When faced with life's challenges,
it is Important to Remember
that although Daniel was saved from the lions,
he was not saved from the Lion's Den.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Family Christmas

Well, it has been an interesting holiday season in our house.  We went down to the valley to spend the day after Christmas as a family with all the kids and grandkids.  We went to Lori Anna's house and everyone brought something to eat!  We brought mashed potatoes, sour cream potatoes, and green bean casserole.  Somehow, I managed to miss the fact that Lori's oven was on broil and undercooked the bottoms and burnt the tops of everything!  It wouldn't be a family holiday without a disaster or two in the mix.  We enjoyed the food anyway and especially enjoyed the time spent with family.  Benny brought some amazing appetizers for us all to enjoy and Lori made these amazing stuffed jalapino peppers.  We were actually pretty full from all the munching, but attacked dinner anyway.  We all had a good laugh at the burnt offerings!

You can see, it was fun for all, except those who were trying to figure out the oven!

Wild, confusing and fun!  That is the way we spend family time together!

Oh yeah!  Can we come back again next year???

After we ate, we exchanged gifts.  The kids all pitched in together and bought John and I a new living room set.  It is the first new living room furniture that I have ever owned.  It is chocolate brown and absolutely beautiful!

As you can see, they put a lot of work into cleaning and rearranging.  I love the new set up.  But I especially love the fact that they thought of us and put so much work into the gift.  I have an amazing family!

Christ has no hands but ours

The story is told that during World War II, a church building in Strasbourg, France was destroyed by bombings. After the bombing had ceased, the members of the church looked over the damage. In spite of the severe damage they were pleased that a statue of Christ with outstretched hands was still standing. It had been sculpted centuries before by a great artist.
The people discovered, however, that both hands of Christ had been sheered off  by a falling beam. Later, a sculptor in the town offered to replace the broken hands as a gift to the church. The church leaders met to consider the offer and, after giving it considerable thought, decided not to accept. They felt the statue without hands would be a great message to everyone that the work of Jesus Christ is often done through His
people. If there are sick, lonely, or hungry people around us, we are the hands the Savior will use to answer those needs.
Several years ago I read this story and loved it.  But, being me, I felt that I had to research it and this is some of the information that I found.
There are actually several versions of this same story circulating about: one about a church in England bombed during World War II, another about a cathedral in Germany, a third about a village in France and a forth about a village in Africa.
Further research claims that the story actually originated at a Catholic Church in San Diego, California.
The statue did exist outside the church, but the hands were broken off by vandals around 1980, not by bombing. Instead of repairing the hands, the church decided to put up a plaque at the base that states, "I have no hands but yours." This is a reference to a poem by St. Teresa of Avila that begins:
"Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours." The statue is still there, outside that church, without hands. You can find still find photographs of the statue on the Web.
I don't know the true story of the Statue of Christ without hands, but I love the symbolism in it.  I love the fact that the story is told to remind us that it is not enough to pray for Heavenly Father to help someone else.  Sometimes we need to answer the prayers ourselves.

I love the quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:  "Disciples of Christ throughout all ages of the world have been distinguished by their compassion....  In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our happiness, but the number of prayers we answer may be of even greater importance.  Let us open our eyes and see the heavy hearts, notice the loneliness and despair, let us feel the silent prayers of others around us, and let us be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to answer those prayers".  ("Happiness, Your Heritage", Ensign, Nov. 2008. 120)
See something around you that Christ needs to take care of today?
He has no hands . . . but ours!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Morning (or all I want for Christmas)

This year, we decided to experiment from our usual Christmas morning chaos. Instead of getting everyone individual presents, I opted for a large, family gift.  We were pretty excited about it too.  I have been planning this all year and started buying everything back in February.  I got each of the older adult children a gift, and each family of grandchildren a gift.  We talked to the little girls about a family gift this year so that we could prepare them for the moment when the tree was not surrounded by presents all the way to the stairs and down the hall.  Christmas morning comes extremely early in our house!  The girls woke up at 2:30am and went upstairs to the Christmas tree.  The rule in our house is: If you get up early, you can have your stocking, but you can't open anything else until mom and dad get up.  Somehow, the rule works better with these last three children than it ever did with the older ones!  The girls all opened their stockings and tromped around in the library until we (John and I) finally got up about 8:00am.  I refused to get up earlier on the principle that the girls kept me awake half the night with their stomping and excitement.  Next year, I need a better rule!!!  Our day was pretty amazing!  The family got a Wii for Christmas. 

