The Christmas Ornament

I wrote this short story for my family for Christmas and just wanted to share…

 

The Christmas Ornament

by Bruce Backman

 


She sat cuddling the hand-made ornament in her arms rocking back and forth in her favorite rocking chair handed down through two generations of Carsons. Tears were rolling down her cheeks remembering the times they had shared. The Christmas memories were especially vivid in her mind.

The kids were all tucked into bed…probably not sleeping yet but at least quiet. The whole house was quiet. Pointer was sleeping next to the yet unnamed kitten. The kids as yet could not agree on a name. Everyone had their reasons but Jennifer suspected that secretly they wanted their dad here to help name the kitten. Another tear fell. Reminders of him were everywhere.

It had been nearly three years already but it was hard to shake the sadness. Sure she could get along fairly well most of the time. She had to. Their five children needed her to. But after they went to bed and the house was quiet, her strength started to give just a bit. She longed for these quiet times and yet dreaded the feelings at the same time.

This time of year was especially bittersweet. He didn’t die during Christmas but that Christmas was certainly very hard. Christmas was Ryker’s favorite time of the year. He was sentimental but never let most of the world know. She knew though. She could peek over and see a tear start in the corner of his eye when a special Christmas story was being read or when news of hardship for another family was shared.

He died in February but was ill during Christmas. Still though, the memories of that Christmas were the fondest of any she had tucked away. It was surely the hardest and yet…those final Christmas memories with him were sweet.

It took that Christmas for her to realize how sweet a man she had married. She had always known it…but life is busy with five children at home. And, well…oh it didn’t matter. She simply wished she had more time with him. At first it was just hard because of losing a husband and father. But now…they had adapted pretty good and the memories started to fall into place in a different sort of way.

The rough edges had almost completely disappeared and now she simply lived with a sort of comforting sadness having memories that helped keep her from heading over that “edge”…that so many people talk about. She wasn’t sure where that place was but certain that she didn’t want to go there.

Rocking back and forth hugging the ornament he had made somehow gave her a sense of peace amidst her sadness. She remembered clearly how he insisted on using nearly every bit of strength he could muster up to finish that ornament.

He had been planning on making the ornament for that Christmas even before he got sick. He was an amateur woodcarver but knew that if he had enough time he could make something very special. He loved his wife very much but sometimes had a hard time showing her.

He wanted this ornament to be something that she would hold dear to her heart forever. He thought of many different designs. He thought of an angel but it wasn’t…perfect. He thought of a Christmas tree…but that was not right either. He thought of many different things…animals, flowers, plants, even a snow scene…but none seemed to be exactly what he wanted. He wanted something that would truly touch her heart. Something that when she opened it would actually make her heart full and feel the affection that went into the work of his hands.

Coming into the house one evening after working late it was very quiet. His children must have actually gone to bed on time or were at least reading. A soft glow was coming from his partially open bedroom door where he and his wife and baby slept. He tried his best to walk quietly so as not to disturb the sweet peace that was seldom in his house of seven people.

He quietly approached the slightly open door and peeked through the opening. A warm flow of feelings swept over his body as he watched his wife holding their baby in her lap. She was slightly bent over looking and smiling sweetly at him. The two radiated such warmth and love that Ryker could not conceive of anything more beautiful than this. He did not want to disturb the two of them so he quietly turned around and went and sat at the kitchen table. He immediately took out a pad of paper and a pencil and started trying to re-create the scene he had just seen.

He had always loved art and therefore was a fairly decent sketch artist. He started out just wanting to preserve the precious moment of his wife and child but as the sketch unfolded it dawned on him exactly what his

ornament would look like. It would be exactly what he wanted to give her for Christmas.

He loved Christmas. It was a time of great happiness for him. He had very fond memories of the Christmas season from his childhood. His memories were filled with the anticipation of a boy waiting for the moment to be able to tear into his presents…of food and laughter and family. It is funny how so many of our memories were formed the way we want or need them to be. He thought about this. If he tried really hard he could remember that not everything was perfect…it just felt like it was much of the time.

But the greatest memory of all was that Christmas eve night many years ago that Ryker, in his bedroom thinking about the next morning and all the excitement it would bring, first spoke to God honestly. His heart was happy but there was something oddly missing inside of him.

