Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homespun Faith

On special occasions we trek deep into the mountains of West Virginia for family gatherings, which is exactly what we did for Christmas. I love the rustic appeal of the small town where I grew up, one so unpretentious that its charm is not obvious to outsiders. I also take comfort in being with people who have known me all my life.

Unlike the people who come at me in later life to remind me that I’m not meeting their expectations, the people who knew me when always make me feel like I’m exceeding theirs. They put their arms around me and wrap me in unconditional acceptance. I expect the welcome of heaven to be something like that.

I listen as my 89-year-old uncle asks God’s blessing on our Christmas dinner, enjoying the rich inflection of what we claim as a hillbilly upbringing. Soon I focus less on the soothing sound of his voice than on his words. “Thank you for Jesus,” he says, praising God, not with the feebleness of an octogenarian but the strength of a man who still walks with Him. His language is eloquent in its simplicity and all the more powerful because it is softly spoken. My great-uncle is leading us in worship, homespun, the way faith is meant to be lived. I am reminded that, like charity and everything else significant in life, praising God begins at home.

My uncle puts his arm around me as we take our place in the serving line. “I am glad to see you,” he whispers in my ear. “You are one of my favorite people.” I suspect he says that to all his girls. It feels good to hear it.

“Thank you for your beautiful prayer,” I whisper back, wishing everyone has family who helps you humbly praise God. But for those who don’t have the benefit of this great blessing, we have church.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Peace and Good Will to All

I walked through the mall, intent on purchasing my first Christmas present of the season. Christmas was a week away, and I was way behind in my preparations. To be honest, it was a challenge to consider the gifts of Christmas when I was so busy dwelling on what was missing.

Instead of reconciliations, it had become something of a Christmas tradition in my life for relationships to splinter at this time of year, painfully, and, to my way of thinking, unnecessarily. Lately I had felt the void of what God promised Christ would bring, peace and good will, acutely.

"Kima!" A woman jumped out from behind a vendor's cart in the middle of the mall and thrust herself in my path. Hidden from my view, she could have escaped my notice. But she made sure that didn't happen.

It had been several months since we saw each other, and we spent a few minutes catching up. "I think of you often," she said.

"I was thinking about you just yesterday," I replied. Curiously, this was true. Yet I have come to understand this is how God works. He brings someone to mind for purposes of His own. In this case, perhaps it was because this woman and I were destined to meet, and it was God's way of prompting me to pay attention when it happened.

"I've still got you on my speed dial," she continued. I nodded. I was ready to move on, to continue my shopping and my silent heartache. But she wasn't ready to let me.

She dug in her purse and fished out her phone, scrolling through her contact list until she found my name. "There you are are," she said triumphantly, holding the phone up for my inspection. Then she held my gaze.

There I was. And there, in her phone and in her eyes, was the promise of Christmas. This woman had first called me as a parent reaching out on behalf of her child. It was a connection she had not forgotten, nor one she was prepared to sever. While I mourned how easily people abandoned relationships, she was declaring her intention to hang on.

The true gift of Christmas always comes in humble wrappings. The first Christmas took place in a raw stable and a crude manger. This year it came to me wrapped in a cell phone and woman who extended her good will, for no good reason.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." ~ Luke 2:14

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Morning Mercies

On the morning the temperatures dropped to usher in Ohio's first blast of Arctic air, I stopped at the gas station on my way to work. I like first-thing treks to the gas station. I enjoy rubbing shoulders with people intent on fulfilling their purposes while the air is crisp and the day still untouched.

On this morning, however, the snow was blowing, and the wind had an knife edge as I stepped inside the brightly lit convenience store for a 64-ounce of my morning cup--Diet Coke, my drink of choice. The clerk was singing out loud with the radio. I didn't recognize the song, but his serenade welcomed me.

"I'm hoping it snows four feet," he said cheerfully as I paid for the Diet Coke. "Snow boarding." His smile warmed.

I put on my sunglasses as I went back to my car, wondering if it would help someone else if I sang aloud. I doubted that, but the mercy of an enthusiastic clerk on a cold winter morning is no small thing. His smile I would pass along.

Because of the Lord's great compassions we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness~Lamentations 3:22-23