Christmas time is here! Just those four words evoke the Charlie Brown Christmas melody and much more in our hearts. Christmas is meant for coming together as family and friends! Just as much, it’s a quiet, private time to come unto Christ. Here are a few of my own very special Christmas moments this year that came through a song, a friend and a story that I can’t wait to share with you! In my own small way, I hope they’ll light the world a bit this beautiful Christmas of 2019.
MY SONG: Sleigh Ride For Five Pianos by the 5 Browns
Blessed is the Christmas that has new song and/or CD that thrills you to your toes. One where you laugh and cry at the same time with the joy of Christmas. Here’s mine for this year. This video was published on Youtube on December 10, 2019 and has gone viral with over 850,000 views since then! I warn you … get ready for some serious Christmas goosebumps!
The 5 Browns: Sleigh Ride – A Holiday Excursion For Five Pianos Recorded At the Steinway & Sons Factory, New York City, 2019.
I know I’m not the only who is fascinated with this family of five Latter-day Saint siblings who have been playing, performing and recording their virtuoso piano adventures (that’s five Steinway grand pianos nestled together like puppies and 50 Julliard-trained fingers ) for over 15 years now. Throughout the years as concert, world-famous pianists, they’ve dreamed of creating a Christmas CD. This year their own Christmas wish came true!
“Christmas With the 5 Browns” was released just a couple of weeks ago! It includes selections from the Nutcracker and a piano variation of Mack Wilbur’s breathtaking arrangement of “Still, Still, Still” for the Tabernacle . More about this new CD, their Christmas memories and their lives now is in a fascinating Dec. 11, 2019 live interview that I know you’ll enjoy. The link for that interview is at the end of this article. The CD is available at Amazon and Spotify. So FUN!
MY FRIEND and MENTOR: Darla Isackson (1943-2019)
Christmas is such a special time to remember and celebrate precious friendships. This year the Christmas friend in my heart is Darla Isackson, one of of Meridian Magazine’s favorite friends and original columnists. Oh, the power and lessons of her articles! The example of her daily life! Darla passed away from cancer in August after a lifetime of health challenges. She touched me, taught me and changed my life in a very literal, significant way that I will tell you about some other time. After connecting with her through Meridian Magazine in 2012, I communicated with her often and even spent time with her in her home! I miss her and know you do too.
I visited her last March, shortly before she was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer. Resting on the couch in her lovely, sky-blue living room, it was easy to tell that her spirit was joyfully alive but that her body was frail and oh-so-tired. Tastefully displayed in the room were several inspiring paintings and small statues of the Savior as a shepherd, carrying a lamb, with a staff, etc. When I commented on her collection, she opened up her heart and told me how that image of Christ as the Shepherd had carried her throughout the years with many, many personal trials – the trials that have blessed us all as she penned their profound lessons into books and articles.
Soon after our visit, with this art collection in mind, I sent her a copy of a book that is very dear to me, “A Shepherd’s Look At Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller. In this small book, we come to know the Savior in a completely new way as the author, a shepherd himself, tells us about sheep, shepherds and what the Psalmist is really telling us about the Savior’s role in our lives.
(As a little side note, this very special book was included in Scot and Maurine Proctor’s recent Come Follow Me Podcast #49, Good Tidings of Great Joy. This podcast is an exceptional Christmas gift in and of itself. Don’t miss it!
Darla (I always called her Darling Darla) received the book shortly after her diagnosis and emailed to tell me that she had less than six months to live. With so little time and so many important things to do, she found the time to read the book, then write back and thank me for what she called a “rich read.”
She is gone this Christmas, which makes the role of the shepherds and their presence on the night of the Savior’s birth even more poignant for me! Isn’t it interesting, and so tender to realize that even as He was visited by shepherds at His birth, He came to earth to ultimately become the Shepherd of all humankind?
In my own personal reading for Christmas this year, I came across this remarkable perspective about the shepherds at Bethlehem from Dr. Eric D. Huntsman, a Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU,
“There is a tendency to romanticize the shepherds, making them in our imagination good, gentle, humble figures. In actuality, shepherds at the time were often looked upon as unclean and outside the law, sometimes even as dishonest, because they often grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. In this case, they fit well with Luke’s emphasis elsewhere in his Gospel, where Jesus declares he has come not to the righteous but to the outcasts and sinners. Others have noted, however, that many of the flocks near Bethlehem, which is only six miles from Jerusalem, were intended for temple sacrifices, in which case one sees an entirely different symbolism. Jesus came as the Lamb of God, to die for the sins of the world, and it was perhaps to the keepers of temple flocks that his birth was first announced.”
(Good Tidings of Great Joy by Eric D. Huntsman, Deseret Book 2011.)
Darla knew the Savior as her shepherd so very, very well! How she blessed the rest of us with her teachings and understanding about Him! Her many articles, true gifts that bring us unto Christ not just at Christmas but all year long remain at her Meridian archive: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/author/darla-isackson/
MY STORY: “The Anonymous Benefactor” by Susan Easton Black
We are working our way through a wonderful, rather lengthy volume called “Best Loved Christmas Stories of the LDS People,” (Deseret Book, 2001.) It is excellent for reading aloud. One of my favorites this year is from Susan Easton Black, another BYU professor of Church History and Doctrine. We have long been fans of her books, articles and Youtube lectures, so it’s fascinating to hear a bit about her personal life and her spiritual wisdom reflected from a Christmas as a young, single mother:
With a Cadillac, a maid, and a gardener, my family always had a Christmas with the best gifts from Santa’s sleigh.
