What you really need at Christmas

This Christmas, I’m posting my best gift, early:

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Yes, it’s merely a picture of my husband shoveling the snow this morning. Two days ago he came home from working on the other side of the country. We haven’t seen him since he drove away last summer. (No, I didn’t chase him away. He willingly came back for the holidays, see?)

Over the past six months I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for single parents and the stresses they deal with all by themselves. It seems that each month I had a new little crisis I had to deal with, without another parent to pick up my slack.

But not this week. My sweet hubby got out of bed, looked out the window, and willingly headed out. That means I don’t have to guilt and nag my sons into doing it—Merry Christmas to me!

As he shoveled, I read online about a family whose healthy, college-aged daughter just died unexpectedly in her sleep. About a young husband whose wife and unborn baby recently died in a car accident. About a military family which is facing Christmas without their husband and dad at home, again.

And here I was, taking pictures of my hubby shoveling.

At Christmas we don’t need as much as we think we do. If you’ve got most of, or even all, of your family around you, that’s huge. This year we’ll see everyone except one, but we’ll be able to skype him Christmas afternoon.

But if you don’t have all of your family with you this year, and may never have them again in this lifetime, you most especially need Christmas.

Or, more specifically, He who’s birth we’re trying to celebrate in the middle of the over-scheduled chaos: the Savior.

Bring to Him your heartache. Bring to Him your longing. Bring to Him your anger, and He will give to you the greatest gift that you truly need: Peace of Mind.

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Thank you all for a wonderful year, and may you find and feel that peace that the Savior brings–that lasting peace which tells you that while your life may make no sense right now, it will in the end. Just hold on, believe in Him, and no matter your circumstances, every Christmas will somehow be merry.

In a way, Mahrree felt almost cheated, almost dismayed, for feeling such dejection in the world, and had she only known how swiftly all that loneliness and longing would be swept away—

No, she did know. A small part of her had always known that whatever misery she was enduring would be seem but a small moment in retrospect. The Writings had said so, but it was as if her physical brain couldn’t fathom what her spiritual mind already knew. No wonder her feelings were often in so much conflict.

But now, with the limitations of her mortal mind lifted, suddenly everything was easier. She could remember the sadness, but marvelously she no longer felt it. She held the memories, but none of the pain.

No wonder they called it Paradise.

(Teaser from future book 8; don’t worry, book 6 is coming, very soon. And so will be books 7 and 8!)

Flood the earth–or my basement and bedrooms–with service: #LIGHTtheWORLD

The most horrible sounds to wake up to are someone vomiting, something shattering, some cat hacking, or some water running. Early yesterday morning, I was awakened by the last item. I was planning to publish a piece here about my sons putting up Christmas lights, but I didn’t get to finishing it because at 4 a.m. I woke up to hear that doomsday sound of water trickling. As I put my feet on the floor, I immediately felt the squelch, and realized my carpet was soaked through. Frantically, I jumped to the bathroom to find the toilet was overflowing, and likely had been for about five hours.

As I was desperately trying to mop up the mess on the floor with all of the towels, my 16-year-old son came upstairs. “It’s happening in my room, too.”

Not sure what that cryptic, drowsy message was, but knowing it wasn’t good, I rushed downstairs to hear the nauseating sound of pouring water. Apparently the heat duct in the bathroom had served as overflow and channeled the water into the ceiling, closet, and carpeting of my son’s bedroom.

By 5 a.m. every towel we owned was wet and in the dryer, and I sent my son back to bed (or rather, the couch) because there was nothing more we could do.

By 7 a.m. I was slightly despondent as I tried again to start drying the mess, realizing that everything would have to come out of my bedroom/office in order to pull up enough carpet to dry it.

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(My thirteen-year-old thinks my flooded bedroom is worth dancing about. He’s not my favorite child today.)

At 9 a.m. I borrowed a wet vac from my neighbor and started sucking up the water, knowing already that it was far more than I could handle. Still, I was determined to try to solve this problem on my own.

But by 10 a.m. I sat down, exhausted, on the floor in my son’s room only to realize my bottom was wet (like my feet, my knees, and my arms) because the water had leaked much further than I’d expected.