He knew the Christmas story well enough…a baby born who was God and so on. There was something magical about the story but he wasn’t quite sure what it was. Thinking about the baby Jesus and His mother though made Ryker smile…even as a boy it was a sweet thought for him to think about a mother and her baby.

To think that God would choose such an entrance was odd but somehow wonderful. So he asked God why right there in his bedroom. Why did He choose to do things so…normal…so hard? It gave him hope just thinking about it. He didn’t remember God actually talking to him that night but he did remember the feeling he got thinking about God’s choice to become so normal. It must have meant something very special. It must have meant that He really did care. If it was God’s choice to come into the world in really the same way that Ryker did…even in rougher times…then it seemed…well he couldn’t put words to it but it was comforting and hopeful. It was then as a boy that He realized out of the depths of his thoughts that it was true. The story of a baby who was God did come into the world in an oddly ordinary, wonderful way. If that were true…then the whole thing might be true…God’s love really was for him.

Nothing spectacular happened that night but he knew something had started. God didn’t speak to him but He did answer Ryker’s question that late Christmas Eve night.

As Ryker came back to the present and looked at his sketch…his memories made it all the more important to make this ornament. It had somehow though become bigger than just a gift for his wife. It was a story of his redemption as well.

He smiled and finished his sketch. He would get started on the weekend and his heart was glad—filled with a purpose…a pure and true purpose.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t until just before he died that Jennifer heard the story of how the idea of the ornament came into being. She was beyond touched when she heard it and it never changed. Within this simply carved mother and child ornament lay a deep love from a heart touched by the very heart of God. It wasn’t always easy to see…but she knew it was true.

This made her smile. In her sadness sometimes she forgot that Ryker was enjoying the God that he loved so much. It made her pain just a little more bearable to know that he was really home. She still loved him as much as the last time she saw him.

Jennifer rocked slowly back and forth in her chair. The floor creaked ever so slightly and was almost musical in its rhythm and tone under the rocking chair. She held the ornament at arms length and caught a glimpse of a candle burning in the background. She remembered the night that they first realized something was not right with her husband.

It was a normal day…hectic as usual and finally after they got the kids down later than they had hoped they sat for a moment together. It was quiet and peaceful…the second night in a row—which was not typical for the Carson household.

Jennifer loved candlelight and decided to take advantage of the peace and quiet by enjoying a hot cup of tea by some candlelight. She wanted a fire as well but didn’t want to ask Ryker. He seemed more tired than usual that night.

“Would you like some tea?” Jennifer asked her husband as she got out of her chair to fetch it.

“That sounds nice. How about something calming? That sounds just right for me.”

Ryker got out of his chair and offered to make the tea so that Jennifer could sit down and simply relax for a moment. In a household of seven you just never know when you are going to be needed again.

Jennifer accepted the offer. Ryker was nice in that way…offering his help. Before she sat however, she wanted to create a peaceful environment to relax in. They had candles spread out on nearly every flat space in their living area. She wanted to light a good portion of them. It seemed she didn’t get to sit and enjoy quietness all too often and she was not going to pass up this chance.

After getting the matches from the mantle above the fireplace she made a circle around the room lighting all but just a few of the candles and then she sat. She was so tempted to go in and help Ryker but overcame that temptation and just sank into the couch. She let her body completely be engulfed by the leather cushions and sighed contentedly.

In came Ryker with their tea. She noticed that he did look really tired.

“Honey you look exhausted…do you just want to go to bed?”

“And pass up an opportunity to sit with my wife in this beautiful atmosphere with the candles and so forth…are you kidding?”

He handed her a mug and sat his mug down on the table next to his favorite chair. He soaked in the warmth of the moment before settling in and relaxing.

“I am not sure why I am so tired tonight. I didn’t have that hard of a day today. I think I will enjoy this near perfect time with you my wife and then I will go to bed.”

She smiled at him and just sipped her tea. She noticed his face tense up and his eyes close.

“Are you okay sweetie?”

“I have had this headache coming on since I woke up this morning. I’m not sure what it is but I haven’t felt anything quite like this before.”

Ryker’s head really pounded. He had heard of migraines but never had one before. He was pretty sure though that this was one of those. He closed his eyes thankful that there was only candle light in the room. The light of the kitchen when making the tea was painful when he opened his eyes.

