[photopress:grandma_hug_1208.jpg,thumb,pp_style]By Krista Ralston Oakes
My husband and I looked forward to Christmas 2000 with dread instead of its original great anticipation. After years of desperately trying to conceive a child, we were finally planning a “Baby’s First Christmas,” but we were devastated when our miracle pregnancy ended in miscarriage earlier that year.
As a result, many of the typical Christmas festivities – child-centric toy commercials, planned family gatherings, and other activities – seemed too much to bear. We felt like Scrooges, wanting to “Bah Humbug” the season and cloister ourselves in self-pitied isolation.
Then we talked to a friend who was newly divorced. This Christmas was going to be hard for her, too. Her children would be staying with her ex-husband in another state. She anticipated great loneliness. We talked to another couple. They were empty-nesters for the first time, as their oldest child moved away to college. There was no money for a Christmas reunion, they sadly reported. It occurred to us that not everyone enjoys ideal circumstances during the holidays.
Then a thought occurred to us. Christmas is about celebrating the life of the Savior! The One who reached out to those in need and offered healing in many ways. How can we best honor Him at the celebration of His birth?
From the scriptures it is clear that the answer lies in serving the Lord’s sheep. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Lovest thou me?” When Peter replied in the affirmative, “Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
Jesus also explained that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 24:45).
And King Benjamin taught that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Despite our sorrows, we knew that we were still very blessed, and we wanted to share our blessings with others. Our minds raced as we thought of ways that we could help others.
We found a charity that sponsored needy children, and selected a baby who was the same age that our baby would have been. In the past, we would take pains to avoid the baby sections of department stores, but this time we happily trotted the aisles, choosing gifts for this baby and his mother as though we were spoiling our own child.
We gathered our lonely friends, all of whom happen to share our love of music. We planned a Christmas afternoon together, traveling to others who might need comfort and companionship on that day. We went to a local residence for families with critically ill children undergoing treatment at nearby hospitals. We played games with them and sang songs together around the piano, and noticed with appreciation another group of people, who were there to prepare a Christmas dinner for these families.
We also visited several nursing homes, filled with elderly people who had nothing to do except watch television. One elderly gentleman had been waiting near the entrance. He approached us and explained with excitement that his son would soon be coming to pick him up and take him home for the day. My heart broke as the nurse, standing behind him, gave me a knowing look and shook her head slowly. The son was not coming. There were many others who would have no other companionship that day. So we became a jolly group, visiting and singing carols and shaking bells. We took instant pictures with residents to leave behind as mementos. We shared a special moment of joy together, lifting each others’ burdens and feeling true healing in our souls.
Looking back, I view this once-dreaded holiday as one of my favorite Christmas memories.
Each year we joyfully continue these traditions of service. One year we arrived at a nursing home and met a young man from Ireland, who found himself alone when his flight home was cancelled. He was a floutist, and found the same opportunity to forget his sorrows in the feeding of sheep. He was serenading the residents with his flute, and we joined him and sang along.
In our home we hang a white stocking on our Christmas tree to remind us of our desire to honor the Christ Child, whose birth we celebrate at this great time of year. By serving His sheep, we best express our love for the Savior and find ourselves celebrating his arrival into our own lives.