The alarm went off at 5:30am today. I really, really wanted to hide under the warm covers and go back to bed. After all, today is a special day. May 25th is the day, 15 years ago, that my best friend became my eternal best friend. And yet, I got up with Todd and began the day much earlier than usual. Why? Because a few years ago we started a tradition with our family. While we usually take the evening to go on a celebratory dinner date as a couple, we wanted to be sure to involve the kids in the celebration of our wedding anniversary—after all, it is the birthday of our family! So, we began to go out to breakfast as a family to Cracker Barrel on May 25th every year (Mmmmmmm! All great traditions involve great food, don’t they!?!?). Our tradition became a little more complicated this year because we moved and the nearest Cracker Barrel is now 40 minutes away. Add to that a junior high student that starts school way too early in the morning, and maintaining the tradition suddenly became a matter of sacrifice.
I’ve been wrestling all week with whether or not it’s worth it, seeing as how I really don’t do early mornings well. At 6:15am this morning as I was putting piggy tails in my daughter’s hair I asked her if it was worth it to get up so early for breakfast, and her enthusiastic reply cemented in my heart and mind how important this yearly morning tradition is to her. “We have to! It’s tradition! Even when I am older I am going to keep doing it!” No one complained this morning about getting up. We had a great time. Our hostess even took a picture of us together in the rocking chairs out in front of the restaurant so the memory will live on in print as well as in our hearts.
I’ve thought a lot about family traditions today. I think it’s an odd coincidence that today the link to my thesis research also got highlighted on the BYU homepage—research that talks about the importance of traditions. In analyzing interviews with 80 adolescents we found seven important things that anchor youth to their religious faith. Of the seven anchors we found in the research, having traditions—particularly family traditions—was the anchor most frequently mentioned by the youth.
No, going out for breakfast to celebrate our family’s birthday isn’t a religious tradition necessarily—though as we drove by the Oquirrh Mountain Temple this morning we did talk about the blessings of the temple and the sealing power that enables our family to be together forever. This anniversary tradition is just something we do for fun. Even so, as I think about the research and how those youth talked about their religious traditions it has made me realize that even non-religious family traditions have the effect of connecting us and strengthening the bonds that unite us. Relationships are so important to youth (whether they show it or not), and meaningful traditions foster relationships.
Many of the youth interviewed spoke of how they used to have more traditions when they were younger but as they became teens and life got busier those traditions dwindled and they really missed them. That’s the time in family life when maintaining traditions takes more planning and sacrifice. I felt that first hand this week. And yet, I think the connecting power becomes even more significant when maintaining the traditions requires sacrifice. There is power in consistency. Consistency over the years will always require sacrifice of some sort. Life changes, moves happen, kids grow, conflicts come up, and illnesses aren’t usually planned. And yet, my daughter taught me this morning that as I do my best to maintain the traditions that tie us to one another and the special events in our life, I am giving her a gift of knowing that family is important. Family is worth sacrificing for. And that is something she will carry with her when she is older and has a family of her own.
What family traditions are important to your family? What events are important that you want to become the center of a family tradition? How can you begin that?
Santa…What do you want for Christmas?
By Emily Layton
Nick pulled his covers up around his chin and snuggled beneath the warm blankets. Memories of his day danced through his mind. It had snowed last night and Nick had spent the day sledding with his sister, building a snowman with his new friend Max, and having a snowball fight with his dad. Later, as his family gathered around the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate, Nick had asked a question that had been bothering him for a long time.
“What does Santa get for Christmas?”
No one had answered at first. Nick was used to that. Grandma had told Nick many times that he was born with a question on his lips. He always had questions about where things came from, why things were, and how things worked. When he was in the car, on the school bus, waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting (sort of) quietly in church questions would just pop into his mind and beg to be answered right away. Sometimes the grownups had an answer, but other times they didn’t.
Nick could tell that this was one of those other times.
Nick’s mom insisted on calling him Nicholas, though he’d asked her more times than he could count why she didn’t just call him Nick like everyone else.
“I just don’t know.” Nick had replied to his mom. “It seems like Christmas is all about Santa and what people want from him. I’m not complaining or anything. It’s fun to get presents, but I wonder what Santa thinks about it. Does anyone ever get him anything for Christmas?”