I put every part in a box, than put all the boxes in a big box with styro-foam peanuts.  Then I wrapped the big box so the girls wouldn't be able to guess what it was.  We told them it was a puppy, so Kayla shook the box, but when their was no noise inside, she knew we were playing with her.
Here is the picture of them opening the small box that has the actual Wii inside.  You can see all the other boxes behind the girls.
The big grin tell in all!  In Kayla's words, "Mom, this is the best Christmas ever!"  We headed downstairs to spend the day glued in front of our TV with the new Wii game system.  I even have to admit that I did not mind a bit and we all had a great time!  The best part, I didn't even have to take off my pajamas!

We hope that your Christmas was just as happy and relaxing as ours has been!  

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Eve of the Saviors Birth

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  The night before we commemorate the Savior's birth.  It is such an awe inspiring moment for me.  I wasn't there when Mary wrapped her first born son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  I wasn't there when the angels sang, the shepherd's stopped in wonder or the wisemen followed the star.  I was not called to live upon the earth during the time of His life.
I am here now, to bear witness of the things that have gone before.  To bear testimony of the Son.  My testimony is not founded on the knowledge of being there.  Of being present, of seeing all those holy things.  My testimony is founded on the whisperings of the spirit.  I haven't seen His face, but I have seen His miracles in my own life.  I have heard the whisperings of the Spirit.  I have felt the touch of His love.
I know my Savior lives.  I know that he was born over two thousand years ago for my sake.  I know that He suffered, bled and died for me that I might be with Him again.  Most of all, I know that He loves us.  I know that He knows each one of our names.  He knows what we like and don't like.  He knows our weaknesses and our strengths.  He knows what we have the potential to become.
May your eyes see what He would see.  May your ears hear those whom He would hear.  May your touch always bless those around you with gentleness, forgiveness and mercy.  May you say the things that He would say if He were here right now.  And, above all, may you testify of Him in your everyday thoughts and actions.
Here is one of my very favorite hymns.  I can never sing it without feeling the message of these simple words.  My you always stand amazed when you think of Him. 

I Stand All Amazed

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me
Oh, it is wonderful
Wonderful to me

I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine
That he should extend his great love unto such as I
Sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify

(Repeat chorus)

I think of his hands, pierced and bleeding to pay my debt
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet

By Charles H. Gabriel

I know my Savior lives. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Miracle's Birthday

Today is my sweet Miracle's 13th birthday. It is hard for me to believe that time passes so quickly! Her Aunt Therese and cousin Cienna were here over night. They got stuck in the snow storm yesterday. We have several inches of new snow and it is so pretty. I am so grateful that they could stay here. It really made Miracle's day.
We were supposed to go to a movie today, but the roads were just too bad to take the chance. We rented a couple of movies and John made killer brownies. I bought a good book that came in the mail today and I gave it to Miracle to read first. She has been wrapping presents and having a pretty good day. It was so nice for her to be able to spend most of it with her cousin.
It has been a busy day for us.  I really wanted to make it special for her.  It is not everyday that you become a teenager!  Partway through dinner, my tempory crown fell out.  There is an amazing advantage to living in a small town.  You know everyone!  I called the dentist, Dr. Anderson, and he met me at his office.  I brought Miracle to be his assistant.  So, she got to help put in a new crown.  That has to be a birthday first!  (I am not sure that it is a birthday best though).  Miracle was really good about it.  It was an interesting day. 
I am so thankful for her in my life.  She has added so much and I can not even imagine this life without her.  It is so amazing to me  how each child adds to my experience and my love.  There is not a single one of them that I would want to miss.  I am so happy that they were able to be with me here in this life. 
Miracle is a sweet and loving girl.  She is gentle and kind and genuinely loves others.  She has tender feelings and can be very spiritual.  She has a wonderful testimony and is such a good example to all her family.  I am amazed at her ability to get along with others and her willingness to serve.  I need to be more like that in my own life. 
Here are a couple of pictures of the latest snowstorm in Overgaard.  It dumped lots of snow and made the countryside beautiful.  May each child of yours bring you as much joy and happiness as each of mine of brought to me.  I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father for these special spirits who have been able to share this lifetime with me.   May you take the time tonight to turn out your room lights and look at the twinkling lights on your Christmas tree.  Than may you realize that you have more blessings in this life than that tree has lights.  Take the time to remember and acknowledge your blessings.  They are there!  I promise that you will be happier as you remember how much your Heavenly Father has blessed you with.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yes Patricia, there is a Santa Clause

