Posted in Christmas, Family, forgiveness, Grace, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Miss Scarlet

For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

I had to do a double take.  When Faith, my oldest granddaughter, was only three, she started a Christmas family tradition, and it all began with her playing with our nativity set.  First, the family nativity set was purchased way back when we had two daughters when they were three and four years old.  Each year we would go to the attic and bring down the Christmas decorations.  And there, in its original box, now tattered by the years, sat the nativity set. We bought it from Sears and Roebuck for about thirty dollars and trust me back then, that was a lot of money.  Through the years the angel lost his or her wings several times and more than one head was knocked off.  Always, a little glue fixed the injury…at least more or less.

As the years passed and the injured players grew in number, let’s say we were just a little less careful with the old nativity set. When Faith came along it was just natural that she wanted to play with the nativity set and that was fine.  Now for part two.  Being from the South and loving history, somewhere, somehow, we ended up with an ornament of Scarlet O’Hara from the movie “Gone with the Wind.”  She was dressed in a curvy, clingy red dress that probably went a little too far south in the front.  Well, each year she ended up on the Christmas tree.  And then it happened.

That year, probably around 2003 or 2004, Faith was playing with the nativity set and somehow or another she spied Miss Scarlet on the tree.  She simply saw it as another member of the cast.  So, she took Scarlet off the tree and as she played, she included her in the cast of characters.  When she was done, she just let Miss Scarlet stay in their midst.  There was Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Three Wise Men, the Innkeeper (I’m not sure why he was invited), and a shepherd boy, along with several barnyard friends and standing right in the middle was Scarlet.

Well, sometime later I was walking by and happened to glance at the nativity set.  I went down the checklist to make sure everyone was there and then I spotted her.  There was Miss Scarlet curvy, clingy dress and all. My first thought was, “What in the world is Miss Scarlet doing in Bethlehem?  What is a girl like her doing with Jesus?”  I was just about to remove her when it occurred to me.  I realized that if anyone was supposed to be there it was Miss Scarlet.  I realized that she was the whole point of the story.  Jesus came for people who had messed up in life. People who had made mistakes, people like her, like me and like you. That is why Jesus came in the first place.  He knew that the religious elite wouldn’t give Him the time of day.  But the ordinary, broken people…well, they got it.

So, Miss Scarlet stayed and for the past 16 or 17 years, I still go to the attic and get the decorations down. I still find the old, tattered box and bring it down too.  I carefully unpack the cast of that night in Bethlehem and there among the characters is Miss Scarlet.  Each year, I make sure she was a prominent spot in the nativity and each year that reminds me that she is what Christmas is all about.

You see, the Bible tells us that God loved the world so much that He gave His Son, His only Son to be born into a broken world. He did it because He loved us so much and amazingly, He said if we would believe in Him, put our trust in Him, we could call Him Father, our Dearest Daddy.  He also promised that every Christmas for forever we could be with Him.  Amazing.

I am so grateful that Faith taught me an important lesson that Christmas season so many years ago.  It is one of my favorite stories and one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  And each year, Miss Scarlet reminds me that broken people are always welcomed home for Christmas into God’s loving arms.  He doesn’t care if we are dark or light skinned, rich or poor, or part of the social elite or socially broken.  He just loves us and that is amazing.

So, this Christmas season, if you have a nativity set or even if you don’t, remember the story about how Miss Scarlet got invited into the story and that you are, too.  Especially this Christmas when things are so crazy, why not find yourself right there in the cast of characters, resting right next to Baby Jesus.  Mary and Joseph and Miss Scarlet would remind you that one thing is sure…He’s got this.

Posted in Christmas, gratitude, life, loving others, missions, prayer, priorities, Scripture, thankful, travel

Chilled to the Bone

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

If it wasn’t the coldest night of my life…it was close.  Back in 2008 we began a journey of doing mission work in West Africa.  While I had traveled to several, and some would say many, countries nothing compared to West Africa.  Even a trip to the third world part of Bulgaria with the Roma people couldn’t compare.  When we arrived in Niamey, Niger late one night, I thought I and my teammates had landed on the far side of the moon.  It was that different. Rarely am I had a loss for words, but that trip like no other caused me to appreciate my home country but also the people and places on a continent called Africa.

