As I put the ornaments on our Christmas tree over the weekend, I realized what an eclectic collection we have acquired during the twenty-three years of our marriage. Nearly all of our ornaments are gifts we have received from each other, family, or friends, and I have received a number of them as Christmas gifts from my students over the years. In addition, we have some remnants from my childhood Christmas trees—ornaments that have sentimental value, most of which came from the dime store. Our Christmas tree reflects our interests through the ornaments depicting various sports, our favorite NASCAR drivers and their cars, apples as a nod to our chosen profession of teaching, as well as several Scarlett O'Hara figurines from my favorite book, Gone With the Wind. The most precious ornaments, however, are the Hallmark Keepsakes that have pictures of Alex at various ages: decked out for preschool at 4, wearing a cowboy hat at 5, and raking leaves at 8, to name a few. Keeping watch over our tree is a brunette angel tree topper who wears her hair like I wear mine, so she seems like a kindred spirit. While other trees may be more beautiful than ours, I love that our Christmas tree represents our life and reminds us of the people who care about us.
After finishing decorating our tree, I began to think about what kinds of ornaments would best represent stages of Alex’s life and the people other than family and friends who have helped him. If I were putting together a special symbol tree for Alex, his ornaments would reflect the various therapies that have made him better.
To represent his beloved doctor, who supervised his special diet, nutritional supplements, chelation therapy, and cranial therapy, I would choose an apple to represent the good health she helped him maintain for more than ten years while he was under her care.
As a symbol of the developmental optometrist who helped Alex with using his eyes together better, improving his balance so that he could go up and down stairs easily and stop tipping his head to look at things, I would select a pair of glasses as a reminder of those Alex wore briefly while he did visual therapy.
An ABC ornament would serve as a reminder of his speech therapist, who worked with him to take all the written words he had learned from reading at an early age and put them into spoken language so that he could be understood instead of being frustrated because he couldn’t talk.
For her loving patience and creativity in helping Alex to use his hands more adeptly in fine motor tasks, a hand with a heart would represent Alex’s occupational therapist, who often convinced him to do tasks he didn’t like by promising to teach him French words, something he did enjoy.
A musical note would symbolize his music therapist, who not only somehow taught seemingly rhythm-impaired Alex how to clap on beat but also engaged him with country music and jazz that he knew Alex loved, improving his social skills and confidence along the way.
Most importantly, Alex’s Christmas tree would be a testimony to the healing God has given him, represented by the ornaments Faith, Hope, and Love. Although autism has presented obstacles, these spiritual gifts have blessed our lives and enabled us to find peace despite upset, joy despite frustration, and strength despite fear. Through the people God has brought across our path, Alex has made progress, giving us hope that he will continue to improve so that we can continue to celebrate just how far he’s come.
“And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with His mighty hand.” Exodus 13:16