Vandalized! What to Do?

Early one December afternoon my husband baptized our youngest son. My heart was full as I saw my son’s sweet face reflecting his feelings about this important day. That evening we attended our ward Christmas program and left filled with a special Christmas spirit. It had been a wonderful day.

But our feelings of joy were replaced with confusion and anger as we pulled into our driveway and noticed that the glass in our lamppost had been broken. The lightbulb was crushed, and the rod that earlier had held a bright Christmas bow lay broken on the ground. Along the front of our house hung dripping masses of raw eggs. The bright yellow goo clung to the windows, the eaves, and the siding and adorned the woodwork of our front door. Some of the oozing mess had already frozen in the plummeting temperatures. This was not the first time we had been the object of minor vandalism, but it was definitely the worst.

My husband and I hurried our children into the house as they questioned, “Mom, why would anyone do that to us? Don’t they like us?” We calmed the children down, put them to bed, and headed out into the frigid night air to begin the task of scraping and scrubbing off the mess. We knew that if we left it until morning, last summer’s paint job would be ruined. With frozen hands and flaring tempers, we came inside an hour and a half later.

I suddenly remembered that the next day, Sunday, I was supposed to talk to the Primary children about the Savior and his love for us. We were going to discuss ways we could show love to him and our fellowman. I wondered how I could honestly express feelings of love when anger and resentment were racing through my heart. We went to bed that night exhausted and disappointed that such a wonderful day had ended so miserably.

The next morning someone revealed who the culprits were. Friends encouraged us to call the police and turn the boys in, but my husband and I searched for a better way to handle the situation. We knelt together and asked Heavenly Father to help us do what was best, not just for us but for the boys involved. Suddenly, the answer came rushing to us, and a sweet peace replaced our feelings of anger. I was able to go to Primary that day and share with the children my love for the Savior and his guiding influence in our lives.

That evening my husband and I stacked two plates full of cookies and headed out to talk with the boys and their parents. The first family was new in our neighborhood. We gave the cookies to the boy and told him that we felt this was a better thing to do with eggs. “The next time you get the urge to use some eggs,” we said, “bring them down to our house, and we’ll all make a batch of cookies together.”

Sadly, the boy’s father was not receptive to our attempt at reconciliation and told us to take the cookies and go. We left the cookies anyway and went on our way. As we walked to our car, I started to lose all of my resolve about going to the next house. Frankly, I was a little frightened and very disappointed. I had been so convinced that we were doing the right thing, but now I wasn’t so sure.

However, my husband’s encouragement prodded us on. Fortunately, our experience at the next house was somewhat better. This time the boy’s parents expressed appreciation that we had dealt with the problem so understandingly. But the boy flatly denied any part in the egg incident.

We went home, glad that we had followed through, but unsure about the effect it had had.

One hour later, the second boy, accompanied by his father, sheepishly knocked on the door and quietly confessed that he and the other boy had been involved. To make up for the mess they had caused, he said he would come to our house the next day after school and clean off any remnants he could find of the eggs.

No apology or attempt at restitution came from the other boy. However, one month later, as Relief Society president, I received the name of a family whose records had just been sent to our ward—it was this boy’s family. I had always made a point of visiting each new sister in our ward as soon as I knew she was here. But this time I was in no hurry to go. “How would she feel about me coming?” I worried. “Would she even let me in?” After stalling for a few days, I finally resolved to visit her. With knees shaking and a prayer in my heart, I knocked at her door.

She invited me in, and through the course of our visit, we shared our feelings about that night. “You know,” she said, “I almost asked you that night what church you belonged to because I know that’s the way the Lord would have us do things.”

Oh, the joy I felt at that moment. What if we had called the police and had handled the situation in anger? What would this sister’s feelings have been then? How grateful I was that we had listened to and followed the guidance of the Spirit, especially during this season of the Savior’s birth.

Jeannie Lancaster is Relief Society chorister and Young Women camp director in the Big Thompson Ward, Greeley Colorado Stake.

Lessons Learned at Shepherds’ Field

As we got off the bus, we saw a tent belonging to a bedouin family. Farther from the road, two or three children were watching a flock of sheep grazing there on the hills outside Bethlehem. Our tour group was finishing a two-week stay in Israel, and we had come to Shepherds’ Field for a testimony meeting.

As we sat on the rocky hillside and looked in one direction, we could see Bethlehem. If we looked slightly to the left in another direction, we could see Herodium, a fortified mountain atop which Herod the Great had built a luxurious palace complete with pools, gardens, and two hundred white marble steps. We had visited it earlier in the day. Now, looking at it, I felt as if it represented all the material successes one could ever wish for. On the other hand, the village of Bethlehem seemed to symbolize everything I had learned about Jesus during our visit to the Holy Land.

I looked back and forth, from Bethlehem to Herodium. The question came to me: Which am I choosing? Of course I want to follow the Savior. But are my day-to-day decisions and actions taking me in a different direction?

