“I hate artificial trees,” Meghan complained. “Tom, can’t we get a real tree this year?”
“You know how I feel about cutting down living trees simply to decorate them and throw them away, Meg.”
Meghan walked back to her bathroom to prepare for the evening service. She grumbled as she applied her makeup and perfume. “Plastic, cheap, gaudy, fake...”
She smelled the fresh cut pine in her memory. She could see her mother decorating. So perfect.
Meghan pulled a new Donna Karan suit out of her closet. She looked it over and put it on carefully. Then she pulled on her knee length designer boots. My diamond lavaliere will be the perfect accent. Meghan carefully donned her jewels and fluffed her hair. After spending several minutes scrutinizing her look, she went to prepare the children.
“Cassandra…Jaden,” she called. “It’s time to dress.”
Jaden barreled toward her, his hands covered in washable marker.
“Jaden!” Meghan’s voice was sharp. “What is all over your hands?”
“Stamps, Mommy,” Jaden said with a grin. “See my green dinosaurs? There’s stars and moons and funny kisses, too.”
“You’d better hope that washes off young man. Come here.”
Meghan drug Jaden to the bathroom and vigorously scrubbed his hands as he choked back tears.
An hour later, Tom, Meghan and the children arrived at Life Christian Church. Tom went to his office to pray before service. Meghan took the children to their classes. She smiled politely and made pleasant conversation along the way. Cassandra skipped happily into Kids Church. Her long French braids swung freely. She looked perfect.
Jaden was another matter. He had untucked his shirt in the car and he was still upset over the stamps she had washed away. His nose was running. Meghan took him to the bathroom to wash his face and retuck his shirt before dropping him off.
“Hi Meghan. Hi Jaden,” Kelly Francis said with a warm smile. Kelly was one of the reasons Meghan had pushed the church to purchase matching smocks for their children’s ministry. Her clothes were horrible, she was overweight and she wore no makeup. At least the smock hid her tacky outfits a little. Meghan didn’t quite understand it, but everyone at Life Christian loved Kelly despite her appearance—especially the children.
Jaden ran into Kelly’s waiting arms. Meghan claimed her reserved seat near the altar. A few minutes later, Tom entered. He looked so handsome in the new suit she had bought him.
The worship band started playing and singing. Meghan was glad to see that they were wearing the color-coordinated outfits she had suggested. They sounded professional. Entirely appropriate for the fastest growing church in Williamsburg.
Tom went up to the altar as they finished. He preached a neat, well-packaged sermon. Meghan was pleased with the way he made eye contact with the congregation. He talked about being honest—“transparent,” he called it.
“Let me assure you,” Tom’s voice boomed over the speakers, “that I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like you. Just because I’m the pastor here doesn’t mean I don’t have the same struggles that you have. God has done great things for me, and He’ll do great things for you, too.”
“This evening, I’d like to honor a member of our church,” he continued. “You all know and love her because she doesn’t put on a show. She loves Jesus and she loves people and you can see it in everything she says and does.”
Meghan blanched when Kelly Francis was led onto the platform. She wasn’t wearing her smock! Tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“Pastor Tom…I…I don’t know what to say,” Kelly stammered.
“I don’t want to embarrass you Kelly, but when I was preparing my sermon for tonight I kept seeing your beautiful face. The scripture says that God’s children are ‘oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.’”
A wave of shame washed over Meghan. Her husband was standing in front of a packed
congregation calling Kelly Francis “beautiful.” She looked at her boots in disgust. Kelly may not look like much, but she’s the real thing. I’m nothing but an artificial tree beside her.
Tears rolled down Meghan’s face, streaking it with mascara. She didn’t mind. She hoped it made her look a little more real.
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