“We left him cookies last year!” Nick’s little sister Lisa had chimed in.
Now, as he lay in bed he thought again about his question. He had asked Mrs. Haymore, his second grade teacher, and Mr. Colby, the bus driver, the question about Santa too. Mrs. Haymore had patted him on the head and told him he was cute, and Mr. Colby had just shrugged and told him he was clever. Nick didn’t want to be cute or clever. He just wanted an answer. He promised himself he would find a way to do just what dad had said—he didn’t know when or how, but he had to ask Santa his question.
Just as he was drifting off to sleep, Nick heard a quiet jingling sound coming from the hall. Everyone had already gone to bed, and Nick was curious. “What could be making that sound?” he asked himself.
Intent on finding the answer, he crawled out from his covers, put on his slippers and slowly opened the door. The hall was dark, but the lights from the Christmas tree glowed in the front room. Nick tip-toed down the hall and peeked around the corner. Standing by the tree was the answer to his question and the beginning of a dozen more.
“Santa? Where did you come from? Did you bring your reindeer? How did you get into our house? Why are you here? Didn’t you know it’s not Christmas Eve for a few more weeks?” Nick clasped his hand over his mouth to stop the questions from pouring out.
“You are a boy of many questions, aren’t you Nicholas?”
Nick just stared at Santa and nodded, his hand still over his mouth.
“And that, my boy, is why I am here. You and I are more alike than you know. I heard that you had a question for me, and there’s nothing I like more than a good question. I get so many letters—more than you could ever imagine. But, mostly they just ask ‘Santa, will you get me this or that.’ That’s not a good question, now is it?”
Nick silently shook his head back and forth.
Santa laughed, smiling deeply at Nick. “Since when are you a boy of few words? Come, sit with me. Ask me your question.” Santa sat on the couch, right where Nick had been sitting earlier that night, and patted his lap.
Nick had heard of sitting on Santa’s lap—he even had a picture of himself sitting on Santa’s lap at the shopping mall when he was younger—but this was amazing. Santa was here and wanted to answer his question. This was better than Christmas! Nick scrambled across the room and up onto Santa’s lap.
“Oh man Santa, I have so many questions for you. I want to know about where you live and how you teach the reindeer to fly and what you eat for breakfast…but most of all I want to know what you get for Christmas. No one I asked can tell me.”
“Well, first let me ask you a question. What is your name?”
“Nick…well, really it’s Nicholas, but only my mom calls me that.”
“And Nicholas, what is my name?”
“It’s Santa, isn’t it?” Nick asked, confused. Nick was a pro at asking questions, and he knew there must be something he was missing here.
“Santa is what people call me, just like they call you Nick, but my real name is Nicholas too.”
With that, Nick’s eyes grew big and his mouth dropped open in wonder.
“I am known by many names around the world, but I began as St. Nicholas long ago. I was known for my kindness and thoughtful acts. I love to serve people in need and be a friend to the lonely. People remember that and celebrate me, but so often they forget or don’t want to know why I did what I did.”
“Why Santa? I want to know! Tell me why do you do those kind things for everyone?”
Santa pointed to a small table by the Christmas tree. It was filled with wooden figures. Nick had helped his family decorate for Christmas. This year he had been the one to take the Nativity characters out of the box and place them on the table, each figure surrounding the wooden manger that held the Baby Jesus.
“That is why Nicholas. What do you know about that Baby in the manger?”
“It’s Jesus. Mom says He’s the real reason we celebrate Christmas—no offense Santa.”
Santa chuckled. “No offense taken, my boy.”
Nick continued, “Christmas is when we remember about Jesus Christ being born. I asked my dad last year why we call it Christmas and he told me that the answer is in the word. CHRISTmas. It’s about Christ. I liked that answer.”
“I like that answer too Nicholas. That is why I celebrate Christmas. That tiny Baby born to earth was the first and best Christmas gift ever. He is the gift to all of us from a loving Father in Heaven. His birth, His life, His example, His sacrifice, His grace—all of these things are part of that great gift that keeps on giving every day of the year. We didn’t do anything to earn the gift—we don’t deserve it at all. And yet, this time of year we celebrate that God gave the gift anyway.”
