7: The Spirit of Christmas
Stories in this episode: A missionary in Guatemala learns that Christmas sometimes means emptying buckets; When Christmas service gets real, a surly teen has a change of heart; Making amends brings a recovering addict and his family closer to the real spirit of the season; Newlyweds with nothing to give discover the secret to a full and rich Christmas.
KARYN LAY: Hey friends, I'm taking a minute before our Christmas episode get started to let you know all about our new This is the Gospel pitch line. We're really excited about it. If you are a storyteller with a great story to tell, you can call and leave us a message at 515-519-6179. Let me say that number again because it's not easy 515-519-6179. Give us a quick hook that tells us what your story is all about and if we love it, we'll give you a call to help develop it. We're especially looking for stories that demonstrate the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now on with the show.
Welcome to This is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
Can you believe that it is already Christmas Eve? This Christmas totally snuck up on me. It's such a beautiful time to remember Christ a little bit more fully and to serve those around us just a little bit better and to spend time with our family. But we also have experienced the stress of trying to meet expectations and create magic moments and memories. So we decided for this episode that we wanted to find out what the spirit of Christmas means to us. So we put the call out to our listeners to share their stories describing just that. And so many people called in and left their story on our pitch line. They were all perfectly wonderful, but we chose just a few of them to share with you today. So plug in the Christmas lights, pull up that pile of presents and wrapping paper and enjoy this collection of stories. Our first story comes from Jenny who shares a very short story about her mission in Guatemala, where she learned that it only takes two hands and someone to help, to make a beautiful Christmas. Here's Jenny.
JENNY: One of the most memorable Christmases I had was on my mission with my Guatemalan companion serving in the Spanish district. There was a bit of a language barrier for me and a family, husband-wife, invited us over to feed us Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. We arrived to their small trailer, the aroma inside smelled amazing and I noticed the wife was eight and a half months pregnant. She had a five-gallon bucket underneath her sink that she kept carrying out to the front door and dumping out water. When I realized that this couple was making us dinner, with no plumbing, I was overwhelmed with the spirit.
I thought about Mary in the stable, giving birth to Jesus. And I really felt overcome with the sacrifice that they had made on our behalf. So I took the bucket, and I dumped it out every couple minutes as she was washing and preparing the food. And it was the best Christmas I ever had and it came in such a simple way of service.
KARYN LAY: That was Jenny. Our next story comes from Kyle, who shares his story about learning as a teenager how joyful service can actually be.
KYLE: When I was younger, I hated providing service. I hated service projects. I don't know what it was. I distinctly remember one day, my dad driving me to a service project and I was not happy and I was trying to communicate that with my body language and he was really good at ignoring me. We were raking leaves for a local nonprofit and I went, I did it, I wasn't happy about it. He came and picked me up after and we were driving home and I remember him asking me, "So how do you feel about the service you just did?" And I just kind of shrugged. And he said, "You mean you don't feel good right now? Like, you just helped somebody and you don't feel anything?" And I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, no clue. I couldn't even wrap my head around it. But for the first time, I realized that maybe I was missing something, maybe everybody else was feeling something that I wasn't feeling. But you know, I couldn't wrap my head around it so I just went about my life.
Years later, it was Christmas break and my mom came up to me and she asked me if I would help her with something, and I said that I would. She told me about this little girl that she knew whose family wasn't gonna be able to afford Christmas that year. They were recent immigrants, the dad wasn't in the picture and they needed our help. So we went to the store, the local store, and we filled our cart full of clothing and toys and treats and they had, you know, the list that we had was just the bare essentials, but we wanted to give them more so we wrapped them up all pretty. And I was so excited just imagining these kids opening it on Christmas morning. And my mom drove the getaway car, she kept the engine running, and I went up to the porch and I put a huge box filled with presents on the porch, I knocked and I ran down the stairs, I almost slipped and almost died, it felt like. And my mom peeled out of the parking lot but unfortunately, the road kind of went back around, so in order to get out of the apartment complex, we had to go in front of the apartment again. So we kind of ducked down, but I kind of snuck a peek. And I saw four little kids standing around this box, one of them was like half in the box reaching for something. Two of them were like screaming, and another one was just waving at us. And it was so fun, I think about it still to this day. And honestly, it was the best Christmas that I've ever had. And it was probably because I finally understood what my dad had been trying to tell me. He was trying to teach me about the pure joy of serving those around you without agenda, without prejudice, just because somebody else has infinite potential, that they're a human being, that's why we connect with others, that's why we serve others. And I felt absolute joy in that moment.
