I put all your names in a hat and the winner of Sheri Dew's new book, Women and the Priesthood, is:
Congratulations, Tamera! If you could email me your address, I will make sure you get your prize. (My email is email@example.com)
Thanks to everyone who participated. You are amazing!
There's so many great Christmas stories going around this time of year. I thought I would share four of my favorite ones. *gets out tissues* They help me remember the true spirit of Christmas and remind me that there is good in the world. The hustle and bustle don't matter, but the people around us do.
Some time ago a mother punished her 5 year old daughter for wasting a roll of expensive good wrapping paper.
Money was tight and she became even more upset when the child used the gold paper to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree.
Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box to her mother the next morning and said, "This is for you, Momma."
The mother was embarrassed by her earlier over reaction, but her anger flared again when she opened the box and found it was empty.
She spoke to her daughter in a harsh manner. "Don't you know young lady, when you give someone a present there's supposed to be something inside the package?"
She had tears in her eyes and said, "Oh Momma, it's not empty! I blew kisses into it until it was full."
The mother was crushed. She fell to her knees and put her arms around the little girl, and she begged her for forgiveness for her thoughtless anger.
An accident took the life of the child only a short time later, and it is told that the mother kept that gold box by her bed for all the years of her life. Whenever she was discouraged or faced difficult problems, she would open the box and take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us, as human beings, have been given a Golden Box filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, family, friends, and God. There is no more precious possession anyone could hold.
Friends are like angels who lift us to our feet, when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.
The Christmas Gift
A friend of mine named Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. "Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.
Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas." The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish..." He hesitated.
Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels. "I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?"
"Oh yes, I'd love that."
After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front on my house?"
Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again. "Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked.
He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.
"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And some day I'm gonna give you one just like it... then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you about."
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shingled-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.
That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when he had said, "It's more blessed to give...."
And for our military men and women who won't be with their loved ones this Christmas . . . you are not forgotten. Please know that.
Please Take Care of My Dog
They told me the big black Lab's name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, no-kill, and the people really friendly. I'd only been inthe area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street. But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt.
Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like "Lab people," whatever that meant.. They must've thought I did.
But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner. See, Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too. Maybe we were too much alike.
For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls - he wouldn't go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn't really think he'd need all his old stuff, that I'd get him new things once he settled in, but it became pretty clear pretty soon that he wasn't going to. I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like "sit" and "stay" and "come" and "heel," and he'd follow them - when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name - sure, he'd look in my direction after the fourth of fifth time I said it, but then he'd just go back to doing whatever.
When I'd ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey. This just wasn't going to work. He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell.
The friction got so bad that I couldn't wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cell phone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the "damn dog probably hid it on me." Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter's number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter.
I tossed the pad in Reggie's direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I'd seen since bringing him home. But then I called, "Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I'll give you a treat." Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction - maybe "glared" is more accurate - and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down with his back to me.
Well, that's not going to do it either, I thought. And I punched the shelter phone number. But I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that, too. "Okay, Reggie," I said out loud, "let's see if your previous owner has any advice.".........
_______To Whoever Gets My Dog: Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner. I'm not even happy writing it. If you're reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different.
I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time... it's like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong... which is why I have to go to try to make it right. So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you. First, he loves tennis balls, the more the merrier.
Sometimes I think he's part squirrel, the way he hordes them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn't done it yet. Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after it, so be careful - really don't do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly. Next, commands.
Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I'll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones - "sit," "stay," "come," "heel." He knows hand signals: "back" to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and "over" i f you put your hand out right or left. "Shake" for shaking water off, and "paw" for a high-five. He does "down" when he feels like lying down - I bet you could work on that with him some more.
He knows "ball" and "food" and "bone" and "treat" like nobody's business. I trained Reggie with small food treats. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog. Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand. He's up on his shots. Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they'll make sure to send you reminders for when he's due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car - I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he knows.
Finally, give him some time. I've never been married, so it's only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially.
Which means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you.... His name's not Reggie. I don't know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He's a smart dog, he'll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt, but I just couldn't bear to give them his real name.
For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I'd never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything's fine. But if someone else is reading it, well... well it means that his new owner should know his real name. It'll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you'll even notice a change in his demeanor if he's been giving you problems.
