It is May, and I am bent over with dustpan and broom, attacking a corner of the entryway—a refuge for castaway dust bunnies and unidentifiable particulates. Though I’ve swept here countless times since Christmas, I find pine needles again, inexplicably, from last year’s tree.
Each December, I insist on getting a real tree. Each year, I forget to water the tree. From day one, when my husband wrestles it through the house and the branches catch on each doorway, spraying debris, the pine needles and I forge an uneasy coexistence. They coat the tree skirt; I whisk the skirt outside to shake them out. They get under the rug; I brush them away. They poke my legs while I’m on the couch, trying to meditate on the meaning of the season; I sigh and let them be.
Pine Needle Garland
A small branch of long pine needles
Twine (or colorful string)
Pluck pine needles from the branch and cut a length of twine about 12 inches long. Bundle the ends of the needles and wrap the twine securely on top, holding needles together. Leave about 2 inches loose at the ends on both sides. Make several of these, tie them together, hang them along your mantle, dinner table, or front door.
After the twinkling lights have been unplugged and baby Jesus and His entourage are packed away in the basement, the pine needles stick around, telling their own Christmas story. Why not get a plastic tree, pre-fit with lights and star that looks nearly real, no back-straining involved? Why deal with the constant sweeping, with needles stuck to socks, needles lasting until May?
I live with the needles because they speak to me about the cost of being real. In the same way that I want a tree I can smell, with sticky sap running through it, I want a God I can touch, a God I can taste in bread and wine, with blood running through His veins.
This is what we get in Jesus—a living, breathing God made flesh. This is our God—born to a trembling, bellowing teenage girl, ushered with blood and water out into a manure-scented stable. This is a God I can trust, because He knows what it means to be human, to get dirty, to be hungry, to face death. As I sweep up more pine needles, I surrender to this truth: Being real, whether human or pine tree, is messy. Because God willingly embraced this earthly mess, so do I.
Photograph by MLC