CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Do you remember the first Christmas you were actually aware that it was Christmas?  I do. I was four years old, and my ornery ten-year-old brother told me a secret, “THERE IS NO SANTA!”  I didn’t believe him then, and I still don’t believe him. I am a firm believer in Santa Claus.

I asked my brother, now ninety years old, that same question this morning.  “What do you remember about Christmas when you were little?”

“I remember Christmas at Crescent School,” he replied telling about the celebration at his rural school located near Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, where I was born.

The celebration was not just for kids, but for the whole community.  Everyone in the surrounding area showed up to enjoy the children’s songs and recitations.  Talk about proud parents!  

Of course there were gifts for everyone.  My brother doesn’t seem to know who paid for all of that, but he does remember that he received a Fire Truck.

For years after, when he was far away from Crescent School, every time he smelled coal smoke, he was transported back to that place where, each morning, his teacher filled the coal scuttle and emptied it into the little potbellied stove to warm the classroom. 

One of my most memorable Christmases was my first Christmas in Belgium.  I had never missed a Christmas with my family. It was a hurtful time for me, but I determined to make the best of it.  I knew that my Mom would send a big package, and I waited anxiously for it, but it didn’t come, and still, it didn’t come.  Time was growing short, and Christmas was upon us. If Mama’s package did not arrive, other presents would not matter. Like a child, I was devastated.

I couldn’t be satisfied with waiting, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I went into the center of Brussels to “Le Bureau de Douane”—the customs office. I don’t know what I thought I could do, but I was going to do something.  

I stood in line impatiently awaiting my turn.  When I approached the guichet, I said to the agent.  “My mother sent me a Christmas package from the U.S. It should be here by now.  I want to know what happened to it.” Of course, that was a preposterous request.

Clearly annoyed with my demand, the agent drew a large ledger from under the counter.  I honestly thought he would throw me out, but to my surprise, asking my mother’s name, he began to run his finger down page after page.  I was surprised to see that all entries were handwritten.  

After some moments, to my astonishment, he said, “Here it is—Maggie Clark!  

I almost danced a little jig, but I still didn’t have the package.

Calling a fellow employee, and giving him a slip of paper, he said, “Here, take this woman and find this package.”  

I was transported to an enormous barn-like building, where the temperature was at least 40 degrees below zero.  Packages from around the world were stacked high in every direction. My heart plummeted. How was it possible to find one specific package in this over-whelming melee of packages?  However, I was wrong. This was not a disorganized mess. After motoring up and down several aisles, the agent stopped at a particular bin and withdrew a large carton. “This must be it,” he declared, and it was.  There was my name, and in the return address, was my Mama’s name: Maggie Clark, 417 West 1st St., Mesa, AZ. 85201.

After paying the custom’s charges, I took my box home, unpacked it and put the colorful gifts under the tree.  I was amazed at the kindness and patience of those government officials, and at the goodness of God, because He understood my need of the moment.

I can’t think about Christmas without thinking about Mary, the mother of our Lord.  She had no idea that one day, her son’s birthday would be called Christmas, and be celebrated around the world. I am convinced, however, that there was no way she could ever forget that first Christmas, call it what you will.  She would never forget the angels’ song, the visit of the shepherds and the magi, the marvelous gifts, and most of all, Angel Gabriel’s confirmation that the child she bore would be called the Son of God, and Jesus would be his name.

I have said it before, “I love Christmas.” I love the hustle and bustle, the decorations, the colored lights, the parties, the gifts, and Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho’s, but that can’t be all of Christmas.

John 3:16, the scripture that will never wear out or become common place:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Christmas is the celebration of the historical event of Jesus’ entry into our world as God’s ultimate sacrifice for our sin, whereby we might receive His gift of eternal life.

In all of our remembering, let’s not forget that Jesus is what Christmas is all about! 

WISHING YOU A BLESSED CHRISTMAS!

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

THE SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS

THE SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS

My twenty-one year old niece visited me, when I lived in Brussels all those years ago.  She was raised with an entirely different religious perspective than I, but she did agree to go with me to church on Sunday. 

I was scheduled to sing that morning.  As I stood before the congregation, I caught a glimpse of my niece sitting two-thirds of the way back, tears flowing down her cheeks. 

Later that afternoon I asked, “Honey, I saw you crying this morning.  What was wrong? Were you offended, or was it just that everything was new to you?”

“A little of both,” she replied, “but those people were so vocal.  I’m not used to that.”

I had to suppress a smile.  I was raised in a Pentecostal church.  For many years we were criticized and made fun of because our worship was boisterous.  For the most part, that is no longer true, and that change is not necessarily a good thing.  I considered our congregation in Brussels to be quiet and sedate. Oh, there were those who quietly said “Amen” from time to time, when the Pastor was preaching, and there was one lovely Belgian woman who called out “Evidemment,” which, in French, means “Obviously, or that’s right, I agree.”

In answer to my nieces complaint, I said, “Sweetheart, when you consider what God has done for us in sending Jesus, and the gift of eternal life He offers to all of us, that’s something to be excited about—something shout about—a reason to be vocal.

Lying awake in the middle of the night I thought about that long ago conversation and I was reminded of the sounds of Christmas.