His real name is Tank because that is what I drive. Again, if you're reading this and you're from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn't make "Reggie" available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could've left Tank with... and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq , that they make one phone call to the shelter... in the "event"... to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption.
Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then he made good on his word. Well, this letter is getting to downright depressing, even though, frankly, I'm just writing it for my dog. I couldn't imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family, but still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.
And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things... and to keep those terrible people from coming over here.
If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades. All right, that's enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. I don't think I'll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth. Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight - every night - from me. Thank you, Paul Mallory.
I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies.
Flags had been at half-mast all summer. I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog. "Hey, Tank," I said quietly. The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright. "C'mere boy." He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months.
"Tank," I whispered. His tail swished. I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.
"It's me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me." Tank reached up and licked my cheek. "So what daya say we play some ball? His ears perked again. "Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?" Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.
Isaac’s StoryBy Julianne Donaldson—LDS Living, November/December 2013
It all started with a flat tire on my husband’s car. I had driven it for miles before noticing it was flat, and by that time, it was a goner. So I found myself driving my husband to work on a chilly morning at the beginning of December, worrying about how I was going to pay for Christmas and car repairs, stressing about my growing seasonal to-do list, and feeling overwhelmed and mistreated by fate.
While I waited at a stoplight, I noticed a kid with a bike standing by a gas station across the street. He was small —just about the size of my 11-year-old. He was all alone, in the cold. And something about him called to me.
I pulled over and asked him if he needed help. After a brief inspection, it was clear that his bike could not be fixed without a welder. So I lifted his bike into the back of my van and drove him to school.
Isaac didn’t say much, but he was polite. I noticed that he was wearing a light jacket in 30 degree (Fahrenheit) weather and that his jeans had holes within the holes. He thanked me when I dropped him off at Northwest Middle School. As I watched him struggle to carry his broken bike into the school, I felt an unmistakable tug on my heart.
When I got home, I called his school and talked to the secretary about him. She confirmed all of my suspicions —that his family was struggling, that Christmas would be hard for them, and that he couldn’t get to school without a bike. She told me, too, that his mother was in the hospital and that there was no adult in the home to come to his rescue.
When I hung up the phone, the tug on my heart had turned into a concrete goal: I wanted to find a bike for Isaac. I wished I could buy him a bike, but I didn’t have the money for it. So I went on Facebook and asked my friends if anyone had a spare bike for a small 8th grade boy. Nobody did. I called around. I thought about visiting the D.I. Then an idea came to me — I had more than just friends on Facebook. I had readers as well. So I went back to Facebook, this time on my author page, and I told my readers a little about Isaac and asked if anyone had a spare bike. One reader wrote, “No, but I have five dollars.” Another commented, “I have five dollars too.” “I do too.”
An idea grew within me —an idea so powerful and important that I could not see the ends of it. That night I wrote about Isaac on my blog, and I asked something scary of this unknown group of readers. I asked them to trust me. I told them that if they desired to donate money to Isaac’s cause, then I would make sure it was put to good use.
And then the miracle occurred. People gave. They gave so much. Most of them were strangers to me, but they donated time and money, bags of clothes, a bike ordered and delivered to my door, offers to help, encouragement, and prayers.
After two days, the money pouring in was reaching alarming levels. I put a stop to the donations, and then I spent the next three weeks shopping for Isaac’s family for Christmas. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier shopping.
A week before Christmas, my husband and I loaded up the minivan and drove to Northwest Middle School with a new bike, clothes for Isaac and his siblings and his sick mom, groceries, gift cards, and wrapped presents. I also presented the school with the leftover donated money, which they could use for any other students in need.
But Isaac wasn’t at school that day. He was at home taking care of his sick mom. His counselors stood in that cold parking lot and told me that Isaac’s mom was going to die very soon. It would be their last Christmas together as a family.
I cried when I heard that. I cried all the way home, and when I think about Isaac, I still find more tears to cry.
I’ve thought a lot about fate since then —about my flat tire and Isaac’s broken bike bringing the two of us together on a day and during a season when we needed each other the most. Isaac needed to know that even though he was alone, he was never forgotten. And I needed to know that there are Isaacs all around us, that generosity from strangers can change the world, and that Christmas is utterly, unfailingly about love.
(Julianne Donaldson is the author of Edenbrooke and Blackmoore.)
I hope you are all feeling the joy of the season and that we can remember the "reason for the season."