When I was a little girl, my mother had a Jimmy Dean Christmas record that had songs she always listened to for the Christmas season and the record included a story for me. It was one of my favorite memories of Christmas' past. We would put the record on and listen to it, not just once, but several times during the Christmas season. It was so wonderful to hear my name on a record! My sister and I would lay for what seemed like hours on the floor and listen to the story over and over. It brought the magic of Christmas a little closer to home. Here is the story that I loved. I hope that you enjoy it too. It is not often that you find something that uses your own name. Like any child, I loved to feel noticed!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What is Christmas All About

From the time that I was a little girl, one of my favorite holiday programs was "A Charlie Brown Christmas".  I found this on 'youtube' when I was browsing and it brought back such good memories.  Imagine, I grew up in a day when it was actually OK to talk about the Christ child in a childrens cartoon show. 
My brother, sister and I would all gather round the TV and watch this every year.  It was something that we looked forward to.  We loved to watch the Christmas programs together.  We would joyfully anticipate the coming holiday.  We lived in a time before VHS tapes or DVD's .  If we really liked a program, we had to read through the TV Guide every week and than make sure we were home to watch it.  If we missed it, we could not watch it again until the next year.  I hope you enjoy this little clip from my Christmas past and remember your own favorite memories of Christmas.  I think the memories of my past are what reminds me to take joy in my present.  It is the memories that keep me focused on what is really important.  This really is what Christmas is all about. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I love this song.  Actually, it is probably my favorite song of the entire season. There is something so sad about it, and then the last verse comes out so powerful and hope fills my heart.  What makes this song so special though, is the story behind it.  I heard it recited on Music and the Spoken Word, on the BYU channel.  I have always loved the story, but it means so much more to me now.  We each face trials.  It is part of why we came here.  But, believe it or not, it is not the trials that break us.  It is what we do or do not do because of them.  "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

This story, about the hymn “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” was taken from this website (which gives permission to share and copy the article).

One of America’s best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), contributed to the wealth of carols sung each Christmas season, when he composed the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on December 25th 1864. The carol was originally a poem, “Christmas Bells,” containing seven stanzas…

The poem gave birth to the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and… five [of the seven] stanzas [two referring to the Civil War were removed] were slightly rearranged in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), who also gave us the memorable tune.
When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the war’s despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace. (…[At this time, Lincoln] prompted his countrymen to “rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”)

As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from the experience of Longfellow– involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds…. Henry married Frances Appleton [Fanny] on July 13th 1843, and they settled down in the historic Craigie House overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with…five children– Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra….

Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. Confederate Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard fired the opening salvos of the American Civil War on April 12th, and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th…. After trimming some of seven year old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized throw rug…. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. (Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.)

