Thursday, December 22, 2011

Short Christmas Stories to Warm Your Heart

As a family, we've been reading short Christmas stories each night. I thought I would share three of my favorites with you today and hope you enjoy them. The last one is a bit longer, but worth it. I hope you are enjoying your holiday season!

The Camel Had Wandered
by Janet Eyestone Buck

Our family has always enjoyed a Christmas tradition of setting out a ceramic nativity scene--complete with wise men, camels, shepherds, sheep, and of course, Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Each season the nativity scene was the same.

One year when my children were young, I carefully unwrapped each piece and set up an artistic display representing the first Christmas. The children gathered around to watch. We talked about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds and Magi. I then cautioned the children, as always, not to touch the pieces, explaining that they were fragile and easily broken.

This year, however, the temptation was too great for my two-year old daughter, Elizabeth. The day we set up the nativity scene, I noticed several times, with some irritation, that a camel had wandered from its appointed place or a sheep had strayed from the watchful care of the shepherd. Each time, I returned the piece to its rightful place, and then tracked down the culprit and admonished her to leave things alone.

The next morning, Elizabeth awoke and went downstairs before I did. When I walked into the living room I noticed right away that the manger scene had been disturbed again. All the pieces were clumped together in a mass, as tightly as they could be fitted together.

Impatiently, I stepped forward to put things right; but I stopped short as I realized that some thought had gone into this new arrangement. All twenty three figures were grouped in a circle, facing inward, pushed together as if to get the best view possible of the figure resting in the center of them all—the Baby Jesus.

The spirit touched my soul as I pondered the insight of a two-year old. Certainly, Christ should be the center of our holiday celebrations. If we all could draw in’ around our Savior—not only during the Christmas season but during each day—what a better perspective we would have. The love He offers to each of us would be easily shared with others who have not ventured so close.

I left the nativity arranged according to Elizabeth’s design that year. It served as a poignant reminder during the rest of the season of what Christmas is all about.

The Christmas I Remember Best
by Sherilyn Clarke Stinson

Christmas in 1960 brought my first fashion doll, complete with a wonderful wardrobe crafted in secret by my mother. But the best surprise was yet to come. In our Christmas morning oblivion, we kids didn’t realize Mom was in labor. She managed to endure until every gift was opened before going to the hospital to deliver our new baby brother. My new doll couldn’t compete with Matthew, a real-life 10-pound doll with big brown eyes. He quickly became my special charge, and I assumed the role of “assistant mother.” At the age of six, I believed I had found my mission in life. Matt was followed by a sister and then another brother, and I mothered them all.

In my early twenties I married with full expectation of becoming the mother of a large family. But life takes unexpected turns, and after two years of trying, we were diagnosed with infertility. It was a severe blow. Feeling bewildered and betrayed, I struggled to make sense of the hand I had been dealt. Finally, after many doctor visits, medical procedures, and prayers to heaven for a child, we began to consider adoption. Not wanting to give up my dream of having my “own” children, I was somewhat indifferent in the beginning. But as we completed our adoption study, my enthusiasm grew, and I began to believe that my dream of motherhood would actually come true.

December 22, 1981, started out like any other work day. My brother Matthew was due home from his mission the next day, and I was full of Christmas anticipation. But at about 11 a.m. my world changed forever with a simple phone call.

“Sherilyn? This is Ione Simpson, your adoption worker. How would you like an early Christmas present? We have a baby boy for you!”

Two hours later, my husband and I were sitting in an office at LDS Family Services in complete shock and disbelief. Our worker processed the necessary paperwork and then asked, “Are you ready to meet your son?” I don’t know what I expected, but an 11-pound baby fullback wasn’t it. Weighing 10 pounds at birth, he was now three weeks old, and all of the clothes we’d purchased on our way to the agency were too small for him. His little face was all broken out in baby acne, and he wore a forlorn expression of resignation. For a fleeting moment I was tempted to ask, “What else have you got?” But as soon as I held him in my arms, I fell in love and I knew he was our own.