“So what does that have to do with my question and your name?”
“Another good question. I am just a man, my boy. I am celebrated because I am kind, generous, and thoughtful. I began giving gifts to remind people of the Greatest Gift of all. People have forgotten that. They just want the presents. Every year the lists get longer and longer and the people get farther and farther from the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Today I am called Santa and not St. Nicholas. I changed my name long ago as a way to remind people what Christmas is really about. Each letter of my name is part of the message. SANTA is the reminder of Service And Nice Thoughtful Acts. It worked for awhile, but now Santa is celebrated as the gift giver instead of celebrating Him who is the Giver of All Good Gifts.”
“Your name is a way to remind me of the real meaning of Christmas?
“Yes Nicholas. S-A-N-T-A. Service And Nice Thoughtful Acts.”
“And Santa…what do you want for Christmas?’
“Nicholas, I want people to learn what you learned tonight. I want people to remember me and give gifts of service and kindness to others as I have done in my life. I want you to be SANTA to someone else who needs help or needs a friend. I want people to remember that all the good we ever do is done in the name of Jesus Christ. This season is meant to celebrate Him and His gift—not me and mine.”
“That’s true. We don’t call it Santa-mas. We call it Christ-mas.” Nick said.
“Well said. And now I have a question for you Nicholas. What do you think Jesus Christ wants you to give Him for Christmas this year?”
Nick sat silently for a moment, suddenly appreciating why grownups didn’t always answer his questions right away. After a moment he responded, “I can give service and love to other people I guess. But how?”
“Yes Nicholas, you can. I think you have already started. Today you shoveled the snow off Mrs. Kendrick’s sidewalks. You ran to your sister and helped her when she fell off the sled. You invited your new neighbor to help you make a snowman. And, you helped your dad clean up dinner without being asked. All of those things are thoughtful acts of service that I think Jesus would have done if he was here today. How did doing those things make you feel Nicholas?”
Nick thought back through his day. “I felt so happy I could help Mrs. Kendrick. She likes to make me and Lisa cookies, but she seems so sad since Mr. Kendrick died. It felt good to help her. It also felt good to help Lisa when she was hurt. I don’t like to see her cry and I know that my hug helped her feel better. It felt good to build the snowman with Max. I can tell we are going to be good friends. He asked lots of questions about building a snowman because they didn’t have snow where he moved from. It also felt good to help with the dishes. I liked joking with my dad as we worked together and let mom read a book with Lisa.”
Santa smiled a knowing smile at Nick, “You felt joy today in serving others and doing nice, thoughtful acts.”
“What is joy Santa?” Nick asked.
“The answer is in the word Nicholas. JOY is that feeling that comes from God when we choose to be a SANTA and do nice, thoughtful acts for someone else. It comes when you think first of Jesus, then Others, then Yourself. If you think of yourself first it just can’t spell JOY, can it?”
“Jesus, Others, Yourself. J-O-Y. I like that answer”
“I like that answer too. That feeling of JOY is what I get every year for Christmas. While it is fun to unwrap gifts, the best gift of all comes from God as we remember Jesus Christ and try to serve and love as He would do.”
“I want to feel that way every day! But I am just a boy—I don’t have lots of money and people don’t write me letters and tell me what they need. How can I know what to do?” Nick asked.
“That is a question I can’t answer for you Nicholas. But, I know if you ask God and really think about it and look for your answer you will find opportunities for Service And Nice Thoughful Acts every day, all year long.”
Nick nodded. He that answer. Santa walked him back to bed and tucked the covers in around Nick’s chin, just like he liked it. He smiled at Nick as he left the room and said, “May this and every Christmas season be filled with JOY and the true spirit of SANTA.”
“Nicholas, time to get up!” Mom said, knocking on his door.
“Get up? I’m just going to bed. How could it be morning?” He wondered to himself. “Was I just dreaming?”
Nick crawled out from under his covers again, put on his slippers, and walked down the hall to the kitchen.
“Nicholas, do you know what this is? It was on the table.” Nick’s mom asked as she handed him a piece of paper.
Nick smiled as he read the note, “Sorry I forgot. The North Pole. Magic. Oatmeal. Love, SANTA.”
