Friday, December 31, 2010

The Gift

"Soon in your hand will be placed a priceless gift. Look at it closely. there is no price mark stamped on it. It cannot be weighed, because no scale can balance its value. A king's ransom in comparison is as nothing, yet it is given to beggar and prince alike. The Giver ask only that it be used wisely and well.

This jewel, rare and unique, is not displayed in any shop window. It cannot be purchased, cannot be sold. No other treasure holds the possibilities this gift offers - none can surpass its golden splendor.

Of all gifts this is the most precious. It has been offered many times before; today, from the depths of a boundless love, it will be given again. It will be left to you to find the golden thread running through it. Only with great care will the jewel retain its luster. Carelessness, ingratitude, and selfishness will tarnish the brilliancy, break the unspoiled thread, mar the perfection.

Guard it closely, lest through weak fingers it slips from the hand. Look often at its faultless beauty. Accept it as it is offered from the heart of the Giver. Consider it the most treasured of possessions, for of all gifts, it is by far the greatest. It is the gift of the New Year!" Loretta B. Buckley

I don't know if the old Ideals magazine is still published, but I dearly loved reading the beautiful thoughts and enjoyed the lovely pictures in that book. I clipped the above article many years ago and dust it off at this time of year to remind me what a treasure each new year is.

I have a calendar that is full of empty spaces just waiting to be filled with appointments - some fun, some necessary, some dreaded, some eagerly anticipated. Some dates will require additional space to record all that needs to be done. Some will remain empty. The empty ones will be a treasure - that means I get to do what I want to do instead of what I need to do.

I like Ms. Buckley's comment: "No other treasure holds the possibilities this gift offers." That is so true. A new year - new possibilities - new experiences - maybe new friends. Definitely old friends, and repeated experiences, and hopefully enriching the lives of others as they enrich my life.

I do make New Year's Resolutions. I try to be better this year than last year and the year before that. I also make a list of "Things I've Never Done Before" that I want to do, and a list of places I want to see before I die. (Playing golf in Death Valley and staying at Scotty's Castle is one of them on this year's list.)

May your gift of the New Year be one of your most blessed yet. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year

Only a few days before 2011 presents itself on the pages of my calendar. A new year to walk through one day at a time, and I have to admit, I'm feeling some trepidation. 2010 was a tough year and I know that tendrils of its challenges will weave their way into the months ahead. After a time, life will settle itself, and we'll begin to see the "bigger picture." We'll once again laugh heartily, sing without crying, and be able to focus on work and daily activities.

That's the thing about the River of Time; it constantly moves us forward. It heals all wounds, and gives us ever changing experiences and challenges from which to learn.

I'm very grateful for family and friends who travel the river with us, and help us navigate the eddies and currents.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Home of the Year

As I sit and look around me, I can’t help but see the dust covering the shelves. Darn, I meant to get to that. The dishes, though noticeably not stacked nearly as tall in the sink as they were when I went to work yesterday (that would be thanks to be finely trained husband) are still in need of a good washing. Oops, meant to get that done too. And the laundry… well, we won’t even go there, since it’s well hidden in the basement and no one needs to know of its condition except those of us who are trying earnestly to tackle it. (That too is on my to-do list)

By the description of my home, you can tell, it’s not the kind of home you’ll see in Better Homes and Gardens. Sure, I wish I had more time for better upkeep. It really is a bigger priority than I make it sound, but there are some nights I lay my head just happy in the thought that at least it’s clean enough that it’s reasonably straight and we don’t live in filth. Still, isn’t it every woman’s dream to live in a spic and span home? I feel like I grew up in one, if memory serves me right.

But would I really like to live in the perfect model home? Hmmmm…. I’d have to think on that. On the one hand I would instantly say yes. As I mentioned, my mother was a brilliant housekeeper and there are times I wonder if she looks down on me and shakes her head in disappointment if I go too many days without running the vacuum around.

On the other hand, I may not get the Home of the Year award sponsored by some well known magazine, but I sure love that feeling of coming home; to my home, my comfortable home.

There are no classic works of art, but there are pictures of Christ and the Temples, and there are my family’s pictures hanging which reminds me of all that I love and all that are important to me.

Sure, I may look at magazines and dream of those clean spotless homes. But they never look lived in. They don’t look loved in. They aren’t homey and comfortable. I think I’ll stick with the one I have. After all, “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”

The past several months, I’ve had to work far too many hours. I was away from home way too much and too many things were neglected from the home front. I’m not just talking about housekeeping, but I felt I wasn’t doing enough in regards to my family. My husband really had to step in and pick up wherever I couldn’t.

