Christmas

Christmas has always been a special season for me. My mom used to buy Christmas gifts all year and squirrel them away. Each year she selected one gift to be the gift. It was for only one of us, but we were all excited about what that gift would be and whose it would be. We woke up Christmas morning with a tree that was decorated over night and surrounded by gifts. We took turns opening the gifts one at a time so everyone could enjoy the thrill of seeing what each one got. Then the moment would come for the gift to be given and opened. It was always perfect! We all celebrated!

Christmas was about giving. We always found some way to make someone less fortunate than us happy too. A few years, we went to an orphanage and brought Jean home to share our Christmas. We each bought her a gift from our allowance and we tried to make her feel like a queen for the day. Some years we bought gifts, wrapped them, and took them to some family who lived in the poor part of our community. We always took food, as well as gifts.

Most of all, I remember the Advent Wreath and how the story of the first Christmas came alive to us little by little through the month before Christmas.

When we first came to Malaysia in the early ’80s, there was not much mention of Christmas outside of the churches and homes of the Christians. We didn’t expect it to be celebrated much since the majority of the population were not Christians.

Over the years we’ve watched with sadness the move in America away from Christmas. It became politically correct to say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” After all, we were told, there are other holidays around this time and we shouldn’t make anyone feel bad. There is Hanuka and even the new holiday, Kwanza. But then, to avoid all the religions, why not call it, “Winter Holiday.”

It made me sad, but then, I’m not sure anyone outside the Christian community actually understands what we are celebrating. So I was a little sad, but not surprised.

So when were moved back to Malaysia in 2005, we were really surprised to hear Christmas carols, not just winter holiday songs, being played over the P.A. in a major department store! We  turned a corner and there it was! A huge section of the store was filled with trees and all kinds of Christmas decorations and music! It was like going back to my childhood memories of the stores before Christmas.

We have noticed over our recent years here that everyone celebrates all the holidays. Of course we don’t all understand all about each of the holidays, but we all greet each other with the appropriate greeting of the season. Rarely during the weeks before Christmas do the clerks neglect to say, “Merry Christmas” to us. Muslims, Buddhists, free-thinkers, and atheists seem to have no trouble reminding us of our holiday and receiving our greeting in return. We don’t expect them to convert and they aren’t afraid of offending.

But this year, I’ve been surprised again!

The fourth largest mall in the world has chosen for its theme, “It’s Christmas. . .Believe!”

Its Chistmas Believe

Of course, it doesn’t tell us what to believe. But I think if the same theme were used by any mall in America, they would be overwhelmed by law suits from those who think they should be the ones to tell us what we are allowed to believe.

I am happy to be celebrating Christmas where I don’t have to be afraid to say, “Merry Christmas!”

P.S. Preparing this post, I researched the largest malls in the world. See: The 25 Largest Malls in the World. Be prepared for a surprise!

A Widow’s Story

Irene is a lovely, friendly, thoughtful woman. She is always willing to lend a hand and is a faithful intercessor for those who ask for prayer. We’ve talked occasionally over the last few years, but I never knew her story until recently.

When Irene and her husband married, they were church attenders, but had no real faith. From early in their marriage her husband was abusive, but she had been raised that when you chose to marry, you stayed married- ‘you made your bed, you sleep in it.’ He was an alcoholic and she was beaten, but Irene never considered leaving her husband.

She and her husband continued to attend church on Sundays. A friend invited her to attend another church with her, so she went with her friend on Sunday evenings. This friend not only took her to church, but shared books with her. Over time she began to seek a personal relationship with Jesus. One day, all by herself, she prayed and gave her life to Jesus and asked Him to be her Savior.

Irene went to some special meetings by a woman evangelist. This woman talked about her own marriage to an unbelieving husband. She said she treated him as though he were a believer. She quoted Romans 5:5 and the phrase, ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ stuck in Irene’s heart.

She began to see that if God poured His love into her heart, she should do the same to her husband. She made the decision to love him and she told him that she loved him and began to try to show her love through her actions.

