Christians are to be Christ-like. One of the best way to do so is by performing service. During His earthly ministry, not only did Christ teach and preach, but He served others: He healed the sick, ate with the poor and sinners, and forgave. He is our King, Lord, and Savior. But, He acted as a servant during His life: during the Last Supper, He washed the feet of His disciples! We should follow His example of having a servant’s heart.
Christmas has always, always been my favorite holiday by far! It used to be because of no school, snow, and presents. But, as I’ve grown up, especially after moving to Utah for college and being so close to Temple Square during the holidays, it’s become more about the spirit of Christmas–family, love, giving, service, friends, and Christ. Today, my friend, Karen talks about how to keep Christ in Christmas.
Hello, friends of Tayler and The Morrell Tale! I’m very excited to be a guest today, sharing some thoughts on how to keep Christ in Christmas.
Christmas is different for everyone. Some look forward to it all year long, while others just want to pull the covers over their heads and sleep from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
No matter where you fall on that spectrum, I think many of us can agree that it gets difficult to keep our focus on the real purpose of this time of year. With so many distractions competing for our attention, here are four ways you can remember Christ and keep the spirit of Christmas with you.
1. Serve others in meaningful ways.
I know people get more generous at Christmastime. Tips get a little bigger. Donations are higher. Gifts are abundant. These are all great things. But you can truly feel the spirit of Christ when you do more than toss a few dollars into a bucket or clean out that coat closet. Find a soup kitchen where you can go and serve meals. Help pack up boxes to send to the troops. Participate in an adopt-a-family type event and bring Christmas to a family that would otherwise go without.
When it comes to finding ways to give service, there are endless options. And each one will touch someone’s life, while also helping you feel the love our Savior has for each of us.
2. Enjoy Christ-centered entertainment.
“Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” is definitely a fun tune. So are “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The jury is mixed on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” And there is plenty of room for all of those wintery songs. But when it comes time to really focusing on Christ’s birth, you can’t go wrong by choosing music that focuses on that miracle. The album O Holy Night by the Millennial Choirs and Orchestra is a great way to get started.
In addition, watching movies and specials that focus on the spirit of Christmas will help set the tone. Netflix and Hulu have some great options right now.
3. Focus on your gift recipients, rather than on the gifts.
There is an ever-increasing number of complaints about how consumerism has taken over Christmas. And for many people, that is true. Some respond by refusing to give gifts altogether, or by doing so only grudgingly. The thing is, Christmas gift-giving isn’t inherently bad. It’s all about your attitude. Instead of hurrying through a long list of wish lists, spend some time thinking about each recipient, and what would be special to them. Take the opportunity to ponder your relationships, their personalities, their needs and wants. And then choose gifts that are meaningful. You might be surprised how this impacts your feelings about gift-giving in general. Plus, it helps to remember that we love our friends and family just as much as our Savior does.
4. Read or tell the Nativity Story.
One tradition I miss from my childhood is one that happened every night on Christmas Eve. My mom would gather us kids under the Christmas tree, beside the Nativity Scene that was always placed in a prominent place, and she told us the Nativity Story.
If you don’t feel comfortable reciting it, open up Luke 2 and read the account straight from the Bible. Spend some time on Christmas Eve thinking about the real reasons we celebrate Christmas. This will help you go into Christmas morning with a positive attitude, and hopefully a little extra love for your family.
What are some of your tips for keeping Christ in Christmas?
Another month gone, holy cow! They are going so fast, I can’t believe it! I read a total of 3 books this month’s reading roundup and I’m so happy I’m done with Rough Stone Rolling because I can finally move on to the rest of my bookshelves!
Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman
It has actually taken me little more than a year to read this book. Last year when I had my faith crisis, my Bishop mentioned reading this book. He knew that I was historically minded and that a lot of my questions and doubts had to do with the limited primary sources and actual facts of the early LDS Church and some decisions and preachings by early presidents of the church and other prolific members. Now, I have no doubt that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that he saw our Savior and translated the Book of Mormon. But, it does seem in our church that we revere him. We don’t revere any of the biblical or Book of Mormon prophets, or even any of the other Latter-Day prophets like we do him. And, there is so much antagonism against him. Also, there just isn’t a lot of facts that we are absolutely 100% sure of. So, my thoughts and feelings of him as a person, his decisions, and the early church as a whole was a little ambiguous.
