God sometimes shows up in the strangest ways. One Christmas week in 1980, he did just that for my immediate family. It was a Christmas they never forgot.
Buddy Wiles grew up in Baptist churches, but after surrendering to God’s call into the ministry, he chose a Southern Methodist College and began preaching in this denomination’s churches. When I reached the age of fourteen, Dad returned to the Baptist church. We moved around quite a bit, but he managed to remain at the same church long enough for me to gravitate through high school and graduate—at which time I immediately moved out. Shortly after, Mom and Dad and my two brothers experienced a Christmas like none they had before.
For a number of years, Dad had struggled with God’s call to be a full-time evangelist. After resigning his church in Orangeburg, South Carolina, he decided it was time. The only problem was now wasn’t God’s time; it was only Dad’s. So God allowed him and the family to spend a Christmas on the Santee River to convince him.
Resigning a church when you live in a church provided home and have nowhere to go is a scary experience, but this is what Dad did. Fortunately, the church organist had a little getaway mobile home on the shores of Low Country South Carolina’s Santee River. Completely furnished, it was ready to move in.
Mom, Dad, and my two brothers loaded up their clothes, stored the remainder of their belongings at my grandparent’s home, and headed for what they had never experienced before: residing in a trailer, using someone else’s belongings, and living on the water. Their new home was small, cramped, and showed evidence of a bachelor’s presence, but Mom made it as much of a temporary home as she could—even after finding snake skins in one of the closets.
Mom was employed in Orangeburg—thirty miles away. Her income wasn’t sufficient to pay bills. Debt was mounting. Calls for Dad to preach were few and far between. When they came, they struggled to muster the gas money for him to get there. Compensation was never enough to cover his expenses. The weather had turned cold, and keeping the oil tank filled was further draining their bank account. To top it off, my middle brother was struggling with asthma attacks. Dad would take long walks with him in the woods and along the riverbank attempting to calm him down so they could avoid a trip to the hospital—another unaffordable expense.
All the while, the season of joy was quickly approaching, but there didn’t appear to be much joy in the Wiles’ household this Christmas. How could they be joyful when there was no money to buy a tree or presents? Even if they had the tree, their ornaments were packed up who knows where. Mom loved to cook large Christmas meals, but this year the cabinets were bare. Meat was rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Times, in fact, were so lean they couldn’t afford to return to church services on Sunday evenings.
A dose of ingenuous planning by Mom and a surprise visit from a friend turned the tide. Low County South Carolina is heavily dotted with pine trees. Why not use one as a Christmas tree? So they did. Dad and the two boys trekked through the woods until they found the perfect one. They cut it and dragged it back to the spot Mom had carefully chosen in the trailer. She even came up with a solution for the ornaments too. Finding craft ornaments that required baking and painting, she accosted them up and delivered them to Dad. He needed something to occupy his mind anyway. But the cabinets were still bare.
It appeared this Christmas would be meatless in the Wiles’ home. But during Christmas week, Richard—their good friend and owner of the trailer, stopped by. He worked at a local car dealership and had been given a ham and turkey as Christmas gifts. Since he was a single man, he had no use for both and wondered whether Mom, Dad, and the boys might be interested in having the ham. They quickly snatched them up with great joy and appreciation. God sent meat for Christmas.
This Christmas on the river was probably the leanest my family had ever experienced, but of the many they have shared together, this one stands out as the most memorable. They spent time together and felt closer than they ever had. The aroma of the cooking ham snaked through every inch of the trailer reminding them of God’s goodness. They didn’t have much, but God gave exactly what they needed.
Mary experienced the same. She too was a poor young woman engaged to be married when God showed up and told her fiancé she would birth the Savior of the world. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21 NLT) The excitement—and anxiety, was almost more than Mary could bear. But her willingness to accept God’s plan resulted in salvation for all who call upon the name of the Son she bore.
My family needed meat for Christmas, and God provided. Soon after, he provided another church for Dad to pastor. Once again, they had a place to stay and food on the table. God provided for my family just as he did a Savior for the world. And that’s how God is. Whatever the need, he’ll always supply.
Martin Wiles is a
“preacher’s kid,” author, speaker, and freelance writer and editor currently
living in Greenwood, South Carolina. He and his wife Michelle are founders of
Love Lines From God, a devotional ministry that helps those who want to enhance
their spiritual journey with Christ. His latest book, Grits & Grace &
God, is available at Amazon.