The Cowboy Tree
THE COWBOY TREE
Joyce E. Wagers
"Mom, Christmas is in two days! When are we going to get our tree?" Michael asked his Mother this question many times during the past two weeks. At eight-years-old, and as far back as his young memory took him, he recalled the family decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving. By Christmas, gifts cluttered the base of the tree, spreading out past the shadow of its boughs.
But Thanksgiving came and went and yet there was no tree, no beautiful lights or familiar decorations and, worst of all for a small child, there was not a present in sight.
Mother was just barely making ends meet. How could she justify spending so much money on a tree, only to have it pitched to the curb in a few days?
Hollie, Michael's older sister, tried to comfort him by playing board games. But his thoughts always went back to the open space in the living room where the tree should be standing. Hollie always left the room, tears trailing her cheeks, at Michael's pain and confusion. Mother cried also at the wounded hearts of her children as they faced a bleak Christmas season.
Earlier in the day the three of them visited every tree lot in town, hoping to find one marked down to match the few dollars in Mother's purse. Finding no such bargain they climbed sadly into their pick-up truck and made the long journey home. Mother gently reminded them to focus on what Christmas truly meant.
"It's not wrong to want a tree with a base of brightly wrapped packages," she said softly, trying to find comfort even for herself. "But we also need to be grateful for what we have; our love of each other and our health and faith in God."
Michael listened quietly and watched Mother's face as she spoke. And even though he knew she always told the truth, tears still found their way into his eyes. He remembered the great fun as the family carefully examined every tree until that special one found its way home with them. And the joy of searching for just the perfect spot for each ornament; ornaments made in school by he and Hollie. A smile hinted on Michael's face as he recalled the time when the tree fell over just as Mother placed the star on top.
At home, as Hollie opened the door to get out, Michael turned to Mother and asked; "Do you think if we prayed, God would send an Angel to bring us a tree and just one present each?"
Tears came to Mother's eyes at the innocence of her son. She motioned Hollie to take Michael into the house and, with a quivering chin, could only manage a weak, "I'll be there in a minute, honey, and we'll talk about it."
Mother sat in the truck sobbing into her hands, thinking there was never a moment in her life when she felt more alone than now. She thought of all the times she told her children to trust in the Lord and to turn their cares over to Him.
"Forgive me, Father, for not trusting in You," she prayed aloud. "I know You must love my children more than I, so I ask You to help us." While she prayed for guidance, Hollie returned and Mother and daughter prayed together. And as they talked to God, they felt His presence. They felt His love and Mother heard Him whisper, "this will be the best Christmas ever."
"Go get Michael," Mother suddenly shouted. "We have a tree to find---a cowboy tree." Hollie was alarmed at the unexpected outburst, but knew by the look on Mother's face that God had given her an answer. She scrambled out of the truck and returned quickly with her excited brother.
Before Michael could manage to get both feet into the truck, he began flinging questions at Mother. "What's a cowboy tree? How do you know about it? Where will we get one?" Mother just smiled at him. The questions continued until the truck came to a stop before an open, snow-covered field. Michael jumped out and ran into the field, surveying it for the elusive and mysterious cowboy tree. Within a few short minutes, his trusting smile vanished.
"There's not one Christmas tree here," he sobbed, seeing that all that the field offered was small saplings, barren of leaves since autumn.
Mother slid her arms around his shoulders and gently turned him around. "Look over there!" she pointed. "Don't you see it?" Michael followed her outstretched arm to a little tree that sat alone in the middle of the field.
"A long time ago," she began, "there were cowboys who herded cattle through places that didn't have any green trees like we use for Christmas. So they used trees just like that one. They would set up their camps near the trees and decorate them with beans laced on string from their packs. They'd hang tin coffee cups from the branches and leather straps retrieved from their saddles. And on top, they'd place a spur for the star. Or, they might place their best cowboy hat on top of the tree." Michael listened in awe at the story unfolding before him.
"At night, with the decorated tree aglow by the campfire," Mother continued, "the cowboy would sing carols and pray for peace on earth. With the tree, the cowboy felt a little less lonely and not so homesick. He was happy and the tree smiled all through the night."
Michael, considering himself to be a modern-day cowboy, gave in to the story Mother told him. "It will make a beautiful Christmas tree," Mother whispered in his ear. "Will you help me cut it and carry it home?"
The children found an old silver milk can in the garage and carefully placed the tree inside. They busied themselves decorating it with things from the house and soon it looked much the same as it would have on the prairie long ago. They strung lights on their curious little houseguest and Michael placed a star on top. Mother and her children stood back and admired The Cowboy Tree. And it smiled in the warm glow of their love.
"Wow!" The only word from Michael's mouth trailed off as he scurried out the front door. Shortly he returned with some of his friends and begged Mother to relate the story of the cowboy tree to them. His friends were excited about this new piece of history and wanted a cowboy tree in their homes also. As they scampered away, Michael yelled after them, "Tell your moms that we have some cowboy trees for sale."
Within hours, friends began dropping by with armloads of presents and the base of the cowboy tree was soon covered with brightly wrapped surprises. The family knew, more than ever before, that God was not only watching over them, but sent His most special Angel to help in His work. And it was the best Christmas ever.