Monday, December 20, 2010

All we NEED for Christmas

I spoke in Church on Sunday, after two wonderful youth speakers and three beautiful choir pieces. I say, "I spoke", but really, "I cried" in church on Sunday. I was so emotional. Now, I feel completely spent. What a blessing it was for me to concentrate and focus on the Savior the entire month of December as I prepared this talk. I had at least 5 different versions of my talk written up in my head and in bullet forms on different sheets of papers. Then, a few days ago, I took a really long shower, and a new idea came to my mind. I sat down to my computer shortly thereafter, and, with a prayer in my heart, typed out my talk -- an entirely different talk than all five versions.

This is the reason I haven't blogged in over a month. This is the reason I haven't even thought about Christmas Cards yet. So, with gratitude to the Spirit, and to my hot water heater (it was a long shower).... Here is my talk. Merry Christmas!

All We Need for Christmas

Jerusalem, just over 2000 years ago. The people were struggling. They were unhappy with their current political regime. They felt oppressed. They were over-taxed and under-paid. The economy was terrible. Does any of this sound familiar?

The people of Israel -- God’s chosen people -- wanted a deliverer. A new King. They wanted a Redeemer from their current troubles, woes, and sufferings. The people knew the Scriptures. They understood that a Messiah was promised. But most of them confused their wants with their needs. They wanted a deliverer from their political and economical strife. They needed a deliverer from their sins.

“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.”

The promised Messiah came. As a baby, born in a stable. But, many were too focused on their wants to see the miracle right in front of their eyes. To truly see and understand that their needs were met in a small child, sent to us from a loving Heavenly Father.

Despite the countless wants of the Israelites, the Savior came to meet their needs. Among many others, they needed to learn three important things that we still need this Christmas. They needed to learn to forgive, to serve, and to love. He knew, that if they learned those critical things, they would come to know Him, and to accept Him, as their Redeemer. Then, they would be saved.

First, they needed to learn to forgive.

The Roman empire taxed the Israelites at insane levels. They forced them to be almost slaves to an emperor in a far away land. They smote them and whipped them, and treated them like less than human beings. And, Christ, whom they wanted to help free them from tyranny, taught them, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt alove thy bneighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, aLove your benemies, cbless them that dcurse you, do egood to them that fhate you, and gpray for them which despitefully use you, and hpersecute you; That ye amay be the bchildren of your Father which is in heaven.”

They wanted retribution. They needed forgiveness.

A few years ago, a stalwart, LDS family was living in Southern Idaho. Suddenly, their youngest child, who was 18 years old, got very sick. After several doctor’s visits, she was diagnosed with a serious life-altering condition. Treatment was possible, but they were told not to get their hopes up. The entire family and many, many friends fasted and prayed. This girl went through treatment after painful treatment. Months went by and they finally started seeing some progress. Gradually, she started getting better. Her health was improving daily. The doctors were amazed at her miraculous recovery. She was scheduled to finally go home with a perfectly clean bill of health. The doctors wanted to give her one last ‘precautionary’ treatment, for good measure before she was released.

Then, through miscommunication and miscalculations, the ‘precautionary’ dose of medicine this girl was given was in reality an enormously high amount. A lethal dose. By the time the staff at the hospital realized their mistake, it was too late. The death-delivering dose was coursing through this girl’s veins. They only had time to call the family, who rushed to her side to say goodbye. This beautiful girl, who just hours earlier was planning on leaving for home after endless painful health issues, now had to be ready to leave for a different home, her Heavenly home. She leaned over to her father, and whispered, “I know it was an accident. Please, please forgive them.”

She passed away just a few short hours later. Over the next few days, the family was inundated with calls from lawyers across the country who had heard of the situation. I can only imagine those conversations. They had been wronged, in the most grievous way possible. Would they chose retribution? Or Forgiveness? My father was working in the temple later, when the entire family was there to do the work for their beautiful daughter. This family knew what they needed in their lives. They needed forgiveness. They needed the Savior.

Second, the Israelites needed to learn to serve one another.

The people of Israel wanted a new leader, one who would stand up to the Romans and the ruling class. One who would take back their rightful property. But, what they needed was to learn how to serve. The Savior taught them, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

Alma taught us, “Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him” (Alma 30:9). King Benjamin further explained this truth. “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger to him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13) Do we desire to come to know our Savior and be like Him? If so, then how? The answer is simple. Serve Him. And, how do we serve Him? “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17).

