I loved Pawtucket at Christmas. There was something so sweet and sad about the garish Christmas decorations strung across dirty front porches and sagging balconies. The gray city seemed to come alive with blinking color, all inhibition set aside, like a sudden burst of hope. There was no restraint. Reindeer and Santa and baby Jesus all competed for the tiny patches of worn out lawns.
And I loved the red brick of the abandoned mills set against the winter sky. There was a timeless beauty and majesty to the old crumbling structures. In a deep snow you could imagine years gone by, of industry and prosperity, laughter and hope. Now Pawtucket seemed quiet for a city, sort of a shiftless what-do-we-do-now undercurrent in the way people walked or didn’t. In the summer folks hung on the porches. In the winter they slipped inside little rooms thick with smoke. The kids in church would smell like little drumsticks and ashtrays.
I think God is much like this: He walks along the dreary wastelands of this earth and imagines things. He looked at me twenty four years ago, beat up and worn from years of hushed pain, body and soul wearing thin and stretched almost to death. He saw something entirely different. I was angry and tired without knowing why but he saw something to salvage. And His love is extravagant, kind of like throwing 14 karat gold tinsel on a Charlie Brown tree. Kind of like stringing a magnificent light display across the ruins of an old mill town.
Every Christmas I let the children in church decorate a little fake tree. We had no heat in our basement room for two years except for a little space heater we would all huddle around with our coats on. They wrapped and adorned that tree with yards of tinsel and garland until it was nothing but glitz and glitter. Then we put lights on it and plugged it in. That cold damp room was transformed. I still see the little faces lit up, reflecting the bright tree. I think they knew without me telling them that the tree is like us and all the rest, the beauty, the light, the warmth; it’s all like God’s glory and He loves to pour it on. Then He likes to stand back and watch us transform, beauty for cold ashes, reflecting His very own glory.