What does the name Ticonderoga mean to you? For one, the little girl in me thinks it’s just a fun name to say! But, more than that, it is a name that plays a part in the heritage we all share as Americans. In early 1776 the American colonists were beginning their campaign for independence. One of their first notable victories was chasing the British from the fortified city of Boston. At that time amunition was in short supply for the colonial army. The success of that venture is justly credited to the fact that the colonial army had recently acquired many cannons, thanks to the vision of a man named Henry Knox. He was a commander in the army under General Washington who had the vision to see how having the cannons would bolster the strength of the army. He took a very long journey from where his troops were stationed outside of Boston to Fort Ticonderoga, on Lake Champain near the New York, Vermont border. He knew the former French fort was still supplied with cannons following the French and Indian war which ended in 1763. The trek was long and difficult during the cold winter months, transporting the large, heavy cannons took patience and creative engineering. At one point near the end of the journey, Knox had waited for a river to freeze so they could cross it safely. Despite their tests of the ice, one of the four heavy cannons broke through the ice and sunk in the river. Can you imagine the feelings at that moment? They had invested so much time, effort, and heart in this venture and they watched the ice crack and the heavy cannon sink and could do nothing about it. They stayed and with much effort were able to retrieve the cannon. Because of the investment and vision of Knox and his troops, the outcome of the possession of Boston changed. It was one small effort that influenced one small outcome in one large war, but could it have made a big difference at that time in history?
Some possible applications:
**What are the cannons in our life? The things that are not given to us but that we have to sacrifice our time, effort, and heart to make a part of our life? How can those spiritual, emotional, and relational resources make a big difference in our battle against Satan?
**Have you ever had a cannon break through the ice in your life? Just when you think things are on the home stretch they shatter. How do those moments feel? What choices do we have in those moments?
**How can large battles turn on small events? What can we do to have the vision to see what the small fortifications for our children and our families can be?
The sun rose again this morning, ushering in another beautiful autumn day. I missed it. I was still snuggled in bed. Isn’t it amazing that something so magnificent could go unobserved? The day comes every day. It happens with such regularity that I don’t even think about it most days, much less observe the passing of night to day. I tend to be a delighted observer of the sunset far more frequently than I do the sunrise. Enjoying that evening spectacle does not require me to abandon my snuggly covers, to which I am very attached. I am pretty sure the sun will set again tonight, just like it did last night, and usher in another season of night. That pattern of day and night and day and night is probably the most dependable thing in our lives.
Why then am I caught so off guard when health challenges surface again, when relationships struggle, or when my delight with the peace in our home is catapulted over the fence by an irritable (and irritating) child? Those things will come again and again into my life, as sure as the sunrise and sunset. We all know seasons of daylight when everything feels right and when we glimpse the Lord’s promise of peace in this world. Answers come, grace sustains, life prospers. I like it when the darkness gives way to those moments. And yet, just as surely as God made the day and the night, those moments will pass and I will struggle once again with feeling alone and scared and broken and plagued with unfillable needs.
I realized this week that God wants to be my God in the day and the night. He wants to be the one I praise and give glory to in the bright sunshine of day. I get that, and most of the time I am pretty good about doing that. But, He also wants to be my God in the dark night. He wants me to love Him and trust Him and turn to Him instead of wallowing in my fears and insecurities and turning to other things for comfort. He wants to show me that all-encompassing peace He promised in the darkness of night. I’m still working on that one. For some reason I think my old traditions of facing disappointment and adversity are like the snuggly covers that keep me safe and warm. It’s not true. They don’t work and, more importantly, they keep me from the Light. They keep me from knowing Him and praising Him as my God.
The scriptures are full of stories of God giving His people the chance to choose Him as their God in the day and in the night. Nephi is a great example to me of someone who understood this principle. He chose God in the day and was faithful to “go and do” whatever he was asked. He also chose God in the darkness of those moments when going and doing didn’t work our as expected. He held on faithful until the dark night of Laban’s resistance to surrender the plates gave way to the grace of an all-powerful God. In those dark moments of unmet physical needs and broken bows where even his father the prophet struggled, Nephi held out faithful and actively served His God in the darkness until it gave way to the Light of food for the family once again. Nephi knew that God could be trusted in the daylight and the dark night. Yes, the Psalm of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4 shows us that Nephi was human and slackened his strength at times. That makes me admire him even more and have more hope though. It was a struggle at times, but it is possible for all of us.
