The Christmas season is full of magic and wonder, gifts and memories, and, of course, a little stress and chaos. The other night brought some of the latter elements to our home. It had been a busy day for me full of shopping and driving and little sibling spats. It had been a stressful day for Scott, who has an overflowing plate of work and church responsibilities. I had just gotten home and had about 10 minutes to get dinner on the table. My 12 year old, Ellie, asked if she could use Scott’s and my shower because hers doesn’t get hot enough. “Sure,” I said, while rummaging through the refrigerator. A few minutes later Scott had just finished a desperately needed workout on his exercise bike and came to ask me “Why is Ellie in our shower? Can you please ask her to head out so I can change?” It seems simple enough. Before I knew it, Ellie was mad at Scott, Scott was mad at me for making Ellie mad at him, and I was mad at him for being mad at me for making Ellie mad. Then Addie started getting mad at the stick-on nails she had purchased that weren’t sticking, and Zach was mad that no one was ready to hear his family home evening message.
Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the presents, the cards, the tree, the lights, the songs, the smells….everything. Recently I was listening to a new book by John Bytheway called Born this Happy Morning that reminded me of the three levels of Christmas, as first described by Deseret News editor William B. Smart. Our family meltdown helped me put the Christmas levels into perspective.
The first level is the Santa Claus level. Gifts, lights, presents, elves. Check. We love the Santa Claus level.
The second level is the Silent Night level. This is where those beautiful Christmas hymns come in. This is the baby in the manger, the story of Mary and Joseph and a donkey long ago. We love the Silent Night level. So often, this is where Christmas stays. But the most important level of Christmas is level three.
The third level of Christmas is the story of our Savior not as a baby, but as the Redeemer of the world. This level of Christmas includes trying to be like him and remembering his gift to us. His gift is his life, his example, and his sacrifice. Now, because of him, we can have the family chaos, the mistakes, the mess, and ultimately we can know it will all be ok. Because of him, I can say sorry, and so can everyone else, and we can start over.
Eventually we all were able to apologize and forgive each other. The episode gave me a chance to reflect on what I want my Christmas to be about this year. This Christmas I plan to enjoy the Santa Claus level. We will sing carols and deck the halls and watch funny Christmas movies and eat treats and give presents. I plan to enjoy the Silent Night level. We will tell the story of Christ’s birth and sing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” my favorite hymn, and see our nativity on display. But most of all, I plan to do my very best to remember our Savior’s life and legacy. I want to lift burdens when I see them, give where I can, love my neighbor and my family (even when we are all much less than perfect). And I will remember every day that it is OK to have a little mess, chaos, and imperfection. Indeed, those are the moments where we learn to rely on him even more.
With four kids ages 5 to 14, it can be tricky to find an activity and lesson that everyone loves for family night. We recently discovered a secret gem– our kids love playing Jeopardy! So with a few paper cards and a little brainstorming, we put together a game with trivia about some of our favorite people in the scriptures. This is a great way to engage the kids and test their knowledge while reminding them of some incredible people. Every answer and questions opens opportunities for discussions of these scripture stories. If you’d like to re-create this game for your own family night, here are the answers along with their corresponding questions (set up in true Jeopardy! fashion). Have fun!
Topic: Cool Quotes (Who said it?)
100 “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” (Who is Nephi?)
200 “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me.” (Who is Daniel?)
300 “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I unto the world.” (Who is Jesus Christ?)
400 “And now it came to pass that when they had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen.” (Who is Helaman?)
500 “Give me this mountain.” (Who is Caleb?–This one is a favorite family story. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can find the inspiring story of Caleb in Joshua 14.)
600 “Are you priests and pretend to teach this people? … If ye understand these things ye have not taught them…If ye teach the law of Moses, why do ye not keep it?” (Who is Abinadi?)
Topic: Bible Heroes
100 This prophet parted a sea to help his people escape from Pharaoh. (Who is Moses?)
200 He was thrown into a dangerous den because he prayed openly even when it was against the law. (Who is Daniel?)
300 He interpreted a dream about 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. (Who is Joseph?)
400 This apostle denied that he knew Christ three times, which wasn’t true at all. (Who is Peter?)
500 This apostle turned in the Savior for 30 pieces of silver. (Who is Judas?)
600 They were protected by God’s power after being thrown in a fiery furnace. (Who are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?)
