Tender Christmas Mercies

Tender Christmas Mercies

Name withheld.

During the mid-1990s, we were living in a rural Alberta community.  While I served as bishop, my professional life was also demanding. Our six children were young, yet a source of great joy. My dear wife was an indispensable source of support. However, I was tired. There didn’t seem to be enough of me to fulfill my responsibilities. My greatest fear was that my inadequacies would be a detriment to those whom I was charged to help.

One challenging aspect of serving as bishop was trying to complete all of the administrative paperwork. There were so many personal crises to deal with in the lives of the members that I had little time to for reports and correspondence. After work one evening, I went directly to the church to work through the growing pile of paperwork. I felt particularly spent that evening.

It was a Wednesday night - the activity night for youth in our ward. I noticed one young man hovering around my office. I had learned from experience with other young people that usually means something is on their mind. So, I invited him in.

It didn't take long until he opened up. He shared with me that he struggled with feelings of identity and self-worth. He wasn't sure there was a God – at least not a personal God who was aware of him and loved him. He felt that if there was no God, then there was no purpose to keeping the rules and expectations that come with trying to be a Christian and member of the Church. As we chatted, an idea came to my mind. I invited him to come with me on an errand.

A week or two earlier, an immigrant couple and their young baby had come to the church seeking assistance. I provided what I could. I also invited them to meet with our missionaries and they gave me their address for that purpose. I remembered that the ladies of our congregation had made some baby quilts and had distributed many of them to needy families in the community.  I decided it would be appropriate to take this young man with me as I went to deliver to this family a baby quilt and to wish them a Merry Christmas.

We arrived at the apartment building, but I did not have an apartment number or the couple’s surname. As we entered, we stopped in the stairwell and petitioned Heavenly Father for guidance to find the family. We then walked up the steps, paused, and chose a door and knocked. A lady came to the door.  She recognized me and gratefully received the baby blanket and our Christmas wishes.
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Little was said during our ride home, but a feeling of gratitude lingered as we both realized that we had been part of something special. It was apparent to the young man that God knew about the needs of the immigrant family and used him to bless their lives. That meant God exists, that He does know and love His children individually – even him. I believe that the experience answered his questions about his worth and purpose.

Within a couple of days following that experience, I was back in the bishop’s office again trying to tackle the paperwork. A knock came to the door. I opened it to find a somewhat unkempt, rough looking First Nations man who gave a story of being a long ways away from his family. He said that he lived in a small community in northern Alberta and had been trying to hitchhike home for Christmas but wasn't getting very far. It was cold outside and he was wondering if I could help him buy a bus ticket. He seemed sincere. I explained to him that, according to the Lord's way of helping, when we receive a blessing, in return, we bless the lives of others in a way that we are able to. I then invited him to come with me.

When I took him to our home, my patient wife fed him supper. He cleaned up a little bit and then helped me deliver food to some needy families. Initially, my new friend seemed apprehensive. But after visiting a few homes, he was shaking hands, hugging and wishing the families a Merry Christmas.

One of the families we visited was, like my new found companion, struggling to make ends meet. It had been a humbling, even humiliating experience for the unemployed father of that family to have to come to the Church and ask me for help.

As we smiled and they received our small gift of bread, I felt to ask the father aside. “Brother,” I began, “will you return the blessing that you received by taking the First Nations fellow into the closest urban centre this evening, get him a bus ticket to his northern Alberta, and see him off?” The brother smiled, and gratefully received the errand. No doubt, he felt better caring for the poor, having received assistance himself.
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A few nights later, still at the office trying to get the paperwork done. Some men of our congregation had been delivering Christmas hampers to needy families and came to my office with some left over hampers. The idea came to me that there were still some other families who needed them. I loaded them into my car and left the office.

One of the families that had come to mind lived in a small community 10 km away.  I thought I knew the location of the house but was mistaken. When I stopped at a convenience store to look at a map, another family from the ward pulled up to fill up their car with gas. I realized that they, too, were a needy family that I hadn't considered.

The husband had been out of work, and it was obvious that they needed groceries. Their car was full of their children. I had two Christmas hampers left, so I gave both to them, producing smiles from the children and soft thanks from the parents.

As I climbed back into my car, a distinct impression came that I must see the family that I had originally intended to visit. Navigated by my map, I made it to their home. When they invited me in I found I had arrived during their son’s eighth birthday party. He was ecstatic that I had joined the party and assumed that was the purpose of my visit. I didn’t tell him otherwise.
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I discretely chatted with the boy’s father and asked about baptismal plans. He confided in me that he was not in a position to perform the ordinance and he asked if I would baptize his son. Instead, during ensuing weeks I met with him on several occasions. As he responded to the Lord’s counsel, and through the blessings of the atonement, he was able to worthily perform his son’s baptism.

The Lord’s tender mercies were so obvious that Christmas season. To a young man struggling with his relationship with deity, He gave a reminder that He exists, and knows and loves His children individually. To an immigrant couple with a young child, He gave a baby blanket and a witness that His Church does exist to bless the lives of others. To a destitute First Nations man, He gave the gift of being able to return to his family for Christmas and the opportunity to bring some Christmas cheer to others. To a father who was embarrassed about his need, the gift of self-respect was given. To a family with hungry children was given food. To a child who desired to be baptized, He gave a worthy father to perform the ordinance. To a bishop who was overwhelmed by his mantel of responsibility, He gave the assurance that this was His work, that He was in control and would bless the lives of His children through him.