The mall was packed at midnight on Black Friday morning. The excursion made me feel tense. If you were out in the chaos- you know what I mean. The crowds moved as one mass with little air between their bodies. I could hear their voices cheering in unison at the opening of the Victoria’s Secret doors while I stood poised to enter a Build A Bear store. I noticed how everyone looked similar- so hip and cool in their urban style at an hour that I would have preferred to be in my pajamas with my head laying on my squishy pillow. They all looked like they shopped at the same stores and had their hair cuts at the same salon- the mass was a carbon copy of this years favorite icons. No one stood out of the crowd as someone that glimmered or radiated joy- instead they appeared honed in on finding the best deal of the year or scoring a prize mate for the rest of the night. Everyone was bent on getting something.
     Later in the week after returning to our farm house, we found ourselves without a tree, without ornaments, without lights, and without the normal traditions of December. We’ve been known to buy a tree at Lowe’s or construct a leaning metal version in our family room but this year- we didn’t have either available to us and wondered how we would celebrate the most miraculous event of the year. We asked a few families where to shop for a tree, we prayed, and we waited to see what God would do…
     Two days ago, my husband and I went into a nearby town. We gathered Christmas lights from the dime store and antique ornaments from a cute local shop. We seemed all set, except for one thing- no tree. 
     Out here in the country, there is a spirit of giving, loving, and resourcefulness that I’d never known growing up smack in the middle of suburbia. If your hungry- you hunt for your food in a field or drive awhile to locate a store, if you are in need of help with a project- your neighbors and family come over to help you, if you are a stranger- you are loved and welcomed warmly. We’ve been surrounded by people that sparkle over the last few months- and I love our new life.
     One of my favorite memories so far, revolves around our need for that tree. Picture this- we call a friend and ask about finding a Christmas tree and he says, “Well, what kind do you want?” After giving us two choices he says he’ll help us locate one and we weren’t caravanning to Walmart. The next thing I know, I’m off-roading on hilly dirt, through broken corn stalks, in a Chevy truck.

“Which one do you want?” I’m asked.

     Framing out the corn field was a monotone tree line that held our selection of Christmas trees. Our evergreen was cut down in ten seconds flat. I could be heard squealing as it tipped into the gator. Yes, a gator- one of the coolest things that you’ll ever get to ride on in the country short of a tractor or combine. I now know this firsthand.

      After our tree top was dumped into our yard I heard my name. “Kelly will ride back with me in the gator,” our friend said. I was hesitant to be sure. “If you want…” I said. The guys loved that response and laughed their heads off. Before I knew it I was on my first gator ride, rolling down man made paths and scooping through ditches. 
     The crisp cool air blew inside of my hood, swirled around my ears, and made my jacket puff out to maximum capacity. The gravel spit up into the air and made me grateful I was wearing my glasses. There was no windshield, no side window, and the back bed was filled with my shrieking children. Zipping along the country roads under a canopy of stars was the best and most freeing feeling you can imagine. No traffic. No lights. No dress code. No noise. No distraction. Just joy. 
     God had me right where he wanted me that night. I thanked him for transforming our world this year and told him if he was willing- this was the life I wanted.  

     Gifts given by God are so sweet and precious to me. Gifts like this Christmas tree, a special memory, a kindness, generosity, graciousness, hospitality, an act of compassion- satisfy like nothing else. They are treasures that you will never ever find in stuffy mall’s, a marketplace sale bin, or in a one night stand. It doesn’t matter how cheap or how popular an item might be in our culture at that moment- it cannot and will not ever compare to the joyous gift of genuine love. 

      Yes, this is the place where I want to shine like our new Christmas tree. You know, it’s more than a tree for you and me, it’s a symbol of celebration and remembrance of the most loving Gift of all time. An indescribable living gift that we will always celebrate at Christmas time- his name is Jesus Christ.
“…let your light shine before men, that they many see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16b