Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas Stories

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...
Luke 2 : 1-21

nd it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

      (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

      And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

      And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David: )

      To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

      And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

      And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

      And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

      And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

      And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

      For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

      And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

      And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

      Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

      And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

      And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

      And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

        And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

      But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

      And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

      And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

3 Nephi 1 : 4-21

nd it came to pass that in the commencement of the ninety and second year, behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people.

      But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.

      And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.

      And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.

      But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.

      Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.

      Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.

      And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.

      And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord, all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:

      Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

      Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfill all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of  the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh.  And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.

      And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.

      And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.

      And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.

      For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.

      And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day.  And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.

      And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.

And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.

We love the stories of Christmas!  May we all feel the joy of Christmas as the Christ child would want  us to feel it.  We pray that you will have love,
peace, and happiness in your home this holiday season,
and throughout the coming year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas Stories

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas...
Christmas Day
In The Morning

e woke suddenly, and completely.  It was four o’clock, the hour at which his father had always called to him to get up and help with the milking.  Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still.  Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o’clock in the morning.  He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.  Why did he feel so awake tonight?  He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays.  He was fifteen years old and still at his father’s farm.  He loved his father.  He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.

      “Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings.  He’s growing so fast and he needs his sleep.  If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up!  I wish I could manage alone.”  “Well, you can’t, Adam.”  His mother’s voice was brisk.  “Besides, he isn’t a child anymore.  It’s time he took his turn.”  “Yes,” his father said slowly.  “But I sure do hate to wake him.”

      When he heard these words, something in him awoke; his father loved him!  He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood.  Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children—they had no time for such things.  There was always so much to do on the farm.  Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no more loitering in the mornings and having to be called again.  He got up after that, stumbling blind with sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes tight shut, but he got up.

      And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was fifteen, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day.  They were poor and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and the mince pies his mother made.  His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, but maybe something more, such as a book.  And he saved and bought them each something, too.  He wished, that Christmas he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father.  As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie.  It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas.  He looked out of his attic window, the stars were bright.

      “Dad,” he had once asked when he was a little boy, “What is a stable?”  “It’s a barn,” his father had replied, “like ours.”  “Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds had come…”  The thought struck him like a sliver dagger.  Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn?  He could get up early, earlier than four, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done.  He’d do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went to start the milking, he’d see it all done.  And he would know who had done it.  He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars.  It was what he would do, and he mustn’t sleep too sound.

      He must have waked twenty times, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch—midnight, and half past one, and then two o’clock.  At a quarter to three he got up and put on his clothes.  He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out.  The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised.  It was too early for them too.  He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy.  He kept thinking about his father’s surprise.  His father would come and get him, saying he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed.  Dad would go to the barn, open the door, and then he’d go to get the two empty milk cans.  But they wouldn’t be waiting or empty; they’d be standing in the milk house, filled.  Rob smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.  The task went more easily than he had ever known it to go before.  Milking for once was not a chore.  It was something else, a gift to his father, who loved him..  He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed them and closed the milk house door carefully.

      Back in his room he had only a minute to pull of his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up.  He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing.  The door opened.

      “Rob!” his father called.  “We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas.”  “Aw-right,” he said sleepily.  The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself.  In just a few minutes his father would know.  His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.  The minutes were endless—ten, fifteen, he did not know how many—and he heard his father’s footsteps again.  The door opened and he lay still.

“Rob!”  “Yes, Dad.”  His father was laughing, a queer, sobbing sort of laugh.  “Thought you’d fool me, did you?”  His father was standing beside him feeling for him, pulling away the covers.  “It’s for Christmas, Dad!”

      He found his father and clutched him a great hug.  He felt his father’s arms go around him  It was dark  and they could not see each other’s faces.  “Rob, I thank you.  Nobody ever did a nicer thing!”

      “Oh, Dad, I want you to know, I do want to be good!”  The words broke from him on their own will.  He did not know what to say.  His heart was bursting with love.  He got up and pulled on his clothes again and they went down to the Christmas tree.  Oh, what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the three younger children listen how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.

