Reverencing His Name
I was struggling to find a new way to present a lesson on not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Though I had thought about this lesson for a couple of weeks, my mind was blank, and I dreaded seeing the polite stares of Relief Society sisters being presented a lesson they had heard innumerable times since childhood.
What new idea could I incorporate into the lesson to make a familiar theme seem new?
I sat in the family room searching copies of the Ensign for ideas while my 20-month-old daughter, Ashley, played quietly beside me. We had often read together from a child’s book about the Savior’s life, so when I came to an issue with his picture on the cover, I held it up to her.
“Ashley, who is this?” I asked.
“Jeju,” she replied, giving his name her own pronunciation. I smiled and resumed my search.
Ashley bent over the magazine in my lap. When she spoke, it was to herself—not to me.
“Jesus, Jesus,” she said softly, this time pronouncing his name correctly. Then she kissed his face twice and looked at the picture for a moment.
“Jesus,” she said again, and again gave the face a tender kiss.
A sweetness filled the room, and I knew I was seeing in my daughter a love for the Savior born of experiences before she came to me. With one word and three kisses, she had taught me greatly about using the Lord’s name with reverence.
Who Was That Man?
It was Christmastime, and Mother took my brother, sisters, and me shopping in downtown Salt Lake City. The large department store we visited had the usual pre-Christmas crowd, so Mother asked me to stay close as she stood in line at the counter. I waited for what seemed like hours because I was going to sit on Santa’s lap when Mom finished. Christmas music was coming over the loudspeakers, and my feet started to move to the rhythm of the carols. Soon I was dancing and whirling, and as I twirled about I accidentally bumped into a gentleman. Stopping abruptly, I looked up at the kindest, gentlest face I had ever seen.
The music seemed to pause, and everyone around us stood still, watching. The white-haired man placed his hands on my head and said, “Merry Christmas, my little child, and may the Lord always bless you.”
I stood transfixed, watching him as he moved away. People nodded and smiled at him as he passed. When he was out of sight, I tiptoed back to my mother’s side.
“Honey, do you know who that was?” she asked me, smiling. I knew I had seen him somewhere before and that he must be very important.
“I’m not really sure, Mom,” I answered, “but I think it was Christ.”
“Pretty close, dear, pretty close. That was President David O. McKay.”
I don’t remember if I ever sat on Santa’s lap that day or not, but I shall never forget the feelings of peace and joy I felt as I received a sweet blessing at the hand of a prophet.
Partaking of the Fruit
As I polished the Nativity figurines on Thanksgiving morning, disturbing comments I’d heard about the upcoming holidays echoed in my mind:
—“You have put out your Christmas stuff already! I dread the thought of Christmas coming. The parade of television specials seems longer every year, with 12 minutes of commercials for every 18 minutes of show.”
—“Commercialism has ruined Christmas. You wouldn’t believe the hours I’ve spent running through crowded stores hoping to save a few pennies on the latest mechanical toys or fashions my children promise will make them happy. My feet ache just thinking about it.”
—“Every three days my children change their minds about what they’ve just got to have. I make a list just to cross it out twice.”
—“No matter how hard you try, Christmas is just a disappointment. You’d better leave these decorations in their boxes until at least the 18th of December.”
I tried to brush these voices from my mind as I placed baby Jesus in the center of the scene.
I’ve always loved Christmas; it brings sweet reminders of earthly and heavenly love. I wanted feelings of gratitude for Christ to be our family’s focus, just as each figurine in our Nativity turned toward the tiny baby Jesus.
But these “voices of experience” made me wary, and I was haunted by the prospect that our efforts to create a spiritual celebration were like trees scattered about a wintery mountainside—fragile and unprotected from an avalanche of worldliness that buries spirituality in its path.
I left the peaceful Nativity scene and expressed my concerns to my husband. We knelt in a plea for divine help. Surely Heavenly Father knew how our family could keep a testimony of the truth at the center of our holidays.
