Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Praying For You -- Goodbye Old Hello New

Here on the East Coast of the United States, it's less than seven hours until 2013 is eclipsed by 2014. As I write, evening shadows have all but cancelled out the light of this final December day, and I am taking time to fervently pray.

"May you know the One Who is Peace, especially so in times of transition -- The One called 'The Truth, Jesus The Nazarene'.

I ask The Lord to strengthen you -- heart, mind, soul and strength -- with His Precious, Blessed, Always-Present Holy Spirit.

How I hope that yesterday's memories of God's faithfulness will follow you for all the days and nights for the rest of your precious life, and how earnestly I pray that His Holy Presence will be your Sacred Home both now and forever more.

I ask all of these requests at The Merciful Throne of our Almighty Personal God, yes and all in the marvelous and matchless Name of the One called Wonderful. 

May you be undeniably inspired in His sight until His face your eyes embrace in That Eternal Day! Amen and Amen and Amen!" 


Monday, December 30, 2013

Wearisome Yet Wonderful

Today, we were able to see our Dad's two-week hospital stay give way to a new season in his life as he was transported back to a rehabilitation home, The Sailor's Snug Harbor, located just 20 miles from our native island.

Tonight, after we finally got Dad settled in, our family celebrated The Willis Family Christmas, even our Uncle William joined us. 

The best way to define our long day? Wearisome yet wonderful.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Volume 22: "Christmases Past"

People who say Christmas is no different than any other time of the year are badly mistaken or sadly deceived, or both.

During December, the remembrance of the Birth of God's Son Who came to become one of us is on display. As I drive in my vehicle at night during December, I see many unique and brightly-lit Nativity scenes scattered across front lawn landscapes. Only at Christmastime does the Light of The World unashamedly glow so wondrously in our neighborhoods as a welcoming witness of the One called Wonderful -- The Christ Child.

Among the many things I miss most about "Christmases Past" is the innocent wonder that inspired my childlike soul and illuminated my young mind. I guess you could say, yes, one thing I miss most about "Christmases Past" is just being a young boy.

However, during this "Christmas Present", I purposely pause to give my deep gratitude to God, because even as a man, I know the Bethlehem Boy and the little boy are both still very much alive within me. So, Christmas, like no other time of the year, helps to reveal that reality.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Update on My Dad -- Yesterday & Yesteryear

Those of you who have been praying for my Dad's health challenges, thanks so much.

It's Day 13 of his hospital stay, but it looks like on Monday he will be able to return to our home county to spend two weeks or so in a rehab center there.

Since being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma about 10 days ago, we can now report:

1. No cancer in the bones.
2. Cancer is Stage 1E. In other words not only is Stage 1 good, but his cancer also appears to be confined to only the area of his tumor. The doctors are 90% sure of the diagnosis. We'll take it.
3. Dad's chemotherapy has been free of side-effects such as nausea so far.
4. Yesterday, enough strength and motion returned to his left leg to take a good walk around the nurses' station with his walker while his physical therapist held onto him loosely. The nurses were cheering him on with one hospital worker getting blessed and telling Dad, "Lift up your eyes to the hills, your strength comes from The Lord." It was holy ground!

My Dad, age 20... Yesteryear

My Dad now age 73... Yesterday

Deo Volente -- Whatever God Wants!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Volume 21: "Christmases Past"

One thing I miss most about "Christmases Past" is drawing names in our Middle School boys' Sunday School class and then trading the gifts with one another on the Sunday before Christmas.

I remember one year in particular. My friend, Mike, had not been present the Sunday we had drawn names with one another for the gift-exchange, but he did want to join our family for church on Christmas Sunday. Mike was all concerned about coming without a purchased and wrapped gift. You see, Mike's dad raised him and his other three siblings, because their mother up and left the family of six when Mike was in first grade. But, we were dear friends, and so I helped him figure out how to come to church and to save face with the other boys in our class on Christmas Sunday.

Here's how my plan came down. I suddenly remembered that Mike had a model car in his bedroom that he had never opened. I told him to stick the model car in a paper sack and to immediately put the paper sack in the classroom closet upon arrival. When it came time to exchange gifts, I quickly gave my gift to the boy whose name I had drawn, received my gift form the boy who had drawn my name, and then quietly gave that gift to Mike. I then made a beeline for the closet to get Mike's paper sack. I pulled Mike's model car out of the sack so fast, the other boys didn't have time to realize it had never been gift-wrapped. 

