It was 1963. We had been out of the Methodist ministry for a year and a half. I had been told by counselors in employment agencies that anyone who had formerly been a minister was a poor employment risk. They explained that companies did not like to hire them because they would spend thousands of dollars training them and then they would return to the ministry. The only kind of jobs available were commission type sales, jobs of difficult-to-sell items. I spent a lot of time in sales with little return for my investment of time and expense. I sought executive positions. I would get excellent recommendations, positive interviews, and then when the Board of Directors would meet, I would lose in a narrow margin of voting. My opportunities to preach were the best source of income we had, and I've already talked about those problems.
With this kind of circumstance, we were still depending solely upon our 1947 Ford Coupe for transportation. It was excellent for going to the grocery store, attending church services in town, and taking the kids to school on cold wintry days.
Our two oldest children had grown up in a Methodist parsonage. They had become accustomed to a relatively high standard of living, including high status ranking in the community. Living in an apartment, learning to pray for daily provisions of food, and not having any special status had had some effect on them. We didn't begin to realize how our eleven-year-old daughter and our eight-year-old son were suffering until they began to ask their mother to let them out a block or two from school. It was a painful experience for them to have their mother unload them in front of the school in our old car with all of their classmates watching. There was little we could do about it, except to bring it before our heavenly Father in prayer.
Christmas was approaching. This would be the first Christmas that our youngest son, Glenn Clark, would be able to appreciate. He was growing rapidly, had begun to communicate beautifully, and was dearly loved. The blessings he brought to our family were immeasurable. God truly sent him at the right time to help us all.
We placed our Christmas tree in Ginny's room since Orville slept in a fold-away bed in the living room. As Christmas was approaching, we were glad that there had not been enough room in the living room for the tree, because of the lack of any gifts underneath it. Indeed, with just a few days left before Christmas, you could tell what was happening by the questions that were asked. Ginny came and said, "Daddy, Orville and I will understand if we don't get anything for Christmas, so if you thought about getting us anything, I wonder if you could just take that money and get something nicer for Glenn, since this will be the first Christmas he'll know anything about."
You can bet that kind of question gets to the heart of a father who cares.
As Christmas neared, we were able to have one or two gifts under the tree for each of the children. We were still quite aware of the fact that related to all of their Christmas experiences of the past, this Christmas would be very lean.
The day before Christmas, the mailman brought an unexpected surprise. There was a gift of $50.00 from Jimmy Johnson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for our family's use at Christmas. The same day there was a gift of $100.00 from Bethany Baptist Church in Baker, Louisiana, for our use. It didn't take Virginia and me long to decide what to do. We would use the $50.00 for necessary expenses, but the $100.00 would go for bicycles for our two older children.
As Christmas morning arrived, there was not enough room to put the bicycles in the room with the Christmas tree; instead, we left them in the kitchen - a blue bicycle for Ginny Lou, and a red one for Orville!
We woke the children on Christmas morning and went into the bedroom to open the gifts. They watched Glenn open his presents, then took their two small gifts and slowly unwrapped them. They tried vainly to act very happy with the small inexpensive gifts they had received. They were poor actors.
Then my wife said, "Let's go into the kitchen for breakfast." We hurried ahead of the children so we could see the expression on their faces. I want you to know that I've never experienced more joy in all my life than I experienced then. God alone could have provided the kind of Christmas we had that year. There have been many Christmases in my life, but the Christmas God planned has been the best one of all!
God was able to do what we couldn't do. By using His obedient servants, He was able to grant the deepest desire of two young hearts. They had never seen anything in their lives more beautiful than those red and blue bicycles. We had never seen the fullness of joy more vividly.