Serving in the Temple

I love serving in the temple!  I’ve always known that, but yesterday was really a reminder of just how much.

John and I have found a home we want to buy.  It’s being built so we won’t be able to move into it till the first of the year.  While we are very excited to make the move back into a house, we are saddened that we will be moving out of the Jordan River Temple district and therefore will need to be released as Ordinance Workers there.

John is having his knee replaced today, so yesterday was his last day.  With the Temple closing in a couple of weeks for cleaning and the Holidays coming up, it worked out to be his last day.  Depending on how things go with him, it may have been my last day too.  Knowing that, I was very melancholy as I performed my duties serving the Patrons.

It hit me the most as I was sitting in the front of the room for the Endowment session.  We had several older Sisters in wheel chairs on that session.  When that happens, it’s usually an opportunity for us to serve them even more than we would a healthier Patron because we are often needed to help them put on their Priesthood robes during the session.  I was lucky enough yesterday to have a Sister to help.  I love doing that.  It endears me to them so much.

As I observed those Sisters during the session, I was touched by what many of them are enduring in their old age.  One of the Sisters had Arthritis so bad in her hands its hard for her to hold her hands straight, which makes part of the ceremony a little more difficult.  Another of the Sisters feet are so twisted that taking off her shoes and putting them back on was a little difficult.  She is stuck in a wheel chair for the remainder of her life.  You could see that the muscles in her legs are disappearing as she is unable to use them.  It broke my heart for her, yet it made me so grateful that I had the chance to help her.

Jordan River Temple (photo by Kendall Davenport)
Jordan River Temple
(photo by Kendall Davenport)

I was choking back tears yesterday knowing that it might be my last chance to do that for sometime.  I was also choking back tears regarding everything that has happened to us in the last two weeks (both good and kind of scary)  that makes me very aware that my Heaven Father knows and loves me.  I know that he sent those Sisters to the temple yesterday to be on the session I was helping with, so I could have a reminder of just how much joy I receive doing His work there.  Not going to lie,  I’m not always in tune with the spirit when I work there.  Often I let my mind spin on worldly things and not focus on what I can feel there if I allow myself to do so.  That’s why yesterday was so special to me.  It completely made me focus and realize that it might be the last time for sometime that I will get to help perform those ordinances.  We hope to maybe work in the new Temple district once we get moved and settled, but it may be a while.

Because we work on the early shift on Wednesdays and have to get up so early, often I am tired while I’m there.  And often, I have been known to close my eyes during part of the session and doze off.  I’m not happy to admit that, but it happens more often than not.  Yesterday I was surprised at how I wasn’t tired.  Even though I had forgotten what night it was when I went to bed the night before and didn’t get to bed till 11 pm.  I was surprised at how much energy I had.  Again…. I think it was The Lords way of reminding me what joy I have had serving Him.

I’m so grateful for the blessing of working the The Lord’s House.  I have many sweet memories and have gained some wonderful friendships both with fellow workers and with Patrons who come so often.  What a blessing it is to do His work!  I guess I will have to settle for just being a Patron myself for a while.  I can always attend during the hours that we worked and hopefully be able to say “Hi” to some of those friends while we are there.  Being a Patron is a blessing too.  One I haven’t taken as much advantage of as I should.  Now I will have a chance to finish up those Family File cards a distant relative gave me to do.  And that….. will be a blessing too!

I Am Grateful!  How Are You?

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Story Day 18 — Papa Panov’s Special Christmas

Once again we need to remember the scripture, “When ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”.

This is a great story by Tolstoy depicting just that.  Which is really what Christmas is about.  It make it special for all of us.  I also heard through social media that someone has challenged everyone everywhere to do 26 random acts of kindness in remembrance of each of the victims of the Connecticut shootings.  I think it’s a great idea and would put this scripture to good practice!  Are you up for it?

