed to give me $100 for it. He was glad to in fact. I suspect he got quite a deal.”
Oh, Twila…” Pete choked. “Not Grandma’s ring. That’s irreplaceable.”
“I know, Peter, but so are you!” she released some anger now. “Do you know how much the girls and I need you, you nut? Not just your income, but you! I thought we’d lost you tonight. All for a stupid Christmas tree.” Her voice quavered and trailed off.
“Oh, Honey, I tried so hard to find a tree. Nothing was cheap enough. I went everywhere – even to the Boys Scouts – and no one could sell me a tree for what I had to spend. All I could think about was the little girls’ hopeful faces last night. How proud they were of their Daddy who they knew would come through for them. I just could not come home without a tree…. And now, not only do I not have the tree, but I’ve cost you your grandmother’s ring – plus who knows how much after the hearing!
Twila said nothing, looking down.
“Twila, as I got more and more desperate tonight, all I could think about was how God has not come through for me – for us. I’ve worked my tail off for years, with absolutely nothing to show for it. What does He want from me? I’ve tried to be an honest guy and do all the right things, but here we are. I can barely put food on our table after all these years, and this year I promised our girls Christmas, and they’re going to have nothing – not even a tree.” The darkness threatened to overwhelm Pete now. He could not look at his wife. He should just get out of the car and head back into the jail – get Twila’s money back for her. Then they could have Christmas, and he would be out of their lives. A woman like Twila could easily find better than him.
As Pete slumped behind the wheel, a tear tailing down his cheek, he felt a small, strong hand grip his sleeve. Looking up, he was caught by two shining green eyes. “Wow,” he thought, “It’s been years since I saw her look that way!” He couldn’t look away, even though his shame told him to.
“Peter Jackson,” Twila began with a strong, clear voice. “You are a fool. But not for stealing a Christmas tree and punching a police officer!” Pete raised a finger. “Almost punching a police officer,” Twila corrected herself. “You’re a fool for not seeing – for blinding yourself to all that is good in your life. Pete Jackson, I’m proud of you! Tonight, for the first time in memory, you actually fought for me – for the girls. We need that! We absolutely, desperately need you to fight for us. To fight for the faith each day to trust God that He knows what He’s doing. To fight for our bread and shelter. More than that, to fight for our future. I know, I know (as Pete stammered a protest), you think you’ve been fighting for our future by working so hard for years at low wage jobs, and I have appreciated what you’ve tried to do, but – Pete – listen to me: you weren’t really fighting. No, wait, you listen to me! You were lying down – defeated – giving in. I know how hard it’s been, but what we have always really needed you to be for us is a fighter.”
“But, Twila…” His wife’s spirited speech had surprised him – taken the wind out of him. But there was also a fresh breeze beginning to fill his sails. It was the wind of hope that had so eluded him for most of his adult life.
“Listen, Pete!” A new idea had occurred to Twila. “What have you always wanted to do? No, don’t shake your head! If you could do anything, what would it be?”
“I don’t think I ever told you this,” Pete answered. “As a kid, I always wanted to become a policeman. I sort of held that dream deep inside until I reached college and decided I’d better get practical and major in business. Lot of good that’s done me!”
“Pete, why don’t you do it? Let’s pray about it, of course, but that may have been God’s calling on your life so long ago. If it was, He’ll make a way.”
“Funny you should mention that,” Pete laughed now. “As Officer Daugherty sat on me tonight and let me tell my story, I let slip that I’d always wanted to be a policeman but had instead become a warehouseman. He got this twinkle in his eye as he let me up. All he said as he put the cuffs on was, ‘Fascinating!’ That was it! Then the sergeant tells us tonight that Daugherty was a warehouseman once.”
“Pete, do it! Follow your dream. Fight for us now and for the rest of our lives!” Twila’s face was glowing with hope now, and she reached her arm around her husband’s neck and kissed him – really and truly – not just the morning and evening peck.
“It’ll be a long road,” cautioned Pete, beginning to share her excitement. “I’ll still disappoint you sometimes – probably often.”
“Just don’t give up anymore, Pete!” Twila begged. “Fight for us, lead us, and we’ll follow. We’re your biggest fans, you know. The girls and I will be there every step.”
“Twila, my Love,” Pete managed through tears of joy. “I will. I once told you, ‘I do,’ ten years ago. Now I’m telling you ‘I will.’ Starting tomorrow, I will.”
Pete fired the engine to life, and the Jacksons headed home to their sleeping daughters. No, there wouldn’t be a Christmas tree this year, but they would – truly and gratefully – celebrate their best Christmas ever.
© 2013 by Rand Hunter Kreycik.