Family Advent – Day 15

[Symbol] – The Stable

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[A Story relating to the Symbol]

The Christmas We Lost Our Barn

John Davidson’s True Story

as told by Gregg Luke

I was only four years old at the time, but the memory of that cold December day in 1967 will stay with me forever. We had worked very hard that year building our herds, maintaining our ranch, and harvesting enough hay to see our livestock through another long Wyoming winter. We owned 640 acres about seven miles southwest of Lyman. We had our house, the huge old barn, a garage that was used as a tack and storage building, a machine shop, and several other outbuildings. I was the only boy and the youngest in a family of five children; still, I tried to pull my own weight as best I could. My father was a hardworking, generous man. As a former bishop of our ward and owner of the local grocery-mercantile store, he never ceased to help people, whether spiritually or materially. The whole family took turns helping out around the ranch as well as in the mercantile. We were never what you would call rich; everything we had was invested in the ranch and store. But because of Dad’s selfless service, everyone in town and the surrounding area knew and respected the entire Davidson family. Despite not having much ourselves, during Christmastime it was not unusual for us to play Secret Santa, giving gifts to several needy families. Helping people in need always brought a warm feeling to my heart and taught me that the true spirit of Christmas is about giving.

Ranching our barren, unforgiving land was hard, never-ending work, but always very rewarding. That spring and summer had been better than most; we ended up with a good hay crop and several new calves, lambs, and foals. But winter seemed to come quicker than usual that year, entirely skipping fall. I remember the cold being particularly harsh. The wind never ceased from howling, and needle-sharp ice crystals pelted any exposed skin. The ground had frozen solid as granite. We kept our cattle, sheep, and horses near our barn to make it easier to feed them through the winter months and to guard them from predators and exposure to the bitter cold.

We had 250 head of cattle inside the barn, and we worked the calves in there too, dehorning, branding, and vaccinating them for the season. We also stacked much of our hay inside and around the barn—some 17,000 bales. The rest of the crop was nestled between the barn and the adjacent building.

On the morning of December 12th, my sisters Susan, Linda, and Sheri had gone to school, and my older sister Colleen had stopped by for a visit. She was married and was pregnant with her first child. Dad had taken a young bull over to a neighbor’s ranch and had spent most of the morning there, helping with the neighbor’s milk cows and other stock. He had said he was also going to stop by the lumberyard for some fencing materials. I was wandering about the house as usual, wishing my sisters would come home so we could play. It was too cold to do much outside, but I was very bored and restless and willing to do just about anything. I went to the back door to look outside, just in case the sun had broken through and warmed the yard a bit. At that moment, flickers of orange and yellow caught my eye. They came from the top of our big barn. The flickers were flames. Fire!

I ran to Mom, yelling that I had seen a fire in the old barn. At first she thought I was fooling, but the panic in my voice convinced her to look outside. She gasped and immediately called the fire department. She told Colleen to keep me inside as she ran out to see what she could save from the flames. The inside of the barn was an inferno. The animals were bellowing violently, driven mad by the fire. Many of the horses and calves were already dead. Mom ran to the adjacent building and was able to save a few saddles and other bits of tack, but she only made it in and out once before the fire had engulfed that building too. She came back into the house, shaken and drawn. Colleen and I watched the flames from our kitchen window as Mom paced about the house, letting out small gasps and bursts of tears.

Within minutes several big red fire trucks and farm pickups arrived. They sprayed some water on the blaze, but by then it was too late. All they could do was prevent the flames from reaching our house. Time seemed to drag on as we watched the hopeless battle. Men and machines were moving everywhere, and steam and water covered the whole yard, but nothing was able to stop the relentless flames from attacking every building on our homestead. It was horrible. While the men worked outside, the women did their best to console my mom inside our house. Even though I thought the big fire trucks with their high-pressure hoses and loud, rumbling engines were pretty neat, I had trouble being excited about them. Mom was trembling and crying, and seeing her so sad caused tears to stream from my own eyes. Not only was this tragedy devastating to my family, but I somehow knew it would also ruin Christmas—now just a couple of weeks away.

Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson, a teacher at Susan’s school, found Susan in the hallway and took her to the office. He told her something terrible had happened at home. Susan called home, and Mom told her about the fire and that her favorite horse had died in the flames. Susan was too shocked to say much more than okay and good-bye. She hung up, but Mom called back to make sure she was okay and explained in more detail what had happened. Susan decided to finish the day at school since no one was able to pick her up. She later said that riding home on the bus with my sister Linda seemed surreal—as if they were in a slow-motion dream. When they got home, the only structure still standing was the house. Every other building had burned to smoldering heaps of debris.

When Dad came home, he just wandered about the yard with his hands in his pockets. He said he had seen the smoke from the lumberyard and had commented to the lumberman that a person would have to be crazy to start such a big fire on such a windy day. A moment later, a friend had pulled up and told Dad that his place was on fire. Dad had driven home as fast as he could.

Seeing Dad in the yard, I ran out to see if I could help. As I approached him, I saw that his face was covered with tears, some frozen, some still trickling down his cheeks. Earlier that week, Dad had shared with me a portion of his patriarchal blessing that said as long as he obeyed the commandments and was faithful in his Church callings, his family would never want for anything. Just as I reached his side, he looked toward heaven and said, “Lord, I don’t know how you’re going to do it this time.”

Dad had just purchased a new International Tractor. It too had been stored in the barn. The tractor was so new that Dad hadn’t had the chance to get it insured and hadn’t even made the first payment on it. It was totally destroyed. In sifting through the debris, Colleen found a Dutch oven in which Dad had kept a collection of silver dollars he’d acquired at the store. It was now a solid lump with random impressions of eagles, the word Liberty, and partial coin edges on its surface.

The rest of the day was a blur. People showed up with food items and such, but we were still in too much shock to do anything but stare and cry.

I don’t remember Dad—or any member of my family—asking for help, but the very next day, trucks, tractors, and bulldozers showed up and began pushing the charred rubble into piles to be hauled away. The work was amazingly organized for such short notice. As soon as the ground was cleared, the men measured the land for a new barn. Because the ground had frozen solid again, they placed old tires where the barn posts would need to go and set them on fire. The tires burned all night and thawed the ground enough for the men to sink sticks of dynamite into the ground to blow through the frost line. Someone always seemed to be working on the barn, and every day someone would drop off several bales of hay to feed our remaining stock. During that time, the community rallied around us as never before. It was as if our world had completely fallen apart, and everyone else was working to put it back together again. One morning we found a Jersey milk cow tied outside our back door so we wouldn’t have to buy milk. Other gifts of that sort showed up all winter long, including several tons of hay for our cattle. One kind, elderly man gave us a gentle old mare named Gypsy. She was a wonderful gift that kept our minds off the loss of our other horses.

The work crew finished the barn on Christmas Eve—just twelve days after the old one had burned to the ground. On Christmas morning there was a huge red ribbon tied around the barn and a big sign tacked to the large double doors that read Merry Christmas!

It was overwhelming to see how the community had come forward to donate food, livestock, lumber, hay and feed, handfuls of money, and, of course, hours and hours of time. We were never able to calculate the total amount of money the labor and gifts equaled, but we knew it was a debt we could never repay. And the thing was, no one expected us to.

The Christmas our barn burned down will always stay rooted in my memory—not as a heartache or a tragedy, but as the perfect example of generosity, sacrifice, and love. It was the year my family got the chance to be on the receiving end of the true spirit of Christmas.

 

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[Song] Away in a manger

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[Scripture] Psalm 61:3

For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy

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[Challenge – Be Kind] – The Stable was a place of refuge and rest to Mary. Who finding herself ready to deliver, had nowhere to rest from their long journey never mind have somewhere to give birth. All the inns were full and there was no room. Although one kind innkeeper probably embarrassed of the offer, he opened up the stable for them and offered them a place of refuge and rest. Today find a way to make your home a place of refuge and rest. take time to be kind and serve your family.

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 [Story relating to the challenge]

Better to Receive Than to Give

By Ganel-Lyn Condie

I paid the dental bill and had enough money for four new car tires. All the bills were now—finally—caught up.

I let out a deep, cleansing sigh of relief and felt the tension in my shoulders suddenly relax.

Almost three years earlier, my husband had lost his job. It was the first time in over twenty-three years of marriage that we had experienced the great refining reality of unemployment. Losing over $80,000 on our home, surviving on savings and food storage, and selling most of our earthly possessions, we moved into a small rental home, and our family started back down the road of financial recovery. That long period took a toll on us but also breathed new life into our family connections. We learned lessons of faith and trust, and constant reminders of what really mattered seemed to trickle in and change us for the better.