Topic: Book of Mormon Heroes
100 He was tied to a boat by his angry brothers. (Who is Nephi?)
200 When things got tough, they whined and complained. (Who are Laman and Lemuel?)
300 He prayed all day in a forest to know if his sins were forgiven. The Lord let him know he was forgiven and that his people would be blessed for obedience. (Who is Enos?)
400 This prophet preached repentance to an angry group of priests and was killed for his great faith. Luckily, one priest listened. (Who is Abinadi?)
500 This prophet preached repentance on a wall. He could have been killed by the angry attacks, but God protected him. (Who is Samuel the Lamanite?)
600 He came along from Laban’s castle and became a great, loyal friend of the family. (Who is Zoram?)
Topic: Wonderful Women
100 She fasted for three days for the power to save her people. (Who is Queen Esther?)
200 She wanted a child and prayed for help from God. Eventually, her son Samuel was born, whom she turned over to the Lord so he could grow up serving Him. (Who is Hannah?)
300 She was the first person to see the resurrected Savior. (Who is Mary Magdalene?)
400 This woman left all her worldly possessions behind to follow her husband into the wilderness. (Who is Sariah?)
500 Because of them, Helaman’s soldiers had the faith to fight and be spared. (Who were the mothers of the sons of Helaman?)
600 She helped convert a kingdom when she didn’t faint with everyone else. King Lamoni and his queen, she knew, had fainted because of God’s power. She ran to spread the news. (Who is Abish?)
I love learning about these incredible people in the scriptures and know that by sharing their stories (in whatever fun and create way we can) we give our children powerful examples of faith, courage, humility, and love and hopefully a testimony of what these heroes all stood for–their Savior, Jesus Christ, and their God.
We are two weeks into home schooling, home churching, and social distancing and it’s been interesting. My son showed me a meme the other day that said: “Day 2 without sports. I found a woman sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.” That made me laugh. Oh what a unique experience we are having! Here are a few snapshots of life at our house with 2 parents and 4 kids at home:
—Her feet are touching mine!
—I miss my friends.
—I feel trapped.
—It’s my turn on the computer!
—Can you stop making that noise? I am trying to work!”
—Stop touching me
—That assignment was due when?
—I just want things to go back to normal
—And the low point when our printer stopped working and I had 3 kids needing homework sheets printed I got this message online: “You are now number 175 in line to speak with a representative.” I never got ahold of that representative.
It has been hard! We miss our normal life, our routine, our freedoms and predictability. I miss going out on date night with my husband and having a little quiet during the day. My kids miss their teachers, friends, and teams. We have had to cancel our spring break trip to Havasupai, something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years. It’s hard being cooped up together all day and all night when kids are still learning the art of conflict negotiation and respecting personal space. And yet, this is our new normal, for now at least.
Yes, it is hard. And yet, there are also some incredible blessings.
A few days ago I was reading a scripture message with our kids out of a book called “Don’t Miss This” that expands on one verse at a time from the Book of Mormon. Here was the verse that came up, from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel in the wilderness:
1 Nephi 17:21 “Behold these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea and we might have been happy.” Lehi’s family had left their comforts, their freedoms, their social gatherings, and everything they knew. They were in their wilderness with all its discomfort and isolation. Laman and Lemuel saw the hard stuff. It was uncomfortable and the food was boring and they missed their normal life.
Nephi on the other hand gave us an example of another way. Of the exact same journey, in the exact same chapter, Nephi writes: “great were the blessings of the Lord upon us.”
We are having a wilderness experience. I actually looked up the definition of wilderness and this is what I found: “a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town.” How true is that? I’ve caught myself murmuring about the situation. And my hard things are really just minor inconveniences. There are people out there who are really sick. There are people who have lost loved ones. There are thousands who are being separated from spouses and children. There are missionaries who want to serve who have been sent home.
It is a challenging and scary time.
Yet I believe we too can experience great blessings in our period of isolation and uncertainty. There will be miracles, even. Here are some of the little miracles I have seen so far:
—A prophet who knew we were going to need to depend on our own faith and diligence, who knew to prepare us with resources to study the gospel at home
—Watching my husband bless the sacrament and my son pass it to our family members in our own living room
—Siblings bonding over family outings, games, comedy sketches, and movies
—A newfound love of chess in our home—something we had never played with our kids before and now it seems they can’t get enough
—A neighborhood finding ways to connect through teddy bear hunts and pictures in windows and candles of unity lit on porches
—Acts of service and little gifts left on doorsteps
—More time to have family scripture study together along with time to pray and even meditate together.
