The Heart of Christmas

This year, the heart of Christmas tiptoed in unexpectedly. Does that ever happen to you? You’re hurrying through your day, checking things off your list, and something soft and gentle happens. And you remember.

Three weeks ago, my mother called and made an announcement.

“I’m not putting up a tree this year. I hung my red wreath on the front door and tied a bow on the mailbox. And I’m perfectly content.”

She’s said this before and changed her mind.

“Oh, come on. I’ll help you. We can decorate it together. It’ll be fun.”

“That’s real sweet, but no thanks. I remember when my mother stopped putting up a tree. There comes a time when you–”

She kept talking, and I couldn’t decide how I feltMy thoughts scrambled back and forth from the past to the present.


I remembered Mother’s beautiful Christmas tree. Gold decorations and angels. So many angels.

But I could hear it in her voice.

She wasn’t changing her mind. So I probably needed to let it go, too.

A few days later, I ran to Home Depot for a string of lights. A certain tree caught my attention. Tiny. Pre-decorated. A simple tree.

Definitely not my mother’s style but it was portable. Light-weight.

I brought it home with me.

It looked even smaller in my kitchen. 

I’d bought my mother a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

No glitter. No sparkle. No gold.

What was I thinking? How could she possibly like it? 

It’s so…plain. 

No turning back now.

I called her. “Hi. I’m bringing you a little something.”

Please don’t ask what it is. 

When she saw me coming in her back door, she took a deep breath to say something.

Then she paused.

“I know it’s small, but it’s not heavy. You can lift it. We’ll put it on the front porch if you want to. We can hang some of your gold–”

“Oh, Julie.” She touched one of the pine cones. “I absolutely love it. Let’s put it in the den by my chair.”

“Wish you could’ve seen your expression when you came in with it,” she said. “You looked like you were five years old bringing me your hand-print from kindergarten.”

Fifty years flies by in an instant. 

She called me this morning. “My tree grows sweeter every day. I can’t imagine Christmas without it.”

I’m so glad I decided to get it. 

When you’re not sure what to do, you can’t go wrong with kindness. Click to tweet.

Kindness is at the heart of Christmas. Pastor Kevin Myers. Click to tweet.

Is God whispering someone’s name to you?

Has an unexpected act of kindness ever melted your heart?











  1. Pat Garczynski says:

    Julie, remind me of your 2015 Wotd. Isn’t it “Simple?” The tree is perfect. Love, Pat

    • Yes!!!! It’s Simple, Pat. What a great memory! I’ve been thinking about you. Hope all is well and have a wonderful Christmas, my friend.

      So much love,

  2. Julie Gilleand says:

    Julie, I love the beautiful little tree you bought for your mother! I remember when my grandma went to a smaller tree and I think went to just putting a few decorations up but not a tree. I remember when my parents stopped putting up a tree, opting for something smaller and then letting it go altogether. It always hurt my heart to see that happen, as if they were losing the spirit of Christmas. But I am somewhat in that place now too. Not entirely. It was either last year or the year before for the first time we just had a smaller artificial tree, but mainly because we’d moved to a smaller apartment and just didn’t have room. Because I like Christmas lights so much, when we took that one down, I transferred the lights to our rubber tree plant and there they have remained all year! And that is our Christmas tree this year — a rubber tree plant!! We did get our little artificial one out but have done nothing with it. Maybe we still will. But the other thing I can feel happening is just that I’m tired, from life. There’ve been some harsh storms against my life for a few years now and I’m a bit worn out. It’s hard to get motivated to decorate when life is so heavy. Also the kids are all grown and it’s not quite the same as it was when they were little — their excitement was catchy! And it was done mostly for them. So life changes, but that’s okay. I’m thankful for pretty and lighted up rubber tree plant and also the live wreath that was like a puppy in the window one night last week. I could swear I could hear it begging me to take it home — and I did! They were reduced in price for quick sale. I knew the ones that didn’t sell soon would end up on a trash heap. Of all of the ones I saw, it was just this one that “called to me”. I scooped it up to buy it and couldn’t wait to hang it up. Thing is, I’d lost my door hanger, the metal thing that fits over the top of the door with a hook at the end to hang things on. That’s why I stopped at the store to begin with! I had a couple of Christmas decorations to choose from and wanted to hang at least one of them. Well, they were out of those door hangers. So instead I had a 3rd decoration for the door that I couldn’t hang!!! I had this feeling that because I had clearly been meant to give this wreath a home, that maybe God would help me find our door hanger. And you know what? He did! I looked in a couple places with no luck. Then, get this, I was standing there with the wreath thinking of where else I could look when I reached into a box and pulled it right out!!! I can’t even remember why I reached into the box! I didn’t think it was in there. So I’m quite certain God directed my hand right to the place it needed to go to find it! How excited I was and within seconds, our wreath hung on the door, beautiful as could be with its silver ribbon and bow, becoming all it had been fashioned to be. The joy in that for me was not in decorating but in giving that wreath a home and a place to shine rather than let it be thrown onto a trash heap somewhere. I guess that sounds weird, but maybe the spirit of Christmas takes on different forms in our lives as life changes and we grow older.

