Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Sneakers

Family traditions come in different forms; here is one of my favorites.

If you read last week’s post you know that as a kid I got excited about Christmas. Really, really, super, duper, turbo, crazy excited about Christmas. So much so that I would make myself almost sick with the anticipation of the big day. 

My two younger brothers and sister were generally on the same page that I was at that time of the year. We would spend the months leading up to Christmas pouring over the glossy pictures in the Sears catalog Wish Book dreaming about Barbie townhouses and remote control cars. 

Christmas Eve was the highlight of the season. There was always dinner and a “program” at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Once our bellies were full of brown sugared ham, potatoes, and buttery rolls smothered in homemade jam we would move to the living room and gather around the fireplace. 

The program then began. 

This consisted of all of the grandchildren performing in some way at the piano, singing, and squeaking out elementary versions of O Christmas Tree and Jolly Old Saint Nick on miscellaneous band instruments. All was greeted by uproarious applause from the audience. Then would come the singing of carols and re-enactment of the Christmas story while Grandpa read out of Luke, complete with towels on our heads and whichever littlest grandkid was present laying in the manger. 

Then we would open the gag gifts Grandpa had collected throughout the year and wrapped in plain brown shipping paper. Little toy dogs that could back-flip, a singing trout, Santa as Elvis were among the usual suspects. 

After the party my parents would bring us home glowing with anticipation and get us into bed by telling us that “Santa can’t come until you are asleep.” It worked… for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure how Santa managed in such a short window of opportunity, but he always did. 

At exactly 1:16am my eyes would pop open and I would stare at the digital alarm clock on the bedside table. The rule in our house was that you could not get up until 6:00. No exceptions. I’m a firm believer that time is relative. It speeds at a much increased rate for parents and slows to a virtual standstill for kids on Christmas Eve. It was an eternity from 1:16 to 6:00.

By 2:00 my siblings were awake as well and we would carefully sneak to a central location (my room) for a planning session. The bedrooms of our house were connected to the living room by a long hallway. The tree and Santa’s delivery were located there, as well as a sleeping father on the couch. Dad knew we couldn’t stand the anticipation and so he spent every Christmas Eve sleeping there like an MP guarding the entrance to Fort Knox to keep us out of the area until the designated time. 

We would spend the next 4 hours slithering on our tummies down the hallway an inch at a time in hopes of getting past our Christmas sentinel. As soon as one of us would make it past the foot of the couch a gruff “GO TO BED!” would ring out over the silent night air and we would scurry back to central command.

As the years went by we made some innovations to our raid plans and equipment. This was mostly the invention of my brother Scott. By the time I was twelve we had moved up to painting our faces, dressing in all black, and taping plastic cups with a pin hole punched in the bottom over small flashlights so we could see better. We looked like a band of vagabond jewel thieves. We also had an elaborate hand signal language worked out to pass messages back and forth. 

All this was to no avail as the grumpy man on the couch was very good at his job. Looking back on it I think dad probably enjoyed those sleepless nights as much as we did. How much easier it would have been to stay in bed and just let us walk out there and peek. 

Time passed and as brothers and sisters we grew up and moved away from each other. Life has separated our family to different geography and political views. Over the years there has been joy but also disagreements between us as we have had to make the adult choices of our lives. Things have not always been rosy as we’ve walked the pathways we have chosen but down deep I know that the four of us are still that little band of Christmas Sneakers. 

I believe deeply that families are put together for a reason. There are things to be learned from each other. There are mistakes to be made, there is forgiveness and love to be educated in. Heaven knows my family has not had an easy progression in this area but this Christmas I have hope that it can improve and maybe it just starts with simple memories of tradition.

So here's a shout out to the Christmas Eve Sneakers. Happy sneaking this year! 



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Real Christmas

One week before Christmas in 1984 I broke out in full body hives. That is how excited I was for Christmas to come. I love Christmas. Unequivocally it is my favorite time of the year. At thirty-six I get as almost as excited about it as I did when I was eight and had to scratch my way to the big day. 

Now, as then, I adored everything about the season. The decorations, the music, the cheesy pictures with Santa at the mall, the red and green construction paper chains made with Elmer’s glue, drug store advent calendars, singing along with Bing Crosby as he croons in White Christmas, the hot cocoa and carols.

Back then, nights would find me lying on the floor next to our lighted Christmas tree when everyone else had gone to bed, un-focusing my eyes until the multi-colored twinkling lights would turn into a galaxy fuzzy orbs hanging in space. It was my own peaceful Christmas meditation.

And then there was my grandma, she loved Christmas too. It was an event to go to her house and put up the decorations. Grandpa would bring in a fragrant pine tree and we would put Andy Williams on their 1950’s record player. As the vinyl records would hiss and pop and play It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year we would carefully place antique glass ornaments on the tree. Last of all a paper angel that had been in the family for generations would complete our tree trimming. That place was a little piece of heaven.

