I have been spending too much time eyeing Christmas trees.
Driving past my neighbor’s homes, envying the full, lush, tall greenery I see through their window, with color-coordinated trimmings glistening in the 1000+ Candlelight Clear LED lights. They look so, so….perfect.
We have been buying real Christmas trees every year since we were married 17 years ago. I grew up with real Christmas trees, and for decades now, I have been insistent that the only Christmas tree worth having was one that smelled like Spruce.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea…we are not tromping through mountain forests with saw and sled. More like tromping through the J&T Christmas Trees parking lot with Honda Odyssey and 5 hyper children in tow. But, we are beginning to feel like Tannenbaum purists with all the perfect, artificial trees in the windows.
It’s starting to get to me.
After dragging in the 10 foot beauty we picked at the lot, and managing to get it lined up straight in our tree-stand, we realized that what seemed like some manageable gaps between boughs in the parking lot had morphed into huge gashes in our living room. We resorted to trimming off bottom branches and trying to stuff them in between the empty spaces. Would anyone notice?
It only took another 3 hours to wind on 11 strands of lights. Once those were finally on, we began trimming the tree with ornaments…a lifetime of mismatched memories.
From my Baby’s First Christmas (1981), to paper-trees with kids’ school pictures glued onto them. Disney World ears. Soccer balls. Dance shoes. Family pictures. Toddlers on Santa’s lap. Cinderella at the ball. Those weird styrofoam shapes they paint in preschool and staple on a string.
I tried to add some type of theme with a sparkly gold ribbon wrapped around all 9.5 feet of ornamented arms, and a dozen or so golden balls on the few empty branches we had left.
By the end of the night, we were all exhausted, I had filled 2 vaccuum canisters with pine needles and dirt, and we had blown one of the fuses on the string of lights. After another hour or so of messing with fuses and bulbs, we had our tree.
But, I have to admit there was a tug inside of me. It didn’t look like my neighbor’s trees. It wasn’t so polished, so perfect. It didn’t have the same elegant glow. I found myself back online browsing artificial Christmas trees. Wouldn’t it be nice to just buy one that looked perfect when you took it out of the box? That you could just hook together and plug in, lights already included? One that wouldn’t need to be watered every morning, one whose needles wouldn’t sag by Christmas Day? One that wouldn’t fill my vacuum canister for weeks on end? I mean, come on, how great is the smell of freshly-cut pine? Don’t they have candles for that nowadays?
And maybe I could purchase one of those tree-trimming kits, with perfectly coordinated matching balls and icicles?
A perfectly elegant centerpiece that won’t shed, won’t dry out, won’t die. I will just do the work, get it done, and then it will be perfect for me to sit back and admire.
I have been working recovery from betrayal trauma for almost 5 years. My life is vastly different than the rock bottom hell I was living in when I started. But, you know, it still kind of feels like my Christmas tree. Sometimes it’s easy to step back and think, “My life doesn’t look like everybody else’s…not so polished, not so perfect.” I still occasionally feel trauma reach up and grab me and I can’t say I know anything about anything for sure. The ornaments on my life aren’t all matching and shiny and color-coordinated. Some are downright ugly, and some are so sad and heartbreaking they still make me want to cry. And some are so profoundly beautiful that I can’t even put them into words.
My life needs watering too…all the time…incessantly!! You’d think it would reach a point where that tree wasn’t sucking up so much dang water, but nope, it’s still true…if I skip a couple days of watering (Steps 1,2,3, 11), I’m dry as a bone and needles start dropping off everywhere. And then I’ve got to get out the dang vacuum and clean up the mess I’m making again (Steps 4-10).
Yep, I am just like my Christmas tree. And you know what, once I get over my neighbor fake-tree-envy, I’m glad.
I am not perfect. I am not one-and-done, I am not “recovered.” I am a beautiful, imperfect, always-changing, always-thirsty, work in progress, made up of a million moments and memories, strengths and weaknesses, and always, always…unlimited, mind-blowing potential.
The Christmas Tree is supposed to be a symbol of everlasting life. Everlasting life. To me, that means always growing, always changing.
Sometimes, for me, I have found that growing…moving forward…has felt at first like moving back. Even like being buried.
Christine Caine has said, “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”
This has been true for me.
So this Christmas, I am going to try to do a better job of loving my real, imperfect, less-than-elegant tree. I am going to do a better job of cherishing each memory, and embracing each gap.
I choose to put up a REAL tree in my house, not a perfect one. And I believe the secret to everlasting life may just be in finding the beauty in that.