Yesterday I began telling a story about the best Christmas gift you can ever give—the gift of forgiveness. It’s the story about a young boy who so wanted a Christmas tree for his home, but his folks couldn’t afford it. He, however, collected some money from his newspaper route and bought a tree to take home. He was so excited, it was a beautiful tree, but when his mom saw the tree, she didn’t share his enthusiasm. I continue his story.

“Where did you get the money?” she asked. Her tone was accusing and it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t going to turn out as I had planned.

“From my paper route.” I explained about the customer who had paid me.

“And you spent the whole eight dollars on this tree?” she exclaimed. She went into a tirade about how stupid it was to spend my money on a dumb tree that would be thrown out and burned in a few days.

She told me how irresponsible I was and how I was just like my dad with all those foolish, romantic, noble notions about fairy tales and happy endings and that it was about time I grew up and learned some sense about the realities of life and how to take care of money and spend it on things that were needed and not on silly things.

She said that I was going to end up in the poorhouse because I believe in stupid things like Christmas trees, things that didn’t amount to anything. I just stood there. My mother had never talked to me like that before and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt awful and I began to cry. Finally, she reached out and snapped off the porch light.

“Leave it there,” she said. “Leave that tree there till it rots, so every time we see it, we’ll all be reminded of how stupid the men in this family are.” Then she stormed up the stairs to her bedroom and we didn’t see her until the next day. Dad and I brought the tree in and we made a stand for it. He got out the box of ornaments and we decorated it as best as we could; but men aren’t too good at things like that, and besides, it wasn’t the same without mom. There were a few presents under it by Christmas day—although I can’t remember a single one of them—but Mom wouldn’t have anything to do with it. It was the worst Christmas I ever had.

Fast forward to today. Judi and I married in August of 1963, and dad died on October 10 of that year. Over the next eight years, we lived in many places. Mom sort of divided up the year—either living with my sister Mary or with us. In 1971 we were living in Wichita, Kansas. Mom was staying with us during the holidays. On Christmas Eve I stayed up very late. I was totally alone with my thoughts, alternating between joy and melancholy, and I got to thinking about my paper route, that tree, what my mother had said to me and how Dad had tried to make things better.