Mike smiled at me with a look of gratitude that is simply and profoundly unforgettable. My friend's dignity had been preserved and my heart was wondrously warmed in the process.

During "Christmas Present", I remember the Christmas presents the boys in our  Sunday School Class exchanged on that very special Sunday of my "Christmases Past", and my heart is still wonderfully warmed because of the memory.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Remembering Good Vibrations of Christmas Celebrations

Only 364 more days until Christmas 2014...

Go to iTunes and download "Already Miss Christmas" by Paul Sikes.

I'm so glad each December we pause to remember the Birth of the ChristChild, however I still wish every month of the calendar year overflowed with the good vibrations like our Christmas Celebrations.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Volume 20: "Christmases Past"

I really miss Christmas-evening-visiting-time from my childhood days. Yes, when I was a boy, after our family Christmas meal, we would ride in the Pontiac around the island, looking at Christmas lights, and spontaneously visiting a few homes of family and friends.

I remember how relaxing and carefree the final hours of Christmas Day were. Finally, after plenty of laughter and various desserts from home-to-home, Christmas Day came to a slow and wonder-filled close. Shortly after sunset, the holiday rush always gave way to the holy day hush. With only a few hours left to celebrate Christmas, we would settle back into our own home and just sit in the living room enjoying the presence of one another as the decorations and lights continued to inspire our souls.

As I write these words, it is the end of Christmas Day 2013. We're all sort of laying around in our living room. The dog has taken over my comfy chair, the lights and decorations seem to be embracing our hearts, and we know we are blessed beyond measure.

As my day comes to a close, and December 26 will soon arrive, I pray a special prayer for you as you have taken valuable time to read my simple words. Having celebrated the Birthday of the most Wonderful Baby this world has ever known or will ever know, Jesus Christ, I now ask our Awesome King Jesus to be your Hope. As this Holy Day comes to an end, may you be encouraged in realizing that while Jesus is the Season, you are truly the reason He came to Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. 

O yeah, and I know He wants me to tell you something very important: "He's not mad at you. He's mad about you."


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dad's Latest Cancer Update

The oncologist just said "Dad's bone marrow biopsy is fine." The load just lightened with those words. The faith journey resumes. Thanks for traveling with us.

While Dad's chemotherapy and physical therapy continues, we give thanks that the cancer is not in his bones. Blessed Christmas!

We are humbled and...
Grateful (Celebrate Nativity Passionately with us!) 

Volume 19: "Christmases Past"

It's Christmas Eve, and yesterday we finally received "IT!" We received "What?" Well, if you've been following my writings about "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past", you know I miss my Granny Margery's beautiful, bright-red, delicious Jelly Cake.

So, as requested, my Aunt Edith did write down the recipe and my Mom mailed it to us and, now, drum roll please.... "the simple-but-splendid Willis family Jelly Cake recipe is ours!"

Yes, yesterday we received "IT!" And it only gets better, because yesterday afternoon, my wife, Kim, made a grocery run to buy the ingredients, and Lord willing, the Jelly Cake will once again thrill future generations of Willises!

In case you want to bake one yourself, I will now write the sweet strategy out for your enjoyment, while looking at my Aunt Edith's handwritten recipe, of course.


* 1 box of Duncan Hines Butter Batter Cake Mix
* 32 Ounces of Apple Jelly
* Add red food-coloring until the jelly is as RED as you want it.
* Add lemon juice to taste.
* Spread RED-colored, Apple Jelly on cake layers, around all sides, and on the top.

Friends, the time is now to watch my Granny's Jelly Cake from "Christmases Past" make it's way into the wonder of "Christmas Present!" 

In my Granny's words, "Hooray for Christmas!!!"


P.S. More on my Dad's health should be known later today. He's at peace still and is so grateful for your prayers. Me too. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Volume 18: "Christmases Past"

The Sears and Roebuck store of yesteryear is on my long list of "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past." It was just a small mail-order store "in town" about a 30-minute drive from our island home.

What I liked most about the Sears showroom was seeing Old Saint Nick each December. Yes, Santa would come and sit in his big chair there and talk tenderly to all of us kids about our Christmas wishes. Obviously, he was in partnership with the store, but it was a special moment year-after-year for the children of our community. I am thankful to Mr. Sears for inviting Mr. Claus to come help us celebrate at Christmastime. 

