Musical Advent 2017 – Day 25 {Merry Christmas!}

Track 25: Messiah – London Symphony Orchestra

Christmas Peace By President Henry B. Eyring

Every Christmas season, I remember the words: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: … and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The first time I can remember hearing those words was as I sat in the balcony of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. A choir was singing the music of Handel. I remember feeling something in my heart. It was the Holy Ghost. The Spirit confirmed to my heart that the words I heard sung that night were true.

The baby born in Bethlehem long ago was and is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father.

The feeling I had that night was of faith and hope. Because Jesus Christ was born, death would not be the end. Because of His birth, my heart, your heart, and all human hearts can become pure, clean, and fit to go to a heavenly home.

Angels, shepherds, and Wise Men found peace in Jesus Christ. So will you. The Saviour’s birth is the gift that makes it possible for the Father to give us “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23).

I pray that peace will come to each of us as we remember, love, and worship our Heavenly Father. May we always remember the service and kindness Jesus gave—and decide to do the same.

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Musical Advent 2017 – Day 24

Track 24: Ave Maria – Leona Lewis

Sara’s Christmas Program By Marian Brincken Forschler

Sara slipped into the long, soft, blue robe that she was to wear in the Christmas program. Pulling the matching hood over her brown curls, she turned to Jennie. “Do I look like Mary now?”

Jennie grinned. “You sure do, except for your size. It won’t matter, though, because Joseph is only eight too.”

Sara giggled at Jennie’s joke, then sobered. “I really wanted to be Mary in the program, but now that it’s time, I’m kind of scared.”

Jennie reached out to straighten the folds on Sara’s robe. “You’ll do just fine. Everything went well at rehearsal this morning.”

Sara’s stomach gave a little lurch when she heard the organ begin playing “Silent Night.” That was her cue to go on stage.

Sister Perkins came over and smiled at both girls. Looking at Sara, she said, “The curtains will be opening soon. It’s time for you to take your place.”

Sara hurried to her spot and sat down on a bale of straw. Eric, who was playing Joseph, was already there beside the manger. As Sara bent to arrange the blankets around the doll representing Baby Jesus, she heard the music change and the gentle strains of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” swell.

The curtains slowly opened on the quiet scene. A single spotlight highlighted Mary and Joseph admiring the Baby Jesus. Neither Mary nor Joseph had to say anything. Brother Egger stood out of sight with a microphone and told about the events of Jesus’ birth as they were silently portrayed on stage. The organ played softly while he spoke: “And it came to pass in those days, …”

Sara was distracted by something moving just below the stage. She moved her eyes carefully, trying not to turn her head and spoil the scene. There, climbing the stairs to the stage was her four-year-old sister, Katie.

Sara’s heart sank as Katie came toward her. What shall I do? she wondered. Why isn’t Katie sitting with Mom and Dad? Sara sneaked a peek at her parents. Her mother wore a stricken, helpless look. Sara felt Katie brush against her knees as she bent to look into the manger. Katie’s going to ruin the Christmas program! Why did she have to do this?

Sara was startled out of her thoughts by Katie’s awed “Oh! He’s beautiful!”

As Katie continued to just stand and intently watch the doll in the manger, Sara swallowed and felt calm. There was something about the spell around Katie that Sara couldn’t bring herself to break. I think the best thing to do is just let her stay, Sara decided. She’s being quiet.

So Sara reached out and slipped her arm around her sister’s shoulder and nestled Katie next to her on the bale of straw. Katie relaxed against Sara, still gazing lovingly at the Baby Jesus.

Katie sat watching quietly as the shepherds came. The organist played “The First Noel,” and Brother Egger read from the Bible about the shepherds coming to see Jesus. Even after the shepherds had left and the Wise Men had entered, Katie leaned against Sara, enraptured.

Katie really loves Baby Jesus, Sara thought. I don’t blame her for wanting to get close and see better. She gave Katie a little squeeze. I’m really glad now that she came.

When the curtains closed, Sara gently whispered into Katie’s ear, “It’s time for the next scene, so you must go back to Mommy and Daddy.”

Katie looked at her sister. “OK.” She started to leave, then paused and turned. “Thanks, Sara. I liked looking at Baby Jesus with you.”

Sara smiled. “I’m glad.” She led Katie to the side stage door. “Now go back to Mom.”

After the program the students looked through the crowd for their families. Just as Sara found her parents, she overheard an elderly man speaking to her mother. “I’m so glad I came. Because of your girls, I caught a glimpse of the Saviour tonight that I’d never seen before. Thanks.”

Nobody at home said anything about Katie’s unexpected appearance in the program until Mother tucked Sara into bed. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Katie,” Mother said, “but I’m really sorry she barged in on your program. She’d slipped off Dad’s lap, and by the time we realized what she was doing, she was up in front, and it was too late to stop her.” Mother sat down beside Sara on her bed. “I hope it didn’t ruin things for you.”

“No. It was fine, Mother.” Sara squeezed her mother’s hand.

“I really admire the way you handled it,” Mother continued. “It’s hard to know what to do at times like that. What you did was beautiful. Usually people giggle when something unplanned happens, but people got especially quiet after Katie said how beautiful the baby was.”

“At first I was really worried,” Sara admitted. “I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized that the real Mary would have wanted her sister, as well as shepherds and Wise Men, to see her baby. Anyway, there was something special about Katie tonight. It was as though she really understood about Baby Jesus somehow.”

“You’re right, Sara.” Mother’s voice was soft. “Several people came up to me afterward and said the same thing. Even though Katie’s part in the program wasn’t planned, I think it touched people’s hearts. I think a lot of people will never forget tonight’s program.”

Sara settled back on her pillow. “I’m glad.”

Mother bent to kiss Sara. “I think you’re really special too. You taught us older folks a lot in the kind way you treated your sister. I’m sure Jesus was pleased with how you represented His mother tonight.”

Musical Advent 2017 – Day 23

Track 23: The Lord’s Prayer – Il Divo

A Christmas Prayer By Rian B Anderson

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy, or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned that the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve, 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just wasn’t enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted so bad for Christmas that year.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read from the Bible. So after supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read scriptures. But Pa didn’t get the Bible; instead he bundled up and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn’t worry about it long though—I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold, clear night, and there was ice in his beard. “Come on, Matt,” he said. “Bundle up good; it’s cold out tonight.”

I was really upset then. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We’d already done all the chores, and I couldn’t think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa wasn’t very patient with anyone who dragged their feet when he told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn’t know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn’t going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy.

Once I was on the seat beside Pa, he pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. “I think we’ll put on the high sideboards,” he said. “Here, help me.”

The high sideboards! Whatever job we were going to do, it was a lot bigger one than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on. But it would be an ever bigger job with the high sideboards.

When we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood—the wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What on earth was he doing? Finally I said something. “Pa,” I asked, “what are you doing?”

“You been by the Widow Jensen’s lately?” he asked.

The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure I’d been by, but so what? “Yeah,” I said, “why?”

“I rode by just today,” Pa said. “Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, Matt.” That was all he said, and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him.

We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading. Then we went to the smokehouse and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder, and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. “What’s in the little sack?” I asked.

“Shoes. They’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunnysacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a little candy.”

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn’t have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use them. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn’t have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbours than us. It shouldn’t have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice asked, “Who is it?”

“Lucas Miles, ma’am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?”

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were bundled in another blanket and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that gave off hardly any heat. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

“We brought you a few things, ma’am,” Pa said, and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out, one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children—sturdy shoes, the best—shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling, and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.

“We brought a load of wood too, ma’am,” Pa said. Then he turned to me. “Matt, go bring enough in to last for awhile. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.”