Papa Panov’s Special Christmas 1 cobbler
by Leo Tolstoy

It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now they had gone. His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.

Papa Panov did not often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family Bible and, slowly tracing the lines with one forefinger, he read again the Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary’s little baby was born in the cowshed.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” exclaimed Papa Panov, “if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my patchwork quilt to keep him warm.”

He read on about the wise men who had come to see the baby Jesus, bringing him splendid gifts. Papa Panov’s face fell. “I have no gift that I could give him,” he thought sadly.

Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his long arms t the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small, dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes. Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he had remembered- the best shoes he had ever made. “I should give him those,” he decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.

He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. The print began to dance before his eyes so that he closed them, just for a minute. In no time at all Papa Panov was fast asleep.

And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he know at once, as one does in dreams, who the person was. It was Jesus.

“You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov.” he said kindly, “then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.”

When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light was filtering through the shutters. “Bless my soul!” said Papa Panov. “It’s Christmas Day!”

He stood up and stretched himself for he was rather stiff. Then his face filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. This would be a very special Christmas after all, for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would he look? Would he be a little baby, as at that first Christmas? Would he be a grown man, a carpenter- or the great King that he is, God’s Son? He must watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognized him however he came.

Papa Panov put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, took down the shutters and looked out of the window. The street was deserted, no one was stirring yet. No one except the road sweeper. He looked as miserable and dirty as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted to work on Christmas Day – and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of such a morning?

Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. “Come in!” he shouted across the street cheerily. “Come in and have some hot coffee to keep out the cold!”

The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too glad to put down his broom and come into the warm room. His old clothes steamed gently in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting warm mug as he drank.

Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now and them his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his special visitor.

“Expecting someone?” the sweeper asked at last. So Papa Panov told him about his dream.

“Well, I hope he comes,” the sweeper said, “you’ve given me a bit of Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I’d say you deserve to have your dream come true.” And he actually smiled.

When he had gone, Papa Panov put on cabbage soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. He saw no one. But he was mistaken. Someone was coming.

The girl walked so slowly and quietly, hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed her. She looked very tired and she was carrying something. As she drew nearer he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little face of the baby, that Papa Panov’s heart went out to them.

“Won’t you come in,” he called, stepping outside to meet them. “You both need a warm by the fire and a rest.”

The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief.

“I’ll warm some milk for the baby,” Papa Panov said, “I’ve had children of my own- I can feed her for you.” He took the milk from the stove and carefully fed the baby from a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at the same time.

“She needs shoes,” the cobbler said.

But the girl replied, “I can’t afford shoes, I’ve got no husband to bring home money. I’m on my way to the next village to get work.”

Sudden thought flashed through Papa Panov’s mind. He remembered the little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind.

“Try these on her,” he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother. The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and the baby gurgled with pleasure.

“You have been so kind to us,” the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. “May all your Christmas wishes come true!”

But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all faces that he recognized. There were neighbors going to call on their families. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas! Or beggars- and Papa Panov hurried indoors to fetch them hot soup and a generous hunk of bread, hurrying out again in case he missed the Important Stranger.

All too soon the winter dusk fell. When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no longer make out the passers-by. most were home and indoors by now anyway. He walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down wearily in his armchair.

So it had been just a dream after all. Jesus had not come.

Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room.

This was not dream for he was wide awake. At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, “Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?”

“Who are you?” he called out, bewildered.

Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus.

“I was hungry and you fed me,” he said. “I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.”

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov’s heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy.

“So he did come after all!” was all that he said.

I am Grateful!  How are You?

Story Day 15 — The Last Christmas Tree

Ever been the last one picked at recess to play on a team?  If you have…. you can probably relate to the feelings of this little Christmas tree.

On the other hand…. we all have a special purpose in life.  Sometimes we might feel like we will never reach it.  But don’t give up!  You’re meant to bring cheer to someone special!  Maybe even someone like yourself.  Who could relate better to them!

