I was only 13 years of age when I plopped into the back seat of our old Chevy and heard my father say, “Son, I am really sorry but we will not be having a birthday cake for you this year.” I can still relive that moment in my mind. “Your mother might not make it,” he said as he choked up. We were on our way to Kittanning, Pa., to visit Mom in the hospital, and I was dumbfounded to hear that she might die. Not having a birthday cake didn’t matter.

Dad was not a praying man; at least I had never seen him pray publicly. I know he thought a lot about God, but he was always too busy to take my three brothers and me to church. You see, Dad had 25 American Kennel Club-registered beagles. He was a hunting enthusiast and he “ran his dogs” in competition at field trials. His beagles were his pride and joy.

A number of things happened during that hospital visit. First, I saw my father get down on his knees, hold my mother’s hand and pray. I didn’t know he had it in him. He cried as he prayed sincerely, “Oh, God, I know I haven’t been the most faithful husband or father. I don’t even take my family to church. But I promise that if you heal Jo [Josephine] I will take my family to church on a regular basis. I promise.”

Dad kept his promise. Years later, I discovered that my father had experienced real repentance.

The reason I remember Dad’s prayer so vividly is that I am a retired but active pastor working at Riceville Community Church and East Concord Community Church. I think of all the “what ifs” regarding what happened that day.

If Dad had not prayed that way, I might never have been taken to church. If we had not gone to church, I might not have become a Christian. If I had not gone to church, I probably would not have received a college and seminary education. If I had not gone to church, I might never have met my lovely Christian wife, Doris. The list goes on and on.

That one event changed my life, and I remember Dad’s prayer every Christmas. What would life be without memories?

I play piano during the evening meal at Jennie B. Richmond Nursing Home in Springville almost every night. One of the songs I enjoy playing is “Memories Are Made Of This.” Most of the older folks in the nursing home are living on memories, and I make it a point to play songs they remember. I also play my personal favorites and songs that appeal to staff members. The music blesses a lot of lonely people.

My parents died years ago. Many of my fondest memories are about events of my childhood, especially the transforming prayer of my father that week before Christmas in 1950. These memories enrich my life.

Every Christmas season, I reflect again on the healing power of prayer. And I still think, “If it hadn’t been for that desperate prayer for the healing of my mother, where might I be today?”

God has blessed me with 52 years of marriage, two Christian children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Amid all the rush of this holiday season, I hope you take the time to reflect on the real reason for Christmas – God intervened in history to send us Christ. He still has the power to change lives if we pray.

Oh, and by the way, at Christmas a year later I got presents I never expected, like a Lionel train set, an Erector Set and a new bike. I felt doubly blessed. I still do.