I didn’t feel like the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and, much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace, and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks and so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy filled my soul that I’d never known before. I had given presents at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving these people’s lives.

I soon had the fire blazing, and everyone’s spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy, and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. “God bless you,” she said. “I know the Lord himself has sent you. The children and I have been praying that He would send one of His angels to spare us.”

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I’d never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. Suddenly I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and for many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit, and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord, the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn’t want us to go. I could see that they missed their pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door, Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, “The Missus wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt here hasn’t been little for quite a spell.” I was the youngest. My two older brothers and two older sisters were all married and moved away.

Widow Jensen nodded and said, “Thank you, Brother Miles. I don’t have to say, ‘May the Lord bless you’; I know for certain that He will.”

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within, and I didn’t even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, “Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started in to town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile. His feet were wrapped in those gunnysacks, and I knew what I had to do. So, son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand.”

I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Just then that rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me an even better present. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen’s face, and the radiant smiles of her three children.

For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered—and remembering brought back that same joy I had felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night. He had given me the best Christmas of my life.

Musical Advent 2017 – Day 22

Track 22: You’ll never walk alone – Joni James

A Christmas to Remember By Anita Stansfield

I’ve realized over the years, especially since I’ve become a mother, that the progression of life is often marked by the biggest holiday of the year. We take more pictures at Christmastime, and we have more family gatherings and celebrations than at any other time of year. We talk about the Christmases when the children were certain ages and all of the associated memories. Even though every season of the year has its pleasant aspects and its challenges, I often find myself thinking of how fast the time has gone since last Christmas and how quickly Christmas is approaching. It seems that as soon as school starts in the fall, before we know it, we’ve passed Halloween and then we’re buying gifts and making plans for the upcoming holiday of holidays. It’s funny though, in a strange kind of way, how much life can change from one Christmas to the next—especially when events take place that you couldn’t foresee and weren’t counting on. At such times, Christmas can become not only a measure of time but an accounting of what’s truly important in life.

The Christmas of 2009 was notable in our family since our youngest son had gone into the MTC on December 16. We’d held some of our traditional celebrations prior to his leaving, which meant having to come up with some original plans for when Christmas actually arrived. It’s always hard to have a family member missing for Christmas, but we were thrilled by Steven’s commitment to serve a mission, and as a mother, I felt joy in knowing where he was. Even though I missed him terribly, I figured that my support of his missionary service was likely the best gift a mother could give to Jesus for His birthday. I knew more than anyone how Steven had earnestly been working toward a mission since his early teens, and I also knew of the personal battle to get there since he’d dealt with some very perplexing health problems for years. But the problems had miraculously cleared up, and he had been given the medical go-ahead to serve a mission. For him, it was a great accomplishment to be in the MTC for Christmas.

On Christmas Day, our oldest son and his wife announced that they were going to have another baby. That was truly a great Christmas gift for me, and it gave the year ahead an especially happy anticipation.

The holidays ended, and life pressed forward. My goal for 2010 was to find a path to better health, and I prayed very hard for it. Two years earlier, I’d been diagnosed with celiac disease, which was supposedly the answer to why I’d struggled with mysterious health issues for nearly a decade prior to that time. But for all of my efforts to diligently treat the celiac disease, I was still unwell and having many challenges. An answer to prayers came when doctors discovered that my gall bladder was very diseased, and I was scheduled to have it removed at the end of April. Doctors felt confident that getting it out would help me feel much better.

Recovering from the surgery was as miserable as one might expect, but I had the hope of feeling better once the recovery was complete. I was just starting to feel better when I woke up one night with excruciating pain in my right shoulder and arm. It turned out that a disc in my neck was compressing crucial nerves. While struggling to meet a deadline for a book I was writing and trying to get the right diagnosis, word came that Steven’s health had taken an unexpected and dramatic turn for the worse. After weeks of trying to help him from a distance, the decision was made for him to return home. My heart broke for him, knowing that his heart was breaking. In the end, he found complete peace in knowing that a six-month mission was all the Lord had wanted him to serve, and this had been a part of his life’s plan. I came to learn that for some people, the true sacrifice is in not being able to serve in a way they wanted or planned.