KARYN LAY: Our next story comes from Jill and Jill read her story, so it's going to sound a little different than the other stories you'll hear on this podcast. But trust us, it's worth it. She'll share a story about how a family tragedy was transformed into a legacy tradition for her whole community. Here's Jill.
JILL: One year for Christmas, I gave my dad this book, along with a small mason jar filled with candy for him to enjoy while reading. Well, dad called me the next day and he said the book I had given him was the most wonderful gift and that it had changed his life and he wanted to share it with everyone he cared about. He called every bookstore and ordered every copy they had. Well, a short time later, my dad flew back east to his hometown and took an entire suitcase filled of this book with mason jars to meet with friends and family from all different backgrounds and shared that with them and challenge them to pay it forward. They accepted the challenge. Shortly after my dad returned home, he was diagnosed with leukemia. It had progressed and they were not able to treat it, so they made him comfortable. Unfortunately, a few months later, he had passed away. He made a difference. That story made a difference to so many.
Since that time, my family has carried the tradition of the "Christmas jar" in our home. We have a large mason jar that sits on our counter all year long that collects everyone spare change. Each day, when we empty our pockets or clean out our purse, the change goes in that jar. We know each time that we place our change in the jar, it is no longer ours but it is now belonging to a family that needs it more than us. It has become very personal to us. As we start approaching the holidays each year our children look forward to the day when we get to deliver that jar to a family that needs it so much.
Well, fast forward a few years and our oldest son Mike was struggling, like so many others, with an addiction that he became prisoner to. Mike's addiction, unfortunately, was a challenge that he and our whole family were struggling to get through. It took us to such difficult places financially, mentally and emotionally. But one thing that stayed constant through those difficult times was the Christmas jar. No matter the circumstances, or what we were going through, that jar had a meaning all its own, and there was always someone who needed it more than we did. At times Mikey's addiction would get the best of him. Although he knew the importance of the jar, he found himself taking from the jar rather than giving. We confronted him about it and reminded him that the money was not ours to take. As fast as we would see the jar start to fill, we would see it diminish. We knew where the money was going. Mike hated what this was doing to him, he hated this addiction.
After a lengthy and exhausting battle, through failed attempts of rehabilitation, we chose to put him into a long-term patient program for about nine months. Boy, we got our beautiful Mikey back again. After Mikey returned home, we began to notice the Christmas jar filling up very quickly, not only with small spare change but with big bills, small bills. My husband Mike noticed and made a comment of the change in the family's jar over such a short period of time. One of our youngest boys said, "Dad, Mike's been putting his paycheck into that jar." Paying back the money to the Christmas jar that he had taken over the last several years was Mikey's way of fixing something that was so important to him. We decided not to mention anything to him, and allowed him to do what he felt was right, knowing that he was making amends with even the jar. Unfortunately, as much as Mikey was so committed to his sobriety and helping others, he too was not invincible. Mikey had been clean for over a year, but it only took one time to end this life. We lost Mike on Memorial Day 2013.
The past few years have been a difficult time for our family to cope with this. As our family tries to move forward, we decided that the meaning of the jar has definitely shifted a bit. We continue to carry on the tradition each year. Now, it's being called, "Mikey's Christmas Jar." Support from loved ones and community and such a crucial element of success for their recovery is so important. We are now working with so many beautiful, generous people in the community, who like dad, who like Mikey, believe in paying it forward. Through their example this year and many years ahead, we will be helping families who are struggling to get through difficult challenges in their life.
KARYN LAY: That was Jill. Our final story from this episode of the spirit of Christmas comes from Elizabeth. And it's a story that I think many a poor newlywed couple can probably relate to. Here's Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH: We had been married four months when we had our first Christmas together. And I had been in the hospital two of those months because I was going to have a baby and I was having some very difficult times. So when Christmas rolled around, we were in dental school at USC and I had wanted to go home and the doctor said, "No, you cannot travel, you will have to stay here."
