A Christmas Parable

Christmas: for some it’s cookies and candy and visions of sugar plums. For others it’s presents and family and joy and peace. For still others it’s a baby, a manger, some shepherds, a star and hope for the world. There are others, millions of them, for whom Christmas is heartache and loneliness, hunger and thirst, fear and despair.

I have been all of these.

This morning, as I fed the animals and did my farm chores, I was, in a manner of speaking, visited by three spirits.

A ghost of Christmas past came to me. He brought a thousand memories to mind. He reminded me of my childhood, filled with wonder and love and joy. I remember my sisters and I dragging Mom and Dad out of bed at some unholy hour because our little souls couldn’t take the suspense another minute.  I remember Dad always wanting to eat breakfast before opening presents. I remember him being out voted most of the time.

The ghost then took me across the ocean, to Scotland and the magnificant memories of Christmases spent there. I saw again, the Church Christmas programs and those little Scottish Church buildings in Buckie and Portnockie filled to overflowing. I could see Doug and Denise in their jammies, tearing into presents while I tried desperately to pour caffeine down my gullet.

I smiled until the spirit fast forwarded me to my first Christmas alone. My house empty. My heart broken. My life in tatters. I saw my Christmas dinner of cheese on toast washed down with beer, then another for dessert; my pain too great for words.

There were far too many Christmases spent so. When I thought I could not bear to see another one, the ghost took me forward once more, and I saw my first Christmas with Brittan as she decorated our little house in Florida. Joy had come back into my life and for the first time in years, I hoped again.  Oh, how I wanted to linger just a moment in that place.

In a flash, though, the spirit took me to other places and other Christmases, in Iowa, in Kentucky and in Maine. Some were tender and peaceful. Others were hectic to the border of manic. But each made me smile and a mist clouded my vision.

Suddenly, the ghost was gone, replaced by another, showing me this present Christmas.  Not mine, though, but other places and other faces. There were children and ancients. There were a multitude of languages and a rainbow of races.  But there were no smiles or carols or trees or presents. Prayers were being lifted and letter to Santa, each begging for food, for water, for shelter, for Daddy to come home, for Mommy not to be sick anymore. I saw Santa weeping in his sleigh, his bag empty, his chest heaving with grief.

Then the spirit took me to another place, a war ravaged desert. I saw children among the rubble. I could see across the way, a soldier, dust mingling with tears as he unwrapped a parcel that contained a framed photograph of a young woman and a golden haired baby girl. He held the photograph to his chest, sobbed in the silence then lifted his voice in what was either a prayer or a scream. I could not tell for sure.

I begged the ghost to allow me to help or to take me away, because I could not remain idle and maintain either my sanity or my morality. Instead, he disappeared and his place was taken by a third spirit. This one, ethereal, insubstantial, yet glorious and terrible all at once.

The spectre too my hand and lifted me high above the earth to a place of indescribible wonder. There was peace in this place. I could hear singing and laughter. I looked around and saw people everywhere, each contented, happy.  As I toured the city, I became aware that although there were hundreds of thousands, millions of people, there was not a hospital, a cemetery or even police car to be seen. I marveled.

Suddenly, my path came to an abrupt end. I could see across an enormous canyon. On the other side, was the multitude of hungry, the sick and the broken I had seen before.  Behind me was the happiest place my mind could imagine. In front of me was more heartache than my soul could endure.

I turned to the spirit who led me and asked, “Sir, why?”

“You know why, child. You’ve always known why.”

“How can they get from there to here? The gulf is so vast? It’s too far, too hard.”

“There is a path. Lead them. You know the way.”

“But they are too hungry to follow.”

“Then feed them.”

“They are too weak.”

“Then carry them.”

“Some are too sick.”

“Then heal them.”

“What about the ones too heartbroken to hear?”

“Weep with them.”

“What if they won’t follow?”

“Lead them anyway.”

At that point, the spirit handed me a book, a map, a bowl of rice, a trowel, a vial filled with some elixir and a washcloth. I took them from him, but wondered at their meaning.

“Take these and go to them. Beyond where you can see, there is another place, more hideous than anything you see before you. There are horrors and monsters there. Creatures and devils that feast upon the heartaches you can see now. They will soon devour the sick, the broken and the weary. Those they do not devour they will drag back across the abyss to their lairs to consume at their leisure. You have in your hands all you need to change the destiny of legions.”

I stared at the ghost, with a cocktail of emotions, ranging from fear to anticipation, and queried, “Sir, will any come with me?  I am fearful that I will fail.”

“By choosing to go, you cannot fail. As to whether any will follow, I cannot say. Only One knows. Go, now. Feed, heal, comfort and lead.”