When we think of service, do we think of wants or needs? When I think of what I want, I want to pass around a sign-up sheet in Relief Society to feed the Blaser family for a week. That is what I want. But, what do I need? I do not need side dishes and salads. I need a smile. I do not need freshly-baked food, I need a friendly word or a phone call -- just because. That is what I need. I am not alone in that. Many of us do have temporal needs at this time, in this economy, but ALL of us have emotional, social, and spiritual needs that ought to be addressed as well. And, all of us, regardless of our income, marital, health, or spiritual status, can provide the service require to fill those needs of one another. THAT is what the Savior taught. That type of service -- the giving of one’s self, of one’s heart, of one’s time. That is what the Savior did. His atonement was the ultimate give of one’s self, of one’s heart.

During Lucie Gallman’s funeral, I witnessed a selfless act of service. Carlie Welling had just been in our ward a short time. She came to the funeral, as most of you did, out of love for the Gallman family, which she barely knew. She then saw a need. Several of you had young children you had brought to the funeral. Carlie decided to open up the nursery room and offered to watch all of your little ones so you could attend the funeral and be a part of the spiritual outpouring that it was. No one asked Carlie to do this. She saw a need. She saw an opportunity to serve. She followed through. That is true service. That is understanding and acting upon the vital difference between wants and needs. That is coming to know the Savior.

Five and 1/2 years ago, my best friend, Trudy Barrett, died in a car accident. I was devastated. I didn’t know how to begin to cope with the loss of someone who was such an integral part of my daily life. I didn’t even know what to pray for. But, the Lord knew what I needed. I needed service. I was soon called to be the compassionate service leader. Bishop Williams asked me to oversee taking meals to Aaron and the boys for an entire year. After just a few weeks, Aaron pleaded to reduce it to three times a week, as they could not possibly eat all the food they were receiving before it went bad. So, we started bringing in meals every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For one whole year. Every few weeks I would pass around a sign-up sheet in Relief Society to cover the next month. Many of you, who never even knew Trudy, signed up regularly to bring in meals to the Barrett family. In all that time, for over 150 meals, guess how many times the sign up sheets came back with a blank slot? Zero. Never once did I have to ask twice for help. This ward knows how to serve. Through these acts you have come to know your Savior and to be like Him.

The only possible area where we could improve in our service is to look around with a closer eye at the more subtle needs surrounding us. There are people who need friends, phone calls, and a person to sit by during a lesson. There are children who long for your faithful testimonies as you teach them the gospel. There are hugs that need to be delivered, and shoulders to cry on. As we learn to serve, with our focus on the Savior, we will see needs around us we might have never realized were there. And, we will have the strength and the desire to fill those needs.

Finally, they needed to learn to love.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is true love. To give up something of yourself that is so precious because you love someone so much. That is how much our Father loves us. He gave us His only son. His ONLY Son. He knew what the Savior would go through. He knew the suffering and the heartache and the lonely, necessary journey His ONLY Son would have to take. Yet, He sent Him here -- for You. For Me. For each one of us. And, I’m positive that our Father in Heaven is full of love towards us when we pray and express our gratitude and appreciation for that gift of Love. But, I’m also sure that He is just as full of love towards those of our brothers and sisters on this earth who have never even had the thought of praying and thanking Him for that most wonderful of gifts. He loves them just as much as He loves you and me. That, that level of love, is the type of love we need to strive for in our lives.

Our Savior understood and answered with that level of love. The Atonement, in its infinite and eternal nature, could not have been performed by anyone who did not have a perfect love for us. The Savior knew us. He knew we would make mistakes. Even after we knew better. Yet, his love for us remains.

It is easy to love someone who loves you back. That level of love is something we can all experience when a child cuddles up to us, or a friend does something out of the blue and extraordinarily kind. But, as we come to know our Savior, and strive to be like Him, we need to learn how to love on a completely different level. With a Christ-like love. Sometimes you can learn to love someone so much that it is physically painful to see them make choices you know will lead to a life of unhappiness. But, the key to having Christlike love in our lives, is that when this happens, our love for that person increases, rather than decreases.

I served a mission in Slovenia, a small country nestled in the Southern Alps of Eastern Europe. The church had only been there a year or two when I went. There were very few members. The work was hard, and we often went months without meeting anyone who even want to listen to us. Towards the end of my mission, we met a wonderful lady named Marija. She immediately latched onto the saving words of the gospel. The gospel is perfect for everyone, but sometimes, there are certain people who are just perfect for the gospel. The struggling branch needed Marija and her faith. We met with her often, reading from The Book of Mormon, teaching her the various discussions, and sharing testimony of the restored truths. We always left her apartment uplifted and excited that we had found someone who was ready to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. We had talked seriously about baptismal dates. She had already chosen the place, a beautiful little pool at the base of a small waterfall in her favorite mountains. We just needed to firm up the day.

Just before Christmas, we were in her apartment one day, and I noticed a beautiful nativity set on a dresser. She showed me each piece, the shepherds, the angel, the wise men, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus with careful attention. They were made out of clay and quite breakable. I absolutely loved them all, loved the way they looked, and told Marija just that.

