Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Beauties

Poinsettias, Christmas Cactus, Cyclamen—since I began working in the greenhouse at The Lands at Hillside Farms, I have learned a lot about these beautiful flowers that bloom in Winter, adding rich color to the otherwise rather dreary months.

Curious as to why we associate them so closely with Christmas, I did a little research on these beauties. Setting legends aside, I found some interesting qualities in these plants that can remind us of the true reason for the celebrations of the season—Jesus!

The most popular Christmas flower in the United States is the Poinsettia. The star shape of the leaves is reminiscent of the star that stood over the Christ Child, leading the magi to the place where Christ was born. (Matthew 2:1-10) The poinsettias rich, blood-red color reminds us of the blood Jesus shed as He died on the cross to save us from our sins. (1 John 1:7b)

In Europe, Cyclamen hold top billing at Christmas. Attractive, easy-care houseplants, they will flower continuously throughout the winter months. Their intense colors brighten the lackluster days of Winter, just as faith in God fosters hope in our hearts amid bleak situations. (Romans 15:13) The backswept blossoms resemble a gathering of tiny butterflies, a symbol of the new life we receive when we give our lives over to the Christ-child, born to be our Savior. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The Christmas Cactus produces beautiful pink and red blooms atop green spikey stems. Their ever-present green color symbolizes the eternal life Jesus offers.(1 John 5:11-13)

Like most succulents, Christmas Cactus have adapted to dry, arid climates, reminding us that God can bring good even from times in our lives that prick our souls and wither our spirits. (Romans 8:28)

I extend a challenge to you. As you enjoy the flowers of the Christmas season, look for clues to link them to the best gift any of us could ever receive—Christ, the Savior!

Merry Christmas!

©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Light the Candles!

In our family, birthdays are traditionally celebrated by lighting candles on a birthday cake and singing the “Happy Birthday” song. I can’t tell you what I received as a birthday gift even a year ago, let alone ten years ago or 50 years ago. But I can remember many, many occasions of blowing out the candles on a cake surrounded by loved ones singing “Happy Birthday”.

Candles play a prominent role during Advent—the Advent wreath is lighted each week at church, electric and battery-powered candles are placed in windows to welcome visitors, and candles grace many mantles, giving off their memory-inducing scents of the season. Candles flicker on the faces of loved ones gathered around our dinner tables and paint our fellow worshippers with a golden glow during the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

During Jesus’ time on Earth, candles had far more practical uses. They provided essential light for daily activities like reading, working, walking safely at night. Candles helped to dispel fear, warn of danger, and reveal obstacles.

It is easy to see why Jesus calls himself “The Light of the World.” (John 8:12) He helps us find our way spiritually, reveals hidden traps and dangers, and brightens our outlook on life.

Candles provide light by giving up themselves. Jesus gave himself so that the world could see, in his death and resurrection, the love of God. That’s what light does. It helps us see! Jesus showed us God’s love by dying on the cross for our sins!

The second half of John 8:12 shares Jesus’ promise that we will never walk in darkness. He is always with us, guiding us, helping us to see our way, even when we go through difficult circumstances.

There is a condition attached to this promise--we must be following him. For Jesus’ light to shine on our lives, we must be following him.

I can remember times when a storm has knocked out the power and I had to follow someone carrying a candle. If I veered away from the person with the candle, or tried to get ahead of them, I found myself stumbling in the dark. That’s how it is with following Jesus. We need to stay close beside him and let his light lead us.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus by lighting candles this Christmas, may we remember why—because Jesus is the Light shining in the darkness. May you walk in His light this season and always.

Be encouraged!

©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Christmas Eve Circuit

Daddy and Uncle Junie

From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another.
The warmth and joy of Christmas, brings us closer to each other.
~Emily Matthews

For me, the most memorable Christmas gifts aren’t under the tree. From my earliest memories of Christmas, my greatest treasures have been the unwrapped, bowless moments spent with family.

My dad was the youngest of 11 children. Seven of them lived within four short blocks of one another. One of my favorite Christmas traditions as a child was making the rounds to their homes on Christmas Eve. After supper, Mom and Daddy, my two sisters, and my brother and I would excitedly begin our circuitous journey. I skipped along in happy anticipation, knowing that wonderful times awaited.

Our first stop was a mere half a block away--my Aunt Jan and Uncle Junie’s. Daddy and Uncle Junie were born just one year apart and were best friends. These brothers had married sisters, so our families spent time together practically every day. Christmas Eve, though, made even this frequently-visited place feel extra special.

The mammoth trees they chose were always dazzling with lights, homemade decorations, and tinsel. Best yet, Uncle Junie set up his electric train with its nifty buildings, businesses, and working cars—a treat, reserved only for the Christmas season.

Uncle Junie and his family would accompany us on the next leg of our journey--Aunt Althea’s. I can still hear her husband Dick’s jolly laugh. With his teasing, jokes, and stories, he made everyone chuckle.

From there, we moseyed over to my Aunt Edna’s home. Though widowed during World War II, Aunt Edna exuded joy and love. She gifted everyone with a huge smile and a hug. Her teen-aged daughters, Francie and Nancy seemed so very grown up—they even had boyfriends!

