First Presidency Devotional

Dear Mother,

I always feel better after we talk.

With everything going on, I am just now getting to the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.  We took Daughter to the Church instead of watching it at home.  She was so excited.  She sat as still as could be while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang.  I, of course, pointed out B.M. to Husband like I do every conference, because who doesn't think it's cool that he went and joined the choir.  We know someone in the choir!!!!!!!!!!!

At BYU when I was a janitor student custodian, I thought I was something pretty special when I realized that I cleaned the office of someone who sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.....yeah, that's a stretch at "coolness", which is why B.M.'s presence really adds some legitimate credibility to my "cool factor" now, because knowing someone who sings in the Tabernacle Choir is apparently really important to me!

Speaking of choir stories, I signed up to play the piano a couple of places this Christmas and one song that I practice has a specific part that highlights the "tenor" line, so I always think of R.G. and play it how I think he would sing it, since I was spoiled to sing in such a good choir for so many years, and that was partially due to his leading out in the tenor section.

How is that for one long gushy statement?!  Come up for air, lady.

Ok, so of course I enjoyed every bit of the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, but here are the things that meant a lot to me.  I was kind of purposely delaying the start of my Christmas celebrating, because I wanted to start out with the proper perspective.  I wasn't sure how I felt about certain "traditions".  I was thinking things like, "There's too much gift giving, we should cut back.  There is too much Santa/ Toy Workshop/ Elves, how do we handle that?, etc, etc, and so forth."  All of these thoughts were definitely weighing on me, so I was glad to come away with a lot of clarity and excitement for the season.

President Uchtdorf said something like, "that may be the most one-sided gift exchange ever given in the history of the universe" in reference to Jesus Christ's gifts that He gives to us.  That really started to get me thinking.  If the Savior is my perfect example, then I would like to give gifts like Him, meaning one-sided or lopsided (unequal) in result.

I personally hate the idea of a "gift exchange".  This always seems to imply that the involved parties all provide gifts that cost about the same in order to provide equality.  Sometimes a dollar amount is even set as a limit.  These gift exchanges are usually well-meaning, (i.e. don't want anyone to feel left out, reduce the number of gifts a person needs to buy therefore saving money, etc) but I hate that these gift exchanges take all of the heartfelt giving out of giving gifts.  When involved in these types of things, they always seem robotic as everyone sticks to the limitations and rules of the exchange.  Now I know that many people would jump all over this view and cite many examples of how they love this type of thing, and that's fine.  I don't.  I want to give gifts like the Savior and I can do that better a different way.

I always feel better when I give something to someone knowing that they can't give something back "equally".  I believe another name for this is called service.  Being the "poor student family" has resulted in many generous gifts being given to my family these past few years.  We have received everything from clothing and toys, to housewares and tickets to concerts and plays.  When someone buys me a $60 dollar ticket (times 2 for Husband), there is no way that I can repay them with an "equal" gift.  All we can do is graciously accept the generosity of others and count our blessings to receive these items that relieve our financial strain and that we have such wonderful, thoughtful, and generous friends.  Plates of cookies, thank you cards, being a good friend in return, and heartfelt thanks are definitely not equal to what we have received in monetary terms, but they are all we have been able to do.  Then we've gone and looked for someone else to bless.

These past few months, we have been able to FINALLY! feel like we are the ones giving to others what they can't in return (monetarily speaking).  The thrill that comes from helping others is unmatched.  We have been able to share clothing and toys, meals, rides, housewares, and yes, even tickets to a play!!!  We knew when we gave these things that all we would receive back was heartfelt thanks, love, and appreciation and so that's all we expected.

The Savior's way of gift giving is a great example to me that I hope to employ this Christmas season.  I know that I won't be able to avoid some of those other situations, but I hope to steer others into the same way of thinking.

A gift should be given with the understanding that it so great that the return gift (should the recipient choose to give one) could never be matched.  I am not speaking of size or cost.  Babysit for someone when you do not have small children for them to watch in return.  Share a talent with someone when you know they do not have the same talent to share in return.

Of course a word must be said  about graciously accepting any gift, especially the feeble efforts of one to thank you for your generosity.  They know they cannot give you back something "equally" and so they don't need to be reminded or embarrassed by the original gift giver's refusal of their best efforts (when they know full well that it is "small" compared to what was given).

Like I said, we would look for others who weren't doing as well as we were.  This also keeps gift giving not as equal exchanges, but as a collection of service oriented people who are looking out for everyone, as each person looks for a new person to bring into the gift giving circle.

Ok, so maybe I didn't think ALL of these thoughts during the devotional.  I think fast, but not that fast ;).  I started mulling these ideas over and then combined with what I heard President Eyring say, I've come up with this over a few days.

Alright, what did President Eyring say (there is no written transcript of the talks, bytheway)?  I know you were wondering.  He began his talk and I noticed that he was using one word a lot.  That word was "gift(s)".  I found out later that his talk was actually entitled "The Gifts of Christmas".  Well between hearing President Uchtdorf talking about a "one-sided gift exchange" and President Eyring talking about "gifts", I was confused.  How could two-thirds of the First Presidency be talking about gifts when I was thinking that gift-giving was getting so out of control?  Did you hear about the Black Friday pepper spraying/ shooting/ robberies, etc all in the name of buying gifts?  I planned to give gifts, of course.  I just wasn't sure how many, or how much we should spend, etc.  I didn't want greed to find its way into my house.  Because of my turn-off to gift giving, I was really beginning to feel like Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I didn't want to hoard all my money, but I didn't want to be a part of thoughtless waste and fleeting happiness.  We were trying to focus Christmas on the Savior, but it still didn't feel right.

Then I realized  this:

In my mind I had been thinking about how to reduce my gift giving.  Aha!  Listening to my words again (in my head), I heard it again that I was really REDUCING MY gift GIVING (Reducing my giving).  In trying to find ways to cut back, I had cut out the best part, the selfless giving that comes with Christmas and all the service opportunities that I have mentioned above.

This is the Year of the Reach Out.  And while it may be the end of the year, it's not over yet.  I became really excited as I began to think of Christmas as a time of giving, and eliminate such thoughts of "gift exchanges" from my mind.  I have several ideas of things that I want to do personally or that my family can do together to join in with the Spirit of Giving (no gifts required)!

Gifts aren't obligations, but expressions of love.

Typing this, it sounds kind of obvious, but in my brain, it just was a little mixed up somehow.  Too many mixed messages, I guess.  Don't laugh, just be happy for me that I figured it out.  I think the confusion comes from knowing where "the line" is.  Everyone agrees that Christmas is over-commercialized every year, but it's agreeing on where "the line" is between over-commercialization and what is "okay" (meaning not over-commercialized).  See I told you it was confusing!

Then, I about fell off the pew, when President Eyring announced the videos about the Savior.  What a gift to the world!  I am so excited for them to be finished!

Lastly, our beloved prophet spoke.  My favorite quote that he said was "Christmas is what we make of it."  I had been complaining earlier in the weekend about this very thing to Husband.  Seriously, how do these men know what I needed to hear!  Amazing.  This kind of sums up all of the above thoughts.  I never realized how much effort it took to celebrate and enjoy Christmas.  I also liked how he said something about establishing Christmas traditions to capture and keep the Spirit of Christmas.  We're working on it.  We plan to visit a nursing home again like we did last year.

I love the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, always have, and always will.  It so great to have that be the "start" of the season for us.  The next day we were able to start putting lights on the house, and get out the tree, etc.  It really helped me feel like we had the proper mindset, and you know what they say, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Ahhh, let the festivities begin!



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