In the backyard of my childhood home in the Arkansas Delta is a forty foot pine tree. A few days before Christmas 1958, next to an in-ground concrete pond of mongrel fish bred from dime store gold fish and leftover fishing minnows, my Dad, who was not yet 30, planted three pine trees.

One died the following winter, during our neighborhood football game—heartlessly crushed under an eight-year-old Dallas Cowboys’ sneaker. Our yard man massacred another the next summer. But one still stands.

Many times since 1958 I visited that pine tree. Its deciduous beauty might inspire you, but it reminds me of my 49-year-old father in the last moments of his life gasping for breath, in mortal agony and pain.  Terrible things happened to that man before he died.  Things he did not deserve. While that hearty pine tree remains unscathed by beetle bug or rusty fungi.

Sticky, brown, ageless, unphased even by the coldest Arkansas winter, the pine tree still quietly stands, smirking and haughty. It was birthed 25 years after my dad was born and has lived 35 years after he died. It conflicts my soul because at a much too young an age I realized that there is mortal pain that obviates all notions of goodness.

Flaunting its immortality, the venerable tree postures itself in silent mockery of the rest of us who are struggling to deal with the many vicissitudes of life. I wish that pine was dead too. As it overshadows my old backyard, robbing all other life of light and sustenance, so also it overshadows me.

I see my simple, caring, innocent father, whose cosmology extended no farther than suppertime, kneeling and gently placing that ungrateful pine tree into the dark, rich Delta loam.  Lovingly pouring water among its selfish, grasping roots, he squats in silent hopeful expectation. He thought he would see that tree tower above our farmhouse. Surely he did.

That tree gives me painful thoughts of what was and will never be again. What might have been but was not. What I want but cannot have. He never met three of my children.  He will never know any of his great-grandchildren. I still ask him questions, “How do I do this?” Or “How did you feel when you did that?” I needed him. I really did. But he was not there.

He is not here when I need him now.  Even today I reach for the phone to tell him something, to ask him something. Dad did not die a beautiful death. There was no Hallmark moment in that story. Dangling on a myriad of IV tubes, gasping for breath, he suffocated on his own fluids. As God or cancer or whatever it is that cruelly, slowly, torturously stole life from Dad, I similarly would like to kill that tree—slowly painfully stripping it of life until every evil, uncaring, nasty pine cone and needle joins my poor dad in his grave.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good News of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…” (Luke 2:10)

The Christ child has come to give us life and hope! A Savior has been born to you…to those of us who wake up Christmas morning and nearly pick up a telephone to phone a deceased loved one to tell him/her about his/her grandchild’s first Christmas morning, this is good news.

To those of us who roll over Christmas morning and reach for an absent spouse, the angels bring good news indeed. To those of us who despair on Christmas Eve as we peer into the bright lights of our Christmas tree and only feel the absence of a loved one, the coming of the Christ child is real, much needed hope.

Let the ancient pine trees in our lives grow, and grow, and grow! We are not afraid. Someday I hope to show that old pine tree to my grandchildren, dad’s great-great grandchildren. To tell them about Christmas’s that once were and shall be again. About their great grandfather and great grandmother and all the faithful saints who loved Jesus Christ and are waiting for them in Heaven. Let the pine trees cover the sky! Let their arms reach beyond the world until they fill our souls, for, you see, we fear not. Our Savior has come.

Merry Christmas!

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