Immanuel, God with Us in our Christmas Tree Fiascos

Last year, on a cold afternoon, my little family bought our very first real Christmas tree. And as I sit back and admire this year’s model I can’t help but giggle at what a story it was.

The fake tree was in disrepair. Its base had been obliterated the year before by the boys’ yearly tree-tipping. It was either buy another plastic and metal version or begin the tradition of chopping down one’s tree. Since part of a proper upbringing includes such memory-making, it was decided that we would indeed, chop.

A game plan was in place. After church, we’d come home to gather a handful of Christmas CDs, some hot chocolate and the camera which we would use to take some color-coordinated “candids” of our merriment for Christmas cards. Multi-tasking is, after all, what mamas do best.

It didn’t start out well. Before church, Honey Bun had to do the necessary research that any Consumer-Reports-believing family requires. This of course meant finding all tree farms within a 20-mile radius, price-matching, and building a spreadsheet depicting the types of trees sold alongside their corresponding qualities- lengthy needle-retention, ample branch strength, and the presence of just the right pine-y scent- or lack thereof. This, while I readied the 3 cherubs for church.

Needless to say, we were already running late when the Strawberry decided she’d need a two-man clean-up and thorough bath, if you get my drift. In a flash of zippers, buttons, wipes and water, she was quickly crammed back into her outerwear, red hair still damp and baby-sweet.

Honey Bun suggested skipping church. But I, still steaming about his 10-page research paper on pine trees, was not about to let all my hard work getting 3 kids out the door be for naught. We piled in the van and sped away only to arrive in the church parking lot 40 minutes late. Now 40 minutes is a little extreme, even for the serially-tardy-families-with-small-children like ourselves. Better to leave and let everyone think we were still away for Thanksgiving.

“WE’RE GOING HOME!” I hollered, never one to take defeat easily.

And around we turned. Back home and bickering all the way. Maybe we should’ve stayed. Maybe we should’ve gotten our heads on straight and our hearts made right. But hours later, with tempers cooled, bellies filled and research in hand, we made our way out to get our tree.

Our first stop was down the road at an enormous tree farm. For $50 you could get a pint-sized beauty. We passed. But before driving 20 minutes to the next place on our list we decided to follow a few small signs advertising their Christmas offerings.

After a few twists and turns we pulled up to a small house whose yard was studded with pines and firs, spruces and stumps. Honey Bun got out to ask a few questions.

Price? 25 bucks.
Molecular biology of these particular deciduous trees? Acceptable.

We tumbled out of the van and began our small trek around the land. The difficulties of the morning faded away with our inspection of each potential tree. We settled on a jolly, fat tree and proceeded to make the nice man selling it take a hundred pictures of our happy little family beneath its branches.

Before long, it was cut down and brought home. While I brought up and organized the 7 tubs and boxes of Christmas adornments for this our first and quite lovely real tree, Honey Bun researched how to keep it alive until the middle of summer.

We tag-teamed the tree raising. Bring it in. Plunk it down. Hold. A little to the left. Tighten. Hold. Take off the 2 lower branches. Turn it. Stand back? Just right.

I flurried about for the next few hours stringing up hundreds of white lights and spools of ribbon. On went the 200 ornaments, berry branches and squiggly twigs, evenly spaced and color-coordinated in red and gold.

It was dark outside as I picked through the last few mostly unappealing ornaments I had left while listening to the family romp around in the next room. Sitting on the floor gazing at my triumph of holiday resplendence, all of a sudden there came a large, POP!

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I wailed as in slow motion (I kid you not), the tree, in all its grandeur, fell and landed in my lap.

Honey Bun ran in from the boy’s room and together we dragged the now disheveled tree to a corner, leaving a wake of ornaments and needles behind us and then began the arduous process of soaking up the gallon of water now seeped into the rug. Upon close inspection of our Salvation-Army-bought tree stand, we found an ominous hole that our not-so-jolly tree had made. So at 6 o’clock on a Sunday night we began to, yes, research tree stands.

We resorted to a combination of website-gazing and phone-calling. The nearest Wal-mart was called and we were assured that they did indeed have a heavy-duty, hard-to-lift plastic stand that would surely do the trick. I made my way out into the darkness down the 13 country miles only to find one stand, the very same, 3 oz. piece of cheap craftsmanship we just massacred. You can imagine my joy at that moment.

Back in the car I flew, to drive another 18 miles to reach the nearest home improvement store before it closed its doors. I made it, ticket-less yet defeated, plunked $50 down to buy the largest iron monstrosity of a tree stand I could find, and began the 20 minute trip home.

The next few hours were spent putting the tree back in its place, re-decorating it and cleaning up the glorious mess it had made. Honey Bun and I sat back to gaze upon our holiday feat. He, being the very spiritual and discerning man that he is, began to pray out loud, in hopes of quelling my still-simmering anger.

“Lord, thank you so much for your Son. Thank you for sending Him so many years ago, to live here on earth. Thank you that He understands and can relate to our problems….”