In 2013, our family visited New York City at the beginning of the Christmas Season. We visited Macy's Department Store and waited in line to talk to St. Nick. Yes, we're all grown on the outside but still children on the inside. As we patiently endured the long line, excitement built in my heart to see the jolly, old, bearded-man in the red-and-white velvet suit. I even had my camera and took Santa's portrait as we left.

So, with the childhood memories of "Christmases Past" still very much alive in my mind, I still cherish celebrating "Christmas Present". Whether it's in a little-town, catalogue showroom or in a big-city, department store, I always expect to be inspired by the decorations of the giving season and I especially anticipate encountering the old saint, Mr. Claus. 

(Here's the portrait from Macy's.)


Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Still Trusting" Illustrated

Dad's chemo is complete for today. Lady Melba and Captain Billy are "Still Trusting!" All is well. 

Please celebrate passionately The Nativity Season with the Willis family. Human suffering must not decrease, but only serve to increase, the beautiful joy of The Bethlehem Boy! Sing NOEL!!!

Grateful still

Friday, December 20, 2013

Volume 17: "Christmases Past"

Well, let me assure you that my Holy Days reflection time has been enhanced these past few days during December of 2013. As I sit in the hospital beside my sleeping Dad, Captain Billy, my heart is strangely warmed.

One day ago we learned that my Dad has non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Yes, cancer. He has a golfball-sized tumor at the base of his spine and chemotherapy begins this evening. Surely, Dad is very tender in his spirit, but has inner peace that is even more undeniable. He also has a deep joy that even the devil or cancer cannot put the brakes on.

In other words, "ALL IS WELL! GO AND TELL! EMMANUEL -- GOD IS WITH US AND WITHIN US!" Dad wins either way.

Spending these quiet days of waiting alongside my Dad has increased my memory. When it comes to "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past", I must admit, today especially, it's not about "WHAT I MISS MOST" but about "WHO I MISS MOST!" This will not be a surprise to most of my readers, but I really miss my grandparents. Their presence was such a comfort to my mind and such a refreshment to my soul while they were still here on Planet Earth.

My Dad thinks I look like his Dad, my Granddaddy, Captain Gray. Sometimes when I wear a cap in Dad's presence, he cries and often with trembling lips tenderly tells me, "You look so much like my dad." Resembling my Granddady Gray touches me deeply, because my Granddaddy Gray was a hero in my life. I named my only son after him.

At Granddaddy Gray's funeral in 1974, men told me that if I grew up to be half the man that Gray Willis was, I'd be a wonderful man. His integrity was on illustration to one and all.

So you guessed it. I especially miss my Granddaddy Gray at Christmastime. He was a quiet, humorous, and pleasant man. If he was in the room, everyone gravitated to him. When he left the room, everyone knew there was a sudden loss to the conversation, but especially a loss to the atmosphere, because he was a man of subtle but certain presence.

I remember one Christmas when my Granny gift-wrapped him a new CB radio for his shrimp trawler communication. After he opened it, she went over and passionately kissed my shy Granddaddy in front of the whole family. She laughed wondrously as he blushed almost to tears. We have a photo of that beautiful exchange.

I also recall the first Christmas after my granddaddy had passed on to Heaven. It was December 1974. My Dad (who surely is his mother's son) who had therefore always been the life of our parties, especially our Christmas get-togethers, was on this particular Chrostmas so broken-hearted that he could hardly get through the Holy Day season. The loss of his beloved Father was unfamiliar territory for his soul to travel. We all suffered with him. We all missed Granddaddy, a sanctuary of the the Presence of Holy God, but Dad was without doubt the most broken-hearted.    

As much as I miss Granddaddy Gray at Christmastime, I am still presently grateful that I still have my own Dad. Yes, he's seen better days, physically, but with each passing Christmas Season our whole family gets closer to our goal -- a grand reunion day with our loved ones and celebrating Christmas with the One called Wonderful, Jesus Himself. What a day that will be. He'll be waiting for our coming. Yes, both my Granddaddy Gray and our Lord Jesus.

Prayers deeply appreciated. You can find "US" right in the middle of J"US"T TR"US"TING!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Volume 16: "Christmases Past"

Music is so essential to celebrating the Season of Christmas. Music has been paramount for me since I was a child and something I miss most about the music of "Christmases Past" is hearing Mrs. Reva Pearl violently and flawlessly play the piano and sing loudly and with great passion her favorite, yearly, signature, Holy Day, special song titled "O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem." I've heard it sung by numerous people but no one gives it the grand and glorious presentation like "Big Momma" did. (That was her beloved nickname.)

