I do miss driving around and looking at Christmas light displays this time of year. There used to be a big Christmas display in the area I lived in (Lantana, Florida) sponsored by The National Enquirer. The main attraction was a large Christmas tree. That tree drew many to our community each year to enjoy. I was in 7th grade the last time I saw the tree on display. I won't say how many years ago that was! Unfortunately, there’s not been a tree on display there for many years since the property was sold to another company. Now, there are only empty trees.
Some of my favorite middle school memories come from the time when going home after school, I’d stop and walk through the property. Because it was still daylight when I went, I was able to enjoy the tree and all the accompanying decorations in solitude. Of course, the display was prettier at night but my then 12-year-old self figured it was better to be alone and take my time looking at the displays rather than fight crowds of people and fail to get close enough to see anything.
I Still Miss The Lights
Fast forward a bunch of years and I still miss seeing the lights. We have a little fake tree here in Bujumbura, Burundi (where we live) that we were able to purchase at a local store. It may be a bit along the lines of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree but after we put our few decorations on the tree and hung the single strand of lights that we have, it looked pretty.
We have had more Christmases in Africa than we have elsewhere. Christmases here are simpler than they are Stateside where most of our family lives. When Christmas rolls around, I begin to think it must be time to put up the tree. I usually fight the urge for days until our daughter insists it is time for the tree. Then and only then do I realize how “ornament poor” I really am. A few years ago I managed to purchase a star to put on the top of our tree when I was traveling in the States. I was so proud of it until we put it on our simple little tree. Those little branches couldn't hold up under the weight of a real Christmas star from Wal Mart. It took some figuring and twisting, but the star stands at the top of our tree every year since albeit quite precariously.
Choose To Celebrate
In reality, no one needs a Christmas tree, decorations, lights, presents, and eggnog. In fact, we would do well to scale down on our “need” for these things and choose to celebrate the beginning of a shift in history, the birth of Christ.
I often wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t made the choices I have made over the years. First, to follow Jesus and then, quite a few years later, I met and chose to marry my husband. (He had to ask first but that's another blog for another day.) Later, together we chose Africa. We chose to raise our family here, we have chosen to continue living here and we have chosen Africa over and over again.
Had I Chosen Differently
I suppose had I chosen differently I might have had a more physically comfortable life. Money, or more correctly the lack thereof, possibly wouldn’t have been such a point of stress. Maybe I would have had my family all around me and seen my grandchildren grow. Likely, had I chosen differently, it would’ve been easier to get shoes, clothes, groceries, and education for my children. I would probably have had a food processor and maybe even an electric garage door opener.
Instead, I chose a life of empty trees.
Instead of food processors and garage door openers, I have chosen empty trees. I have chosen to start over again many times as we have moved across the continent planting churches and feeding children. In 2018 we chose to return to Burundi where we started planting churches. Memories flooded into my thoughts as the plane touched down on the tarmac.
The church and its outreaches here had fallen into disrepair in the interim. I felt the burden of all that needed attention on my shoulders even before we had our passports stamped leaving the airport. There was a lot of work to do and little money and man/woman power to get it done. I've found in the time since our arrival that, just like my tree, I can't fill all the spaces at once. It is taking time but the tree is now starting to look beautiful. Empty trees give us lots to work with.
A Fixer Upper
While my personal Christmas tree may look like a "fixer-upper," there is more to it if you look at it closely. My tree speaks of hope when you see it. On it, I've hung pictures of our youngest daughter in a few of the decorations. These speak of the future as she is growing up and coming into her destiny. There are also memories of past joys as some of the ornaments on the tree come from Zambia and other nations where we planted churches years ago. The emptiness of my little tree also speaks hope to me for if the tree were full, maybe its representation would be a bit less meaningful. The bare spaces sit there waiting to be filled with memories of what God will do in days to come.
Future Hope And Past Victories
If I had chosen differently, my tree would have looked so very different. It would have had better lights, trendier ornaments, and more presents underneath. But, it wouldn't have all the beauty represented on it now and room for more beauty to come.
While there is a bit of life behind me, there is still work to do, there are still places to see, churches to plant, and adventures left to live.
There are empty trees left to fill.
Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are!
Luke 2:8-10 MEV “And in the same area there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very afraid. But the angel said to them, ‘Listen! Do not fear. For I bring you good news of great joy, which will be to all people.’”