My anticipation of opening gifts on Christmas Day was boundless, for I knew my mother was an uncontrolled shopper when it came to my whims. After opening one gift after another, I toted my new acquisitions up and down the street so all the neighbors would know that Santa loved me best and that my parents were spoiling me to my complete satisfaction.
From such a worldly background of material prosperity, it seemed only natural for me to fantasize that when I had children of my own the established tradition of wealth and abundant giving at Christmas would continue. If that had been the case, I would not have had one memorable Christmas—just more of the same.
It was in 1977, over 40 years ago, that my Christmas took a strang twist. Circumstances had changed. I was no longer the little girl awaiting the parental handout, but was an adult attempting to make my own way in life. I was a graduate student in 1977, completing a doctoral degree and raising three small sons alone. Like several other graduate students, I had obtained university employment as a research writer for a professor; and like most of the students, I was struggling to meet my financial obligations.
Five days before Christmas, I realized that my mismanagement of funds would prevent much gift buying of any kind. It seemed unbearable to me.
Cuddling my sons, I reluctantly explained my abhorrence of debt and the specter of our economic plight. My emotions surfaced as the children attempted to comfort me by nodding assuredly, “Don’t worry! Santa Claus will give us gifts.”
Cautiously, I explained, “I think Santa Claus is also having a bad year.”
With certainty my first-born son, Brian, announced, “But on television his sleigh is still filled with toys. With five days left till Christmas, he’ll have plenty for us.” His younger brother Todd interjected, “Besides, Santa won’t forget us. We’ve been good this year.”
As all three nodded in agreement, I did too. My sons had been good. They had found happiness and friendship in our family; we all were unusually close. Perhaps it was our circumstance. Yet, despite their goodness, they would soon be disappointed because neither Santa nor mother would bring the desired presents on Christmas Day.
That night I cried and pled with the Lord for relief, for a glimmer of hope that Christmas in our home would be better than I anticipated. My verbal prayers awakened the children. They seemed to intuitively know what was causing my unhappiness. “Don’t worry about presents. It doesn’t matter,” said Brian. I knew it didn’t matter on December 20th, but I knew it would be all-important on December 25th.
The next morning I could not hide the despair and self-pity that had marred my face through the night. “What is wrong?” I was asked again and again at the university. My trite reply was “Nothing.”
Arriving home, I methodically pulled the mail from the mailbox as I entered the house. A curious, unstamped envelope caught my attention. “To a very, very, very, very, very special lady” was typewritten on the envelope. I gazed at the envelope and wondered if it were meant for me. Hoping it was, I tore it open. To my surprise I found several dollars inside, but not a note of explanation.
“Come quickly,” I beckoned the children. Together we counted the money, examined the envelope, and expressed wonder at the anonymous gift. This was a direct answer to my prayer. There was enough money in the envelope to buy an extra gift for each child. I was stunned and amazed, and my joy and excitement of Christmas had returned. It was going to be a great Christmas Day after all. It wouldn’t be as lavish as those of my childhood, but it would be good enough.
I was curious. Where had the money come from? Could it be from a neighbor, a friend, a classmate, or the bishop? Logical deduction led me first to near neighbors. As I attempted to thank them, each stammered and then confessed, “It wasn’t me.” Asking friends and classmates rendered similar comments.
It must be the bishop, I decided. He denied being our benefactor, however, and assured us that he did not know who had been so kind.
Curiosity mounted as nightfall approached. I read the envelope again: “To a very, very, very, very, very special lady.” This time I noticed that the “e” and “L” were misshapen letters produced by an old typewriter ribbon. I also observed that each dollar bill had been folded and unfolded many times, as if each one had been of infinite worth. My desire to uncover the identity of the anonymous donor grew. Soon that desire was coupled with the gnawing resolve to return the money. The misshapen letters and folded bills evidenced that the generous donor also had financial difficulties.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Again and again I asked myself, “Who was it?” I had the clues of the old typewriter ribbon and the folded money, but not the answer. I can’t really describe how I finally knew who the benefactor was, but about two o’clock in the morning, I knew. I knew who had a broken typewriter, and who needed to replace their ribbon, and who carefully folded and unfolded money, checking each dollar bill. It was my three sons.
With tears of love, I awoke the donors. Blurry eyed they asked, “What’s wrong?” I replied, “Nothing’s wrong; everything is right! You gave me the money. You gave me all the money you possess!” Opening the bedroom closet door, I pulled out three empty jars that once had contained their treasured fortune. They sat silent for several moments until my nine-year-old Brian turned to his younger brother Todd and punched him. “You told!” he exclaimed. Attempting to fend off further blows, Todd yelled, “It wasn’t me, it must have been John.” Their five-year-old brother immediately said, “It wasn’t me,” as both boys landed on him. In unison they asked, “How did you know?”
I had searched outside my home for the answer—but the answer was within. I had seen generosity in all those around me, but had failed to recognize the generous hearts of my children. And now I more clearly knew why the Savior had said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” My house, with all of its material flaws, was my heaven on earth, and my sons were my greatest treasure. Christmas 1977 was indeed a merry Christmas worth remembering.”
(Best Loved Christmas Stories of the LDS People, p. 402.)
And so, my dear Meridian Friends, with music, friends, books and stories that make the season a joy, I wish you a merry and blessed Christmas! One that will bring memories worth remembering and your life closer to the Savior!
LINK For MPR Interview about the 5 Browns new Christmas CD and their current lives:
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups.
She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents of eleven. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE