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A few cold days in a row remind me of another time long ago when we had a spell of frigid weather before Old Man Winter settled in, put on his fuzzy slippers, sat in my favorite chair and hogged the TV remote control.

I was a young photojournalist in a town where I didn’t know anyone. It seemed as though everyone else grew up together. They not only knew each other’s history, they knew each other’s grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ histories, too. But I tried.

People were friendly. They just didn’t need anyone else in their lives. They had their families and their lifelong friends. They were blessed and didn’t need any more blessings.

There was one exception. A woman I worked with was especially kind to me. She occasionally invited me to family dinners. Sometimes she’d ask me to come over for coffee and a chat. I enjoyed being around her children. Her youngest son and I loved to draw together.

One day she and her kids came to visit me at my apartment. I’d made cookies and invited them over for a tasting. Her oldest son couldn’t believe I didn’t have a Christmas tree. He kept asking me why. I told him that since I lived alone I didn’t I need one. That was partially true. But the real reason was that I didn’t make very much money. The price of even the cheapest Christmas tree didn’t fit into my budget.

The next day the son came knocking at my door carrying a small cedar tree. He’d cut it down just for me. I was shocked by his kindness. He’d gone to a lot of work to brighten up my little apartment. He helped me set up the tree. He’d brought an old, rusty tree stand. We somehow wrestled the tree into the stand and screwed it into place.

He said he’d found the tree growing in a country ditch. It was scraggly and already shedding needles. In fact, during that Christmas season I cannot tell you how many cedar tree needles I vacuumed up. Sometimes I simply got down on my hands and knees and picked them out of the carpet one needle at a time. It was painstaking work.

The tree leaned to one side. And stuck in that ancient tree stand it was also cockeyed in another direction. I thanked my friend’s son. He was smiling when he left. I loaded him up with the rest of the homemade cookies. Looking at the tree, however, I had my doubts that it could look any better. I knew it couldn’t look any worse.

But I popped popcorn and strung the kernels together with white cotton thread. Then I looped the popcorn string all around the tree. I grabbed anything shiny, including a couple of pieces of jewelry. By the time I finished, I thought it was the best Christmas tree I’d ever seen.

How had it changed so dramatically? Did it really transform that much with those few additions? No. But as I thought about this family who’d been so kind to me, I was suddenly seeing the tree differently. I was seeing it through the eyes of love. Love changes everything.

All these years later the image of that little tree comes back to me. And I realize something. At that time in my life, I felt alone. Like the little cedar tree, I was simply growing in the wild with no purpose. My roots were shallow. A big wind could easily knock me over. I was on my own. My faith was being tested.

While decorating the tree, a branch broke off. That did nothing for the looks of the tree. But the tree smelled wonderful as the scent of cedar filled my apartment. In remembering that wonderful smell, I remember something else. When I’ve been broken by life, that’s when I smell the best. Because when I’m broken that’s when I cry out to the Lord. We never smell as sweet as when we’re sending prayers up to our Father in Heaven.

He loves us. It doesn’t matter if we live in ditches or in palaces. He sees value in each one of his creation. Even little ditch trees like me. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that on my own, I don’t have much value. But seen through the eyes of love, I’m beautiful. Seen through the Father’s eyes, I’m priceless. And so are you.

After all, he sent his only son, Jesus, to die on a cross, a tree, for each of us. If we ask, our sins are forgiven and we’re given eternal life with the best family of all, the family of God.

Love changes everything.

Kathy Yoder is a devotional writer. She may be reached at kathyyoder4@gmail.com.

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