Yet, in preparing with the kids, I've been more on top of things than usual--we have ended our day each evening with a scripture related in some way to the Savior's birth, or to his actions/mission while on the earth, and then a prayer. I've done a couple of Family Home Evenings where all the kids actually paid attention most of the time! We've worked on being patient and kind to each other. In the midst of the troubles and difficulties, our home has truly been a refuge. Although too many personal connections remain at the end of the day to leave the stress of work completely at work, Doug has been very good at leaving it to the side when he is with his family: he comes home and, rather than unload his stress on the kids or just sit in front of the TV to unwind (either of which would be pretty understandable), he pours his energy into playing with the kids, and they all end up in a heap on our bed, or leaping over couches and tables as they wrestle with daddy and act like the adorable, hilarious little monsters that they are. Even though having a family adds to the stress of every problem, I have never been more grateful for the relief that a happy family provides from the rest of life's worries.
I was remembering perhaps the most unhappy Christmas I've ever experienced. Eleven years ago, just shy of week before Christmas a young man who was a close friend to both of my brothers took his own life. Needless to say, it was tough to feel much like celebrating anything. His memorial was just two days before Christmas, and though I liked the young man (he was by far the friendliest of my brothers' friends relative to me), I hadn't been close to him. My brothers' hurt, however, was abundantly apparent and it was hard not to ache for them in such a horrible loss. I didn't really feel like doing Christmas at all--life just seemed too ugly at the moment to be festive about anything.
On Christmas Eve, my older sister was talking to a relative about something--I honestly can't remember who it was or what the conversation was about--and I heard her refer to my brother and I as "the twins". I loved being a twin, but for much of my childhood I had resented that tag, feeling as though I never had my own name. But suddenly, hearing her use that phrase at that moment brought me back to the good in life--I suddenly remembered that I belonged somewhere, at a moment when I think we all felt a bit like we were drifting. I was one of the "twins", a part of a wonderful and loving family. I was born as one of two to be one of seven, seven wonderful people I was so blessed to have as part of my life. And I looked around at all the other relatives in our home that Christmas Eve, and remembered how many people there were in my life that loved me, that I loved. That was reason enough to celebrate.
Our absurdly large (as it was added to nearly every year for almost 20 years) homemade clay nativity was set up on the end table next to where I sat. At the center was the one truly lovely piece, the first one my father ever made, starting our tradition: Mary, holding her child. Into my head came Isaiah's words: "Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . . ." That little boy was sent not just to Mary, but to all of us. We celebrate his birth because he brought with him the promise of redemption from sin and error, and of comfort for all pain and hurt. Elder Maxwell, who battled several rounds of very painful cancer, once said, "If the only kind of pain he felt were mine, he loves us more than we know." I needed to be reminded that whatever pain we might feel, particularly under such difficult circumstances as those, where so many questions remain unanswered, there is a remedy. The sting will dull, and there is one who promises peace. There is one who offers rest unto our souls, however heavy the burden we carry may be.
This Christmas has not been nearly so difficult as that one more than a decade ago, but it certainly has had its challenges. But even as times and circumstances in our lives change, eternal principles do not. Whatever difficulties or challenges we face--professionally, physically, mentally, or emotionally--he knows our need and can fill it. Whatever the trials in our lives, we look to his birth as a time to celebrate because the life he led offered us all so much.
The baby in the stable of Bethlehem became the Savior of Gesthemane and Calvary. He walked the most difficult path and lived the loneliest life ever lived so that our path might be easier, our burden lighter, and so that, no matter what trials lie in our path, we might never walk alone. All that he asks in return, to truly show our discipleship, is that we "love one another". Even when its hard. I'm trying to remember that.