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal…. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.” The reelection of Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the terrible war may have been the occasion for the poem. Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived. So, contrary to popular belief, the occasion of writing that much loved Christmas carol was not due to Charles’ death.
Longfellow’s Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep”

Here are the words to that Christmas Carol that were written so long ago. 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 1867)

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

May you find your peace in the Savior this Christmas season and always.  And my you continue to have everlasting hope and joy in His love. 
"It is not enough to know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our
Savior, and that the gospel is true. We must take the high road by acting
upon that knowledge." Elder Dallon H. Oaks

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature."
--Ezra Taft Benson, "Born of God", Ensign, July 1989, 2

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Spirit

Today, I have a link for you to view an amazing video on Christmas Spirit.  A young girl with the Christmas Spirit, quietly teaches her preoccupied family about the true meaning of Christmas.  President Thomas S. Monson, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, bears his testimony at the end.

Remember that if we don't find Christmas in our hearts, we will never find it under the tree.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Christmas I Missed

The Christmas I Missed

Probably, the most memorable Christmas happened when we lived in a little old house over by the Mesa Temple. The house was due to be torn down, so we were able to move into it for a very low rent payment. It was only two bedrooms, but it had a very large upstairs bedroom/attic that all five of the younger kids slept in. It had a large alcove next to one of the bathrooms that Kirbi (my oldest daughter) could sleep in when she needed time to herself.
It was a good little house for us, although it was old and had many problems. The kids knew everyone in the area and there was a large open field by the house that they could play in. I was a single mom with six small children and it was a tough year. My bills amounted to more than I was able to make and Christmas was going to be small. It is hard to know that your children need so many things, and you cannot provide it for them.

I did not have enough money for anything except a family game and I bought each child things for their stockings. However, none of the kids were complaining and we had talked about the true meaning of Christmas and how blessed we were to be together. I had won a turkey at work from a drawing among the union members and also a gift card. So, I had been able to buy all the trimmings for a Christmas meal and we were so excited about it. We were making a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was something we did not have often and we all really loved it. There is just something about the smell of turkey cooking in the oven on a Christmas morning.
I did not have to work on Christmas day and we were looking forward to spending the day together. The kids and I had planned on making candy and baking goodies all day. I worked late on Christmas Eve and did not get home until after dark. All the kids needed baths and we walked over to the Temple to look at the lights and listen to the music. This was my way of reminding them of the things that were really important. When we finished at the temple, we had to come home and read our traditional Christmas stories. We loved to read together out loud and talk about the stories. We sang our favorite carols around the Christmas tree on the living room floor.
I felt so guilty for not being able to be home with them. I had to work a lot of hours back then, and it seemed as if they were growing so fast. I knew that they would not be children for long. We got to bed very late that night, and it seemed as if I had just gone to sleep when there was a banging at the front door.
I was startled and scared, but went and turned on the light and peaked out onto the porch. There was no one there. I opened the door a crack and there was a big black garbage bag sitting on the porch. I opened the door and couldn’t see anyone. I dragged the bag through the door and into the house (not a small feat as it was bulging on all sides) and opened it up. It was filled with wrapped boxes and bows. Everything was labeled girl or boy with an approximate age, but with no names on the packages.
I set everything up under the tree, thanking my Heavenly Father for the generosity of His earthly angels and their willingness to help my children in our time of need. After I got everything out of the bag and arranged under the tree, I glanced at the clock and saw that it was in the wee hours of the morning. I was so tired and I still had not had much sleep that night.
I went into bed and slept the sleep of the emotionally and physically exhausted. I awoke in the morning to a quiet house. (This was unusual on any day but especially worrisome on Christmas morning). If you have had small children, you know that they do not ever sleep in on Christmas. The anticipation of the presents and Santa is enough to wake even the most sleepy child, from their dreams and send them scampering into the living room with wonder shining from their eyes.
My bedroom was filled with light. As I lay in bed, I could begin to hear happy noises coming from outside the house. I sat up in alarm and looked at the clock: It read 9:00 am. I went into “panic mode” and leaped out of bed, dashing into the living room. The floor was all cluttered with boxes and bags and ripped off ribbons. There were clothes I had never seen before strewn all over the floor. It looked like a tornado had entered my living room, whirled around the Christmas tree, and exited out the front door.
I walked, stunned, to the door and opened it up. Out in the yard, all my children were playing happily. I stopped in amazement. You see, Santa did not just bring them presents to put under the tree the night before. He had brought them a play house. Complete with three rubber- band guns for the boys and baby dolls for the girls. All six of the children were out in that house playing and having the time of their lives. The boys were climbing on the roof, and the girls were hanging out the windows.
I broke down in tears and wept. I had slept through Christmas! I had missed it all! Imagine waking up and all the fun had happened without you there to participate. I was so sad and sorry for myself that year. I did not know how I had managed to sleep through all the noise and confusion of the morning. My children hastened to assure me that they had tried very hard to be quiet because they knew that mommy needed her sleep.
The missionaries came over later that afternoon and helped the kids play with the rubber band guns. I never could decide who liked those guns more; my boys, or the missionaries. The day went well and we all had a wonderful day, for the rest of it. When I got over being sorry for what I had missed, I was so grateful for those who made that house and brought the gifts. The children had an amazing and fun-filled day which, I think, they have never completely forgotten.
Of course, the problem with not buying the gifts myself, is that I did not have a clue about what belonged to who! I did not know if a toy was Kirbi’s or Lori’s, Lou’s or DJ’s. I did not know what shirt was for which girl, or what pants were for which boy. So, for the most part, we just put the toys and clothes in a pile and divided them up. The kids just could not understand why I was so upset when they had decided to let me sleep in. They had done me a favor and let me rest. They had a great time and I had sleep, so what was the problem anyway.
Probably, our most enduring tradition came from this one Christmas. I learned that I am not Superwoman, (This is true!) I could not stay up late into the night on Christmas Eve and expect to wake up the next morning when the children did. So, I determined that this would be the last Christmas I would ever miss! Every year after that one, I pulled up a blanket and pillow and slept at the foot of the Christmas tree. This happened every year until the oldest ones were grown and left home. I usually go to bed for an hour or so when the kids do. Then I get up and wrap and put all the stockings together and put all the presents under the tree. When this is done, it is usually about 4:00am. I lay down for an hour, and sure enough, the kids wake up and go through their stockings and we all open presents together around the tree.