Sitting next to the front door in her house was a little nativity scene. Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were painted in fading pastel hues. One of the cows lying next to the manager was missing an ear, knocked off years earlier by some clumsy observer. I would look at that nativity and imagine what it must have been like to be there on that night. I always felt warm and happy when I gazed at that scene. 

I knew that Christmas was about the birth of a baby, a very special baby. I knew that we sang about Him and talked about Him at church but the connection between the feelings of love and peace that I felt around December had not connected with that person. 

Fast forward about twenty years. I had made a conscious decision that I was going to figure out how to really get to know the Savior. I had heard people talk about if forever, having this personal relationship with Christ. How did one have that when He wasn’t physically present? Intellectually I knew the doctrine, I had seen miracles and blessings, I believed, but knew that I was missing something significant. 

That decision sent me to the scriptures where I read every single thing I could find that Christ had said Himself. I then moved to modern day prophets and buried myself in Talmage and McConkie. I prayed fervently to receive that relationship. Over a three year period I learned wonderful and amazing things about the Lord, my testimony increased, but still I did not feel an emotional link to Him. What was I doing wrong?

With this weighing on my mind I was asked to sing in the choir for the Christmas Cantata the ward was putting on. I attended the practices and enjoyed expressing the love I had for Christmas in a musical way. I was also singing alto in a beautiful arrangement about Mary for the same concert. 

The night of the performance was going well and there was just one hymn to be sung by the choir before I was up. It was a hymn I had sung hundreds of times and was honestly not one of my favorites. The piano played the introduction and I sang:

“The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!”

As the harmony of “born is the King of Israel” left my lips something slammed into my chest. I felt it physically hit me with all-pervading force. It took my breath away. Stunned and overwhelmed, I tried to process the feeling that was enveloping me head-to-toe. It was familiar. I immediately recognized it as the same one I had while I looked at the little nativity all those years ago, just intensified. 

Much like the Grinch from Dr. Suess I experienced my heart growing three sizes up there on the stand. I knew for a fact that the Lord loved me. I recognized that I had been feeling it all along and not recognizing it. At the birth of my children, at my grandma’s funeral, in kind things people did and said, in sunsets, and in music. Every day it had been there, lifting and helping me along.

Tears streaming down my face, barely able to function, I stood up and choked out my part in the quartet. I looked like a lunatic and got a lot of raised eyebrows as I bawled in front of 150 people, but wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. 

I finally knew why I loved Christmas so much and realized I could have it with me all the time. My prayers had been answered. It was so simple.

I learned that the key to Christmas is this. "The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force. The real spirit of Christmas lies in the life and mission of the Master....

"If you desire to find the true spirit of Christmas and partake of the sweetness of it, let me make this suggestion to you. During the hurry of the festive occasion of this Christmas season, find time to turn your heart to God. Perhaps in the quiet hours, and in a quiet place, and on your knees—alone or with loved ones—give thanks for the good things that have come to you, and ask that His Spirit might dwell in you as you earnestly strive to serve Him and keep His commandments" (Howard W. Hunter, "
The Real Christmas," Ensign, Dec 2005, 22–25).

I pray that you have the sweet Spirit of the Lord with you this Christmas season and that you find the moments to let Him into your heart. 



Friday, November 30, 2012

Angel Team Six

One evening I was standing in the laundry room amidst the Himalayan mass of unclean clothes that four children and one husband produce, wondering just what I had done to deserve the special privilege of dealing with that mess. With furrowed brow, inhaling the scent of Downy dryer sheets and dirty socks, I reveled in my own little pity party. Exactly 13 seconds into my self-inflicted funk I was interrupted by a ruckus going on in the living room next door. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the classification levels of familial dramatic events, a ruckus is right between a commotion and a full blown riot. As my ears swiveled around to locate the exact nature of the aforementioned ruckus, the door burst open and in galloped a pink dog; a pink dog wearing a tutu. The canine was closely followed by two shrieking children, one three year old boy who was not wearing a stitch of clothing, and the other a six year old girl who was covered in pink paint thus explaining the unusual color of the dog. 

The three of them flew through the laundry room in a high speed blur, circled me two-and-a-half times and then exited at rocket velocity. I immediately headed out the door in hot pursuit. 

I arrived in the living room to witness my small clothing deprived son climbing up the front of our large entertainment center as deftly as a lemur going up a tree. As he reached the third cubby hole up on the center he grabbed hold of a large round fish bowl we were collecting change in. It was nearly full and was approximately the same weight as a baby elephant. 