How do you feel when your faith is challenged by opposition? How do you show yourself and your God that you will hold out faithful in the life cycles of day and night?
“You cannot today remotely imagine what that decision to be unwaveringly obedient to the Lord will allow you to accomplish in life. Your quiet, uncompromising determination to live a righteous life will couple you to inspiration and power beyond your capacity now to understand.” -Elder Richard G. Scott
Prepare. We hear so much about it we are almost desensitized to it. However, the parable of the ten virgins illustrates to us that our preparation or our lack of preparation will have eternal consequences. There are ways we have been warned to prepare for the events of the last days both spiritually and temporally. Today as I was reading in the end of Alma about the armies of Moroni I noticed an interesting phrase about preparation.
In Alma 62 the army of Moroni wants to recapture the city of Nephihah. Moroni goes to the city at night as a spy and discovers that the whole army is asleep on one side of the city. At that very moment he realizes there is an immediate opportunity to make a move. If they wait the moment will pass and the opportunity will be gone. He acts. The scriptures say they “prepared in haste” the ropes and ladders to let the army down into the city. In the morning the Lamanites are surprised to awake to the unwanted guests and they run away out of the city. Moroni captures the city without one soul of the Nephites being lost (Alma 62:26). That is an amazing victory.
That phrase, “prepare in haste,” is what made me think today. Usually we think of preparation as something done long in advance. However, in this moment the need was immediate, the preparation was immediate, and the fruits were immediate. Did the army carry around ropes and ladders just in case? No. But when the moment came they were prepared to prepare in haste. What if Moroni had waged the whole war based on this as his military strategy–just wait till the need is there and then do it? Would they have won? No. In my mind Moroni exemplifies long, hard, intentional preparation. Alma is filled with descriptions of Moroni’s efforts to prepare and fortify the lands and the people. I feel like he was prepared in that moment to “prepare in haste” because he had prepared so much beforehand.
I have no doubt that in our lives we will be presented with experiences like Moroni that the pressing need and the necessary preparation will come in the moment. We don’t know all the ropes and ladders we will need on hand to be successful in our battles against the adversary. However, if we are preparing in the ways we have been commanded to prepare–both temporally and spiritually–then when those unexpected moments come we will be prepared with the resources, the character, and the discernment to “prepare in haste” those teaching moments, those service opportunities, those talks, those missionary lessons, those emergency shelters, or whatever it may be–temporally or spiritually–that the Lord needs us to do to be victorious.
Preparation in haste is the exception not the rule. It is a part of a lifestyle of preparation and not a substitute for it. As with the ten virgins, at the moment the bridegroom called there were some haste-full preparations to fill lamps with the extra oil that had been wisely brought, but the true preparation had already taken place. Those without oil were making preparations in hast too–but it was too late for them to be be ready to meet the Lord. In that case, five of the ten souls were lost instead of no souls being lost, as with Moroni’s victory.
I don’t want to be a lost soul. I don’t want my children or family or friends or neighbors to be lost either. We can all work now to foster a lifestyle of preparation and skills of preparation so we are ready for whatever adventure life brings–temporally or spiritually.
Last night I was snuggling with our 7-year-old daughter at bedtime. She was telling me about her Primary lesson about how Abraham was saved from being sacrificed when he was a child because he had a special mission in life. I shared my testimony that I know the Lord is with us to protect us and help us accomplish what He needs us to do. Then with bright, hopeful eyes and a happy smile she asked me, “Do you think God has a special purpose for me and do you think He’s excited about it?” I embraced her and told her I was certain that her generous heart and sensitive spirit were special gifts from God because He indeed has a special purpose for her in her life. I told her that I’m sure He’s excited to help her accomplish it and I am excited to see the young woman she becomes and the special things she continues to do in her life. She was so delighted–it was better than Christmas Eve!
