“Put up a tree.”
It was a quiet “God-whisper,” and I heard it in the fall of 2020.
A couple on my street has put up a real Christmas tree every year, outside, on their front lawn. It is positioned so they can view it perfectly from their living room and of course, all passersby enjoy it too. It shines colourful light until the snow melts in March, or its needles fall.
I’ve admired their tree year after year and thought of asking them about it. They too are avid walkers so we see each other often around the neighbourhood. During our brief conversation, they offered me the use of their extra outdoor tree stand. I was touched by their generosity and before I knew it they were at my door, tree-stand in hand giving instruction about how to go about putting up a tree. Keenly aware of the need to alleviate stress in our home, I was simultaneously hesitant, grateful, and excited. Maybe this wasn’t the year to do something so ‘extra.’
Still, the God-whisper remained,
“Put up a tree.”
Sensing my reluctance, my neighbour smiled brightly, pointing to the tree-stand I was already holding, and confidently encouraged me,
“Oh you will put it up…Because you have this now.”
The weather was unseasonably sunny and warm on the November day Kirk brought home a 7ft Balsam Fir. It was easy and fun as we worked together, putting up Christmas lights and placing the tree just right. We decided it should be far enough from the house that it wouldn’t be blocking the light of the window yet close enough to the road that people walking past could enjoy it too. I had no clue about all that this tree would be for. And, I was thrilled that it was up and shining with multicolored lights before sundown.
As December grew closer, I began to think about Advent and found myself googling books in hopes of doing something more meaningful than I’d ever done for the Advent season in years past. There were no events to attend, no malls to brave, and no suitcases to pack for our usual 5-hour drive to my in-laws. Although my days are already always full of homemaking and caregiving, I seemed to need the intentionality of Advent and wondered if this might be something my neighbours needed too.
Hope, peace, joy, and love; who didn’t need these things?
I chatted with a couple of friends about my Advent notions and our children’s pastor gave me a beautiful Advent book and quickly emailed me ideas. I came across a colorful book God With Us by Katie Pawlak and immediately ordered it on Amazon. I had totally judged this gorgeous book by its cover and its pages did not disappoint. As I flipped through it the ideas came.
I still didn’t know entirely what was in store, I just knew I had to keep following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Another God-whisper:
“Share Jesus with your neighbours this Christmas.”
Before I could talk myself out of it, I posted a message on our street’s Facebook page (we have one because our street is a sweet community. But that’s another story. 🙂
Good morning friends. I want to express how encouraged we have been by you, our community, during this wild year. In an effort to encourage you, I thought I’d do a little something to spread some HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE as we countdown to a very different Christmas. Advent begins on November 29. Basically, it’s the countdown to Christmas in the Christian tradition.
I asked families who were interested to let me know and I would include them in this event I had yet to fully know the details of myself. I admitted that I’d never done this before and we would be learning together as this unfolded. My main idea was to place a treat and a Bible passage for each participant in a small baggie each day and attach the baggies onto our Christmas tree out front. I planned on making a photocopy of each of the summarized Bible stories from Katie Pawlak’s book, which is centred on the Jesse Tree. So it would be a giant-sized Advent calendar of sorts.
12 families, 45 people in total, participated.
And, something magical happened.
Some neighbours baked, gave funds, bought treats for the daily treat bags and some even helped stuff the baggies. My family bought treat additions, kept the printer functioning and the paper stocked. They fully supported what I was doing each day.
There was peace.
Children on the street drew us pictures and beautiful cards of thanks. At the end, some neighbours brought our family lovely cards, gifts and baking, (which was never expected) but very kind. The smiles and waves always made my day and the relationships grew.
There was love.
Each days baggies also included a Daily Activity Challenge which was often a thought provoking conversation starter or an idea to ponder like:
“Have you ever had to wait for something?”
or a simple craft challenge such as:
“Make paper chains or cut out paper snowflakes and place them in your front window.”
Parents shared with me how much their kids loved the activities and adults expressed their enjoyment as well, as we dropped off treats to their homes. Some neighbours received daily delivery but for the most part, the treat baggies were clothespinned onto The Giving Tree, as one neighbour had affectionately named it early on.
There was joy.
The waves and smiles abounded and as the temperatures outside fell the atmosphere on our street warmed. This wasn’t new for our street. As we made the effort to bundle up and connect daily, Christmas no longer felt like it was going to be a depressing event, just a very different one.
There was hope.
I took my daily walks and saw snowflakes and paper chains appear in windows. tears welled and my heart swelled. I knew this tree had become much more than just a festive lawn decoration. I had made it my practice since early on in the pandemic to walk daily, and now my walks had taken on even more purpose.
I realized that the things I desired to give were now being given to me – peace, love, joy, and hope.
Surely THIS is what a blessing is.
Our Advent journey to the manger has ended but winter remains and with it, colder and perhaps harder days are still ahead. But change is coming. My prayer for my neighbours and for each of you is this:
May you find hope in hopelessness, and purpose when things seem pointless.
May you hear the God-whispers and act kindly before you overthink.
May you bravely ask for help or offer some.
“put up a tree.”
Be the community you crave and you too will be blessed.