I won’t be the one that sleeps through Christmas again!

He Holds My Hand

A friend of mine shared with me this story.  I loved it and thought that I wanted to share it with you.  She was at church when she saw a man with his small son.  The boy was just learning how to walk.  He was holding onto the hand of his father.  But as the father was walking with him, the young boy decided that he wanted to walk all by himself.  He started pulling away from the father's hand.  As his hand slipped out of his father's, he started to have trouble.  His balance was off and he couldn't stay on his own feet.  His Father was still reaching out to him, but the young child did not want to take the offered hand.
Isn't this just like our relationship with our Heavenly Father?  We can have Him with us as we journey through this life.  He is reaching out and holding our hand.  He continues to hold our hand until we (by ourselves) pull away from His grasp.  At that time, He is still reaching toward us and all we have to do is reach out our own hand and clasp His.  It is our choice.  Part of our agency here upon the earth.  We get to choose how we live our lives.  We can try to make it on our own, but without His help, we will stumble and fall.  Or we can reach out and grasp His hand and trust in Him that He will lead us in the way we should go.  Trust that He will help us on our journey home.   He never leaves us, we choose to leave Him.  He never lets go, we choose to pull from His grasp.  He wants to help us home, we choose to stay away. 
So, perhaps the question should be; are you reaching toward Him, or pulling away?  Only you have to power to change your actions.  What are you choosing to do this day?
"...choose you this day whom ye will serve;  whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell:  but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord".  Joshua 24:15
On the front door of my house, hanging on the inside for all of us to see as we exit the house, there hangs a sign.  The words were said by William Law a long time ago.  The sign says:  "If you have not chosen the kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Angels

