As I entered the house this morning, I was greeted with the beautiful sound of my wife, Marilee, playing the piano and singing Christmas carols. It is the day before Christmas, and in a few hours, we will be having 30 people here for a sit down dinner. The house is all decked out in our Christmas decorations, the smell of the Christmas tree ﬁlls the air, and the 3 tables are set, awaiting our guests. Much preparation has gone into making things ready for tonight’s big event. The rugs have been vacuumed, the ﬂoors swept, Christmas lights hung, Christmas presents have been purchased and wrapped, and food cooked and prepared for our guests. Christmas cards have been opened and displayed, announcing the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the real reason for the season we celebrate at Christmas. One card stands out from all the rest. It was from a former prisoner that I ministered to 20 years ago when he was a prisoner at our local County Jail.
I came to know Paul quite well while he was incarcerated on a minor charge, awaiting trial. Paul was very depressed and experiencing a mental health crisis. As it turned out, he was bi-polar or manic-depressive. For several weeks, I visited with him and shared the Good News of Jesus Christ. Eventually, once he was on the proper medication, he settled down and began to respond to the gospel message. He requested weekly counseling sessions and prayer times, and attended our weekly Bible Studies and Sunday Services. One day, I got to pray with Paul to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Wow! What an amazing transformation. Now he was ﬁlled with Peace and Joy. Later he attended our annual Christmas Program that we use to have at the jail, before security concerns forced it to be cancelled. At the program he was given a gift bag decorated by local school children, and accompanied with a letter from a child, wishing him a Merry Christmas! Also, he was able to enjoy two plates loaded down with fresh baked cookies, cakes, and candies supplied by the local community. But that wasn’t all.
In addition to the food and gifts, caroling groups had come to serenade the prisoners, all the while, singing beautiful carols like, Joy to the World, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night. When Paul was release from jail, he wrote us several letters expressing his thanks for ministering to him at that most critical time when he was suffering separation from family and friends, while enduring a mental health crisis. All of this was compounded by it being Christmas when you so want to be with family and friends. Some prisoners may write and stay in contact for a few months, but it is rare that a former inmate would stay in touch the way Paul has done.
When Christmas was approaching the following year, we got a letter from Paul, with a check for $400.00 to help buy cookies and candies for our jail’s annual Christmas program. That is a big donation and we were blown away by his generosity and grateful heart. Thus began an annual tradition that has continued now for some 20 years. One Christmas I will never forget, when Paul and his wife drove over the mountain passes in a blinding snow storm, to deliver dozens of cookies they had baked for the prisoners. Now that is dedication!
Now every Christmas, Paul and his wife, Sidney, send us a quirky Christmas card with pictures of them wearing some kind of Christmas stocking hat, or crazy sweater. Always the card contains a sizable check earmarked for the Christmas Program, and a beautiful fruit cake. Just the other day, the Fed Ex truck pulled up to our house and delivered, you guessed it, another fruit cake.
When the mailman came, there was also another card from Paul are Sidney with their annual Christmas picture and a check for $1,000.00 to be used where needed!
As you sit around opening presents Christmas morning, remember what it is all about. Jesus is God’s gift to us, purchased with his blood that He shed on the cross of Calvary for us. So the next time you are given a fruitcake, remember Paul and Sidney, and their example of thankfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. What’s that sound? I hear the bells ringing … “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!”