By Pastor Scott Godinez
On a snowcapped hillside, Tessa stood tall next to her father, she did not know why she was there but she did know it is where she always wanted to be.
Tessa and her father are trees. They are not apple trees, they are not redwood trees, they are not even Christmas trees. They are just regular, evergreen, trees. Each year when the snow began to fall, Tessa anxiously awaited what was coming.
Lights! Lights of every color, glowing atop every house, every lamp post, and every tree in the city. With glee she looked up to her father, each year begging his permission to journey into the city to see the lights up close. He had always told her no.
“This year would be different” Tessa thought to herself.
She had grown an impressive three inches since last spring and the summer rains had been heavier than normal this year making her roots especially strong. If there were any time to prove her readiness this was it!
But Tessa’s father told her no once more. The journey was much too dangerous for a tree. Tessa was not happy.
Later that night Tessa made the choice to sneak off. Her father was lost in sleep, he would never notice her leaving just for the night.
The glow of the city lights led the way, Tessa was overjoyed with how much brighter the lights shone when she was up close.
The city park was wrapped in so many lights it looked as though a thousand stars had fallen upon its foliage. Like sparks at night they cut through the darkness calling out to Tessa.
“If only I could have some of those lights like the beautiful Christmas trees all over the city!” Tessa, not realizing she had said these words aloud, caught the attention of a young man, and he approached her,
“Cantor’s the name and I am here to grant your wish!”
“My wish…?” Tessa mumbled gently.
“Exactly! You want the lights and I know how to get ‘em!” Cantor declared proudly.
Tessa’s father had warned her of the dangers of journeying into the city. But she felt unprepared for this. Nothing about the excitable gentleman appeared as threatening as the silver sharpened axes that filled the pages of her father’s stories. No, Cantor seemed much more manageable than that. Besides, it was the least she could do to hear him out, she was very interested in the lights after all.
“I can get you as many lights as you have branches my friend! So whaddya say!? Huh? You in?”
Cantor said with a sly grin. A particular grin in fact, one you might find on the face of a fox approaching its prey. But Tessa, was already hooked. She had only dreamed of being so close to the lights as she had been tonight, and now right before her was an opportunity to have lights of her own, as many as she wanted!
“How is it that you can offer me lights?” Tessa replied.
“Easy. I got a guy and he is a great guy let me tell you. See this guy, he’s got lights and I’m his guy, I got deals. So you wanna make a deal, do ya treetop?
As Tessa considered Cantor’s offer, she felt reason to pause. A feeling no more than the weight of a newborn sparrow on her limbs, but a weight nonetheless. Despite this slight concern, she was far too bewitched with how great it would be to have even just one strand of lights, how much more delighted would her father be when he saw her wrapped in a beautiful glimmering glow, as beautiful as the magnificent Christmas trees!
“Excellent choice Tessa, you’re going to be the envy of the hillside. How many lights ya want, I got bunches of bundles, and a whole lot more—hey, I got everything your heart could adore!” He sang joyfully.
Tessa obviously impressed by his showmanship, politely requested just one strand.
A wise choice considering Cantor had yet to reveal his price.
“Just one single, little, strand..,?” Cantor replied.
“Yes? I think so, just for now.” Said Tessa.
“Well…lucky you! I got a special going on just for single strands, if you give me just one tiny twig from your branch you can have the strand of lights!” Cantor beamed, for he had a plan in mind, every good salesperson always does.
“That does sound like a great deal, I have more twigs than I can count on my smallest branch, how many can I get for three!” Tessa shouted.
“Why three strands of course!”
“What about five??”
“Why five strands of course!”
“You guessed it…twenty-five bright, shiny, colorful strands of lights just for you Tessa.”
It started with just a few twigs, and Tessa shone like the North Star with her many, many strands of lights. But once Cantor told her how much she could get if she gave him a branch, well it was not much longer until Tessa began to look more and more like Times Square and less like herself.
Tessa was a regular evergreen tree, but now, she was a dazzling, colorful array of lights, the ground littered with twigs, and splinters revealed the cost.
But Tessa did not mind one bit! She illuminated every street corner she passed. Every shop window reflected the rainbow of colors she had adorned herself with. The ground, lit up with hues of red, yellow and green, orange and blue, purple and white! Tessa was a sight to behold.
