December 13, 2013 8:30 pm

We’ve all heard the warning to avoid coveting our neighbors property.  It’s just one of the great Ten Commandments we learn from the Savior.  It seems easy enough but I have found that regardless of my bank account, I can find those who have more and those who have less.  It’s just which I chose to focus on.

Just after Thanksgiving I was having some mixed emotions about decorating my pre-lit Christmas tree.  My husband had brought it in from the garage and set it in our living room.  It sat for a few days.  I had observed many trees the past week and just didn’t feel that my tree was measuring up.  Not necessarily to what I had seen in beautiful homes, stores or Christmas Festivals, but I just felt I needed something different.   I just had an uneasiness about decorating the same way and could not put my finger on why.

During a lunch hour I decided I would wander a local decorating store called Tai Pan.  I went to the store in Sandy, Utah which is the southern part of Salt Lake City and many affluent neighborhoods surround that area.  It was the middle of the day and it was my intention with my limited budget to just pick up some new ribbon and try to remodel the tree decorations I already had.  They really weren’t that old and had been purchased at this same store just a few years ago. My plan was to walk to the back of the store where the racks of ribbon were and along the way I would observe the way the designers had worked the ribbon into the tree and decorations.  It was a simple and strategic plan to keep me from spending money I did not have.  As I walked the aisles of the store I saw some of the most talented work from incredible designers.  Many trees had SOLD signs at their base and others had the price to purchase.  Those prices ranged from $2,500 on up to over $3,500.  Oh, how I wished I could just afford to pick out my favorite and have it delivered to my small, humble home. I then began looking at all the women around me.  Shopping carts were loaded to the top with beautiful supplies to arrange toppers and decor for what I was sure was the 20 f00t tree in the foyer of their 20,000 square feet homes.  There were lights, glass bulbs and glittery “fluff” to stuff every inch of their tree. The more I walked and the more I observed, the more bitter I became at my own humble circumstances.  Oh, I had just read letters from my best friend’s son on a church mission in the Philippines where they lived in shacks in the jungle no bigger than my bathroom and had lost all their possessions in a recent typhoon.  Somehow I wasn’t comparing my situation to theirs.  I was comparing mine to the women who didn’t seem to even take the time to add in their heads the cost of the purchases that were mounting in their shopping carts.  My heart grew more bitter until I walked around the corner and saw the most beautiful tree of all.

This tree was not only simple and tactful in it’s decorations and lights, but it had the most reverent spirit.  Yes, a Christmas tree can produce an actual palatable feeling.  This tree was adorned with 12 small beautifully framed pictures of the Savior.  They were packaged in a set of 12 as to be an advent calendar.  On the back of the frames, families could read each night or one at a time as they decorated the tree.  What a beautiful idea!  I wanted them. I finally realized what my tree and home was lacking.  Over the past several months I  had been writing a book about focusing on the Savior and the things in my home, with the exclusion of a nativity set, were all focused on Santa or snowmen.  Is that what I wanted my impressionable little grandchildren and loving daughters to remember about Nana’s house?  What would they think was most important to their mother and to their Nana?  I wanted them and anyone who visited to walk into my home and see that the Savior is the center of my holiday, my life and my heart.  I finally had found what I was missing on my Christmas tree.  I quickly looked around to find a box of the ornaments, grab some matching ribbon and head home that night to decorate my tree.  My heart was immediately softened and the bitterness was gone.  That was until I saw that all the boxes of ornaments were gone.  I could not find a set.  I searched and searched and saw many beautiful paintings from this same artist.  One in particular grabbed my attention.  It was a picture of the Three Wisemen giving their gifts to Christ as a toddler.  Oh, I wanted that as a representation of  the tradition it stood for in my home.  It was just out of my budget.  My heart sank as I could not find the ornaments.  I slowly walked back and found some ribbon and decided that would have to suffice.  On my final walk to the cash register I decided to walk past the tree just one last time.  As I did I noticed an unmarked box that seemed to be the same shape as the other empty boxes with the framed ornaments.  Yes, there was one last box of ornaments.  I quickly snatched them up and headed for the register.  I have to admit that the price of the ornaments was not in my budget either.  I was concerned that maybe I was splurging.  However, I knew that they would be treasured by me and by those in my family.  It certainly would be worth any sacrifice.  I left the store that day with a different heart that I had when I entered.  Today and everyday until Christmas I will turn out the lights except for the tree, sit on my couch and just enjoy the reverence that now permeates the room.  I can’t wait to share this with my family year after year!

Paintings are by Liz Lemon Swindle

tree1 tree2 tree3 tree4 tree5



  1. Thank you Michele for your kind words. I love to hear the impact these images have on people, that is why they are painted.

    I went through a similar experience with my Christmas tree. Years ago I was asked by my company if I would consider putting my tree and ornaments in one of our galleries. It was a tree that had taken years and several thousand dollars to create and complete. It had limited edition fairies and toadstools and the like and was very whimsical and so exquisite.

    They assumed that because I was so busy completing several paintings for clients and at my studio late every evening, not really home to enjoy my tree, that I wouldn’t mind loaning it to them for the season.
    I’m not sure why I said yes, but I will forever be grateful that I did. Loaning my tree to them left me without one and it just made Christmas feel empty.

    So I bought another tree, nothing great, just something to put up until my tree was returned the next year. Of course I didn’t have any ornaments and I didn’t want to put a lot of money in them either.

    I went to a little craft store close to my home and found some very small gold picture frames (2″x3″) and put my mini cards with my images in them and hung them on my tree. I had no idea what a difference they would make, but they did and it was powerful.

    I spent many nights in my living room with only the tree lights on enjoying the spirit that I felt.

    The following year I purchased a life-size baby Jesus and made a stone cradle and place them beneath my tree. Each tree thereafter I would add ornaments that symbolized the Savior and when people would learn of my experience they would send me ornaments, like a Lutheran minister in Indianapolis and many more.

    Needless to say, I never asked for the fairy tree back. It goes up every year, following Halloween and it makes the gallery beautiful, but I don’t miss it. I wouldn’t trade what I have now at Christmas time for the world.

    Merry Christmas,

    Liz Lemon Swindle

Leave a Reply