Dad and I spoke in Sacrament meeting the Sunday before Christmas. It is always a sweet, rewarding experiencing for me. Here is the message I shared....
December 20, 2015
Sacrament Meeting Talk
Mustang 1st Ward, Mustang OK
Good morning Brothers and Sisters,
It is nice to be here with you today! My name is Elizabeth Zepp and our family (my husband Jason and our 4 children) moved into the ward in August, coming from Houston. It just seems unimaginable that that was almost 5 months ago! There are so many of you that I have yet to have met, I apologize for that! I do, however, see some of the cute faces that belong to my CTR 5 primary class that I teach, and that makes me smile and happy. I am glad that they are here! Well, because our family has moved a lot, we have spoken in church, a lot. And I think that’s just fine and completely appropriate that the new move ins get picked on ;) The last time Jason and I spoke together, it was Easter Sunday. And now, today, which is the closest Sunday before Christmas. I think for good reason, this makes me even more nervous. I feel like ya’ll come to church on Sundays like Easter and Christmas to be extra-edified and spiritually fed, and I think that you deserve that. So, I’ve been prayerful that we don’t disappoint too badly.
In my scripture studies this week I read Matthew chapter 1. Verses 20-21 in that chapter read:
But while he (he being Joseph) thought on these, behold the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a son, and though shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
It seems inevitable that Christmastime evokes the most tender and loving feelings toward the Savior and His earthly family. The Christmas story is a family story….perhaps nowhere else in all of literature, whether religious or secular, is there a more tender and moving account of family unity, sacrifice, love and service.
Brothers and sisters during the remaining time I have with you I’d like share a couple of personal and treasured Christmas stories that for me have encompassed family unity, sacrifice, love and service.
One of my all time favorite statements from a prophet comes from Gordon B. Hinckley: In speaking to a group of BYU students he once said:
“You are good. But it is not enough to just be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must become a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others.”
I really love that quote….and every time it runs it through my mind I also see glimpses of faces and names of individuals who have spread good to me and my family and made our world a better place. One of these particular and special persons I think of does not have a name or face. But they entered our lives a few Christmases ago. This was a Christmas that our family, well primarily Jason and me, because our 4 children were quite young, were not feeling the typical happiness and joy that accompanies the holidays. Instead, because of no poor choice or fault on our part, we were dealing with a really terrible incident that left us victims and we were stressed out and above all sad and hurt as we were dealing with law enforcement, prosecutors, court proceedings. It really didn’t feel much like Christmas to me at all that year, but I tried to keep things normal and as cheerful as possible. I realized I failing miserably when my 4 year old asked, my husband why mommy was crying so much lately. It was about that time, a couple of weeks before Christmas, that we started getting anonymous gifts on our front porch. We had no idea who was leaving these thoughtful and practical and fun gifts for us, but they arrived every evening through Christmas Day with a clever and creative poem attached to them. We named this anonymous person, The Secret Giver. This became such an exciting thing for us all. Each night we would collect the gift and gather together to unwrap it. These nights brought us together and caused smiles to plaster our faces. Initially, I wasn’t sure why someone had chosen our family to give to, I knew it wasn’t because they knew of our situation, because none of our friends or family knew, with the exception of our out of state parents, and I even felt a little bad at first because our hearts hurt, but we were not in a tough or bad financial situation at all and there were probably so many others who could have benefited from and needed this more than us. But after a couple of days I got a prompting to let my guilt go… this was a tender mercy. An answer to my prayers, that we would feel God’s love as we endured and worked through a difficult situation, and know that He was mindful of me and my family and that our happiness mattered to Him, always. On Christmas Eve, the kids were adamant about leaving a gift in exchange for The Secret Giver. So we did and included a letter with it. We thanked The Secret Giver and shared with them that unbeknownst to them, they had been a very bright spot in an otherwise gloomy time in our lives. We also promised to pay their goodness forward in a like manner the following year. And am I thankful that we were good on that promise as that was another special experience for our family. I love that Christmas is a time to be good for something. To spread the good that is in us with others. We don’t always have to be secret givers or give secretly, we can and should openly give of our talents, compliments, kind words, smiles, hugs, time, and love. President Monson tells us:
"Our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are hearts to gladden. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved. “Go, gladden the lonely, the dreary; Go, comfort the weeping, the weary; Go, scatter kind deeds on your way; Oh, make the world brighter today!”