In case you have never heard the classic Christmas Carol, here is a YouTube of the Judds singing it and here also are the words. Enjoy it now, during "Christmas Present".

Click here: Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem - Christmas Time With The Judds - YouTube

Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem
Shining far through shadows dimmed
Giving the light for those who long have gone
Guiding the wise men on their way
Unto the place where Jesus lay
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star the hope of light
Guiding the pilgrims through the night
Over the mountains 'till the break of dawn
Into the land of perfect dayIt will give out a lovely ray
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star (beautiful, beautiful star) of Bethlehem (star of Bethlehem)
Shine upon us until the glory dawns
Give us a lamp to light the way
Unto the land of perfect day
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star the hope, the grace
For the redeem the good and the blessed
Yonder in glory when the crown is won
Jesus is now the star divine
Brighter and brighter he will shine
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Oh beautiful star (beautiful, beautiful star) of Bethlehem (star of Bethlehem)
Shine upon us until the glory dawns
Give us a lamp to light the way
Unto the land of perfect day
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Volume 15: "Christmases Past"

In the news of our nation, I just saw where two people won a total of 636-million-dollars by guessing the "right" numbers playing the lottery. I have news for the "winners". All of their new-won money will not buy them peace. Peace isn't found in new money. Peace is found in an old manger.

You know what I miss most about "Christmases Past?" I miss the sense that everyone was content and grateful with what they had. I know that ever since the beginning of Creation people have been grasping for more and more, however, when I was a boy at Christmastime, it seemed that most all of the families in our community were more content and grateful with what they had rather than desiring more monetary gain. People seemed more at peace with their own lives, more glad for their health and less focused on others' wealth.

Call it the naive perspective of a child, because maybe that's where my memories of "Christmases Past" originate? If so, then, I want to be more like a child these days, like I was in those days. I don't want success in my mind to be defined as more and more financial accumulation, but in more and more faith saturation.

As I write these words, December 18, 2013, my Dad is in the Greenville, North Carolina, Medical Center in severe pain. A few days ago, he learned that he has a tumor at the base of his spine. Operating is not an option because it could paralyze him. So, while we await the results of a biopsy taken yesterday, Dad's pain is severe. Hopefully, today, a desired diagnosis will be discovered and some form of treatment to reduce the size of the tumor and find Dad some relief will begin to happen.

In talking with Dad early this morning, he said tenderly, "I am in great pain, son, but I have good peace." In our conversation, financial accumulation had no relevancy. The only things that matter now pertain to internal and eternal priorities. Remember, it's our faith, family, and friends that deliver to our lives the essence of true peace.

Good News! It's "Christmas Present!" Don't focus on money and "winning" some big, complicated Jack-Pot. Simply, fall at the manger and find everlasting Jesus-Present, and LIVE at Peace with God and with yourself this Christmas and beyond!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Volume 14 "Christmases Past"

Christmas represents a miracle for us and the whole human race -- for "unto us a Child is born" to be our Savior from Sin.

And memories of "Christmases Past" race through my mind very often. As a result, I have been writing down words to  communicate "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past."

As my mind races backward today to yesterday's treasures, I miss my whole family being together and especially everyone being healthy.

I remember a certain Christmas Eve at my Granny Margery's and Granddaddy Gray's homeplace. Their home was such a safe place for me and even today I can still sense the comfort I felt that particular Christmas Eve in their living room. 

In the glow of the Christmas lights, I can see all of our family laughing and enjoying one another and basking in good health. Across the generations of our family, from my young brothers and me, my young Dad and Mom, then my older Grandparents and even my very old, Great Aunt Lizzie, we were all enjoying a short, but sure season of good health. 

The reason I am remembering good health during these Holy Days is very obvious. Yesterday, December 16, 2013, I got a phone call from my own Dad. After an ambulance ride to the local hospital, Dad tenderly told me that a MRI revealed a mass at the base of his spine. He was then transported last evening to Greenville Medical Center in my native North Carolina. While there are yet many unknowns about my Dad's physical wellness, Dad assured me that it is well with His soul.

So, more than thinking about "Christmases Past", today I am thanking God for the Hope of "Christmas Present". Though we are not sure about the physical wellness of our family, my heart sings out with this song of the season:

"All is well. Go and tell... Emmanuel." Indeed, "God is with us and within us." Blessed Christmas.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Memories... Are...

