This Christmas I never once got into the spirit of things. Christmas was just another day - like any other - except for the fact of all the food and the presents and the reading of the Christmas story. But I just never really "felt" anything. It's actually been like that pretty much for the past eight years since Mom passed away just after Thanksgiving. Dad keeps telling me that it will be different when I have my own family, but until then I just kind of go through the motions. I do try and remember and focus and am grateful for the true meaning of the season. The time that has been set aside to remember Christ's birth. And for that I am truly thankful.
In spite of the lack of feeling I have during this time of year, God has used this time of year to show me that the birth of Christ is also an amazing time for the rebirth of people I know. Although I didn't get into the season, I'm so glad the Spirit is part of this season.
In early December 1999, we had a memorial service for my mom at our house. We had just moved into the neighborhood about nine months earlier and hadn't had a significant time to really know our neighbors before mom got sick and eventually passed away. But we invited them and everyone we knew to the service. Dad and I had found every picture we could of Mom in all the photo albums, put them on poster boards, and hung them around the entire house. We wanted to give people a chance to see who Mom was in all of the areas and times of her life. It was really cool and gave people the chance to really see what kind of life she had lived.
We also had lots of food and drink and music playing. For the main part of the service, people were crammed into the living room and dining room and we stood in the foyer and spoke. Dad read a letter he had written as did I. We also had our pastor there to share some words and one of my mom's best friends played the guitar and led the group in a couple of praise and worship songs which was awesome. We also opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to share stories or reflections. It was such a joyous time of sharing life together. The cool thing is that a lot of our neighbors came as well and many of them were not Christians.
Fast forward one year to November 2000. Billy Graham came to Jacksonville for a week long crusade. I sang in the choir and it was a really cool time. A couple weeks later one of our neighbors was moving with his wife and son to the west coast of Florida. I saw the truck and went outside to wish them a safe move. The husband came up to me and started talking to me which was suprising because I had rarely talked to him. He said that he had been wanting to talk with my dad and I for a couple of weeks but never got the chance and since they were leaving that day he wanted to share something personal with me. I was a little unsure of what he was going to say, but I listened as he shared his story with me. He said that both his wife and mother were Christians but that he didn't take his faith very seriously or really think much about what it meant to be a Christian. He wasn't even one I don't think. He said that he and his wife had come to the memorial service the year before and during the service he said that he felt a presence, he felt something and that he had spent the past year looking for what that was. When the Billy Graham crusade came to town, he and his family went and he said that during that Crusade, he went forward and accepted Christ as his Savior. He said that he finally found what he had been looking for during the past year. I was of course blown away and so excited and humbled. I told him that the past year of grief and mourning and challenge was all worth it. And I have believed that my mom may have given/lost her life, but through that another life was saved.
So this year, my dad tells me about running into another neighbor of ours who we hadn't seen in at least six years. He had also become a Christian recently but his wife did not and they have gotten divorced. But he is confident that God will restore their relationship. In talking with my dad about his salvation, he also mentioned that he had felt a presence at the memorial service and that it was part of what started his spiritual awakening and journey. I was so thrilled to hear that. Another life changed and reborn through a life that was lost in death. GOD IS INCREDIBLE!
Then while I was home for Christmas, one of my dad's childhood friends was also saved. He didn't grow up in church but has had a tough life and recently joined AA to get his life back on track. He's 60 and by himself, divorced and just having a tough time. My dad, with help from family in California, was able to get him to a church on Christmas Eve. Turns out our family in CA has some connections with Saddleback Church (Pastor Rick Warren - A Purpose Driven Life) and so my dad's friend went there, heard the salvation message, received Christ and was baptized...all in one day! So cool. The local pastor of a Saddleback church plant is already in touch with him and I'm so thankful for Dad sharing the Lord with this guy over the years. He called my dad because he said he was the only one he knew who knew anything about God and spiritual things. It just goes to show you that we do have an impact in others lives. Not just in the loud and blatant ways we share Christ, but also in the way that we live our out faith and invite others to witness and share in the journey.
The Spirit of Christmas is not just goodwill among men or the birth of a baby - it is the Spirit of God bringing rebirth in the lives of those who are lost.