By the time we hiked up the hill to the house where my dad grew up, my cousins from out-of-town had usually arrived. We didn’t see them often, making the Christmas Eve visit extra special. Grandpap and Grandma Flasher still lived at the old homestead, as did my dad’s oldest brother, Allen. Etched in my mind is an image of him pulling his worn brown leather wallet from his back pocket to slip us each a couple of bills to get ourselves “something nice”.

Trudging further up the exceedingly steep street, we reached my Aunt Keek’s house. Keek was a talented artist and her work adorned many of their walls. I gazed in wonder at her paintings, amazed at her ability.

Right next door, literally only ten feet away, lived Aunt Betty. Like my dad and Junie, these two sisters were best friends. Amusingly, they both married men named Frank. Frank and Frank were also buddies, so the two families were very close.

At each stop we shrugged out of our coats and traipsed out to the kitchen for a snack. There we enjoyed a variety of treats offered only at Christmas—tangerines, potato candy, sugar-glazed popcorn, penuche, date and nut cookies, homemade fruit cake, cut-out sugar cookies, ribbon candy, tree-shaped ice cream treats, poppy seed roll, nut horns, and much more. Christmas was the only time soda pop was purchased and we savored those ice-cold bottles of 7-Up and Coke.

I can still hear the Christmas carols sung in beautiful four-part harmony by my dad, his siblings, and their spouses, as they stood with their arms draped around one another. The glittering lights, peals of laughter, and hum of a dozen conversations at once pleasantly warmed the crowded rooms. The fragrance of fresh-cut pine trees, baking spices, and brewing coffee combined to transform the winter evening into a magical celebration of faith and family, topped off by the 11:00 PM Christmas Eve worship celebration—a fitting end to a truly soul-warming, treasure-filled Christmas Eve.


©2016 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Christmas Eve House Call

“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”
~Peg Bracken

“All three of my kids are sick,” I heard my mom explain to Dr. Cunningham over the phone.  Releasing the furrow between her brows, she sighed, “Thanks. So sorry to bother you on Christmas Eve. See you later.”

In those days, doctors made house calls and it wasn’t unusual for him to be called out at all hours. But on Christmas Eve? As children, we dreaded his visit, not knowing if we might need a shot.  My mother, however, felt bad that we needed him when he could have been home with his family.

What disappointed us kids even more was that we wouldn’t get to go caroling, visiting relatives, eating all kinds of special Christmas treats, and going to church—all joy-filled traditions we usually observed the night before Christmas.

Surprisingly, however, that Christmas Eve turned out to be one of my most memorable, an evening touched by joy, despite not feeling the best.

I don’t remember exactly what ailed us. I only remember being in our pajamas most of the day. We helped decorate the tree my dad hauled in, but our efforts lacked the usual enthusiasm for the task.  Feeling sorry for us, before our baths my mom allowed us to open the packages that contained cozy flannel pajamas. A simple, practical gift, new jammies were something we all loved and looked forward to receiving each Christmas. I think Mom also wanted us to at least be clean and wearing fresh sleepwear for Dr. Cunningham.

Dr. Cunningham had white hair, bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows, and smelled slightly of medicine overlaid with a liberal amount of aftershave. He was a big-boned man with large hands. I never saw him in any other attire than a rumpled black suit, white shirt, and a black tie, loosened for comfort.

Dr. Cunningham arrived at our home about 11:00 PM. He took our temperatures and listened to our breathing with his stethoscope. He looked in our ears and peered up our noses. He told us to open wide and say, “Ahhhhh.” After asking my mom a few questions, he gave us each a shot and handed over small white envelops of little tablets with instructions hand-written on the packets. He was a great believer in penicillin and camphor pills.

Although Dr. Cunningham was as gentle and kind as he could be, getting a shot always caused us to shed a few tears. However, what I remember most is how he took the time, not just to treat us medically, but afterward to calm and cheer us. He asked us what we hoped Santa would bring us, successfully diverting our attention from our sore bottoms.

What he did next surprised us all. This weary, overworked doctor said he was going to teach us a trick. He told me to bend over and reach both hands through my legs. Dr. Cunningham then grabbed my hands and, quick as a wink, he had flipped me completely over! It was exhilarating!

My siblings all wanted a turn. We clamored, “Again! Again!” until our mom intervened. “That’s enough now. It’s late and I’m sure Dr. Cunningham is tired.”

Afterward, the good doctor sat in the kitchen with my dad. He sipped a cup of coffee and enjoyed a few Christmas cookies while they talked. I’m sure Daddy offered Dr. Cunningham something stronger, but he refused. Well known for falling asleep while holding a stethoscope to a patient’s back, the dedicated but exhausted doctor probably felt he would have enough trouble staying awake to drive home without the influence of alcohol, or he may have had other patients he needed to see that night.

Although it wasn’t a typical Christmas Eve, it’s a night I have never forgotten because of the good memories it holds. The excitement, laughter, and joy of the season prevailed, despite three sick children.

Guess Dr. Cunningham knew the truth behind Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine . . .”


©2016 Pamela D. Williams