Now Rob was again working, this time as a CFO at a steel company. Our family resettled in a new county, with very little, and joyfully started into a simpler lifestyle. With help from a special program, we eventually moved out of our tiny rental farmhouse into a new home of our own, and deals on KSL Classifieds helped replace furnishings we had previously sold.

But on this particular day, many months after the initial layoff, after the move, after the resettlement, and after the bills being paid, it suddenly felt different, like we were going to make it! Hope came flooding into my mind as I wrote the check out for the dentist.

Then the phone rang.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon. Rob was calling to say he was on his way home.

Anxiously, I asked, “Why? It’s too early.”

“I was just laid off,” he whispered, then fell silent for a moment. “I don’t have a job.”

There was a rushing in my ears, like all the air was being sucked out of me. Moments earlier I’d been breathing, but now that all-too-familiar gripping feeling in my chest, the one that had finally relaxed just moments before, was back.

Saving money again wasn’t an option. Building up our food storage again was not going to happen. There would be no lawn or landscaping for our empty dirt lot. Forget planning a family vacation. Back again was that oh-so-familiar survival feeling of thick fog.

* * *

The tears on Rob’s face matched the ones stuck inside my throat. It felt different this time. As he walked in from the garage, we held each other and cried. He asked why. I asked why. As Rob explained in more detail what had happened, I could see this time was going to be different. This time, the first layoff felt like a faith-promoting experience, a trial that would teach us. An experience with unemployment wasn’t that uncommon. But two rounds of it? What was this second time supposed to do for us?

We called a friend, who came right away to give us both priesthood blessings. The words from Rob’s blessing seared into my mind: “All of your needs are known by God. And He will make sure all of your family’s needs will be met during this time. Receive the service that will be given you.” The powerful impression we all had after the blessings was that this period of unemployment would not go on for a lengthy period of time. It was early July . . . and we had to trust in God’s timetable.

Rob being home more was a good thing. We found a new routine. But with no financial reserve, garden veggies to harvest, or a severance package to rely on, things felt uncertain. But the blessing, the promise from God, was that our needs were known and would be met. We filed for unemployment, and Rob quickly set up a temporary home office upstairs in the guest/craft room, where he could get to busy finding a job. He started networking. I helped by sharing on social media. And the job leads started coming in. Interviews happened regularly enough to keep our hopes up, but there was nothing of real promise on the job horizon.

The summer progressed with no real prospects of employment. Each day and week that passed saw our gratitude list grow and our bank account shrink. I started sharing “Miracles in the Mess” posts on social media as a way to focus on daily blessings, what was working instead of what wasn’t, while Rob was unemployed.

God helped us through the unknown with helpers. People would anonymously squeeze money through the front door. I remember the day we needed to put gas in both of our cars. After paying the bills, there wasn’t anything left for the week. I stopped at the mailbox, and instead of more bills, I found a card. It was from a college friend I hadn’t had contact with for over twenty-four years. She wrote me a beautiful note thanking me for my example of faith both in the past and during our current situation. Included in the letter was a gift card that was just the right amount to fill up our gas tanks.

As the summer came to a close, concerns about how to buy school supplies and clothing for my kids weighed heavily on my mind. Hopes for a quick unemployment season seemed to be moving into a “longer than we thought” phase. Each time we would panic or worry about how to make it all work, I would recall the words of that blessing on the first day. Our needs were known and would be met! One day a friend texted me to say she had left a gift on our back porch and wanted to make sure I got it. This dear mother was also trying to buy school supplies and clothes for her own four children, so when I opened the gift she had left me, I gasped. It was a gift card for more than enough to buy my kids all they would need to start school.

Gratitude and love were the first feelings that flooded my heart. But with all the service we received, families were giving to us what they needed for themselves. I didn’t need to see bank statements to know that angels were sacrificing to bless our family. Our back-porch gift brought guilt to my heart. How could we keep accepting help from so many neighbors and family members? These good Samaritans were definitely not the Rockefellers. So many were just middle-class families trying to pay for braces and electricity, but they were still reaching out to serve us.

But I also realized I had to remember, our needs were known and would be met. And we must receive.

* * *

I kept thinking, praying, and hoping that we would surely be employed by Halloween, and if not then, by Christmas! Right?

Orange pumpkin candies and jack-o’-lanterns filled the grocery-store shelves. The leaves were changing, but our job situation wasn’t. But the promises God had made us continued to manifest themselves almost daily. Help from neighbors and extended family kept us swimming.

