To Give and Give Again

Christmas that year had promised to be one of our best ever. We had expected that soon after his graduation from dental school, Jim would open his own practice. I had dreamed of new clothes, new Christmas decorations, fruit cake baking in the oven, and gifts for everyone.

Instead, our lives had been in turmoil for months. Leaving our cozy apartment and good friends in Los Angeles to return to Utah had been more difficult than I had imagined, and it had depleted what was left of our scanty bank account. We had comforted ourselves with the belief that money would soon be coming in from Jim’s new practice.

Then I became pregnant, nearly lost the baby, and was required to severely limit my activities. Jim was gone for what seemed endless hours, working late night after night getting the new business in order. When he was home, he was cheerful and good company, but I had never felt so alone.

The business opened its doors in November of that year—one month later than we had planned—which left us behind on our bills. We ate a lot of beans during that time. I prepared them countless ways, but they were always beans.

I became more depressed as Christmas approached. We squeezed a few dollars from the budget to buy some storybooks and a toy for our eighteen-month-old son, Erik. I told myself that gifts under the tree were of no real importance, that the spirit of Christmas was what truly mattered. But I couldn’t catch the spirit.

I wrapped the books and the toy and placed them under our much-used, second-hand, artificial Christmas tree. We set out our cardboard manger scene and strung a few mismatched ornaments from the dining room light.

When Christmas morning arrived, we carried Erik downstairs to the tree to open his presents. There was a lump of sadness in my throat as he opened his gifts. Where was the joy I was supposed to feel?

Jim put his arm around my shoulders and placed a small package on my lap. My fingers trembled as I tore away the paper to find a red velvet box. I couldn’t believe it! Only expensive gifts came in boxes like that. Where could Jim have found the money? As I opened it, my heart seemed to stop. Inside I saw the pendant Jim had given me the Christmas we were pinned so many years before. A note was enclosed which read, “With love—again. Jim.”

My eyes filled with tears as I realized that the pendant represented his love for me. The ache in my heart vanished and was replaced by a feeling of inexpressible love and joy, and I felt the spirit of Christmas at last.

I will never forget the lesson a compassionate husband taught me that Christmas morning—that love is the most precious gift of all.

Rebecca Strand Russon serves as music director and a member of the Cub Scout committee in the West Bountiful (Utah) Sixth Ward.

The Horse That Saved Christmas

On our tree each Christmas hangs a little horse-shaped ornament made of dough. To my family, it is the horse that saved Christmas. How did a four-inch tall, cream-colored rocking horse with a glittered bridle save our Christmas? It’s a story we will never forget.

Christmas had always been special when we lived in Kentucky, full of traditions and memory-making hours with cousins and grandparents. Christmas Eve was spent with my husband’s parents, opening gifts, then listening as Granddaddy Sullivan read the Christmas story by flickering candlelight. We would then travel to my mother’s house, where we would spend the night. Christmas morning meant running down her long staircase to find what Santa had left, followed by a day playing with twenty cousins who lived in the area. Aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, “in-laws and outlaws,” as Mama called her seven children and their spouses, spent the day enjoying each other’s company.

Then came the year that a recession in Kentucky forced us to move to Texas, where my husband was able to find a construction job. We spent Christmas that year in Texas with only our immediate family.

“Next Christmas we will go to Kentucky and spend it with Mammy Mae in cousinland,” we promised the children.

Next fall came, and with it the Texas monsoon. The weekly paychecks were small because of workdays missed. When December arrived, our savings were depleted and there was no obvious way we could make the trip to Kentucky for the holidays.

We paid our tithing rather than using the money to make the trip, knowing that Christmas in Kentucky would not be worth withholding from the Lord to get there.

The next week brought more rain clouds to match the one brooding over my head. In despair I went to our bedroom, closed the door, and on my knees poured out my heart to my Father in Heaven. “Please, Father—I need a miracle. We have five little ones who are counting on us to take them to Kentucky for Christmas. They have three loving grandparents who are counting on us to get them there too. I can’t leave my babies and get a job. I pray that I might know what to do!”

Immediately I felt a surge of energy, and with it came a plan. In my mind I saw the little cream-colored rocking horses I had made for my oldest son’s fifth-grade class the year before. They were salt-dough ornaments I had cut out, watercolored, then dipped in varnish. The horses were personalized with a name across the rocker. I had learned the craft in a Relief Society Homemaking class, and the ornaments were inexpensive to make. I knew, with ten willing hands to help and with the Lord on our side, we could make more of the ornaments and sell them.

We met in family council and agreed we would need to sell three hundred horses at one dollar each. Our total cost for the project would be twenty dollars. The three school-aged children each took a horse to school the next day to show to their teachers. Word spread, and it seemed everyone had a dollar to spend for a cream-colored rocking horse.

