Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Of the many friends God has placed in my life, few have given me as much joy and laughter as Charlene Ward. She and her husband, Billy, have become not only friends, but co-workers in Christ as well. We have shared many church services together, shopped together, shared meals together, and, have laughed and cried on each other's shoulder. She is a dear soul, an inspiration, and a true lover of Christ.
I met Charlene in 2007. I had just moved to North Carolina and was missing my family so dreadfully. She sort of "mothered" me (even though she is four years younger than I), cheering me up, and making me feel that I was part of her family. I will always be grateful to her for her attentiveness and her loving concern for someone that, at that time, she hardly knew. But then, that's how Charlene is---she loves you from the moment she meets you. She has become one of the dearest friends I have ever known.
Almost three years ago, Charlene was diagnosed with colon cancer. As devastating as that diagnosis was, she has never once lost her faith. In the midst of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she would visit our church, always with words of encouragement and faith. She referred to the scriptures often, always looking for the promises of God regarding healing and deliverance. Not one time have I ever heard her voice doubt or unbelief about God's healing power. I have never heard her become despondent or low in spirit but, rather, she reflects in every conversation her faith and trust in the God she serves. Her husband, Billy, calls her "Charla Darla". He would sometimes say to me during this time, "Pray for my Charla Darla". I prayed, oh, how I prayed.
Recently, Charlene was told that she had developed tumors in her brain. Radiation began almost immediately and she has suffered the side effects of loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, and severe pain. She came to our Christmas banquet this year---she and her husband and I shared the table with our pastor and his wife, Mike and Susan. We all enjoyed each other's company and, even though she was weak and unable to mingle like she usually does, her smile was intact, her words were uplifting, and her faith in God unwavering. I looked at her and thought to myself, "I love my friend so very much. I cannot imagine life without her.". She is such an inspiration to me and I know she is to many others as well.
So, I continue to pray for my friend. I pray for her strength, her spirit, and her endurance, as well as for her healing. I am asking God for the miracle I know He is able to perform. As I pray for my friend, I am also praying for my own faith. It is difficult to see those we love suffer and not understand the "why". Several years ago, when family members were enduring horrendous suffering, I sought God regarding the purpose of such testing in the lives of the faithful. The answer came to me in this way: there are times when God gets a greater glory out of the faith birthed during adversity than any other time. In the midst of suffering and trial, faith becomes refined, polished, and reflective of God Himself. It is also during this time that we draw closer to God out of sheer necessity---we must be as close to the God of all comfort as possible when we are at our lowest in life. If this is the case, then my friend is surely as close to our Father-God as one can get in this earthly existence.
Please join me in keeping Charlene in prayer. She is a bright spot in the lives of all those who love her and she is a glorious reflection of faith in the midst of adversity. I know God is able to do whatever I can believe Him for---and I do believe Him for healing for my friend. Would you believe with me? Believe with me for "Charla Darla". Pray with me for my friend.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I have sung the beloved Christmas hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful", since I was a child. I remember singing it in numerous school productions and, of course, every year in our church Christmas pageant or play. It is a song I love and it is my favorite of the traditional Christmas carols.
This year, though, I found myself reflecting on the words used in its composition, specifically the word "faithful". Why would the author of this song choose this particular term in his invitation to come and adore the Saviour? I mean, Jesus was a newborn babe in a manger with hardly any time at all for anyone to become faithful to Him. At least, not in the way I perceived becoming faithful. How could one become faithful to a person or a cause that had not yet been truly revealed or studied? I found my answer in two Biblical passages.
The prophecy of Isaiah became my part one of the answer to my quest. I remembered the beautiful words of Isaiah 7:14,
"Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive; and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
In studying the definition of the word faithful, I learned that it is defined as something that is , "worthy of trust or belief", and, "consistent with fact". The above passage in Isaiah, beautiful as it is, was only a prophecy---only words from the pen of a holy man. Only words---until they were believed.
The children of Israel did not take these words lightly. They did, indeed, consider them worthy of trust, for they came from a prophet of God. Because of their belief, the words of the prophet became worthy of their trust. Since the prophecy was deemed faithful, those who believed were also deemed faithful.
My second passage came from the glorious description of the Jesus' birth in Luke 2:10-12,
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
The prophecy of Isaiah had come to pass. According to the definition of faithful, the prophecy had become consistent with fact. The birth of Jesus was foretold and, now, it had become a reality. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, delivered of a virgin mother. No wonder angels filled the sky and Heaven's light flooded the earth. The Prince of Heaven had descended to earth to fulfill His Father's plan.
From the moment of His birth, the faithful came. Those with loyal hearts to the words of the prophet, those who believed He was sent from God, those who could not explain the miraculous events surrounding His birth by any other means, these were the faithful. And they came for one reason---they came to adore Him.
Oh, how grateful I am to be one of the faithful. How I treasure the assurance I have in my heart that this tiny baby boy was, indeed, the Messiah. How grateful I am to know in my heart that He is Christ, the Lord. He is worthy of all my praise---all my honor---all the glory I can give to Him. Oh, how I love my Jesus, the Lord of my heart.
No longer does the manger exist where He laid His baby head. The shepherds who heard the angels sing have long since been laid to rest. Oh, but the story I can read, the words I can hide in my heart, and, yes, I can still adore Him---and I do.
The composer of my favorite Christmas hymn had an insight into the story of His birth. Only the faithful---only those who believe in Him---only those who trust Him---only these can truly adore Him. I have found myself wanting to adore Him more each day. His birth has given me the opportunity to spend eternity in His presence, in true joy and peace.