Today, we received some heart-warming Christmas cards in our mailbox. The most meaningful line was handwritten on the inside of one:

"Memories of the past...
are treasures of the heart."

This line was beautifully written in a card that I received from Mrs. Ruth, the dear mom of my two childhood friends, Craig and Jeffrey Kent Paylor. I wrote about them in Volume 6 of my December 2013 blog series titled "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past."

Humbled and...


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Volume 13: "Christmases Past"

"Christmases Past" flood my memory. It's a blessed thing to have a memory and I am grateful for the ability to recall many personal stories and family events, even details about my most favorite moments from Decembers now behind me.

One recollection is watching my Granny Margery adorn her Christmas tree. While her tree and overall holiday decorating was never quite as as elaborate as my mom's was, Granny had a great finale when it came to her Christmas tree. The finale was fueled by the revealing of a special old ornament she had kept from her childhood Christmases.

Yes, one thing I miss most about "Christmases Past", is watching Granny place the hook in her last tree ornament and then handing it to me to hang on her evergreen. It was a plastic, brightly-colored, old-timey Saint Nicolas. He was very fragile and even had scotch tape holding his feet together. But, he was, nonetheless, quite glorious to me.

As I searched for the perfect place to hook Old Saint Nick to a branch, I imagined how many times my dear Granny, first as a little girl, then as a teenager, and as a young wife and now an older lady, had pulled that beloved ornament out of her attic year-after-year. It thrilled my soul to the maximum just thinking those thoughts.

When granny passed from this life to Eternity, I only asked for a wall-hanger from her home and I got it from my Aunt Edith. However, I really would have loved to had inherited the old plastic Saint Nicolas Christmas heirloom, as well, but I suppose I just didn't have the heart to ask my Granny's only daughter to part with it.

As much as I sometimes long for "Christmases Past", even more so I love "Christmas Present". Our tree is all decorated for another season and we even purchased a newer version of the Old Saint Nick ornament like Granny had. And, on our own tree, my wife and I, always hang some old ornaments we made our first year of marriage. We didn't have extra money to buy nice tree-hangers, so we made some out of plaster and then hand-painted them.

Again this year, I suppose our own son and daughter, will ask us to point out the oldest ornaments once again. I have a feeling our first Christmas tree decorations will be hung for generations to come, as well?

Friends, it's Christmas. Surely, Christmastime is a tender time to remember yesterday, to embrace today, and to anticipate tomorrow. Blessed Christmas to you.



Friday, December 13, 2013

"Finally, In The Boat" -- A Testimony

I recently received this inspiring testimony in the form of an early morning e-mail message from one of the men who prays with me and my Pastor's Prayer Patrol on Tuesday mornings.

His name is Scott, and he gave me his blessing to share his words with the world. Here's some of what he wrote:

Pastor Kerry, 

Having been raised the way you were as the son of a fisherman, this thought that keeps resonating inside me may seem very simplistic, even so I would like to share it with you...

I AM FINALLY IN THE BOAT!!!  Years and years of just being "saved", being dragged along,  hanging on to my Christian life preserver. Swallowing salt water, being battered by the wake of life's debris, foolishly having thought that being out on the water was were the fun is.

My arms were so tired of just being "saved", of just hanging on.

Then Jesus beckoned me from the boat, saying "get in".  This is your boat,  Scott,  I OWN it but I will let you steer it and not only will I let you steer it, I will be WITH you as Lord and Master, guiding you around and/or through all of the trials and joys of life.

Thank you Pastor Kerry, for helping me see my MASTER and COMMANDER.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Volume 12: "Christmases Past"

When I glance in the rearview mirror of my life, many of the things I miss most have happened during the season of Christmas.

One of those memories is strong in my mind now. When our children were ages 5 and 3 -- after tucking them in bed on Christmas Eve of 1991, and while Kim was wrapping gifts -- I drove to my dear friend, David's house.

David was an exceptional artist and called himself "Santa's elf" at Christmastime, because he always painted artwork through the night completing late projects for his customers to pick up by daylight on Christmas morning. 

I miss the strong memory of sitting until about midnight on that particular Christmas Eve with my dear friend. I can remember the peace of the companionship and the joy of the conversation we shared.

Little did I know it would be my last Christmas Eve as a resident of my native North Carolina home. In 1992, we moved to Colorado Springs for Bible College and then onto Virginia. And little did I realize David would pass away a few years later. 

