I think maybe it’s time I explain why my Christmas tree is still up. In March.
Believe it or not, I have a reason beyond just my usual inability to adapt to real, adult responsibilities, like folding my towels or emptying my trash instead of just starting a new bag and letting the full ones pile up in the corner (the key to making this work is to use decorative bags – if it doesn’t look like trash anymore, what’s the harm?).
But in order to explain why my Christmas tree is still standing atop my accordion case, I first have to tell you three short stories.
The first story is about the day I should have taken my tree down. The second story is about the day I tried to take my tree down. And the third story is about St. Patrick’s Day.
*The First Story*
January 5, 2015
It wasn’t snowing anymore, but the moisture in the air made the earth seem colder than it probably was as we waited at the bus stop. Jerry had agreed to take Sarah to the airport because I had to teach, but she wanted to walk me down to my bus to say ‘goodbye.’ Sarah is one of the few people in the world who knows the bulk of my fears and insecurities, and still chooses to associate with me in public. She knows that I have a paranoia about odd-numbered years and ‘people grease’ (don’t ask) and she knew that the year looming in front of us was currently winning the Mary v. Adult Life war. But she didn’t chide or even console. She just stood there in her pretty red coat, keeping my mind off the cold and the worries of tomorrow with her quiet, comforting presence.
I waited for Sarah to come to Prague for a year. We first started planning the Christmas before when I was home for Deborah’s wedding. One night we drove to the beach, armed with a thermos of hot chocolate and pockets full of jelly beans (my idea), and I said she just needed to come visit me already. We decided December would work best, so I began my 12-month vigil. Sarah didn’t just come for Christmas – she was Christmas. She was a slice of home, a piece of something I’m sure about: that there will always be people I love waiting for me somewhere.
So when I boarded the bus and watched her fade away in the foggy back window, I mentally set ‘Christmas’ on my calendar to whenever I next get to see that pretty face.
When I got home that evening, tired and lonely, I found my room spotless and one last Christmas gift on my bed with a handwritten note (I wasn’t able to find any of my pens for several weeks after this, but being able to see the floor again was kind of cool).
I decided then that I couldn’t take down my tree just yet. It was the last piece of Sarah that I had left, the last piece of Christmas and 2014 and home – the last promise of everything being ‘alright’ for just a moment.
*The Second Story*
January 18, 2015
This was the day I meant to take the tree down. I ripped down just about everything else in my room. In my defense, it had been a tough week. It seems that I get in trouble as much as (if not more than) my students. Our extremely intimidating Vice Head had to come into my class to tell me we were being too loud. I forgot to update my public transit pass and rode as a černý pasažér – “black passenger” – for three days without knowing it, followed by an hour wait in a freezing metro to get a new pass. I came face-to-face with the fact that distance puts strain on relationships and (finally) with the fact that when this school year ends, I have to leave Prague (I’m now reminded of that on a weekly basis from teary-eyed fourth graders begging me to stay. Talk about a guilt-trip). Feeling haunted by my odd-numbered year and my complete void of plans for my return home, I broke down and binged on cheap Czech candy and popcorn because I’m still unable to handle life like a grown-up.
Adult life was kicking this poor expat in the shins and it hurt. So on Sunday afternoon, down came my paper lanterns and my picture posters. My seashells and bottles found themselves shoved onto a shelf out of the way in my desperate attempt to ‘start fresh.’ But the tree I could not take down. I tried. I thought about it for about two seconds. But with the lights on and all my earrings, beads and bobbles mailed to me from folks back home, and the handmade Czech ornaments (gifts from friends over the past two years here), it didn’t look like a tree as much as it looked like a piece of dry land to climb up on. A little piece of safety decorated with my past, my present and tiny promises of my future. It was both the home I have begun to long for immensely and the home I’ve been creating here in Prague. But mostly it was the reminder of the hope I clung to: somewhere in the world, there will always be people I love waiting for me.
So as I made plans to burn my paper lanterns, I let the tree stay up.
*The Third Story*
March 17, 2015
Today was the day I planned to put the tree away. Valentine’s came and went, and even though I did put hearts on my window, I couldn’t bring myself to take down the tree. It had to be today. It had to be St. Patrick’s Day.
As you may have noticed by now, the tree has become a lot more than just a piece of plastic strung with lights and cheap jewelry. I’ve been trying to figure out myself why this darn tree means so much to me.
I found the answer in cookies.
No, this is not another story where Mary makes bad food choices. It’s about our St. Patrick’s Day party for the Girl’s Club our church puts on. We played Irish folk music, decked everything out in green and made rainbow cookies. Fittingly, we told the story of Noah during our devotional – another story of a rainbow, but one much more valuable than a pot of gold. The first rainbow was a promise from God to Noah, I explained to the girls. It was a sign of God’s faithfulness.
“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
When the girls went home and the last of the cookie dough scraps had been cleaned up, I made myself a cup of tea (okay, okay, it turned into three cups, but just because I haven’t mastered portion control yet) and watched the rain trickle down the window pane as the last few Irish folk songs played out on the CD.
God has been faithful to me. Looking back over the short span of my existence, even in the darkest, most unsure moments, he has been there holding me fast. But he knows that my anxious heart is prone to wander. He knows that humans are weak and walk easily away from what they cannot see. So he gave us rainbows. He gave us a visible reminder of his love for us and of his faithfulness.
My Christmas tree, I think, is an important reminder for me. It’s a visible promise of a hope for a future that isn’t as dark and lonely as it can sometimes feel. No matter where I am in the world, there is a God who loves me.
And as long as God’s faithfulness stands, so will my Christmas tree.