The Season’s Reasons
It came much too quickly for me that year. I hadn’t yet finished with summer, and there it was falling all around me … winter! Like a reprimand to me for not having taken time to “smell the roses,” the silvery snowflakes seemed to laugh at me.
I stood at a foggy window, staring out into the blizzard of early morning. The darkness slowly began to give way to rays of sunlight filtering through the storm. The world seemed to take on a lightness, but maintained its darkness as well. I could barely see across the street.
Staring deep into the milky whiteness, I felt a depression settle over me, bringing with it a sudden claustrophobia. A familiar tension surfaced reminding me that such feelings had appeared before with the first snow of the year.
I shivered and pulled my robe tighter around me. What tragedies and problems had this storm brought with it, I wondered. Where is the beauty that poets have written about? If winter is so beautiful, why do my toes and fingers ache? Why do I always resist it, even after it has arrived?
An alarm clock went off in the other room, and I felt a sudden panic. My time to ponder was over for the day. I decided to keep the drapes closed and ignore the dreary weather.
It was still storming fiercely when I sent the children out to catch the school bus; light wisps of snow rushed inside and around my feet as I quickly closed the door behind them. I turned up the heat and pushed a tape into the stereo. I gave the baby her bath and breakfast, then put her down for a nap. The mailman came and went, but I did not even go out.
I started my cleaning and tore through the house like a cyclone, hoping to work off some of my frustration. When I could clean no more, I pulled the tape from the tape deck and turned on the radio. A cheerful voice was commenting on the storm. I turned it off. The phone rang, and a neighbor asked my opinion on the weather. I didn’t even want to talk about it.
After school, the older children soon came crashing through the door shaking the snow from their gloves and feet. My daughter went straight to the fridge to hang up the paper snowflakes she had made in school. She hung them right there so I could enjoy them. I tried to smile and thank her, but I only shivered and turned away to look for a sweater.
I was working on dinner when my husband arrived. As he put his icy hands on my neck, I dropped the spoon into the spaghetti sauce. I could tell by the drops in his hair that it was still storming.
After dinner there was a sink full of dishes, and all my helpers had urgent homework. I stood there with my hands in the hot soapy water and closed my eyes. I thought about the water-skiing that we had meant to do that year, the picnics that were too few and far between. I recalled our one and only camping trip, remembering how delectable it felt to have the hot summer sun beat down on us as we hiked. Suddenly I wanted to go into the backyard and hang the clothes out on the line. I yearned to mow the lawn and weed the roses, to pick a tomato from my garden or sit in the lawn chairs and sip a cold drink. I wanted to send the children out to the sandpile or to the swings. I wanted to wade in the irrigation water or wash and wax the car. If only the daylight would stay longer in the evening, or if only I could breathe in the fragrance of just one freshly cut rose. Oh, why must things change? I threw open the curtain above the sink exposing the window that looks out into the backyard.
The storm was over, and an incredibly white blanket covered my summer haven. All was still—a quietness that made me pause at the window for a moment. Impulsively, I snatched my husband’s coat and ran to the door.
Outside, I stood for a moment in the stillness. I saw outlines of the sand pile and swing set beneath the great white blanket, little mounds where my garden had been, and snow-laden trees and bushes. An old familiar feeling settled in my heart as I looked all around me at the streets and sidewalks, the blanketed cars and bicycles. I walked along the side of the house, making tracks in the unmarred whiteness. The air smelled fresh, and the crisp temperature carried my breath off into the wind. I stopped near the rose bushes, remembering their endless supply of delight. I had chosen the most beautiful bursts of color before they had reached their full bloom, clipping them for a generous bouquet. Now, they slumbered beneath the weight of a winter blanket. The fragrance of summer was gone.
Patience, I thought. Winter has come again to teach us patience—and tranquility. I brushed the snow from a rose cluster only to find that the petals also brushed away, exposing a barren branch. Dead? No; the roots were living. “They will be back,” I thought aloud—back at the first sign of spring, with new buds that can only be born from the respite that winter imposes. The earth and all living things will renew themselves for spring. And so, I thought, shall I.
A full and luscious summer had come and gone, leaving me yearning for just one more sun-drenched day. But now, at last, I felt an acceptance of winter. The earth had come again to its time of resting, and I had come to a time of patience.
The time for checkers and fireside chats had crept upon us. There would be more time for reading and sharing, organizing a closet, writing a long overdue letter, and even building a snowman. The time to replenish relationships, to strengthen ties, to dig deeper roots had arrived. It would be a season of patience, returning to basics, and being home.
My face was cold, and I went back into the kitchen. I finished the dishes, and the children reappeared. My husband went to the window and commented that the storm had passed. All of us seemed drawn to the window; we stood there looking out into the peaceful night, like a family posing for a Christmas card photo. I breathed a contented sigh, and felt the season change even within the walls of our home.
“I really love your snowflakes,” I told my daughter, smiling, as I ruffled her hair.
The Year We Had No Gifts to Give
I was sure this Christmas would be the best our family had ever spent together. It was only a week before Thanksgiving, and we were almost finished making our Christmas gifts. Most of our gifts were homemade and were designed specifically for that special someone. How I looked forward to seeing these expressions of our family’s love opened.
When my husband, Bob, came home from work that afternoon and said, “Let’s go into town and finish that Christmas shopping tonight,” I was elated. How good it would feel to have more than a month left for just decorating and baking! Hurriedly we packed ourselves and our two small boys into the car for the last shopping trip of the year.