I cherish especially that specific season of "Christmases Past". Our children are now 26 and 24, and while David is now in Heaven, I still of plenty of his art work to warm my heart and to inspire my soul.

I am doubly blessed by yesterday's Christmas memories and today's Christmas moments. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Volume 11: "Christmases Past"

One of my favorite Christmas memories happened when my wife, Kim, and I, were eating supper at my most favorite restaurant in our hometown, The China Jade. Annie, whom I met in the restaurant many years earlier as a waitress, was now running the business. It was a few nights before Christmas and Annie came to our table and said, "I have a gift for you. You are my best customers." She then handed me a little, plastic, orange and black, tiger Christmas tree ornament from her native homeland, China. Our hearts melted at the gesture and to this day we cherish Annie's tender gift.

Yesterday was Tuesday, December 10, 2013, and it was a sad day for me. That's why I didn't blog, I suppose. While having lunch with a pastor friend in Annie's and Jackie's Chinese Restaurant, Annie came up to me and said, "I have bad news. Jackie and I, along with our three children are closing the restaurant and moving back to China." It truly broke my heart. I have been eating most every week (I've been in town) in The China Jade for at least seventeen years. Annie was my first waitress way back then. We have formed quite a friendship. I have my own table in the corner pocket of the establishment.

I have done my best to send The China Jade business and I have surely given them mine. However, by the end of December 2013, maybe earlier, the doors will be closed and the precious family that I adore will be gone. Family? Yes, Annie and Jackie have three precious children -- a son and a set of twin girls. They call me "Uncle Kerry".

Annie explained that Jackie's father, who cooked for them for a long time, is back in China, and at 80-years-old is near death. He wants his family to come home and to be with him. So, I am glad their family will be united, but honestly I feel as if I am losing family myself. When I left the restaurant on Tuesday, I got hugs from them all. Though I plan to see them before they leave, we were taking no chances so we properly said our good-byes.

I gave them my address and phone number and promised to pray for them. I walked out the door and wept on the way to my car. I told God later today, "I trust You, Lord, with my precious family and cherished friends."

As much as I will cherish the memories, I have a witness in my soul that even though they are moving literally around the world, I will see them again. Love conquers all. Indeed, my God is Love.

(Note added later: On Saturday, December 14, 2013, Annie called me to say, "Good News. My father-in-law seems to be improving in his health. We have decided that just my husband will go to China for now and I will remain here for the time being with our three children. My restaurant will remain open. Tell your friends.")


Monday, December 9, 2013

Old or New?

Today, I helped officiate a funeral for a 97-year-old lady who was part of our local church family -- Mrs. Dorothy Viola Halterman Lee. My mind has been so full thinking of all the changes and transitions she surely encountered during her life.

Mrs. Dorothy went to bed Thursday night as an old lady in her one-bedroom apartment and Jesus woke her up sometime before sunrise on Friday morning in her brand new home. What a powerful thought! No doubt she traded old pains and aches for new rest and healing.

At the benediction, I read from Revelation 21. Especially these words spoken by The Glorified Christ in verse 5 are so powerful: "I am making everything new again!"

If this were to be your final night on planet earth, are you confident Jesus would wake you up Brand New?

If not, talk to Jesus. Tell Him you want to turn from old and look forward to the new. He will help you turn from sin and turn to Him. Take it from me, walking in the Light beats running with the devil.   


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Real Rest

I pray that today you know real #rest for your soul. In Jesus' name.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Volume 10: "Christmases Past"

Lately, my heart has been full of gratitude and as a result memories of "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past" is overflowing from my mind. 

You know what I miss? I miss riding with my cousin Mitch on Christmas Eve in his white Mustang. It was a 1965 model, I do believe. It had a red interior with a manual transmission. Mitch could shift gears faster than a NASCAR driver.

Each Christmas Eve, after Mitch set off fireworks in the front yard, would take me for a joy ride right after dark. We rode to the east end of the island and pulled into a big field called Academy Field. Mitch would switch off the headlights and wildly drive the car around in circles until we were both delightfully dizzy. You would've thought we we had just won The Daytona 500. Going round and round in that Mustang, time would seemingly stand still. I laughed until I cried. It was more fun than I can describe.

Finally after a long while , Mitch would decide we were done, switch the headlights back on, and we would go meet the rest of the family at the west end of the island. There our Christmas Eve would continue as we opened Christmas gifts and ate holiday desserts (like my Granny's beautiful and delicious, red, Christmas Jelly Cake.)