It was December 24, 1988. I was a single mom who was working two jobs and supporting my children completely alone.  Christmas was looking bleak. I looked around my little home, realization dawning like a slow, twisting pain. Life was hard.  There was no money to spare.  We were barely getting by.  I had bought the kids each one present.  That was stretching my meager budget to the maximum.  We had a small hand-me-down tree that was decorated with homemade ornaments and candy canes.  The childrens favorite part of decorating the tree was putting the candy canes on it and than sneaking them off whenever they thought that I was not looking. 
Our small house had three bedrooms. We had only been in the house for about four months and we had very few possessions.  The kids were all sleeping on mats or sleeping bags on the bedroom floors.  We had not found any good used beds yet and so we were making due.  Our clothes were in dressers as I had been given some old dressers that we solid and still had a lot of wear left in them.  The house was small, but we loved it.  We liked the neighborhood and the people.  We loved starting life in a new place and making new friends. 
We were snug, and often slept together in one of the rooms.  It made them feel secure, and it made me feel close to them -- a blessing I wouldn't have had in other circumstances.  Sometimes we would all have a "camp out" on the living room floor.  It was fun and brought us closer together as a family.
It was early evening, about six or seven o'clock. The sun had set and my children and I were reading in the living room.  I was wrapped in a blanket, sitting on the couch and reading Christmas stories to them.  It was always one of our traditions, we would read a story and sing Christmas carols by the tree.  Suddenly, my front door vibrated with a pounding fist.

Alarmed, I wondered who would stop by unannounced on the night before Christmas. I opened the door to find a group of strangers grinning from ear to ear, their arms laden with boxes and bags.

Confused, but finding their joyous spirit contagious, I grinned right back at them.

"Are you Patty?" The man stepped forward as he held out a box for me.  The gift was wrapped in bright paper and bows.   Nodding silently, I was unable to find my voice, and I felt tears spring to my eyes.
"These are for you." The woman thrust a large bag at me with a huge, beaming smile.  I had no idea who these strangers were.  I remember that I asked them if they were sure that they had the right house.  They laughed and assured me that they were exactly where they were supposed to be. 

 My eyes filled with tears as the realization of why they were there washed over me.

Finally, coming to my senses, I found my voice and invited them in. Following the man were several teenagers, none of whom I knew, staggering with the weight of their packages. The group told me their packages were all gifts for my family. This wonderful, beautiful group of people, who were total strangers to me, somehow knew exactly what we needed. They had brought wrapped gifts for each of us, and many "extras" that I could never afford. Yet, they were not finished.  Out into the night this small army of angels went and brought back into my home bunk-beds.  A bed for each one of the children.  Three beds for the girls room and three beds for the boys room.  I was amazed.  This was more than I had even dared to dream of.   Not only did they bring new beds, they brought mattresses, pillows, sheets, and blankets and they put them all together before they left for the evening.  Somehow my secret wish for Christmas was materializing right in front of me. The desperate prayers of a single mother had been heard, and I knew right then that Heavenly Father had sent his earthly angels my way.

My mysterious angels then handed me a white envelope, gave me another round of grins, and took turns hugging me. They wished me a Merry Christmas and disappeared into the night as suddenly as they had appeared.  I still did not know who they were, what organization (if any) they were from, or how they had found out about us. 

Amazed and deeply touched, I looked around me at the boxes and wrapped gifts strewn at my feet and felt the ache of depression suddenly being lifted into joy. I knew, as surely as if I had seen a group of real angels, that my Father in Heaven was mindful of me.  I knew that He knew my needs and the desires of my heart.  Most of all, I knew He really loved me.  I began to cry. I cried hard, sobbing tears of the deepest gratitude. When my tears were finally all spent, a calming sense of peace filled my heart. The knowledge of God's love reaching into the darkness of my corner of the world enveloped me like a warm quilt. My heart was full. With gratitude in my heart, I fell to my knees amid all the boxes and bags and offered a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

Sitting back up, I suddenly, I remembered the envelope. I shakily opened the flap and gasped at what I saw. I had thought that the generosity of strangers was complete.  Instead, a shower of bills flitted to the floor. Gathering them up, I began to count them. As my vision blurred with yet more tears, I counted the money, then recounted it to make sure I had it right. Sobbing again, I said it out loud: "One hundred dollars."