But I had the luxury of spending a few days at home over the Christmas holiday. I had a sense of renewal. It was so wonderful to be home. There is no place I would rather be. I crave more of it.
To me, I don’t need a magazine to tell me what it takes to make a “Home of the Year.” My heart knows what it takes. I believe I have one. I couldn’t feel more grateful for that.

In the coming year, I vow to spend as much time there as I possibly can. (Then maybe while I am there I can do something about those dishes, clothes, and dust bunnies. I’m actually looking forward to it!) :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why I love Facebook

This morning finds me sitting in my wincyette nightie at the dining room table, tapping away at my laptop and occasionally brushing off croissant crumbs, or wondering whether to have that last piece of chocolate yule log. Usually at this time (11a.m.) I'd have been at work for the last two hours, but it's still Christmas. Today - Tuesday 28th December - is the official Boxing Day Bank Holiday since Boxing Day itself fell on Sunday. Yesterday was also a public holiday since Christmas day fell on a Saturday. (Keeping up? There will be test later.) Most of the shops are still shut, there are still fabulous films and Christmas specials on TV, and the children are still playing with their new Christmas toys - the ones they haven't broken yet, that is.

Anyway, all that is a long and pointless preamble to why I have been spending (wasting?) even more time than usual on Facebook. I know I said on this very screen that I would spend the whole week I had off work writing, but as any writer will attest (except for the exceptionally gifted and dedicated ladies with whom I share this blog) playing solitaire, checking email and fiddling with Facebook are often a far bigger draw when faced with a couple of free hours at a computer than knuckling down to some serious writing.

It took me a while to get into Facebook. Not only can it take time to figure out how to work it when you're as technically challenged as I am (and they keep changing it) but initially I didn't see the point of logging on just to learn which of my acquaintances have just put their bins out, or bought a Wii, especially when I didn't plan on filling everyone in on the private minutiae of my own life.

This last year, however (and we're coming to the stage where it is quite appropriate to reflect over the year) I have really started to understand how Facebook can enrich and improve my relationships with others. I believe that Mark Zuckerberg entirely deserves his Time magazine Person of the Year award (and not just because the other contender was Lady Gaga).

So what has Facebook done for me? Here are just a few reasons I love it:
  • I have reconnected with many people from long ago - people who were special to me but, for reasons of geography or time, I had lost contact with. Most notable for me was an old college friend I hadn't seen in 20 years, but had made a promise to which, through Facebook, I was finally able to keep.
  • It reminds me when people's birthdays are...
  • With so many of my friends living across a very large ocean, it's a quick and easy way not just to stay in touch (email and Skype can accomplish that) but to interact with groups of friends. When I log onto Facebook first thing in the morning, my screen will be full of news of my American friends while the British ones slept.
  • My daughter's email account was hacked so she closed it. Now she she does all her communicating through Facebook - using messages, instant chat and status updates. Her friends do too. When homework is given at school, one of them will photograph the assignment (using their phone), post it on Facebook and tag it with the names of all their friends who should be working on it. Best of all, my daughter can access Facebook for free on her phone, so running out of credit is no longer a problem.
  • I've made new friends and joined new communities through Facebook. When I became a fan of the Stephanie Meyer page I started writing fan fiction for their competitions (which was lots of fun and great practice) and made several lovely friends, one of whom I discovered lives less than twenty miles from me.
  • When someone gets married, has a baby, or just goes on holiday to somewhere exotic, the photographs can be on Facebook in minutes for everyone to enjoy and comment on.
  • Many businesses use Facebook to great effect. The best I've seen so far is Harvester, a group of restaurants over here in the UK. From menu updates and new restaurant openings to asking for suggestions for a vegetarian Christmas dish and giving vouchers for free ice-cream to all page members, it has really helped to give Harvester a good public face, and many of those on the page are commenting on the wonderful meal or service they received. I have found it very useful to go to business pages on Facebook to find opening times or good deals.
  • I'm using Facebook to further my writing "career". It's free publicity for us writers, and that is priceless.

Like anything else, you do have to be carefully. I have two policies - I don't "friend" anyone unless I really know them, or know well several people we have in common. And if anyone swears in their status, I remove them from my friend list.

I haven't got into playing the games yet, despite many invitations. I think that really would be a terrible (but fun) waste of time. I love Facebook primarily because it helps me to connect with people I care about, and share things with them. Which is, in fact, the whole point.

It's now noon, and I've wasted enough time blogging, so I'm going to have that last piece of chocolate yule log.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Giving From the Heart

My mother has always been a great example of what being a "giver," is all about. She has taught me lessons based on that subject for many years. I will always remember the night she "encouraged" me to help her take dinner into the home of one of my seminary teachers. That family had been in a nasty car accident about two days prior, and their youngest child, an infant, had been killed. I didn't know what to say or do, but my mother taught me that what matters most is simply being there.

