Here’s the web-version of our Christmas Letter we sent out to our family.  After reading a few this season, we realized what a year this has been and it only seemed appropriate to share how God has led and blessed us this past year.

In January, Laurie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully God allowed the doctors to find it early and she began immediate treatments after her February surgery. We were both very thankful her mom was able to come and help out the week of her surgery.  Her radiation treatments started in March.  Her last treatment was May 13th. She is cancer-free but will continue with regular follow up visits.

Just two days after Laurie’s last treatment we made the trip to say goodbye to my nephew Zac. We saw him briefly on Sunday morning, and that afternoon he was able to see Jesus face to face.  It was an added blessing to see several family members for his amazing memorial service at NewSpring Church. I miss him on a regular basis.  You can watch a part of his story here.

A huge highlight from our summer was a few days in Mammoth Lakes, CA.  It was our first time there and Laurie had it planned out very well where we simply enjoyed down time in a beautiful setting. At the end of our week, we did a quick drive through Yosemite and came out the western side so we could have an afternoon visit with Laurie’s Grandma Clarice.  We were both so glad we made that trip. Grandma died just a few months later.  Laurie was able to join her mom in Three Rivers for a brief visit for Grandma’s memorial service. An added blessing was reacquainting with family.

In October I learned the reason for some unexpected weight loss was a condition called Graves Disease, a form of hyperthyroidism. Though the name sounds morbid, it appears this is not terribly uncommon and it is very treatable.  My good doctor has me on a medication with regular blood work to monitor the progression. So far so good.

Thanksgiving gave us the opportunity to see several family members in Mesa, as Stacey hosted the main event.  We had a great Christmas Eve service with our largest crowd ever.  We were blessed to share the holiday with two of my sisters from Tucson, Janet and Sandra.

As we’ve exchanged gifts and shared precious family time together, we clearly think of our gift to God first and foremost.  What is it?  To give to God the praise and thanks He is due. We are so blessed.  And above all, we give Him thanks for Jesus, His Son. “For unto us is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Mark and Laurie Smith

Guest Blog From Jim Smith

James SmithToday is Zac’s birthday, His dad, my brother, is my guest blogger today:

Exactly 34 years ago today, on Friday, September 10, 1976, at 1 p.m., Zachary James Smith arrived in Denver, Colorado. He was in a hurry to get here. He was born two months early and weighed in at 4 lbs., 3 oz. Before he lived very long, his weight dipped below 4 lbs. Kind of a scrawny little guy, he was taken by ambulance from the hospital where he was born to the Children’s Hospital in Denver where he lived for many days in NICU. His heart and lungs were not fully developed. He had no sucking reflex. He was weighed every night at midnight. We would stay up and wait until 12:05 so we could call the nurses and see if had gained any weight.

His beginning was somewhat frightening to his dear mother. I think I was scared, too. But my memory works differently than hers and what I remember most was the overwhelming weight of responsibility. I had married an amazingly beautiful wife at a young age and now, all of a sudden,  I was a father. We went from two rather small salaries to the smaller of the two.

The 30 days in the hospital finally came to an end and young Zachary came home to our little house on Kansas Drive. By now, he was in a hurry again. He was quick to develop and catch up with the growth charts and the statistics. We could tell from very early on that his mind was advanced. He had inherited some stubbornness and some IQ from his grandfathers. That turned out to be a really good thing.

That first Christmas, he wore a newborn Santa outfit and we bought a long-play record of John Denver’s Christmas songs. Among them was A Baby Just Like You. This was a song Mr. Denver sang to his son, Zachary. Merry Christmas, little Zachary.  That turned out to be a long-standing tradition.

Zac learned to read, listening to his mother read to him incessantly. He knew his letters and was putting together words when he was 2 years old. He loved to read. Before he was two years old, his little sister arrived to complete the family. He knew from the very beginning his role as a big brother. (Further chapters to follow…)

He was in a hurry to exit, as well; wasn’t he? He has left his parents and sister and wife a heartful of memories. He has left his amazing children an incredible legacy. Join me in thanking God today for Zac’s life.

God’s Reminders

I love how God leads us to remember. You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s a verse of scripture. Sometimes an old song, or even a once familiar smell. And suddenly our minds go back in time to a different place.

Today, I got to thinking about Zac, my nephew who is with Jesus.

It’s Mandy’s birthday, and somehow that got me to click on the link to Zac’s blog that Mandy is keeping up.  I loved it. I love Mandy’s writing. I love that she is keeping his blog going b/c of all of his posts.  I love that under the ‘comment’ section I can learn more of Zac’s very wide influence through his story and his suffering.

I have great reminders today of a young man I loved and his desire to live it all for God, without hesitation and without apology.

Happy Birthday dear Amanda.

Today, we say ‘see ya later’

Tough day. Glorious day. I dunno, you pick. Life with Jesus is awesome. Death on this planet sucks. I hate goodbyes. In just a bit, we’ll see Zac’s ‘earthly tent’ go in the ground. But we all know with clear confidence that on Sunday afternoon, Zac said ‘hey’ to Jesus, face to face. Seriously. And because of that, we do what we do. Tell as many people as possible that Jesus makes that gift available.

If you haven’t seen this for awhile, go ahead and take a look.

Can’t wait to see Jesus, face to face. Until then, to God be the glory.