Ephesians 5:33 in the Amplified Bible told her how to love her husband. It says, “…and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband—that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly.”

And Ephesians 4:31 and 32, in the Amplified Bible showed her what changes God wanted for her. “Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarreling (brawling, clamor, contention) and slander (evil speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill will or baseness of any kind). And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another  [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you.”

That was a tall order for her, but she made the decision to live this way with her husband. Instead of praying for God to change her husband, she was praying that God would help her become the kind of person she was supposed to be.

As these changes happened in Irene, her husband noticed the difference and began to treat her better too.

She continued to go to church with her friend and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. One time after that her husband raised his hand to hit her and she merely looked directly at him and said, “Don’t you dare.” He lowered his hand and never again hit her.

She prayed for her husband to be saved and bought him a Bible with his name inscribed on it. It was many years later that he watched a TV show and told her when she came home that he had ‘prayed the prayer.’ She went and got the Bible she had been saving for him.

His life also changed after salvation, but he never was able to overcome his alcoholism.  But he died a believer in Jesus.

Knowing Irene now, I never would have dreamed that she had been abused or that it took the grace and work of God in her life to turn her from such bitterness and anger. She humbly shared her story, not to be patted on the back for being a good wife in a bad marriage. But she shared her story so that other women in similarly bad marriages could know what God can do in them and through them in their families.

War Vet

After service at a small country church, Bill, an 82 year old man, greeted us. We had never met before. When we told him we spend more time overseas than in the US, he said he had seen the world. He served during the Korean War for eight years, and then was out for about the same length of time. Later he served in the Army Reserves. Though we think of the reserves as a home assignment, the Army chose to make Bill an almost permanent traveler.

We told him my dad had served in WWII and told us very little about his time in the army. We didn’t know until a few years ago that Dad  was a decorated veteran with three bronze stars and a silver star to his credit. We had never heard how he earned them, and Dad never displayed them. It was as though those incidents were too poignant for words.Dad's Awards

This gentleman said, “There are things in the past you would gladly do again, but there others you would never care to repeat.” ‘

He went on to tell us the one thing he regrets the most from his many years in service. While in Guatemala they were told to only carry the money they were going to spend when they went off base. After being out with his buddies he saw a very sick looking boy. He asked the interpreter what was wrong with this child. He was told that the boy’s mother had taken him to a doctor but didn’t have enough money for his medicine. Bill reached in his pocket and all that  was left was 25 cents. His eyes glistened even as he told this story.

For a moment, imagine you were talking to the good Samaritan that Jesus told about, like we talked to Bill today. Don’t you think he would be glad he crossed the road that day? Don’t you think he would be glad he was able to help the injured man? Don’t you think he would be so glad he had the resources to help him? There are things in life we cannot do and we regret, and there are other things we can do and the memory brings us joy the rest of our life.

May your life be filled with joy with very few regrets.

Eclipsed

A fire engine and a tank truck screamed as they threaded their way through town. We watched, like everyone else, and wondered what emergency they were going to help.

The day dawned bright and beautiful after a rainy, windy night. What a day to take a drive! We were meandering through West Virginia to see the fall leaves at their peak. The gold and russet leaves shown against the blue sky with scattered puffy, white clouds. In the afternoon, after our snack, we headed back towards home.

We stopped at the first overlook we came to, hoping  for a  few more pictures of  leaves and sky. What we saw was not what we expected. At the end of the parking lot were the fire trucks we had seen rushing through town. The firemen were taking one last look and getting back in their trucks to return to their station.

There, in a huge puddle of water, sat the burned out hull of a Mitsubishi Eclipse. The air was still acrid with the smoke. We got out of our car and in hushed awe saw the total destruction of that car. I snapped a few pictures, just so I would know I hadn’t dreamed the awful scene.

Totaled Eclipse

A car pulled up with two young fellows inside. They called to us and we asked if they knew anything about the car and fire. The driver said, “My friend, here, just bought that car 20 minutes ago.” Then a rather timid and shaken boy said, “I lost it all! I paid a friend cash for that car. He told me it was smoking a bit, but it ran well.”