With Steven home, we both became immersed in doctor appointments. For me, the same day I got an MRI on my neck, I also got my routine mammogram. It came back suspicious, which led to another mammogram, then a needle biopsy, and then the need for a surgical biopsy. It was decided that I needed to get my neck fixed first, since it was more crucial. I had neck surgery the end of July, soon after our new grandson was born. I then pressed forward with trying to heal, writing another novel, and caring for my family. The surgical breast biopsy was scheduled for September 23. On September 22, while our roof was half off the house in the midst of its being replaced, we encountered a freak rainstorm, and our home flooded from the top. The day I was in the hospital, ward members came and packed up the entire upper floor of our house, and the next day, while I was staying in the home of a friend, a demolition crew tore out all of the walls and ceilings, which would have to be reconstructed. I lived for seven and a half weeks with a friend while most of my belongings were packed up and not accessible. It was during this time that I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. It had miraculously been caught at a non-invasive stage, but the only practical solution to guarantee survival was a complete bilateral mastectomy. Prior to the surgery, we had managed to put the house back together enough to be functional, but it was far from ideal, and we knew it would take many months to recover, especially with Christmas coming and my need to finish another book.

My surgery was on December 10, which meant that Christmas Eve was exactly two weeks out, and I was fairly warned by the surgeons that I would not be feeling well. Amazingly enough, I managed to get my Christmas shopping done before the surgery, but my typical Christmas plans were far from in place. I had to learn to rely on my children to help pull everything together, and I had to let go of many expectations. I spent the days leading up to Christmas with a pain pump and drainage tubes protruding from my body, sick from the medications and still in a great deal of pain. The preparations for the holiday passed me by as I lay in a fog. I remember sitting on the couch Christmas morning, observing everything almost as if from a distance, feeling joy at seeing my family members having a good time. But the day fell short for me in many ways. My adult daughter, Anna, who had become my right hand through these experiences, was ill on Christmas Day and was, therefore, unable to help do things on my behalf that would have normally been a part of our celebrations. I went back to bed after all the gifts had been opened and wondered what had gone wrong with my life since the previous Christmas. My house was in chaos, and my body was in more misery than it had ever been. I remember recalling that I’d been told in a priesthood blessing that I would have an especially memorable Christmas. Well, it was certainly memorable, I thought, wishing for an induced coma until my body could heal. Even in my misery, though, I actively made an effort to count my blessings every day and to express gratitude to my Heavenly Father for those blessings. The list was long, and I can earnestly say that gratitude was the remedy that got me through. I knew there were many people much worse off than me, and I knew my own situation could have been much, much worse. Still, pain is pain; chaos is chaos. And I was struggling to keep perspective.

It was actually some time later that I fully realized it had been an especially memorable Christmas. I had learned things about life and myself that I now believe were essential for my own life’s plan. I learned more than I ever have before that what God is trying to create out of our lives is something that we, in our mortal limitations, can never comprehend. When I was able to separate Christmas Day itself from the overall impact of the season as a whole, I was able to see some especially memorable experiences. I will never forget having my children wrap gifts in my bedroom, where I lay recovering, while we watched our favourite Christmas movies. I’ll never forget the visits of friends and the love and support they gave me through this time in my life that will always stand out as one of the most difficult experiences I’ve endured. Most of all, I will never forget how deeply I felt the power of the Atonement through this season. My testimony of its healing, comforting powers was magnified immensely through this time in my life, along with my testimony of the ministering of angels. I know beyond any doubt that miracles have not ceased, and angels have not ceased to minister unto the children of men.

