I am so excited to have my sister-in-law, Laura, on the blog today! I hit a home run when the Lord brought Laura into my brother's life! She loves Jesus with all she has, she is an amazing wife and mom, she has a beautiful gift of hospitality and a huge servants heart! I love her transparency as the Lord continues to teach her that He is enough.
This time of the year traditions become so important. If you are like me, you put a lot of pressure on yourself as a woman to create traditions in your home that point to Christ during this season. I spend many hours planning, thinking, and selecting traditions that will make lasting memories for my family to hold dear. One of them is selecting a Christmas tree.
Growing up as a child, I wanted a real Christmas tree, but each year my mother would pull down the artificial one from the attic. When I came home from college one Christmas, my dad decided to grant my wish and take me to Land Between the Lakes to cut our very own Christmas tree. It was not a lovely tree by any means and was proudly displayed in our basement, but the memory is forever in my heart of hiking through the woods with my dad and dog in search of the perfect tree. I vowed then that when I had a house of my own, I would make it a tradition to have a real Christmas tree. A few years later, I married and the tradition began. Each year my husband and I would go to a local tree lot and select a fresh cut tree. When we purchased land to build our dream home, that Christmas we chose a tree to plant as a symbol of our first Christmas there. When each of our children were born, we purchased a real tree to plant to commemorate their first Christmas.
Last Christmas I decided to step up the Christmas tree tradition. I searched the web to find a tree farm to go and cut our very own Christmas tree. The nearest Christmas tree farm is an hour and half drive from our home. We loaded up and went in search of the perfect tree. We found a small farm in Tennessee. It was a Hallmark experience. This year when it was time to choose where we would go to select our tree, everyone wanted to continue the tradition of cutting our own tree. I again began to search for the perfect place to cut down our Christmas Tree. I had in mind where we would go. But due to other “traditions” around the Thanksgiving holiday, hosting both sides of our family for Thanksgiving dinner in our home, coupled with the annual Black Friday cousin sleepover, our children were tired and cranky as we began the search for our tree. We decided to forgo the new tree farm I had found and return to the one we had used the previous year.
Upon driving into the lot, it didn’t have the same “Hallmark” experience from the year before. We were handed a saw and told to search for ourselves. All the large trees to cut must have been taken last year and all that remained were trees no taller than 5-6 foot. It was obvious that the main business of this tree farm had become the sale of “pre-cut” trees. We hadn’t driven an hour and a half for a “pre-cut” tree. My children were adamant that we cut our own tree. They weren’t concerned with the height or stature of the tree. They were there to enjoy the experience. I reluctantly complied with their request and began to search for our tree. I enjoyed watching my husband and son work together to saw the trunk. Our daughter found great joy in being the family photographer and capturing the memories on camera. After a short hayride, we loaded the tree and were on our way.
It wasn’t until the tree made its way into our living room that my emotions began to soar. What was I thinking? How can this tree be our Christmas Tree? In years past, we could barely get the tree through the patio doors and now I can pick up this tree with one hand. I franticly began carrying the tree from room to room trying to find out how we were going to use this little tree. As I grew more stressed about the tree, my husband began to offer solutions. He went and found a table and placed the tree on it - it didn’t help. He offered to buy another tree, let the kids use this one in their room. With each suggestion, my heart began to ache. How did I go from being full of joy, enjoying a beautiful time with my family to not even wanting to decorate for Christmas? I had lost my focus. Sometimes in the midst of creating or maintaining traditions, we set expectations. When our expectations go unmet, we often allow our hearts to follow.
God began to impress on my heart 1 Samuel 16. Long ago in Bethlehem, before the birth of our Savior, God sent Samuel to anoint His chosen king from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel and Jesse both had ideas of which son would be king, but God said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” After all of Jesse’s sons had passed before Samuel, David was the last choice. He was the youngest. The smallest. He was in the fields tending sheep. He was the last to pass before Samuel, but he was God’s choice. God saw beyond the outward appearance to the heart of David. He had a plan. Many years later, in Bethlehem, a new king would be born, through the line of David. He would be the King of Kings. He would come in a way that didn’t meet other’s expectations.
How many times do we get stuck on the “outward appearance” or our expectations and miss the plan God has for us? I had become so focused on what the tree looked like on the outside - it’s small stature - it’s lack of room to display my family ornaments and almost missed the plan God had to capture my heart this Christmas. He began to impress on me, less is more.
I had a choice. I could allow myself to worry about the stature of my tree, or I could savor the joy this tree had brought to my family. Although it may be small, it has forever changed me. God is more concerned with the condition of my heart than the size of my Christmas Tree or how I decorate my house. Far too often, I identify with Martha in scripture. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary…” Spending time in the presence of Jesus, listening to His Word is the only thing that is necessary.
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the things of this world will grow strangely dim. One of my favorite things to do at Christmas is sit in the stillness of the night with only the lights of the Christmas tree on. I have a new appreciation this year as I stare into what I secretly call my “redemption Tree.” As you look into the lights on your Christmas tree this Christmas, whether it is a ten foot professionally decorated tree or a five foot tree decorated by happy children, take time to examine your heart. Why do you hold certain traditions close? What are your motives? Is it to have a perfect post? To impress others around you? To point your family to Jesus? To help someone in need?
God is looking at our hearts. I want my heart to be more prepared for Christmas than my home. I pray this Christmas that through our many traditions God would so capture our hearts that we would know Him fully and celebrate the Life He came to give.