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God sometimes shows up in the strangest ways. One Christmas week in 1980, he did just that for my family. It was a Christmas they never forgot.

Buddy Wiles grew up in Baptist churches, but after surrendering to God’s call to the ministry, he chose a Southern Methodist college and began preaching in this denomination’s churches. When I reached the age of 14, 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 ever  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 into.

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 beside 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 — 30 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, he and Mom struggled to muster the gas money for Dad 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 that 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 my two brothers 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. Finding craft ornaments that required baking and painting, she accosted them and delivered them to Dad. He needed something to occupy his mind anyway. But the cabinets were still bare.

It appeared Christmas would be meatless at 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 a turkey as Christmas gifts. Since he was single, he had no use for both and wondered whether Mom, Dad and the boys might be interested in having the ham. They quickly snatched it up with great joy and appreciation. God sent meat for Christmas.

That 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.

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Martin lives in Greenwood and is the founder of Love Lines from God. He is an author, minister and freelance editor. He is the author of "Grits & Grace and God" and "Grits, Gumbo and Going to Church." He serves as managing editor for Christian Devotions (www.christiandevotions.us) and assistant editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. He and his wife are the parents of two and grandparents of three.

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