By the end of April 2011, on the anniversary of my gall bladder surgery, I’d had six surgeries in one year. But I could see that this had been a very direct answer to my prayers. I had prayed for better health. God had known my gall bladder was diseased, my neck was about to fail, and cancer was brewing. And through these surgeries, my digestive system is now in better condition than it has been in years, and my neck pain is also better than it has been in a very long time. The cancer had not been a predictable health risk, but if it had gone unchecked, it could have taken over and quickly robbed me of my life, given the type of cancer that it was and how widespread it had been. I could also see that through the course of these health traumas, I had written four novels and a screenplay, and my family had been well cared for.

I began to see life like a set of railroad tracks. I can imagine our suffering, heartache, and grief running constantly on one track, and on a continual parallel beside it are the miracles, blessings, and undeniable evidence that God’s hand is in our life, if we’ll only make an effort to notice and take account. Both rails are necessary to move the train forward, just as they are necessary for us to become what we came to this earth to become.

In future years, I’m certain I’ll always remember the Christmas of 2010 with a strange kind of fondness. As time takes me farther away from it, I’m more prone to recall the blessings and forget the pain. I’m certain that every Christmas throughout the rest of my mortality, I’ll be grateful that I don’t have to do that again, and I’ll be grateful for what I learned, having to go through that. It was truly a Christmas to remember.

Musical Advent 2017 – Day 21

Track 21: Driving Home For Christmas – Jonathan Roy Ft Corey Hart

Christmas Eve in Umatilla By Donald S. Smurthwaite

More than fifty years have passed since the Christmas Eve when our family car sputtered, steamed, and lurched to a stop on a state highway in the hilly country of eastern Washington. In the time since, the memory of the strangers who came to our rescue on that starry, brittle night has blinked and faded. The faces have blurred, the names retreated from mind. Some of the details, too, have slipped away—exactly where the car stalled, the cause of the breakdown, the precise hour when the stubborn Oldsmobile rolled onto the shoulder of the road and could not be coaxed even an inch farther.

But one thing has not dimmed through the years—one family’s kindness and care are as poignant now as they were on that chilly December night so many years ago. In many ways, what happened then shaped all of my Christmases to come.

The story is this:

My mother’s mother—Grandmother Mary—was ill. Her heart, weakened by rheumatic fever earlier in life, was failing, and the telephone calls, followed by hushed conversation, told the urgent news: Her health is rapidly deteriorating. Come now if you want to see her. She might not live to Christmas Day.

Our family tradition was to spend Christmas with my father’s parents in Baker, Oregon, so we quickly made a decision—on our three hundred-plus-mile trip from our home in Portland to Baker, we would detour to the small town of Prosser, Washington, where Grandmother Mary lived. There, we would visit her, perhaps for the last time.

We packed the car and drove to Prosser for a day—my parents, two sisters, little brother, and me—to see her and say what proved to be our good-byes. Three days later, she quietly passed away.

With the sombre part of our journey finished and as the winter sun dipped toward the lumpy hills to the west, we set out for Baker and allowed ourselves the first thoughts of Christmas Day, by then only hours away.

Not far into the drive, it was clear something wasn’t right with the car. Dashboard lights blinked on, and my father groaned. The vehicle slowed, and he steered it onto the side of the road. Most ominously of all, steam hissed from under the hood. My father checked the engine and then came back and said that we’d let the car rest and cool and then try to push ahead. He hoped we could get to the next town, a small place called Umatilla, just across the border in Oregon. Even though it was the night before Christmas, maybe someone there could help. Maybe it was a simple problem, and we’d be on our way before long. After a brief wait, the steam subsided, and he started the car again. We didn’t get more than a half-mile before the car repeated its performance. This time, when we rolled to a stop, I remember the sinking feeling that we might stay in that spot for a very long time.

So that’s the predicament we found ourselves in. A young family, stalled and stopped on the side of a road. Broken down. Far from home. Burdened already with the fading health of my grandmother. My father raised the hood of the car, the universal sign of distress along a highway.

It was Christmas Eve, and we were stuck.