Niger is in what is called Sub-Saharan Africa.  The Sahara Desert is a stone’s throw from Niger’s capital city.  After we had taken a day to acclimate, we headed north into the desert to a small town literally in the middle of nowhere.  We were visiting with a couple of single guys who were living there and doing some work with the local people.  The goal was to share with the people about someone many of them had never heard about.  That someone was Jesus.  We were really limited to what we could do, but we did prayer walking and would try and talk with some of the folks through an interpreter.  It was incredible.

On the eight-hour drive into the desert (and keep in mind we flew for hours and hours to even get to Niger) our missionary casually mentioned that we would need to buy some blankets because it was likely to be cold at night.  I laughed.  If you are like me you think Africa and the Sahara and then you think hot, dry and then hot again.  I told her I doubted very seriously that I would get cold.  She just smiled.  Late in the afternoon we arrived at Tchin-Tabaraden.  In case you are wondering I am pretty sure we could see the end of the world just outside of town. Smile.

We had a great time talking with the two guys that lived there and before long it was time to set up our sleeping arrangements.  We were going to sleep out in the courtyard.  There was a small house, but we chose to sleep under the stars.  We set our cots up and each one of us had a blanket.  I was sure I wouldn’t need mine, but being the team player I hung on to it.  Before long, it was dark…really dark.  There was no running water and no electricity.  After a while we decided it was time to settle down for our long winter’s nap.  It seemed just a bit cooler.

Soon the stars were simply brilliant. I am sure there are places in America without light pollution that really shows off the stars.  With that said, there is simply nothing as beautiful as the stars above Africa.  Then, slowly a huge full moon came up over the horizon. If you can imagine it, it was almost too bright to sleep, and I am not kidding. Then it happened.

It?  What was it?  It was the desert cold.  Slowly, almost without warning, the dry “winter” air settled in.  In just a few minutes I had spread the blanket lightly over me.  In another few minutes, I had tucked the blanket around me.  A little later I was trying to figure out how to put the blanket under me and over me.  Apparently, there was too much of me and too little blanket.  Then, well then, I just got bone chilling, you’ve got to be kidding me, am I really in Africa, COLD.  Let me just say, I spent a large part of that night wishing for daylight.  Oh, how I couldn’t wait to see my old friend the sun.  It was the coldest night I have ever spent.

Finally, at about the 4:30 in the morning the mosque right across the street began the first call of prayer for the day.  Of course, I had long beaten them to the punch.  I had been praying since about midnight for the sun to come up.  I figured if Joshua could pray for the sun to stand still, maybe I could pull off it coming up early.  Nope.  When the sun did come up and began to warm the compound, the first thing I did was apologize to the missionary for doubting her forecast of a chilly night.

Ironically, that wasn’t quite the end of the story.  For our second night at the compound, we decided we would cram into the little house where certainly it would at least be warmer.  Well, the joke was on us.  Just like that, the weather turned and that night in the little house, no one used a blanket.  In fact…it was downright warm…too warm. After the freezing night and then the too warm night, back-to-back, you might be wondering would I go back?  Well, the answer is absolutely.  Over the years, it has been my privilege to return time and again and each time the blessings far outweigh the hardships. No contest. I long for the day when my feet will be on African soil once again, sharing the Good News.

We have made wonderful friendships, experienced many diversified cultures, and seen countless people come to know Christ as Savior.  We have seen more than a few miracles and watched as God changed lives—most notably the fair skinned men and women from America.  I am sure it is impossible to go on a trip like this and not be changed.  It has a tendency to put things like we have experienced recently in perspective.  We whine because bathroom tissue is out of stock.  Go to West Africa…they don’t even have bathrooms.  Smile.

Well, there you go. As we enter this most wonderful time of the year, be sure and be thankful for all the blessings you have.  Paul, a guy who wrote a bunch of the New Testament in the Bible said, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” That’s right, Paul. You see, many of those people who lived in Tchin-Tabaraden didn’t face one cold night, or warm night, they experienced them all and without a blanket or the air conditioning humming quietly.  We are indeed blessed. The old hymn says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.”  That is good advice and there is nothing like a trip to a third-world country to help you do it.  I am grateful that we never travel alone.  Our Dearest Daddy goes with us each time.  He provides rest in the midst of restless nights and no matter the obstacle or hardship, we know, “He’s got this.”

