One year ago, we began the blogging era of our lives with ponderings on the massive ponderosa that filled our living room, so I thought it only fitting to return to the theme of the Christmas evergreen to close out 2019. (Ok, technically it wasn’t a ponderosa pine, but who could resist that little play on words?)
We went in a little different direction with this year’s tree, or I suppose I should say trees. It’s true. We have three Christmas trees this year. Well, tree may be overstating things. Saplings actually—culled from beneath the giant oaks, pines, and poplars that crowd out the sun in the woods behind our house and stunt the growth of tiny cedars trying desperately to become all they were meant to be. We went out in search of the perfect tree and brought home three imperfect reminders that life doesn’t always look like we expect it to look.
Three is a number that works well if you’re looking for a symbolic justification for this breach of tradition. Three trees can represent the Trinity, the Holy Family, the three gifts brought by the magi . . . I’m sure you can come up with more. However, as we carefully chose only light-weight ornaments and moved the trees in close to each other for support, I found myself enjoying their frailty and the transformation that lights and tinsel, lovingly placed, can bring to the most misshapen of little underdeveloped evergreens. Here are three things that our three trees remind me of during this season of our lives.
Gentleness. An elusive virtue, gentleness seems to flee with the slightest hint of hardship. But, gentleness is a command. Jesus demonstrated it and we are told in Colossians to put it on: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Isn’t it ironic that, right now for John and me, getting dressed is one of those times when gentleness seems to go into hiding? Action point: if John’s toes get caught when I’m helping him put on his socks, maybe pushing through with anger is not the best option. If I can gently place the ornaments on our little trees, surely I can be more gentle when pulling socks onto my husband’s feet. (But not compressions socks — I’m afraid those will always make me angry. If you have ever tried to put these on someone else’s feet, you know what I’m talking about.)
Support. Alone, these three trees are pretty pitiful. Their little trunks are almost too small for the tree stands. It would hardly have been worth our time to adorn just one because they simply can’t hold too many ornaments. However, when we move them in close to each other so that their branches interlock and the strings of lights can bind them together, they become a solid representation of the season of hope we are celebrating. Reminder: God did not leave us alone. He sent Jesus who sent the Spirit so that we can link arms with each other and stand strong, bound together by the light of the world. There has never been a season in our lives when we have experienced more support than we are experiencing right now. Not alone. We are standing strong because you, our friends and family, have moved in close. Thank you.
And finally, love. Overshadowed and undernourished, our three little trees were destined to live out their days in obscurity and purposelessness. But for a few weeks they will fill our home with light and beauty. One of our favorite books when the kids were young was a traditional folktale called The Tale of Three Trees as retold by Angela Elwell Hunt. You can still buy it online (click here) and I highly recommend it. This is how this particular tale of the transforming power of God’s love goes:
Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.
The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him. “I want to hold treasure,” he said. “I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” he said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all,” she said. “I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”
Years passed. The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall.
One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold wonderful treasure.”
The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said,“This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.
“Now I shall sail mighty waters,” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship fit for kings!”
The third tree felt her heart sink when the the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.
But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought him to a carpenter’s shop, but the busy carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead his work-worn hands fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals.
The once-beautiful tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure. He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.
The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took him to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were being made that day. Instead the once-strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat.
Too small and too weak to sail an ocean or even a river, he was taken to a little lake. Every day he brought in loads of dead, smelly fish.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.
“What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop and point to God.”
Many, many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.
But one night golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box.
“I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.
The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said.
And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake.
Soon a thundering storm arose. The little tree shuddered. He knew he did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and rain.
The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.
And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her.
She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.
It had made the first tree beautiful.
It had made the second tree strong.
And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.
And that was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
So this Christmas, if you, like us, sometimes feel like you are stuck in a barn or struggling on a storm-tossed lake or neglected in a lumberyard . . . if you have almost forgotten your dreams . . . think of the three little trees and believe. Believe in our heavenly Father who says, “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Merry Christmas and dream on.