Our prayers for help were quickly answered during our morning study of the Book of Mormon as Lehi related his vision:
“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
“And … I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit” (1 Ne. 8:10–12).
As we read, the Christmas tree we would soon decorate became, for us, the tree of life. Our tiny white lights would add a special brilliance to white ornaments representing the desirable fruit that we, too, hoped our family would taste.
We excitedly skipped to Nephi’s vision and read of an angel who showed Nephi a vision: “A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins, … bearing a child in her arms” (1 Ne. 11:14–20).
Our new tradition came to life when we put up our tree and made sugar cookies for family home evening a few days later.
A lighted angel atop our tree was surrounded by garland ribbons, on which I wrote these words:
“Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father. Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
“Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Ne. 11:21–22).
Each night before family prayer, we placed one cookie for every family member in the branches of our Christmas tree. We gazed at the Nativity scene nestled beneath our “tree of life,” and before “partaking of the fruit”—the sugar cookies—we each shared how we felt the love of God in our life.
Gathering to “partake of the fruit” each night before family prayer, we felt deepening appreciation for this beautiful world and for the plan of salvation. Our understanding of the scriptures and the fulness of the gospel expanded. Our gratitude for God and temple ordinances deepened. Our desires to be together and hold fast to the iron rod were fortified. Our testimonies and our love flourished.
Our children looked forward to this quiet time, more for the warm feelings we shared than for the cookies we ate. A beautiful spirit filled our home, bringing us a sweet peace when, just before Christmas, we learned of my grandmother’s death. That evening as we gazed upon the tree, our hearts overflowed with the realization that families can be together forever. Because of the precious gifts of Christ’s Atonement and the principles of repentance, we can become clean and pure—prepared to live together in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
On New Year’s Eve, after the last cookie had been eaten and the last words of gratitude had been expressed, we tucked our children into bed. Slipping back to our tree of life, I switched on its lights once more. The voices of doubt about the Christmas season had been quieted.
The inspiration of heaven had been heard. Our holiday had been focused on the Lord, just as each Nativity figurine looked on him.
My husband and I knelt in a tearful prayer of gratitude for the Savior, the scriptures, and his help in centering our celebration on Christ.
Now I can hardly wait till next Thanksgiving, when it’s time to bring the Christmas stuff out again.
The Crumpled Letter
It was a cold, bone-chilling December day in 1988 in San Luis Obispo, California. Stricken with a rare neuromuscular disorder, I struggled with rigid muscles in my abdomen and legs. The cold aggravated my symptoms. Walking was painful and difficult, and celebrating Christmas in the manner I desired would be impossible.
After our children departed for the bus stop, I hobbled out to the mailbox to slip some letters under its sodden wooden top. A crumpled, damp envelope already protruded from under the lid. As I pulled it out to add to my stack of letters, I glanced at the address.
To my surprise, scrawled across the front was “To Santa, From Sarah.” Sarah was our nine-year-old daughter, a sensitive and loving child who cared deeply for those around her.
The thought occurred to me that this might be my chance to see what she really wanted for Christmas. I opened her envelope and read: “Dear Santa, I am nine years old and all I want is this. My mother has been very sick and has not been able to walk, and I am hoping you can get her better for Christmas. That’s all I want. Love, Sarah.”
Icy raindrops hit my face and blended with the tears on my cheeks. I thought my heart would break, for there was nothing I could do to give Sarah what she wanted for Christmas, and I regretted that her belief in a generous Santa would have to be shattered on Christmas morning.
As I prayed about what to do, I realized that I had never prayed to be made well. I had let hopelessness seep into my soul and despair replace my faith.
After a great deal of prayer, I composed a letter from Santa to be delivered to Sarah on Christmas morning along with her other gifts. In the letter I explained that Heavenly Father had reasons for why things happen as they do, and that if she would just believe in Heavenly Father and keep on praying and doing what she could, things would work out for the best.
Sarah learned that Christmas day in 1988 that Santa could not make her mother well but that Heavenly Father could one day, if it were for the best. Our daughter quietly transferred her belief in Santa to faith in a loving Heavenly Father.
