We had a wonderful Christmas day, as I hope everyone has. Just being able to celebrate Christmas again was a big gift for me. My husband said that my latest "good" MRI results were what he was really hoping for most this year. Everything else was gravy on top of this, and there was a lot of it. Actually writing that just reminded me of A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge tries to dismiss Marley's ghost as a bad dream caused by indigestion and says, "There's more of gravy than of the grave about you, whatever you are." In my own way there is more of gravy than of grave about me right now, and I couldn't be happier.
We sat in our warm, comfortable home, opening presents and enjoying our children's reactions, eating good food, and spending some fun time with family and friends. We couldn't have asked for more. And after pondering my twelve days of Christmas and the many other blessings that "the good Lord gave to me", the natural question surfaced: "What should we give in return?"
Certainly teaching our children about the true meaning of Christmas is the very least we could do. Our son eagerly helped us this year with our traditional Angel Tree service project; something we started six years ago when we "adopted" a Salvation Army Angel Tree child who was the same age as the baby we lost earlier that year. We do it every year: this year the baby would have been six, so we chose a six-year-old Angel Tree boy and sent our son on a mission to find toys that would be enjoyed by "another boy a little older than you who needs some toys". On the way into the store, our son also begged for money, but not for his use in the candy dispenser right inside the store, like always. Instead, he wanted it for the "man with the bell and the red bucket" (the Salvation Army volunteer collecting donations). For his sister, he chose some of his own toys that he outgrew, which he thought she would especially like. And some others he put in a box for a family friend who was traveling to Mexico to deliver clothes and toys to needy children. And then he melted my heart as he grinned and handed a Christmas present to me: a note telling me that I could have his race car -- one of his favorite toys of all time. As it turns out, the gift is intended to be more about his sharing it with me than actual title transfer, but his thoughtfulness in giving up even partial ownership with something so dear to him was touching.
My husband and I have a tradition of giving each other at least one gift that cannot be purchased. It is always the hardest gift and the most precious, because it is a real "gift from the heart". My gift to him this year was the reading (and re-reading) of Dr. Laura's The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, and taking good notes and making some hopefully noticeable changes in our home as a result. (He said he did notice.) His gift to me was a square of tile from our garage, and the promise that on his next "flex day" (he has every other Friday off) of the new year, he will finally install the master bathroom tile that we bought earlier this year as our first home improvement project in this house. It's like the ultimate "honey-do" assignment, and he knows how much I like having nice master quarters. (One Christmas his gift to me was the deep cleaning of our master bedroom every Saturday throughout the year.)
The gift of service also comes to mind, because "...when you are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God..." (Mosiah 2:17) and "...inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me..." (Matthew 25:40). In addition to our Angel Tree tradition, we also have a six-year-old tradition of visiting and caroling on Christmas Day, in places where others may need companionship and cheer. This year we joined with some family and friends and went to a nearby home where several seniors lived with a nurse, and they were without much in the way of visitors or plans on Christmas Day. After that, we went to the local VFW post at the suggestion of a friend and co-worker, who is the commander of that post. Our final stop was a nearby nursing home. It was a fun experience to make new friends, and because I am both alive AND able to sing, it meant a lot for me to celebrate my gifts of time and talent by sharing them with others.
But finally, as I gazed upon the tiny white stocking that we hang every year on our Christmas tree as a reminder of the gift that we should give the Lord in honor of the birth of Christ and in return for our blessings, I remembered something that I read earlier in the year. It was written by Elder Neal A Maxwell, an apostle in our church who died in 2004 after a long and valiant battle with leukemia. Basically he wrote that there is only one thing we can give the Lord that doesn't already belong to Him in the first place. We could consecrate all of our time, talents, and blessings back to Him in various ways, and that would certainly be a very good thing to do. But we would just be returning back what He gave to us in the first place. The only thing that we really have, that would be a true gift to the Lord would be the submission of our own free will to His ways. Our will is the only thing that is personally and wholly ours. And once we realize that His will and ways are meant for our ultimate happiness anyway, it becomes easier for us to give this gift. One of many blessings I received this past year has been the reinforcement of what I already knew to be true: the Lord is worthy of our complete trust, and we are much safer and happier (regardless of our circumstances) if we "let go and let God" take over our lives.