One night, a dear couple handed me a check, first making me promise I would take it before I saw the amount. The total of their generous gift was the exact amount we were short in paying the mortgage for the month. Sometimes the needs were small, less than a house payment, but no matter the size of the need or the value of the gift, everything given came from God.

Rob humbly went every two weeks to the bishop’s storehouse to fill food orders for our family. Miraculously, our pantry started to fill with food. On one particular visit to the storehouse, Rob was accompanied by a special missionary helper. This sister missionary walked with him up and down the Church’s grocery aisle, just like every other visit. But she was different from the others because she wasn’t a stranger. She was Rob’s previous boss’s mother! My husband’s humility was inspiring. He smiled and thanked her. Could I have done that? He not only had the grace to receive help from the Church—but also to receive service from his ex-boss’s own mother.

Thanksgiving was now right around the corner. That tightening in my chest seemed to be growing with each passing week. I prayed while paying bills. And cried each time another anonymous donor would knock on our door and run. The needs of our family were being met just as our Father had promised. But the receiving part of service was starting to feel like shoes that were just a little too tight. At first they felt a little uncomfortable, but as time wore on, the constriction grew more intense. I knew God had asked us to receive service, but some days, I didn’t want to receive any more; I wanted to be the giver.

People started sending me messages about how our unemployment was inspiring them. My social media posts were inviting others to focus more on gratitude. Families that were also unemployed or underemployed started to share instead of keeping it hidden. In their honesty, neighbors and friends started to reach out and serve one another more often. Even in the discomfort, I could see the good coming from the bad.

* * *

Christmas was coming. But, still, the job wasn’t. What would we do? How could we do another holiday without employment? Our family had always been the sub-for-Santa gifters and had served at the shelter or organized winter-coat drives. We did diaper drives and donated Halloween candy to the homeless. Now we couldn’t give to others in the same way we had in the past. This year we could give only prayers and thanksgiving, not the usual trinkets and treasures. This year was about learning to really, deeply receive.

As the decorations went up, we reminisced about the passing year. But the constant nagging in our minds never ever disappeared completely. The unemployment benefit deadline was quickly approaching. The money wasn’t a lot—it barely covered our mortgage—but it helped. If Rob didn’t find a new job by the new year, we would be in major financial crisis.

As December passed, we enjoyed our family time together. My kids were amazing! They never complained. When people asked them what they wanted for Christmas, Cameron and Brooklyn would always say, “We are great. We don’t need anything.” Those were my moments of motherly pride as I saw into my children’s good hearts. Condie Christmases never had been about piles of gifts, even back when we had abundance, but a mom wants to give her kids a little something. So we waited upon the Lord, and the miracles continued.

* * *

One day, I got a call from friends from the old neighborhood. They had lived by us during our first job loss. You know, back when we had some resources to pull from. The Guys (that’s what we always call them) said they wanted to visit on Saturday. I didn’t think much about it since it had been a few months since our regular get-together. Saturday morning came with a knock at the door, and The Guys came inside to chat. We caught up on their lives and ours. Then they slyly said, “We have some things for you in the car.”

Within minutes, our Christmas season of receiving started to multiply. They carried in boxes of food and gifts, including things not available at the storehouse. It was as if God had texted them a list of all those little items we hadn’t purchased for so long. And then after the last box was unloaded, our dear friends stopped and handed us an envelope. They reported that our friends in the old neighborhood had collected all of the food and gifts. And as I opened the envelope and pulled out a pile of cash, the bills we needed to pay didn’t look impossible anymore. I cried and smiled and cried some more.

I am sure our friends thought I was crying because of the generosity of their gifts. The money they gave would save us, and their generosity was overwhelming, but it was about so much more than that.

Since our July layoff, the blessings from many beloved people had never stopped. But that Saturday morning, I cried and hugged those Christmas elves tighter, not because of what they had brought in boxes but because of what they had given my heart. I hadn’t thought our old neighbors really missed us that much. After five years of living among them, serving and connecting, I often questioned if real bonds had ever been forged. So when The Guys carried those boxes into our kitchen and handed me the envelope of donations from those very friends I had questioned, I was proven wrong. We did matter. The bonds were still in place.

That Christmas delivery had been much more than money and supplies. I received something only God knew I needed, something not found in stores. As I whispered a few more tearful thank-yous to my dear old friends, the message God had been trying to teach me since July was suddenly crystal clear: it is sometimes better to receive than to give.

