I haven’t the faintest clue who noticed it first.
Maybe it was Levi, when he got clocked in the side of the head by one of the limbs when he was just trying to get to his seat at the table.
“Um…. why is this tree growing out?”
He’s rubbing his head like he’s trying to start a fire, like he’s searching for an epiphany that won’t blow out.
“Hey…” Malakai’s craning his neck from his seat, from his plate at the table, looking up at our upside down Christmas tree hanging from a wooden beam over the table. “The little upside down tree does seem like it’s growing… bigger.”
And by Christmas Eve…. it’s all…. reaching out.
I can see it –the tips of the cedar are curling, drying and curling. “Feel the tips, Mom?” I can reach one of the branches from my chair — the tips of the upside down tree feel like a …. searching…
And I can feel it like the lighting of a match —
It’s because it’s hanging upside down.
Right side up — the tree would start curling down, shriveling up dry.
But because it’s hanging upside down:
It’s not curling down — it’s curling out.
When it’s upside down — it’s dying doesn’t make it grow smaller — but makes it grow larger.
I don’t pass down the potatoes.
If you hang your life upside down, if you live the upsidedown Kingdom, your life never dies, it’s never small — it reaches out. It grows larger.
I cradle the phone between my shoulder, my ear, tell my mother while I wash the pots after dinner.
“The tree in the living room? The pretty one with lights? It’s shedding like a molting dog – needles everywhere. But the little upside down tree? In it’s dying – it’s not getting smaller – it’s curling out — reaching out — getting larger. You wouldn’t believe it.”
Or maybe you would… maybe that is exactly what really believing really is — reaching out.
Mama interrupts my blathering epiphany. “Ann — your granny.”
I stop trying to scrape chunks of crusted cauliflower off the dented up enamel bowl. “Yes, Granny — she’s okay?”
The granddaughter of Irish potatoe famine immigrants, she’s a spry 94. She washes her white curls in a bluing agent. Her lungs have had 25 years of healing after a lifetime of smoking. Her once 5 ft 10 spine is now crumbling, degenerating. Morphine is her daily fuel.
Who knows if she knows Jesus?
“The flu brokeout in her nursing home the beginning of the month. She was quarantined to her room. So I’ve called her everyday to pass the time…”
“Uh huh…” I’m back to scrubbing out cauliflower.
“I didn’t think she’d say yes — but I asked her if I could read to her?” I can hear Mama sipping — tea? “With her macular degeneration, she can’t read anymore, so I was hopeful? That maybe I could read to her devotions from The Greatest Gift?” I stop scrubbling.
“She. said. yes.” Mama punctuates the words. “She’s listening to me read the Scripture passage. Then the devotional. She’s answering the reflection questions – and then letting me pray with her.” The scrubber drops out of my hand.
“Somedays she asks to do another one.”
The tap drips loud.
Who has words?
“I just reached out to her…. I just kept reaching out to her.”
Hang your life upside down — and your life grows larger. … beautiful.
Climbing ladders of doing doesn’t make your life grow bigger —
it’s reaching out with loving that makes your life grow bigger — better.
The last devotional of The Greatest Gift, the one for the 25th of December, for Christmas morning, was written 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere en route to Uganda.
I had found an internet connection in Kampala, Uganda, sent the last devotional about The Greatest Gift back to Chicago, Illinois, and went to walk some red dirt.
Went to sit in a hut, went and listened to little Anna tell Hope-girl and I how she picked white ants from her bedroom floor to eat. She showed us the pot of swarming ants. We lean and nod.
And all I can think while I get a ham out for Christmas dinner, is of Anna and her ants.
How Anna had taken us by the hand and walked us out by the goats, out past the neighbors who lived right behind her, the mama sweeping her dirt step clean.
How I had stopped behind Anna’s house and kneeled in front of one little boy who only had no shoes, no pants, only a tattered shirt pulled over his head.
I am standing in my kitchen, ham out on the counter, the lights of the tree shimmering behind Shalom pressing out sugar cookies, and thinking about what’s under Christmas trees everywhere —
and remembering standing behind Anna’s hut looking at the only toy that was under one tree in Africa, under the the big eyes of one little boy in Africa.
And everywhere Christmas trees blink.
They blink startlingly awake.
Christmas trees blink and really see Who He is, how He is in the face of a child, blink and see the joy of loving Him in the eyes of one little boy, a little boy with wires bent into a truck, his only toy, eyes begging to God that we aren’t playing games with what we say we believe.
There is a lonely old woman in a nursing home and someone gets the greatest gift of reaching out to her.
There is a half naked little boy in Africa with one toy and a whole lot of needs and there are families that won’t be denied the joy of getting the greatest gift by being the gift to him… to Him.
There are warm cups and loud kids arguing over what gifts to give from the Compassion gift catalogues and there are kids in slums and kids with dirty water and kids with no clothes and kids praying we give what Jesus would give this Christmas.
And there are Christmas trees down the street. Down the street and across town and blinking awake to joy right there in your house, trees that can happily turn upside down in the hearts of all the willing Body of Christ and the branches, the limbs, can all reach out, all our Christmas growing larger… greater… even more beautiful now.
Only what you have given away will ever give you joy.
When you give to the least of these, you give to the Greatest of All and get the greatest joy.
There may well be hands giving without loving — but all the loving open their hearts to give well. The Greatest Gift is given – and received – in this.
And you can see it under the branches of that upside down tree reaching out, that one heart ornament —
“I found the One my heart loves….”
And the Babe in the manger is held.
Sponsor a Child through Compassion as your Christmas present to Jesus —
and I’d love to send you a free copy of The Greatest Gift… to thank you for being the gift back to Jesus.
Compassion Gift Catalogues
A Letter to the North American Church: Because it is Time
How to Be Beautiful — and Have a Beautiful Home and Life
Why You Are Where You Are: For Such a Time as Now
An Internet Love Story: How to Live Free