Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Best Christmas Ever

This is likely to be a long post and you don't have to feel like you have to read this, it's mostly for me and journaling aspect of my blog, but it's here and public, so if you'd like to, read on!
So how could I have the best Christmas ever when it there are still 4 days left before Christmas? As the Grinch once said "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more."

I believe in Christ and I believe that Christ is in Christmas. Without Him, what exactly would be the point? Yet Christ in Christmas is elusive at best--usually anyway--during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I mean, we always put up our nativities, read stories of Him and about him. I always plan our family home evening lessons to focus on the symbols and meanings in Christmas. We have our traditional Christmas Eve reading of the Christmas stories in John and Luke, but this year I wanted Christmas to mean just a little bit more.

It started for me back in late October. I was asked in addition to my regular church calling responsibilities to put together our church Christmas party. It was to be December 7th. I looked at the calendar and I had 5 weeks to pull it off. I started planning, praying and calling a committee for I was going to need back up!
I immediately knew that I didn't want our party to be about Santa, but I also wanted it to be fun and enjoyable for everyone. I decided we needed a program. I also decided that our focus should be on reason for the season and decided on a theme of
celebrating through service. So, for the next 4 weeks, I begged and pleaded for some people to help with the program and we had weekly practices in my home including a couple of practices for a children's choir. I planned and shopped for food to feed 250 complete with decorations for the cultural hall on a budget of $600.
It was hard. People didn't always come through. I was frustrated and disappointed. The night of the party it rained and not only did it rain in reality, it was raining in my heart. People came, the cultural hall was decorated and the activities we planned came to life. I felt like a failure. Half of my committee sort of backed out. Kids began tearing into the coloring contest before it was announced and there didn't end up being enough pictures for all the kids to color (as many took more than one) and on top of that they didn't wait and take the pages intended for their particular age group, which was going to make judging a whole lot more difficult. We announced and asked that people keep their families together. . . they didn't. We had a food drive for the West Valley Food Bank and somehow few noticed this important detail on the flyers or the post card we had mailed inviting each family. My 5 huge boxes wrapped for the food bank were mostly empty. I set the lighting for "mood" and was asked to turn the lights on so everyone could see. About half way through the evening parents and children began dismantling the decorations (cellophane wrapped balloons designed to look like candy.)
The door prize drawings which were attended for adults had been raided by children and there were many, many tickets with kids names on them. We announced the winners and several children won the door prizes (intended for adults). We had prizes for the coloring contest for the kids -- or so was my intent. Few people participated in our gift of service activity, designed so that each family could wrap a gift of service they would plan and carry out between the 7th and Christmas day. We had 50 boxes and most were still left at the end of the evening. My heart continued to sink. We started the program, but I messed up the lighting because we had changed th setting to accommodate the previous lights on request. My choir (unbeknownst to me) couldn't see their music. Parents and children continued to play with and unwrap cellophane during the program. By the end, less than half of the audience remained. I was devastated. I felt even more like a failure. I felt horrible for the efforts of the choir and shepherds for the lack of respect shown by the member's of our ward. I wanted to cry and in fact did come home and cry for about 3 days. I whined and complained to my family and everyone that would listen. I told about everything that had gone wrong. THEN, it hit me. There was an awful lot that went right too, but I was so obsessed with how great everything was, that I had missed it. I had 10 kids sing in the children's choir. They sang beautifully and they loved it. The gym, looked great and even though there were comments about why it didn't look more "traditional", with our budget and resources it really looked nice. (As a side note, I hope the person who commented on having more trees and a traditional theme gets to do the party next year -tee hee.) People came. We had ample amounts of food and people pitched in in spite of those who let me down. The clean up went great and there were plenty of hands for helping. I still took a 50 pound box of food to the food bank. AND, many people told me that it was the best ward Christmas party ever and those who sang in the choir were very, very thankful for the opportunity and experience they had in doing it. My perspective changed and I was finally thankful for the party, for the experience and for all those who did pitch in, help out, perform and participate. I just lost sight of it through the ones who didn't. I was looking at it all wrong.

I kept praying for the "Christ in Christmas," that I always hope to find each year. I kept thinking about how I could serve the Savior this year and make it truly meaningful. I didn't want to decorate the house. So much work! I was so behind from the party that I just felt I would never catch up and decorating seemed like a burden. I made myself do it. The kids and I put on music throughout the house and went to work. It was magical and my mood was transformed.

I kept praying and then our Secret Santa appeared.

I kept praying and started our Nativity Secret Santa mission.