Two years later, on December 15, I was wrapping the last of my Christmas gifts when Sister Simpson called again. “How would you like a baby girl?” Three frantic hours later the adventure began again with a beautiful, dark-haired daughter.

Each Christmas as I reflect on the birth of the Christ child, I also pause in gratitude for the precious gift of motherhood that came to me through the miracle of adoption. Amid the holiday flurry, my thoughts always turn to each of my children’s amazing, courageous birth mothers, whose selfless love made my dreams come true.

Although I have never met my children’s birth mothers, each Christmas and at each milestone of my children’s lives I say a prayer for those women, that they may have continued peace in their decisions and joy in their lives. How I wish they could know that the children they placed so trustingly with my husband and me became wonderful adults. How I wish they could know the exquisite joy their Christmas gifts have brought into our lives.

A Tiny Fragment of Steel

In early December 1970 I was asked to speak at our ward’s sacrament meeting Christmas program. At the time Susan and I, with our two small children, were living in Tallahassee, Florida, where I was working on a graduate degree at Florida State University. For my talk I related a story written by Lloyd C. Douglas entitled “Previous Jeopardy: A Christmas Story.”

The story is about a man named Phil Garland, his wife, Shirley, and their two children, Polly and Junior. Phil was disgruntled on one particular Christmas Eve because he had just lost his job. His financial situation had been difficult enough even when he was working—now it seemed impossible.

That evening Shirley tried to include Phil in some of the Christmas Eve activities with Polly and Junior, but Phil just grumbled at the price of the gifts. He reminded Shirley that in their tight financial situation they really couldn’t afford gifts. He said Christmas was overly commercialized anyway. Eventually Shirley helped Polly and Junior get ready for bed. Then, tearfully, she retired to her bedroom.

A few minutes later she heard Phil calling from the hallway. He yelled for her to go get the pliers. “I’ve stepped on a needle.” Shirley brought the pliers and Phil clamped the jaws on the needle protruding from his foot and pulled. Out came half of the needle! He and Shirley discussed the possibility of his going to the hospital that night to have the other half of the needle removed. But Phil assured her it could wait until morning.

The next day, Christmas, Phil drove to the hospital but paused outside the door. Somewhere he had heard that if you get a tiny piece of metal in your body and do not remove it, it could eventually move to one of the vital organs and cause death. For some reason Phil decided to leave the needle fragment in his foot and take the consequences, whatever they may be. He drove home and told Shirley that everything had been taken care of.

From that moment Phil believed his life was in jeopardy. He really didn’t know if he was going to live from one day to the next, and so he decided he would try to make the most of life on a day-to-day basis. That Christmas there was a marked change in Phil. He treated Shirley with much kindness and spent time playing with Polly and Junior. Christmas Day was the first day in a long time that Phil felt truly close to his family.

Tomorrow he might be dead, but today he would enjoy the important things in life. And, strangely, money no longer seemed important.

Tomorrow did come, and Phil Garland again found himself alive. For the second day he was especially considerate to his wife and children, because it might be the last day of his life. Each day thereafter Phil spent more time with Shirley, Polly, and Junior, taking odd jobs daily to support his family.

“Precious Jeopardy” ended as it began on Christmas Eve, one year later. The Garland celebration contrasted sharply with those of previous Christmas, because Phil was happy and at peace. He had lived long enough to celebrate Christmas with Shirley and their children.

On Christmas Eve, Phil played a few games with the children. Then the family exchanged a few small gifts each hand made during the year. During those months Phil had made a beautiful walnut sewing cabinet for Shirley, and she wept at his thoughtfulness when he showed it to her.

As the clock struck midnight, Shirley handed Phil her gift—a small box containing a tiny fragment of steel pierced with red velvet. It was the other half of the needle Phil thought was in his foot. The story ends with Shirley in tears asking Phil’s forgiveness. She had found the other half of the needle a few days after he had his accident, but had secretly kept it because it had, in a sense, given Phil back to his family. Phil, gratefully realizing how his life had changed since the previous Christmas put his arms around Shirley and told her not to cry—it’s Christmas.