Enjoy!

THE LAST CHRISTMAS TREEtree

From far away came the sound of the last Christmas carols of the evening. The laughter of families gathered for the holidays drifted into the silence of the falling snow.

The holiday sounds added warmth to the cold night air as a burly man with a black beard stood behind a rusty barrel warming his hands over the fire leaping from inside. He rubbed his hands briskly together and looked over the vacant lot that had been transformed for a few short weeks into a center of holiday cheer: a place to buy Christmas trees.

Bark-covered slabs of wood clung together to form a make-shift corral around the trees. Around the rough frame, a string of colored lights shone gaily. It was a cold and snowy Christmas Eve, and there were only three trees left who had not found a home for Christmas.

A white car rolled onto the corner lot and stopped. From the car stepped a mother and father and two young children. Frosty laughter spilled out of their furry coats. Crackling over the freezing snow, they hurried into the tree corral. Moving from one to another, they began to compare the few remaining trees.

Little Green, the smallest of the trees, crossed his twigs and made a wish. His heart pounded with anticipation. This little evergreen had arrived on the lot weeks before along with hundreds of others from Christmas-tree farms far away. Among the haughty blue spruces, the aloof firs, and the fancy white pines, he had felt lost and alone.

Day after day, as shoppers picked over the trees, Little Green had arched his trunk and stood as tall and straight as he could. He blushed with shame when children said, “Don’t take this tree, Daddy. It’s ugly and crooked. We don’t want this poor tree in our house.”

It hurt to be left behind time after time. But he was a courageous little tree. He never failed to look cheerful and gay for every family. Even now, after so many disappointments, Little Green listened carefully to what this family was saying.

“What do you think, Henry? Do we want a big tree or a small one?”

“You and the kids decide, Laurel. No matter what you want, it looks like pretty slim pickings.”

The man with the beard grabbed the few trees and stood them roughly against the slab boards at the edge of the corral. All three were poised on their wobbly trunks. Little Green flexed his needles and tried to appear strong and tall.

Beside him, a crusty old spruce slumped with boredom. He was resigned. He was sure it was the trash heap for him for Christmas.

On the other side prissed a frilly white pine, trimmed and sculptured into a perfect cone. Her nose in the air, the pine harrumphed, “Another family with absolutely no taste!”

“We’ll take this one,” said Laurel, pointing to the white pine.

The white pine acted nonchalant. She didn’t want the others to know that she was bursting with joy. During the past few days, she had begun to wonder if she was as beautiful as she imagined herself to be. Now, her pride was intact. By Christmas morning, who would know whether she was chosen last or first?

Little Green let his little green arms slouch, and his little heart sank.

Moments later, a rusted red pickup truck crunched to a stop beside the tree lot. A young man in cowboy boots leaped from the cab. Hastily, he reached over the top board and grabbed the surprised old spruce from the enclosure. He rushed up to the bearded man and shoved some bills into an outstretched hand.

In a shower of flying ice, the young man gunned his engine and raced into the night. The crusty old spruce peeped over the tailgate and waved a tiny goodbye with a fluttering branch.

Little Green smiled. He was happy for his friend.

The wind picked up. The traffic died down. Fewer people passed. Soon, there were none.

The man with the black beard began to count the money he had received during the day. Looking at Little Green, he thought, “Only one tree. Not bad. I’m not staying any longer for just one little tree. I doubt anyone will want that one, anyway.”

He rubbed his beard to free it of icicles. After turning out the colored lights that hung around the lot, he got into his car and drove away. Light from the cold winter moon was all that remained.

Little Green huddled in the darkness. His proud heart wilted. A tiny teardrop fell on a quivering branch. A snowflake formed in the cold air.

There was no more traffic; no one anywhere. Everyone is home, Little Green thought, decorating happy trees and wrapping presents and preparing for the most perfect day of the year. Maybe next year, he thought hopefully. He closed his eyes and wrapped his little green arms around himself to stay warm.

A gust of wind swirled his snowflake tears around his pointy top. Looking up, Little Green saw a figure moving quietly down the sidewalk. It was a lady in a bulky brown coat that hid a white nurse’s uniform. She wore freshly polished white shoes that became soiled and wet with each careful step as she tried to avoid the murky puddles of slush and ice.

The nurse passed in front of the lot and paused briefly to glance toward the corral. A soft light from the winter moon reflected off Little Green’s snowflake tears. She continued on her way.

Halfway down the block, she stopped and stood for several seconds. She then turned and walked with short strides back to the corral. Reaching it, she gently lifted Little Green from his lonesome corner spot.

The nurse moved briskly up the sidewalk. Pulling Little Green behind her, she made her way across the street. Coming to a huge building, she pushed open a side door and entered beneath a sign that read, “Ashleigh-Byrd Children’s Hospital.”

Clinging to the tree, the nurse pushed a button on the wall. An elevator door opened and the nurse stepped in and stood Little Green in the corner of the elevator. The door closed, and the elevator hummed its way upward.

The elevator opened on a wide white hallway. The nursed turned to her right and walked quietly but purposefully down the hall with Little Green coming along excitedly behind her.

In the last room at the end of the hall, a small boy lay in a hospital bed that sat sturdily in the middle of the room. A tube of clear liquid was suspended on a metal hanger. A faint buzz came from a small machine beside the bed.

There were no colored ribbons or bright packages in the room. There were no Christmas candles in the window. The boy was alone on Christmas Eve. Maybe next year, he thought hopefully. Crying softly, he closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself to stay warm. Holding Little Green by the trunk, the nurse backed into the little boy’s room. Standing next to his bed, she smiled down at him and showed him the little green Christmas tree. The little boy’s eyes opened wide.

Little Green arched his trunk and stood tall and proud. He knew, suddenly, why he had been chosen to be the last Christmas tree.

– – – written by Phillip E. Lewis

I am Grateful!  How are You?

Story Day 11 — The Real Story of Christmas

What I share today is not your typical Christmas story.  Instead…. it’s from an email that I got today.  Funny thing is, it’s not one of the emails that I typically open up, but the subject line caught my attention.  I’m not even sure why I subscribed to get the email.  Do you have those in your inbox?  One’s you can’t remember why you subscribed to?  Yeah.  I have a lot.  I keep telling myself everyday as I delete those and don’t even open them that one of these days I’m going to stop long enough to unsubscribe.  Hasn’t happened yet!

So what I share with you today is the complete content of the email I got from 100 Day Challenge.  Rather than a story with characters like you are used to, this one is more of an explanation of how Charles Dickens played a big part in what our modern day Christmas is like.  Not in the way you might think.  I thought the information was interesting and worth sharing.  I hope you do too.

I share it with you exactly as it came in my email.

The Real Story of Christmas!scrooge-and-tim

Last night, I spent some time with my children and shared with them the real story behind Christmas. Sorry Santa!

The kids particularly enjoyed the story and were surprised to learn that the author – Charles Dickens – is the man most responsible for the modern celebration of the season.

This is a story that deserves to be more widely known…

Dickens is one of the greatest writers in the English language. He published twenty novels in his lifetime. None has ever gone out of print.

Yet in 1843, Dickens’ popularity was at a low, his critical reputation in tatters, his bank account overdrawn. Facing bankruptcy, he considered giving up writing fiction altogether.

In a feverish six-week period before Christmas, however, he wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publishers turned it down. So using his meager savings, Dickens put it out himself. It was an exercise in vanity publishing – and the author told friends it might be the end of his career as a novelist.

Yet the publication of “A Christmas Carol” caused an immediate sensation, selling out the first printing – several thousand copies-in just four days. A second printing sold out before the New Year, and then a third. Widespread theatrical adaptations spread the story to an exponentially larger audience still.

