A Bittersweet Joy

Yet amazingly, we were feeling joy in the midst of our greatest sadness.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
~1 Corinthians 13:12

The famed writer Rudyard Kipling wrote a deeply touching story of only six pages entitled “The Gift of the Magi.” Published in 1905, it tells of a young couple’s love for each other and, most significantly, their willingness to sacrifice their most prized possessions due to that love. For they each wanted to purchase a Christmas gift for the other in secret, but they had no money to do so.

We will post a link below for you to read this story, but first a bit about why we are doing so. In early December of 2003, we lost our eighteen-year-old son Brian in an accident. The funeral was held five days later. During those five days, we had dozens of Brian’s friends share their stories of what Brian’s life had meant to them. These stories, and the emotion behind them, brought us both joy and sadness.

During the middle of the night after the funeral which had been held in the afternoon, Cindy and I were awake in bed. I believe it was around 3:00 am. We were talking and there were many tears. Yet amazingly, we were feeling joy in the midst of our greatest sadness. We know this was God’s loving hand and His Holy Spirit giving us comfort. It was at that moment when the little story of “The Gift of the Magi” came to my mind.

After remembering the story, I explained to Cindy that I felt bittersweet joy and sadness at the very same time, mixed together and flooding through me. I reminded her of Kipling’s story. Then, I explained that there was a strong correlation between what I was feeling and what the young couple must have felt. “Imagine,’ I said, ‘when they saw the gift that the other had sacrificed so very much in order to give them!”

We would encourage you to read the story as it is quite short. We believe that Kipling was able to tell stories with such powerful emotion due to the intense highs and lows of his own life, some of which is explained below.

About Rudyard Kipling

Perhaps, in this day and age, Kipling is better known for having written children’s books such as “The Jungle Books”. As this is being written, “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” is playing in movie theaters across America and it is based on his stories. He wrote the famous book “Kim” in 1901. He would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, at the age of 42. However, he also suffered great personal loss.

In 1899, on a trip to the United States, both he and his daughter Josephine developed pneumonia. It would take his daughter’s life. During World War I, his son John was killed at the age of 18. Kipling was devastated by both losses and felt personal guilt at having helped his son get accepted into the Irish Guard through personal connections.

Read “The Gift of the Magi” by Rudyard Kipling

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Share with Your Children at Christmas – “The Tale of Three Trees”

“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold marvelous treasures!”

Sharing a precious memory of Christmas past on this Christmas morn.

When our three children were very young, we would read children’s books to them each evening before bedtime. “Story Time!” always created excitement and had become a tradition that started with our first-born child Brian, as he grew old enough to listen, and in the following years with Daniel and Katie. Cindy and I were blessed by such times, and we knew the children enjoyed the stories. There were many, many books that we collected over time such as “A Giraffe and a Half”, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Enormous Crocodile”. Yet there was one story that held special significance for us at Christmas and again on Easter – “The Tale of the Three Trees”.

It is a tale of dreams held, of dreams shattered, and of dreams realized. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

Once upon a time, three little trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they would be when they were grown.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the night sky. “I want to hold treasure,” it said. “I want to be filled with gold and decorated with jewels. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked down the mountainside at the ocean far below. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” it said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree said, “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me their eyes will raise up to heaven, and they will think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Source

Thus the dreams of the three trees are made known to the reader. But then woodcutters came up from the town and their dreams were shattered one by one. The first was felled and fashioned, not into a treasure chest, but into “a simple feed-box.” The second was felled and fashioned, not into a strong sailing ship, but into “a simple fishing boat.” And the third that dreamt of never being cut down was instead felled and then cut into rough-hewn beams and laid aside.

But though the trees dreams were shattered, the story goes on to talk about a feed-box being used as a cradle that held “the greatest treasure in the world.” And a small fishing boat that would not “travel mighty waters” but would carry “the King of heaven and earth.” Finally, the story tells of beams of wood fashioned into a cruel structure onto which a man was nailed by his hands and feet. Yet the earth would tremble as the man died and then three days later “the earth knew that God’s love had changed everything.”

This simple, touching story has been illustrated by more than one person, but the book that we read to our children was “The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale” by Angela Elwell Hunt, with illustrations by Tim Jonke. We think the illustrations are wonderful.

You may perhaps find the book at your local library, but we encourage you to buy a copy at your favorite bookstore or at an online source. We pray it blesses you and your children as it did our family.