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Along Twin Ponds Road

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By Ray Willis

“You’d better behave yourself or we’ll have to put a lump of coal in your stocking,” whispered my tenor buddy, Larry. He was wearing that weird smile that was characteristically his, while leaning over with another of his now-famous, humorous remarks.

It was our Christmas Eve service at Lake Jackson UMC. It wasn’t going to be a long. The choir would sing a few easy pieces; it should be peaceful and simple.

A few couples had been asked to offer brief testimony on a certain theme chosen beforehand by Pastor MacBain on how they had expressed their devotion to God this year. My wife, Judy, and I had been honored as one of those couples. Our theme was “love.”

I shared with the congregation that “love” had been expressed to me every day of my life in some way. I was thankful for every day the Lord had given me and couldn’t wait to express it to Him on my knees in prayer, daily. I went on to say that I was blessed being able to write this column every week and how fortunate I was to have my beloved wife with whom to share my life each day.

Mrs. Willis is the quiet, reserved type.  She chose not to speak and was just happy to light one of the candles.

This particular Christmas Eve service was even more meaningful for me because immediately following our testimony I sang a solo, “Long Time Ago in Bethlehem.” I am honored and happy whenever I am asked to do this. I  love to sing to my Lord, especially when it’s one of the “old ones” that I know the seniors enjoy hearing. 

Judy and I returned to the choir section. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I always do if the solo comes off well. 

Another couple went to front of the church to offer their testimony to God. Their theme was somewhere in the realm of “thankfulness.”

I was still enjoying the respite and glow from being up front when I heard one of the ladies say something very close to the following: “…As far as getting up the first thing in the morning and being thankful to be alive, that’s just not so….”

I nearly blurted out my disagreement and was about to rise from my chair. That’s when Larry whispered that I’d better behave or get that coal in my stocking. He is a very capable church leader in more ways than one.

This wonderful lady had every reason to express her feelings and thoughts the way she had, especially since she’d come upon some particularly bad luck in the last year or so. I didn’t believe she would refute my testimony intentionally nor maliciously.

It was only a couple of days ago that this whole event I’m writing to you about on last Christmas Eve came to mind.  The woman’s comments had gone right over my head that night because I had been concentrating on her theme of “thankfulness.”

I do rise every morning, regardless of how badly I am feeling or thinking, and sink to my knees in prayer, usually within a very few moments after arising from bed.  It takes me out of myself and my selfishness.

Three years ago I read a very short book given to me for a Christmas present by a new friend I had met in Arizona. It was meant to be like a “stocking” gift. 

Little did she know the impact that that book would have on my quiet time with God and general attitude toward life. 

“Music of Silence” was written by David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk now residing at a monastery in New York. In the book he offers that each day we have the opportunity to pause, reflect,  and to take a few moments out of our day to pray during the eight canonical hours as the monks do.

Yes, even at your workplace or at school, wherever we are,  we can do this, as the prayer does not have to be long or elaborate, just about being “grateful.”

For example, Lauds is one of the canonical hours celebrating the coming of the light at break of day.  I play a chant using this theme when I pray and exercise while lying on the carpet, peacefully, each morning.

Brother David would say: “We can begin with the attitude that each day is a gift, allowing us to see that the appropriate response to this given world is gratefulness, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of pain. The angel of Lauds invites us to ask, ‘What attitude should I bring to this day?  What is it time for? Time to rise and shine!’”

God bless you and have a happy Valentine’s Day!