      “The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live.”  They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead, he remembered it alone; that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.

Pearl S. Buck, Collier’s, December 23, 1955


Monday, December 23, 2013

On the Tenth Day of Christmas Stories

On the Tenth Day of Christmas...
Trouble at the Inn
For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling.  Wally’s performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend.  But the old timers who were in the audience that night, never tire of recalling exactly what happened.  Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth.  Most people in the town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up.  He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind.  Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in the class, all of whom were smaller than he.
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas Pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lombard, assigned him a more important role.  After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza.  No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling.  They said later that he stood in the wing and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn’t wander on the stage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly, guiding Mary to the door of the Inn.  Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door.  Wally, the innkeeper, was there waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brisk gesture.  “We seek lodging,” replied Joseph.  “Seek it elsewhere,” answered Wally looking properly stern and speaking vigorously.  “The Inn is filled.”
“But sir,” said Joseph, “we have asked everywhere in vain.  We have travelled far and are very, very weary.”  “There is no room in this Inn for you,” responded Wally looking straight ahead.  “Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary.  She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest.  Surely you must have some small corner for her.  She is so tired.”
Now for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary.  With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.  “No!  Be gone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.  “No!” Wally repeated automatically.  “Be gone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arms around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away.  The innkeeper did not return inside the Inn.  He just stood there in the doorway watching the forlorn couple.  His mouth was open, his brow was creased with concern, and his eyes filled unmistakably with tears.  Then suddenly this Christmas Pageant became different for all others.  “Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out.  “Bring Mary back.”  Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile.  “You can have my room,” he said.
Some of the town-folk thought the pageant had been ruined.  Yet there were others, many others, who considered it the best Pageant they have ever seen.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On the Ninth Day of Christmas Stories

On the Ninth Day of Christmas...
Uncle Kees' Christmas Rebellion 

uring my boyhood in Holland, Christmas was by no means a joyous celebration.  Even the singing of carols was considered tantamount to blasphemy, and festive candles and gaily decorated fir trees were deemed pagan abominations.

      But one old-fashioned Christmas lingers in my mind with delight. It was bitter cold in the great church that morning, for the vast nave and transept were unheated.  Worshipers pulled the collars of their overcoats up around their chins and sat with their hands in their pockets.  Women wrapped their shawls tightly around their shoulders.  When the congregation sang, their breath steamed up on faint white clouds toward the golden chandeliers.

      The regular organist had sent word to my Uncle Kees that he was too ill to fulfill his duties.  Kees, happy at the opportunity to play the great organ, now sat in the loft peering down through the curtains on the congregation of about 2,000 souls.  He had taken me with him into the organ loft.

      The organ, a towering structure, reached upward a full 125 feet.  It was renowned throughout the land and indeed throughout all Europe.  The wind for the organ was provided by a man treading over a huge pedal consisting of twelve parallel beams.

      In his sermon the preacher struck a pessimistic note.  Christmas, he said, signified the descent of God into the tomb of human flesh, “that charnel house of corruption and dead bones.”  He dwelt sadistically on our human depravity, our utter worthlessness, tainted as we were from birth with original sin.  The dominie groaned and members of the congregation bowed their heads in awful awareness of their guilt.

      As the sermon progressed Kees grew more and more restless.  He scratched his head and tugged at his mustache and goatee.  He could scarcely sit still.

      “Man, man,” he muttered, shaking his head, “are these the good tidings, is that the glad message?”  And turning to me he whispered fiercely, “That man smothers the hope of the world in the dustbin of theology!”

      We sang a doleful psalm by way of interlude, and the sermon, which had already lasted an hour and forty minutes, moved toward its climax.  It ended in so deep a note of despair that across the years I still feel a recurrence of the anguish I then experienced.  It was more than likely, the minister threw out by way of a parting shot, that of his entire congregation not a single soul would enter the kingdom of heaven.  Many were called, but few were chosen.

