Hope Wrapped in a Tree

I didn’t get the tree, even though I prayed hard and believed it would be mine.

Several years ago, I participated in one of those home tours where beautiful and historic houses are decorated by members of the Junior Service League as a fund-raising activity.

One of the houses sent me into covet mode. From the moment I entered, I knew this was my kind of house. In fact, I knew the owners. They were members of my church – the perfect family, the perfect couple. Tall, thin and both of them professors at the local college. I envied not only their house, but also their life together. I wanted my life to be that content, and I desperately wanted to live in their house.

I know – we’re not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house. But on that particular Christmas season, I did it anyway.

The entrance opened into a large living room – on the right, a Mission style staircase leading to the upper floor which had one entire wall of bookshelves filled with all sorts of books.

To the left of the living room stood a grand piano – one of my life-long dreams. The master bedroom had its own fireplace and an expansive window that opened to the back forested area filled with various Kansas-style trees and salt licks for the deer.

To the right of the staircase lay the room I coveted most – a study with a desk, windows on the north and the east, the perfect place to write. I could see myself writing there – actually envisioned myself at that desk, watching the morning sunrise turn from pink to coral to turquoise as I pecked away on my laptop. A love seat perched against the opposite wall, a place to sit and edit and think about the next chapter. Oh, my!

Off the study was an incredible kitchen / dining area / family room with a massive stone fireplace and a mantel that held all the stockings for this happy family. A mudroom led to the garage area, but on the west side – patio doors opened onto the deck.

Then I saw the tree. The owners cut down a small pine and loaded it with bird seed ornaments and treats for outside treesquirrels and deer. Such a beautiful way to celebrate the outdoors and feed God’s creatures, and I vowed to myself that someday I would do the same – erect an outdoor Christmas tree for the animals.

So when I entered a bookstore that was liquidating its assets and saw the metal spiral Christmas tree – I knew it was mine. Finally, I would put a tree on my deck and fill it with bird seed ornaments, bread crumb stars and peanut butter-slathered bagels for all the little animals.

But at $40, it was too expensive. I asked the owner, “Would you possibly take $20?”

“No, because I’m trying to make as much as possible on this liquidation. But come back closer to Christmas and we’ll talk again.”

So I went home, made plans for that tree and prayed. I knew it was supposed to be mine. I felt joy and anticipation as I imagined it on my deck. It gave me hope that even though I did not have the perfect happy family nor that beautiful house with the grand piano or the absolutely wonderful writing study – I could at least have the tree outside.

So I went back this week, to negotiate again with the owner and discovered that the tree was gone. Someone paid the full price and took it away. I drove home dejected, crying through the blur of Christmas lights.

But God said, “Don’t give up.”

“What does that mean, God? The tree is gone. It was perfect and there aren’t any others. What do you mean, ‘Don’t give up?’”

I think he meant that hope isn’t just centered on a replica of a dream, on a metal tree that represents somebody else’s life. Hope is focused on the actual dream and on living the life of that dream.

Maybe there is another tree somewhere for my outdoor friends and a house in the country with the perfect writing study, a grand piano and a wall of books. Maybe there is another life for me that includes happiness, peace and love.

I will leave it up to God and stay in hope, because that is the best place to be.

Why is Reverend G Special?

“The Unraveling of Reverend G” is not the first book I have published. Back in 1993, my first book came out in print: “The Plain Path,” my adventures as a missionary in Honduras. Throughout the next several years, I published three curricula for teaching English to international students. Then my work appeared in eleven anthologies including five Chicken Soup books and the best-selling Cup of Comfort books. It was an honor to be included with other writers I admired.

My dream shelf, which I started in 1983, is now filled with books I wrote and also books I edited for other writers. Sometimes I sit in my office and thank God that the words which spew out of me have found a venue in print.

But when I picked up my box of Reverend G books from UPS, something triggered a memory. I wanted to stop a moment, to savor the smell of cardboard and fresh ink. I longed to wrap the UPS man in a hug and ask him, “Do you have any idea what you just plopped into my car’s trunk?” But I did not bother him with my history. He hurried back inside the building, his dark brown shirt a depository for the Kansas heat.

From the age of eight, when we moved to the farm, I nested in the top branches of my favorite elm. The Oklahoma sunset spread out to the west in a mixture of salmon and turquoise as I dreamed about becoming a writer. Louisa Mae Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder were two of my heroines; their words about family and love nestled deep within my soul.

I practiced in that treetop – licked the end of my pencil and scribbled in my Red Chief tablet, knowing that someday – somehow I would follow in their steps. I would write something important that included family, love and God.

Although my life took a different tack than I imagined, and I traveled far from that comfortable tree – I kept writing, trying different genres and settling on nonfiction where I seemed to have the most success. But somewhere deep inside, the more creative genes stirred and longed to escape from soul whispers to fingertips to computer screen.

Then finally, in 2010, smack in the middle of long-term unemployment – I woke up with a story about a petite woman in her sixties who faced the battle of her life. Reverend G, a radical female who wore camel-colored leather pants and dared to become a minister in a male-dominated field. She successfully completed her MDIV and served as associate pastor for thirty some years, then one day heard the unjust diagnosis of “dementia with early-onset Alzheimer’s.”

This incredible woman dominated my days until her story took shape and eventually found its way into print form, lying in neat stacks in the UPS box. “The Unraveling of Reverend G” will soon enter the world of bookstores, internet sales and e-readers. Hopefully, some of you will turn the pages of this book and wonder what happens next.

But for me, this petite and brave woman who captured my heart, represents the dream of a lifetime – fulfilled at last during this particular decade and gloriously, miraculously including family, love and God.