Tucked in with the money was a simple note that said, "Thank you for giving us this opportunity to serve you.  We have loved preparing this surprise and we have been eagerly looking forward to this day.  Know that you are loved and that someday you will also have the opportunity to make someone else's Christmas dreams come true."
That was all.  It was not signed.  I still did not know who those people were, nor have I ever found out. 
I looked in the rooms at my children who were now sleeping soundly on their freshly made beds.  My heart was full and I remember feeling more at peace and loved than I had felt in a long, long time.  Tomorrow would be a wonderful Christmas Day. One visit from complete strangers had magically turned a painful day into a special one that we would always remember...with joy, thanksgiving, and happiness.

It is now many,many years since our Christmas angels visited. Those small children have grown and now have families of their own.  I have remarried, and our household is happy and richly blessed. Every year since that Christmas, I have tried to help others less blessed than my family. I volunteer to buy or make them carefully selected gifts.  The children have all participated and been willing to give of themselves to help others.  It has been our way of passing on what was given to us. It's like a pebble that is dropped in the water and the ripples go out in ever widening circles on the water.  That first deed from my Christmas angels was the pebble and today the circles continue reaching far out into the lives of others.  

May we each remember that Love is the greatest gift of all.  And may you find ways to enrich the lives of those around you, especially those who need to experience the gift of a Christmas angel.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What does Christmas mean?

I wonder, what does Christmas mean,
With its stars and shiny balls?
Is Christmas more than Christmas trees
And toys and games and dolls?
Of this I’m sure: There’s something more,
For I’ve heard many say
That in a strange and far-off land,
A child was born this day.
And Christmas is to celebrate
His coming from above.
He showed us how we all should live
And told us we should love.

As I read the account of the Savior's birth, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to acquire a new depth of meaning: “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself.”
The true Christmas spirit is never found in having things. It is about giving a part of yourself.  Taking the time out of your busy schedule to find the perfect gift.  Perhaps this is why giftcards seem to me to be 'cheating' in buying a gift.  I want to give the thing that shows the receiver how much they mean to me.  I want to find the thing that will be more lasting in impact.

An unknown author wrote:
I am the Christmas Spirit.
I enter the home of poverty, causing pale-faced children to open their eyes wide in pleased wonder.
I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.
I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the glad old way.
I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind them hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.
I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way, and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.
I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been, and pointing forward to good days yet to come.
I come softly into the still, white home of pain; and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.
In a thousand ways I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God, and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.
I am the Christmas Spirit.

As I read these words, I am reminded that there is no Christmas spirit without our help.  The spirit of Christmas is the Love of God.  As we seek to share with others this love, than can our hearts be turned toward Him.  This is the Christ spirit. The Christmas season seems to prompt within us the yearning to both seek the Savior and to be a little more like Him. 
This search for Jesus is not new.  In the Book of Mormon times, Moroni emphasized the importance of this search: “And now I, Moroni, bid farewell. … I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written.” (Ether 12: 38, 41).  In the Old Testament times, Isaiah declared: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;  Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14).   And again, “For unto us a child is born, Unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder:  and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).
 Then came that most Holy of all nights when the angel of the Lord came upon shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock, and said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke2:11)
Did these shepherds, stop and worry about their sheep, or their possessions, or what their neighbors would think about them?  Did they procrastinate their search for the child of God?  The scriptures tell us that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem. … And they came with haste.” (Luke 2:15,16)
What are you worried about this season?  Are you coming "with haste" to the manger to worship Him?  Or are you busy with other things?  Are you emmulating the "Christ Spirit"?  Or are you more concerned with the world and what it thinks?

President Thomas S Monson has said, "Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. During His earthly ministry, He taught men the higher law. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick. He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life. To us He has said, “Come, follow me.”
As we seek to follow Christ, we shall have the Christmas spirit.  Not just one day, but everyday.  We have His spirit as we learn to forget ourselves and turn out hearts and our minds to others.  
These times in which we live can be so difficult for us.  Yet there is no shortage of opportunities to forget ourselves and think of others.  There are so many out there who need our help and our hands.  There is so much good to do!