And it wasn’t just a commercial success. Even Dickens’ chief rival and foremost critic, William Makepeace Thackery, bowed his head before the power of the book: “The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, ‘God bless him!’ What a feeling this is for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!”

Today we all know the tale of tight-fisted Scrooge – “Bah! Humbug!”- and his dramatic change of heart after being visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

But A Christmas Carol didn’t just restore Dickens’ reputation and financial health. It also breathed new life into what was then a second-tier holiday that had fallen into disfavor.

As Les Standiford notes, in early 19th century England, the Christmas holiday “was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St.
George’s Day today.

In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks.”

The date of Christmas itself is an arbitrary one, of course. There is NO reference in the gospels to the birth of Jesus taking place on December 25th, or in any specific month. When Luke says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,” there isn’t the slightest indication when that was.

And while the day was marked on Christian calendars, celebrations were muted. That changed when A Christmas Carol became an instant smash, stirring English men and women to both celebrate the holiday and remember the plight of the less fortunate. This was exactly the
author’s intent.

Dickens grew up in poverty and was forced into child labor. (His father, a naval pay clerk who struggled to meet his obligations, was thrown into debtor’s prison.) Yet despite these handicaps,
Dickens educated himself, worked diligently, and rose to international prominence as a master writer and storyteller.

He was a great believer in self-determination and, in particular, the transformative power of education. With learning, he said, a man “acquires for himself that property of soul which has in all times upheld struggling men of every degree.”

Yet in the London of Dickens’ day, only one child in three attended school. Some worked in shops, others in factories. Still others resorted to theft or prostitution to live. Dickens was determined to expose their plight.

A Christmas Carol, in particular, is a bald-faced parable, something few novelists attempt… and even fewer successfully execute.

Dickens said his novels were for the edification of his audience.  His goal was not just to entertain but to enlighten. And A Christmas Carol was designed to deliver “a sledge-hammer blow” on behalf of the poor and less fortunate.

It worked. Scrooge – a character as well known as any in fiction – is now synonymous with “miser.”

Yet through his remarkable transformation, the author reminds us that it is never too late to change, to free ourselves from selfish preoccupations.

Dickens’ biographer Peter Ackyroyd and other commentators have credited the novelist with single-handedly creating the modern Christmas holiday.

No, not the contemporary orgy of shopping, spending and ostentatious display. In fact, in A Christmas Carol, there are no Christmas trees, gaudy decorations or – apart from “the big, prize
turkey” at the end – any presents at all. The only gifts exchanged are love, friendship and goodwill.

In one small book, Dickens changed the culture, inspired his contemporaries, and helped restore a holiday they were eager to revive.

More than a century and half later, A Christmas Carol is still a tonic for our spirits – and an annual reminder of the benefits of friendship, charity and celebration.

Thank you for your support and my very best for a joy-filled holiday season!

Gary Ryan Blair

And may I add:  “God Bless Us, Everyone!”

I am Grateful!  How are You?

Story Day 5 — When Angels Are Busy

Isn’t is amazing how the Lord will put us in the path of others when we are needed or send someone to help us when we need it?  It reminds me of the Amy Grant song,  “God Has Angels Watching Over Me”.  In fact…. I’m pretty sure I did a post on that very thing last year!

Today’s story was a reminder of that very thing!  I really never tire of hearing these stories over and over again!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Once again…. thanks to an FB friend for reminding me of it!

Here it is:

selfish_helping_news“When Angels Are Busy”

This was written by a Metro Denver Hospice Physician:

I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die – I barely managed to coast into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn’t even turn over.

Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the quickie mart building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying ‘I don’t want my kids to see me crying,’ so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, ‘And you were praying?’ That made her back away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, ‘He heard you, and He sent me.’
….
Read More Link on Right
I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fueling, walked to the next door McDonald’s and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee.. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn’t have money to pay rent Jan. 1, and finally in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there.