Posted in Christmas, Family, fear, gratitude, Holidays, life, loving others, Scripture, Southern born, thankful

Wish Book

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9

Maria had it right.  One of my favorite movies is the Sound of Music.  In the movie,  the kids are scared to death and Maria says that when she is afraid she thinks about some of her favorite things.  Her list, though different from mine, was pretty impressive.  It was a different time and a different country, but I could still identify with several things.  Remember her list? It had things like raindrops on roses; whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; brown paper packages tied up with strings; cream-colored ponies and finally something I really like—crisp apple strudel. Like I said, a different time and different place.

But she was right—when the dog bit, when the bee stung, or when she was feeling sad, she simply remembered a few of her favorite things. Which brings me to one of my favorite things and like her list—this favorite thing is gone.  The world when I was growing up was so different from today.  No cell phones, no internet, no cable television, or satellite television—it was a smaller world.  Things moved slower, more gently.  The saying, “You are slower than Christmas” was born in those days.  It seemed like Christmas simply took forever to come around.  Christmas was a time for wishing…a time for dreaming…about favorite things.

There were several big department stores back then.  Names like Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney’s, and Spiegel were as common as Walmart is today.  If you lived in a larger city, you could actually go to the big stores. If you didn’t, every Christmas, the store would come to you.  It was called the Christmas Wish Book and every one of the big stores had one.  It would arrive late in the fall and was well over an inch thick and everything you could imagine, or wish for, was there in full living color.  I really can’t describe what it was like when this dream-world arrived in our mailbox.

I would sit down and slowly go through the pages and pages of the toy section.  It was amazing.  Eventually I might make it through the other stuff, but it was the bright shiny toys that really caught my eye.  Some things were so amazing they were beyond my ability to even wish for.  But I would go through the pages and slowly make a list of my favorite toys…my favorite things.  Sometimes I sent the list directly to Santa, but I also dropped hints to his secret agents—Mama and Daddy.  This one thing I know.  Christmas morning never grew old.  I couldn’t wait to see what dream or what wish had come true.

When the Wish Book came, I knew that everything I wished for wouldn’t happen, but it was the Wish Book that kept the magic, the hope of Christmas alive.  It was the list of favorite things that made my small world on the corner of Carlton and Wheat Roads seem bigger, more hopeful.  Sadly, now with the exception of a smaller version of Penney’s, those stores are gone—victims of online shopping.  And with them the Wish Book disappeared.  I can still remember when it made the news that Sears and Roebuck was going to discontinue their Christmas Wish Book. It was a favorite thing that all the websites in the world can’t replace.

But there is one Wish Book that just endures and endures—it is the ageless, timeless Word of God.  We call it the Bible. Now it is not a Wish Book like the stores put out.  It’s not a matter of flipping through the pages and making a list that God has to fulfill to prove He is God.  No, this Wish Book is much bigger and grander than that.  This Wish Book is a book of hope, a book of grace, a book of love.  In fact, it says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

From the beginning to the end, it tells one continuous story—God loves us enough to provide a way to bring His beloved human race back into relationship—to fellowship with Him.  The Wish Book from the stores was filled with toys and prices even Santa couldn’t afford.  But not God’s.  His greatest gift comes prepaid.  The price was the birth, (we call it Christmas), and death, (we call that Easter), of His Son.  And the best part—when He died, He didn’t stay dead.  And all we have to do is believe and trust in Him and He will give us the greatest gift ever—eternal life.

But wait—it doesn’t stop there.  Every page is not only filled with the hope of a future with Him—it is the promise of today, and tomorrow, filled with Him, too.  When we trust Him and believe—He promises that He will never, ever leave us.  Every day we can have the assurance that He will walk with us.  While that always meaningful, these days it is priceless.  In our turbulent, upside-down, uncertain world—He is rock steady.  He is good, He is faithful, and He can be trusted.

So, each fall I would patiently wait—ok, impatiently wait—for the Wish Book to come so I could dream of Christmas morning.  Well, the wait is over, and the dream is past.  Why not spend sometime today in the Wish Book of Wish Books—the Bible?  Be assured and warmed by the promises of His love and peace.  Be assured of the fact that we can rest knowing that an uncertain future is in the hands of a certain God.  Be assured that no matter what, we know that He’s got this.