A Christmas Letter

This year's staff Christmas party had a "Scottish Highlands" theme

To the Members and Friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

When I had completed my first year at one of my former churches, the chair of the deacons invited the congregation to come forward at the end of the Sunday morning service and express their appreciation to me and my family.  It was a little embarrassing.  I didn’t feel that I had done all that much and was afraid that most people would just slip quietly out the back door.  But they didn’t.  They came forward.  They patted my girls on the head and hugged my wife and shook my hand, and one of them said to me, “I don’t have the words right now to say what I want to say.  I’ll have to go home and think about it.”

That’s how I’ve felt in these last few weeks at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Christmas cards have come pouring into my office along with cookies, candy, and gifts, with bone-breaking hugs and heartfelt words of encouragement.  The members of this church seem to be in a competition to let me know how much I’m loved and appreciated.  I’ve been overwhelmed by it, and when I try to think of how I might respond I feel like that poor tongue-tied parishioner at my former church:

“I don’t have the words.”

The words that do come to mind again and again are these: “Life is good.”  Along with all the rich blessings I have received since coming to Richmond there is a deep sense of satisfaction that I am in the right place at the right time.  But how do I say to you, in a way that you can understand it, “Life is good”?  And how do I say to you, in a way that you can appreciate it, “You are the reason”?  

Maybe the best I can do in this season is to say it, and to hope with all my heart that you will understand and appreciate the warm, strong feelings behind those few feeble words:  Life is good.  You are the reason.  And may the Joy of the Christ whose birth we celebrate and whose love binds us together be yours at Christmas and always.  



Guest Blogger: Jim Flamming

Jim Flamming was pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church for 23 years.  It was during his tenure that the television ministry began, and soon the church and its gifted preacher were known throughout the region.  Since his retirement, Dr. Flamming has focused on three things: teaching, praying, and writing.  He is currently serving as a professor of preaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, as Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church (and leader of our Empowering Prayer Team), and recently published a book called Healing the Heartbreak of Grief.

Jim Flamming has been a regular source of encouragement to me, and along the way he has become a good friend.  I asked him if he would consider sharing some thoughts about dealing with grief during the holiday season, and he gladly agreed.  I hope you will learn from what he has written and forward it to your friends and relatives whose hearts are heavy at Christmas.


The Invisible Christmas Basket of Grief
by Dr. Peter James Flamming

Gifts come in many forms at Christmas. I’ve noticed lots of baskets appear during this season – baskets with flowers, with food, with beautifully wrapped gifts to put under the tree. There is another basket, the invisible basket of grief. One who has always before joined in the celebration is absent. For many, Christmas is a mixed batch of memories, joy, and grief.

Those who have never been there may not understand the silent inner pain of loss. There is a “neveragainness” about grief – never again to be with that person around the tree, or to see the joy of their face when a gift has been opened, or the laughter at the Christmas dinner. Absent is the voice that blessed the food at the dinner table, or the smile when the Christmas story was read, or the fun of getting the tree put up and decorated. It is the “neveragainness” of grief.

Does anything help us with our grief at Christmas? I think so. These three have helped me and you may find them helpful as well:

First, try replacing the sharp edges of grief with the soft memories of gratitude. While what has been can never return, there are priceless memories that no one can take from you. They are treasures. Claim them. Remember them. Give thanks to God for them. No one else on the face of the earth has those memories. Embrace them as only you can. 

Second, when the sharp pains of loss overwhelm you, spend a little quiet time turning the trauma into a prayerful tribute. The loss you feel is a tribute to the one you have lost, and to the relationship you enjoyed. It is a tribute to the memories that dwell within you and are not erased. It is a quiet even spiritual hug for the love you had and still have for the person you so cherished. In our troubled world, the relationship you shared needs to be treasured and saluted. When your head is bowed in grief, lift up your head with tears in your eyes, and salute the years that you had together.

Third, do something. There is healing in tasking. In early grief the rule is, “just do the next thing.” Do what? Whatever needs doing. Pay bills, wash the dishes, make the bed, make the phone call. In later months and years add a new dimension, particularly appropriate at Christmas time. Do something for someone else. It is a small shadow of what our Lord did for us at Christmas, but it has the same love of Christ motivating it.

Finally, Christmas is not only for the joyful. Christmas is for healing the broken hearted. As we gather around the manger of our Lord, we can blend the pain that we feel with the healing we embrace. Christmas has many baskets, including grief, but none is so powerful as the basket that includes the manger, the Christ, and the hope that He brings.

Close Shave

I went to South Carolina early Monday morning because my brother Gray said he could use some help with Dad, who was in the hospital.  I got up at four and was on the road by five, sipping hot coffee from a travel mug and trying to stay alert.  I got to the hospital just before Noon, and spent the rest of the day and all of that night in Dad’s room, watching over him and trying to meet his every need.

I was there at 6:00 the next morning when his doctor came by, Dr. Castellone, who sat on the edge of Dad’s bed, patted his hand, and said, “The good news is you’re doing better.  Your kidneys were failing; now they’re not.  Your liver was failing; now it’s not.  Your white blood cells were failing; now they’re not.”  I’m not sure I heard anything else he said.  I’ve been around hospitals enough to know that when your liver and kidneys fail things have reached a critical stage.  Many of those patients don’t recover.  But here was my dad, doing better, and smiling as Dr. Castellone continued to pat his hand.

I spent the day with Dad on Tuesday and Wednesday, tending to his needs and visiting with Mom, who refused to leave his side.  At one point I asked him if he would like a shave and he said he would.  I spent the next thirty minutes applying hot towels to his whiskers, lathering him up, and then stroking his face as gently as possible with the safest safety razor I could find.  There was a heartbreaking kind of intimacy about it—me, talking in a soothing voice and trying not to nick my Dad as he looked up at me with me trusting eyes, not saying a word.

I suppose this is how it has always been: that the child becomes the parent becomes the child.  I must have looked up at my dad a hundred times when I was a boy with that same trusting expression.  Now here he was looking up at me.  At the time, I felt equal to the task, almost certain that I could give him a good, close shave.  But I don’t know how I will feel in days to come, when his needs become greater and greater, and my skills no longer measure up. 

I’ll just have to do the best I can, and look up at my Heavenly Father with trusting eyes.