“The Christmas I Learned to Love Again,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 33
I’m learning to love again now. It’s been such a long time. …
I grew up with an idea firmly fixed in my mind: I would marry in the temple. But I knew that just marrying in the temple wasn’t enough; I would have to be willing to work hard to bring forth my treasured dream of a marriage that would be a taste of heaven.
Eventually, I met and married Ron. The first few years of our life together, though filled with problems to be solved, were also joyful years. We were sharing the gospel together, and our spirits stretched to receive all the blessings God granted to us.
We had two little boys, full of energy and curiosity. They were human clay placed in our hands to mold and shape. And the breathtaking glimpses of little men in the making were exciting, everyday occurrences. We were happy together, Ron and Joey and Jerry and I.
Our family grew and we had three daughters; delicate replicas of their mother, but none of them like me in nature or personality. I immersed myself in their differences and in the gigantic task of feeding, clothing, and caring for our five children. Ron’s needs fled before the sheer weight of the children’s demands. I cannot tell you exactly when it was that things began going wrong. If I could. I probably wouldn’t. The pain, the guilt, the sorrow are still too great. I do know that I lost the closeness with Ron, the sweetness of sharing our children’s antics and the little things that made up each other’s worlds. Before I knew what happened, I had lost the one who had made my joy possible. Ron’s love ebbed like a retreating sea, and he was gone.
It was difficult to keep from shutting out the light of subsequent, intruding days.
Daytime was work time … it was time I had to make decisions about money, about repairs to the house and to the car, decisions about the children and their guidance. There was no one to help me. Most of the neighbors and friends I had enjoyed chatting with seemed to withdraw. I felt so alone. More mornings than I like to remember, I pulled the blankets around my head and mumbled to the boys, “Please get the girls ready for school. I’m sick.”
I was sick. My soul had contracted a disease called “hopelessness,” and I fed it and kept it growing each time I closed the door to my room and pled, “I have a headache. … I can’t today. … I’ll do it later.”
Life that had been full and purposeful curled at the edges, turned gray, and sucked me into its colorless vacuum. Yet, though the days were empty and meaningless, I heard timid but persistent knocking at the door of my isolation. The children—how they needed me! But the more I saw they needed me, the more depressed I became. How could I help them? I was a creature unfit for such a task. I had failed in my life’s calling. I had failed as a wife; and now, I was certain, I would fail as a mother.
We moved to a smaller house to save on rent. The bishop of our new ward called on us. “We want you to feel that this is your ward … that this is your home.” He was more than kind.
When we attended our first sacrament meeting in our new ward, my mind and spirit were nearly overcome with grief as the speaker talked of the family unit—the most important, in fact the only, unit in the celestial kingdom. How utterly lost and alien I felt. And I knew that before the children were in bed that night, one of them would ask, “Mommy, where do we belong, now that you and Daddy are divorced?”
I had no answer.
I took a part-time job. I worked Saturdays and Sundays, and although I encouraged the children to attend, Sunday School and sacrament meeting ceased to be a part of my existence. It was more comfortable that way, I told myself. That way I wouldn’t have to listen to lessons and sermons on celestial marriage and the family.
One Monday afternoon in December the ringing of the telephone intruded into my self-pity. It was the Relief Society president.
“I understand you play the violin,” she said. I admitted that I did, though I had not practiced for some time. My love of music had lagged in the exerting struggle just to keep alive and going.
“We need a special musical piece for our Christmas program tomorrow. I know it’s short notice, but we were hoping that you would share your talent with us.”
Share? Did I have anything that was worth sharing? But I had played well once. Perhaps I could offer this one gift.
That evening, when the children were quietly reading, I took my violin out of its case and dusted the gleaming surface. The bow touched the strings as I tuned the instrument. The children, one by one, lifted their eyes, surprised.
I began to play, remembering the Christmas carols that had swelled through our house when I was a child. I was pleased that my technique, though a little rusty, was not gone.
The sound of praise to our Savior, the Heavenly King sent to earth to bring joy and gladness and, yes, hope to my own aching heart, brought tears to my eyes. When I put down my violin, I saw moisture in the eyes of my children, too. With a single movement, they gathered around me and held me tightly. And as one, we knelt on the rug and opened our hearts to our Father.
How I thank God for that occasion; for, as we knelt, I felt the sweet reassurance that we were part of Father’s family. We did belong. Someone very kind and wonderful did care about us.
