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Creative Problem-Solving on the Advice of an Angel

A too-short Christmas tree is not a crisis, thanks to a whispered suggestion from heaven above.

A family averts a Christmas tree crisis, thanks to the advice of an angel.

Family traditions were important in our house, and none was more cherished than our annual trip to the woods for the perfect Christmas tree.

“Dress warmly,” I reminded the kids as my husband, Bob, grabbed the ax and saw from his basement workshop. My eldest son, Dan, nine, helped his seven-year-old brother John with his scarf as Laddie, our Border collie, danced around them.

I picked up two-year-old David, waved good-bye to Pussy B. the cat, and we piled into our station wagon. We were off!

“We’re allowed to take a tree from this area here,” Bob said, slowing the car and pointing. “Keep an eye out for a good one.”

The boys pressed their faces to the window. Choosing a tree was serious business. The trunk had to be straight, and just the right size for the stand, with no large gaps in the branches.

“Look at that one!” called Dan.

Bob pulled the car over beside a balsam fir. The branches were full, spreading out in all directions. Plus it was right next to the road. When we cut it down, the tree would topple right beside the open back door of the station wagon.

Bob got to work with his ax. Dan and John helped with the saw, carefully following their father’s instructions and sawing just like he’d taught them. In no time we were headed back home with the tree inside the car, stretching from one end to the other. The long, thin tip bobbed in between Bob and me in the front seat.

“It will just graze the ceiling at home after we trim it,” Bob said.

“It’s the best tree we’ve ever gotten,” Dan said. We celebrated back at home with cookies and hot chocolate. The tree would stay outside until a few days before Christmas.

“Dad, can we watch when you trim it?” John asked.

Bob finished his hot chocolate. “I won’t be cutting this year,” he said. “Dan, you and John are old enough to measure things, fit the tree stump into the stand, do it all by yourselves. Think you boys can handle it?”

Dan and John seemed to grow six inches in their chairs at the thought of such an awesome responsibility.

“We can handle it,” Dan promised. “We won’t let you down.”

A few days before Christmas, Dan and John rushed in after school. They gathered the tools they’d need from the basement workshop—saw, measuring tape, tree stand—and brought them out to the yard, where the tree waited.

I took David outside to watch. Laddie sniffed eagerly around the base of the tree. Pussy B. watched from the window.

“We’ve got the ceiling measurements,” said Dan, pencil and notebook in hand. His already serious face was stony. “John, hold the end of the tape while I measure the tree.”

I left the older boys to their work and brought David inside for his early supper. He was just about finished when I heard a call from outside. “Mom, open up the door!”

The boys carried the tree into the living room. I returned to the kitchen.

I listened to the sounds of happy exertion: huffs and puffs as they moved the tree into position, murmured consultation, more bumps and bangs.

Then I heard the sound every mother knows is trouble: dead silence.

I grabbed David from his high chair and hurried out to them.

Dan and John stared at a tree that was fragrant and full—but many inches too short. Laddie looked back and forth between them, sensing something was wrong. Pussy B. draped herself over the back of the chair, unconcerned.

“We should have cut that skinny top off before we measured,” said Dan. “That’s why we cut too much off the stump. Way too much!”

John crossed his arms tight across his chest. His eyes filled with angry tears. “Christmas is ruined!” he said.

I retreated into the kitchen so I could think. It wasn’t the tree I was worried about, but the boys’ pride.

The tree was central to our holiday. I didn’t want the boys to feel ashamed every time they looked at it.

More bumps and bangs came from the living room. Then Dan and John passed through the kitchen, carrying the tree between them.

“We’re going to nail the bottom part back on again,” Dan mumbled, not meeting my eye. Laddie barked in encouragement.

Oh, my, I thought, how can we make a short tree taller? We had a terrible problem on our hands.

Just this past Sunday our minister had preached a sermon on problem solving. “The best solution is always the creative one,” he had said.

But I couldn’t lower the ceiling, I couldn’t raise the floor. There was no way to undo the damage done. That’s why you have to be creative, I thought.

If I couldn’t fix the problem, maybe I could get creative with it. A thought came to mind, as if an angel had whispered in my ear: Turn the problem into the solution.

Dan and John trudged back up from the basement with the tree, still as short as ever. “It didn’t work,” John muttered, kicking at the door.

I followed them back into the living room. “We can’t make the tree taller,” I said. “But if we put it on the coffee table, it’ll appear that way.”

Dan turned his head sideways, measuring the distance with his eyes. “We could put the lights and ornaments on before we lifted it up.”

“We wouldn’t need a stepladder to put the angel on the top,” said John. “Hey, it just might work!”

Laddie wagged his tail. Pussy B. stepped over the tools to inspect the table. “Let’s try it,” said Dan.

I left the boys to figure out the details while I started dinner for the rest of the family. When Bob got home I met him at the door.

“The boys brought the tree in this afternoon. Wait till you see!” I said, loud enough for the boys to hear. “You’re in for a surprise,” I added in a whisper. “Prepare yourself.”

I led Bob into the living room, and caught him when he staggered slightly at the sight of our big, glorious fir now squatting, plump and compact, on top of the coffee table. Dan and John held their breath.

Then Bob’s voice boomed out, hearty and rich. “What a good idea!” he declared, as if the boys had exceeded all his expectations. “Why didn’t I ever think of such a thing?”

John broke into a grin. Dan’s chest swelled with pride. David squealed. Laddie ran around the coffee-table tree. Pussy B. batted at a low-hanging branch.

Even the best Christmas traditions sometimes went wrong. But ruin Christmas? No way. Not as long as there were angels to inspire creative solutions!


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