I kept praying and when I started opening the boxes of stuff I ordered for Christmas back in October (sitting out in my garage since then) the order was wrong. I had some cowboy boots, some boys army looking PJ's, a toiletry set and some other miscellaneous stuff. I checked and double checked the packing slip and nope, the company had just completely screwed up. I called them and they told me I should have opened the package and confirmed its contents then and I could ship the stuff back and re-order the missing items from my boxes. Instead I decided to go to the angel trees and match the stuff up with tags from the trees. No luck. . . so I went shopping for the tags I found with age ranges to fit the stuff and added the loot from my messed up order to the stuff they had on their wish list and went on my way. The value of the stuff they sent me, btw, was GREATER than the stuff I ordered.

While I was out shopping I really made an effort to wish people a Merry Christmas. Some people ignored me, but really, the clerks seemed happy and surprised. I got lots of Merry Christmas to you back and people started to smile. I felt happy and my heart felt full.

It was midnight and I was in line at Wal-Mart (AGAIN!!!) behind a man buying $2500 in gift certificates. The clerk warned me it would take a while and I said no problem and smiled. I jokingly asked the man what I had to do to get on his Christmas card list. . . we talked, the clerk, the man and I. The time passed. He left. After I had checked out, the clerk handed me a $25 gift card from the man and said that he left for me and asked her to wish me a Merry Christmas. I was shocked and over joyed. I started thinking of a family in our ward that I could give it to, but something just didn't set right with the idea.

Today on the news they featured a family of 5 kids who were living in their broken down suburban at a truck stop. The husband had lost his job a couple of months back and they were evicted. The kids had stayed with her parents for a few weeks, but it didn't work out (WHAT??!!??) The kids, ages 9,7,5,3 and baby were playing with each other contentedly in the background of the video clip. They continued their interview. She had gotten a job at Cracker Barrel (the interviewer asked her where and she gave the location. . . very strange, don't you think?) She seemed nervous and humble. She talked of how greatful they were to be together. She was grateful for her job which had allowed them to pay for a room for a night here and there to clean up and be warm. Her husband finally got a job at Wal-Mart at night. She contacted the police and asked them to check on her and the kids at night because she was afraid. The police collected from their department enough money to pay for a hotel room through the end of December. I knew immediately the $25 gift card was being delivered to the waitress at Cracker Barrel on the other side of town. I had $20 in my wallet. Our Christmas (which we shouldn't have been purchasing) is on credit, but we have a roof over our heads, food to eat and I know my family wouldn't let my kids sleep in a car inspite of personal feelings or differences. We drove to Cracker Barrell. I honestly felt that I would get there and find that many people would do the same thing, but I could tell by the confused look on the face of the seating hostess and the reaction of the manager that this was not the case. I left the $45 and told the manager to wish her a Merry Christmas. He came back out to me and asked if I would like to leave my name/phone number. I said no. The kids were hard to drag out of the store. The mother came out and was working and chatting with co-workers. You could just tell she was happy and you could also tell that her co-workers weren't aware of her welfare. I felt really blessed and I really felt Christ in my Christmas.

Christmas is officially 4 days away, but I couldn't have had a better Christmas. Christ is the center of my life and I truly feel blessed to know that He lives. To know that I can be an instument in his hands and that He is aware of us - individuall, personally aware. Happiness is a perspective. It depends on how you look at things. I'm also thankful for the gift of service for truly "doing good is a treasure, a joy beyond measure, a blessing of duty and love."

I'm not editing what I have written. I'm not checking my spelling or grammar. I want my thoughts to be just as I've written them.

Merry Christmas!


Jeanne said...

Oh my, Rachele! What a time of it you had with your Christmas program! I read your entire post and came away with the feeling that you indeed have had THE best Christmas ever!

You EMBODY the Christmas spirit and I commend you for being able to look past the disappointment, turn it around and spread the joy of the season.

Merry Christmas! And I, for one, thank you wholeheartedly for sharing your experience!

Atalie said...

...and that, my dear, is just the "perfection" my mom sees - as do I! You are such an example to me!

Way to MAKE it happen!



Lisa said...

Rachele... We all know how easy it is this time of year to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of making Christ-mas a blessed event for all of your loved ones. I have read every word you wrote and thank you for reminding me what Christmas is truly about.

Merry Christmas

Rosella said...

I am glad I came upon your post. How easy it is to just see what is wrong and not try to see the positive side of things. Thank you for your reminder. And may you continue to have the Best Christmas!

April Driggers said...

What a beautiful way to put Christ back in Christmas. :) It's things like this, that we should do all year long. I love that the whole conspiracy of the Christmas season (beyond the TRUE meaning of Christmas) is to make people happy -- secretly -- all in the name of love.

Kari said...

I really don't even know what to say but THANK YOU for sharing your incredible story ... it is one I will remember and cherish!