I don’t know about you, but we’re one of those families that loves traditions. In the short time that my husband and I have been a family, we have made dozens and dozens of traditions around practically every event and holiday. For us, traditions are warm and cozy things that help us to connect the years, the feelings, and the memories. They help us to wrap up all of those things into meaning markers and remind us of what “living Canan” is all about.
One of our most favorite traditions is the day after Thanksgiving festivities. My husband, being the Christmas aficionado that he is, requires what he calls “maximum Christmas tree time.” So, the morning after Thanksgiving, we have breakfast at our local handful-of-health-code-violations-but-absolutely-delicious-food diner and head out in search of the perfect Christmas tree to cut down.
This year, like every year, we saw this perfect tree proudly rooted on a most picturesque hillside of Frasier firs. We put one of Benny’s work gloves on the very top of the tree and did a once over of the hillside to ensure there was nothing else more perfect that we had missed. Ultimately, we decided the gloved tree was, indeed, the very essence of Christmas and commenced the chopping.
When we got home, we quickly realized that the tree we were sure would fit so perfectly inside our house was, in fact, over three feet taller than what our living room would allow for. Well, that was defeating. So, Benny began cutting what amounted to the length of a small child off of the bottom of the tree. This full and lush tree, however, refused to go down without a fight. It took both of us to hold it down so that he could cut it, and during the process, one of those piney branches even snapped back to hit Benny squarely in the eye. Yikes.
When we got the tree up, I was disappointed. This didn’t look like the tree we cut down on the hill at all. Still, nothing I could do about it now.
So, we decorated this new tree, and the most surprising thing happened. Once the last ornament was delicately hung from the branch and my husband and I sat snuggled on the couch– watching the ever-talented Tim Allen realize that clause with an E is, in fact, a binding contract–, I looked over and noticed that there was something absolutely intoxicating about our tree. I couldn’t look away from it. Standing in its newly defined measurements with its ornaments old and new, ones both broken and flawless, ones made by both our bumbling hands as children and ones made by the… bumbling hands of our grown-up selves, this tree was even more perfect than it looked on the hillside.
I wonder, sometimes, if this isn’t exactly the way we, as people, should look at the struggles and mishaps in our own lives. I don’t know about you, but I can often lose myself in my perfect image of what I think my life should look like. Out there on that hillside, what I want looks without flaw and attractive in every way. And so, I chop it down and try to bring it home with me.
But when I get this image home and drag it around back, I realize that it isn’t going to fit just the way I thought it would. And so, something hacks away at this pristine image of what my life should be and by the time I take it inside, I’m disappointed by the new shape it has taken on.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, I think. This is a mess. My life is a mess. I’m a mess.
But God shows up, and He guides my hand in stringing the lights and placing even the saddest looking ornament in a place that seems altogether perfect. Of course, I don’t notice it at first, but later, in a moment of rest, I look up and realize that while this life looks nothing at all like I planned when I stood on that hillside, it is the most gorgeous mess I have ever seen.
This is the challenge that He issues to me every day. Am I willing to give up that tree on the hillside for the tree that has somehow been made to fit perfectly inside the living room of my life… the tree that He knew would be just right all along?
My life is a mess. This is sure, but if I’m willing to hand it over to the Creator to be hacked at and dressed with both the beautiful and the not-so-beautiful, then maybe— not at first, but in some quiet moment— I will see that there is something gorgeous there, something that fills my heart right to the top.
There’s love in that mess. And suddenly, I’m thankful for both— the mess and the love.