He had tried to cover it up because he didn’t want to spoil this moment of serenity for his wife. But the pain was just too much to cover. He couldn’t even drink any more of his tea. He started to feel sick to his stomach and he knew that this must be a migraine headache.

“I think I just need to go to bed. I’m sorry I’m going to miss this quiet time with my beautiful wife.”

Jennifer smiled…” it’s okay I think I will come to bed myself in just a few minutes as well.”

 

 

That was the last time she remembered a semi-normal night at home with her husband. She remembered sitting for about twenty minutes after he went to bed sad that he wasn’t feeling well but thankful for the peace and quiet.

She had to fight off feelings of guilt. Had she known, she could have never enjoyed those few minutes by herself. She would have been by his side from that point on.

The headache never went away. Ryker was nearly incapacitated by the pain most of the time. The doctor’s never could figure out exactly why it was there. They did scan after scan searching for a tumor or something…but found nothing.

But oh she remembers the pain he was in. The only time he looked happy or peaceful was when he was sleeping. Days turned into weeks. She and the kids were all terribly worried. Occasionally he would have a halfway good day where he said that he could tolerate the pain but those were few and far between.

One day just about a week before Thanksgiving she found the sketch he had drawn of a mother and a baby. Ryker was sleeping but she knew that he had drawn it. It was incredibly sweet. He was not great by any means but there was a particular sweetness about this drawing. In fact…it drew her in to itself. She felt a bit mesmerized by it.

She found a frame with an old picture of one of the kids in it hanging on the dining room wall. She took it down from its place where it had been hanging for more than five or six years. She quickly took the old picture out and put this drawing in it. It didn’t seem fitting to put it back in the same place. It needed a special place of its own. It was so…she couldn’t put words to her thoughts…amazingly simple yet magical somehow.

Jennifer walked around with the newly framed drawing until she stood in front of the fireplace. That would be just perfect she thought…and fitting to have this in the most prominent spot in the living room.

 

 

 

Ryker had forgotten about the sketch he had done and he hadn’t even given one thought about the ornament he was going to carve for his wife. But he stood in front of the fireplace and wept. He so wanted to make that for her but just didn’t seem to have the ability to do anything at all. The pain was incredible. He wept tears of frustration, sorrow and defeat.

He trudged back off to bed hoping to escape the pain once again and fell asleep quickly.

He dreamed for the first time he could remember since having the headache. It was a precious and sweet dream of the night of baby Jesus’ birth. He saw the sheer simplicity of it all and the struggle within that simplicity of the characters. Jesus mother and father were given no special treatment by God…they just had to cope with the circumstances as God allowed them. He woke with the picture of Mary slightly bent over looking at the smiling Jesus reaching out to her.

He knew he had to make that ornament…no matter what. He made it his mission no matter how much pain he was in to do it. He got out of bed and actually dressed in clothes for the first time in weeks and headed for the garage.

As he stumbled by his family looked at him silently wondering at this strange sight. The second and third youngest quietly followed Ryker as he went and gently removed the picture from its place above the mantle and headed for the garage.

Jennifer was stunned. She didn’t know what to think let alone what to say to the kids. No one knew what to say.

After a few moments, Jennifer quietly got out of her chair and went out to the garage. It was a bit cold…not so much for the season…but still enough to send a chill into your bones. Ryker didn’t even have a Jacket on. She saw him busily clearing a spot on his workbench and gathering tools next to the cleared spot on the bench.

“Honey…what are you doing?”

He looked over his shoulder and she could see the same pain in his eyes that she had seen for weeks but somehow his face wasn’t so grimaced with pain.

“Are you feeling a bit better?”

Ryker didn’t answer except to say something under his breath that she just couldn’t understand. She was going to ask him about it but decided to just go up behind him and give a tight hug…the kind that transfers all of the love one person has for another. Ryker felt the tingles and for the first time in weeks released a slight smile. A tear started down his cheek as well.

The moment hung for what seemed like an eternity. And then it dawned on him during that long eternal moment…he was going to die. He sighed unsure what to do. He decided not share that with Jennifer but he knew that he must finish the ornament. He almost felt commissioned by God Himself to get this task done and he was going to do it no matter what before he died.

“I can’t just keep laying around no matter how badly I feel.”