We purchased the gifts and headed home. As night fell, again my thoughts drifted to our homemade gifts. Our friends and relatives would enjoy the purses, embroidered and hand-sewn items, pictures, paintings, floral arrangements, genealogical papers, handmade toys, and dolls. I was thankful to have been chosen as chairman of the Relief Society Christmas workshops for the past three months. It had been a learning experience to prepare these items as examples for the sisters in our ward.
When we were fifteen miles from home, these pleasant thoughts were abruptly interrupted by Bob’s question, “What would you do if our house was on fire?”
I could hardly believe my ears! What a horrible thought!
A mile away from home Bob said, “Our home is on fire.” By now my heart was in my throat, and as we came over the hill, we could see it blazing.
When we got to the house, I remember tightly embracing my four-month-old son, Ryan, and falling on my knees until a neighbor finally pried the child from my arms. Bob paced around the house several times, staring with his mouth gaping.
Our two-year-old son, Robbie, stared in amazement at the burning toy box the firemen had retrieved and placed in the front yard. Bob put his arms around me and reminded me that we were all safe and that was what mattered.
There was nothing anyone could do but watch the fire take its toll. Then we remembered our genealogy and how we had searched for years for our ancestors. Recalling where these important papers were located, Bob raced to the garage for a rake. He pulled the burning siding from outside our bedroom, reached in, and grabbed the genealogy, which was just beginning to burn.
Now it began to rain. It was late. We were cold, wet, and in shock. The children were tired. But we had no change of clothes, no diapers, no place to go. Arrangements were made for us to stay at a neighbor’s home. Once we were settled, the bishop and his family arrived to counsel and comfort us.
As we gathered together for family prayer that night, I felt the gentle Spirit of the Lord stronger than at any time before. I’ll never forget our humility and reverence that night. I remembered that our patriarchal blessings were with our genealogy and I felt inspired to read mine.
These words seemed to leap off the page: “I bless you, dear sister, in the living of the Word of Wisdom and in the payment of your tithing, that you will not want for the necessities and the comforts of life while here upon the earth …” It was a tremendous consolation to know that our needs would somehow be provided for.
The Relief Society sisters and the elders quorum brothers in our ward coordinated their efforts, and the day after the fire, our family’s immediate needs were met. We experienced emotional ups and downs as we struggled to regain normality. By now our resistance was low, and each of us became quite ill. It became very difficult to take care of ourselves. We needed to rely on others even more.
Within weeks we had rented a house and were planning the architecture of our new home. Each of us had clothing to wear, and we even had a sewing machine with which to alter what didn’t fit. We received bedding, towels, and washcloths, as well as money, school and stationery supplies, and boxes and boxes of food. We wondered how our brothers and sisters could think of all these important and necessary items.
Christmas approached, and one day as I was decorating our humble little Christmas tree with gingham bows and Christmas cards, I suddenly realized that I had no gifts to give this year.
I hoped the children were too small to remember this Christmas. It would not be the same one I had been preparing for them for months.
Then, the Sunday before Christmas, we found the back seat of our car filled with presents for our children from the Primary children in our ward. A church in the community selected us as their Christmas family and showered us with gifts. A local Boy Scout troop bought us a beautiful rocking chair because they knew our children loved to be rocked.
A neighbor made us a baby cradle just like the one we used to have. One family brought us a television, and another brought us house plants. Late Christmas Eve we heard our front door open and close. Bob went to check and found an entire Christmas dinner, complete with turkey and cranberry sauce, from the local Jaycees.
We read the Christmas story that night and prayed that our Heavenly Father would remember those who had treated us in such Christlike ways that Christmas. Great joy and blessings were bestowed upon us the Christmas we had no gifts to give to others.
Twenty Dollars for a Paper Doll
One Christmas, I was serving as a bishop in a Provo, Utah, ward. Because I had never had much success in selecting and buying clothes for my wife, I had, for the past several years, cut out a paper doll, wrapped a twenty-dollar bill around it like a dress, and hung it on the tree as a special gift for her. In those days, twenty dollars would buy a pretty nice dress.
But because of a tight budget this particular year, I had struggled for weeks to save the twenty dollars to hang on the tree.
The day before Christmas, my plans changed suddenly when a man needing help came by my office. I could not reach my financial clerk to obtain fast offering funds, so I gave the man five of my twenty dollars so he could go home for Christmas. I tucked the remaining fifteen dollars away in my wallet, hoping it would do for a dress.
A few minutes later, a man from my ward came into my office. He said, “Bishop, one of my home teaching families won’t have much for Christmas this year without help. I have fifteen dollars. If I could get a little more from somewhere, I could get a few things for them.”
I knew he needed his money as much as I needed mine, so I handed him my fifteen dollars and said a sad farewell to my wife’s Christmas dress.
My disappointment over the dress lightened when the children finally settled down on Christmas Eve and we had set out their gifts for them. But when my wife went to get ready for bed at midnight, I sat moping in a chair for a few minutes because my traditional gift hadn’t worked out.
Suddenly the thought came to me that I should look in my wallet again. There, where I had taken out the money to give to the home teacher, was fifteen dollars. I looked in another compartment and found another fifteen dollars. In the final compartment there was a twenty-dollar bill—making a total of fifty dollars that had not been there earlier!
I wept in gratitude as I cut out a paper doll and hung it on the tree.