Loving a “Charlie Brown” Tree

“When all else fades one thing remains: Your love is still pursuing me.” – Daniel Gonzales, Celebration Church

Getting out of the car we smelled the scent of pine that enveloped the area. Dad and I enjoyed the tree hunt, and I of course picked out the fullest, greenest, and awesome-est tree for his budget. I would tell him the one I’d chosen, the lumber guy would take it to trim the trunk and nail the base, we’d strap it to the top of the car, my dad would hand the guy a $5 tip, and we’d proudly drive home listening for any movements on the roof. If, for some reason, my noble expertise wasn’t provided and, for some odd reason, Mom would assist Dad, then we would definitely get something less than par. One bare side would be missing a large portion of branches and most likely the tree was pitifully leaning to one side; we debated which side needed the wall’s cover the most. This tree would also probably be the cause of old childhood ornaments falling and breaking off of unstable branches. And, every now and then, it would likely be too small to stand proud on the ground and reach the ceiling, to which Mom would grab a side table, drape it with Christmas cloth, and attempt to fit presents around the legs. This tree would desperately need, as we learned to withhold our critiques and complaints, my mother’s unashamed and unconditional love.

That’s my mom. Perhaps it’s because of her off-centered quirks and unusual way of thinking that she chose the weird ones: Christmas trees, movies, books, hobbies, nutritional diets, and friends alike. My proudest realization was on the love she received from virtually everyone that crossed her path–the charm was infectious. Growing up I recall the eclectic variety of what she would call her social circle. This was especially evident at the recent gathering in her honor we had only a few months ago. It’s precisely the characteristics of a naked, lop-sided, lame looking pine tree that attracted her need to adopt and nurture. The people in her life were, more often than not, in definite need of her smile and embracing presence. Not that her associates were abnormal, off-center perhaps, but rather she was able to penetrate the “normal” facade and welcomed their out-pour of personal issues.

Although she was really cheesy–wearing tacky Christmas sweaters and making Christmas cakes that say “Happy Birthday Jesus”–she somehow managed to break down social walls by demonstrating, perhaps too easily, that she cared little for being “cool”. The world’s system of valuing its collective society through measuring each over the other, where one’s value is determined by his or her socially agreed upon status, was thrown out the window by her recognition that the message of Jesus simply implies inherent worth in each individual. To this day, even with much in-depth theological consideration, I find application of that fundamental quality of Jesus to be the most difficult. I find it ludicrous, and I’m sure I’m not alone, that God in all His holiness would stoop down to the worthless, get in the mire and muck, and bring them to life. Jesus strips me down of all my definitions and rewrites my dictionary. He destroys what I presume God’s “holiness” to actually be, that it has nothing to do with what I believe to be morality and value. He destroys years upon years of biblical commentaries that only interpret Jesus being the “Son of Man” as having fleshly temptations, creating a standard of what it means to be human as horrid. Come to think of it, perhaps the only way of comprehending that facet of Christ’s identity is simply that Jesus was fully human, to a greater calling of humanity than we had ever before seen. Jesus was more human than us. Humanity, in His terms, is a wonderful identity as being made in God’s image, while our limited scope only sees it for corruption.

We see the Charlie Brown tree. We don’t see it for its potential. We don’t see it for possessing the same DNA as the beautiful, full, proud, expensive tree. We see the tree in terms of our own fallible, broken system of value. Charlie Brown, in the story, decorates the tree according to what it was capable of holding–a single red ornament. He gave the tree its dignity, not by what he wanted it to do, but for what it could do and loved it for what he created it to be. My mom brought worth to those whose lives she impacted simply by treating them as though they already had dignity, because to her they did. And, to God, they do.

Through the duration of her cancer treatments and the battle for her own life, God gave her one phenomenal window to recover in a beautiful way. Her surgery after a difficult process of chemo-therapy removed the majority of the tumor that viciously attacked her well-being. Hair regrew and skin color returned. Her pastor stepped down from the pulpit for one Sunday out of his entire ministry and lent it to one guest speaker, my mom. After an hour of speaking, not surprising if you had ever met her, she left the audience with hope–the kind that a God would be pursuing them, regardless their situation, for a deep relationship with Him.

I remember the night years ago when I, alone in the dark of my room, sat and sulked for a horrible situation in which I put myself. The only thought looming my mind was that my life, as I knew it, was over–the only future I saw was a dead end. My prayers were empty and my God, absent. Until. The door knocked. “Chris,” my mom said, “I woke up because I felt that you need me.” I turned to her as she spent the next thirty minutes sitting on my bed pouring into me hope, and love, and encouragement. She left the room, not with the mere residuals of kind thoughts, but a renewed recognition that God was there with us. A stir within my own spirit brought with it peace, knowing that this unworthy person is being carried by the hand of God.

In her own way, my mom lived out this facet of the Christmas message. She gave love freely and without hesitation. She, who took in the tattered and worn and gave them life. She, who loved a Charlie Brown tree, just like me.

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