Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
Today I was a member of Operation: Rockefeller.
Really, that’ s just my pet name for the annual search for a Christmas tree to grace the front of the church my family attends.
Operation: Rockefeller began when my sister got married just a few days before Christmas. She was married in our church. Our church meets in an old elementary school building that we bought after our previous facility burned down. The meeting room is one of those old gymnasium/stage combo deals, which is kind of cool, right? Except when you’re getting married in it.
In an effort to make a gym seem less like a gym, we went all-out with Christmas lights and trees. Up front, we placed an enormous Christmas tree. Somewhere in the 20 foot range, I think. A simply wonderful woman named Margaret was in charge of the decorating, and between her, myself and a few others we got that tree looking beautiful; white lights up all the way to the top. Everyone joked that we looked just like Rockefeller Center with such a tree.
Well when it came time to decorate for Christmas the following year, people didn’t want to be underwhelmed by a smaller tree, so we went for another large tree. I had only just returned home after my ill-fated attempt to run away from all I knew, and since I had experience, I was again part of the Tree Finding Squad. We chose a monster. If I remember correctly, this one came in at the 24 foot mark, and nearly touched the ceiling in the gym. I strung most of the lights on that tree by myself. To get to the top, I had to climb up this ladder that has got to be older than my grandfather. Carefully, I’d twist lights into the branches, then climb down to move the ladder before climbing all the way back up and putting more lights on in a new area. I didn’t mind; I kind of loved it.
Another year swept by, and over the last few weeks I watched as various homes and businesses began putting up Christmas decorations, and I knew that soon it would be time for Operation: Rockefeller. I no longer attend that church due to work schedules, but my dad’s an elder in the congregational leadership, and I grew up there, so to an extent that church body will always be part of me. About one week ago, as I stared at the inflated Santa in the yard of a neighbor’s house as I walked by, I remember smiling because I knew that even though I don’t attend that church anymore, I’d still be right there choosing this year’s Rockefeller Tree. I’d be there stringing lights on the branches, perched atop that old wooden ladder that’s stored underneath the stage.
This morning – my day off – the phone rang at 8:00 in the morning. Margaret was ready for her tree. Circumstances had panned out well, and I was free to join this year’s hunt for a tree. I met her at the tree farm, dragging my brother along (yes, the same brother from the Tea Guy incident) and the three of us began our search for this year’s tree. Operation: Rockefeller 2011 was in full swing.
As we searched the tree farm for just the right pine tree, we began to notice something. Trees that looked spectacular from twenty paces away didn’t seem so spectacular upon closer examination. When we stepped right up to the trees, we would notice that entire sections of the branches inside the tree were not any good at all; the pine needles were dead and brown, ready to fall to the ground. In some cases the branches themselves were so fragile that they would snap off. In both cases, the root of the problem was that the tree would never make it through to Christmas. As beautiful as the tree may seem just now, we knew that once the tree had been cut, transported, and displayed for weeks in the church, it wouldn’t have even a semblance of beauty to it. Just death and decay.
We couldn’t use these trees! No, we needed to find a tree that didn’t just look good, we needed a tree that was good. We wanted a holistic tree: beautiful, yes, but also healthy. Through and through. Our search continued.
Margaret directed my attention to a tree that wasn’t quite yet tall enough to fill our needs, but stood brilliantly erect, branches full and green and healthy. Not this year, but perhaps another year or two and this tree would be perfect for an Operation: Rockefeller searching party. I stared at this tree, and I decided that I would name him Ethan. I hope that nobody else buys Ethan this season, or even next season, so that he can one day become an Operation: Rockefeller tree for my family’s church.
The thing is, Tree Ethan is just like me. He’s been around. (Ah! I’m so funny!) Literally, the base of this tree’s trunk is a circle, roughly two feet in diameter. Somehow, this tree grew crooked and warped when it was young. But then, either through intervention on the tree farmer’s part or nature’s course, Tree Ethan began growing straight up. So when we looked at it now, a 10 foot tall evergreen so perfectly shaped and full of life, you’d never know that Tree Ethan had a rough start. Until you looked down, obviously, and saw the inexplicable circle formed by the trunk just inches above the ground.
Now we didn’t linger long at Tree Ethan, and I certainly didn’t tell my fellow tree adventurers that I had decided to name that tree after myself. Soon enough we found this year’s tree, cut him down, and moved him out. Tomorrow night I’ll climb that ladder again and put lights on it.
But that image – that stark image of the tree trunk in a circle – stuck with me for the next few hours. It’s a powerful image for me. It correlates with my life. I’ve been around. But our Heavenly Father directly intervened in my messed-up growth patterns, and he’s tenderly and patiently directing my convalescence and progress. It may sound stupid, but that tree gave hope to a 27 year-old screwup. It gave me a glimpse of a future in which I may not be as worthless as I feel; as hopelessly broken as I’m constantly reminded that I am. There may be a future in which yours truly stands tall and firm, a testament to the ultimate love and mercy of the Everlasting, bringing the Kingdom to others through my story and the obvious faithfulness of the Living God throughout the years.
Whether that’s ever a part of my story or not, Tree Ethan acted as a conduit of God’s faithfulness to me today, and infused my lonely heart with the hope I needed for this season. The hope that I constantly need to be reminded of: the hope of the gospel, and the awesome power that it brings to my story.
Thank you, Papa.