Story Day 2 — The Last Straw

The following is one of my very favorite Christmas stories.  I was thinking of saving it toward the last of my posts, but when I remembered what the story was really about, I realized that many of you may benefit from hearing it early in the season.  Maybe you’ll find that your family needs to ‘play the game’ too.

My copy is s typed copy that a neighbor gave me years ago.  I just thought I would do a search online to see if I could find it.  It’s kind of lengthy, so I was trying to avoid having to type the whole thing up.  Interestingly enough, I did find it.  A couple of versions.  Some giving an author credit and others saying author unknown.  My copy does not name an author.  Each of the versions I found are just a little different.  Names and even genders changed.  I contemplated on whether I should just type up the version I have since I didn’t find that version upon first looking.  But…. I decided go go back and look at a few more of the searches that came up and low and behold…. I found the version I have!  Yeah….  it will save me a LOT of time!  I’m kind of partial to this one because it’s the one I’ve read for years.  This one did claim an author, so I will give the credit to her.  However…. I did notice that other versions had a different author listed.  I will trust that I am getting the original version by the original author since I’ve had mine for 15 years or better.

Anyway…. I hope you enjoy this story.  The game played in it would make a good family activity for the month.  What a great way to fill the manger with hay!

Here it is:

THE LAST STRAW — By: Paula McDonaldbirth-baby-jesus-180

To truly share this season of love and laughter, even a little boy must first discover Christmas in his heart….

     Everyone, unfortunately, was cooped up in the house that typical gray winter afternoon.  And, as usual, the four little McNeals were at it again, teasing each other, squabbling, bickering, and always fighting over their toys. 

      At times like this, Ellen was almost ready to believe that her children didn’t love each other, even though she knew that wasn’t true.  All brothers and sisters fight sometimes, of course, but   lately her lively little bunch had been particularly horrid to each other, especially Eric and Kelly, who were only a year apart.  The two of them seemed determined to spend the whole long winter making each other miserable. 

     “Give me that.  It’s mine!”  Kelly screamed, her voice shrill.  

  
     It is not!  I had it first,” Eric answered stubbornly. 

     Ellen sighed as she listened to the latest argument.  With Christmas only a month away, the house seemed sadly lacking in Christmas spirit.  This was supposed to be the season of sharing and love, of warm feelings and happy hearts.  A home needed more than just pretty packages and twinkling lights on a tree to fill the holidays with joy.

     Ellen had only one idea.  Years ago, her grandmother had told her about an old custom that helped people discover the true meaning of Christmas.  Perhaps it would work for her family this year.  It was certainly worth a try. 

     She gathered the children together and lined them up on the couch, tallest to smallest – Eric, Kelly, Lisa and Mike. 

     “How would you kids like to start a new Christmas tradition this year?” she asked.  “It’s like a game, but it can only be played by people who can keep a secret.  Can everyone here do that?  

     “I can!” shouted Eric.  

     “I can keep a secret better than him!” yelled Kelly.

     “I can do it!” chimed in Lisa. 

     “Me too.  Me too,” squealed little Mike.  “I’m big enough.”

     “Well then, this is how the game works,” Ellen explained.  “This year we’re going to surprise Baby Jesus when He comes on Christmas Eve by making Him the softest bed in the world.  We’re going to fill a little crib with straw to make it comfortable.  But here’s the secret part.  The straw we put in will measure the good deeds we’ve done, but we won’t tell anyone who we’re doing them for.”

     The children looked confused.  “But how will Jesus know it’s His bed!”  Kelly asked.

     “He’ll know,” said Ellen.  “He’ll recognize it by the love we put in to make it soft.” 

     “But who will we do the good deed for?” asked Eric, still a little confused. 

     “We’ll do them for each other.  Once a week we’ll put all of our names in a hat, Daddy’s and mine too.  Then we’ll each pick out a different name. Whoever’s name we draw, we’ll do   kind things for that person for a whole week.  But you can’t tell anyone else whose name you’ve chosen.  We’ll each try to do as many favors for our special person as we can without getting caught.  And for every good deed we do, we’ll put another straw in the crib.”

     “Like being a spy!” squealed Lisa.

     “But what if I pick someone’s name that I don’t like?” Kelly frowned.

     Ellen thought about that for a minute.  “Maybe you could use an extra fat piece of straw.  And think how much faster the fat straws will fill up our crib.  We’ll use the cradle in the attic,” she said.  “And we can all go to the field behind the school for the straw.”

      Without a single argument, the children bundled into their wool hats and mittens, laughing and tumbling out of the house.  The field had been covered with tall grass in summer, but now, dead and dried, the golden stalks looked just like real straw.  They carefully selected handfuls and placed them in the large box they had carried with them. 

