Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Extravagant Gift

Fourth grade was a long time ago for me. Forty-one years ago. But it wasn’t so long ago that I don’t remember the gift that year. The year was 1970 and Go Go Girls (not to be confused with GaGa) were all the rage with their long straight hair, miniskirts and tall white boots.

It was also the fall of that year that my dad was sent to prison. Moonshining did not carry a heavy penalty but it was a criminal act to not pay taxes on his sales, so my dad was sentenced to six months in a minimum security facility. Six months of his life meant six months away from his wife and three little girls, of which I was the oldest at the age of nine.

I’m sure my mom was more than a little anxious about how her family would survive. Our house had three rooms, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, a coal heater and was miles up a “holler” away from civilization and even an hour away from her closest relatives. Life was already hard, but now she wouldn’t have any help.

Our basic needs were met and I’m sure government assistance played a part in that. As a little girl, I had no clue the hardship because we were loved and I can’t remember ever being hungry. But it was late fall, and Christmas was on its way.

Honestly, I don’t remember too much about that event in the life of our family, but I do recall getting a huge package that year under the tree. Have you ever had a big package? I can only imagine my eyes as a nine year old, unwrapping a three foot tall very fashionable Go Go girl doll. It seemed so extravagant.

It wasn’t until I was grown that I found out where our gifts came from that year. Remember my dad was sent to prison? For him to be sent to prison, there had to be a prosecutor, someone who presented a body of evidence to prove my dad’s guilt. The prosecuting attorney compiled the evidence and convinced the judge and jury that my dad had indeed broken the law. Someone had to pay.

As an adult I was talking about remembering that extravagant gift I received that year and my mom reminded the information that had somehow escaped me as a child. The very one who ensured my dad was convicted, the prosecutor, also made sure there was a way for our family to celebrate Christmas that year.

The prosecutor’s motivation for doing that was never revealed to me. Even though I grew up and ended up working at the sheriff’s office at the courthouse (oh the irony for someone with my family background), I never got to meet him. Whatever the reason for blessing our family that year, he truly was a blessing, giving us three little girls such extravagant gifts.

And now as an adult looking back on that event, it is to me on some level a picture of what God did for us when He gave us such an extravagant gift in sending His Son Jesus to us.

God, who is holy and perfect, presents the Standard to which none of us could measure up. Evidence of our sin and guilt is apparent when held up to the light of His holiness and righteousness. We have no righteousness in front of Him. Because of our sin and guilt, a sentence has to be served. Someone had to pay for the wrongs that we have done.

Just as the prosecuting attorney sealed my dad’s conviction, then made a way for the little girls to have gifts, so God, whose very existence and character have convicted us, has given a gift that we celebrate each Christmas season. And it truly is an extravagant gift. A precious son who was born to take on the all the sin of all of us in the world - crushing, painful sin that separated Him for a period of time from His father.

As with all human analogies, this one breaks down pretty quickly, so I don’t know if I would even call it an analogy, maybe just a few parallels. It’s just that the generosity of the prosecutor was an act that reminded me how much more God has done that for us.

And if that’s not clear to you, let me continue. Because He is holy and righteous and because we are not, we need an extravagant gift of grace to be able to have relationship with God. Each Christmas those of us who are Christians celebrate the arrival of that package, that extravagant gift. I’m sure you all know that Jesus’ birth is the reason for celebrating Christmas. But what was the reason for His birth?

The reason for His birth was to bridge that gap between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. The payment came in the form of Jesus, not simply by his birth, but decades later from His sacrificial death on a wooden cross to shed blood that would pay for our sins. All sins that have been committed, are now being committed and will be committed. He paid for it already.

And that payment, that extravagant gift, leaves us with a glaring decision. We need to decide what to do with that extravagant gift. I’m sure when I received that 3 foot tall Go Go doll that I didn’t ignore it and I certainly didn’t ask to return it. I’m sure my eyes were wide and that I accepted that gift. I used that gift as it was intended.

I’ve done the same and accepted the extravagant gift that God has offered. A verse that will be familiar to many of you and that many of us learned growing up speaks of this gift. Probably even many of your children know it. It’s one of the things we used to whisper to our kids when we tucked them into bed.

John 3.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

What a gift! And also what a decision you must make as you celebrate this season. You must decide if you will accept this gift of being rescued. Will you choose to believe that He’s given His life and choose to accept that gift so that you can spend eternity with God?

I pray that is your choice. And I pray that if you have already accepted this wondrous gift that you will join me in telling others of this extravagant gift. Because the gift of Jesus is far more precious than any other gift you could give your children, your relatives, your neighbors or your friends, and it is for sure more precious than any Go Go doll could ever be, no matter if she is 3 ft tall!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Upon Every Remembrance

In no particular order: My wedding day. The births and adoption of my children. My dad. My son, Jonathan. My mom becoming a Christian when I was eleven, thus the family being introduced to church. Walking from our previous house in Youngsville across the street to Hillridge Farms pulling my (then preschooler, now adult) little girls in a red wagon. Being a soccer mom/drama class mom/volleyball mom/basketball mom/football mom.

“One Thousand Gifts” is author Ann Voskamp’s designation for “counting your blessings.” In her book of the same title, Ann tells of finding herself in circumstances where she must choose to be grateful when gratitude might be the furthest thought from her mind. Making this choice leads her to reflect daily on the gifts for which she is thankful. From the everyday 513. Boys jiggling blue Jell-O to the extraordinary 783. Forgiveness of a sister, she lists the gifts one by one.

Of course, reading this wondrous prose that Ann has penned prompts me to reflect (not nearly as much as I should) on the gifts that have permeated my life. One of the most precious blessings that increases in value as I increase in age (remember I’m fifty now) is that of sweet memories.

Just as Paul writes to the Roman colony of Philippi in Philippians 1.3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” so do I have many people and events who have permanent reservations in my memory. Well, as permanent as anything can be in a temporary earthly home. I know someday those memories I cherish will fade, but now they are vivid. And for that I am very thankful.

Remembering Sunday afternoon hikes in the mountains of West Virginia with my dad puts a smile on my face. He passed away when I was twenty-two. Just hearing the name Jonathan causes a grin to grace my face, but also a tear to well up in my eye. I remember my son who would have been giving me six-year old hugs today had he lived. I thank my God upon every remembrance.

Making (savory and delicious) mudpies with my sisters up the holler when we were little. My husband, Michael, putting his arm around my waist for the first time when we were at the mall, making me blush. My mom stitching every seam in my wedding dress, then nearly being late for my wedding because she decided at the last minute to make herself a skirt to wear. Meeting my in-laws for the first time and simultaneously being teased but immediately welcomed. Upon every remembrance, I thank God.

If gratitude has been an elusive pattern in your life, then have I got good news for you. November is a month in which our entire nation is reminded to enter into Thanksgiving, so you’ll have many reminders. And may I suggest that you start your own list of One Thousand Gifts and maybe you can begin that list by recalling sweet moments thanking God upon every remembrance.