I didn’t think it was too much to ask to try and bring the family together as we decorated the tree. We had spent a lovely evening together a few nights before picking out the perfect tree at Mikes Farm. Now it stood in its stand meticulously placed in the sitting room and awaiting that rare time that the family could all be together to decorate. I looked at the tree and could feel its anticipation at being beautifully dressed in the spirit of the season. It’s what this tree was born to do. Raised on a Christmas tree farm, all it knew was that some day it would fulfill the measure of its creation by celebrating the birth of Christ with a family. And we had chosen it. But for some reason, I was finding this task very difficult to do. It was Sunday evening and everyone was vegging out with all their electronic devices. The house was quiet. There was no small talk or chatter just the occasional clicking of a keyboard. I turned on the Christmas music. It got turned off because it was too loud. Wait a minute, I’m the parent here, “Blast that music and bring in some Christmas cheer!” I sent the littlest one full of excitement to gather his brothers and I recruited the twins to help string the lights. They were full of resentment at being pulled away from free time and snapping at each other. Neither could do right by each other. One wanted the cords hidden and the lights closer to the trunk and the other just wanted to make the only strand of working lights to make it to the top. “What is the point of a tree anyway? How did this all start?” one asked. “How do you not know?” I wondered.
I still hadn’t managed to gather everybody. My youngest pointed out that I hadn’t given the command for the tree to be decorated yet. So I made a command that it was mandatory that all be present for the decorating of the tree. My 14 year old sulked in and slouched down on the couch- headphones still blasting in his ears. My oldest huffed and puffed and made it clear he was being inconvenienced and he didn’t feel it was necessary for him to help as he was sure I would be able to do just fine without him. My husband didn’t even try. I doggedly kept trying. Handing ornaments to each child to hang they realized it was going to take forever. Suddenly, the attitude changed to “Well! The faster we get this done, the faster we can get out of here”. Before I knew it, every ornament and string of ribbon was on the tree, in some places literally thrown on. They had not been hung with delight and care, but with reckless abandon and insensitivity. Ribbons hung gaudily, ornaments and fallen through to the floor and left, the front hung heavy with ornaments and the back bare. This was not beautiful. This did not bring joy. I looked around at my boys and no one but my littlest was left. I felt such disappointment. How did they not know how important this was to me? How had I not taught them over the years so they would know? How was this not a joy in their life?
I sat there stunned. One of the twins came in, saw me looking miserably alone and quickly pulled up a YouTube video of silly cats. Here mom, you look like you need some cheering up. I couldn’t even look at the silly video. I turned it off and handed him back the tablet. “All I wanted was the gift that was you.”
I thought about those words for the remainder of the day. They are still tossing about in my mind. The depth of that little concept. The Gift That Is You. They mull around in my mind trying to be profound. Trying to find the right words to explain the feeling they invoke. Can you feel it too? The Gift That is You. What do you give of yourself to others? To your family especially. Do you give your very best self to them as if you were a beautiful present to unwrap and discover? A conversation, a smile, a moment of time. We have many roles we play in so many lives. Your co-workers, your social contacts, the people you interact with outside of your family, your church calling, the youth you serve, or your community. They get your best self. And then you come home and you “vegg out” as we call it. The chime of your phone is immediately responded to whether it be a text, a facebook msg, or email. You give them a polite answer or a witty comeback as the occasion calls for. As I look around at my family, I realized this occasion called for your best self to be given to your family. And we weren’t in the habit of doing just that. Do you find, as I did in mine, that suddenly the ones you love the very most get what is left over at the end of the day? Eww. Who wants leftover veggies?
God gave us our wonderful families. He created each of us with perfect intent. Filled us with wonderful uniqueness and put us together as families to love and to celebrate the gift that is you. That’s all I wanted. I wanted a memory made that was filled with laughter, polite answers and witty comebacks as the occasions called for. I didn’t want the electronics to chime, I wanted Christmas music. I wanted to experience the gift that was each of my children gathered around me to create a lovely home filled with the joy of the season. Well, they will never learn if they are not taught! So I came up with a plan. I set aside my “feel sorry for me attitude” and changed it to a determination to turn this experience into a learning experience for my extraordinary youth. I chuckle now even as I remember it.