      Kees shook with indignation as the minister concluded.  For a moment I feared that he could walk off in a huff and not play the Bach postlude, or any postlude at all.  Down below, the preacher could be seen lifting his hands for the benediction.  Kees suddenly threw off his jacket, kicked off his shoes, and pulled out all the stops on the organ.  When the minister had finished there followed a moment of intense silence.

      Kees waited an instant longer while the air poured into the instrument. His face was set and grim and he looked extremely pale.  Then throwing his head back and opening his mouth as if he were going to shout, he brought his fingers down on the keyboard.  HAL-LE-LU-JAH!  HALLELUJAH!  HALLELUJAH!

      The organ roared the tremendous finale of Handel's chorus of Messiah. And again with an abrupt crashing effect, as if a million voices burst into song, HAL-LE-LU-JAH!  HALLELUJAH!  HALLELUJAH!  The music swelled and rolled with the boom of thunder against the vaulted dome, returning again and again with the blast of praise like breakers bursting on the seashore.

      Kees beckoned to me.  “More air!” he called out.

      I ran into the bellows chamber, where Leendert Bols was stamping down the beams like a madman, transported by the music, waving his arms in the air.

      “More air!” I shouted.  “He wants more air!”

“Hallelujah!” Leendert shouted back.  “Hallelujah!”  He grabbed me by the arm and together we fairly broke into a trot on the pedal beams.

      Then the anthem came to a close.  But Kees was not finished yet.  Now the organ sang out sweetly the Dutch people's most beloved evangelical song:  “The Name above Every Name, the Name of Jesus,” sung to the tune very similar to “Home, Sweet Home.”

      We sang it with all our heart, Leendert and I, as did the congregation on its way out.

      It was a tornado of melody that Kees had unleashed.  Mountains leaped into joy.  The hills and the seas clapped their hands in gladness.  Heaven and earth, the voices of men and angels, seemed joined in a hymn of praise to a God who did not doom and damn, but who so loved, loved, loved the world.

(Pierre Van Paassen, Christmas Classics)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the Eighth Day of Christmas Stories

On the Eighth Day of Christmas...
Two Babes in a Manger

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach in Russia. They were invited to teach at many places including a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. The two Americans relate the following story in their own  words: 

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. 

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for  straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. 

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where  little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. 

Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately--until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own  ending to the story as he said, "And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't  have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told  me I could stay with him--for always." As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his  head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. 

The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him-FOR ALWAYS. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Seventh Day of Christmas Stories

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...
Then We Found The Rocking Horse 

he house was very quiet.  My wife and three teen-age daughters had gone to the first of the end-of-year sales in search of clothing bargains.  I sat alone in a deep armchair, an unread book on my knees, looking at the snow-covered lawn where we had found the rocking horse fifteen days before.  I was remembering those ten hectic days before Christmas when a simple Family Home Evening resolution had opened so many hearts in what had seemed an iron-hearted town.

We had sung and we had prayed; and then Wendy had said from the pinnacle of her twelve years, "Christmas isn't like it used to be, is it?  There used to be a funny feeling around the house, all warm and cozy and safe, but I can't feel it any more." The others chimed in with their remarks and a pattern began to emerge.

Christmases had failed because of too much eating, too much television watching, too much wrangling over petty things, too many late nights and late risings, and too much concern for self.

And it looked as though the coming Christmas was going to be the same—a spiritual and family failure.  The days would pass and again we would have that terrible, dried out, flat feeling.  Was there no way to change the nature of the season in our home?  No way to recapture the true spirit of Christmas?

A pause came in the council, and then my wife began to tell us about some young patients at the school for mentally handicapped children where she worked as a physiotherapist several hours a week.  She spoke of emotional deprivation, of uncaring parents, of pinching poverty in many homes, of being forgotten because "they only smash things, don't they?" and of little hands empty at the time of giving....

My wife proposed that we as a family gather toys for those forgotten children at the school.  Approval of her suggestion was unanimous.

The following day we put our plan into effect.  We explained to our friends about the children at the school and asked them for any little gifts they might care to contribute.