* * *

That holiday was truly unforgettable. I will always remember how my children didn’t ask for anything—but received much. Christmas morning came and went, and we were still unemployed. That December wasn’t about the worry and stress of unemployment though. No, that Christmas was a testimony of God keeping His promises. When He says our needs are known and will be met, they always are and always will be. Not every prayer is answered in the way we ask, but I know that all prayers are answered.

The unemployment went much longer than we’d expected or was comfortable, but looking back, it went on long enough for us to learn what was needful. God was trying to teach us greater faith and to trust in Him.

After the new year, Rob took a new job.

The following Christmas was very different. We had the money to put up Christmas lights, pay bills, and give gifts to others.

But I had already learned that Christmas is so much more than giving.

The ultimate gift given was a baby born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger. The Savior of the world came for me. And He came for the entire universe. Jesus did what no one else could do. And nothing I could ever give would match God’s grace.

He only asks that I truly receive.

 

Media link: [The Gift of a Savior]

https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2010-12-020-president-henry-b-eyring?

 

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10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :

[A favourite from previous Advents]

Scripture: [Luke 2:7]

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Innkeeper’s Christmas [By Bevan Olsen]

I am the innkeeper like my father before me and his father before him.

I have lived every day of my life taking care of this inn.

We usually have a few guests whose coins fill our pouches,

But just a while ago we had need for more beds and more couches.

A tax was to be paid by each person in his own city, you see,

Making this little town swell with people from everywhere – even Galilee.

This town has only a few inns, ours being the best.

They would come to our inn where they would seek shelter and rest.

Our rooms soon filled up and our inn was all booked.

I had no vacancy; somewhere else they should look.

Our cooks were overwhelmed; they couldn’t work fast enough

To keep up with the demand of our guest’s humger – oh it was rough!

Our maids were worn out; so much cleaning had to be done;

It seemed no matter how fast they worked, this race could never be won.

And all the while I felt terrible as I would turn folks away.

I wish my inn could be one hundred times bigger so everyone could stay.

But this small town can’t support an inn so grand,

And in just a short time everyone will return to his land.

On a night that seemed busier than ever before,

I didn’t quite hear the knock but felt I should go to the door.

So I heeded my prompting and opened the door to a man.

As we talked I noticed he had carpenter’s hands.

He spoke of his wife, who would soon bear a son,

And for some unknown reason, I thought of a spot for this one.

But the thought seemed quite silly, to ask him such a question – did I dare?

A place in my manger? Who would want to stay there?

I told him that the inn was full and I didn’t want to prompt anger,

But he could stay in the stables if he would fix parts of my manger.

He stepped back into the street and spoke with his young wife,

He accepted my offer and told me that I had saved him so much strife.

So around to the back of the inn, and far from the noise of the street,

Joseph and Mary unpacked their things and made my manger look neat.

They required very little and did not ask for much,

But because they were staying with me I sent them breads, soups, and such.

From the minute they walked into my life until the minute they left,

I could sense someone much greater  was accompanying my guests.

One Night as I checked on Joseph – such a wonderful guy,

I closed the door to my inn and looked up into the sky.

It was a quiet night, and everyone had just gone to bed.

The crowds had subsided, and I needed to clear my head.

As I looked up I witnessed a Star burst into the night,

It was a little bigger than the rest and ten times as bright.

Singing erupted in the heavens from angels unseen.

They sang songs of praise to their God for a Newborn King.

Never before had I experienced so many Heavenly sounds and sights,

And I was a little startled to see the manger filled with the great star’s light.

Dazed, I dared not enter the manger through the door.

Instead I went to the window and watched for an hour or more.

The animals were calm and looked on as I did.

The sight was warm and inviting – made me feel like a kid.

The scene was interrupted by shadows appearing at the gate,

Shepherds  from nearby fields slowly entered numbering eight.

Not much was spoken as they knelt on their knees,

But quietly sang that same angelic song about a newborn king.

They each got to hold him and gaze on his face.

They told Joseph they would spread the news quickly and left with much haste.

Later Three Kings came to kneel on the earth,

And presented great gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I was their next guest, now that I had the courage to go in.

Joseph greeted me happily with a hug and a grin.

He showed me their son, who had just entered this life.

Then asked me to hold him while he took care of his wife.

As I held this young babe and looked into his eyes.

My whole frame felt his love – it’s quite hard to describe.

Away from the street noise, tucked away from any danger,

God had presented his son to the world in my manger.

I hummed to him the song that I had heard the angels sing.

Then I acknowledged him softly as “Jesus, my King.”

 

 

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