Tom and Barb’s Christmas tree was awesome!
It stood a full fourteen feet tall under the cathedral ceiling, the perfectly-shaped body donning a thousand white lights that glowed with a subtle bluish hue like that of a crescent moon on a clear winter’s night. Ornaments from odd parts of Europe and generations long passed filled the spaces between the strings of lights and hung from the branches even deep inside where the lights didn’t dare to go. A sparse amount of expertly-placed tinsel and just a few candy canes complemented the more striking hand-made glass ornaments.
As a Christmas tree, stunning, glorious, Hollywood-perfect!
As a metaphor for life, so desirable, representing a blessed journey.
But, at least for me and Ann, unrealistic and unattainable. So, too, for many others raising special needs kids or caring for a mentally-ill loved one.
Our Christmas tree is much different. Always has been. Still blessed, but different.
For over thirty years, one of our six kids picked out our Christmas tree. As a family, we would pile into the minivan after lunch on Black Friday and drive to one of the county’s few tree farms to cut down our perfect tree.
Some years the tree was tall and full. In other years, it was skinny with a lot of space between its branches. Rachel would often choose a “Dr. Seuss” tree, and David always picked one that wouldn’t fit in our living room. One year, we harvested a ‘Hershey’s Kiss’ tree! And since Ann did most of the decorating, she made sure it wasn’t a “pokey” blue spruce—white pines or Douglas firs are her favorites.
This year, the last four of us still at home went and found the ‘perfect’ tree. Ann decorated it within a couple days, using far fewer lights and ornaments than in years past, making sure the prominent bare spot faced the window.
Soon after, I turned off all the lights in the living room except for the ones on the Christmas tree, and invited Ann to come snuggle with me on the couch. We sat in the dark for quite a while appreciating the glow of the tree, the quiet of the house, and the warmth of each other’s company.
Then Ann spoke six simple words that I know came from deep within her heart and reflected what she really thought of the more than forty years of life we’ve spent together.
She said: “That tree's like our life. Crooked.”
I didn't say anything. Didn’t need to. I knew exactly what she meant. I just squeezed her hand, then pulled her a little bit closer.
Yes, crooked. Not picture-perfect as some have and many wish, but curving here and there as it stretched from floor to ceiling. Not necessarily ‘bad’, but definitely ‘crooked’...
Like our faith. Rooted deep in our parents’ religion, then choosing one that we believe God called us to live out.
Like our parents. Shining examples of love and decades-long commitment, but two passing much too early.
Like our marriage. Strong and bright and full, yet dark in spots. Often the highest of joys and closeness, but also the lowest of pain and strife, especially when mental illness showed its ugly face.
Like our family. Five pre-borns forever absent from around our table. Our oldest now with Jesus after losing his fight with mental illness.
Like our friendships. Some deep and long-lasting, while others, including those we cherish, faded as life sent us down different paths.
Like our health. Nearly sixty-year-old bodies forever bent under the weight of life and love and work and sacrifice.
Like our finances. Sparse here and there, but never barren. Not a full storehouse, but always provisions for today.
Like our calling. From investing in the lives of our kids as they grew into their own, to ministering to others who, too, decorate a crooked tree.
Crooked. And thin. And bare in places. And lit with just a few lights.
But uniquely ours, adorned with ornaments that represent our special life…
A pink and red candy cane built with a child’s plastic craft pieces.
A tiny birdhouse from the workshop of the world’s greatest woodworker.
Berry-laden mistletoe, made from the plaster casting of a grandchild’s small feet.
One hand-sewn, three-inch square red pillow given to our oldest on his first Christmas Eve.
Five miniature figurines—one for each child who never shared the fun of decorating.
An unusual, dark blue Dr. Seuss-y star hanging off the side near the top. Just because.
We wonder at, celebrate, and give thanks for our Crooked Tree Of Life.
You owe it to yourself to do the same.