The book, from a historical point of view, was very enlightening. It is a “cultural biography”, which means that the author tries to show how the culture of Joseph Smith’s day influenced and affected him. I definitely learned a lot I didn’t know about the culture of New England and the mid-west in the 1830-40s, as well as many facts about Joseph Smith and his family. A lot of times in this book, I found myself saying, “ok, that explains it,” or “that wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be.” A lot of times, direct quotes from Joseph Smith about doctrine or Gospel principles or attitudes and philosophies that Mormons should have made me want to shout out, “Thank you! If only modern-day Mormons realized this!!!” But, there were still some parts that made me cringe a bit about his decisions or double think his character or motivation. Really, it made me feel extremely bad for Emma as his wife. It also made me just sad for Joseph–he may have helped to restore Christ’s church and priesthood on the Earth, but he was definitely not as infallible or pure as many in the Church want to believe.
I realize that the LDS Church’s history is grimy and iffy, and that’s something I’m going to have to live with my entire life. But, I do know that the basic Gospel truth taught by this church is true. And, regardless of how I may feel about Joseph Smith, I am glad I got to know him better than I previously did.
Doctor Who: The Visual Dictionary
We actually bought this book years ago when Matt Smith became the 11th doctor. We’ve both flipped through it a few times, but I have never actually sat down and read it cover to cover. I decided to put it in the bathroom to read while Rhys was taking a bath or trying to go on his training potty, or for my own entertainment. It was fun to relive the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctors and looking back at the different episodes and characters.
This book is set up like a children’s Discovery World books I used to check out from the library as a kid. It’s mostly pictures with captions. Rhys has also gotten in the habit of flipping through it. I’ve started teaching him the different characters in Doctor Who. He knows Daleks are robots, and that the Weeping Angels either look like they are crying or going “boo”. He also knows who Davros, creator of the Daleks, is and can say his name. It’s so cute!
Defenders of the Family by Benjamin Hyrum White
** I received a copy of this book from Cedar Forts Publishing in exchange for a review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feels very strongly about gender identity and the importance of family. In 1994, the First Presidency of the church created a document called Family: A Proclamation to the World to explain our beliefs. Almost every Mormon family has it hanging somewhere in their house.
This books is a children’s book, in the form of a comic book, and teaches the principles of the Family Proclamation.
I loved the illustrations and how White made it simple for little kids to understand. When I received my copy in the mail, Rhys helped me open it and was excited to see that it was a book. He sat by me and let me read the entire thing to him. I am so glad that I have this book on my shelves now for my children as they grow up. It’s also a perfect book to take to Sacrament Meeting for your kids!
Find out more about Benjamin Hyrum White here.
What books did you read this month?
It is common knowledge to Mormons that when Christ and Heavenly Father appeared to Joseph Smith (the founder of the LDS church), he was in a wooded grove just outside his family’s farm. He was green, secluded nature. It was sacred, holy ground. It is known to us as the Sacred Grove.
Growing up, I always loved forests. From the time I was 10 until I graduated high school, I lived in Northern Virginia, surrounded by forests and streams. My family had a tradition of going camping to National Parks all over the nation. Typically these were forest invested national parks. I loved exploring our campsites and allowing my imagination to fill the forests. I felt at home there.
The greenery was the biggest thing I missed when my family moved to California and I went to Utah for college. I felt at home under the canopy of green trees, treading beaten dirt paths, listening to bubbling brooks, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have that in Utah.
One day, while living in Provo, Utah, on a random bike ride, I happened upon a secluded part of the Provo River–there were trees everywhere. It was very reminiscent of Virginia. I had found a home away from home. From then on, if I ever had a fight over the phone with my mom, or an argument with my husband, or if I was just overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, I would bike or drive over to my personal sacred grove. I would find a small rock hanging over the creek, under the shade of a tree, and just sit. I would close my eyes and just breathe. I allowed the sounds of nature to fill me with peace.
When we moved in with my parents, we lived near the green, Alpine mountains of the Wasatch Front. The temple we would attend sat in the middle of these, and as we drove up the hill, we would be blessed with a picturesque view of the mountainside covered in evergreens. It would always make my heart burst to see that.