Our kitchen became an assembly line, with each family member taking part in painting, glittering, or dipping each ornament in varnish. By December 15 we were well on our way to reaching our goal. A friend at the bank got one hundred orders. Eli, our eleven-year-old, sold sixty-five. Jacob, the nine-year-old, sold twenty-five, and even seven-year-old Mae sold twenty-one horses. Still, we were almost ninety horses shy of our goal.

That weekend, I was scheduled to speak at the Saturday evening session of stake conference about “living within our means.” I felt inspired to include in my talk the story of our family’s project to let the members know how the Lord was helping us meet a financial goal. After the meeting, a brother from another ward whom I had never met approached me and asked, “Do you have any more of those horses?”

“Oh, yes, we still have to sell about ninety to reach our goal,” I answered.

“Good, I want a hundred,” he said.

We delivered the one hundred horses Monday afternoon and started discussing who we wanted to see first after we crossed the Kentucky state line.

Our project taught us many lessons. We learned that family members grow closer as they work and sing together, and that honest work is the answer to a financial need. We also learned that the Lord will inspire us when we worthily plead for ideas, and he will help us to fulfill our righteous desires.

That Christmas the children made the most of every minute they spent in Kentucky. We gave Mammy Mae twenty-six rocking horses, each one bearing a grandchild’s name. It was our last Christmas with Granddaddy Sullivan. He passed away the following summer.

I am thankful to Heavenly Father for the wonderful Christmas we enjoyed as a result of his inspiration to make a little cream-colored rocking horse.

Jane Brooking Flint is a counselor in the Relief Society presidency of her Jacksonville, Arkansas, ward.

Merry Thanks and Happy Respect

When I was two years old and my brother was six months, our father was lost at sea as he piloted a jet in a storm near Japan. He and my mother were both twenty-six years old at the time. My mother didn’t remarry for many years, but I never felt during my childhood that my family was different or that I was missing out on anything. Our home was happy and loving in every way.

Christmas was happy and loving, too. My brother and I looked forward to Santa Claus and gifts and sweets and, most important, to celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Although it was hard for our young mother to provide us with the things little children want at Christmas, it seemed to be a wonderful time for her. She would save all year to buy us what we asked for, only to hear us praise Santa for his generosity.

The Christmas when I was nine and my brother Greg was seven, Mother was very ill. By this time in my life I had my doubts about Santa and his reindeer. It upset me to think my mother was probably Santa in disguise and that she was feeling so ill she probably couldn’t do much for Greg and me for Christmas. To think she had spent all of those shopping days sick in bed, forgetting about us and our wants and needs at Christmastime! I was sure Christmas morning would prove to be a big disappointment.

We went to bed Christmas Eve, and I found myself unable to sleep because I was so unhappy. I was still awake when I heard Mother get out of bed and quietly make her way into our darkened living room. Judging by her slow movements, I could tell that she was still feeling very ill. The front door opened a few minutes later, and Mother whispered, “Quiet, Brent—the kids must get their sleep so they won’t be tired in the morning.” A rustling sound told me that Mother’s younger brother, my Uncle Brent, was bringing in bags of gifts.

“Isn’t it a blessing that I started my shopping so early, Brent? I tried to organize my time better this year …” She sounded sick, probably getting much worse by the moment. She was doing too much!

As I lay in my bed, I began feeling for her rather than for myself. As I heard her slowly taking packages from the bags and placing them under the Christmas tree, I prayed that she would feel better; and as I heard her delight when she discovered treasures for us that she had forgotten about, I hoped she was feeling better already. I cried for her, and was ashamed of myself.

Uncle Brent left, and I expected Mother to go quickly back to bed. Instead, she stayed in the living room, with the Christmas tree lights on, making sure that every gift was placed properly and that both stockings were filled as full as they could be. She was seeing it as we would see it early the next morning, and hoping that we would be pleased. I fell asleep before she left the living room.

On Christmas morning, I awoke changed and happy. As Greg and I went to greet Mother, I couldn’t wait for the day’s activities to begin. This Christmas morning was unlike any other, because I wanted to make my mother happy. I couldn’t wait to show her my joy at what she had done for us. I wanted it to be her most wonderful Christmas.

As we entered the living room, I found the tree greener, the lights brighter, the gift wrapping more beautiful than ever before. But more than that, the real meaning of the day and the awareness of Heavenly Father and his Son came to me so strongly that I felt enveloped with his love, and with the love of my beautiful mother.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Stephen Moore

Kelly Strong Thacker, a free-lance writer, teaches Primary in her Sandy, Utah, ward.