This Christmas Eve, no doubt, I will as always think of Cousin Mitch, his classic white, Ford Mustang sports car, and breathe prayers for him and for all of my precious family.

As I give thanks for "Christmases Past", my thanks only enlarges for "Christmas Present" and "Christmases Future", because I know that the rest of our Holy Days will still be the best of our Holy Days. Christmas only increases the joy in my soul as the years pile up behind me. Yes, the season keeps getting "gooder and gooder".


Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Jelly Cake Illustrated

Well, if you've been reading my "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past" writings, you recall me talking about how I miss my Granny's beautiful and delicious Jelly Cake. You also know that my Aunt Edith froze me a couple of slices of my Granny's recipe Jelly Cake that she baked for Thanksgiving. 

Just for fun I took a photo of the two slices before I devoured them. Here it is just in case you are the curious type. 
Was the Jelly Cake delicious? It tasted just like my Granny's did when I was a boy. Yes, the word would definitely be "delicious." 


P.S. Mom is getting the recipe from Aunt Edith for me tomorrow. I am so stoked.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Volume 9: "Christmases Past"

The little church I was raised in was blessed with musical talent that was off-the-charts. Clint Nelson, a former rock-and-roll singer, was without doubt the cream of the crop vocally. With his shiny-black, electric, Les Paul, Gibson guitar strapped around his neck, inspiration always happened for those of us who were blessed to hear him sing and play.

As I recall "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past", the Christmas music sung by The Free Grace Church voices and led by Clint Nelson is surely at the top of the list. Year-after-year, the Holy Day Season came alive throughout the month of December, as our local church family enjoyed both traditional Christmas Carols and newly written, sacred songs by Clint Nelson. I especially enjoyed hearing one of Clint's original Christmas tunes titled, "Born is The King." 

The congregation that still meets on the island property on The Old Ferry Dock Road, still has a Christmas Concert each Advent season. Clint Nelson is still the lead vocalist and the pastor, too. The church-house is always overflowing with local members of the community. Last year they had to turn people away, so this year they have made the concert a two-night invite.

My son, Grayson, and I arrived on the island tonight just in time for the annual holiday music extravaganza. Clint came to the microphone wearing his red vest and welcomed a capacity crowd. As much as I often miss the music of "Christmases Past", tonight my memory gave way to the present. Though Clint is much older now, he never sang or played his guitar more beautifully.

Maybe it's because the older I get the more I need Christmas inspiration. Anyway, I love Christmas even more this year than I did last year. As I hugged Clint Nelson on the way out, my heart was wonderfully warmed once again.

Indeed, I am blessed! And, I am ...


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Volume 8: "Christmases Past"

"Whatever happened to yesterday.
It picked up our children
And stole them away..."

When it comes to remembering "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past", without doubt I miss being a little child and I miss my own children being little.

When you come to think about it, Christmas is all about a little Child -- The Christ Child. Maybe that's why having little children around during Christmastime makes the Holy Days seem a little bit Holier.

Think about it? What would a Nativity scene be without The Christ Child? It would be really sad. So, surely little children add gladness to our Christmases.

As much as I miss being a little child and having my own little children around at Christmastime, I am so totally grateful that the little child within me is still very much alive and wondrously well.

Yes, I still love all the lights and decorations of "Christmas Present". I have anticipated setting up our Nativity scenes -- the ones inside our house and the one lit up brightly on the front lawn. 

Watching Christmas movie classics continues to warm my heart. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is especially a personal favorite of mine. You got it. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" overflows with ageless child characters and take it from me: being a child never grows old for my eternal soul.


P.S. And, yes, I Still BELIEVE!

Volume 7: "Christmases Past"

Mailing Christmas cards is surely one of the most compassionate ways to express blessed greetings to others. For as long as I can remember and wherever I have lived -- the week after Thanksgiving -- Christmas cards have started to come my way in the mail.

When I think about "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past", I clearly remember my Mom showing respect for each Christmas card that came to our island-home mailbox. Here's how she did it. She could be found scotch-taping all the Christmas cards to the interor living room doorframes of our home. Yes, the cheerful cards that arrived at the Willis address became decorations in our home year-after-year.

It was both sacred and inspirational for me to view each beautiful Christmas greeting card and to carefully read the names of the senders. I suppose it was my way -- as a young boy -- of blessing them back.