     “That’s enough,” Ellen laughed when the box was almost overflowing.  “Remember it’s only a small cradle.” 

     So home they went to spread their straw carefully on a large tray Ellen never used.  Eric, because he was the eldest, was given the responsibility of climbing into the attic and bringing down the cradle.

     “We’ll pick names as soon as Daddy comes home for dinner, Ellen said, unable to hide a smile at the thought of Mark’s pleased reaction to the children’s transformed faces and their voices, filled now with excited anticipation rather than annoyance. 

     At the supper table that night, six pieces of paper were folded, shuffled and shaken around in Mark’s furry winter hat, and the drawing began.  Kelly picked a name first and immediately started to giggle.  Lisa reached into the hat next, trying hard to look like a serious spy.  Mike couldn’t read yet, so Mark whispered the name in his ear.  Then Mike quickly ate his little wad of paper so no one would ever learn the identity of his secret person.  Eric was the next to choose, and as he unfolded his scrap of paper, a frown creased his forehead.  But he stuffed the name quickly into his pocket and said nothing.  Ellen and Mark selected names and the family was ready to begin.

     The week that followed was filled with surprises; it seemed the McNeal house had suddenly been invaded by an army of invisible elves.  Kelly would walk into her room at bedtime to find her nightgown neatly laid out and her bed turned down.  Someone cleaned up the sawdust under the workbench without being asked.  The jelly blobs magically disappeared from the kitchen counter after lunch one day while Ellen was out getting the mail.  And every morning, when Eric was brushing his teeth, someone crept quietly into his room and made the bed.  It wasn’t made perfectly, but it was made.  That particular little elf must have had short arms because he couldn’t seem to reach the middle.

     “Where are my shoes?” Mark asked one morning.  No one seemed to know, but suddenly, before he left for work, they were back in the closet again, freshly shined.

     Ellen noticed other changes during that week too.  The children weren’t teasing or fighting as much.  An argument would start, and then suddenly stop right in the middle for no apparent reason.  Even Eric and Kelly seemed to be getting, along better and bickering less.  In fact, there were times when all the children could be seen smiling secret smiles and giggling to themselves. And slowly, one by one, the first straws began to appear in the little crib.  Just a few, then a few more each day.  By the end of the first week, a little pile had accumulated.

     Everyone was anxious to pick new names and this time there was more laughter and merriment than there had been the first time.  Except for Eric. Once again, he unfolded his scrap of paper, glanced at it, and stuffed it in his pocket without a word. 

     The second week brought more astonishing events, and the little pile of straw in the manger grew higher and softer.  There was more laughter, less teasing, and hardly any arguments could be heard around the house.  Only Eric had been unusually quiet, and sometimes Ellen would catch him looking a little sad.  But the straws in the manger continued to pile up.

     At last, it was almost Christmas.  They chose names for the final time on the night before Christmas Eve.  As the sat around the table waiting for the last set of names to be shaken in the hat, the children smiled as they looked at their hefty pile of straws.  They all knew it was comfortable and soft, but there was one day left and they could still make it a little deeper, a little softer, and they were going to try.

     For the last time the hat was passed around the table.  Mike Picked out a name, and again quickly ate the paper as he had done each week.  Lisa unfolded hers carefully under the table, peeked at it and then hunched up her little shoulders, smiling.  Kelly reached into the hat and grinned from ear to ear when she saw the name.  Ellen and Mark each took their turn and handed the hat with the last name to Eric.  As he unfolded the scrap of paper and glanced at it, his face crumpled and he seemed about to cry.  Without a word, he turned and ran from the room.

     Everyone immediately jumped up from the table, but Ellen stopped them.  “No!”  Stay where you are,” she said firmly.  “I’ll go.”

     In his room, Eric was trying to pull on his coat with one hand while he picked up a small cardboard suitcase with the other. 

     “I’ll have to leave,” he said quietly through his tears.  “If I don’t, I’ll spoil Christmas.” 

     “But why?  And where are you going?”

     “I can sleep in my snow fort for a couple of days. I’ll come home right after Christmas.  I promise.”

     Ellen started to say something about freezing and snow and no mittens or boots, but Mark, who had come up behind her, gently laid his hand on her arm and shook his head.  The front door closed, and together they watched from the window as the little figure with the sadly slumped shoulders trudged across the street and sat down on a snow bank near the corner.  It was dark outside, and cold, and a few flurries drifted down on the small boy and his suitcase.

     “Give him a few minutes alone,” said Mark quietly.  I think he needs that.  Then you can talk to him.”

     The huddled figure was already dusted with white when Ellen walked across the street and sat down beside him on the snow bank.

     “What is it, Eric?  You’ve been so good these last weeks, but I know something’s been bothering you since we first started the crib.  Can you tell me, honey?”

