The dusting of snow on the windowsills shifted back and forth with soft winter breathings. There was no storm in the air as a pale gauzy sun descended behind the horizon, only a chill skimming fields laid out ivory with winter’s wrinkles. Shortbread was baked and stored. Christmas cake plump with dried fruits was wrapped tightly in foil and packed away in the unheated summer-kitchen, taking advantage of nature’s refrigeration. Festive cards from friends and family framed the doorway to the parlor and hung on strings drooped across walls. The only thing left was to decorate a tree. After supper, Daddy bundled up and set off with his ax into the bush to find the perfect pine.
Boxes of ornaments and tangled strings of big knobby lights stretched across the floor as wide-eyed youngsters waited impatiently. At the sound of stomping boots outside, we flew to the inside kitchen door in anticipation of Daddy’s grand entrance to present his acquisition—the perfect Christmas tree. The door opened with a winter whoosh filled with prickles and green. There stood the ugliest little tree we had ever seen. It limped forward directed by unseen hands. Daddy planted it solidly in the middle of the linoleum for inspection unaware of the sinking feeling this undernourished specimen was having on our Christmas spirits.
Our farm, almost completely surrounded by healthy forest, teemed with pine and spruce. Even along the country roads, trees lined the fences free for Christmas cutting. This five-foot waif with its sparse branches and spare twisted needles looked more like the dry cast-offs that fill the dump a week after celebration, rather than the ones that usually adorn homes with fragrant crushed scent.
With not just a little whining and exaggerated sighing, the tree was placed in a bucket of sand and stood in a corner of the parlor cleared for the occasion. Colored lights were strung first—wires showing, with ghastly flickers fingering all the vacant places. Red bulbs, green bulbs, golden orbs, and odd little handmade do-dads found secure moorings, with anxious hands vying for the next ornament to come out of the box. Holiday hymns played softly on the hi-fi as snow flurries peeked in at the windows. Long strands of tinsel were meticulously laid bough by bough till, in a frenzy, impatience and enthusiasm started pitching the silver streamers every which way. Tinsel landed on the floor and in the hair. Some even lighted on the tree and some on me. Giggles had long replaced sighs. Laughter had long displaced whining; and somewhere in the transformation of our attitudes, the tree received a miraculous transformation, as well.
As the treetop star found its final perch, we stood back to ooh and ah at our handiwork. It was surprisingly beautiful. Our glittering tree, however, seemed more ornament than tree. In the decorating, it had become something greater than itself.
I don’t imagine I thought deep philosophical thoughts at the time. I was just relieved that we’d rescued the ugly little thing and let Daddy off the hook. But as I think back now, I am reminded of the rich ornaments of grace that adorn my ugly little self. Just as a small sparse pine tree became greater than itself with the help of our Christmas decorations, so my small sparse life in the hands of the Savior has come to reflect the adornments of a bright spiritual transformation. God has made me more than I could ever possibly be by myself. The beauty has come in the change.
Out of all the thickly boughed evergreens to choose from, I’m not sure why Daddy would pick the ugliest one in the forest. Intentional? I like to think that as he walked through the lonely snow-sculpted landscape, he chose the tree in most need of adornment.