There were other lessons, like the time I tripped over a garden hose lying in the front yard and dropped a plate of cream puffs. It was to be part of the dinner she had planned for a family whose mother was home, recovering from major surgery. She didn't lecture on my lack of grace, she merely sighed, helped me pick up the mess, and then instructed me to retrieve the second plate of cream puffs from our house, a treat intended for our family. Not only was I entrusted with carrying the second plate, but I was allowed later on to create a different dessert for our own family.

Years later, after my father's untimely death, my mother was working as a CNA at a nursing home. At the time, she worked with the most difficult wing; her patients had all been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimers. One lady was blind and had been assigned into that unit simply because it was more difficult to care for her. That Christmas Eve, my mother asked all of us to accompany her back to the nursing home. We brought plates of homemade sugar cookies we had decorated earlier that day, and my guitar. We went from room to room, singing Christmas Carols, and sharing treats with those who were alone. I've never forgotten how I felt that night, nor the tears that raced down the face of the blind woman who had felt forgotten and discarded.

This past year, my mother has faced a series of major changes in her life. She had been living with my youngest sister. But when this same sister announced her engagement and upcoming wedding, Mom decided it was time to move on. She wanted to return to Bear Lake, where she had lived for a time after my graduation from high school. We found her a cute apartment in a nearby retirement complex, and now I see her on a daily basis. It has been a fun experience, and she is still teaching me lessons on giving. She gets by on a frugal income these days, but her heart is still very much intent on helping those around her.

This past Thanksgiving, we took in 3 plates of food to ladies who live in Mom's retirement complex. These were some of my mother's new friends, and none of them had plans to do anything special for that holiday. So before we consumed our own feast, we helped our mother take plates of food into these sweet ladies. We later heard how thrilled they had been by the tasty treats we had brought to them that day. In a sad twist, one of these women passed away about a week later. Here is the rest of the story:

We didn't know it at the time, but this dear lady had avoided celebrating Thanksgiving for years. It was on Thanksgiving Day that her only daughter died of a drug overdose. For understandable reasons, Thanksgiving was a time of mourning. Before this year's Thanksgiving season, this same woman had told my mother that she wasn't going to do anything for Christmas either. But after the plate of food was brought into her apartment, this woman caught a bit of my mother's holiday spirit. The next day, she went out and bought gifts for her family, and Christmas cards. She began decorating her apartment for Christmas. People who knew her, said she was happier than she had been in a long time. Then she collapsed upstairs while doing her laundry. She was rushed to a hospital, but her heart, which had undergone a loving transformation, gave out.

I accompanied my mother to her friend's funeral. It was a bittersweet day. Earlier, my mother had been given a Christmas card made out to her by this same friend. We talked for quite some time about how my mother shouldn't feel regret, since she had brought such joy into her new friend's life during her final days in mortal mode.

To me, that's what the holiday season is all about: bringing joy into the lives of others. This is a time of year when we lovingly share with family, friends, and those who need it most. And as I have learned, compliments of my mother, it isn't so much what we give, but how we give. When those gifts are from the heart, they possess the power to change lives and boost spirits. And those are the best gifts of all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It may be better to give than receive, but receiving can be harder

At fifteen, a pleated, plaid wool skirt was all I wanted for Christmas. I knew there wouldn’t be much beneath the Christmas tree that year, but how I hoped for that one thing. Our farm community was small and no one had much money, but it seemed I was the only girl in our high school who didn’t have a pleated wool skirt.

Somehow in my mind, the skirt I dreamed of was two shades of blue with white and black, forming a lovely plaid. It would be that thick kind of wool so popular that year and would fall just an inch or two below my knees. I had a blue sweater that would be perfect with it, a hand-me-down that had hardly been worn.

In the weeks before Christmas I participated in the school play, went ice skating, and even gave my little brother an early Christmas present with the last of my baby sitting money. He was a cowboy in the elementary school pageant and I’d found a cute pair of toy spurs. I warned him he wouldn’t get anything from me on Christmas, but he was so excited about the spurs, he claimed he wouldn’t care. With a family the size of ours, I figured he wouldn’t even notice one less present on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve came and we gathered in the front room. Daddy read the Christmas Story from St. Luke, then came the passing out of gifts. In our family we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. We exclaimed over cheap bottles of perfume, knee socks, and the other inexpensive gifts my siblings and I had purchased or made for each other. Mama served us slices of fruitcake or bowls of carrot pudding, then we were off to bed.

It wasn’t visions of sugarplums that danced in my head that night, but a pleated wool skirt. I wanted that skirt with all my heart.

When morning came, my sister and I dressed in our icy bedroom before making our way down stairs. The kitchen was warm and filled with good smells, we pitched in to help Mama and our helping frequently took us past the archway leading to the front room where we surreptitiously peeked at the small mounds set on the sofa and under the tree.

When Daddy and my brothers finished with the milking and other chores, it was time to see what Santa had brought, though most of us were well beyond the years when we believed in the jolly gent. Hardly daring to breathe, I followed the younger kids into the front room. At first I couldn’t tell which gifts were meant for me. Then I saw it, a flat bundle, wrapped loosely in a folded piece of tissue paper. It was my skirt! I knew it had to be my longed-for skirt.

Carefully, I pulled back the tissue and stared in confusion. It was fabric; a piece of cloth. That didn’t disappoint me. My mother could sew better than anyone else I knew. But the fabric was pink! Pink with little black speckles! Of all colors in the world, my least favorite has always been pink. It wasn’t thick and slightly rough like my friends’ wool skirts. It felt spongy and slick. It was the ugliest piece of cloth I’d ever seen. I bit my lip to keep from crying.

“What’s that?” One of my brothers pointed to an oblong lump in the middle of the piece of fabric.

Struggling to control my distaste at even touching that piece of pink cloth, I unwound it to discover a navy blue book. A consolation prize I thought. At least I’d have something to read. I reached for the book and turned it over in my hands. This time I couldn’t stop the tears. The book was a hymn book---a hymn book for a girl who was tone deaf and consequently had little interest in music.

I caught a glimpse of Daddy’s broad smile. He loved to sing and was convinced that if I took a little more interest in music, I’d soon love it too. I sank onto the couch and turned my head away, pretending interest in the truck and cap gun my youngest brother was exclaiming over.

At some point I became aware of my mother sitting beside me. As from a great distance I heard her say she was sorry there hadn’t been time to make up my skirt before Christmas, but she’d start on it the next day and I’d be able to wear it when school resumed after New Year’s.

“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.

“I was lucky to find such a good piece. It’s a wool and silk blend and if it hadn’t been on the remnant table we couldn’t have afforded anything so nice. I’m not sure it’s a big enough piece to pleat, but it will make a lovely straight skirt.”

Something seemed to snap inside me. “But it’s ugly,” I cried.

Mama looked bewildered. “For weeks you’ve been talking about a wool skirt. I thought---.”

“It’s pink! It doesn’t even look like wool! I just wanted a skirt like the other girls are wearing to school.”

“You’ll like it better when you see how nice it will look on you.” I ignored the hopeful note in her voice.

“I won’t ever like it,” I sobbed. “It’s not only ugly, but it gives me the creeps to even touch it!” I ran upstairs to hide, but not before I saw tears spill down Mama’s cheeks.

It was Christmas day, but Mama cut out the skirt and began stitching it for me that day. I stood for fittings when asked. I even wore the skirt to church the next Sunday and one other time, but how I despised it. I never again said I hated it, but Mama knew. She never spoke of it either and eventually the skirt disappeared, but I’ve never forgotten it. If it had just been my disappointment with a gift that didn’t suit my taste, I would have forgotten it long ago, but by the time I first stood in my slip while Mama pinned the pieces of that skirt, I knew that skirt would always be a reminder of the Christmas I made Mama cry.

In the years since that Christmas I’ve thought of that skirt each Christmas season or whenever I’ve seen that particular shade of pink---and when I stood at my mother’s graveside years later. I know how little my parents had and how much my mother sacrificed to come as close as she could to what she thought I wanted. I’ve thought of that skirt each time I’ve received a gift I didn’t care for or want and when I’ve given gifts I’ve realized too late weren’t quite right. The years since that Christmas have impressed upon me how much love goes into each gift placed under the family Christmas tree and I hope I’ve become more sensitive to the generosity of others and a more gracious receiver.

Each time I hear that familiar quote from Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” I can’t help thinking it may be more blessed to give, but receiving is harder.

Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the days between my hospital stay and Christmas I was pretty well confined to either my bed or the big chair in the living room. With excellent insurance benefits, two daughters still at home, a married daughter nearby, and a husband and son who were excellent cooks, I was in no danger of starving, yet every few hours the doorbell would ring and a neighbor, visiting teachers, Relief Society presidency, or even my children’s friends would be standing on the steps with bread, cookies, pies, or complete dinners. The Young Women gifted me with the Twelve Days of Christmas. I felt embarrassed and awkward accepting their generosity, yet somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that long ago Christmas when my mother wanted to give me something nice because she loved me and I spurned her gift. I smiled and accepted each and every gift, knowing that the givers felt a need to give and without a gracious receiver they would miss the blessings of giving. I didn’t need the gifts, but oh how I needed the love each gift represented. Over the years I’ve come to suspect that when the Savior said it was better to give than to receive, included in that admonition is a subtle suggestion that a grateful heart is included as one of those “better gifts.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Real Dad

So my dad is a therapist, and a good one. It was nice to have one on hand for all of those traumatic, hormonal teen years. I was always a daddy's girl-absolutely adored him-and probably still am, truth be told. Today is his birthday and I'm thinking about an experience that's taught me something about parenting.

I am the oldest of five kids, and when I was a teenager, naturally, I slept in. One of those Saturdays, my dad decided to take my younger siblings downtown on the bus, because they'd never ridden it before. (I, of course, opted to sleep in instead.) The story goes as follows, and I wish I would have witnessed it personally. They took the bus downtown, ate some breakfast, had to run to catch a connecting bus, for which my dad was glad because everyone should have the experience of having to run for the bus, and had a grand old time riding around town. My younger sister, who was probably 10 at the time, said, "Dad, today you're being a REAL dad."

We all laugh about that, and as a therapist and professor of Child and Family Studies, my dad often reflected on that whole "real dad" concept. In my sister's mind, the extra time spent doing something fun made for such a rich experience.

It's easy to get stuck in the rut of daily, mundane duties that must be done. The dishes and laundry don't do themselves, the toys won't pick themselves up, etc. But there are those times when I play a board game with my son or hang out with my daughters that make for the "real mom" moments. It doesn't have to involve a lot, or any, money. What it does require is time. That can be hard, unless you carve it out of an already full day, and make it a priority, even if only for a short time.

Happy Birthday to my dad, who is amazing and wonderful and such a Real Dad. Love you much.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Love Christmas!

I love Christmas! I love the music and glittering lights. I love the feeling of love in the air - of excitement and anticipation. I love baking goodies to deliver to friends and neighbors, I love choosing presents to give to those we love, and doing good things for people - some in secret and some not. Giving gifts brings such joy.

President Monson said: "The spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he or she commemorates the Christmas season. Our Heavenly Father gave to us the greatest gift of all - His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior." He gave this gift to all of us, young and old, rich or poor. We didn't have to search the mall for it. It didn't cost us a single penny. It didn't come wrapped in beautiful wrapping paper. The most treasured gift ever given was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger.

"Then that precious Son gave to each of us a gift of His life, the Atonement, and victory over death." President Monson failed to add one of the most important gifts that we have been given - the gift of the Holy Ghost. How incredible is this gift of a member of the Godhead that we can have with us at all times if we are worthy. This is a gift of enormous power that we never want to be without any single day of our lives.

Then President Monson asked, "What gifts will you and I give for Christmas this year? Let us in our lives give to our Lord and Savior the gift of gratitude by living His teachings and following in His footsteps. It was said of Him that He 'went about doing good.' As we do likewise, the Christmas spirit will be ours."

He listed four other gifts that we should acknowledge: "The gift of birth,the gift of peace, the gift of love, and the gift of eternal life." Is it any wonder that at this sacred time of year as we celebrate the birth of this marvelous gift, that our hearts and thoughts are turned to gift giving?

Emily Freeman, in "A Christ-Centered Christmas" talked about one tradition her family has enjoyed over the years: "Inspired by the knowledge that the Christ child received just three gifts, one brilliant mother decided to simplify her Christmas giving. She began by researching the meaning behind the three gifts. Gold was a gift for a king, celebrating the baby's royalty. Myrrh, a common incense used for cleaning and for burial, was given in remembrance of His humanity and foreshadowed the important of His death. Frankincense, an incense used in the temple, represented His divinity. After studying at great length, this mother decided her gift giving would follow this same pattern. On Christmas morning, each of her children receives a gift from Santa, then three other gifts inspired from the gifts of the Magi - one that is joyful, one that is needful, and one that is meaningful."

May we remember gratefully those gifts that we have been given from on high, follow His example in giving gifts of service, and reflect on the gifts of the Magi in our own giving: those that are joyful, those that are needful, and those that are meaningful.

Merry Christmas - and the most Blessed of New Years!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Everlasting Life

I grew up in Lake Tahoe, California surrounded by beautiful pine trees. These trees were evergreen; their needles did not turn golden or red with the coming of autumn, but remained an ever healthy green. It is a symbol of everlasting life. It's the reason why so many Christmas wreaths are made of pine boughs, and why the Christmas tree stands in our homes as a symbol of Christ and His gift of ever lasting life.

With the unexpected death of our dear son this year, it is the gift of life for which we are most mindful. Our faith has deepened and we are grateful for the Son of God that brings life and light to a sorrowing world.

Hail the heav'n born Prince of Peace.
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings.
Rin'n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by.
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the Sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing!
Glory to the new born King!

May you find peace and joy in the season!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh Holy Night, Indeed!

As a family we have started a new tradition in our home. On the first week of each December a stake in a nearby city puts on a live Nativity for all to come and see. It is spectacular.

As the night falls, you come upon the Prophet Isaiah writing on scrolls. His prophesies of the Savior who will come unto the world is foretold as well as the Savior‘s mission on the earth is read to all who will listen to the Prophet of old.. As you listen to his visions and prophesies, soon you hear the scriptural account of the days leading up to the Christ child’s birth. Waiting in line, it is a powerful reminder of all that has come to pass and all the promises that will be fulfilled. What a wonderful reminder of what that means to each of us in our lives.

Then as you walk along, you see the Shepherds out in the field (with their live sheep around them) watching their flock by night who first see the star and the wise men walking toward the star shining in the sky. Was it just me or was there one particular star shining extra bright for us that clear cold Monday night????

There were cattle, goats, and even a large (live!) camel was there to greet us as we all walked towards Bethlehem. Many people walked among us in robes suited for that era. Children walked with parents, elderly walked with their staffs in tow. We felt we had gone back in time. All around us sounds could be heard of people walking toward Bethlehem -- to the land of their inheritance.

Once we arrived in Bethlehem, we were met by a soldier who expected us to pay our taxes, and a man who--off to the side stood weighing in coins of every shape and size---which were the taxes paid--- before we were to enter.

Once were allowed entrance into Bethlehem, there were peddlers trying to sell and barter their trade. Women were weaving baskets and grinding wheat stalks into grain. Men carved from logs with tools while others sold vegetables and fruit from crates and stalls. Even a leper was shunned from public begging for a morsel from any merciful passerby.

We continued to walk through the “dirt road” of Bethlehem and saw women gathering water at a well with a rooster perched on top watching us with his steady gaze and even came upon an Inn keeper sending everyone away for there was no room at the Inn.. So much to see, and even more to learn yet no one spoke to us, but rather let us take it all in by observing what was happening at that time. No one spoke a word. No one needed to. The only words spoken were that of the Inn Keeper. It was enough, for then in the darkened city, around the corner not too far from a stall of a donkey, a light shone ever so clear. It was then we heard the sweetest sound we could have heard.

A newborn baby started to cry.

We came upon the only quiet, warm, corner of the barn within that small town of Bethlehem. The parents of the baby Jesus were kneeling beside the newborn baby trying to comfort him. It was an incredible sight to see a real newborn baby wrapped up in soft blankets in the barn on that freezing cold snowy night. It took our breath away.

As we left the barn, a woman dressed in robes whispered to us ever so softly, “Merry Christmas,” She had tears in her eyes and so did we.

As we got into our car to leave, the song, “Oh Holy Night” was playing on the radio. What a beautiful ending to our beautiful night.

Of course there are so many reasons I love Christmas, but is it any wonder that seeing and hearing the story of the birth of our Savior brings with it a renewed sense of hope and love to all the world?

That night, being a spectator of the Nativity that way, brought a new vision and meaning of the Christmas story for me. I hope and pray that I will not lose the feelings I had in my heart as I witnessed the scene before me.

It was a witness to me of the accounts that happened so very long ago. It was an experience that testified ever so strongly of the miracles and blessings that would come because of the humble beginnings of that wondrous night so long ago, because of that sweet baby that laid quietly crying in a manger.

Indeed, what a Holy Night it was.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Holiday

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I have received several email forwards over the last few days urging me to wish people a Merry Christmas this year, rather than "Happy Holidays". I'm a little bemused by this, because I have never wished anyone "Happy Holidays" in my life, certainly never at this time of year since most people take their family holiday in the Summer.

This year, however, I am having a holiday over Christmas. The charity I am working for is closing between Christmas and New Year, and this gives me a whole week off work. I'm very excited to have all that extra time to enjoy with my family and various visitors (including friends from Wyoming). But I'm even more excited to have a whole week free to finish writing the epic fantasy novel I've been working on all year.

I love writing, and it really doesn't feel like work. This past weekend I have been very busy proofreading the "galleys" (they're not called that any more, but I don't know what they are called now) of my forthcoming book. I had promised to have it done by Monday morning, so settled down to finish off the last few pages on Sunday afternoon. Hubby dearest asked whether it was really an appropriate Sunday activity, since writing is, sort of, one of my jobs. I was horrified at that thought - I look forward all week to a couple of peaceful hours on Sunday to write. But my last royalties statement proves I don't write for money.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Christmas very much. Looking forward to having a fabulous turkey dinner (I've been on a vegetarian diet for the last three months) and opening presents with the family, then watching the Queen's speech and the Doctor Who special. And I'm looking forward to settling down with my laptop on Boxing day and writing right the way into 2011.

So have a Merry Christmas everyone, and I will have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The White Stocking

Several years ago the bishop of our ward gave every family in our small town a small white Christmas stocking. He challenged us to gather as a family and privately decide on an individual basis what our gift to the Savior would be for the coming year. Our gift would be written on scraps of paper, and then folded and placed inside of the white stocking for safe keeping. During the holiday season, this stocking would be kept on the Christmas tree as a reminder of what we had pledged to do in the coming months. After that it was to be placed in an area where it could be seen often to help us remember what we've pledged.

Our family took this challenge to heart and each year on Christmas Eve, we gather as a family to retrieve our personal pledge from the white stocking. Silently we reflect on how well we came through on whatever our gift to the Savior was that year. Then after some thought, we decide what next year's gift will be.

As you may have guessed, these gifts are not of a material nature. They are gifts of the heart and mind, promises of self-improvement. Most in our clan select Christ-like attributes---the choice is up to each individual.

Wouldn't it be a remarkable thing if each year at Christmas-time, the entire world population would take a few moments to reflect on a gift to the Savior? Instead of focusing on the materialistic trends we see this time of year, simple gifts of the heart would be rendered.

This time of year I think of the shepherds who were the first to see the Christ-child after his humble birth. The gifts they brought were simple in comparison with those that were later given by the wise men, and yet I'm certain they were treasured most by our Elder Brother. They were gifts of humility, kindness, and love. Faith, hope, and charity were at the heart of these oblations. These are the character traits our Savior longs for each one of us to embrace and share.

So this Christmas season, as we bustle about preparing for this sacred time of year, let us reflect on how best we can celebrate the birth of our Lord. I think most of us will find that the most joy will come from sharing the simple gifts that were given long ago in a humble stable where the Prince of Peace was born.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Memories

Is there an event around which more memories are centered than Christmas? A look through the photo albums I've kept over the years and I find more pictures were taken on Christmas or around Christmas than any other time of the year.

Christmas is always a reminder of the childhood years, of Santa arriving on a fire truck, by helicopter, and even of the community program in a small Idaho town when a dozen young farmers and ranchers hefted Santa's sled on their shoulders to carry it and the jolly elf into the school gym. It brings memories of little brown paper sacks filled with peanuts, hard candy, and a single chocolate; if we were lucky there was an orange in the bag too. There was always an orange in the toe of my stocking Christmas morning! Remember all of the Santas and Christmas trees we colored as children, then ohed and ahed over similar masterpieces our children and grandchildren produced.

Even for someone as tone deaf as me, Christmas memories include music. Christmas carols are some of the first music I really heard. Over the years I've attended a lot of choir and band Christmas concerts with my children and grandchildren; I love hearing and singing (even if I can't carry a tune) Christmas carols at church, and each CD I play brings back special memories like the year our high school choir provided the music for the Baptist Church's Christmas service because their pastor was our choir director and he needed a choir. (We used to be able to do things like that).

There was the first Christmas as a married couple, a Christmas when we were so poor I painted a Christmas tree on our front room window because we didn't have any money to buy a tree, the Christmas we received a darling baby girl, all those Christmases when our children were growing up and we were playing Santa and trying to teach them that Christmas meant more than presents, the Christmas pageants where our children, then our grandchildren presented the story from St. Luke, and of course the time our cat climbed the Christmas tree and tipped it over.

Christmas is a time to build golden memories of giving. Coins dropped in a Salvation Army bucket, playing secret Santa, an anonymous check, coats and blankets donated to a shelter, a bag of groceries for someone who needs it, a sidewalk shoveled, a few hours of free babysitting, a telephone call to someone who is lonely, and the list goes on and on. Rich or poor we can give something.

Good memories are one of life's greatest pleasures and so I'm wishing all of our V-Formation readers a Christmas filled with warm memories to treasure throughout all your days.




Gifts that can't be wrapped.

When you read the list of authors on the side of this blog, my name is there. But when you read the blog posts, you don't see my name very often. That's because I've been a huge slacker and haven't been posting when it's my turn. And instead of getting in trouble, or getting sent to the back of the formation, like I deserve, these wonderful ladies just gather me in and forgive me, unconditionally.
Oscar Wilde said: "To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love."
During this Christmas season I hope we will think about these two wonderful gifts we can give. The gift of "Unconditional Love" and the gift of "Forgiveness."