     Ah, Mom . . . don’t you see?” he sniffled.  “I tried so hard, but I can’t do to it anymore, and now I’m going to wreck Christmas for everybody.  With that, he burst into sobs and threw himself into his mother s arms. 

     “Mom.”  The little boy choked.  “You just don’t know, I got Kelly’s name every time!  And I hate Kelly!  I tried Mom.  I really did.  I snuck in her room every night and fixed her bed.  I even laid out her crummy nightgown.  I let her use my race car one day, but she smashed it right into the wall like always!  Every week, when we picked names, I thought it would be over.  Tonight, 

when I got her name again, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.  If I try, I’ll probably punch her instead.  If I stay home and beat Kelly up.  I’ll spoil Christmas for everyone.”

     The two of them sat there, together, quietly for a few minutes and then Ellen spoke softly. “Eric I’m so proud of you.  Every good deed you did should count double because it was hard for you to be nice to Kelly for so long, but you did those good deeds anyway, one straw at a time. You gave your love when it wasn’t easy to give.  And maybe that’s what the spirit of Christmas is really all about.  And maybe it’s the hard good deeds and the difficult straws that make that little crib special.  You’re the one who’s probably added the most important straws this year.”  Ellen paused, stroking the head pressed tightly against her shoulder.  “Now, how would you like a chance to earn a few easy straws like the rest of us?  I still have the name I picked in my pocket, and I haven’t looked at it yet.  Why don’t we switch, for the last day?  And it will be our secret.”

     Eric lifted his head and looked into her face, his eyes wide.  “That’s not cheating?”

     “It’s not cheating.”  And together they dried the tears, brushed off the snow, and walked back to the house.

     The next day, the whole family was busy, cooking and straightening up the house for Christmas Day, wrapping last minute presents and trying hard to keep from bursting with excitement.  But even with all the activity and eagerness, a flurry of new straws piled up in the crib, and by nightfall the little manger was almost overflowing.  At different times while passing by, each member of the family, big and small, would pause and look at the wondrous pile for a moment, then smile before going on.  But . . . who could really know?  One more straw still might make a difference.

      For that reason, just before bedtime, Ellen tiptoed quietly to Kelly’s room to lay out the little blue nightgown and turn down the bed.  But she stopped in the doorway surprised.  Someone had already been there.  The nightgown was laid across the bed, and a small red race car had been placed next to it on the pillow. 

     The last straw was Eric’s after all.

I hope you all enjoy making your manger a little softer this season!  If you are interested in an idea for making a little craft project to help your kids do just that, go here and check out the link to the project.  You’ll also find another version of the story there.  I’m sure many of you could come up with your own version of the manger too!  Enjoy!

I am Grateful!  How are you?

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The Reason for the Season

I guess it wouldn’t make much sense for me to have blogged almost a whole year about things I’m grateful for and not take advantage of it being Christmas day to express my gratitude for Christmas!

I know I’ve spent the last few days blogging about different aspects of the holiday and how grateful I am for those things….. but I suppose today should be dedicated to the day itself and what it represents.

I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas…. at least not the same as I do…. but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t take the time to say how grateful I am for that little Baby whose birth we celebrate on this day.

Christmas brings together family and loved ones and makes us do things for people that sometimes we don’t otherwise do…..  but it really is a day to honor the birth of Jesus Christ.

I’m not here to offend anyone.  You have a right to believe what you want… but I also have a right to express my beliefs and how grateful I am for them.

This year, in particular, made the holiday even more special to me because it fell on a Sunday.  While in many ways, some people would consider taking time away from family to actually attend church and worship the Lord as an inconvenience on this day….  however, I felt it was a privilege and just felt right.  We so often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of things surrounding the holiday, that we really do forget to devote sometime to remember why we celebrate this day.

The birth and life of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ has been a big influence in my life, as well as the life of many others.  I’m so grateful for the example His life was to me.  I’m grateful for the sacrifice He made for all of us.

The greatest gift we can give at Christmas time is to live our life like He did.  The spirit of kindness and generosity is wonderful this time of year….. but He wants us to carry that spirit with us all year through.

Can you imagine what the world would really be like if we all lived and loved as Jesus Christ did?  What a wonderful world it would be!  I’m grateful for His birth and His life!

May the spirit of Christmas be with you today and all year through!

I am Grateful!  How are You?

The Three Levels of Christmas

Today, I was asked to sing to the Sisters in our Temple preparation meeting this morning.  I was also asked to share some thoughts with the Sisters before I sang.