Before I could even process what was happening the fish bowl started to slide off of its perch and directly towards Sam’s small head. Panic set in and I lurched towards my baby, knowing that he was probably going to be killed by the impact of the falling object. 

Then something incredible happened. Somehow, someway that defied the laws of physics, my little boy jerked to the right as if pulled out of the air by an unseen force. The fish bowl continued on its path downward and smashed into the hardwood floor with sickening explosion. Sam landed softly on an armchair well out of the way of any harm. 

My husband Buns said to me after this experience that there must be Swat Teams of angels that are assigned to toddlers and I think he is not far off. The same little boy who had this happen also managed not long after to punch through a 75 year old plate glass window and came away with only scratches. 

Knowing how the Lord feels about little children, it isn't such a stretch to think that the best and brightest would be sent to watch over these precious little ones. And not just any angels will do, they are most likely people who know and love those children better than anyone else, their family. 

Elder Kent F. Richards recounted the following story. “Thirteen-year-old Sherrie underwent a 14-hour operation for a tumor on her spinal cord. As she regained consciousness in the intensive care unit, she said: “Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here, … and … Grandpa Norman … and Grandma Brown … are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you? … He looks like you, only taller. … He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.” Her uncle Jimmy had died at age 13 of cystic fibrosis. 

“For nearly an hour, Sherrie … described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.” 

Later she told her father, “Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them.” 

What can be difficult to remember as we are thrown against the realities of life, is that we ourselves are children. 

“Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. 

Fear not, little children, for you are mine…” 

The great creator of the universe has the same love for us that he has for these sweet and wonderful little children. He sends the same help for us that he does for them. This doesn't mean that bad things never happen, that pain and loss and devastation will never touch us, but what it does mean is that he sends love and help in the form of ministering angels and a lot more often than we are aware of. 

“Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)

I know this to be true. I've seen and felt the presence of departed family members in times of need as well as times of joy. I know that they have protected and warned and celebrated with us. They are not far from us and undoubtedly they shield us. It is comforting to know that the Lord sends the best Special Forces in the universe to help and protect us. 

How grateful I am for their assistance, now if I could just get them to convince Sam to keep his clothes on. 



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Serious Post

Over the blissfully free-from-work-and-school Thanksgiving break my eight year old daughter Bella accidentally dropped a large can of beans on her big toe. (The ranch style beans with brown sugar everybody loves.) Any other kid would have howled in pain and run immediately into the arms of a comforting parent. Instead Bella calmly walked to her bedroom and cried into her pillow. Once in control of herself she put on her socks and shoes and limped back to her usual activities not telling anyone about the mishap. 

Later in the day I asked her why she was wearing her shoes in the house. This was not normal for her but she told me that her feet were cold and gave me the Bella look that means “don’t ask me again”. Rather than get into it with her I let it go at that.

Two days passed and she began limping rather noticeably. She continued to hide her injury until Buns and I physically pinned her down and made her let us look at her foot. Once we got her sparkly tennis shoes and color coordinated socks off it unveiled a twice the normal size, throbbing, purple ghoulish toe.

I tried to keep my face calm but inwardly I was screeching and flailing my arms around. “Holy cats! How have you not been writhing on the floor in agony with that monstrosity?” was my thought.

When we told her we needed to go see the family doctor to have it checked out huge tears began to run down her cheeks. “Oh baby, he’s just going to look at it. No shots.” I promised, hoping desperately not to be a liar. She didn’t say anything, just continued to look at me with those wide-open tear filled brown eyes that transmitted the fear she felt like an electric current.

The next morning I loaded her in the car and we drove to the doctor’s office. She sat quietly in the back seat and didn’t say a word as I tried to tell lame jokes and take her mind off what was coming. I could tell she was hurting and afraid of what was going to happen. A sad sigh would escape now and then and I could see the tears welling up in her eyes in the rear view mirror.

We arrived and after a miraculously short wait we found ourselves in the small examination room with the doctor. “Wow, what happened to you?” he said with a smile. This was more than she could handle and finally collapsed into a sobbing mass on the table.

Once it was determined that the bone wasn’t broken he told us that all the pain was coming from pressure under the toenail and that it needed to be lanced. He would heat up a needle and make two small holes in the nail to let the blood drain out.

Bella was really brave as this was all going on and consented to let him go ahead. I stood up by her head and held her so she couldn’t see as she went through what seemed to me to be some kind of medieval torture that had been tweaked into a modern medical practice.

As soon as the doctor pierced the nail blood began gushing out of her toe. This continued as he made the second and then applied pressure to finish the job off. Amazingly, there was almost an immediate reprieve on Bella’s side, although I was near hyperventilating. “Oh that feels better” she said with relief in her voice. She was bandaged up by the nurse and sent home much happier.

