It’s almost time to take the Christmas tree down.

This saddens me. Our Christmas tree turned out beautifully this year, having evolved over the years. When we were first married, I was adamant that only things that came from nature (albeit artificial versions of them, if necessary) would hang on the tree. Pine cones, berry garlands, Christmas balls covered in red berries, dried apple and orange slices, raffia, icicles, and little red cardinals were among the items in the boxes I brought up from the basement every year. As I’ve refined my tastes I’ve begun to include grape vine balls covered in glitter, ornaments that look like ice-carved stars, white snowflakes in various sizes, and my own personal favorite, dozens of glitter-coated balls in red, gold, and brown. A beautiful angel in a white flowing dress finishes the display.

Why do I enjoy the tree so much this year? Perhaps the reason is something very complicated. I could view it as a parallel to our marriage, evolving and changing, maturing and relaxing. Or perhaps the reason is something as simple as grace.

This morning, as I sit in the dark family room enjoying this tree one last day, I think about something I observed earlier this week. I hold in my mind the image of hundreds of birds, moving in concert, as the sky turns from afternoon blue to dusky orange to deep red, and then to darkness. This image is something I’ve seen many times before, and every time I see it, it takes my breath away. This display of nature, of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds, their bodies appearing as shadows against the late afternoon sky, is grace. The birds, their wings churning up and down, fly as one large body from one side of the road to the other, a giant cloud of life and movement, until they stop to fill all the branches on three or four tall trees. Here, their silhouettes on the bare winter branches make the trees appear to have sprouted thousands of leaves.

The beauty of the first tree is that I had a hand in creating it. The beauty of the second tree is that all I had to do is pay attention. In nature, God created this amazing display for me and anyone else who noticed. Today, I ask God to continue to whisper, asking me to take notice. I resolve to listen to God’s call to appreciate the little blessings in my life each day.

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