Our First Carolina Christmas

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (NKJV)

Thirteen years ago we moved to South Carolina. After many years we were by ourselves for Christmas. It was as strange reality for us. We knew our girls were grown, one married, the other busy traveling for her job. But, it was the first time that the term ’empty nesters’ hit us hard.

We ordered Christmas gifts for our daughters, and sent them. We were still trying to find a church home. We had tried a few churches and none seemed to fit right. We were a bit homesick for our routine we had in San Diego, we missed our daughters and it felt strange.

Christmas Eve we decided we would try another church. We went to the old town part of the city where we lived. It was a quaint church. It has a storied history, built originally in 1699, it has seen the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It is a fascinating place and upon entering the building, you could feel the history in it.

Sitting down in a very crowded church, the balcony filled, the sanctuary filled, we felt like we were with family. Young couples holding onto toddlers dressed in Christmas finery, and wrestling with them to keep still and quiet. What we didn’t know was that this was the children’s service. The lights dimmed and the children took over, walking down the aisle and singing as only children can.

I sat crying through the whole service, remembering when our girls would sing like this, fidgeting with make-shift halo’s and wings, giving looks to shepherds who were acting like boys do.

Although it was not the church we ended up attending, that night, the Lord gave us a taste of family and home. The echoes of the past sang along with the children and as we left, we felt a bit more in love with our new home state.

As I remembered this today, my eyes once more filled with tears. This time of gratitude.

“God sets the solitary in families;” Psalm 68:6 a (NKJV)

Ouch! In a good way

When we lived in San Diego I became involved in prayer ministry. A group of us would meet an hour before church each Sunday and pray for the service, the pastor, the city, and any pressing needs we may have.

A lot was crammed into those hour prayer times. It formed a bond with many who were part of the team. Some of my favorite memories happened during the hour before church.

When we moved to South Carolina, I attempted a couple of times to pray before church. Some time while living in the low country and then once we moved upstate, here.

I became discouraged here as I truly didn’t know people of the church well. I could see the faces of those who sat in each seat, but I didn’t know the people. I prayed for the service, which I could figure out, and then I wasn’t familiar with the city to pray for the community.

San Diego was easy to pray. I knew that to the west was the Pacific, and I knew what suburbs were against the water. North was towards Los Angeles and so I could pray for the north county, for the marines on Camp Pendelton , and for the communities north of the church. East was the mountain towns that eventually lead to the desert. South were the communities close to the border of Mexico. I knew the direction to face and how to pray. I was confident in those times. I knew the city, I knew the people, I knew the church.

Change in location shifts your confidence. At least it did mine. I have always had the desire to pray and to lead prayer. I have been to prayer conferences where I have learned so much. Nothing in my desire has changed, nothing in my knowledge has shifted, yet, moving cross country disoriented my focus and confidence.

This morning at church our Pastor preached an incredible sermon. It was titled “When God’s People Pray”. The message was encouraging, and yet at the same time it produced an OUCH in me. I knew everything he was saying and in fact, I have said a lot of what he said at different times in my life. Prayer is important.

I felt it was time for me to return to what I had been doing long ago. That was the ouch part. But, it was a good ouch. More like a jab to the heart of me to prod me to do what I know how to.

The message was so encouraging also. For years I doubted why I liked to pray. Was I really called to lead and teach in this area? Or, was it vanity on my part for being asked to teach and lead so many years ago? Those two questions have plagued my thought process for a very long time.

I have not stopped praying. I wouldn’t know how to do that. Part of that stems from my Catholic roots and the prayers I learned as a child. I continue to pray for my Pastors, for my church, for the city we live in (although I still have no clue which direction is which)

Today our pastor talked about what the prayers of the saints are. They are incense to our Lord. The tears we cry while praying are put in a bottle with our name on it and written in the Lord’s book. God keeps track of our prayers. As I sat in my chair, I remembered all the tearful prayers I have prayed over the years. They have been perfume to the Lord and He takes notice of what we pray.

I have not relayed as well what was spoken today, but this is one sermon that will not leave me. It struck a chord deep within and something shifted back to me. The prodding that took place realigned what had shifted in the move across this country. I felt my confidence start to return in this area. I left church full. I received fresh bread in the words spoken. I was renewed.

I don’t know how I will put into practice what I relearned today, but I hope in the Lord to guide and direct me in His perfect way. We serve a great and mighty God. He cares for us. He listens to us. He hears our prayers.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen.” Jeremiah 29:12 (NLT)