We received one or two stony stares and some half-promises—beyond that, nothing.  We had only recently moved to that neighborhood, and had scoffed at remarks that the town was a hard town, full of seemingly materialistic, hard-hearted people.  Now it seemed to be more than true.

Disappointed at the lack of contributions, we decided that at least we would make a contribution of our own; and so for the next few evenings, after supper was over, we set to making little dolls' beds out of plywood and hardboard, which we then painted in bright gloss paint; my wife supplied miniature mattresses and covers.  The kitchen began to look like a Lilliputian army supply base!  We made six beds in all.

Still nothing from others; yet we continued to ask.  Only six days left to Christmas.
On the fifth day we found a rocking horse standing on the back lawn, shimmer-ing in sunshine and frost, his mane worn but triumphant, his eyes wild with the sight of battle, and in his ears the thunder of the captains and the shouting.  On the ground beside him stood a cardboard soapbox full of assorted toys.  To this day their coming is a mystery to us.  And yet it seemed to be a sign, for that very day people began arriving at the front door with gifts for the forgotten children at the school.

One distant neighbor, a single man, lonely and stiff, a man not even invited to contribute, crossed the street to my wife and blurted out:

"Look here, I haven't anything moneywise; but I have been saving little toy motor cars in matchboxes.  I get them from the garage.  Every time I buy six gallons of petrol they present me with another motor car.  I've got 20 altogether.  Well, no man has ever asked me to help in something like this, so I'd like to do my bit now.  I'll bring the motor cars along to your house tomorrow night and you can be Santa Claus for me."  And he turned away to hide his embarrassment; but when the following evening came, he was there on the step with his 20 motor cars.

An even greater surprise waited at my office.  One young man had been reared in London's harsh East End—a man of prejudice and heated temper to whom my attempts to live my religion were a waving flag to a bull.  But that day he came to me and said:

"You and I are no great friends—in fact, I wouldn't help you to the end of the street if you had both big toes fractured; but those children at the school are something different.  I see their faces every time I close my eyes.  Ginny and I were talking about them and wondering how we could help; and we've decided to give the best we have.  In my spare moments, I model and paint airplanes.  We hang them from the ceiling at home and admire them from time to time; but beyond that they do nothing, so we thought we would give those.  And what does it matter if the kids do smash them up playing with them?  An hour’s pleasure for such a child is well worth the loss of a few models to us."

That very afternoon he produced a large selection of model airplanes.

When I arrived home that evening, my wife and children had similar experiences to relate—of shy strangers and generous enemies—and of friends, too—all of whom were haunted by visions of the empty-handed children; our front room overflowed with their gifts.

The following day the school van called at our home, and the gifts were loaded on board and delivered to the headmistress to distribute to the children.  And that was that.

None of those who contributed gifts ever asked for or received recognition or thanks. At the school only the headmistress ever knew from where the gifts had come.  The rest was silence.

But as I sit here in the twilight after Christmas, I wonder if the spirit that permeates our home permeates theirs. For we as a family found again in service to others the real spirit of Christmas. The very walls are alive with sweetness and calm.

And as the winter day moves toward its early close, and the cold stars stare down and the snow upon the lawn reflects back the light from my windows, I think upon the true nature of the universe; for from this small miracle at Christmas, I have learned that every act of man reaches out into the universe. Wheels turn, the gears mesh, eternal balances are set in motion, and the earth is changed by the little secrets of kindness that have no significance at all to any earthly historian.

Derek Dixon, The Ensign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dec 1973

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the Sixth Day of Christmas Stories

On The Sixth Day of Christmas...

A Different Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.

My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.

In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.

Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.

Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!

Put down your pack; brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "It's really all right,

I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night." "It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."

My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.

I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..

Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?

It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.

To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.

Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

PLEASE, would you do me the kind favor? Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is due to our U.S.service men and women for our being able to celebrate these festivities. Let's try in this small way to pay a tiny bit of what we owe. Make people stop and think of our heroes, living and dead, who sacrificed themselves for us.

LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One
Al Taqqadum, Iraq

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Gifts 2013

Kellie and I wanted to share what we gave our friends, neighbors and teacher's this year. I gave these "Hot Chocolate in a jar" gifts to my kids teachers
We got the jars at Hobby Lobby and the rest we had on hand!
For my friends and neighbors I ordered these milk boxes online here and just covered them with scrapbook paper. Then I added a couple bottles of milk, some donuts, Oreos and a few cute embellishments and a tag and here it is:

Here are Kellie's boxes and bottles:

If you would like to print your own tags, here is a free printable!
Kellie also made a few of these peppermint brownie mixes
What gifts are you giving out this year?

On the Fifth Day of Christmas Stories

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

A Christmas Orange

en lived in an orphanage with nine other children,  They didn't have very many nice things—only a few toys that were very old and one blanket for each of their beds—and oftentimes there was very little to eat.  Ben's favorite time of year was Christmas.  At Christmastime there always seemed to be more food to eat, and the streets were filled with happy people singing carols and ringing bells.  But Ben's favorite thing about Christmas was getting out the old wooden Nativity. 

Ben loved the Wise Men with their fine clothes and the shepherds' sheep, but most of all he love the faces of Mary and Joseph as they looked at baby Jesus.  They were humble and filled with peace and love for this beautiful baby.

Another favorite thing for all the children at the orphanage was the Christmas orange they received on Christmas Eve.  The children would save
the oranges for several days so they could enjoy the feel and smell of
them.  Then they would break them open and enjoy the sweetness of the treat they had waited for all year long.

On Christmas Day Ben broke one of the orphanage rules.  He was sent to his bed, and his precious orange was taken away.  That night he sat very lonely on his bed and cried as he said a little prayer to say he was sorry.  In the darkness he lay crying quietly, and then he felt a soft small hand touch his shoulder.  Something was quickly put into his hand.  As Ben opened his hand he found an orange—a beautiful Christmas orange like none other he had ever received, for it was made up of nine sections from nine other Christmas oranges.  At that moment Ben felt the peace and love that shone in the faces of little Mary and Joseph in the Nativity.

May we all share a part of ourselves this wonderful Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...
The Gift
Emma Lou Thayne
Jan Cook and her husband lived for three years in Africa, in deepest Africa.  His work had taken them and their three small children there, and any Church meetings they attended took place in their own living room with only themselves as participants.  By their third Christmas, Jan was very homesick.  She confessed this to a good friend, a Mennonite.
Jan told her how she missed her own people, their traditions, and even snow.  Her friend sympathized and invited her to go with her the next month to the Christmas services being held in the only Protestant church in the area, saying that there would be a reunion there of all the Mennonite missionaries on the continent.
It took some talking for Jan to persuade her husband, but there they were, being swept genially to the front of the small chapel.  It felt good being in a church again on Christmas.  The minister gave a valuable sermon on Christ; the congregation sang familiar carols with great vitality, then at the very end of the meeting a choir of Mennonite missionaries from all over Africa rose from their benches and made their way to stand just in front of Jane and her family.  Without a word they began singing.  Without a leader, without music, without text, they sang, “Come, Come Ye Saints.”  Every verse.
Disbelieving, totally taken by surprise, Jan and her husband drenched the fronts of their Sunday best with tears.  When the choir finished, Jan’s friend said simply, “For you.  Our gift.”

Jan’s Mennonite friend had sent to Salt Lake City for the music to the hymn that she knew Jan loved, had it duplicated and distributed to every Mennonite missionary in Africa.  They in turn, had learned it very carefully in order to bring the Spirit of Christ to their own reunion, where foreigners to their faith would be waiting to hear.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix-MMMmmm Monday

Jackson Family Hot Chocolate Mix

Mix and sift ingredients:
1 fourteen quart box powdered milk 
(about 17 cups)
3 pounds Nestle Quik
1 large jar powdered creamer
1 cup powdered sugar

To Serve :   
Add 1/3 cup mix (or more if you like) to 1 cup hot water.  Add whipping cream a peppermint stir stick and a favorite Christmas movie.