I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, ‘So, are you like an angel or something?’

This definitely made me cry. I said, ‘Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people.’

It was so incredible to be a part of someone else’s miracle. And of course, you guessed it,
when I got in my car it started right away and got me home with no problem. I’ll put it in the shop tomorrow to check, but I suspect the mechanic won’t find anything wrong.

Sometimes the angels fly close enough to you that you can hear the flutter of their wings…

May you find Angels when you least expect it!  Better yet….. may you BE one!

I am Grateful!  How are You?

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?

Careful The Things You Say….. Children Will Listen

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the story by Elizabeth Thompson Ballard, called Three Letters From Teddy.  I’m always touched every time I hear or read it.

In a nut shell…. it’s a story about a teacher , Miss Thompson, who at first isn’t very fond of Teddy because he does’t seem to be a good student.  She then learns about his home life and that his Mother had passed away a few years ago.  She starts to take interest in Teddy by showing concern, etc.  Teddy school work begins to turn around and as Teddy grows, he continues to write to Miss Thompson over the years about his progress.  Of course, he goes on to become more than he ever thought he could  and gives Miss Thompson so much of the credit.  If you don’t know the story, google it or watch this wonderful video link.  (But be sure to come back to finish reading my blog!)

http://www.flickspire.com/m/LSHPP/MakeADifference

The other night, I heard a real life ‘Teddy’ story.  I’ve heard it before.  This ‘Teddy’ has been a friend of my husband and I for a long time.  For some reason the story struck me a little more than usual.  Perhaps it’s because I’m more aware of things and how they affect me…. how I can be grateful for them.  I hope you don’t mind if I summarize my friend Ernie’s story and share my thoughts.

Ernie grew up being told he was stupid and dumb, not very bright.  He was a shy kid.  Standing up in front of people was something you wouldn’t catch him doing.  One day he was sitting on some steps at Dixie College, feeling lonely, when Roene DiFiore, music teacher and director of Dixie College Program Bureau,  came by and said: “You look like you could use a friend.  Why don’t you come with me.”  Which he did.  And his life was never the same because of the influence of this wonderful woman.  I payed tribute to Roene back in August.  Check my archives to read about her.  She was amazing.

Because Roenen loved and encouraged Ernie…. he became one of the best performers that Roene ever had in Program Bureau.  In fact…. he still represents that group more often than anyone else.  He loves to be onstage, but particularly loves to encourage young people to develop their talents.  Talents they may not know they have.  Roene not only instilled in him a feeling of self worth, but a love for the arts.

Ernie has just purchased a large estate home in St.George that he is planning on turning into the Roene B. DiFiore Center for the Arts.  That may not be the exact name they settle on… but the point is… he is trying to provide a place where young people can be encouraged to develop their talents.  I have a suspicion that he will be very interested in the shy ones.  I think you might call it ‘Paying it Forward’.

The point I want to make here, between Ernie’s story and the story of Teddy is, children listen to the things we say…. good and bad!  In both of these stories, these young men were made to feel like they weren’t very bright or wouldn’t amount to much.  That came from people being careless about what was said to them or even how they were treated.  Luckily, in both cases, someone came along who took interest in them, made them feel good about themselves and was instrumental in helping them become more than they ever thought they could be.

Ernie Doose

I’m grateful for Ernie’s example.  I’m grateful Mrs. DiFiore took him under her wing and helped him to become what he is today.  I’m grateful that Ernie has a desire to pass what he learned on.  I’m grateful for teachers like Miss Thompson in the story of Teddy.  And there are many out there.

But there are many others who use the name calling and labels which have a detrimental effect on people.  Very often we don’t really know all the circumstances behind what makes a person act the way they do.  It’s important to not be judgmental toward them.  How many times have people mis-judged you?  I know it’s happened to me.