During the following years, Sarah never ceased praying that I would be made well. After more than six years, a breakthrough in medical technology placed me soundly back on my feet and eliminated my need for either a cane or a wheelchair. Sarah knelt in prayer to express her deep gratitude to Heavenly Father.
Years ago as I opened Sarah’s letter to Santa on that rainy December day, I thought I was going to deepen her belief in a fun Christmas tradition. Instead, her simple, uneven script taught me to have childlike faith in a kind Heavenly Father, and that lesson turned out to be my most precious Christmas gift of all.
Roast Beef for Two
It was 1985 and Christmas was coming. As companions in the Scotland Edinburgh Mission, Sister Corinne Tonks and I were about to spend our first Christmas away from home. We loved our missions and were grateful to be in the service of the Lord; nonetheless, there was no denying a little ache of loneliness when we thought of rich Christmas traditions and our loving families so far away.
During a zone conference, our mission president’s wife had reminded us of our role as representatives of Jesus Christ and challenged us to look for ways to serve humbly and touch the lives of others over the holiday season. She promised us that if we earnestly prayed for such opportunities, our Christmas in the mission field would be one we would cherish forever.
Sister Tonks and I accepted the challenge and decided we would do our best to set aside thoughts of home. We prayed to have charity for the Scottish people, and we prayed for a chance to serve. As the holiday season progressed, we planned a few delightful surprises for investigators and some members of our little Scottish branch. We also bought each other modest gifts of hats and gloves—it seemed we were always cold. Our greatest indulgence was to purchase a tiny roast. With the high cost of meat it would be a treat, and we anticipated savoring this small feast on Christmas Eve. However, for all our simple preparations, we hadn’t thought of any meaningful service to perform.
On the day before Christmas, despite praying for weeks to find someone to serve, there we were, still homesick and looking for a chance to be of assistance. Heading back to our flat that afternoon, we stopped by a phone box to call our zone leader. The phone was in use, so we continued on home, grabbed a bite to eat, then returned to use the phone some time later.
To our surprise we saw the same woman still in the phone box. Feeling a little indignant that someone would tie up the telephone for so long on such a cold afternoon, I glared at the woman through the glass. As I did so, I realized she was not talking on the phone. In fact, she looked as if she were crying.
Sister Tonks and I looked at each other. Neither one of us felt brave enough to approach the woman. Finally I walked over to the booth and, mustering my courage, opened the door and put my arm around a total stranger. I introduced myself as a servant of Jesus Christ and asked if I could help.
With a thick Scottish accent, she told me her name was Wilma and that she had spent the last of her money to take the bus into town. She had a 22-year-old daughter with epilepsy who was sick at home, and she had no food to eat or any Christmas presents for her. Wilma was desperately trying to get some help, but no one seemed to care.
I helped Wilma call a number of social service agencies, but they either were about to close for the holiday or were too busy to help. Sister Tonks and I quietly consulted. We knew where we could get a little food and some small gifts. We sat Wilma on a park bench and told her we would return in a few minutes. Sister Tonks and I raced to our room and got our little roast, a few potatoes, and some carrots. We quickly grabbed the gifts we had purchased for each other and then threw everything into a bag. Our hearts racing with excitement, we ran back to Wilma. I sat and held her hand while Sister Tonks called a member from our branch to provide transportation.
We accompanied Wilma to her little village home, where she invited Sister Tonks and me in to meet her daughter. After visiting for a few minutes, we prepared to leave. It was then that I handed Wilma a bag with our roast and presents. Tears welled in her eyes at the unexpected kindness, and suddenly we were hugging each other, as if we were best friends.
Later that blessed Christmas Eve, Sister Tonks and I ate tuna fish sandwiches and reminisced on our meeting with a Scottish woman who so desperately needed a little loving-kindness. What joy we felt! That night we learned the true meaning of charity. Just as we had been promised, our Christmas in the mission field became one we would cherish forever.