After the holiday decorations came down in January, Mom would always pack the current year's Christmas cards in with the candles and ornaments and save them until the new ones arrived the following Advent season.

Guess what? I am my Mother's son. Yes, I still do the same thing. I don't scotch-tape Christmas cards to doorframes, but I do still save the cards for a whole year. And, I don't pack them away. I keep them in a gift bag in my clothes closet and reread them from time-to-time from January through November of the new year. Often I breathe a prayer for those who have signed their names in the cards.

As much as I miss Mom reverently scotch-taping the Christmas cards to the doorframes during "Christmases Past", I honestly cherish getting the "Christmas Present" cards in our mailbox even more. 

As I write these thoughts, three new Christmas cards have already arrived in our mailbox today. 

Indeed, I count each card sacred and the inspiration they deliver is undeniable.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Volume 6: "Christmases Past"

Among the things I miss most about "Christmases Past" is spending Christmastime with my childhood friends in our little, quaint, island neighborhood.

The boys on the west end of my native island homeland were really close. I was especially close to the Paylor brothers -- Craig, who was one year older than me and Jeffrey, who was one year younger.

About mid-November the Christmas mail-order catalogues from Sears and Montgomery Ward would wondrously appear in our mail boxes -- Wish Books. Oh my, the toys on those pages were captivating to my boyhood brain.

I remember one year I asked old Saint Nick for an electric automobile race track. I suppose that's the year my love for NASCAR kicked into high-gear.

I was up that Christmas morning before sunrise. With the rest of my family still snuggled in their beds, I wondered how I would ever assemble the race track all alone. It was then that I heard a gentle tapping sound on the living room picture window. I looked up from the floor and there were the two faces of my dear friends pushed against the glass -- yes, the Paylor brothers, Craig and Jeffrey. Help had arrived! Who put that racetrack together? Well, here's a hint. Craig grew up to be an engineer.

Anyway, the three of us spent most of that special Christmas morning taking turns racing two colorful muscle cars around the black oval electric track. Sometimes the tires spun so fast that the cars would go airborne. Wow! What fun!

More than missing my childhood racetrack, I often miss the Paylor brothers. I especially miss Jeffrey. Craig and Jeff were in a car wreck in the early 1980s. They were both riding in the backseat of a speeding car that went airborne around a curve in our community and landed upside down in a roadside canal. At age nineteen, my dear friend, Craig's little brother, Jeffrey "Kent" Paylor was... gone.

How much did I love Jeffrey "Kent" Paylor? Well, in 1987, our firstborn, a son, arrived. We named him Grayson "Kent" Willis. That's how much I loved him! Jeffrey once told me that he loved his middle name, the same middle name that Superman had -- "Kent". I never forgot it.

A few weeks ago I was visiting on my island home. I stopped by The Virgie Mae Cemetery. Jeffrey "Kent" Paylor is buried right next to my beloved Granny and Grandaddy. Boy, do miss them and him.

I still collect Hot Wheel cars occasionally. I guess the little automobiles remind me of "Christmases Past" and especially my dear friends, the Paylor brothers. To this very day, I still like to collect the all-chrome Mustangs. They remind me of the special edition Hot Wheels that the boys in our neighborhood used to mail-order for one American dollar, as long as we enclosed two Kellogg's Cereal box tops, of course.

As much as I miss my friends from "Christmases Past", I am so humbled and grateful that The Lord has allowed me to stay around to keep our boyhood memories alive for "Christmases Present" and for future generations of Christmas lovers. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Volume 5: "Christmases Past"

I know that memory can be burdensome sometimes, but it can be a beautiful thing as well. In this spontaneous writing endeavor, I choose to focus on beautiful memories -- specifically, "What I Miss Most About Christmases Past".

So, what do I miss most about Christmases Past? I truly miss seeing our little children take part in a live Bethlehem nativity presentation in the yearly church Christmas pageant.

My memory has a lovely picture stored away of our little boy decked out like a shepherd, complete with a bathrobe, a cloth head-dress, and a stuffed sheep under his arm. Then, there's our little daughter. She's wearing a tinsel-decorated, white angel's outfit with a halo made of shiny-gold garland scotch-taped around her head.

Seeing our own children in a humble, live nativity made the birth of a Savior more personal for me. 

Yes, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son", however, knowing "God included my own family" in that amazing love, simply and profoundly takes my breath away. 

In this instance, memory is indeed a very beautiful thing to me.