A Christmas Treasure

Remember how some of my holiday decorations are Christmas books? One in particular is becoming more of a treasure with each passing year. It’s my Christmas journal. (Yes, I have yet another journaling project. Some of you may remember me telling you about my gratitude journal.)

I found this journal by Brownlow back in 2003 and have recorded the most special moments of my Christmas seasons in it ever since. I loved it so much I bought a few others to give as gifts and hope those who received them are enjoying theirs as much as I do mine.

I thought you might enjoy reading one of my journal entries so I selected one from 2005 that tells about a holiday “first” for us. It’s not fancy writing, just off the cuff, but hope you enjoy anyway:

“Another first happened this Christmas season — we reached out in friendship to a CCC international student. I met “K” earlier this fall through the Match program at CCC. As we are developing a friendship, it is my hope and prayer to help her in her spiritual journey…

A little over a week before Christmas, we spent the evening with K, first bringing her to our home to see our tree and decorations and then out to Pizza Hut.

I shared with her my joy in having the house decorated for Christmas and told her the history behind some of our cherished Christmas items. Before we left for Pizza Hut, I told her I had a little surprise for her and pulled a gift out from under the tree. She was so excited and happy. She said that in Japan they don’t have presents under their Christmas trees, and it has always been her dream to have a present under a Christmas tree! I was so glad that I had that gift for her!

Inside the gift I placed something that I hope will help lead her to Christ. It was a little book called The Message of Hope — excerpts of scripture from The Message Bible… I’m thankful Christmas provided the opportunity for me to give her a most precious gift — the Word of God.

K had never been to our Pizza Hut. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together. As we left, I asked her if she would like to go light-looking, and she was thrilled. Since she doesn’t have a car, she hadn’t seen many of the light displays.

We ended our evening with a warm hug as I told her, “I love you, sugar”. She said, “I love you, too!” She stood on the sidewalk in the cold — without a coat — and waved as we drove away. What a special opportunity God has given us to share our — and His — love with K.”

Questions for you: Do you keep a Christmas journal? Do you have a Christmas “first” you’d like to share?

“Remember the wonders He has done…” 1 Chronicles 16:12a

*My photo

*Be sure to sign up for the “Your Choice Christmas Giveaway” — Dec. 9th post.

Remembering Those Who Aren’t So Free — Persecuted Christians

131909627_f67ae7dc8b_zAs we celebrated the birth of our nation this past weekend and enjoyed the privilege of living in the land of the free, I couldn’t help but think about those who are not so free. Those around the world living each day in nations where their governments restrict — or allow the restriction of — their freedoms. Among them are persecuted Christians.

It’s almost beyond what our minds can grasp. Since here in America we’ve always known the freedom to worship as we please, we can’t imagine what it must be like for fellow believers and followers of Christ who in some nations risk their very lives by any public show of faith in Him. Many die — some at the hands of their own families.

Those who don’t lose their lives are often imprisoned or beaten. Many are rejected by their communities as well as their families. Their livelihoods are threatened as no one will do business with them. Most cannot meet openly as a church or freely have a Bible in their possession. You can learn more about the plight of persecuted Christians through The Voice of the Martyrs, a non-profit inter-denominational Christian organization involved in assisting our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

We can also learn more by staying in touch with missionaries in nations where religious freedom is restricted. Our church body partners with a missionary couple who minister to other missionaries throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It suddenly puts a face on the problem when we hear first-hand some of the atrocities our brothers and sisters endure.

It seems fitting that as we rejoice in our own freedom of religion, we take time to remember and pray for those who long for such freedom. God’s Word tells us about persecuted people of faith in Bible times and says, “the world was not worthy of them…” (Hebrews 11:38). I believe the same could be said today.

Join me today, won’t you? Let’s remember… and pray!

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Flickr photo by Bertoz, Creative Commons License

Friendship That Crosses Borders

Just a quick post today to share this special photo and a couple of thoughts. Sorry I’m pressed for time. My mother-in-law is in the hospital, my hubby has been sick the past couple of days, and I’ve been trying to get some Christmasy stuff done to boot. Need I say more about lack of time? :)

We were incredibly blessed this past Saturday to get to attend the college graduation of a very special young woman. I wrote about my friendship with Kayoko in my Nov. 11, 2007 post so just use the link to refresh your memory or read about it for the first time.

Not only were we blessed, but Kayoko was thrilled that we traveled to her university to be with her on her special day — especially since her family, who live in Japan, could not attend. It also meant the world to her parents to know that we were helping their daughter celebrate her graduation.

After the graduation, we went to lunch with Kayoko and a large group of her friends — other international students. I was a little nervous about going because communication with internationals can be challenging, and the Thai restaurant was also new to us. I’m so glad we pushed past our comfort level, though, and joined them. North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa (I think) were all represented at our table. What an amazing experience to hear different languages being spoken all around us. Thankfully, they spoke English to us! :)

A couple of things: 1) Let me just encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to develop friendships with internationals. Friendships that cross borders bring rich blessings to all involved (the post from Nov. 07 elaborates). 2) Our God loves all people, knows every language and never has trouble understanding us, has crossed every border to be our Friend, and longs for us to love one another, regardless of any kinds of differences or “borders” we may have.

