It was that time of year again, December was fast approaching, summer heat gone and acorns and leaves were falling; this was “tree time.” In our home, structure is a most popular concept: everything has a place…even if we can’t find that place! In my childhood, my Mom, bless her heart, the strict and determined English and math teacher of seventh and eighth graders, never gave me a break, and I entered adulthood knowing I could never “color outside the lines.” Even now, very much an adult, “tree time” was no exception. My first duty included locating the tree, no easy task either. I knew the general area: need to move several golf clubs not in my bag, move few old fishing rods used only to replace “eyes” on newer rods, and then there was the bowling ball carrier. Finally, I grasp the fake tree box! Oh yes, long gone are the days of shopping for a live one, gone but not forgotten, are those childhood Maine memories of walking through a snow covered pasture with saw and ax looking for the “perfect” fir tree. Not just any green tree; spruce was avoided because of the smell it would make in the house. My grandfather called them “skunk spruce,” and those trees did not make for a “merry” occasion. So, I drag the fake tree box to the den; at this point, I can wait for the official “mistress of decoration, ball placement, and present wrapper,” sweet Kath!
Enter Kath: my next efforts will only take a few minutes, her work will go on for days: each bulb, each candy cane, the old Santa at the top; it will be another Christmas tree deluxe. This year, however, I got a big surprise from something quite small. As my official duties continued, I reviewed the list: open box, inspect the three tree sections, remove sections, put them together…and do NOT put light cord in tree section holder! Well, as I am carefully pulling wire branches apart that have been tightly cramped for eleven months in this heavy card board box, to my amazement, mashed in between all that stiffness lay a very pretty dark blue Christmas bulb! As I held it in my hand, I shook my head in wonder…how did that fragile bulb survive all the cramming and pushing last year when I shoved those three sections in that small four foot box. Amazing still, was all the bouncing around when I dragged the box across the den into the sun porch and pushed it into the corner and put my golf hats and spikes on top! That little bulb was one tough cookie; I sensed a story here, and sure enough, one came along….
Maine, 1967, I was completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Maine, majoring in French. In Bangor, near the campus, Ralph Smart was preaching for the little church of Christ there. He also had started another church in Dexter, about sixty miles away. Their preacher had recently gone back to warmer Texas, and Ralph had gently persuaded me to “help” him preach there once in a while. Once in a while lasted about six years! In Dexter, I met Laura. Born around 1910 and blind from an illness by age 14, Laura was living with her sister and her family. Ralph’s accounts of her life described a sad and miserable environment. He told me her very best times of the week were the two times he would drive her to church to be with friends. The next year when I moved to Dexter, I started driving Laura to services, and that was when I came to see the depth of this dear lady’s love and conviction for her Lord. Understand that weather in Maine is to say the least harsh, snow comes usually in September and stays until mid-April. Temperatures below zero with biting wind, chill bones from December to March, and then there’s mud season and about 75 days of summer. Laura rarely missed services. Rain, wind, snow, I had better be there, because she would be outside the house waiting for “her ride.” She’s been gone to a warm, safe home with her Lord many years now. During all this time however, in some quiet moment, I can still recall one bitter cold evening, wind just howling and snow, falling almost horizontally.
With several inches already accumulated on the narrow roads, I had to drive slowly and I wondered if Laura might be staying in that night. Silly me! At the far end of the driveway, my headlights illuminated a short, white statue motionless in the storm. As I helped her into my car, I asked her why she hadn’t waited inside. Her reply was short and so hurt my heart. She said, “It’s always better out here.”
My gentle reader friend, if you’re fighting your own pain from illness or a relationship issue, or perhaps just need a boost to get you moving on some project you’ve been putting off, by all means, reflect a bit about my dear Laura, standing in the snow, quietly declaring her faith with the inner strength and outward courage of the bravest saint among us! What a sweet, but tough lady; the little bulb that wouldn’t….give in or quit! Like my book, Heartbursts, “life is tough, but thank you, Lord, Your love is tougher.” From my heart to yours…..see ya next time!