When Ben and I got married twenty years ago, we bought ornaments for our Christmas tree. Mostly, we purchased the generic ornament balls to fill the majority of the tree along with a few ornaments to commemorate the year 2000. As we had children and they grew, we found ornaments that marked their yearly milestones. Many ornaments display their interests over time: ballet shoes, a basketball, a soccer ball, a karate jacket. Their grandparents and great-grandparents often provided ornaments for the kids as well. We began a tradition of acquiring ornaments on our vacations. Picking out the ornament became a fun part of every trip. We have ornaments from Washington DC, Nashville, Disney World, and several beach vacations. We no longer use the generic ornaments. Instead, every ornament tells a story.
Now, we have so many ornaments that we can’t put them all on one tree. They spill over to another, smaller tree. When we decorate the trees, we do it as a family. It’s one task I insist we perform together. Each child likes to put his or her ornaments on the tree and doesn’t want another child to mistakenly (or on purpose) take the wrong one. We remember the time we had each experience and the people who gave us many of the ornaments. We enjoy the togetherness that decorating brings.
Reminiscing can be a valuable experience that provides continuity and ties us together. “Remember the time when” is usually a wonderful way to start a conversation. Although this year’s ornament, which has six faces covered in masks above the year 2020, along with a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of sanitizer, will remind us of both good and difficult memories.
Looking back on the past can prompt us to look to the future as well. We recall the moments we cherished and the people we love. We embrace the positive emotions and want to repeat them. We think about how we can create similar memories going forward.
And with all of those recollections come feelings of gratitude. Paul told the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3. My friend Becky wrote this verse in a card she gave me years ago while we were in college. When I read this verse or see the ornament she gave me the year I got married, I am thankful for her and the many other friends who have been there from the start or who have come alongside in the years since to become part of our family and community.
When we look back on 2020 years from now, we will find people and things for which to be thankful, despite the tumult. During this holiday season, let’s focus on the good parts of life and the happy memories even when we are apart from each other. Our tangible reminders, like the ornaments on our trees, point us to those people, places, and experiences that we love. God has given us much for which to be grateful. Thanks be to God.