The Gospel writer, Luke, tells us that after the angel told the shepherds that Jesus, our Savior was born in Bethlehem, there was “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

The sound of that massive choir filled all the heavens and the earth and penetrated all of creation.  You can’t suppose for a moment that the angels were whispering those praises. No! They were shouting for joy, because God’s Son had come to earth.

Think of those humble shepherds.  The word says that, after they had seen the Christ Child, they were filled with joy going through town sharing with everyone the things that had been told them, and the things they had seen concerning the child.  

“Guess what, “they must have shouted.  “We have seen the Savior, who was so long promised to us.”

Their joy was contagious, for the people who heard it marveled at their message.

The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.  There was no whispering among this bunch.

Of course, we must consider Mary, that teen-age mother.  Luke says that “…Mary kept all these things (The angel’s song, the shepherds’ visit, and the birth of this promised child) and pondered them in her heart.”  It must have been difficult to put everything together, but looking into the face of her newborn son, she knew he was no ordinary child.  He was the promised Son of God. Cradling that tiny, precious bundle close to her heart, she mingled her voice with those of the angels and shepherds singing a lullaby of worship to her baby, the Son of God.

The Wise men didn’t show up until Jesus was a toddler, but Matthew 2:10, 11 tells us “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy…and when they saw the young child…they fell down and worshiped him…” adding their voices to the sounds of Christmas.

Why is it we have no trouble screaming and jumping up and down for a football star? Why is it we are so excited about winning a pickup truck on “The Price is Right, but we hesitate to lift our voices in praise to the Savior of the world?

Come on, friends!  Go to it! Deck the Halls, shop ‘til you drop, bake the cookies, enjoy the parties, and eat yourself into oblivion, but sometime, during all the festivities, find time to lift your heart and blend your voice with the sounds of Christmas praising God for His unspeakable gift—His gift swaddled in the Christmas wrappings of divine grace and offered freely and personally to every individual.

“O, COME LET US ADORE HIM!”

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

INDEPENDENCE—BANE OR BLESSING

INDEPENDENCE—BANE OR BLESSING

If the truth be told, I have enjoyed (that may not be the right word) more independence in my nearly 84 years than I ever bargained for.

Being alone was not my first choice.  I fretted about my situation for a good long time, but when I finally got used to the idea, I must admit that I rather enjoyed my freedom.  Oh, there were times, of course, when I longed for someone who would miss me when I was gone, and be anxiously awaiting me when I returned. It would have been nice to have someone close to help with decisions, or tell me when I was headed in the wrong direction.  Occasionally I needed someone to change a light bulb or take care of the car, but for the most part I was good at being alone. There were times when I even felt a little smug realizing that I could handle business and finances much better than many of my married friends.  Some of them had never even paid a bill. 

That was my life for seventy-six years.  I learned to prize my independence, and the thought of giving it up left me troubled and sleepless for nights on end.

At the age of seventy-six, Sweet Cecil showed up.  We had been friends for more than twenty years. He was recently widowed and lonely, and things between us became serious very quickly.  It wasn’t long before he was declaring his love for me. Though I was flattered, I was also terrified. How could I give up my independence?  I came and went as I chose. I lived the way I wanted. My schedule was mine to arrange. I was accountable first to God, then to my church leaders.  That was it. At this late juncture, I wasn’t looking for a man. I had done quite well on my own.

My emotions ran rampant.  I was excited…fearful…hopeful…pessimistic.  I was determined I could not do this: yet, like the proverbial moth, I was drawn helplessly, hypnotically toward the flame.  How could I, after all these years, make room for another person in my life? How could I share my space, my stuff, my bed, and be accountable to someone else twenty-four hours a day? 

I gave up my independence on February 9, 2013, and found the other half of me learning that independence was never what it was cracked up to be.  I don’t remember feeling like I had given up anything. I found someone with whom I could share my stuff, my time, and me, someone who was happy when I was there and sad when I was gone, and someone who even replaced light bulbs and serviced the car.  I discovered that independence certainly has its deficits.

After five months and eleven days, God took Cecil home, and it seemed I was back to square one.  Alone again! Independent again, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been.

I often hear of young people who cannot wait until they are old enough to leave home.  They are tired of living according to someone else’s rules. They are chomping at the bit to get out into this wide, wide world that promises so much and gives so little.  These kids yearn for independence wanting to live as they please making their own rules. This venture into the vast unknown is very often a rude awakening, for reality is not nearly as engaging as the anticipation.

Of course, everyone must grow up, and independence is important.  Feeling that you know what you are doing, that you are in control and can take care of yourself is very empowering.  Yet, if you are a human being, you are always going to need someone—someone to love you, to support you, and affirm you, someone to turn to, when the going gets rough.  It’s worth forfeiting some independence for that kind of gain.

Actually, I gave up my independence many years before Cecil ever came into my life, when as a child, I knelt at an altar and gave my heart and life to Christ.  

Oh, yes, I grew up to be strong and decisive, able to take care of myself.  In the eyes of the world I was alone and independent, but God and I knew differently, for never once in all those years was I alone.  He was always there to love, to comfort, to guide, to advise, to correct, and to bind up wounds. For, on those occasions, when I insisted on having my own way, there were always scrapes and bruises.  I learned that God’s way is always the best.

In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Psalms 16:11 tells us, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

This is the best advice you will ever receive.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!