Cars zipped by. Hope swelled each time we saw the headlights of an approaching vehicle. We all had the same unspoken thought: Maybe this is the driver who will stop and ask what can be done. For what seemed like an hour or more, car after car raced by. None of them even slowed. Finally, we saw the brake lights of a car pop on, and the driver pulled over to the side of the road. He got out of his car and asked if he could be of help. He was a young man, traveling alone, and after talking with my father, he walked back to his car and drove on.

My father came back and explained: The young man promised us he would go into Umatilla and try to find someone who would be willing to tow us back to town. Beyond that, no guarantees. It was the best the young Samaritan could do, the best we could hope for. It was, after all, Christmas Eve, and people had plans, which likely didn’t include helping a stranded family.

A fretful hour passed. Then, a sign of hope. The amber running lights of a tow truck came into view. The driver slowed, passed us, then turned around and pulled in just ahead of our crippled car. My father went to greet him. After a short chat, the tow truck driver came around to the car, looked in, and saw four worried children huddled in the backseat. The exact words he spoke have long ago slipped away, but I remember the smile—the smile and the feeling of assurance that everything would be made right and we would not spend Christmas Day on the side of the road. For the first time since the car had hissed and stalled and the dashboard had blazed in colour, I felt a ray of hope. He hitched our car to his truck and towed us to Umatilla.

I don’t know what was spoken among the adults along the roadside. I don’t know when the offer was made to take our family into the tow truck driver’s home because it was Christmas Eve and not a night for a family to stay in a broken-down car or to be left stranded at a shop or checked into a motel at that late hour. I don’t know just when we arrived at the plain, older house, and I don’t know if the tow truck driver’s wife even knew beforehand that he had invited us to be his family’s guests. I was just seven years old, and all I knew is that things just happened. And in my family’s case, they happened because of the kindness of a tow truck driver and his wife and their children.

After the car was parked at the shop, we were divided and bunched up into the tow truck and, in two separate trips, were taken to the driver’s house, where we were greeted as family: fed, comforted, and offered a place to stay—“put up” in the lingo of the day—if the repair work could not be completed that night. The tow truck driver’s wife asked, “Are you okay? Are you comfortable? We have enough room; we have enough food. You can stay with us. You can stay here and be a part of our Christmas Day. We would welcome you into our home.”

The tow truck driver nodded and told us that, yes, they would be happy to host us for as long as needed, and then he hopped into his truck and drove back to his shop. He had work to do that night. He had a family to rescue.

By the time he fixed the Oldsmobile, it was well past midnight—Christmas had come to Umatilla. Weary though he was, my father decided to push on and continue the journey to Baker. We arrived at my grandparents’ house a little before six in the morning.

One of my sisters recalls hearing my parents say that the tow truck driver charged only enough to cover the parts needed to repair our car. The rest came free.

More than five decades of Christmases have come and gone since our car stalled on the highway near Umatilla. Few have passed without me thinking about the tow truck driver, his wife, their children, their kindness, and how we almost spent Christmas in a small town called Umatilla.

Yet, after all that time, I am still constructing a bridge from now to that Christmas Eve long ago and trying to understand the full meaning of the experience.

This is what I think:

I think of a humble, kind man in ancient times on a starry night, on a road far away, leading his young wife, who was near the time of the delivery of her firstborn child, as she sat on the beast and made her way slowly to Bethlehem.

I think of what he must have said to her: “Are you well? Are you comfortable? What more can I do for you? I will care for you. I will find us a place to stay.”

And he might have also said, “I am sorry. I am sorry we had to come this way at this time, but it was all meant to be. All will be well. We will find kindness somewhere along the way.”

I think of him knocking at the door of the inn, seeking help, and feeling forlorn when he and his wife were turned away.

I think of the young mother in the stable, the birth of her Son, her laying Him in the manger, the multitude of heavenly hosts—some seen, most of them not—and the joy that night wrought, a joy that would last through the eternities.

