“Merry Thanks and Happy Respect,” Ensign, Dec. 1986, 52
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.