First, unplug! Even as I say that, my boys looking at me in confusion, I realize how outdated that sounds because we don’t have to unplug anymore. It’s power off as everything is wireless. So power off we did.
Second, I made dinner. Boys are more responsive with a full tummy. Fact.
Third, everyone sat around the table in the dining room. It’s hard to respond with a mouth full as mom poured her heart out – in a matter of fact way of course. I didn’t want a pity party. I wanted change.
I started with the history of the Christmas tree, how it was chosen as a symbol for eternal life because of it’s evergreen needles that never give up hope, but continue through all seasons of life. It was first called “The Tree of Life” or the “Paradise Tree”. I talked about the importance of that symbolism and Lehi’s dream of the “Tree of LIfe” and the interpretation of the tree as the Love of God and how it is referred to as the greatest gift of all gifts. Through god’s love for us we receive the atonement. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” It is through Jesus Christ that we are able to receive the gift of eternal life. The Christmas tree is not just a decorating activity left up to mom so we can put presents under it and Santa can come. The Christmas tree suddenly took on more meaning. I saw the light of understanding awaken in my boys and used the timing to point to our tree and ask how we received this gift? With gratitude shown by the utmost care and appreciation for this symbol that reminds us of Christ’s gift to us?
I explained that the Christmas decorations should always have a meaning, something that we can use to remember the true meaning of Christmas. I issued a challenge. They were to find or create an ornament that had a special meaning and the next day for family night we would place those ornaments with care upon our tree. I gave an example: I picked a red ornament and fastened it with a white ornament. The red represents the blood of Christ. The white – purity. It is through the atonement that we are made pure again. “And though my sins be red as scarlet, let them be as white as snow”.
Finally, we talked about giving The Gift That Is You. How much I just wanted to enjoy each member of my family. A little time spent with them. This season, placed above all earthly gifts that could be given. Our gift to each other will be that of our very best self. As I looked at all my most precious gifts, I felt so much love and gratitude for my abundance. “All I ever wanted”, I said, “Is the Gift That is You.”
Family night was a joy. To my delight, I didn’t have to beg to be all gathered in. My boys came willing and even looking forward to it. For they had taken my challenge to heart and came ready with their ornaments!
My oldest purposely chose my most unfavorite ornament ever. I really dislike pink Christmas ornaments, but now this one is set forever as a special ornament on our tree. He told the story of The Other Wiseman by Henry Van Dyke. This ornament represents the last pearl given in service to another. “When ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”. http://www.classicreader.com/book/593/1/
Next, came the story of the woman who had the faith to touch the hem of Christ’s robe and be healed. The gold fabric ribbon was chosen to represent Christ’s robe and faith. http://www.lds.org/bible-videos/videos/jesus-heals-a-woman-of-faith?lang=eng
A white dove was chosen to represent the gift of the Holy Ghost. http://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/dove-sign-of-the?lang=eng#
A disco ball was chosen to represent my family and the traditions they have that will be carried on even though we are far away.
Three silver balls were put together to represent the Godhead: God the Father, his son Jesus Christ and the holy ghost. If you look into the silver ball you will see your reflection, just as the qualities and attributes of Christ should be reflected in us.
And finally, my little one, I realized I hadn’t helped him prepare one to present! But I shouldn’t have worried he went to the tree where there was already placed an ornament we had made of all our favorite shells we had collected at the beach. He told his family how in homeschool he was learning about the creation and on the fifth day god created the birds of the air and he pointed to the birds he had put on the tree and the fish and life in the ocean. My heart was full! I had learned so much about each of them, their insights and testimonies. What a beautiful gift!
We watched the Christmas Devotional broadcast from Temple Square http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/watch/christmas-devotional/2013/12?lang=eng&vid=2912344387001 and gave each other our best selves as together we celebrated Christ.