I think of the Son who was born, the life He lived, the truths He taught, His eternal and boundless love, and the gift of salvation He brought. I think of His example. I think of how He taught us to treat one another. I think of the roads He travelled and the special compassion He must have felt when He saw those who were broken down on the side of a road, those who could move no farther.

And I think again of the day of His birth and the source of all kindness that He was, and it seems to me that Joseph and Mary and Jesus the Christ had much to do with the kindness shown to a young family on a road near a small town almost two thousand years later. And that is where my thoughts end each time: They are related. One came because of the other. They are not separate events. His birth blesses us in ways we cannot always see and may not understand for years. Bethlehem first, Umatilla later. Do I stop for those along the road who can move no more?

There is no doubt the tow truck driver and his family knew much about Christmas and the true reason we commemorate it. And though we can’t remember their names, to this day, we still know how to describe them: angels.

“Truly, they were angels,”.

Musical Advent 2017 – Day 20

Track 20: There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays – Olivia Newton-John & Vince Gill

A Home for the Holidays By K.C. Grant

I used to wonder why the Christmas just before I turned six was one that always stood out in my memory. Considering the circumstances, it seemed it would have been a time best forgotten. But my grown-up self turns to it from time to time as I consider the lessons it taught me.

My thoughts take me back to an early summer in 1975. Just as school finished up and my two brothers and I were anticipating long days of freedom, chasing the ice cream man, and playing in the park, my parents made a strange announcement. In a few weeks, we were going to be uprooted from our home in Bountiful, Utah, and move to the city of Blackfoot in south eastern Idaho.

Blackfoot was mostly an agricultural community back then. In fact, it still is. It is best known for its state fairgrounds and potato expo. Many members of both my parents’ extended families lived there and in the surrounding areas, so I’m sure it was with eager anticipation that we looked forward to being reunited with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. As children, we must have also looked upon it as a grand adventure, something to brag about to our friends as the moving truck came up to our house and, for just a little while, we were the centre of attention.

Though my parents were returning to their “roots,” I realize now what a struggle this decision must have been for them. Our home in Bountiful was the first real house they’d ever owned, bought with help from my father’s GI bill. Good-byes had to be said to close friends with whom they’d formed bonds. Even the peach trees they’d lovingly tended would now be enjoyed by another. But most of all, my parents were leaving the security of their former lives behind.

Regardless of our conflicting emotions regarding the move, the reason for moving could not be ignored. My parents had to be in Idaho so we could have the help we needed during the nine months it would take my mom to recuperate from the back surgery she was about to have.

During my mom’s younger years, it gradually became obvious that something wasn’t right. A tall, thin girl who was naturally active should have been turning into a taller woman, straight and sure. But those years of rapid growth caused my mom’s spine to twist like an accordion. As each year passed, she hunched a little more. A shoulder bent a little more inwardly. Her breathing became more shallow. My grandparents did what they could based on their resources and location. But because scoliosis is a silent intruder, it’s easy to let the years pass and accept the gradual decline in energy and ability.

By the time my second brother was born, time had taken its toll on my mom until she and my dad knew something had to be done. Living near a larger city finally gave her the access she needed to doctors who could help, and she consulted with specialists at the nearby university hospital. By that point, her condition had progressed to where there were few options. If she allowed the scoliosis to worsen, it would eventually affect not only her lungs but also her heart.

There was only one solution: she needed surgery. And not just any surgery. The surgeon would cut open her back and insert long metal rods against her spine, forcing it to straighten as much as possible. Then, if she survived that, she would be placed in a body cast from her neck to her hips, which she would have to wear for nine months and which would confine her to bed for the majority of that time while she healed. It was obvious that she would be unable to care for herself or three young children, and it was beyond our means to hire live-in help. Since it also seemed too much to ask any family member to come to us for that length of time, leaving their own homes and families in order to help, the decision was made.