That’s when my eyes started leaking. I hate crying. But having had only five hours of sleep, and realizing that not only would my bedroom have to be evacuated, but so too would this bedroom and its heavy loft beds, all I could do was weep.

My husband called then to check on the situation (I had Facebook messaged him at 5 a.m. with the news because I had nothing else I could do) and I said, sniffling, “I think I’m a little overwhelmed.”

He knows I rarely cry, and I think that’s why he took to the computer. Because he’s nearly three thousand miles away, he did all that he could: he messaged one of our neighbors, who called his wife, who called another neighbor, who called our ward’s bishop (similar to a pastor or rector), who came by at noon on his lunch break and said, “I heard you have a little water problem?”

I wasn’t going to cry in front of him, but I knew it wasn’t just the water; it was all the furniture I had to move, and all the work that faced me repairing the damage. While insurance will help, we have a very high deductible. By then I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Bishop Stevenson took a look at my mushy bedroom, went downstairs to evaluate my sons’ room, and poked around in the rafters looking for more problems, then said, “Well, the hard part is over.”

I scoffed at him. “It’s just started!”

“No, it’s ended. Now you have help. I’ll be back at three when I get off of work, with some movers.”

“No, Bishop, I think we can handle it . . .”

Fortunately he didn’t believe my lies.

At 3 p.m. two young husbands and a teenage boy arrived with him to help my sons and me move everything to dry ground. Another neighbor brought more fans, another retrieved my youngest from preschool, and while I talked on the phone with the insurance company, everything got moved and placed, Tetris-like, in the family room, my daughter’s bedroom, and living room.

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(Our family room-now-storage room. Yes, the poster in the background is of a psychiatrist saying to a unicorn, “You need to believe in yourself.”)

Another neighbor brought over two bars of very dark chocolate (like alcohol for middle-aged Mormon women), and someone else brought us pizza for dinner. And while my living room will be my bedroom’s storage for a week . . .img_1979

. . . I realize Bishop Stevenson was right: the hard part is over. I’ve got help on every side.

I freely admit it’s tough for me to accept help. I think it’s that way for a lot of us. A part of me feels guilty for the mess, thinking that if I’d just looked at the toilet before I went to bed (my four-year-old has a knack for plugging it), or hadn’t slept so deeply, that I would have noticed and even prevented the mess that a dozen people have now had to help me with.

I also wouldn’t have had to swallow my pride and let strange men see what’s under my bed as they moved it to the living room. (Go ahead—look under your bed right now, and imagine your neighbors seeing that. Horrifying, isn’t it? Oh, come on—please tell me I’m not the only one with a disaster under her bed!)

Interestingly, today, Dec. 1 is “Worldwide Day of Service,” and it marks the beginning of the “Light the World” initiative—an idea to get everyone giving service throughout the month of December. Here’s a guide of daily suggestions, too. (Tomorrow, Dec. 2, for example, is “Honor your parents” day. Call [not text] your parents, write a note to your parents or in-laws, or learn about an ancestor.)

Dec. 1st is “Jesus Lifted Others’ Burdens and So Can You.” But my kind neighbors didn’t need any initiative or any prodding. Service is what they do all the time, anyway. They merely started a day early, on Nov. 30, which will always be for me, “Relieve the Flooded Day.”

When the water extraction crew arrived in the evening  (I finally admitted I needed professional carpet drying help), they were astonished at how much work had been accomplished. They praised me for getting everything moved out and putting fans where I could, but I told them, “It wasn’t me; it was my neighbors.”

“You have some awesome neighbors, then,” they said. Yep.

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(I feel like our bedrooms are having surgery.)

So to all of you who may serve this month, who will be that “awesome neighbor” who will lift other’s burdens, who will notice the blinking back of tears when someone’s too prideful to whimper, “Help?” I say, “THANK YOU!” You may not hear those words from those you serve, but they’re being sent your way.

Your service is needed, every day and everywhere. Something small to you may be something huge to those in need. So go out there and light the world.

And thank you in advance.

“I don’t know of another family—there or perhaps even here—that would give up as much as you have for those you see in need . . . You and Mahrree don’t care for possessions or status, but for people. Already you understand.”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti