Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a firm understanding and testimony of the eternal plan

A Christmas Memory
By Brad S. Winterton

Not all Christmas memories are bright and cheery, but from the tragic and sad can come examples of people caring for each other and gentle reminders of future glorious family reunions.

Christmas Season, 1975, found my parents in Massachusetts where one of my brothers was in the Boston Children's Medical Center. Born with cystic fibrosis, at age 10 he had already more than doubled his original life expectancy. But hardening of his liver was causing life-threatening circulatory problems and required a special operation. On December 23rd, after a seemingly successful surgery, he quietly slipped into a coma. Four days later, after repeated tests showed no brain activity, life support systems were turned off and my parents accompanied his small body home to Utah. Among family members, there was general agreement that he had actually died on Christmas Day.

When my brother's condition had worsened, word had spread quickly among our Utah community of his condition in the Boston hospital. Calls came, offers of help, tears of grief and concern, meals prepared. During all of this, my two other brothers and I had stayed with relatives. Due to everything else going on, there wasn't much of a Christmas celebration. I don't remember any gifts exchanged, although I'm sure there were some. One thing I do remember--we didn't have a Christmas tree.

Among the many comments of concern, sympathy, and condolence from friends and family members was the oft repeated thought, "What a terrible time of year to experience such a tragedy!" I remember thinking the same thing, although it probably had more to do with my early-teen selfishness than concern for my parents' feelings. But somehow, the fact that we didn't have a tree made it more bearable because it didn't really seem like Christmas. There wasn't even snow in the ground; instead it had been raining.

A few evenings after Christmas, back at home (parents had returned from Boston and were out making funeral arrangements) the doorbell rang.
There, in the driveway in the back of a borrowed pick-up truck, was a Christmas tree, completely decorated.

In a matter of minutes it was in our front room, lights plugged in, and filling the house with the smell of pine and the feeling of the season we had almost missed. At first I felt anger at this reminder of what we were supposed to be celebrating, but when my parents came home and I saw the tears in my father's eyes as he looked at the tree, my anger was gone and I recognized the love with which the gift had been given. Most of all, the tree made us remember the birth of the Son of God and His promises to those who mourn.

What a welcome reminder as we mourned the loss of our brother and son!
Two other things stand out in my mind about that Christmas season. First, a wonderful Bishop quietly gave my Father a large sum of money to help with funeral costs. Months later, Dad tried to repay the sum but the Bishop wouldn't accept it. Second, at the funeral, a friend and ward member taught the plan of salvation with power and authority. Later, two non-member friends of the family were baptized, largely because of the restored doctrines taught and the Spirit felt in that funeral service.

In the years since, although I have often thought of that Christmas tree sitting in the back of that truck in our driveway, I have never written of the whole experience. As I write it now, tears fill my eyes and I've had to stop several times. Looking back, I realize that experience cemented firmly in my soul, at a young age, a firm understanding and testimony of the eternal plan of our Father for His children. That testimony has been the staff on which I have leaned through all the years and subsequent losses since. Each time I think of my brother, that Christmas tree, the Christmas season, Easter, or other friends and family members who have passed from this life to the next, I feel deep gratitude for the understanding and keen anticipation of the family reunion that awaits me somewhere in the future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Oyster

The Oyster
There once was an oyster whose story I tell,
Who found that some sand had got into his shell.
It was only a grain, but it gave him great pain
For oysters have feelings although they're so plain.
Now, did he berate the harsh workings of fate
that brought him to such a deplorable state?
Did he curse at the government, cry for election,
And claim that the sea should have given him protection?
No- he said to himself as he lay on a shell,
Since I cannot remove it I shall try to improve it.
Now the years have come, as the years always do.
And he came to his ultimate destiny: stew.
And the small grain of sand that had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl all richly aglow.
Now the tale has a moral, for isn't it grand
What an oyster can do with a morsel of sand?
What couldn't we do if we'd only begin
with some of the things that get under our skin.
… Author unknown

Monday, December 26, 2011

Black knit gloves

Black Knit Gloves
John R. Sisley, Jr.

The woman who slouched in the front seat of the bus distressed me. Her
hair was matted, her face dirty, and though it was a cold night
outside, she was wearing only a flimsy cotton dress and a blanket
through which she had torn holes for her arms.
What should I do? I wondered. She was so obviously in need. And at
Christmas time, too. Wasn't there some shelter I could direct her to,
some place where she'd get all the attention she required? No, I
finally reasoned, her problems were too much for me.
As I pondered - and rejected - possible solutions to the woman's
plight, the bus came to a stop.
A young man, poorly dressed but neat, rose to leave. He had got out and
the bus had started up again before I really noticed what he had done.
He had slipped off his black knit gloves and laid them on her lap.

Day #25 ~ On this Christmas Morning . . .

I would pray for all of us this greatest of all the gifts of God–this gift of the pure love of both from and for Christ, this gift of open heart to heart communion with the Holy One, this Christmas.
As we have the chance to hear Handel's exquisite Messiah, may we each, individually, personally,
privately, in the intimacy of His love for us hear the words this way:
For unto me a child is born, unto me a son is given; and the government of my life shall be upon his shoulder; and I shall call His name Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God!

The Everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace!"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Russian Christmas Miracle Story

A Russian Christmas Miracle Story
I believe that when music is performed with the spirit of God, it is the most powerful tool He has on earth in preparing a soul, softening a mind, and touching a heart. This story is a perfect example of the miraculous power of music which made a difference one cold December night in Moscow. It is told by Ryan Campbell, a former LDS Mormon missionary who served in the Moscow, Russia mission.

A Christmas Miracle
Winter is a cold time of year in the Russia Moscow Mission. To a missionary this sometimes seems true of not only the weather but also the people. They become introverted. Everybody seems to be rushing home after work. People are ill, the roads are terribly slick, and the cold ruthlessly bites every exposed piece of skin. Smiles are rare.
My companion and I found ourselves in these conditions during the winter of 2005. We wanted to cheer people up by sharing our message of faith, hope, and love, but nobody wanted to listen. And to be honest, my mood wasn't all that great. I couldn't help but feel discouraged. Day after day we walked the cold streets in search of people to teach, freezing our feet to the bone. In spite of the discouraging circumstances, we didn't want to give up. Christmas was getting close, and we wanted to help people feel the Christmas spirit. But how?
One evening as we were on the train returning home, a small group of musicians walked into the railcar. They played wonderfully, but to my surprise, their performance didn't have an effect on anybody. Maybe a person or two gave them some pocket change, but the rest just stared out the frosty windows. I felt bad for the performers and gave them a few coins.
Soon we arrived at the station near our apartment and ran home. As soon as I closed the apartment door, the phone rang. I picked it up and recognized the voice of our district leader. That day we were supposed to have thought of ideas for celebrating the Christmas season as missionaries. I had totally forgotten, but I didn't want him to know that. Straining for an idea, I remembered the group of musicians and suggested that our district could sing Christmas hymns on the trains. I could accompany them on the violin. To my surprise and perhaps dismay, our district leader loved the idea. We decided on a day. "What was I thinking!" I said to myself, remembering that three of the missionaries in our district were tone-deaf.
The day came and the missionaries met on the platform. The sun had set long ago, and it was terribly cold. My feet were already numb. We rehearsed for about five minutes until the train crept slowly up to the platform. We gladly entered its open doors, getting out of the cold wind and snow. I took my violin out of its case and silently prayed that God would touch the hearts of the listeners.
As we boarded the train, most of the people didn't pay any attention to us. My fingers hadn't warmed up yet, so when I started to play, the tone of the violin sounded very simple but very piercing. Suddenly the mood in the railcar changed. It was almost as if something could be felt in the air. The passengers seemed to hold their breath. The other missionaries joined with me, singing the words to "Silent Night":
 Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.
While I played and the other missionaries sang, nobody in the railcar spoke a single word. When we finished the hymn, I looked around at people's faces. Everybody was looking attentively at us. Tears were flowing down the cheeks of several women. It was silent for a minute as nobody wanted to interrupt the moment. Finally a man standing in the back of the railcar exclaimed, "They are Saints, genuine Saints!" Everyone began to applaud.
As we walked down the aisle, many people wanted to give us money. When we didn't accept it, they became all the more surprised. I heard somebody saying under his breath, "This just doesn't happen." One man even tried to give us a thousand rubles and was shocked when we refused the money.
LDS Pass-a-long Card
 Instead, we offered him a pass-along card, which he gladly took. Soon other passengers began asking for pass-along cards. They also asked about the Church and us. It seemed like wherever we looked, our eyes were met with smiling faces and warm greetings. At the end of the railcar, we wished the passengers a merry Christmas and waved good-bye to our new friends.
On the other side of the door, we looked at each other in disbelief. "What just happened?" we asked. Then, with twice as much energy, we entered the next door. At first the passengers didn't pay any attention to us, but after we performed the hymn, they had the same miraculous reaction. For the rest of the evening, we made our way through the rail cars, experiencing the same thing in each one. Never before had I seen such acceptance and love.
Returning home that night, I realized that I had experienced a miracle wrought by music, a message about the Savior, and the spirit of Christmas. Even in the coldest times of our lives, we can be comforted by the Lord's presence. How blessed I was to have seen how drastically people can change under the influence of the Spirit. I will always remember that evening and treasure it in my heart. May the Spirit forever work such miracles!

Day #24 ~ To Live in Christ's Spirit Is to Live in The Spirit of Truth

And to live in His Spirit does not mean that we will never have sorrow or anger. It means that we will be honest about our feelings–we will be truthful with ourselves and others as He gives us in prayerful silent counsel to be. To be in His Spirit is to live truthfully in the world.

It is to be honest in all our dealings with our fellow men.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Almost No Christmas

Almost No Christmas
Mary Beth Hughes

I was eleven when my parents were near the end of a nasty divorce and it was just a couple of weeks before Christmas. Mom was struggling just to keep food on the table and heat in the house. Indiana can have some pretty cold winters and it was cold this year. At the time, I had two brothers and one sister. By finding, saving, and selling pop bottles and egg cartons, Mom and I had enough money to get some Christmas candy for the kids' socks. Mom had squirrelled away a little to get each of us a small gift from her.
It was at this time that our father decided to turn off all the utilities that were in his name. He could have just switched names for a very small fee but it would not have had the same effect. I was shocked when I had to deal with the utility men. Each of them had very kind hearts and didn't turn off the electricity or water. This was to give Mom a chance to raise the funds and get the utilities into her name.
Poor Mom she had to spend all of her Christmas money to turn on the utilities and beg from her parents to help cover the rest. I knew there was to be no Christmas that year. We did not have a tree, no money even for Christmas candy, no presents and no special foods. Christmas was not coming to our home that year.
I don't remember being sad but Mom was and she cried on more than one night. We weren't taught to pray and we weren't allowed to, but I still believed in God. So I told him that I knew that Santa wasn't real but he was and would he please give my Momma a Christmas.
The Lord blessed us that year. Mom had met a man through her work as a waitress. He decided to help us out and enlisted friends of his to provide all of us with a Christmas. They worked very hard that night. We went to bed with no tree, no presents, no stockings for Santa, and no plans of Christmas dinner. Imagine my surprise when my brothers rudely woke me at about four in the morning to see our Christmas miracle. We had the most beautiful tree that year. None has compared to it since. There were presents, filled stockings, and food cooking. I don't remember any of the wrapped gifts that I received that year. They just weren't important to me. Most important, Mom was smiling and happy.
The blessings from that Christmas are still being received. The man that the Lord inspired to help us out married my Mom and is still making her happy. Papa taught us more about being a family than anyone and added two sisters to our family. It doesn't end there, either, as I shared this with my husband, Clint, and he appreciated Papa's efforts so much that we have made it a family tradition to seek out and help a family who will not get other assistance. And, just like that Christmas long ago, it is only through prayer that we can find the family who needs this help. And finally, as a child I discovered that Heavenly Father is truly my Santa Claus.

Day #23 ~ Come unto Christ and Be Centered in Him

Day #23 ~ Come unto Christ and Be Centered in Him.

What does your mind go back to over and over all day long? As President Benson testified:
"Finally, men captained by Christ will be consumed in Christ. To paraphrase President Harold B. Lee, they set fire in others because they are on fire. Their will is swallowed up in his will. They do always those things that please the Lord. Not only would they die for the Lord, but, more important, they want to live for Him. They have Christ on their minds, as they look unto Him in every thought. They have Christ in their hearts as their affections are placed on Him forever.

Ezra Taft Benson

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day #22 ~ I Can Face My Future by Looking to Christ to Live.

"May the Spirit of our Lord accompany us and remain with us. We know not what lies ahead of us. We know not what the coming days will bring. We live in a world of uncertainty. For some, there will be great accomplishment. For others, disappointment. For some, much of rejoicing and gladness, good health, and gracious living. For others, perhaps sickness and a measure of sorrow. We do not know. But one thing we do know. Like the polar star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives. He is the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith. . . . In sunshine and in shadow we look to Him, and He is there to assure and smile upon us. . . . He is the central focus of our worship."

Gordon B. Hinckley

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As we seek Christ


  "As we seek Christ, as we find Him, as we follow Him, we shall have the Christmas spirit,
not for one fleeting day each year, but as a companion always."
Thomas S. Monson
Christmas Spirit
By E.C. Baird

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 old, glad way.
I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood, and brighten sleep with dream woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind 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 man-hood of what might have been and pointing forward to good days yet to be.
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!

Day #21 ~ Establish a "Deep and Abiding Relationship" with Jesus Christ.

"Establish a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Know that He is there–always there. Reach out to Him. He does answer prayers. He does bring peace. He does give hope. In the words of the Psalmist, 'He is my refuge and my fortress: . . . in him will I trust'."

Ezra Taft Benson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

my precious child

my precious child
it's Up To You

I gave you life, but I cannot live it for you.

 I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.

 I can give you directions, but I cannot always be there to lead you.

I can allow you freedom, but I cannot account for it. 

I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot decide for you.

I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you.

I can teach you to be a friend, but I cannot make you one. 

I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.

I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor.

I can grieve about your report card, but I cannot make you study,

I can advise you about friends, but I cannot choose them for you. 

I can tell you about drinking, but I cannot say "no" for you.

I can teach you kindness, but I cannot force you to be kind.

I can teach you about goals and dreams, but I cannot achieve them for you.

I can warn you about sin, but I cannot make your morals.

I can pray for you and your future, but I cannot make you walk with God.

I can warn you about drugs, but I cannot prevent you from using them.  

I can tell you how to live, but I cannot give you eternal life.
Eternally yours love mommy
… Author unknown

Day #20 ~ Make Friends with Him . . . Open a Communication with Him.

"The greatest and most important of all requirements of our Father in Heaven and of his Son Jesus Christ. ... is to believe in Jesus Christ, confess him, seek him, cling to him, make friends with him. Take a course to open a communication with your Elder Brother or file-leader–our Savior."

Brigham Young

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Lights

Hi Sweetheart,
I am sorry about getting into an argument about putting up the Christmas lights.
I guess that sometimes I feel like you are pushing me too hard when you want something.
I realize that I was wrong and I am apologizing for being such a hard-headed guy.
All I want is for you to be happy and be able to enjoy the holiday season.
Nothing brightens the Christmas spirit like Christmas lights!
I took the time to hang the lights for you today and now I will be off to go hunting.
Again, I am very sorry for the way I acted yesterday.
I'll be home later.
Love you……


Day #19 ~ Sing the Song of His Living Presence

He is the Light, the Truth, the Way. As Latter-day Saints, we don't need to be ashamed of that truth, that FACT. We must overcome our pride at being afraid to sound like "Born Agains" or "Jesus Freaks." "God bless us all" should be our attitude. And then we should, with the authority of the Restored Gospel and Priesthood, pick up the joy and the song of His living presence in our lives!!