In April, during the LDS General Conference, I was upset with my family and husband. I don’t remember why–it was probably pretty petty since I can’t remember. But, I excused myself, took the car, and started to drive up the mountain. That was one amazing plus that I had always loved about everywhere I lived in Utah–the breathtaking view of the valley below, especially at sunset. So, I drove up and up as far as I could go in the neighborhoods. I was listening to Conference on the radio as I drove, trying to bring the Spirit back to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I found an entrance to a trail. I immediately parked my car, turned Conference on my iPod, and started hiking up the trail.
It was probably the most spiritual experience I had ever had while listening to Conference. Instead of sitting in my pajamas, snacking with my family, lounging on a coach watching Conference in our living room, I was alone with Christ and His words, in the nature that He created. It was one of the most intimate, close experiences I’ve ever had with my Savior.
Before we moved to Texas, I made sure to go on a few trails with Rhys to begin to instill in him my love of nature. He loved running on the paths and throwing rocks and sticks into the streams. I just hope that I can find some lovely hidden, sacred groves here in Texas.
Moses 6:63 And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
Abraham 5:9 And out of the ground made the Gods to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life, also, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to beinhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.
Alma 30:44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
Tom Reese (Ensign, February 2013) The supreme beauty of the natural world reminds us of the power and perfection of God. When we are in nature, feelings of hope, peace, and reverence come to us through the Spirit. In nature we can see the handiwork of the perfect Artist. For centuries mankind has tried to emulate the handiwork of God. No human, however, has been able to match the perfect artistry of the Lord. Sometimes I wonder if God created the earth as He did to give us a small taste of what is in store for us in the future. If this earth can be so astoundingly beautiful, what must the renewed and perfected earth look like?
My Heavenly Father Loves Me (Children’s Song Book #228)
1. Whenever I hear the song of a bird
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
Or the wind as it rushes by,
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by our lilac tree,
I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heav’nly Father created for me.
2. He gave me my eyes that I might see
The color of butterfly wings.
He gave me my ears that I might hear
The magical sound of things.
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:
I thank him rev’rently
For all his creations, of which I’m a part.
Yes, I know Heav’nly Father loves me.
“He’s not able to come home,” my mom delivered the tragic news to us.
My dad had volunteered for a tour in Baghdad, Iraq in 2004. Thankfully, it wasn’t a combat position–he was a JAG for the Marine Corp (a lawyer) and his job would be to train Iraqi lawyers how to hold a fair court of law with due process. He was only supposed to be gone for 10 months. I remember that my bishop gave us a promise from God that he would come home safe and well. Of course, we were still nervous since the Embassy was being bombed often, but we trusted that God would return him to us.
However, during that 10 month period, my mom experienced some of the worst pain of her life. It had been little over 10 years since she had a radioactive surgery to kill a melanoma tumor in her right eye. But, the eye was finally dying. It caused her so much pain–her eye swelled, she barfed a lot, couldn’t eat much, had splitting migraines, and was in bed most of the day. As the oldest, I was given a lot of responsibility around home. But, to a fourteen year old freshman with three younger siblings and no father currently at home, it scared me.
That was the situation when mom told us that the General wasn’t going to let dad come home for another few months. One the one hand, it meant my dad was doing such an excellent job and was truly needed in Iraq. But, on the other had, we desperately needed him back. My parents tried to use my mom’s medical condition to persuade the general to find a replacement. It didn’t work.
So, my parents, half-way across the world from each other, prayed and fasted that the general’s heart would be softened. My siblings and I prayed every night and every morning for the same thing. After a month, it was to no avail.
But, we didn’t give up. Growing up Mormon, we had a strong testimony not only in the power of prayer and fasting, but also in community support. We told both sides of our family. We told our entire congregation. Working with our Bishop, we decided to try to change the wording of our prayers: instead of trying to have the General’s heart softened, to help a replacement for my dad be found, but let the Lord’s will be done. A special Sunday was chosen for the congregation and our entire extended family to fast and pray. We all trusted that the Lord would help my family.
Less than a week went by and we heard that a replacement had been found for my dad and he would be coming home within a month! My mother and siblings immediately knelt down and thanked the Lord for answering our prayer.
Dad came home, was able to help mom get back on her feet, and our family was whole again.
Even 12 years later, that experience of prayer is the strongest testament I have to the power that can be when we plead with our Heavenly Father. I truly believe that if our hearts and intentions are pure and good, and that we are humble, Heavenly Father will always answer our prayers.
Mosiah 9:18 (Book of Mormon)
And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers
Doctrine and Covenants 112:10
Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.
2 Nephi 32:9
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.