Instead of them coming to us, we would move to them.

Hoping that my dad would be able to find a decent job, my parents arranged to build a house on a piece of property in the nearby farming community of Moreland. If all went as planned, the house would be finished that winter, just in time for us to move in before my mother had her surgery. Until then, we could only afford to make a small house in the centre of Blackfoot our temporary residence.

And what a temporary residence it was!

I don’t remember exactly what I thought when I first saw the dilapidated building on a street where most yards were untended and few people were concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. But I do remember the huge tree in the back yard that was perfect for climbing—and that had strangely decreased in size when I returned to the home many years later. I also remember the thrill I felt when my older brother and I discovered the bounty that lay in an unauthorized garbage dump a block away. We couldn’t believe people would throw away such treasures!

I’ve learned since then that my parents have different memories regarding that time—especially my mom. In various talks with her, I discovered that she remembered the mice that frequently infested the house, the yard that was full of weeds, and the fear that came from knowing we’d discovered that garbage dump, even though our tetanus boosters were up to date.

Those summer months passed quickly, followed by a few hiccups as we got used to our new school and new surroundings. But we’d been thriving under the attention of doting grandparents and cousins who’d become instant best friends. Amid open spaces and empty fields where we could run and fly kites, it was like a childhood dream in which we all seemed to have forgotten what brought us there.

And yet, as Christmas approached, with the date for my mom’s surgery right in its shadow, we must have all begun to feel the pangs of anxiety that come when life changes too much—too fast.

My parents’ remedy was to work furiously in those few precious months in order to have our new house ready to move into by Christmas, with the idea that fresh paint and new carpet could take our minds off of bigger things. So my mom and dad spent long hours making sure everything was perfect, though they left the final festive touches until the end so we could help.

When Christmas came, however, my parents received the shock of their lives! Not only were my brothers and I not excited by the idea of moving into yet another house, but we were adamant that the holiday should be spent in this place that had somehow become home. Since I don’t really remember anymore, I can only imagine the looks on their faces when we told them this. My parents applied for sainthood that day when they agreed that Christmas could be spent in our little “mouse house.”

There must have been plenty of moments of panic at that point, since everything had been packed away, ready for the move. We weren’t even ready for Christmas, now just a few days away.

So we hurried to the nearby shopping centre and found a tree that would have warmed Charlie Brown’s heart. It barely handled all the homemade decorations we’d collected over the years. Presents magically began to appear underneath it. Somehow the cardboard and felt Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus my mom had made in Relief Society was found and hung on the wall. Dad even unpacked the giant gingerbread house we’d made the year before—much to the delight of our furry little companions, I’m sure.

But popcorn strings, tinsel, paper snowflakes, and presents weren’t what made this Christmas memorable or perfect. Because somehow, amid the uncertainty of our future, we knew one thing for sure: that for now, we were together as a family in our little home for the holidays.

Musical Advent 2017 – Day 19

Track 19: Joy to the World– Pentatonix

The Advent Theme of Joy By Eric Huntsman

Luke’s account of the Saviour’s birth, complete with the angel’s annunciation of “good tidings of great joy,” provides one of the most joyful scenes in scripture. Traditionally the third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin injunction “Rejoice!” Frequently read on this Sunday is the verse, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). While the entire season leading up to Christmas is a joyful period today, historically Advent was largely a solemn season of preparation. Gaudete Sunday was a welcome reminder that the Christmas message is, in fact, one of happiness and rejoicing.

As a result, the third candle in many Advent wreaths is often pink or rose-coloured, setting it off from the other three purple candles. I find another useful image in the pink candle, choosing to see it as representing the blood of Christ that he shed in his Passion, reminding us in the midst of Christmas preparations that Jesus came into the world foremost as a sacrifice. Nevertheless, the sorrow of Christ’s suffering and death is blotted out as we triumph in his Resurrection, and we anticipate the return of Jesus in his Second Coming with joy.