And so my mother and dad in Utah said we'll come. But then, a couple of days before Christmas, they called and said we won't be able to come because we're snowed in. And I got really discouraged because we had no money, it took all we had to get me out of the hospital, I had no Christmas tree, I had nothing, It was zero. And it was my first Christmas married and I thought it shouldn't be this way. But, Grandpa went and got the old Christmas tree from the church because one of his Jobs was cleaning the church to help put him through school, and they've taken all the ornaments off and many of the needles and fallen, it was sort of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But he brought it to the house and we popped popcorn and strung it on and made little chains and tried to make it look like Christmas. But it was really hard and I had a lot of pity parties, newly married, and no Christmas, not one present, not one light. But, on Christmas Eve, he said, "Come on, let's go look at the Christmas lights. And we'll buy you an ice cream cone." Now that was a big deal because we had so little money we only had ice cream maybe once every six weeks. And so we went to the ice cream store and he said because you're going to get fat anyway, we'll buy you two scoops. So I had two scoops of ice cream, Baskin Robbins, and then we drove around and it was beautiful, but then I got sadder and sadder. And as we came home, we lived in a little court, I looked at the court and every light in the all of those little houses was dark, except the one in the back, and it was ours and there was a light. And then I got really lonesome. And we went in the house and I said, "I'm just going to go to bed. There's nothing to stay up for." And he said, "Oh, it's our first Christmas, please." And I felt so sorry for myself that I just went to bed and the pillow hid all my tears and I guess I cried myself to sleep.
Well, the next morning, I hear him singing, "Jingle bells, jingle bells," and I said, "What are you so happy about?" And he said, "It's our first Christmas together. Come on, let's get up and go see what Santa brought!" Snd I said, "Bill, Santa didn't bring anything, I know that." And he said, "But, we'll have to pretend because it's our first Christmas. And how we do now is how will do for the other Christmases."
So pretty soon I felt a little better and we started singing "Jingle Bells," and went into the living room where Charlie Brown's dead Christmas tree was, and of course there were still no presents. But then, I looked up on the door and there was a great big white homemade sock. I knew it was homemade because I recognized the white felt and the things in my sewing kit. And it was all decorated and my name was on it. And so I went, took it off the door and looked in, and it was filled with presents. Each one had a little saying on it. Like there was a bubble gum truck, a little truck filled with bubble gum, and the little note said, "this is a bit of home for you," because I grew up on a ranch. And then there was a can of baby powder, and that said on it, "This is for our future friend." And then, there was a can of Campbell's beef vegetable soup and it said, "this is Christmas dinner in a can." And then, there was a razor and some razor blades and said, "You have your own razor blade now and your own razor, so you won't need to use mine." And then, there was a bag of chocolate wrapped coins that look like money. And it said, "Good for the real thing in about five years." And the last was some little coaster things to put on the wheels of our bed, our bed was just two mattresses, a mattress, and springs on a frame, and it rolled all over when you sat on it. And so it says, "These are so our bed won't leave us before we get on it."
And that, I started to cry. Because while I had been having a pity party for myself, he had been making Christmas for me. And that stocking wasn't just filled with those little things that we needed, but it was filled with love. It was a stocking of love. And I still get that stocking now, and it's 60 years now. Every year I get it out, and it has more love in it every year. It's so filled with love now, I can hardly hold it.
But that was our first Christmas and it taught me a great lesson: Christmas is in my heart. It was a Christmas of love, the best gift you could ever get.
KARYN LAY: That was Elizabeth. Did you feel it? Did you feel the spirit of Christmas flood into your heart and remind you of your own stories and the ways that you have felt the spirit of the Savior during these times? We wish you the merriest of Christmases and hope that the season brings you everything that you desire and also gives you opportunities to live and serve the way our Savior did. This is the gospel.
Thanks to everyone who submitted stories to our Christmas pitch line, and thank you for joining us for this episode of This is the Gospel. We'll be taking a quick break over the holidays because that Christmas ham isn't going to eat itself, but we'll be back with new episodes in the new year. In the meantime, be sure to check out past episodes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. And if you haven't already fallen in love with the LDS Living podcast, All In, check it out. It's really great, it's filled with amazing insights and great people who will help you live the gospel of Jesus Christ better. And don't forget, if you love the stories we've shared, rate us on Apple or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and tell your friends. It'll help more people to find us.