But then she came across a much larger store front. Its windows like a cathedral stretched up high, nearly twice as tall as Tessa. It was in the reflection of the empty window she saw something she did not recognize. Something that looked like it should be familiar, but wasn’t.
Tessa saw herself.
All of her beautiful greenery now replaced by wires and plastic lights. Her widespread branches all trimmed away, her bark laid bare as a light pole. She knew herself to be as full as any tree, a nest for birds, a hideaway for squirrels and chipmunks. But now she looked nothing like what she once was.
She had given away so much of herself for the strands of lights. She tried to fight back the tears. She told herself this is what she wanted. It was a good thing!
“The branches would probably grow back someday” she tried to assure herself.
Crrannggg! Crrranngg! The booming sound of the clocktower shook Tessa out of her thoughts and reminded her she still needed to return home to her father. Her father. What would he think? How could he even recognize her—she didn’t even recognize her. Would he recognize her?
The thought cut to her core like a razor blade. There was no way he would recognize this spectacle of a light show. She looked nothing like the tree he had always loved. Sluggishly she carried herself back to the hillside, terrified of how her father would react.
“Would he be mad? Would he be sad? Would he say ‘I told you so! Will he even know it’s me?” Tessa began to cry.
Her tears dropped onto the snowy ground and her tears dropped onto the many strands of lights that wrapped around her trunk. As the water from her tears began to freeze in the cold mountain air, the light strands flickered on and off. Tessa had no idea what was happening. Her lights were all she had left—flashing and flickering, dimming and fading. And then, nothing.
The whirling winds stopped. The snowfall appeared to cease. In a moment, silence, stillness and darkness. Tessa was beside herself and wept.
She no longer had her twigs, branches or leaves. And now, she did not even have her lights. She stood there in the stillness of the moment, broken like the branches that were broken off her earlier when she traded away each one to Cantor for just one more strand of lights.
She wondered if her father had been right all along? But the lights were beautiful, surely they were not to blame. What had she missed, where had she gone wrong? Tessa thought to herself. Standing there, a barren log on the hillside, she stayed.
Flurries of snow whipped across her exposed bark, sending chills down to her roots. When a voice boomed across the snow covered meadow. A sound she had known her entire life but could not bear to believe she was hearing it now.
“TESSSA! TESSA it must be you!”
Tessa’s father appeared not too far away. As he approached, Tessa noticed his branches were dipping beneath the weight of all the snow fall. The exposed bark on his trunk looked as though he had taken a few falls during the night as well. He must have been out searching for hours.
Exasperated he raced toward Tessa. Before he could embrace her she pulled away, her shame felt like an iron shackle, or a contagious disease she didn’t want her father to catch.
Tessa’s father was painfully shocked when she resisted his embrace.
“No! Please don’t, I’m not your daughter anymore. I can’t be.”
“No! Don’t you see what I have done?? Can you not see who I am now??
“Please just stop, I’ve given away everything, for—“ Tessa paused and stared at all of wires, once shining so brightly now felt like bars on a cage.
“Tessa,” her father repeated for a third time.
“Tessa, I see exactly who you are. Who you have always been. Who you always will be. My daughter, my heart, and I will never surrender my love for you.”
Tessa fought back her tears even harder this time. The words of her father like a summer shower brought unexplainable joy to her very core.
“But daddy, I…I don’t have any branch—“
Tessa’s father interrupted her stammering,
“Tessa my daughter, I was never in love with your branches, your bark or any of these kinds of things you think earn more of my love. You are mine, root of my root, I have always loved you because you have always been mine. No amount of greenery or strands of light will ever change this gift I give to you freely.”
Whether it was the wind rushing by or something else entirely, the plastic wires lost their grip on Tessa and slipped off, falling to the ground, lost in the midnight snow.
Together, Tessa returned with her father to their hillside.
“Father, the lights were so beautiful”
“Yes Tessa, they certainly are.”
Tessa’s expression looked as though she was trying to form the words for a follow-up question. Her father, knowingly spoke once again,
“Tessa, there are many beautiful and good things in the world. But If we give away who we are to get what we do not need, we become what we never wanted.”
“But it’s so easy to do” Tessa replies.
“That is why we must always be rooted in our father’s love.”
Together, Tessa stood tall with her father on the hillside. This time she knew why she was there and she knew it was where she always wanted to be.