At our next appointment, a few days after Christmas, Marija gave me a small little package, a late Christmas present. It was a tiny tin box. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, was the little angel from her Nativity set. I gasped out loud in delight. She smiled and said, “I could tell how much you loved it. Well, you have been like an angel to me, so I wanted you to have my angel.” I thanked her profusely and carefully wrapped it back up to bring it home.

And then, a few weeks later, just four days before I left the mission field to return home, we went to see Marija. She was somber as she let us in and we took our usual seats around her dimly-lit table. She had all of the pamphlets and her copy of The Book of Mormon stacked neatly in a pile. She proceeded to tell us that she had made the decision to take a different path in life. One that did not include the Church.

Stunned, we tried to understand what had happened to cause this enormous shift in her life. She did not want to share any more with us, but let us know we were not to return there to teach her any more. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Even as we were led out of her apartment, I turned around as if to make sure this was really happening. It couldn’t be. My companion and I both bore solemn and bold testimonies of The Book of Mormon and of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. She smiled, but then said good bye and closed the door.

We had no choice but to walk away. It was a bitter cold January morning and the wind seemed to mock my tear-stained cheeks. We got a few feet onto the icy sidewalk and I just stopped and turned back towards her apartment building. We had been rejected so many times on my mission. Why did this hurt so bad? And, then, I understood something eternally important. I had come to love Marija. To love her the way our Savior loved her. I saw her through the eyes of our Savior Jesus Christ and saw how He was crying for her as well. He loved her so much. It was so painful because of the love. But, the pain did not decrease our love for her.

It has been 15 years since that windy, sad morning. But, every Christmas, as we get out our increasingly large amount of decorations, there is one small tin box that I keep for myself. Inside it, wrapped in tissue paper that is now quite yellow and brittle with age, is a small clay angel. My angel. And I carefully set it up high on a shelf and am filled with love. I remember the wind. I remember the tears. And I remember the piercing love for one of our Heavenly Father’s children. That love has not faded in the slightest with time.

Oh, how we NEED that love in our lives this Christmas. As we strive to learn how to freely forgive, with no conditions, to truly serve and not just with our wallets and watches, and to really love, we will come to know our Savior.

As parents, we understand how vitally important it is to give our children what they need -- love, safety, structure, yes, Josh, even carrots, and not just what they want.

The Savior taught, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will ye for a fish give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts, through the Holy Spirit, to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11, JST included).

Our Heavenly Father knows what we want. But, of infinite more importance, He knows what we need. We need the gift of His Son in our daily lives. We are not that different from those, the chosen people, of Israel over 2,000 years ago. The economic situation is bleak. We are over-taxed. We feel frustrated. But, are we crying out for a Deliverer from our temporal trials? Are we focused on our wants? Or, do we remember what we really need. Forgiveness, Service, and Love.

What do you want for Christmas? It is a question oft repeated, by Santa Claus to little children as they sit on his lap, by strangers waiting in line at the post office, or to friends and family alike. And, I hope that everyone within the sound of my voice does get something that they want this Christmas. But, my prayer is that we will all receive something that we need. That we will receive the Savior into our lives. That we will learn to forgive, to serve, to love, and to come to know the babe born in Bethlehem. And, really, all of those are actually the same thing.

Moroni 7:48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, apray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true bfollowers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall cbe like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be dpurified even as he is pure.” In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.


Susan said...

Thanks for posting it Jennie. Our family agreed that it was a literal work of art...and spiritually uplifting too, of course. Art will be happy to hear it is online, as he was wanting to ask for a copy. It really put the meaning of Christmas and our lives into perspective. So happy to see the angel too!! I was curious about it's looks. You've really made my Christmas this + plate= happy Susan

VikiViki said...

Nice talk were truly inspired and I appreciated being able to read it all. (I totally just counted that as my scripture reading for tonight!)
Love ya' and Merry Christmas.
p.s. the A.G. video was great too.

Diana Waite said...

My friend you are TRULY amazing--thank you for sharing your INSPIRED talk, simply beautiful.

Marilyn said...

Thanks Jennie for sharing. It's a beautiful talk. I too teared up just reading it, I bet it was hard to give.

Angelic Kelli said...

I just wanted to say, I am so glad you called me on Saturday to see if Damian was going to be there. It forced me to commit to go to church on Sunday and I am so glad I didn't miss your amazingly beautiful talk! It touched me so much!

Elizabeth Willis Barrett said...

Thank you, Jennie, for posting your talk. It was so beautifully written and gave me much to think about.

Elizabeth Willis Barrett said...

I tried commenting already so this might come out twice, but I just wanted to thank you for posting your talk. It is beautifully written and full of much needed wisdom.

Lisa Andrews said...

Wow, Jennie, what an amazing talk. All of the thought and time you put into it was worth it.

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