My husband had used an editorial column a few years ago when he spoke at Christmas time.  That same editorial story showed up in a link in my email this week and I asked my husband about it.  He thought it would be very appropriate to share … so we compared the copy I got off the link, to the copy he had on his computer.  Interestingly enough, there were some scripture references missing in his copy but his had a better beginning….  so I added his beginning to the copy I had and it ended up being a good combination.  Perhaps more like the original story.  Most copies I found on the internet were similar to my husbands without the scripture references.  It makes me wonder if someone had deleted them at some point and that’s the version that was being passed around.  I think the scripture references add a lot so I put them back in.

Anyway you look at it…. I’m sharing with you the version that has all the information in it.  The original story was written by William B. Smart and appears in his book Messages For A Happier Life (Deseret Book, 1989)  

I was grateful that it came to my attention this week and that it worked so well for my short talk this morning.  I’m also grateful that the Sisters felt the message was so pertinent and timely for them.  I hope you enjoy it as much as they did.

THE THREE LEVELS OF CHRISTMAS

“Christmas is a beautiful time of year.  We love the excitement, the giving spirit, the special awareness of and appreciation for family and friends, the feelings of love and brotherhood that bless our gatherings at Christmastime.

“In all the joyousness, it is well to reflect that Christmas comes at three levels.  Let’s call the first of these levels The Santa Claus Level . It’s the level of Christmas trees and holly, of whispered secrets and colorful packages, of candlelight and rich food and warm open houses. It’s carolers in the shopping malls, excited children and weary but loving parents. It’s a lovely time of special warmth and caring and giving. It’s the level at which we eat too much and spend too much and do too much—and enjoy every minute of it. We love the Santa Claus level of Christmas.

“But there’s a higher, more beautiful level. Let’s call the second level The Silent Night Level. It’s the level of our glorious Christmas carols, of that beloved, familiar story, ‘Now in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus. . .’ It’s the level of the crowded inn and the silent, holy moment in a dark stable when the Son of Man came to earth. It’s shepherds on steep, bare hills near Bethlehem , angels with their glad tidings, a new star in the East, wise men traveling far in search of the Holy One. How beautiful and meaningful it is; how infinitely poorer we would be without this sacred second level of Christmas.

“The trouble is, these two levels don’t last. They can’t.

“Twelve days of Christmas, at the first level, is about all we can stand. It’s too intense, too extravagant. The tree dries out and the needles fall. The candles burn down. The beautiful wrappings go out with the trash, the carolers are skating on the ice, and the toys break. The feast is over and the dieting begins. But the lonely and the hungry are with us still, perhaps lonelier and hungrier than before.

“Lovely and joyous as the first level of Christmas is, there will come a day, very soon, when Mother will put away the decorations and vacuum the living room and think, ‘Thank goodness that’s over for another year.’

“Even the second level, the level of the Baby Jesus, can’t last. How many times this season can you sing ‘Silent Night?’ The angels and the star and the shepherds, even the silent, sacred mystery of that holy night itself, can’t long satisfy humanity’s basic need. The man who keeps Christ in the manger will, in the end, be disappointed and empty.

“No, for Christmas to last all year long, for it to grow in beauty and meaning and purpose, for it to have the power to change lives, we must celebrate it on the third level, that of The Adult Christ . It is at this level—not as an infant—that our Savior brings His gifts of lasting joy, lasting peace, lasting hope. It was the adult Christ who reached out and touched the untouchable, who loved the unlovable, who so loved us all that even in His agony on the cross He prayed forgiveness for His enemies.

“This is the Christ, creator of worlds without number, who wept, Enoch tells us, because so many of us lack affection and hate each other—and then who willingly gave His life for ALL of us, including those for whom He wept.

“He is the Christ of whom the prophets had foretold for centuries would come. Even before the world was created we learned of the key role the Savior would perform in the Plan of Salvation. He accepted the Father’s Plan of Redemption and submitted himself to the will of the Father. We read in Moses 4:2:

Behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father; thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

“We also read in the scriptures from Isaiah 7:14:

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

“In 2 Nephi 17:14 it is repeated.

In Isaiah 9:6 we read:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

“We read in 1 Corinthians 15:22:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. How great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.

“Yes, He was and is wonderful, the Great Counsellor, the mighty God, willing to sacrifice His life that we might live if we are but willing to accept Him as our Savior. He is the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

“This is the Christ, the adult Christ, who gave us the perfect example, and asked us to follow Him.

“It was this Jesus Christ whose birth we are celebrating that asked us:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:14)

“Accepting that invitation—to keep His commandments and to love one another—is the way— THE ONLY WAY —to celebrate Christmas all year and all life long.”

I hope that you can find gratitude this season for the birth and example of the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ and have a desire to celebrate Christmas all year long.

I am Grateful!  How are You?

 

This is the song I sang after reading the above editorial.  This is not me singing, however, this is the rendition I did.  I hope you enjoy it.  It’s a very lovely song called: Do You Have Room? by Shawna Edwards.