May we all come to truly realize that the babe in the manger was not just a babe. He was the fulfillment of the promise, the long awaited King, He was Christ, the Lord. I give Him all the glory. I remain one of the faithful---and I am still coming to adore Him.
Friday, December 10, 2010
One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and I love the way Elvis sang it (I happen to be a BIG Elvis fan). I never really understood the meaning behind the song, though, until I relocated and had to spend a couple holidays away from my family. Christmas is the holiday that draws everyone's attention to family and home. No matter where you may be, or what may prevent you from traveling home, when the big day arrives, home is still the place you want to be.
For me, there is the security of being with Mother and Daddy and knowing that, no matter what, their presence in my life remains the greatest gift. Then, of course, there is the time spent with my brothers, Dan and Dwight. Remembering them as children and now, seeing the men they have become, brings a sense of belonging to my heart. Most of all, being with my son, John, brings the biggest smile to my face. God blessed my life the day my son was born and he has remained a blessing to me his entire life. Oh, how I will miss being with them all this year. Fortunately, my beautiful daughter, Lisa, and her family live close to me and I will be seeing their smiling faces this Christmas. Lisa has been such a strength to me and has blessed me in so many ways---I love her so much. Of course, having my little grandsons close by makes the holiday a sheer pleasure. Still, I wish we all could be together at Mother and Daddy's on Christmas Eve.
I was watching one of the renditions of "A Christmas Carol" earlier in the week. It made me think of how memories are made. Each and every day that passes by, we make a series of memories. In difficult times, the good memories serve to sustain us, comfort us, and bring us joy. Though not all memories are pleasant, those that are remind us of just how rich and full life can be. At this time of year, I am reminded of my two brothers who have passed and how much they both loved Christmas. The memories I have of them and their love for the holidays always bring a smile to my face. I wouldn't trade my memories of Don and David for any present under the tree.
The beautiful words to this song say exactly what I am feeling this Christmas season. I suppose the author was away from home and longed to be there for all the festivities---just like me.
I'll be home for Christmas,
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents for the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light leads.
I'll be home for Christmas, oh yes
If only in my dreams.
I suppose the only way I will be going home this year is in my dreams. When I dream of Christmas, it is Daddy's deep voice and boisterous laugh that I will yearn for. I will crave Mother's warm hug, her delicious Christmas treats, and her beautiful smile. I will be wishing for a bear hug from each of my brothers and longing to hear my son say, "Hello, Mom". I will be hearing them all laughing and talking at the same time as we stuff ourselves at Mother's buffet table. Oh, how I want to go home for Christmas.
Christmas Eve this year will find me carrying on the traditions my dear, sweet Mother started when we were all young children at home. I will prepare the buffet table with treats from Mother's recipes. I will have the gifts wrapped and under the tree, the stockings filled with goodies for the grandchildren, and the CDs of Elvis and Josh Groban singing the songs of the season. My son-in-law, Mark, will read the Christmas story from the Bible and we will all be laughing and talking at the same time---just like we did years ago.
So, if dreams are the only way I can go home for Christmas this year, then so be it. When all the festivities are over, and I lay my head on my pillow on Christmas Eve, for a brief moment, before I drift off to sleep, I'll be home for Christmas. I'll be home---if only in my dreams.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
But, for me this year, Christmas holds a newer perspective. My mind is not totally focused on the manger scene, the angel's song, or the gifts of the wise men. I am singing the songs of the season but I am adding one this year that takes the birth of our precious Lord a little further. You see, I am thinking of how He came to this earth, a tiny baby who seemed insignificant and unimportant. I am thinking of how the baby became a man---a man who would be persecuted beyond belief, tortured for hours on a wooden frame, mocked and despised by those He loved, and whose death would bring redemption from a bondage called sin. Yes, He came, but not just as a baby. He came as a Redeemer. He came to the world. He came to me.
While traveling to my pastor's home yesterday for a social gathering with his wife and daughters, I began to sing a song I had not sung in years. I prayed as I sang, thanking God for moving in some situations recently that had caused me some concern. At one point I said these words, "I thank you, God, that you came to me.". A flood of emotions swept over me as I heard His words in my spirit, "Yes, I came to you. I came to you when you were fallen and lifted you up. I came to you when you cried and wiped away your tears. I came to you when all hope was lost and showed you how to believe. I came to you when no one else would come. When all who heard your cry of despair refused to come, I came to you. I will always come to you---always.".
I could not stop the praises from spilling forth. He came to me. I could not stop the joy. He came to me. "When I could not come to where He was, He came to me.". The words of the song mingled with the praise of my heart---just to think, He came to me. Read these beautiful words to the chorus of this song:
"He came to me. He came to me.
When I could not come to where He was,
He came to me.
That's why He died on Calvary.
When I could not come to where He was,
He came to me."
It's true, He came to the world as a baby. It's true, He gave His life for the sins of the world. As a tiny baby, born on a day we call Christmas, He was heralded by angels and admired by shepherds from the fields. He lay in fresh hay in a manger stall and a star told His location. As a man, He gave His life in exchange for ours. Oh, but as a Saviour, He excels. As prince of peace, there is no competition. As tender shepherd, He is the best. When I need Him, He is my champion---my hero---my protector.
Of course I will celebrate Christmas with my family and friends this year. I will make new memories and cherish the old ones. But, I will not be thinking of Jesus as the manger babe. I will be thinking of how He came, not to the world, but to me. I will be thinking that, when I could not come to where He was, He came to me.