I’m so glad we crossed the border to enjoy friendship with Kayoko. What border is God calling you to cross?

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

Food, Glorious Food…Someday

After surviving a meager liquid diet and the unpleasant prep day for a screening colonoscopy, what’s a gal’s natural choice for a first meal on soft diet? For this gal, it was a chocolate shake.

Sure tasted good after Monday’s fare of 7UP, jello, and chicken broth. Sorry to say, though, my smile didn’t last long. The whole colonoscopy process did quite a number on my system, and I’m still having trouble eating today. I’m probably one of the few who has problems after this procedure, but if there’s a “rare” category, count on me to fall into it :)

I had planned on writing about “Food, Glorious Food” today — you know, because I would be starving and everything would taste so good, but my experience just hasn’t panned out that way. Food hasn’t gotten glorious for me yet this week, but I know it’s coming. Soon (I hope) my system will get back to normal, and I’ll want to eat everything in sight.

Thankfully, I’ll have that opportunity. Food is plentiful in the good ole USA, and Don and I are fortunate enough to be able to buy all the groceries we want. I can’t help but think of those who are hungry on a daily basis — not just because of a medical procedure that puts the brakes on the food train for awhile, but because of famine or lack of money to buy available food.

I haven’t enjoyed getting a headache from hunger or growing weak because of lack of nourishment, but I know it’s a temporary problem. What about those who see no end in sight, who never get enough to satisfy their empty stomachs? I’ve got to be honest. I can’t fathom what that must be like. I’ve never come close to experiencing ongoing hunger.

When we think of the hungry, we usually think of those in faraway places like Africa, but poor and hungry people can be found right here in our nation as well. Maybe neighbors in our own community. What are we to do? How are we to respond? Scripture tells us to “Rescue the weak and needy” (Psalm 82:4a NIV) and to “…continue to remember the poor…” (Galations 2:10 NIV).

How can we as individuals alleviate a need that is so vast? It can be something as simple as giving food to a local food pantry or as far-reaching as sponsoring a needy child through an organization like Compassion International. Maybe a contribution to a food crisis fund would help you feel like your gift was going where it was most needed. Compassion, in fact, has such a fund featured right now on its home page.

Compassion is just one organization that reaches out to the poor and hungry. What other avenues for helping them do you have personal knowledge about? Let’s share our ideas. Maybe someone will be helped. Maybe my cry of “Food, glorious food!” will ring out someday soon from someone who is truly hungry.

International Investment

Don’t you just love surprise blessings? They come in many forms, and one of mine this week was a phone call. Kayoko (Ki-yo-ko), a Japanese student I befriended a couple of years ago, called me the other day from her current university just to hear my voice and talk with me about some things she is going through.

Let me give you some background. My sister Debbie actually inspired me to get involved with local international students. She and her husband Keith have been reaching out to internationals for several years on the campus of a major southwestern university and have blessed the lives of many who are so very far away from home. As they touch these students with friendship, they also many times have the chance to share their faith in Christ — a pretty neat opportunity considering most of these students follow other world religions and may not have had many opportunities to learn about the Christian faith.

Inspired by their wonderful experiences, I decided to try to befriend an international student right here in our community. I contacted the international student advisor at our community college, and she happily plugged me into her Match program which “matches” international students with local families. The result? A sweet friendship with Kayoko, a wonderful young woman from Japan.

While Kayoko was here, we enjoyed (though it wasn’t easy because of language differences!)many conversations over ice cream at Braum’s or other sweet treats at a local coffee shop. Taking an evening out to celebrate Christmas with Kayoko each year she was here is something I’ll remember always. That first year when I pointed out that there was a gift for her under our tree, she couldn’t believe it. She excitedly said, “I’ve always dreamed of having a gift under a Christmas tree!” She went on to explain that in Japan they don’t put gifts under their trees. Was I ever glad I had that gift for her! It was such a blessing to help make one of her dreams come true.

Kayoko has since moved on to another school, but we are trying to stay in contact. Luckily, the university she is attending is only about 75 miles away from us. I don’t expect to hear from her very often because college students are so busy, especially international ones who have to study even harder because of their language challenges. When she called the other day, I wondered what prompted her to call me in the middle of the morning. As we talked, the reason came out, and she told me I was like her American mother and that she knew she could talk to me. That really touched me.

So what have I found out? In reaching out to bless and hopefully influence the life of international students, I myself have been greatly blessed, not only through the genuine love and friendship that develops, but also through the amazing opportunities to experience first-hand a taste of other cultures. Is the investment of time, energy, and sometimes even expense worth it? You bet. And only eternity will reveal the full impact of befriending these special students.

What about you? Are there internationals in your community who might need your friendship? Maybe even just some smiles and pleasant conversation? Go ahead — make the investment. You’ll get a rich return.

“The alien [foreigner] living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself…” Leviticus 19:34a NIV