I have struggled with this new normal in many ways and I wouldn’t have chosen it. At the same time I am so grateful for the opportunities my family is having to grow closer and stronger together.
In Matthew we learn about ten virgins awaiting a bridegroom, who represents Christ. Five of the virgins had plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit, while the other five ran out of oil. They could not get oil from the others but needed to rely on their own preparation. This story is about us. The oil represents our own spiritual strength. This is our time to decide—will we be spiritually strong on our own? Are we doing what we need to do to keep our lamps lit in the darkness?
The Lord said in D&C 33:17 “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom.”
I am so grateful for my opportunity to fill my lamp at home during this unique season. I am grateful for a prophet who has prepared us. Our Father in Heaven is watching over us and he will bless us as we are faithful. We can choose to be diligent disciples at this crucial time. Life has slowed down. Gone are the hectic schedules and carpools and sporting events.at we are being given is time and space to focus in on what matters most. God is essentially removing many of the obstacles that may normally distract us. We can work on filling our lamps while we wait to be done with this season of wilderness.
Here are a few ways we can do it:
Pray more and pray sincerely. We have time. Enos is a wonderful example of someone who didn’t say a quick repetitive prayer and turn out the lights. He poured his heart and soul out to God and waited for a reply. He was earnest and sincere in desiring to know the Lord’s will. He even described his experience as a “wrestle” to know. He says “my soul hungered” and that he cried all the day and then into the night to know if his sins had been forgiven.
Listen for a response. How often do we take time to listen and be still? Enos waited all day for his answer. Then God finally spoke to him and answered his plea. Enos asked how it was done and God responded “Because of thy faith in Christ.” Enos had that kind of faith to know if he listened and waited, and kept listening, God would show up. I think most of us probably aren’t very good at being still and listening. We live a fast-paced life where we don’t have to wait for much—thanks to things like one day delivery and instant streaming of our favorite shows. We are over scheduled and exhausted much of the time. But if we show up for God, he will show up for us. He has told us, repeatedly in the scriptures: “Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Now more than ever we have the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son.
Study. What a wonderful time to take full advantage of our spiritual resources. They have been poured out upon us. We have the scriptures. We have a Come Follow Me online manual that guides us through weekly discussions of the scriptures. We have amazing Book of Mormon videos that we can watch with the click of a button on our computer. We have all the conference addresses that have ever been given in any form we want—we can read, listen or watch!
Tune in. Conference is coming up next Sunday. It was promised to be one we will never forget, and I already know that will be true. I don’t think I have ever been so curious and excited about hearing from our leaders than I am right now. We know we have a prophet who has received and will continue to receive revelation from on high. What an incredible blessing we have—to know we have a living, breathing church with all the guidance we need ready to be poured out upon us.
Serve. I am always struck by the last conversation Christ had with Peter before he left the earth. He asked Peter three times: “Lovest thou me?” Peter said yes repeatedly. Christ gave the same answer over and over again: Feed my sheep. What he meant was, take care of each other. You are my hands now. The more we seek to love and serve each other, the more of His Spirit we will feel. I have seen it already as people are reaching out to love from a distance. I have seen it in people who are showing up at work to help make sure we can still get our packages and groceries and medical help. I have seen siblings and friends and neighbors support each other with heart attacks on doors and letters of encouragement and dinners over FaceTime. As we do that, we will be blessed.
Yes we are in challenging times but with those challenges come wonderful blessings and opportunities. I hope that we can use our time well and fill our lamps. Let’s strengthen our own spiritual muscles and enjoy our time at home with our families. We can rise above the hardships and know that our Savior is always there for us. He promised us this:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27). … In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
That is so comforting to me. He is with us. He will see us through. He has and will overcome. We will get through this season and hopefully come out better and stronger and closer to our Father in Heaven for it.
We have a handsome, intelligent, persistent, opinionated, resourceful wonderful young man in our home. A teenage man. I’ve read recently in a book hilariously titled “The Grown-Up Guide to Teenage Humans” that these teenage humans really, really need a few important things: belonging, fun, and control. In fact, they want these things so much that they will go out of their way to do the opposite of what their parents want just to assert their autonomy. Scott and I are learning about this delicate dance. I’m not going to lie–it’s a struggle sometimes figuring out how to be parents with rules and expectations while also allowing freedom to grow and choose. It’s extra hard for a set of oldest-child, somewhat type-A perfectionist parents. We are learning, I daresay, as much as our children as we go through this journey.
