My Christmas tree is so crooked. The trunk looks like a Z or a bone that healed badly from a compound break.
I didn’t mean to get a crooked tree.
I love our family tree tradition. Each year we go around the same weekend. We go to the same place. We go to the same restaurant for lunch. The kids run down the same paths. I wear the same flannel shirt and boots. I use the same saw. I love it.
We went on Sunday. We knew they were calling for rain, snow, ice pellets, and other acts of God. But we went anyway. We left Arlington with the snow beginning to fall. We drove west on I-66 for about an hour. The snow fell harder. We couldn’t get in to the parking lot for the tree farm– my van can do a lot, but going up hill in snow is not one of them. So I parked it on the small road out front with a hope and a prayer that no one would slide into it.
The kids were thrilled. James took 4 steps and fell straight down. He took 2 steps and fell again. I carried him through the snow to the top of the hill, then pointed him in the right direction to let him slide where he wanted.
I was nervous. Would we make it back to the highway? Was my van cementing itself in a pit of snow and ice? When I get nervous, I get barky. So I instructed everyone that we would not be leisurely browsing this year. Pick one and pick fast.
Snow balls were flying. Children were slipping and sliding. I was intent on finding a tree.
Ok. It was good enough. And it was covered in snow. And it was fine. Adequate. It had branches and some needles…
I got down in the snow and immediately regretted only wearing jeans as I felt the wet seep into my pants. With a mild grumble, I began cutting. The saw worked perfectly and I smiled. That was quick! I dragged the tree, ‘bagged’ it, and got some rope to mount it on my roof.
The guy there did a great a great job mounting it. And we had a great talk about berry farming. And I thought, maybe I could work for a berry farmer on my day off. That kind of work sounds really fun and refreshing. Really.
We bought a wreath, took a picture, drank some hot chocolate and ran for the car. After a quick lunch with the snow dumping on I-66, we set off for home.
Along the way, we stopped at Fairfax Hospital to pray for a baby in our church who was having respiratory problems. And we stopped by Restoration’s office to pick up the worship guides for church. As we turned to drive into the garage for our office building, Laurel said, ‘Be careful!’ I said, ‘why?’ Just as a tremendous thud sounded on the roof of our van. My first thought was– ‘why is my bike on the roof in this snow?’ And then I remembered, ‘That’s my Christmas tree!’ I pulled into a space and looked at the damage. The tree was still there. But it now had a nice haircut from all the branches being sheered off one side. I grumbled as I ran up the stairs to get the worship guide and thought about the pruning job I would need to do to make this tree look like anything besides a bad joke.
We got home. Time was tight before church. I stuck the tree (and dangling branches) in our laundry room to dry and to deal with later.
The next day I got the tree upstairs and in its stand. In our family trimming of the tree, my role is to get it in place, Laurel is the light putter-onner and the kids get free (guided?) reign on ornament distribution. Turns out ‘getting it in place’ was a lot harder this year. First, one side of it is branch-less, completely flat, just barren jagged points. Fortunately we have a column in our living room and that side of the tree got shoved against it. But then there is the trunk. How did I not see this at the tree farm? How could the snow hide that much crookedness? I turned the tree one way and it bent to the left. I leaned it to the right and it bent the other way. I couldn’t believe how un-straight it was. Yes, my thoughts were not charitable in those moments.
It’s still bent. There’s not a happy ending to this story. Even from the street, through the windows, you will wonder– is that tree about to fall down? Did they just shove it in a bucket?
But it’s beautiful. And it holds 16 years of sweet married memories. And 12 years of kid ‘gifts’.
In this story of Ruth, we are thinking about redemption that looks different than we expected. And we are considering how we run ahead of God, thinking we know His plan, and force something to happen in a way that may be different than He intended. It’s a powerful story.
Every year, the tree reminds me of what I want with my friends and my family. It’s a point of beauty and great smells that triggers gratitude. Every year, Advent reminds me that I need a redeemer, that He has come and is coming again, and that I am fully capable of running ahead of the plans He has for me. There are times, when I look at my soul and I think, it is still so bent, so crooked, so broken, so not at all what I want. And I realize again, that to be trimmed in the righteousness of Jesus, to be filled with the light of Christ, and to exchange my ashes for a garment of praise– these are my present and future hope. This is what is true. Crooked as my trunk may be, Jesus has me and he won’t let me fall.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.