Be the person who encourages people…. all people…. but particularly the young!  It can have such an impact on them!  As the song from the Stephen Sondeim musical,  Into the Woods says:  “Careful the things you say, Children will Listen!”  Let them listen to words of encouragement and love!

I am Grateful!  How are You?

 

 

This post reminded me of this old movie “Cipher in the Snow”.  It’s not just adults that can have an effect on kids…. but fellow students too!

 

 

Good Samaritans

I want to give a shout out to all you Good Samaritans out there.  Your kind deeds are truly appreciated.

On the drive down to St. George the other day, I had a reminder of a Good Samaritan who rescued my little family over 25 years ago.  I thought maybe it was time to tell him how grateful I am…. even though we can’t remember his name!

As we approached Beaver the other day, we passed a car that was traveling in the emergency lane.  It wasn’t until we drove by them that I realized their emergency lights were flashing and that they may be having car trouble.  There was an incline in the road that we were traveling on at the moment.  As I realized they might be having car trouble, I had a flash back of a time when my family was in the same situation.  

As my husband and I talked about that time….. we realized that considering what car it was that it happened in, and knowing how old the kids were when we had that car….. it happened a long time ago and the kids were really little!  We also realized that it may have been the exact same incline and area that it happened to us on that this couple was now having a hard time ascending.

We were very fortunate over 25 years ago.  As our old Ford Granada barely made it to the top of the hill…. it gave out on us.  We pulled over to the side of the road.  My husband, being an automotive teacher, was trying to diagnose the problem as best as he could without the necessary tools, when a young man in a Ford Bronco pulled over to help.  He told us that he’d been on his CB radio and kept hearing the truckers talk about a car pulled off to the side of the road with a young family on board.   So this fine young man stopped to help us.

He graciously towed us into the next town and dropped the car off at a repair shop.  However, it being a Sunday…. of course they were closed and there were no parts places open anywhere.  Since our purpose for the trip was for my husband to play in a softball tournament in St. George that started the next day…. this young man kindly drove us all the way into St. George and dropped us off at my Aunt and Uncles house where we were staying.

What we learned about this guy was that he was a Catcher with a professional Baseball team and he was on his way to Arizona for Spring Training.  Unfortunately…. neither of us can remember his name or for what team he was training with.  So…. my thanks today go to the ‘Unknown’ Samaritan that took the time out of his busy schedule to make sure that a young couple with 3 small children were not left stranded on the side of the road.  Remember folks….. this was WAY before cell phones!!  Can you believe we even made it through something like that without a cell phone???  At least there were CB radios!  Thank heavens for those too!

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to rescue another person in a time of need.  You are all Good Samaritans!

I am Grateful!  How are you?

Naive? Or Blessed……

OK…. I’ll admit it….. I was around in the 60’s.  But I don’t think being a pre-teen/ teenager really qualifies for being ‘around’ if you know what I mean.  Unless teenagers have changed since then…..  we pretty much weren’t into what was going on in the world.  Especially in Junior High.  I think I remember my focus being on boys, fashion,  friends and boys.  Oh…. did I mention boys?  Yep…. that’s pretty much all I remember caring about back then.  Oh, I did OK in school and all…. but I certainly wasn’t all that focused on grades, even though I made the Honor Roll most semesters.

Anyway….. my point is….. there was a LOT going on around me in the 60’s…. (not quite as evident in the humble state of Utah…) but nonetheless….. it was going on around me!  Funny thing is…. I have very vague memories of my brother being in the Vietnam war.  Kind of sad, huh?

Maybe it was just me…. maybe I wasn’t as focused as I should have been.  Honestly, when I see movies about the civil rights movements and all the turmoil that was happening back then, I often wonder…. was I living in another world?   In reality, I probably was.  Utah is a different species.  Especially back then.  I don’t even think there was one black family that lived in Bountiful.  If there was, I didn’t know them.  I think that’s probably why I wasn’t aware of all that was going on.  It didn’t seem to apply to me, so why should I care, right?