I Lost a Friend Today

My nephew Zachary James Smith, died today @ 3:05 pm.  One year ago, the day before Mother’s Day, he learned he had stage 4 colon cancer.  I have a feeling I’ll have a few things to say about Zac over the next few days and weeks.  A couple of weeks ago he called and asked my to give the eulogy at his funeral.  But tonight I simply want to say, a very dear friend of mine died. He left this world and joined Jesus in the next.

Tonight I went to the NewSpring service alone. Most of the family went this morning while I stayed behind with Zac and Mandy.  I loved every minute of my day.  As we arrived at his house, I couldn’t believe I had the chance to speak with him one more time.  More on that later, maybe.

As I walked into NewSpring, I suddenly realized how surreal this was going to be. To be at Zac’s church, without Zac. There’s really no reason I would ever be in Anderson, South Carolina, or NewSpring Church, or know a handful of amazing people who I now know because of Zac.  I sat in the back and wept through most of the service. This one time, I kinda liked the idea of being alone.   The music, the memories of walking around the campus and the auditorium with Zac. This is only my 3rd visit to this place, but I’ve felt a sweet connection with this part of Zac’s life.  I really wanted to walk upstairs to his office and see his coworkers and say hi.  I wanted to walk to where his desk was. But I didn’t. I’m grateful for the memories of Zac throughout that place of worship and work.  I’m grateful for the many people that made that a special place for Zac.

My thoughts are many tonight. But for now, let me just say, Zac was not just a nephew that I loved, he was a friend. A really good friend. I already miss my friend.

Glory to God…Forever.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.

Last week I had the privilege to visit with my nephew Zac Smith in Anderson, SC while we attended a conference at NewSpring Church.  We talked of life and death, miracles and healing, ministry and calling, joys and struggles, life after death, and God’s glory in any and all of these.  I am profoundly impacted by this man.  Many of you have seen his video testimony.  He really means it when he says ‘it’s all for God’s glory’.

After a dreadfully long day of travel, I was up early reviewing my sermon notes when I got a call on Sunday morning.  I heard the terribly shocking news of the death of a dear friend’s wife the night before.  The last time I had been to SC in October I had Greg Tonkinson preach in my absense at Grace. Greg and I went to seminary together. He is a better preacher than I am, and a great dad and loving husband. The night before, Greg’s wife Leigh Ann, was killed in a tragic car accident in Gilbert, AZ.  As Greg’s brother was telling me this on the phone early Sunday morning, I couldn’t speak. I was stunned. Who wouldn’t be?

Leigh Ann was the beautiful mom of three precious kids and wife to my friend Greg.  I was reading my notes for the sermon that morning on the cross of Jesus. How do we see the cross of Jesus?  Do we see it like Pilate, the Roman soldiers, John, Mary?  Do we see it as necessary?  The cross had to happen because sin brought death.

Zac’s life is about bringing glory to God; through a healing, or living life with pain, or in death. Either way, glory to God, forever. Today he’s living life courageously with a painful disease.

Leigh Ann lived life for the glory of God, and then it was over.

Laurie and I hope to make it to Leigh Ann’s funeral on Friday.

Do we give God glory in life?  Are we ready to see Him get glory even in our death?

Glory To God Forever
Before the world was made
Before You spoke it to be
You were the King of kings
Yeah You were yeah You were
And now You’re reigning still
Enthroned above all things
Angels and saints cry out
We join them as we sing

Glory to God
Glory to God
Glory to God forever
Glory to God
Glory to God
Glory to God forever

Creator God You gave me breath
So I could praise
Your great and matchless name
All my days all my days
So let my whole life be
A blazing offering
A life that shouts and sings
The greatness of our King

Take my life and let it be
All for You and for Your glory
Take my life and let it be Yours
Take my life and let it be
All for You and for Your glory
Take my life and let it be Yours

CCLI Song No. 5384338
© Worship Together Music

Zac Smith @Grace This Sunday

I believe it was the Friday just before Mother’s Day when Zac went in for a colonoscopy.  That day he learned that he had a lemon-sized tumor. The next morning they did surgery and it wasn’t long before he learned the cancer was at a stage four status. There are only four stages.

I remember learning of the news by talking with my brother Jim, (Zac’s dad) and wept on the phone realizing this wasn’t going to be the news any of us wanted to hear.  Immediately I began to mourn for my nephew.  I couldn’t believe my 32 year old nephew had cancer.  I remember a few days later getting a phone call from Zac. Just seeing his name on my cell phone seemed to affect me.  It seemed surreal to be talking to a young man I know well and love much, yet feeling so helpless. There’s nothing to say, nothing to fix, simply being on the phone was going to be good enough. And it was.

Zac has served us all well by sharing his thoughts via his blog.  He’s allowed us to read the journey as he is experiencing it.  I would think it would be very easy to become very private and secluded, whether in sorrow, self pity or overwhelmed thoughts of the brevity of life.  I can’t imagine all that Zac is experiencing, but I’m grateful that he is sharing parts of the story with us. On the side of this blog, you can find a link to his blog. Go and read it.

This Sunday, Zac will be speaking at Grace. This is huge.  Zac is an excellent teacher, preacher, and thinker.  Whatever you can do to be at Grace this week, it’ll be worth the effort. I’m trusting God for an amazing time together learning of the marvelous and amazing grace of God as seen and experienced through this young man’s life.  We start at 10.  For my Grace peeps, let’s be praying now for God’s Spirit to minister in a special way this Sunday.