I have been pondering that moment. The guilelessness and trust of childhood are certainly something I needed a fresh a dose of. She was such a great example to me of embracing God’s special purpose for me and being delighted to fulfill it. Who cares what others think? Who cares if I get rejected a few times before a manuscript finds a publisher? Who cares if the path resembles more wilderness than promised land for awhile? If we know that we are moving forward in using our talents and gifts as the Lord would have us do, then we can laugh that giddy laugh and clap our hands in excitement just as my daughter did. God has a special purpose for each of us that is different than anyone else’s purpose.
So how do we find that special purpose? In her new book Weakness Is Not Sin, Wendy Ulrich says, “We often find our strengths and gifts in what we love–the activities we find energizing and enjoyable even when they require effort. . . . Our personal mission will often emerge from these deep interests. God calls to us through what we love.”
I love that thought. We don’t have to go searching for something that seems noble. We just have to follow the loves and interests God has already put in us and trust Him with all our heart. I can do that. One day at a time I can fulfill His purpose for me–not by being perfect but just by being delighted to be me.
I came across this talk yesterday in my personal study and thought it was very powerful. I know I often struggle with the balance between attending to my needs and the needs of those I love. Her perspective here about the third option–the choice to consecrate ourselves to the Lord–was a powerful insight for me about how to see that struggle differently and surrender it to the Lord so it is not a struggle. I am realizing that as I trust Him implicitly that everything has a way of working out!
“One of the pervasive decisions we face is the choice between self-denial and self-fulfillment: do we seek first to serve others, or do we try to satisfy our own needs?
For some years, popular trends have focused on the rights of individuals to “do their own thing,” seeking their own happiness. Many people see achieving personal goals as the ultimate meaning of life. Some psychologists support this emphasis by pointing out the negative effects of the “martyr complex” and by asserting that a person becomes a nonperson if he never does what he wants to do.
In sharp contrast are the ascetic practices of self-denial focusing on sacrifice for other people or causes. For those who pursue this course, the individual becomes less important than the group or the goal: there is something higher than self to live for.
Most people do not live either of these extremes. They try to pursue a course which neither totally denies themselves nor shuns service to others. At some times it seems appropriate to them to try to fill their own needs, and at other times it is important to sacrifice for something else.
Reading about Mary and the choices she made suggests an entirely different approach to the problem of choosing between self-denial and self-fulfilment. Suddenly, both choices seemed to carry with them too much emphasis on self. Mary focused on God, not on herself, putting her faith in him rather than in her own abilities. Rather than seeking to fulfill herself, she consecrated herself to fulfill the will of God. But in making that choice, she did not deny herself: God fulfilled her needs better than she could ever have fulfilled them herself.”
“Our words and external expressions are not neutral, for they reflect both who we are and shape who we are becoming.” Robert S. Wood
What do I want to do when I grow up? I have fielded that question a lot lately as I begin my last semester of graduate school. Surely I must have it figured out by now since I’m graduating in four months. The truth is, I don’t know really. I know I want to come back to having my whole heart at home for awhile. I actually miss sweeping the floor when it’s dirty and having the time to look through a cookbook for a new recipe to try for dinner. Even so, all the questions regarding my future aspirations that I fielded while I was in Arizona for Christmas led me to my knees with the question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” That night I awoke from a dream in the middle of the night that I new was my answer. As I lay there thinking of it, the following scripture ran through my mind:
2 Nephi 25:26 “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, and we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
That’s my new answer for what I want to do after I graduate–I want to talk and rejoice and write about Christ and the role He plays in our individual lives and in our marriages and families. I want to talk and teach and write about how to help parents teach the truths of the Savior and His atonement to children. I want to talk and teach and write about the power of the atonement in our marriages.
The past two years have been an amazing journey as I have come to know my Savior differently than before. It is a journey that will never end, as I have so much more to learn and change, but I rejoice in the changes He is making in me and in my marriage and family. I want to share what I have been taught with anyone who wants to hear and who wants hope in their efforts to change the patterns and traditions in his or her life, marriage, and family.
Jesus Christ lives! He is the Light of the World, and the Light of my life. His grace and atoning power are real and are accessible every minute of every hour of every day. From Him come an abundance of love, peace, and joy–even in turbulent times.
What do I want to do when I grow up? I want to talk of Christ and point all who will listen to the Light!keep looking »