Now, as I look back at history and see what I naively missed….. in many ways I’m not sure I regret it.  Perhaps that’s one reason why I have a pretty good outlook on life.  I never had to face the challenges of racism.

What would I have been like if I did?  I’m not sure….  hopefully the same as I am today about that.   There wasn’t a whole lot of talk in my house against blacks because we didn’t need to talk about it.  Even though I heard an occasional racist remark come from my parents…. I don’t think they tried to instill in me a hate for anyone.  By the time I actually met my first black person…. I pretty much felt like they deserved to be treated like anyone else.  Again…. I can’t say that I regret that.  As a matter of fact…. to show how naive I was….  I remember a bus ride back from Logan to Bountiful.  I’d been up to visit my cousin.  Well…. I naively sat in the back of the bus.  When we stopped in Ogden…. some black boys got on the bus and looked at me rather strangely as they came to sit in the back.  However, all I remember was having a nice conversation with them on the way home.  It wasn’t until I go off the bus that I was told ‘that’s where the blacks sit’.  I had no clue.  And I’m glad I didn’t.

Yesterday, we saw the movie The Help.  I’ve seen lots of movies about the struggles of civil rights.  Remember the Titans is one of my favorites.  But, I think the movie The Help made you look at things a little differently…. from a different perspective.  Not that I didn’t see a movie and not wonder how hard it must have been on them…. but for some reason, hearing how hard it was coming out of these women’s mouths made it a different story.  More personal I guess.

How can we treat others like that?  I’ve never understood it.  The interesting part of the movie is the side story of how even one white woman was left out of being welcome.  I guess it doesn’t take a different skin color for people to be mean!

I’m grateful that I grew up in little old protected Utah and lived a ‘sheltered life’.  I’m grateful that there was never any hate instilled in me for anyone.  I’m grateful that most people nowadays treat people of all color with respect.  Oh…. there’s still some out there that think they are better than everyone else…..  But I’m pretty sure they aren’t the kind of people I want to hang out with anyway.  Like attracts like….. and that’s not my ‘like’!

How about you?  Did you face the civil rights era in an area where you learned to think you were better than “them”?

I am Grateful!  How are you?

The Gifts We Bring

Imagine with me if you will….. a beautiful table full of gifts.  Not one gift is the same.  Some are big, some are small.  Some have beautiful ribbons and bows, others are tied in twine or have nothing extra added to them at all.  Some are plain and simple…. others are bright and colorful.  Some gifts are wrapped in boxes and others carefully placed in beautiful gift bags.  There is much diversity there, but as a whole it creates a pleasing picture to the eye and a sense of excitement!  What will we find when all these gifts are unwrapped?

A friend of mine recently shared a story with me that made me contemplate about how we each have something to contribute to society.  No matter how different we are from all the other ‘packages on the table’….. we each have our own unique value.  I’ve often heard it said that each of us has specific things to do in life, meaning, that though someone else may be capable of accomplishing the same ‘task’ as you…..  there is an impact that only you can have by doing that task yourself.

We all leave an imprint on society.  We are all needed.  They say it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child, but I believe, it also ‘takes a village’ to make a village a pleasant place to live!  Working together accomplishes more, and much more quickly than one person trying to do something alone.  Even though someones ‘gift’ wrapping may not appeal to you, there is still something of value inside the package, that when opened carefully, can make huge a contribution.  It’s goes right along with the saying:  “You can’t judge a book by its cover”.  What’s inside is always of value to someone and very often to many.    We each need to allow our gift to be unwrapped so that those around us can benefit from it.  And remember….. we are benefiting from others doing the same!

I’m grateful for the reminder that we are all different, but that we each deserve to be respected for who we are and allowed to find out how we can each contribute to our community (or village).  I’ll leave you with the words of John Donne:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

I am Grateful!  How are you?