That afternoon as I contemplated the situation I realized that there was a message in that situation that I needed to hear.  

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to cover painful incidents in my life with achievements and completed projects. Instead of dealing with the unpleasant emotions that came from the trials of my life I did my best to bury them. I’ve done this by deliberately not thinking about them and frantically wrapping them up with accomplishments and other behaviors as I try to banish the pain those circumstances caused.

The state of affairs with Bella helped me to see that because I’ve been avoiding these thoughts and feelings, I’m not allowing the Savior to do what is needed to heal me. I'm limping around with a bruised and battered spiritual toe refusing to let anyone look at it. I am going to have to be brave and let Him lance it so that the pressure that has been building up over the years can come out.

This is going to require humility, which I am no good at, and faith. Something I thought I had in abundance but now realize needs some work. I’m going to have to stop giving lip service to the atonement when it comes to emotional pain, and actually trust Him to let it work in my life. No more counterfeiting.

With this in mind, last night I got into the car and went somewhere that will help get me on the right track. It was terrifying to admit to others that I was indeed an actual mess and not just the funny one I pretend to be. That with all the incredible things the Lord blesses me with, I still struggle deeply to trust Him when it comes to this area. It was freeing, it was honest, and there were people there just like me.

Today I’m hopeful. I feel good. This is going to be a challenge and it is going to hurt, but with God's help I know it may be one of the best things I ever do and the first step has already brought relief.  

It’s time to finally see the doctor and heal this toe.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Great Expectations

Tomorrow my oldest son David turns sixteen. 

For this momentous occasion he will be having a “sweet sixteen” party. (Ok, I'll admit, he isn’t calling it that but his mother most certainly is!) After doing a little research on what is expect of a modern sweet sixteen party I found that my pocketbook as well as my heart were going into cardiac arrest. It seems that to be considered a responsible parent these days a sweet sixteen party must include the following.
  •  The rental of the hottest nightclub in the area
  • A live performance by Cee Lo Green
  • Limo service for Dave and all his friends to and from the club
  • A finger food buffet of truffles and gold plated Big Macs
  • A fireworks display that will make the 4th of July Spectacular in Washington D.C. pale in comparison
  • A performance by the troupe from Cirque du Soleil 
  • Live tigers to ride around the party
  • A bounce house made out of money 
All of these requirements were going to be a little hard to come by since neither Buns nor I are secret millionaires, not to mention as far as I know Cee Lo's schedule is booked.

When I informed Dave that we were not going to be able to pull off the above list he just looked at me with a gaze I know well, the “mom, you are a lunatic” expression.  “Why would I want any of that anyway?” was his reaction.

Instead he opted for a BBQ with his friends and video games. What a great kid. It’s something I’ve always known.

Sixteen years ago, after 14 hours of the most painful experience of my life, the doctor gave me a 10 pound 4 oz. tank of a baby boy to hold for the first time. That moment was one of the most influential spiritual experiences I have ever had. His personality and the power of his spirit impacted me in an incredible way. I knew that he was special. Heavenly Father had saved him to come down just at that time because he was going to be courageous and make a huge impact on the world he lived in. I knew it just as I knew that we had an enormous responsibility as his parents to make sure that we taught him correct principles. If we would love him, and do our job something great was going to happen.

I had this experience three other times as Andrew, Bella, and Sam made their way into the world. 

I have already seen the strength that is in the youth of this generation. David and his siblings are the only members of the church in their school and they field questions, comments, and sometimes bigotry in an awesome way. They are good examples to their friends and have already had an influence on the people around them. Kids know not to swear and talk about inappropriate behavior in front of them. They make this happen in a non-judgmental way and explain matter-of-factly why it isn’t a good idea. They’ve helped others to know they are valued children of their Heavenly Father. 

They aren’t perfect but on the whole they are so much stronger and better than I was at their age. They have understanding of truth that absolutely blows my mind some days. I’m proud of them and blessed to be their mother. 

As of tomorrow David will be embarking on the ability to drive, and date. Buns and I are sending him to the edge of the nest and watching him take off on his first solo flights. I know he’ll do great. He will mess up and have to make corrections from time to time but I have great expectations for he and his siblings because I know who they are and where they really come from. 

So happy birthday David, you’re an incredible kid with far more potential than you can possibly know.  We love you and always will.



“I wish we could promise you that the world will be safer and easier for you than for us, but we cannot make that promise, for just the opposite is true . . . Your challenge is much greater than was ours. Few of us would trade places with you . . . 

But, oh, what a wonderful time to be young! You have knowledge of many more things than we needed to have. It is my conviction that your generation is better and stronger than was ours—better in many ways! I have faith that you young men and young women can meet the world on its own terms and conquer it!

You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!” (President Boyd K. Packer).
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