"You don't need to be perfect to be loved by a perfect God" — Author Unknown
When I was in my late teens, I went with my mom to a holiday event called the "Festival of Trees" put on by a local charity. We entered in and began walking through a fantastical room filled with rows and rows of perfectly coifed Christmas trees that were each designed by teams with a distinct theme in mind. Each tall and proud pine had not a needle out of place nor an ornament that did not align with the chosen motif. I remember seeing a "Toyland" tree that had large dolls and drums, balls and jacks, and all sorts of colorful, playful adornments that made you feel like you had landed in the center square of a town made of all toys and absolutely nothing else.
They had winter wonderland themed trees, candy cane themed trees, Victorian-era trees, you name it, they had them on display. I remember being completely amazed at how each theme was depicted to complete perfection. Afterwards, as we left the event I just knew: This was how my very first Christmas tree at my first apartment was to be decorated: Perfectly!
I had just begun living on my own that summer prior to this experience and had also just gotten my first credit card. Not a great combination - the desire for perfection and no real budget to do it with. It did not matter to me that I would be paying this first tree off for months to come, all that mattered was it would be just as I wanted it - superb.
Going into the huge Christmas section of the department store, I was overcome with possibilities! I really had to focus so I could keep everything just right and in line with my chosen theme: Flowers and Hearts. I know, I know. Kinda gag-me, right? I cannot agree more. But I was into large floral print then and my tree was to reflect it as much as possible!
I loaded up a few baskets, buying loads of heart-shaped ornaments painted with flowers, mauve and cream-colored shiny Christmas balls, burgundy ribbon and beaded pearl garland and even bunches of pink and lavender roses that got wound around the ends of the branches. When I was done decorating my first tree it looked like something straight out of a southern bell's overblown and exaggerated pink December wedding (think Steel Magnolias).
When I was single, this tree suited me perfectly and I loved putting it up each year. But once I was married and then had children, it no longer held my affection. What took over instead was the beautiful mess: The mishmash of tree branches holding ornaments handmade by Mike's mom that once hung on his own childhood trees, and the smashed handprint ornaments made with the little fingers and big hearts of our sweet children. And all of the moments spent at people's homes and enjoying ornament exchanges with them; even when I ended up with bird-clip-on ornaments three years in a row. My tree looks half bird sanctuary, half kindergarten class craft hour.
The floral ornaments and their counterparts got less and less coveted family-tree space as we collected more and more amazing memories along life's years: There is the silly ornament from my mom made of a large eggshell that looks like a woman singing a carol as loud as she can muster, and the one of a parachuting Santa with my dad's name painted on it that was given to me by Mimi after he passed away, and so many others with stories and people we love. Our tree in the corner of our living room is now a complete smorgasbord of memories. And I love it more and more each year.
This got me thinking how God loves us in all of our messy mishmash. He sees us trying perfection on for size and gently shakes His head smiling, knowing it is not fit for us to do on our own, only in and through Himself. In truth, we can never achieve perfection separate from Him:
"For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)
I am comforted knowing that God loves us so much that He came down here, among the messiest and most imperfect conditions to lift us up into His everlasting arms and into the perfection of Himself forever.
This Christmas, I pray that each of you know and deeply feel this true love that makes us holy and offers an invitation to live in His perfect presence forever. And, if you don't, I pray that you will begin seeking and finding the one thing every soul needs most - a relationship with Christ: God's perfect answer to our imperfect problem of separation from Himself.
He does not expect us to be perfect (#superthankful), only that we understand that apart from Him we could never possibly be, and this is why He came that first Christmas day. All He asks is to believe in the One that offers us paradise forevermore.
Now, deeply enjoy your merry, mishmash Christmas. Make the memories, hang the imperfect ornaments, use the good and even the chipped china, and remember to feel the love of the One that gives us only reason for perfect JOY today and for eternity. Amen.