We expect a lot of our kids and we have a few things we insist on–family dinner, family scripture and prayer, a family date on Saturday, and church on Sunday are where we hold the line. Sometimes it’s pulling teeth to get everyone together. Regularly our cute teenage Zach says “Can we be done with now?” or “No, I’m not coming.” Or “I don’t want to go see Frozen 2 with you.” Or “I don’t feel like going to church–it’s boring.” We keep insisting. “Yep, come on up.” “Yep, it’s time to go.” Or “Yep, we’re going to give it a try.” It can be exhausting. Every once in a while I just want to cave and say “Fine, never mind. Do what you want.”
Last night it was a Sunday and we had gotten some good scripture time in during the day at church, and we said our evening prayer at the dinner table after a quick family council. It was late and I figured we could call it good. I had already gotten our super-social five year old, Sam, in bed and was walking toward the girls’ room down the hall with a hymn book to sing them a song as they were getting in to bed. Sam heard me mention something about a song and came running out of his room. “We need to do scriptures!” he said. I laughed and said, “Well we went to church today… but ok let’s do it.” Then Zach came in and climbed up to hang with his little sister on her bunk bed.
I read a quick scripture to them and sang a verse of one of my favorite hymns, “The Spirit of God.” I invited them to sing with me if they knew the words. No one knew the first verse, but during the chorus, Zach joined in singing with me. “We’ll sing, and we’ll shout, with the armies of heaven. Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb.” He wanted to sing! My heart was full already. But then, I said goodnight and asked Zach to come on down and go to bed. Then he said, “But mom, we haven’t prayed yet.” I was stunned. “OK great, let’s pray.”
We never know when all the little things we are encouraging are settling in and becoming habits that our kids actually love and want. To me, last night, was a little rainbow after getting through some rain. I know this doesn’t mean the battles are over and we have officially arrived. In fact, as Zach was leaving for his carpool this morning I said “See you after school!” and he looked back and said, “Don’t be late again” and walked off. I called out, “Want to say ‘Bye Mom?'” And he half-smiled and called back, “Bye Mom” and got in the car. We continue the dance. But I’ve had a glimpse that the efforts are worth every reminder, every invitation, every insistence. We’ll get our rainbows here and there, and they are beautiful.
I love that I’ve been on the planet almost 40 years and yet I can still have “aha” moments about how to go about my life. There is just so much learning to do! I was talking with my dear sister in law, Lindsay Poelman, who is a life coach as well as a super intelligent, kind person. She taught me something that I think could be an absolute game changer in terms of interactions with close family members who are less than perfect (as much as we wish they were). In every situation we get to choose what story we tell ourselves about what is going on. We can choose to be annoyed or offended or bugged. Or we can choose compassion.
Here’s how she explained it to me. Say I really, really want my son (or husband or daughter) to take out the trash. I ask him to, and he doesn’t. I wait to see what is going to happen and guess what? He doesn’t take out the trash. Here’s where I have a choice. (As Stephen Covey puts it, what makes us different from animals is that between stimulus and response there is a pause.) What story will I tell myself? This one: “He is so lazy! He never listens! He expects me to do everything!” Yeah, I’ve been there. I hate to admit it but I have. I believe that’s sort of a natural, self-preservation gut reaction. But here is the other option: compassion. I could tell myself this story: “Poor guy. He must be stressed. He must have a lot going on. I wonder what is on his mind.”
Did you feel the difference? If I can respond with compassion, that can change everything. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t take out the trash when they are supposed to. I am saying that I get to be in charge of my reaction. Lindsay told me about how she learned to respond to her husband (who was going through severe depression and anxiety) with compassion instead of resentment. That tweak helped put her on a path to free herself to be her best, most successful self. It also allowed him the freedom and love to start healing as well. I give her huge props for her strength and love and compassion. At the end of the day, we can’t control the people around us. And we shouldn’t try. What we can do is love them and help them to be the best they are capable of being, in their own way and time.
I am not perfect at this approach, but I’m trying. I had the opportunity to test the theory out the other morning. Scott had said something to me when he was in a hurry to get to work and my first reaction was to be offended. Then I told myself to practice compassion. “Poor guy,” I said to myself. “He must be really stressed at work right now.” Amazing the difference. Sure enough, just a few minutes later he apologized and told me he had a lot on his mind and was super stressed (with a crazy busy business to run and a scoutmaster calling that keeps him hopping). What freedom this new approach could offer! Talk about saving energy–I would so much rather give the benefit of the doubt to the people I love than waste time letting my pride get a grip on my emotions.
So going forward, I challenge you to stop before you react when someone has done something you dislike and ask yourself, “How can I react with compassion?” That’s my plan. I’ll probably get it wrong a lot, but when I get it right, it’s going to feel great.
Finding peace in times of worldwide trauma is difficult, and finding peace in times of personal trauma such as a family death or tragedy can be overwhelming. Therapist Christy Monson professionally and compassionately describes how tragedy physically changes the brain and the body, and she provides powerful techniques to help heal those invisible wounds and cope with the turmoil of our day.
My review: I have never personally experienced a real tragedy. But I have gone through hard times, ups and downs, just like everyone else in the world. That is part of our experience and it is how we grow. Knowing how to handle our difficulties can make all the difference for our happiness afterward. Whether you have experienced a tragedy or would just like tools for dealing with hardship, Christy Monson shares great perspective both from her own experience and her knowledge as a therapist. I was fascinated by her discussion about how the brain responds to traumatic situations and by her clear demonstration of steps we can take to process difficulties in life. I appreciate the opportunity I had to review the book and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for insights to healing a troubled mind.
Christy Monson received her B.A degree from Utah State University, and a M.S. from University of Nevada at Las Vegas. After her six children were raised she established a successful Marriage and Family Therapy practice. For more information, go to www.christymonson.com.
I just read the most darling book for children about finding and understanding symbols around the temple. It is so simple and sweet and yet has powerful information about the meanings behind everything from flowers below to Angel Moroni up high. Author Cami Evans does a wonderful job presenting ideas for children to think about: flowers remind us of all Heavenly Father created for us; spires remind us to look toward heaven; Angel Moroni reminds us that Christ will come to gather his people; circles remind us of eternity and sealing eternal families; sun, stars, and moons remind us of three kingdoms of glory; white is for purity, pillars are for strength, and the gate reminds us of the first step we must pass by on our covenant path to God, baptism.
I’ve never seen a book that so beautifully lays out for children the meaningful symbols of the temple and invites them to participate in not only discovering them but also understanding them. I plan to read this to my children regularly as they come to appreciate these beautiful places of heaven on earth.
I’ve been thinking lately about how important it will be, as my children grow, for me to embrace each of them for who they are and not who I think they should be. This isn’t always easy. Let’s go back a good 20 years. I was the child that got a special award for being the only person in the elementary school to enter all four categories of the Reflections contest. I was the child who in 5th grade turned down going on Caribbean Cruise because I didn’t want to miss a week of school (I still regret that one). I wanted to get all As, I wanted to be involved. I aspired for greatness, but I guess you could say I was a little high strung.
I have one child in particular who has similar aspirations to achieve, and oh does that make my heart sing when I see her sign up and contribute and try her best. I feel some sort of pride watching her join Math Olympiads and the debate team and strive for excellence in her grades and with her music. I find myself thinking “Yes! You are aiming high and accomplishing! Good for you!”
But here’s the thing. Not all of my children are this way. They are motivated in other ways and get more excited to play and relax than to achieve. Sometimes I feel my younger self worrying. “But you can’t miss a day of school, or be late to class, or not study for a test!” Then I remind myself, “Oh, there are so many good ways to be in this world.”
Today I make a promise to myself to love each of my children for their strengths and their weaknesses, because both make them beautiful. And one of my most favorite scriptures (Ether 12:27) reminds me that it is in our weakness that we find our strength and that it is only through those weaknesses that we learn to rely on grace. Yes, my children are flawed. And that is by design.
For family night this week, we watched a video about a little bird sitting in a wet nest in the rain, waiting for his eggs to finally hatch while watching a beautiful, singing, hatching bird family next to him. The bird rolls his eyes in the drizzle and pulls out his cell phone, scrolling through images of other birds having fun and looking amazing. He tries to sleek his hair back to match one of the more handsome birds he sees, and his hair falls back flat in his face. He slumps down in the wetness. Just then another bird starts gathering a choir of all the birds around. The wet bird in the nest at first shakes his head no. Surely he has nothing to offer. But with a little encouragement from the choir director he finally flies over to join all the different voices. When he finally opens his mouth, he realizes he has a beautiful, deep baritone to contribute, making the music even better than before. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlB0WoF18V0
I love the reminder that we are all important and valuable exactly the way we are. God’s choir is meant to have many voices. We all have our good stuff and our hard stuff. As a mom, my job will be to keep that in mind as I watch my precious little ones grow. I’ll keep encouraging them to be their best, but I’ll try to remember that their path to happiness and their best self will be different than mine. They will turn into exactly the people they are meant to be, and thank goodness for that.
I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Shell Seekers” that captures the story of three generations of family members. Some I fell in love with and some made me cringe. Within the family there are a few characters who prioritize material possessions, money, and status. Other characters find happiness in things like spending time in a garden, at the beach, enjoying a piece of art, or time with people they love. The book got me thinking about how often we chase the wrong things in the name of happiness. A shiny new car, another new outfit, a big promotion, a checked-off to-do list. Usually, though, joy is simpler than that. It’s right there in front of us, waiting to be picked up. Kind of like shells in the sand. Funny how good I used to be at picking up shells with my bucket on the beach. Grownups sometimes forget.
One day recently with this book on my mind, I was on a run with my dog. It was a sunny day and he was just leaping around in front of me, exploring the trail and bushes, stopping to look back at me periodically with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth. I swear he can smile. I was listening to an NPR podcast about research on joy. Scientists, the host explained, had discovered something interesting about joy in a recent study. They had asked hundreds of people what brought them joy. The results were surprising. Joy, they found, wasn’t anything grand or complicated. People reported finding joy in little moments when time just dissolved. Maybe it was watching a child play with bubbles, or seeing hot air balloons in the sky, or sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or meeting a friend for lunch. I slowed down and thought about that for a minute. How easy it might be to miss those moments.
For me, as a stay-at-home mom, I probably have hundreds of moments in a day where I could pick up a little joy. Yes, at any given time, I might have laundry to fold, dinner to cook, bills to pay, a carpool to drive, dishes to do, a doctor’s appointment to make, a leaking fridge to address, and a toilet to unclog. But when my little four year old son came up to me recently and said, “Mom, would you snuggle me?” and gave me that look with his big brown eyes, I had a choice to make. I could think about what I wouldn’t be getting done, or I could pick him up, and lay down with him in the sunny spot in our window alcove and just snuggle together. Which is what I did. I enjoyed. En-JOY-ed. I wonder how many of those moments I miss.
For today, and hopefully tomorrow, I am recommitting myself to joy. When I have a minute to sit and listen to Ellie tell me about school, or when Addie asks me to brush her hair or play Uno, or when Zach wants to show me the latest dog meme that made him laugh, or when Sam asks for just one more bedtime story, I am going to say yes. I am going to pick up that tiny shell in the sand and know that this is what life is all about anyway. The lengthy to-do list can wait a few more minutes.
A few months before Christmas we warned our children that we did not want presents to be the focus of the season. We were going to think about what we wanted to give. No lengthy lists of all the items they wanted for Christmas. This season was going to be about the Savior and what we could do to be more like him. Shocking us, one of our children actually said, “I think that will help us all be happier.” Wise little souls they can be.
What we didn’t tell them was that our family Christmas present was going to be a surprise trip to Mexico, leaving the day after Christmas. On Christmas morning, they unwrapped a few little gifts they had gotten for each other and opened their stockings with treats from Santa. Then they each got one gift bag from Mom and Dad. As they looked inside and found a swimming suit, flip flops, and snorkel set, they got a little suspicious and all looked our way, waiting. We sat there and just said “Merry Christmas!” They stared. We giggled and then said, “OK, we have one more thing.” Then we gave them each an envelope with a bow. Inside the envelope, each child found a copy of a plane ticket to Cancun and a few photographs of the white sand, turquoise beaches we’d be enjoying for the next week. They jumped and screamed and Ellie even said “I knew you were going to do something like that!!” She’s very perceptive. So we packed our bags that day and took off the next morning for the Yucatan.
We had lived in Mexico when our oldest was just a year and a half and spent a month enjoying one of the most beautiful, geologically diverse places I’d ever been. Underground rivers, cenotes, tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins…it’s an adventure paradise. So I couldn’t wait to bring the kids back to explore. We decided to do our lodging on the cheap through Air BNB, which worked out great. Nothing fancy (as in, our place was on the fourth floor and the elevator only worked about 1 out of every 5 trips and when it stormed one day we had water leaking through window onto the bedroom floor). Still, we had a great view of the ocean from our balcony window, an infinity pool pool to enjoy, and awesome boogie boarding waves just steps away. The kids were in heaven.
Because we felt great about the money we were saving on our accommodations, we decided to splurge a bit on a couple of day-long excursions. Our first big outing took us an hour and a half south to an eco-adventure park called Xel-ha. The first thing I loved after we walked in was knowing we could go to any restaurant and eat whatever we wanted–and not have to worry about dishes. (I’m a mom cooking and cleaning for 6 daily so you see the draw.) Now we were on vacation! Zach got the biggest kick out of the soda stations where he could just stop, get a drink of whatever he wanted, leave his cup, and carry on to whatever cool activity was next on the agenda.
The park is nestled on the edge of the ocean where a giant, clear lagoon works its way to the coast from a ways inland. We rode bikes to the top of the lagoon, then snorkeled down. We floated in tubes, we zip-lined, we cliff jumped, we rode a giant waterslide down from the top of a lighthouse, and we zip biked through a rainforest (basically riding a bike in the air attached to a cable above so you can soar over cenotes, through caves, beside waterfalls). The girls and Scott even got to do a dolphin interactive experience, which they loved. We kept all our stuff in lockers so we could just walk around in swimsuits, playing, swimming, and stopping in restaurants when we got hungry. The weather was lovely, and after a short afternoon shower we even looked up to find a rainbow arching over the place. Heavenly.
We left Xel-ha wet, happy, and full of delicious Mexican food then spent the next day relaxing back at our condo. Then we were ready for another adventure. We had heard about a tour company called Alma’s LDS Tours, which offered a specific Book of Mormon emphasis to some of the Mayan ruins. We decided that sounded just right for us. The tour bus picked us up at 7 a.m. and we headed back down south to explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba. Tulum was a gorgeous civilization built between the 13th and 15th centuries right on the Caribbean coast. Our wonderful tour guide Arnie shared the history of the area and then pointed out interesting LDS tidbits, like the many carvings of what has been dubbed the “descending God,” a figure that looks like it is coming down from heaven to live among the people. Book of Mormon scholars think that the Nephite civilization could have been just south of this area so the story of a God coming down from heaven sounds a lot like 3 Nephi, when Christ comes down to heal and teach the Nephites.
In the ruins of Coba, first settled around 100 A.D., we found more Book of Mormon similarities, such as a carving of a tree with two men that looked rather unhappy and turned away from the tree, and another two men walking toward it. Lehi’s Tree of Life perhaps? Our tour guide also asked Zach to read from the Book of Mormon where we learned about raised roads that paved the way between cities (see 3 Nephi 6:8).
We read this scripture standing in an area where there is evidence of an ancient road raised off the ground (or “cast up” as it reads in the Book of Mormon). How cool is that? The Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient civilization that would have been near the ancient people of the Yucatan. I loved thinking about these histories and the way the people lived and loved and worshiped many hundreds of years ago. Plus, it’s significant to remember that Joseph Smith hadn’t been on vacation recently to the Yucatan when he was translating the plates. He just wrote down what he saw. Coba wasn’t officially discovered in modern times until 1926, 82 years after Joseph Smith died.
Our last stop was at a beautiful cenote (or pool of water in a cave fed by the underground rivers that run through the Yucatan) where my kids completely peer pressured me into jumping off the highest platform I ever have into the water below. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Check. We drove home, first stopping to drop off another family at an all-inclusive place that we were told cost $800 per person per day. The kids asked if we could do that next time. We laughed. “Um, probably not.”
All in all, the trip was an incredible success. We got everything we were looking for: family time, warm weather, the beach, culture and history, and lots of adventure. It wasn’t easy getting on the plane and realizing that in four hours the temperature outside was going to go from 80 degrees to 20. Luckily, these sorts of experiences don’t completely get left behind with the weather. We keep them in our minds and hearts and remember them forever. I have a feeling that this December we might just give our children the same warning that we will not be honoring wish lists for toys and clothes. We want to give something more–something that last a lifetime.