As we sang Christmas carols and shared testimonies, I thought of how easy it is to make the wrong things our first priority. How easy it is to expend a lot of time and worry on things that are of little consequence in an eternal frame of reference. How easy it is to pretend that material possessions are forever! And how difficult it is to remember that Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.” (Matt. 6:24.)

The question would not go away: In which direction am I going? Then, over and over again, almost like a prayer, I heard the words of the shepherds: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” (Luke 2:15.)

I have thought of that experience often since returning home—the sun dropping behind the Judaean hills, the flock of sheep nearby, and the peace I felt as I recommitted myself to worry less about the things of the world and to seek more diligently the kingdom of God.

Sometimes still I can hear the shepherds from that long-ago night on a hill far away, saying, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” And I remind myself to choose wisely. Herodion lies in ruins, but Bethlehem remains.

Vickie Randall is Primary music leader in the Ithaca Ward, Ithaca New York Stake.

The Most Important Gift

The first year after my divorce was the most difficult time of my life. Each day seemed to bring new challenges and a greater awareness of being alone.

Holidays were especially trying that year, and each one left me more depressed than the last. There was a recurring shadow that seemed to echo, “You’re not a family anymore! Holidays are for whole families, with husbands, wives, and children.”

By the time the Christmas season came, I found myself depressed almost every day. I simply didn’t want to have to deal with Christmas, but I was forced to because of my two small boys.

In years past, Christmas had meant buying a large tree and gifts for friends and family members. This first Christmas alone, buying the smallest tree on the lot was almost more than my budget could handle. And buying gifts, or even making them, seemed impossible.

But as each day came, I seemed to find a way to get something for everyone I needed to. As for myself, all I wanted was never to face another Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, our small tree stood in the living room with a few packages under it for my boys. One of my home teachers called to see if my children and I would like to come to his house for Christmas Eve dinner with his family. My first instinct was to say no, but then I decided that maybe we should go.

His family’s excitement about Christmas showed in their laughter and in the light in their eyes. The children, all on their best behavior, helped their mother set the table. After dinner they sat down to hear their mother tell them the story of Christ’s birth. They asked me to participate by reading from Luke.

It was a nice evening. All around me were people caught up in the spirit of Christmas. But I couldn’t help feeling as though I were an outsider looking in.

When I got home that night, I tucked my sons into bed and went into the living room to carefully lay out a few more small presents under the tree. I didn’t notice it at first, but then I realized that there was something different about the tree. There was something different about the whole house.

As I got closer to the tree, I noticed presents I had not put there. I picked one up and saw that it had my name on it. And there were other presents, for me and my boys. There was also a beautiful, handmade Christmas stocking for me.

As I touched the presents one by one, I felt the Spirit speaking to me so powerfully that it seemed as if someone were standing in the room, telling me that my Father in Heaven loved me, that I was still a part of his family. The presents themselves were small, but each one seemed to bear witness that my life had meaning, and that I had a purpose for being on this earth.

One present was a picture frame, and I was reminded that I had been blessed with a talent for painting and should continue to use that talent in my life.

One gift was a beautiful sweater. It was so delicate and feminine. I was impressed with a feeling that I should try to remember that I am a daughter of our Father in Heaven, that I had been chosen to be a mother, and that my boys needed me on this earth.

In the Christmas stocking were mascara, makeup, and a small bottle of perfume—things I could hardly afford to buy any longer. But there was also an underlying message: that my body was a temple, and I should take care of it both physically and spiritually.

But the most important gift I received that Christmas was the knowledge that my Father in Heaven knows my needs and desires, and that he loves me so much that he sent his Son to earth to die that I might have eternal life. I learned that night that, married or single, my stay here on earth has a purpose, and I need to do everything I can to make my life worth the price that Jesus paid for it.

I don’t know who put those presents under my Christmas tree, but I know the Lord has blessed them because they were in tune with the Spirit. And now, as each holiday approaches, I look to see what I may do for others, and I gratefully thank my Father in Heaven for that most important of all gifts: the life of his Son.

Jill Dastrup, mother of two, works in the French name extraction program in the Winder West Stake in Salt Lake City.

“Make It Go!”

“Make it go, Daddy! Make it go!” I shook the store’s miniature merry-go-round to simulate motion, trying to convince my three-year-old son and his little sister that they were content just to sit on the wooden horses.

Inside the discount store my wife was finishing some last-minute Christmas shopping. As a struggling graduate student without a spare penny, I rattled and shook the merry-go-round in frustration. The San Francisco evening was black, cold, foggy, and depressing. I was tired and irritated by my son’s insistent cry for me to “Make it go!”

