Little gifts to lighten the load

Tonight God gave me a sweet gift.

One month ago, my mom died.  She was young, and had no terminal illness.  The accident that claimed her life came as a complete shock to our family.  And yet, I feel an amazing sense of peace.

My mom had absolute confidence that God is real and trusted that because of Jesus Christ, she would someday be resurrected.  In my childhood, my mom and dad planted the seed of my faith and nurtured it, but as I matured, I had to come to know for myself whether what my parents had always taught me was true.  Through many experiences over the years, I have come to know for myself that God lives and that He is our father.  He loves each of us with a depth of love we cannot comprehend.  He sent us to earth to learn, to serve others, and to become more like Him.  When we have finished our work on earth, he will take us home to enjoy whatever level of light and joy we are willing to embrace.

Sometimes painful, even tragic, things happen to us, and He allows those experiences to come into our lives because He knows that they will make us stronger and better, that they will give us compassion and understanding and greater desire to relieve the pain of others.  He knows that in the times of our greatest suffering, we can draw near to Him and receive the greatest measure of His peace.  He weeps for our sorrows and sent His Son to relieve our suffering.

I know with certainty that I will see my mom again, and I am eager for that day.  I also know that God is giving me precious gifts to sweeten this hard time.

One of those gifts came tonight.  Early in the evening, my husband and I went on a date together and explored a small town near our home.  In one of the shops, one could buy a bottle and mix essential oils to create a unique scent that could be worn as perfume.  As I was getting ready for bed, I thought about going back to mix a scent for myself sometime.  I remembered that Mom had seemed interested in mixing a personalized scent for herself when one of my sisters told us about having mixed her own, and let us smell it.  As I thought about that exchange, I remembered that it had occurred during my last face-to-face conversation with my mom before her death, when she and my family visited my new home.

I teared up as I realized that Heavenly Father had answered a little prayer that mattered only to me.  A few days ago, I pictured Mom and my sister and me sitting on the floor in my younger daughter’s bedroom talking, and I could not remember what we had talked about.  I felt so sad not to remember my last conversation with Mom, and thought a little half-prayer that I would remember.  Tonight, in a quiet, simple way, Heavenly Father reminded me.  It was a beautiful gift.

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Keeping Christmas

I love Christmas.  Christmas time has been one of my favorite times of year since I was a child.  I feel a special sense of wonder and a greater feeling of kindness and love in the world at Christmas, and that always encourages me to try to hold on to that sweetness for the whole year by being kind and generous.

I was just on one of my favorite blogs, Katie’s “Making This Home,” and I loved her idea of keeping a Christmas journal.  I want to celebrate our little family’s unique brand of Christmas by recording some of the sweet, special and silly things that are happening around here this Christmas season.

A few of my favorites are:

Our nightly scripture readings about the life and mission of Christ, and the paper chain we are making as we read each scripture passage. (Thanks to Emily, a friend from church for the scripture selections and paper chain kit).

Our beginner’s version of Advent celebrations on Sunday evenings: I discovered Advent too late in the year to put together a wreath, but couldn’t wait until next year to add this layer of meaning to our celebration of the birth of Christ.  So, starting the first Sunday in December, we have gathered in our darkened kitchen around our wreath-less candles, remembering our need for a Savior to light our lives as we teach the girls in simple terms why we need Jesus: to help us “try again” when we do bad things, to help us come alive again after we die and to help us go back to live with Heavenly Father some day…I can’t wait until they begin to really understand the depth of those simple phrases as I am beginning to understand them through experience with God’s grace for my own daily weakness.

Daddy reading “How the Grinch stole Christmas” to the girls nightly after dinner.  Last year,  Big Sister begged to read that book so many times that she memorized it, word for word, and “read” it for Daddy’s extended family at our Christmas Eve gathering.  Soon both of the girls will have it memorized!  I also love that this is a Daddy-instituted tradition.

Listening to Christmas music.

Big Sister eagerly asking if she can turn on the Christmas tree lights as soon as dusk falls–it seems to be earlier every night!  I miss the sun in the winter :_)  I also love the way our Christmas tree looks from outside, glowing through our tall windows into the darkness outside.  I hope our home sends light into the world in more meaningful ways too.

The unusual decorations that have found their way onto our tree, after Little Sister’s thorough removal of the original ornaments from the bottom half of the tree, and the candy canes from the entire tree.  The inventive new decorations include two halves of an orange plastic Easter egg balanced on two different branches, four or five of Big Sister’s plastic dress-up necklaces, each draped artistically over multiple branches, and a tiny plush fish sitting happily on its own branch.

Big Sister sitting quietly at her bedroom window, watching the neighbors’ Christmas light displays change colors.

Plotting with Daddy about the girls’ presents, shopping for said presents and wrapping them together.  Thinking about how excited the girls will be about their presents.

Finally finding some presents for Daddy that I think he will like–and feeling delighted about that.  Also, choosing to be optimistic and trust that I will find delightful gifts for the people I care about instead of worrying that I’ll never find the right thing.  Oh, and Christmas shopping on my own while Daddy watched babies.

Shopping for Daddy with the girls and wrapping his gifts with Big Sister while Little Sister napped.  Big Sis was so eager to help!  After she discovered that wrapped gifts had magically appeared under the tree overnight one night, and learned that mom and dad had wrapped them and placed them there, she pouted that she wanted to help wrap some presents.  Imagine her delight when I told her that she could help me wrap Daddy’s!  Daddy had her help him wrap mine too.

Helping Big Sister choose some of her toys to give to Little Sister for Christmas.  Her choices are amusing, but sweet.

Watching a hilarious dancing elves e-card from some of our best friends and plotting to make our own…

Watching the girls play happily with our Nativity set…although I’m not entirely certain that suspending the donkey upside down over the manger is reverent…nor is having baby Jesus slide down the sloped stable roof…

Making frozen banana “ice cream” with my juicer on a whim and having even Daddy say he liked it!  Both of the girls devoured it with relish.

Watching silly little Christmas movies like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and “Frosty the Snowman.”  They weren’t much a part of my childhood celebrations, but they have found a warm place in my heart, especially when I see that Daddy does have a few things he’s nostalgic about after all!  He and I both laugh at the plots, terrible claymation and sometimes strange transitions to irrelevant music, but we have a great time watching them with the girls.

Taking a walk with the girls when the afternoon sun is shining brightly enough to cut the wintry chill.  Big Sister gathered sticks and made a pretend fire.

Delighting in the first snow with the girls: peering out Little Sister’s bedroom window at the light dusting all over everything when we first woke up.  It had all melted by nightfall, but that did nothing to diminish the morning’s magic.

Going on a special date with Daddy while some friends watched the girls.  Sushi, Dave and Buster’s and frozen yogurt with my best friend in the world: priceless.

Taking the girls to see Santa Claus and proudly watching Big Sis overcome her nervousness and “give it a try”…

Watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints together; enjoying the wonderful spirit of the meeting and remembering that its alright if Christmas celebrations aren’t perfect: it’s more important to share love than to fuss over the details.  Thank you, President Uchtdorf!

Watching brand-new videos depicting scenes from the life of Christ with the whole family, and again during special one-on-one time with Big Sister, and remembering the wonder and glory of what–and Whom–we celebrate at Christmas.