Then, as quickly as the scene had appeared, the spirit and the visions were gone.  I was again in the barn, my arms filled with hay, goats and cattle calling out for breakfast.  It was still dark outside. The day still young. No time had past. The future was in my hands. I wonder…

Heroes of the Good Food Movement, Part 2 – Samaritan’s Purse

With 26,000 children around the world dying every day from hunger, and thousands more from water borne illness, arguments about organic vs industrial and grass fed vs corn fed, tend to fade into the background.  While those subjects matter in the big picture, there are life and death struggles going on in the now.

 It is into this heart wrenching reality, that Samaritan’s Purse, from Boone, NC, has chosen to carry the fight.  These heroes step into the void and quite literally are rescuing the perishing.

 Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian Organization headed by a team of Faith filled directors and laborers, with Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist, Billy Graham, serving as President and CEO.

 Many Americans know them best for their seasonal “Operation Christmas Child” drive, where they give Christmas boxes to tens of thousands of poor, orphaned and neglected children around the globe.

 The service doesn’t end there, however.  Far from it.  Operation Christmas Child is only the surface of the many ways Samaritan’s Purse touches the most needy.  They have a disaster relief arm, taking food, supplies and medical care to locations hit by a variety of natural disasters.  Samaritan’s purse has a whole range of economic development programs, including many that are agriculture related.

 Among my favorites, are the small livestock and sustainable gardening initiatives.  Samaritan’s Purse employees and volunteers train families and individuals in small animal husbandry, like dairy goats or poultry, so that they are able to raise animals to feed themselves and build a small business selling milk, cheese, eggs and such.  You can even go online and donate to animal specific projects.  My wife and I have donated many goats, rabbits and chickens through our giving.  Yes, we believe in Samaritan’s Purse enough to invest.

 They train communities in sustainable gardening practices, too, so that those people groups can continue to feed themselves long after Samaritan’s Purse workers have left the region.

Brittan and I are very attached to the clean water projects in the Samaritan’s Purse portfolio.  We have donated wells, water filters and more.  As one who has had Giardia three times in my life, I understand the importance and value of access to clean water.

Before I finish, I would be remiss if I did not point out the Faith Based programs they manage, as well.  Going well beyond campaigns and crusades, Samaritan’s Purse is involved in Church Planting and Evangelist training.  These projects are dear to my heart and I have loved being able to partner in some of them.

I’ve only scratched the surface of all that Samaritan’s Purse does, but I think I’ve highlighted enough for you to understand why I consider these fellow Southerners as Heroes of the Good Food movement.  Check out their website to learn more.  And stay tuned, we’ll have more heroes next week.

 

My Birthday Manifesto

I am 55 years old today.  Truth be told, I don’t like it much.  I am not handling it particularly well at all.  Time is ticking.  I am well aware of the fact that I have more days behind me than in front of me.  I’d like to believe that the best ones, though, are still ahead.  To ensure that last statement, I am making some priority adjustments in order to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing. See, I still want to change the world.

Children are still going to bed hungry.  Mammas are crying themselves to sleep at night because they don’t know how they’re gonna to feed their babies.  Daddies walk around in a haze wondering when they’re going to get a job.  Old people still can’t afford to keep the heat turned on and are terrified they won’t be able to pay for their medicine.  Married couples can’t see around their mountains of debt, much less a way out.  Divorce attorneys get way too much work and Bibles gather way too much dust.  Young people are still pointing guns at each other, and at themselves.  Cancer patients are still afraid and abortion doctors are still too busy.  Addicts are still looking for a hit. Cheaters are still taking off their wedding bands.  Soldiers are still dying.  Politicians are still lying.  Hearts are still being broken and dreams are still being shattered. Life looks grim.

But there is real hope out there.  And the world needs to know. The Word is still sharper than any two edged sword.  Light still chases the darkness.  Truth will still set us free.  Love is still the greatest thing. The gates of Hell still fall before the advance of the Church and Jesus is still Lord.

I am not as strong as I used to be, but the One I serve has strength that never fails.  My grip is not as firm as it once was, but His is still snatch proof.  My mind is not as sharp these days, but my knees still work just fine.  The prayer of a righteous man is still powerful and effective.  Jesus is still the same, yesterday and forever.

This jar of clay may crack, but brokenness will only reveal the treasure inside.  I don’t like getting older, but I refuse to sit down.  I’m taking this opportunity to serve notice:

The hungry WILL be fed.  The thirsty WILL receive water.  The naked WILL be covered.  The sick and imprisoned WILL be visited.  The lost WILL be found.  The Good News WILL be preached to the poor.  The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Death HAS been swallowed up in victory.

On this day, I declare war on the Darkness. Join me or get out of the way, cause this train is leaving the station.