At this very moment, being the very spiritual and discerning woman that I am, I thought,

“Yeah? Well He never had a Christmas tree fall on top of Him!”

I quickly repented for fear that God would strike my tree down.

But it got me thinking.

So often I take it for granted that Jesus left the awesome splendor and comfort of heaven and came to earth to live as a man. Fully God and fully man. That means that though he may not have wrestled with a Christmas tree, He dealt with the same annoying, frustrating, maddening things that I do. The things that irritate, bite and make me want to curse under my breath.

He was a carpenter. I’m sure he hit His thumb with a hammer more than a few times. He had siblings who probably annoyed the heck out of him. I imagine He found it hard to obey His mother and step-father when He knew they were wrong. God as infant, child and man.

I find myself wondering what He felt when He tripped over his sandal laces or had a bout with the stomach bug and all its intestinal ailments. That’s not sacrilegious. It’s being fully man.

He was tempted by Satan himself, wept over the deaths of His closest friends and sweated blood in the anxious hours before His death. He was beaten, He was mocked, He was misunderstood and used. He was Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our labor and toil, our relationships and heartaches. He took on this earthly body and all its limitations, emotions and pain. He does understand. It’s the whole reason He was sent in the first place, to bear our burdens, to take our shame, to live a human yet sinless life and die a sinless yet punishing death…for us. To take the sin of the world and pay the price, so I don’t have to.

Immanuel…God is with us.

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Laundry and the Cross. Welcome.

It’s 4 a.m.  Little footsteps woke me. 

“Mommy, I peed my bed.”

“Noooo,”  I moan.

Please, God, no.  Not after the past two days of insanity.  Church, play-dates, 2 trips to pick up the new-to-us bunk bed and freezer, tearing apart and cleaning a room and a basement, un-loading, figuring out how to put it all back together minus instructions, loads of laundry, helping a friend, setting up a brunch, putting 75 cookbooks together that refuse to be stapled and weren’t supposed to be my responsibility.  Two days of bone and soul-wearying work and yet nothing to cross off my to-do list.  No.  It’s not fair.  I just washed those sheets, the clean smell of  bleach and fabric softener still linger on them, only now mixed with urine.

We pad down the stairs to his room.  I tear sheets, fluffy comforter, duvet and about a hundred stuffed animals off the bottom bunk, hitting my head a dozen times in the process.  How is it possible that such a small person can make such a wet spot?  I put it back together as well as I can until everything’s washed. 

“I’m sorry I peed the bed, Mommy,” my 5-year-old whispers.

At 4 a.m. things seem so much dimmer.  I try to shake the frustration off but the prospect of laundry deja vu and another day filled with responsibilities to everyone and everything but my comfy happiness has settled itself heavily on my shoulders and mind.  This mommy-life, so muddy with monotony, has gotten to me tonight.  All I really want to do is throw a toddler-size tantrum.  I want to yell and scream and stomp my feet.  I stifle the urge.  It would only wake the rest of the house and thus awaken a whole new slew of tears and to-do’s.

“Pick up your cross, Cory.”

I hear Him but I pretend like I didn’t.  This is justified frustration after all. 

I mutter a short lecture to my son on the benefits of going to the bathroom before you go to bed, tuck him in and shut the door.  I trudge back through the cold, dark house and flop back into bed only to stare at the alarm clock, red and fierce.  4:15.  4:16.  4:17.

“Pick up your cross, Cory.”

Though He says it gently, I’m still not ready to respond.  I heard it all day.  I heard it when I had to change the plans of my day to fit something else in. I heard it while sorting through 1500 sheets of recipe-laced paper.  I heard it while nursing my bruised stapling-hand.   I heard it when I looked at my messy house, mounds of laundry and in-tact to-do list for the day, and sulked. 

I tried to tell myself that I was picking up my cross.  I mean, look at everything I did!  I most certainly was carrying that heavy burden! 

“Come on, Lord, don’t You see what I’ve done for You today?”

But as I sit here, typing away at my first and long-put-off blog entry, I know what He’s really saying. 

Sometimes what matters is how you pick up your cross.

I know how He picked up His.  With hands that dripped scarlet.  Three hundred pounds of rough splinters laid on a back whipped raw.  Wood pressing knife-like, against His thorny brow.  Blood mixed with sweat.  Pain wrapped with love ‘cross His spat-upon face.  And He did it for me.

Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

When He asks me to pick up my cross it’s because He already did.  And when He did, He thought of me.  He thought of me in this moment when I’m whining about urine-soaked sheets and cookbooks.  Saw my sour face and self-blackened heart.  And all He thought was,

Love.

He picked up His cross out of love and asks me to pick up mine for the same reason.

Hebrews 12:2-12 (NIV and The Message)

 “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

…So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?

   My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
      but don’t be crushed by it either.
   It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
      the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

Welcome, dear reader, as He helps me strengthen my feeble arms and my weak and trembling knees.  My prayer is that as I attempt to level my paths and pick up my cross, that we both will find healing from the only One who can truly heal bodies and broken hearts.  The One who thought of  me and you as He carried His cross.  And all He thought was…

Love.