The Church members in Tallahassee seemed to enjoy the story, and on later Church speaking assignments in Florida I again used the story to stress the importance of placing our priorities in the right order and enjoying life with our families.

In 1971 I finished my degree, and we moved to Carbondale, Illinois, where I was to teach at Southern Illinois University. A few months later I had an unusual experience which brought Douglas’s story vividly to mind once more. It was Saturday, and I had risen early to grade papers before getting ready for a Church leadership meeting. Finishing just in time to dress and get to the meeting, I hurried down the hall toward our bedroom.

As I reached the end of the hall, I felt a sudden, intense pain on the forepart of my left foot, a pain so intense I dropped to the floor and grabbed my foot. I had stepped on a needle! I called for help, and Susan and the children rushed to my side as I sat holding my foot, whining with pain.

The whole event was painfully familiar. Susan got the pliers, and I pulled on the needle. It wouldn’t come out. We agreed that I should go immediately to the hospital. I found I could drive our station wagon even though I had a needle in my foot. Unlike Phil Garland, however, there was no question whether the needle should stay in or come out.

It was about 6:00 a.m. when I limped into the emergency room and told the nurse what had happened. The doctor arrived a few minutes later and did some preliminary examinations. He found that the needle was so deeply imbedded in my foot that he would have to call a surgeon to remove it. Instructing me to lie on the operating table and wait for the surgeon to arrive, he left me alone. For nearly forty-five minutes I waited there, with no one else in the operating room. During that time I began to think seriously about things that matter most when one believes his life to be in peril. I immediately recalled my Christmas talk in Tallahassee the previous year. What irony! Here I was living Phil Garland’s experience. And like him, I found myself thinking about dying and more importantly, about living.

The surgeon finally arrived and began his examination of my foot. “Is it true that a tiny piece of metal in the body can eventually cause you to die if it is not removed?” I asked. The doctor smiled, “I think I’ve heard that before, but I’m not certain it’s true. But you won’t have to worry; yours will be out in a few minutes.”

As the surgeon went to work on my foot, a scripture I have quoted many times as a missionary again came to mind. “As in Adam all die . . . ” (1 Corinthians 14:22). Symbolically, I thought, we all have a tiny piece of metal in our bodies. The Lord calls it mortality. I think it was at that moment that I fully realized for the first time in my life that I, too, would eventually die.

After the surgery, I returned home to my family. They meant more to me then than they ever had before.

My foot eventually healed, but the vivid impression of the experience has never left me. Since then I have thought seriously about my life. What is the purpose of this life? What matters most? Where do I spend most of my time?

One thought by Henry David Thoreau has been helpful. One day when he went to the woods surrounding Walden Pond, he said, “Because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life. Living is so dear.”

Christmas means much more to me now, mostly because the Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have all become more meaningful. I am beginning to realize the significance of his statement when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Certainly part of that abundance is enjoying life with our loved ones. Our children are growing up, their grandparents are getting older, and we now realize that each Christmas—indeed, each day is unique and not to be squandered on petty concerns. We hope we will be able to spend many more Christmas seasons together but if we don’t, we want at least to spend the ones we have together well.

I have located and purchased a copy of “Precious Jeopardy: A Christmas Story.” I read it each Christmas season and reflect on my experience both those that are past and those that lie ahead. And like Phil Garland’s needle, my needle is mounted on velvet and placed on our dresser as a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life and the importance of priorities. It is a precious gift, one I will always remember.


Sarah Tokeley said...

Thank you for sharing these stories Julie, each of them reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes, I need that reminder.

Debra Erfert said...

What wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing them. They made me slow down this morning and think even when my little brain seems to have stopped functioning like it should.

Jon Spell said...

Oh, and here I thought you'd missed a day of blogging... =)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Sarah and Debra. I'm glad you liked them, too!

Tricked ya, Jon. Haha!