Shuffling noticeably, a middle-aged man came toward us out of the fog. By the dim light of the street lamp he watched my attempt to satisfy the children. After a few moments he fumbled in his pocket for a coin. His unkempt appearance and a pervading odor of alcohol made me wary, and I protested. They were fine, I muttered, shaking the horses again. “See, you’re fine, aren’t you?” I said.

Producing the coin, he pleaded, “Please, let me do this; please?” Surprised by the pitiful tone of his voice, I relented.

As the delighted children went round and round, the man haltingly explained, “My wife and I never had any children … and … she died recently. It’s Christmas … I’m all alone. Thank you.”

He disappeared into the dense fog. He had needed someone to give to at Christmas. And truly he had—not only to the children, but to me as well. Because of him, I had gained a new appreciation for a very precious gift from God—my family.

Wendel K. Walton, father of six, is bishop of the Manchester Ward, Hartford Connecticut Stake.

Blinking Lights and Whispered Words

I was dreading Christmas. A painful divorce had left me a single parent of eight children. Memories of past Christmases were just too much for me to handle this year.

My fifteen-year-old son, Aaron, had a job selling Christmas trees. One cold evening, as I arrived to pick him up after work, he ran to the car. “Mom, come and look at the Christmas tree I’ve found for us.”

Exhausted from working late, I said, “I can’t tonight. I’m too tired. Maybe tomorrow.”

“Ahh, Mom. Just come and look at it.”

I couldn’t resist the enthusiasm in his face, so I followed him through the trees on the lot. I hated to disappoint him, but I knew our financial situation. “Aaron, I’m not sure there will be enough money for a tree.” My statement didn’t faze Aaron’s excitement at all.

“Mom, you have to see this tree!” He rubbed his hands together for warmth as we walked to the back of the lot. “I kind of pushed it behind these other trees because I didn’t want it to be sold.”

Then he pulled out the most gorgeous tree I’d ever seen. “Perfect, huh?” Aaron beamed. “Looks just like the ones in all the Christmas pictures, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” I whispered, as I looked longingly at it. “It’s perfect.” I didn’t dare say anything for a few minutes as I shared Aaron’s dream. Finally, I had to say, “I’m afraid we just don’t have the money for a tree like this.”

“But Mom, … it’s … it’s … just what we need this year. We’ve just got to have it,” he said. “Wait a second. I’ll be right back.”

As I waited for Aaron, I touched the pine needles and wished things could be different this year. In a few minutes, he came running around the corner.

“Mom! It’s ours!” he shouted, out of breath. “My boss gave me $10.00 off, and he’s going to take the rest out of my check.” His breath froze in clouds in the frigid night air as he continued, “But we have to take it tonight. It will be sold tomorrow for sure if we leave it here.”

We lived ten miles out of town. Our car was small, and the tree was large. I had no idea how we were going to get it home, but I wasn’t worried about it anymore. Now I was as excited as Aaron.

Laughing together, we loaded the huge tree on our car, poured ourselves a cup of hot chocolate before we left the tree lot, and headed home. I felt warmer and warmer as I drank the hot chocolate and listened to my son chatter endlessly about Christmas trees. I forgot about how tired I was, and for a few minutes I even forgot about my sorrow and enjoyed the moment.

By the time we got home, it was 11:30 P.M. I pulled into the driveway, but before I could suggest to Aaron that we leave the tree in the garage until the next day, he had already begun to unload it.

“I can’t wait to see this ‘perfect’ tree in our living room,” he said.

Ten minutes later, the tree, which took up most of the living room, stood surrounded by the rest of the children, who had been awakened by the commotion. We just sat there in the quiet stillness of the room for about twenty minutes and enjoyed the tree’s piney smell and its beauty—even without a single light or ornament. Then, realizing the time, we slowly headed for bed.

As Aaron passed me on the way to his bedroom, I stopped him and put my arm around his shoulder. “Thank you,” I said. “You’ve truly brought the spirit of Christmas into our home, and I appreciate it.”

He grinned, kissed me on the cheek, and bounced down the stairs to bed. “I’ve got to call the bishop tomorrow, Mom,” Aaron yelled. “I’ll bet he’s never seen a tree as perfect as this one.”

By the time I arrived home the next evening, the children had put our collection of Christmas-tree lights all over the tree. They were blinking off and on as I came into the house. I wept as I realized how much I had to be thankful for.

Later that evening, we decorated the tree with special ornaments from years past and a few new ones we could afford. Together, we sang Christmas carols as we draped the delicate silver icicles over the tree limbs. We all felt the spirit of Christmas—the giving, sharing, and sacrificing for those we love.

That night after the children were in bed asleep, I turned out all of the lights in the house except the blinking lights on the Christmas tree. Then, as I sat in the living room and enjoyed the peace of that quiet room, something happened that I will never forget. Each time the lights blinked on and off, I heard the whispered words, “I love you, Mom; I love you, Mom; I love you, Mom.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

Billie Jo Steele is a member of the Clearfield Second Ward, Clearfield Utah Stake.