He was driving his newly bought car while his friend followed in his car. He saw some smoke wisps and decided to pull off at the overlook. He parked and got out to see what was happening. His buddy pulled up just as they saw little flames lick at the pavement. He jumped into his friend’s car and they drove to the other end of the parking lot and called 911. Before the fire trucks had arrived the whole car was engulfed in flames.

As they poured out their story, I said, “I hope you thank God for saving your life!” They assured me they did. They said they were so thankful they had stopped to see what was smoking.

Two shaken young men drove away from that scenic overlook. We were reminded of how important it is to pay attention to the nudges God gives us so our lives are not eclipsed before their time.

Gangsta?

We arrived at the Social Security Office 20 minutes early hoping to avoid a long line.  Only two young, African-American men were in line ahead of us. These two young men talked quietly with each other.

The first of the young men was quite over-weight, dressed in jeans, and a tee shirt. It was the other fellow who really caught my attention. He was tall, well-built and tattooed. He sported a sideways baseball cap and seemed unconcerned that his jeans  looked in imminent  danger of dropping off! He seemed restless and took a walk to the edge of the property to smoke.

When he returned, in a strong  voice he said, “Obama, who is he? Chicago, where’s that? Now Bush, he was good. He had the nerve (my word replacing his) to fight those who hurt us!”

I tried not to act as surprised as I was by his comments. Judging by his clothes, his manner, and my assumptions these were the most amazing comments this young man could have made.

More people joined our line, the door opened, and we all filed in.

We had to stop at a computer and push buttons to say why were were there, type in our social security number and answer some other questions.

The first fellow typed in his information, got his ticket, and went to sit down to wait. The second young man surprised me again when he stood before the machine, squinted, leaned down close, and said loudly, “Oh no, I forgot my glasses.”

My husband offered him his glasses which he accepted readily and said they helped some. When it got to the other questions, he answered, “Yes,” when asked if he was blind.

The last of the surprises was when he was told that he now owed the Social Security money since he has earned money that he had not reported, he was quiet and respectful with the agent.

This young man who looked the ‘gangsta’ type, turned out to be a polite, visually challenged, political conservative. I went away reminded to not judge by outward appearance and to pray that many more young, African-Americans become informed and willing to speak their minds and surprise a lot of other people.

Mr. Jones

A soft-spoken man stopped by our booth in McDonalds to offer us the newspaper he had finished reading. We looked up to see a casually dressed man who reminded us of Herman Cain. We thanked him and he walked on. A few minutes later he returned and we struck up a conversation.

Almost two hours later we said good bye to this intensely interesting man.

We learned that he is a professor at the local community college teaching Western Civilization. He told us that many of his students are not ready for college. They didn’t learn to study in high school and were not motivated to learn. Many are the younger siblings of high achieving brothers or sisters. Their grasp of basic history and their reading skills are poor. He uses a thick textbook with many beautifully colored pictures, not like the textbooks we had in our college. Using movies and lots of graphics seems to be the only way to keep their attention. Straight lecturing will not work any more.

The students want good grades yet don’t want to do the work for them. He fears how they will ever succeed in life. Some of their parents still maintain dreams of these students becoming doctors and lawyers or another Steve Jobs. Even the college administrators pressure the profs to pass as many students as possible. We could see his disappointment, yet he strives to find a way to pass on his passion to the next generation.

Our conversation meandered from the current debt ceiling crisis to Greco-Roman government and from his Baptist church in a nearby suburb to missions in villages in Nigeria. The Reformation and modern Islam were part of the discussion. He knew so many interesting details about historical figures and had taught the grandchildren and nieces and nephews of famous people.

I never thought of myself as a good history student. I have always felt that area of my education was lacking. Yet while he named people who changed the course of civilization and different periods of history and the flow of development and types of governments, I had hooks to hang new information on. I did not feel left out of the conversation, but rather enticed to learn more. I would love to hear him teach.

Two hours flew by and our lives were enriched by the encounter.

Thank you, Mr. Jones