Somehow…even though she never experienced anything quite like it…she knew how he felt. She believed he was in intense pain and would never have blamed him for never getting out of bed. She also knew that she could never stay in bed. Admittedly though…she really didn’t understand how much pain he was experiencing.

“Okay sweetie” was all she said as she continued to hug him.

“I can’t tell you what I am doing or why…but it is something I have to do. I hope you can just let me work on this project as long as it takes me to finish it.”

Something in his voice scared her. There was too much finality to it. She had a strange sense in her gut though that she needed to let him do whatever it was without asking too many questions.

“I’ll go in and get you a jacket or something. Do you need anything else?”

“No thanks,” he paused and smiled as much as was possible…”thanks.” He knew she had some sort of understanding.

 

 

The ornament she held in her hand was the greatest act of love she had ever personally experienced. She had watched him as he went out day after day for as much time as he could physically stand it and sometimes beyond. He would come in after just a couple of hours beyond exhausted and go to bed. He would wake and go straight outside again. It didn’t matter if it was day or night.

She was sure that Ryker was not living in the same time frame as everyone else. He didn’t seem to notice whether it was light or dark, warm or cold or anything else. She had to live by an unbelievable amount of trust in her Heavenly Father during those days. Ryker was obviously strong enough to be out in the garage (barely she knew) but not strong enough to be with the family.

It was very hard for her…but she kept to her original conviction. This had gone on for about four weeks when Ryker came inside from being out in the cold and asked for a shoebox and some wrapping paper.

A very deep sense of peace came over Jennifer. She had a knowing inside of things she couldn’t speak about. Something special had happened. She didn’t know what it was but she knew it was very special indeed. Ryker had a sense of relief on his face. Oh…she could tell the pain was still there…but he showed a deep-seated peace.

 

 

The following two weeks before Christmas were as normal for them as they could possibly be. Ryker followed the same schedule but this time spent his wake time with his family. The kids thought he was getting better but she knew that things were not right. She could see it when she watched him. Even his sleep had lost the peacefulness about it. His body was dying and she knew it.

She cried out to God every chance she could without letting anyone see her pain…not the kids and not Ryker. She slipped once though and fell into his arms crying desperately.

“You’re dying aren’t you?” She could hardly get the words out through the sobs.

He looked at her with intense compassion and teared up himself. He closed his eyes and took a shallow breath…”yes!”

 

 

That Christmas was amazingly sweet. She remembered opening the ornament. There was something incredibly powerful about that moment when she first opened it. Somehow it was as if eternity opened up for her and she understood God’s heart if only for a moment. This was His plan. She didn’t know why but she accepted it.

The ornament never lost its magical power over her and even the kids felt it. It held memories within it that would never be lost. She considered they may fade just a bit…but like all memories just enough to keep the beautiful sweetness of that last Christmas amongst the bitterness.

Ryker died February 14th…Valentine’s Day! Jennifer knew the symbolism behind it. Somehow, the love they shared between themselves and with the children was all wrapped in together with a baby that was born out of a deep love of a Father for his children and shared between a mother leaning over ever so slightly with love in her heart and eyes looking at a smiling baby reaching out to her with a strange mix of need and desire to touch and heal.

 

 

As the candles burned out Jennifer fell into a deep sleep. She had moved from her favorite rocking chair to that same spot on the couch. It seemed fitting to be remembering the events of three years ago from that spot with the candles burning holding the ornament tightly in her arms…her favorite gift of all time.

Christmas morning came and Jennifer was still on the couch. She had slept deeply all night long. She looked up to find her youngest one standing in front of her with a smile. It was indeed Christmas and joy was in the air. Even amidst sadness joy can be quite strong. She had learned that lesson well and she was experiencing it yet again.

With a big smile she decided to just stay where she was. They would do things differently this year.

She invited the kids to come join her and her heart was full. Oh what a blessing. She was still holding the ornament and the kids noticed.

“Can I put that back on the tree mommy?” came the question from the youngest girl.

“Of course sweetheart!”

She proceeded to hang it back on the tree.

“Why don’t we just dive into the gifts.” Jennifer almost surprised herself with her words but was happy she made the suggestion. It seemed fitting and good at this point. Jennifer realized for the first time that the ornament was never supposed to be the thing in itself…it was a reminder of her husband, of her children and of her savior. With that thought came a huge smile and a happiness she had not felt for years.

 

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