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Gift from Hawaii

On the theme of Hawaii, from Lynn, give yourself a gift today and listen to this lovely and original arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole. He died in 1997 at the age of 38 and 10,000 people attended his funeral. This clip shows a very joyous celebration of his life. This song may be familiar to those who watch more TV or see more movies than I do, as it's been used in the soundtrack for more than a few movies.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I've been given the privilege of speaking at our Christmas Sacrament service on Gifts. Of course I'm assigned to do my version of President Monson's talk of a few years ago on the gifts we've been given, but I've been thinking of other gifts that we can give.

Some years at Christmas when my kids were little, we'd put a basket on the fireplace and when someone did a good deed or performed a service for someone else, they'd put a note in the basket as a gift to the Savior: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these...." Then on Christmas Eve we'd read each note and remember with warmth - and some humor - the good deeds that had been done.

And some years the family would think about it all month, then on Christmas Eve we would write a note - a pledge - put it in a little box and tie it with a ribbon. Then each little box would go in the Christmas basket as gifts to be given to the Savior during the year. We each kept a note to remind ourselves what we were doing as our gift to the Savior that year.

This year, given President Monson's emphasis on service and my upcoming talk on gifts, I decided I wanted to give a gift of service every day in December to someone - somewhere. Of course, that is very easy to do when we have a retirement center in our ward, and several people who have just come out of the hospital with various problems. Those obvious persons will be the recipient of acts of service, but I want to delve deeper than that. I want to find people who don't expect anything. People hidden away in their lonely little world who need acts of love, especially at this time of year. I'd even thought about not counting acts of service to family members, but decided against that. They need them as much as others.

I have a terrible time sitting down to write little notes to people who have done something nice, or who need a lift, or some kind of thank you. If I can send a quick e-mail, I'm good with that, but that can't count as a gift of service. It is too easy. And who wants to keep things like that on their computer to read again and again - if they like it?

Yesterday I printed address labels for my Hawaiian sister(the one I take care of all her medical stuff) and took them to her for her Christmas cards. Today I made a goodie to take to a man who just got out of the hospital (in fact, two men in our ward!) Tomorrow I volunteered to take the shift of a sister at the Family History Center while she recuperates from a medical procedure she had this week. That is a special sacrifice as it is a Saturday morning I could really use at home. Those are the best gifts - ones that you sacrifice to give. I need to come up with something special for Sunday for another sister who just came home from the hospital.

Then my challenge will begin - finding something special, different, unique - some kind of service that will be meaningful - a gift of love - and then finding people to give that gift to that really need it.

Of course, the intent behind the whole exercise is to come closer to my Savior and appreciate more fully the magnificent gifts that He has given me. Hopefully, I will be better able to speak on gifts at Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

She Named the Turkey!

Our daughter decided she wanted to cook the major part of the Thanksgiving feast this year: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes; she even took on the veggie tray. (Those outside the United States will probably not understand the importance of "the veggie tray")

This would be her first attempt at a meal that makes even seasoned cook's knees wobble. Yet, I had every confidence that she would do a great job. (She's very smart) Besides, I was thrilled to not be cooking. After 37 or 38 years of slaving over the Pilgrim feast didn't I deserve a little break? Truthfully I do remember going to my Dad's for a few Turkey days, my niece's one year, and Disneyland for another where we ate some sort of weird turkey dinner in an Irish pub.

Anyway, back to my daughter. The adventure began weeks before Turkey Day. She went online to look up stuffing recipes. She watched episode after episode of The Food Network. She debated fresh turkey vrs. frozen turkey, or whether to stuff the turkey or not to stuff the turkey.

Thanksgiving morning arrived and I was feeling very grateful for my darling daughter. And, as if she knew I was thinking about her, she called.

"Mom?" (a slight panic in the voice)
"Good morning!"
"Mom, this turkey looks gross. Is it suppose to look gross like that?"
"Yes, it's just fine. You're just used to seeing it all brown and yummy. Just clean it well and put it in the roaster. It'll look terrific in about four hours. Did you remember to take out the giblets?"
"Yes. What's in that little white bag, anyway?"
"Well...heart, liver..."
"Stop! Don't tell me! I'm just going to throw that away!"
"Yea, good idea."

Twenty minutes later she called again.

"Mom." (a sad tone in the voice)
"Do you think Fred had a good life?"
"Fred, the turkey."
"You named the turkey?"
"Yes. Do you think he had a good life?"
"I think he was a noble creature who served his purpose."
"Really. If it makes you feel better say a little Native American prayer of Thanksgiving for his sacrifice."
"That's a good idea. Thanks, Mom."
"You're welcome."
"See you at 3:30."
"Looking forward to it."
"Don't forget the green bean casserole."
"I won't. I love you. Oh, and just a little advise."
"If you do the turkey next year..."
"Don't give it a name."