That night, it snowed.
The children were busily preparing for school the next morning as I got breakfast. My mind was a time-clock, whirring and ticking off the minutes. I was going to Relief Society! I was not going to be late.
My youngest daughter, next to the baby, dashed into the kitchen with her coat and mittens on.
“I want to clear the walks this morning. Can I?” This was usually Joey’s assignment, but Mitzi tantalized me with, “I’ll brush the snow off the car so you won’t have to get your hands all cold!” I kissed her chubby cheek and let her take the snow shovel. Then I finished breakfast preparations, humming a carol to the cheerful picture outside.
Suddenly a thought struck me. I was actually looking forward to being with people again. I felt an eagerness to share my music with strangers, where before I had been full of dread at the thought of going to church. My excitement became edged with apprehension. Would they accept me? Would I be welcome? Would my Heavenly Father accept my unpracticed gift?
I went to the window and looked out at the mountains, lying clean and white against the carbon-blue sky. Yesterday there were dark patches of rock and brush. Today, in the peach-colored morning, the rocks were covered with creamy velvet. The snow was new and untouched and perfect. As I lifted my fears to heaven, last night’s assurance came again, warm and comforting.
I am a child of God, I thought. I am being born again just as surely as Christ was born long centuries ago. I bear the name of Jesus. It is my family name. I belong.
The children kissed me good-bye that morning, each whispering his own little word of encouragement.
“Don’t be scared, Mom,” Joey admonished.
“After you get going it’s not so bad,” Jerry said wisely.
“You play nice!” Mitzi ordered, giggling into my hair.
“I love you,” murmured Judy.
Finally three-year-old Nanette was fed, dressed, washed, and combed, waiting placidly on the top stair for me to finish getting ready.
When we arrived at the meetinghouse, I settled Nan in the nursery, tucked my violin under my chair, and settled down to one of the loveliest meetings I have ever attended. The spirit of love washed over every sister there. I felt strength and testimony as I played the Christmas carols. It was a feeling that carried through into the music—a feeling that came from somewhere outside my own self.
Then the meeting was over. I didn’t want to leave. I clung to the warmth that was healing me, determined that our lives were going to change. If heaven was like this, we were going to be there, if there was a way. At dinner that evening, each child questioned me.
“Was it fun?”
“Did all the people clap?”
“Did you play ‘Jingle Bells’?”
Then little Nanette looked up from her glass of milk.
“Momma? Play some singing music.”
So I did. I played and the children sang. They amazed me with their knowledge of every carol. We had just finished “Silent Night” when the doorbell rang. Joey beat Jerry and Judy to the door, but not by much.
“Hey!” Joey called out. “Nobody’s here, but someone left this box!”
He and Jerry carried it into the living room. It was Christmas-wrapped and tied with a bow. Inside was a tiny evergreen tree. Homemade candies wrapped in cellophane were tied to the fragrant branches. There were popcorn balls, too, and a white envelope tied with red string. Joey handed the envelope to me, and the children became suddenly quiet as I began to read out loud.
“Dear Friends, Thank you for giving us beautiful music. God bless you through the twelve days of Christmas!”
We were delighted. But who had brought this lovely little tree? We puzzled and wondered. And every night for the next twelve nights, a knock would come at the back door, and another gift would be waiting for us. There was a sack of oranges the second night, then a bowl of homemade doughnuts. One night there was a pair of flannel pajamas for each of the children. Another night we found a black kitten with a white patch over one eye. We promptly named her “Noel”—and then we adjusted the name to “Noel-Ouch!” when Nanette got a scratch.
The children wracked their brains to find a way to thank our unknown friend, without spoiling the fun by spying. They made a booklet of drawings and paintings about Christmas, put it in a plastic bag, and set it on the porch. The gift was received, and in its place, on the twelfth night, was another envelope.
Mitzi brought it to me, breathless, as usual. All eyes were on me as I took out a note that read, “Dear Friends, Perhaps this will help to make your Christmas a little brighter.” Enclosed was a twenty-dollar bill.
Christmas was brighter that year, brighter and warmer than any other I could remember. It was so, not solely because of the thoughtful gifts or the money, but because the sun came up that Christmas and lit our world with the brilliance of Christ’s love. We still carry that love in our hearts. We do belong. We are loved. And in return, we are learning to love again, too.