    Thank you for sharing about your mom’s sweet little beautiful tree and I wish you all a blessed Christmas!

    Leafy Julie

    • Leafy, Leafy–what wisdom! I can feel it coming across in your words. It’s wisdom mixed with a type of contentment that comes from surviving some difficult times.

      And just look. You were watching for a miracle–anticipating one, when God helped you.

      I love the idea of a rubber tree. Pics please? Let me know when you put one on FB. I want to see it!

      What a spiritual Truth–you gave something others might have thrown away a home. And love.


  3. “when you don’t know what to do, you can’t go wrong with kindness..” YES!!! thank you Julie…holding tight to this message this morning – love u xo

    • Smiling at your beautiful self peeking out your front door.

      I love you. Thank you for being my BFF and for doing life with me–at least in our hearts. 🙂


  4. Anna Haney says:

    I nearly did what your mom wanted to do. Nearly abandoned the mere thought of a Christmas tree this year. Only put it up last Thursday. I’m still not totally in live with it. My hubby, as usually, hadn’t put his ornaments on yet, so it looks kind of bare. But when I sit here, on these gray pre Christmas days and see the warm glow of its lights, I feel the love.
    Merry Christmas, dear Julie

    • I know, Anna. There’s something about these gray pre-Christmas days that make the lights warm me up inside.

      Love how you said “gray pre-Christmas days.” Simply beautiful.

      And it’s gonna be a rainy Christmas in GA. I bet in TN too! Tell Don I said Hi. 🙂

  5. Kindness…the essence of Christmas.

    It’s a beautiful little tree. Perfect for your mom, and you knew that in your heart when you saw it. I’m so happy you bought it. ; o )

    Merry Christmas Dear Friend!

    • Merry Christmas, B.J.

      Looking forward to catching up soon. I’m making a list of everything I want to tell you!! I really am!!

  6. The perfect message to hear at Christmastime and to carry with you throughout the year.

    A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. ~Amelia Earhart

    Merry Christmas, my sweet friend. xxxooo

    • Eileen, you always add the most beautiful words and quotes.

      I so wish you and I could one day meet. I think we’d have such a good time laughing and talking. And maybe you could show me how you take such gorgeous photos.

      Merry Christmas and so much love~

    • marci says:

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful quote! Such wisdom and something to think about. I feel like Julie’s blog is such a place, with roots and new trees grow. What God can do with a single seed! The possibilities are endless. Merry Christmas!

  7. Patricia Martin says:

    Maddy was so happy and surprised by acts of kindness while she was in the hospital. Her namesake aunt gave her an orchid, another aunt gave her balloons, notecards, a diary, blanket, and stuffed animal. A stuffed Christmas bear was waiting for her from the hospital staff. A visit from my mom’s close friend (brought her dog books) completed all the great acts of kindness Maddy received? A girl from one of my classes was poor and so I surprised her with a talking teddy and kids bible book for her toddler son. Maddy is well and very ticklish.(((:

    • Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, wow, Patricia!!! I’m smiling, big time! I’m seeing Maddy in my mind, being surrounded with acts of kindness.

      So, so, so kind of you–caring about a girl in your class. I bet it felt so good to do it!

      Thrilled to hear Maddy’s well!! Hope you have lots of delicious GF food on Christmas. I’m making that GF pretzel salad again. Remember, the one that got baked? My daughter Jamie wants to eat it for breakfast on Christmas morning. 🙂

  8. Oh, my word. You get sweeter by the day! I love the tree! It’s perfect. It’s pretty. It’s petite. 😉 You bless my heart each week, Julie. xoxo

  9. Cathy Mayfield says:

    My mother also switched from her beautiful Christmas tree to a small one which turns out prettier every year. Last year, she tried to just put dog-oriented ornaments on it and wanted to do so this year, but for some reason, she changed her mind. When I saw it last week, its branches held a couple ornaments from our trees of long ago, and a happy nostalgic warmth spread through me. I also have trouble letting go of these cherished parts of who we are, Julie; I understand completely.

    As for acts of kindness coming upon us, I had this happen just this morning. Our daughter’s boyfriend came up from KY yesterday for the holidays and brought a mutual friend, whose parents picked her up at our house this morning. Earlier, she shyly asked if she could make French toast for everyone, something I’d planned to do at some point, but not today. I told her to go for it…and thanked her. (Delicious!) But she wanted to put a “dash” of vanilla in it, and I remembered a set of collectible measuring spoons my mother bought me years ago – one with a “pinch,” a “nip,” a “smidgen,” and yes, a “dash.” I pulled them out of the drawer to Maxine’s absolute delight. She got such a kick out of them, that I made the immediate decision to wrap them up for her as an impromptu gift, to be given at our family get-together next week, when she returns to our area for her ride back to KY. I can’t wait to see the sparkle in her eyes when she opens it!

    • Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, Cathy–this is the kind of giving I’m talking about!! Spontaneous, wild, and free–when God’s Spirit rises up inside you, and you just can’t hold back.

      Please write back and tell us what happens when she opens them.

      Yep. You totally get it about the Mother/ Christmas tree thing.

      I’m so glad you gave the friend’s friend permission to cook. 🙂

  10. It happened to me this year. I just couldn’t get the energy to put up the big tree, decorate it, and the entire house. So I decorated the front porch for the neighbor children and bought a 3 foot tree for my office. I decorated it with red balls and gold bows. I couldn’t not do a little bit. But when Christmas is over, I’ll put a bag over my little tree and next year, it will be ready to go. 🙂

    • I’m smiling, Ane. You DO understand, and even with your smaller tree, I still sense JOY all over you. And I bet the neighborhood kids love your gift to them.

      Merry Christmas~~~~~

      P.S. Hope Greg is cooking something amazing tomorrow!

  11. marci says:

    What a nice witing at this very busy time.. Reminder about Simple. And I could hear the whisper, that “simple” does not mean ‘none’.. How wonderful- your gift of the little tree to your mom. Sounds like something her spirit needed even though she didn’t know it at the time. I just love little gifts like that!
    I use to think- and guess I still do! The perfect gift is often something that a person doesn’t think of for themselves but when they recieve it, .. it lifts their spirit and there is nothing they would rather have. I have been blessed with such gifts, and hope that somewhere along the line I have given a few.

    I understand the ‘comes a time when we no longer put up the big tree’ I use to feel so sad when my Aunt only put up a table top tree– like she must be missing something. Now I have reached that time when a small tree is just right for us. And so much easier. I too, like Leafy Julie enjoy the lights, so I may have them stung on shelves or anywhere.. since I don’t have a rubber tree. I have gotten so much out of your word “simple” this year. I am so glad you share that with us. And I felt I needed that word as much as I needed my own. “joy”.
    I love the little nutshell wisdom you wrote: When you’re not sure what to do, you can’t go wrong with kindness. This is crunch time here, as I still have much to do before my daughter gets here– which she plans to be here in about 24 hrs from now. Oh, a kindness gift I got — was kind of unusual but perfect timing. I cousin sent me a card. I thought, Christmas Card, but it was a Sympathy card, as the first aniv of my dad’s passing will be 12/26.. It so fit in with your morsel of wisdom,, you can’t go wrong with kindness. And I will try to remember that– for future ref.

    You and your family have a wonderful blessed Christmas.

    • Marci’a, every time we “talk” over comments/emails, I feel like we’re sitting down at the kitchen table, don’t you? 🙂

      This year of SIMPLE has changed us, hasn’t it! You’re right. Simple doesn’t mean none. Even though that’s what she said.

      I bet your lights are beautiful strung around your house. I have red lights around my little loft office.

      Ohhhh, the precious card from your cousin. I’ll whisper a prayer the day after Christmas, that God will fill up that empty spot in your heart. You and Miranda have a beautiful day together.

      So much love~~~~~

      • marci says:

        Thank you dear Julie, Yes, I feel the same- it is like sitting at the table visiting when we “talk”.
        I hope you and your family are having a most blessed Christmas today.
        Miranda is here, and I am just taking a few minutes to check in. A nice Christmas Eve and Christmas day here. I will try to send you an e-mail soon. Appreciate your kindness and prayers for us, and for tomorrow.

  12. Mary says:

    This is a wonderful reminder of what Christmas means: not the tree, or the ornaments or the packages, but the simple gift of LOVE! And perhaps love is the most extravagant gift we can give each other.

    Peace and blessings to you all! I learn a lot from your comments each week.

    • Yes, yes, yes. That’s it exactly! The simple gift of LOVE–which is what God gave us.

      I know–the comments–they grow my understanding each week. I’m so grateful to you all.

      My Friends. Our Friends. Us!


  13. Teri Adkins says:

    My Mother loved Christmas. She loved decorating. I can’t yet begin to decorate. I hope maybe next year. This tree is simple and perfect! Merry Christmas Julie!

    • Teri, I’m hugging you from here….praying it reaches you.

      I’d love to bring you one. Want to email me your address?


  14. Dear Julie , what a treasure you are, and what an encouraging post for me to read to start my week off! As I was reading your post, and thinking what a treat I am getting to hear of an update on one of my favorite authors, (your Mom), and now you have been added to this list! As I have mentioned before Marion Bond West’s writings carried me through some difficult times! She is as beautiful as ever!
    The relationship you and your mother have reminds me so much of my relationship with my mother, we are for sure mother/daughter first, then best friends second!
    Yes! I have indeed experienced the melting heart by an act of kindness! I so agree with Pastor Myers, kindness is at the heart of Christmas!. Wishing you and your dear family a most blessed and Happy New Year!

    • Hey, Sue! What kind words.

      Thank you so much. Christmas felt so good this year–in my mouth and then my sister’s. Hope yours was wonderful too.

      Now…to click on your blog link!


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