“The Appalachian Christmas Tree,” Ensign, Dec. 2004, 60–62
Christmas of 1977 was not a happy one for me. No family members were close enough to visit, we had almost no money, and we had no pretty decorations to boost my spirits—only a scraggly little Christmas tree strung with colored paper and popcorn chains. If not for the wide-eyed hope of our small children, I probably wouldn’t even have bothered with the tree.
My husband had to drive our car about 45 minutes to get to work, taking with him our only means of transportation. I was stuck at home all day, every day, miles away from anything and everything. The nearest town was a 20-minute drive over insanely twisting mountain roads. The chapel and most of the members of our tiny branch were nearly an hour away.
We had moved to this isolated Appalachian valley in a spasm of youthful idealism and adventurousness. My husband heard of cheap land in Virginia, and before I could say, “Middle of nowhere,” we had moved there. He built us a little house on the side of a mountain, with water piped in from a nearby spring.
We did have neighbors, though they were few and far between. The closest house was an 1801 log cabin, rented for a short while by a young family from our branch, the Andersons (names have been changed). They were poor like we were. Donald, the dad, was working six and sometimes seven days a week. Donald and Ruth had three small children, as we did, and Ruth was in a constant state of exhaustion.
It was a fairly precarious hike from my house to Ruth’s, over a deeply rutted, muddy road. For either of us—with a baby in our arms and two small children in tow—visits were a bit tricky. On one of our rare visits, however, Ruth mentioned to me that they hadn’t been able to get a Christmas tree. Donald left home before dawn and didn’t get back until late evening. Ruth just wasn’t up to traipsing about the countryside in search of a tree.
One evening just before Christmas I was struck with a sudden, passionate urge to find a Christmas tree for the Andersons. Out of nowhere the idea hit me—I just had to get them a tree. As pathetic as my own tree might be, it brought at least a portion of the Christmas spirit into our home.
I spent the rest of the evening making paper chains, popcorn strings, and, of course, a yellow star with glitter for the treetop. In the morning I hiked out onto the mountainside and searched until I found a small tree. I hacked it down and found an old can to decorate and fill with dirt for a base. The end product was more laughable than beautiful, but it looked cheery enough—if you sort of squinted your eyes.
I called to ask Ruth if I could come down, then bundled up my kids and made the hike down the mountain. I somehow managed to balance the tree and the children without major mishap and arrived safely at the cabin door. When Ruth answered my knock, she took one look at my comical little tree and burst into tears. I entered the house very much afraid that my idea had not been such a good one after all.
When Ruth regained her composure, she explained her tears. It was late the evening before when Donald finally arrived home from work. With nearly empty cupboards, the family had piled into the car for the long ride to the store. After a while three-year-old Michael said, “Daddy, can we say a prayer?”
Donald asked Michael if he would like to say it. Then with the simple faith of a child, Michael asked Heavenly Father to help them get a Christmas tree. After saying, “Amen,” Donald and Ruth looked at each other, knowing they would have to try harder to satisfy the longing of their little boy’s heart. They were not able to come up with a plan that night and went to bed more than a little perplexed.
So it was that when we appeared with the little tree, we were an answer to more than one prayer. As soon as the Anderson children caught a glimpse of us, they squealed with joy and made a place of honor for the funny looking tree. There could never have been a Christmas tree more loved.
The miracle of that Christmas, however, was not just the prayer that bounced from a little boy’s heart to heaven and back again to the heart of someone who could help. It was also the healing power I found in the act of giving.
From the moment the thought of finding a tree for the Andersons struck me, the spirit of Christmas began to fill my own heart. I was grateful that the Lord loved me enough to try to get through to me and teach me. And I was reminded anew that it is in losing ourselves that we find ourselves. As we serve, we find that “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).