Another Christmas has come and gone and the years seem to be flying by. It wasn’t that long ago that I had little children who brought the wonder and excitement of Christmas into our home. Most of my children are adults now and I recently asked them what some of their favorite Christmas memories are. Most of them said that they loved doing Angel Tree or Sub for Santa projects, and they talked about the different projects our family did through the years. They even said it still brings them joy in thinking about the projects, and the happiness they brought to others. It’s interesting that they don’t really remember most of their gifts but they remember the service that we did. This is one of my favorite things about Christmas. It seems that so many reach out in service to others that it brings a joyful feeling into life, something almost tangible in the air. One of the reasons I like Christmas is because it gives people an opportunity to think of others, to reach out and serve. I like reading about the kind and wonderful things that people do for others. Recently I read a magazine article in Reader’s Digest that asked people how they find meaning or purpose in their lives. One of the replies that really stood out to me was from a man who said that he and his wife were having arguments about fair division of labor at home. He heard a sermon at church that talked about the benefits of serving others and he challenged himself to serve his wife every day for a month. He wrote about all of the little things he did around the house without thinking about who’s turn it was or who made the mess. He stated, “At the end of the month, I found that our life was happier, more contented, more intimate. I kept it up and more than won the lottery. We have been married for 30 years and look forward to many more” (Daniel Townsend, December 2018/January 2019, p. 31). This man found the key to happiness that many philosophers and church leaders have written about. When we serve others we are happier and often our own problems are put into perspective or diminish. Many people are searching for happiness and there are so many people who need help in this world. So this Christmas, give yourself a gift. Decide and follow through to volunteer at a school, at a hospital. Visit people in nursing homes or who are home bound. Help refugees, stock selves at food pantries or contact your local community service organization. Write a letter, make a phone call, send a text. There are so many ways to serve, and not only will you bless the lives of others, but you will be happier yourself. You will discover the key to happiness.
A friend of mine recently died. She had Multiple Sclerosis for many years and had been in a wheel chair and then bed ridden for the past 15 years. She had lots to complain about and yet whenever I would see her in a store in a wheelchair she was cheerful and fun to chat with. During our conversations you would never think she had any problems at all, let alone a failing body. To me she was the best example of cheerfully enduring to the end, focusing on others and looking for the good. Years ago she was my Visiting Teacher and she told me a story about her mother and prayer. My friend’s eight year old son was being baptized and she really wanted her mother to attend the baptism. Her mother was not a member of our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) but my friend wanted to share the experience with her. Since her mother did not want to participate in it, she decided to pray about it. She prayed for several weeks that her mother would be able to attend the baptism, and then my friend was in a car accident. She wasn’t seriously hurt but because of the multiple sclerosis she had to have some help so her mother came to stay with her to help her recover. This accident occurred shortly before the baptism of her son and so her mother was in town and attended it. My faithful friend testified to me of the power of prayer and that God always answers our prayers even if in unexpected ways. This story says as much about her as it does about the power of prayer. I know she relied on prayer and her faith in Jesus Christ until the end of her life, especially when she was bedridden and struggled with bedsores and pain. She showed grace in her trials and acceptance of God’s will, and as I struggle with migraines and other situations in my life I am grateful for her example of faith and cheerfully enduring to the end. Hers was a life well lived.
This is going to seem like a funny thing to write about, but recently my husband came home with two metal dust pans that are extra wide. I had been complaining that my nice, metal dust pan had disappeared and the one I was using was cracked and floppy. With a lot of people going through my house I sweep a lot. Every time I pulled out my broom and floppy dust pan I grumbled inwardly because my really good, nice dust pan was gone. Every time I swept leaves off our driveway I grumbled because my nice, metal dust pan was gone. I had searched for it but couldn’t find it anywhere, and I had really tried to find it too. I looked for a new one at a few stores but the metal ones are only available at a hardware store, and I hadn’t been to one yet. So when he walked into the house and presented me with the dust pans, one for the house and one for the garage, I was super excited. Even though there was not a jewel in sight, this was one of the nicest gifts he’s ever given me. This was a very thoughtful gift because in some ways it wasn’t really about the dust pans. The real gift he gave me was that he listened to me and heard what I was saying. Then he did something about it. He went out of his way to buy them and then bought not one but two. So every time I sweep my floors or my driveway I think of his thoughtfulness and love and I feel warm inside. Every time I see them hanging on their hooks I think of him and feel a deeper love. So in some ways he really gave me two gifts, the dust pans and listening to me. The funny thing is that listening to me didn’t cost anything and he didn’t have to go out of his way to do it. Listening to me only took a few moments of his time. Listening to me was a simple act of love and the best gift of all!
Many years ago I had a half a loaf of french bread and I thought I would make some bread pudding with it. I had heard of bread pudding but I had never eaten it before or had even seen it so I thought this would be a new, fun adventure. I found a recipe and went to work. When I got to the part of the recipe where it referred to the bread, it was only one cup of cut up bread pieces. I thought that wasn’t very much so it had to be packed bread. I crammed as much bread as I could into the measuring cup and proceeded to make the bread. It came out more like bread brick pudding but I never had it before so I didn’t know the difference. I thought it was a little “thick” and couldn’t figure out why it was called a pudding when it was more like a loaf of bread. My family ate it and I continued to make bread pudding occasionally. Then one time I had it for dessert in a restaurant. It was creamy, pudding-like and delicious. Nothing even close to a brick. It was at this point that I obviously discovered that for years I had been making bread pudding wrong, very wrong. So I tried it without packing the bread into the measuring cup. It was light and pudding-like and delicious.
I have discovered that life’s like that. Sometimes it takes someone showing me a better way, the correct way to get the results I want. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing something the wrong way, that there is a better way. Of course I have to laugh at myself when I find out I could have been doing something different or easier or better all along. This also reminds me of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the many times I’ve done something my way, out of ignorance or even willful disobedience, when His way is so much better. When I “kick against the pricks” of conscience because I want to do something my way. This reminds me that when I’m finally ready to listen to Him and discover my way is so lacking and His way is so much better. And I finally discover that doing something my way just produces a bread pudding brick. And of course once I have tasted of His better way, just like the creamy bread pudding, I want to do it His way. The parable of the bread pudding teaches me to not settle for bricks.