Although, we know it is more blessed to give than to receive, I wonder if sometimes we disregard the importance of being a good receiver. For this particular Christmas story, you’ll have to travel in time with me, and I’ll date myself here…and that’s ok, The year was 1985 and I was 7 years old and in the 2nd grade. At this time in my life my family which consisted of my parents, and my 5 brothers and we were living in western Washington state. My husband and I both grew up in Washington state and are from the same small town. It was December 23rd and my parents were gone for the day doing Christmas shopping. They took my 2 year old twin brothers with them and left me with my oldest brother, who was 12, my brother other brother who was 9, and a younger brother who was 5. The 3 younger kids of us joined heads and decided that we would take whatever little money we had to our names…about 1-3 dollars a piece and pool it together so we could buy our mom and dad some really nice Christmas gifts. We took the money put on our shoes and coats and walked the 2 miles to the local Salvation Army. In hindsight,….I can’t believe my oldest brother who was suppose to be the actual babysitter, didn’t come with us, but this was a different day and age…I remember we spent a good chunk of time combing over the many treasures. Remember one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Or as my husband, who is in the trash and recycle business says….your trash is our cash. We wanted these gifts to be good. Just a big, nice surprise for our parents. We proudly purchased an adding machine for dad and a pair of navy blue high heels for mom. Now, when I say adding machine….think of a huge, almost as big as a typwriter piece of equipment. Similar to small cash register. Unbeknownst to us it was quite outdated and vintage even in 1985. We believed these gifts to be perfection, after all, we’d seen our dad tons of times sitting at the table paying bills, without even so much as a calculator. And our mom, well we concluded that most of her Sunday dresses would pair beautifully with navy blue colored heel. We lugged those gems back home, taking turns carrying the adding machine, and wrapped them up to the best our ability. I remember thinking how amazing it was that my brothers were so being nice to me through the whole process. I’ll be honest, they usually were in perma tease and pester mode…but not then, we were united in this.
When Christmas morning arrived, instead of making a b-line for our Christmas gifts, we rushed over to mom and dad and presented them with their gifts. My mom opened hers first. A gigantic smile hit her face and a happy shriek left her mouth as she laid eyes on the heels. She hugged and kissed us each repeatedly and thanked us over and over again. Then my dad opened his gift and gave a similar reaction. Pure joy and excitement. It was the best gift he’d ever been given he said. He couldn’t wait to put it to use. Fast forward a decade or so…..my family is watching old family videos and we come across footage of this particular Christmas. My brothers and I erupt into laughter when we see how ridiculous our gifts to our parents were. You see, the heels we gave to my mom were in a size 5.5. We now knew our mom wears a size 9 shoe. The adding machine we gave to my dad, who was a certified public accountant, was completely impractical. When we settled ourselves down, I commented at how great of actors our parents were and I asked my mom and dad, “How in the heck did you keep it together?” My Dad was pretty serious in his response of, “We did love those gifts. We loved all the sacrifice, effort and thought and that went into them.” He was right to an extent…but I think that more than learning about family unity and the goodness and blessings of being a selfless giver, we were taught by example how to be a good and grateful receiver.
In 2012 President Uchtdorf gave a Christmas Devotional talk titled just that “The Good and Grateful Receiver” In his talk he stated:
"Every gift that is offered to us- especially a gift that comes from the heart-is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift. But when we fail to appreciate or even reject a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us, but in some way we harm ourselves as well."
I honestly do not remember a single gift I got that 1985 Christmas, but I remember that what I gave was out of pure love and that it was received by good and grateful receivers. I am thankful for that experience, as it brought me greater understanding of the spirit of the Christmas season.
My heart grows soft and warm as I think of the gifts our loving, gracious and generous Father in Heaven has given us: the gift of the Holy Ghost, forgiveness, personal revelation, the Plan of Salvation and above all, the gift of his only Begotten Son. I know that when these gifts are received with humble gratitude and joy, we feel our Father’s love expressed in these gifts and our relationship with the Divine Giver deepens. And what could we possibly give back to Him whose gift to us is priceless and matchless??? The answer is so simply put into one of my favorite primary songs….The question being: What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say? Have faith, have hope, live like His son, help others on their way.
Brothers and sisters I am grateful for this gospel. I know that Jesus Christ’s life did not begin in Bethlehem or end on Calvary. He lives! He is the savior and redeemer of all mankind. Our lives have purpose, meaning, direction, hope, and peace because of Him. I am thankful that during the Christmas season, amongst the over commercialization, busyness and hustle and bustle of things, my focus is not misguided. I know that He is the Gift…I love Him.
I have always enjoyed the fact that the prophet Joseph Smith’s Birthday is December 23rd…so close to when we celebrate the Savior’s. Although I do not worship Joseph Smith, I revere him and know that under the direction of God, he brought back the gospel of Jesus Christ in it’s fullness to the earth. We have the power to act in God’s name, temples, eternal truths and much more because of him. When the spirit bore me that witness and truth at a young age my life changed in the most wonderful way, and I know that active membership in this church is priceless and special and unparalleled.
I am thankful for my good family that I love whole heartedly, and for the good they unconditionally share with me. I know that as we keep the spirit of Christ in our Christmases we will better recognize and appreciate the true miracles and wonders of the season.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
This was the first year we have had a "real" Christmas tree!!! I loved it, and am never going back to artificial again!
Madz is our talented, artistic, musician. She has a beautiful voice, and has been enjoying being a member of her school's honor choir very much.
Bird has joined Madz in piano lessons this year. This could not make me happier. Both girls are constantly amazing me with how quickly they pick this skill up.
Our Christmas card and annual photo shoot. Our wardrobe selection couldn't have been comfier ;)
Liv's first try at Nana's popcorn balls was a success. Yummy.
Love this yellow sweater. Mostly because it belonged to Nanny. Our cross body purses did too.
A dad and his boy!
Our gifts to the Savior. I love this tradition.
A little Nativity performance on Christmas Eve. We laughed about baby Jesus being laid in Sy's wrestle mania ring for a bed!
Christmas (well we actually opened our gifts on Christmas Eve morning because Christmas was a travel day for us) morning picture with Madz' new selfie stick!
Jack slippers for Madz from Dad. He sure knows his girl!
The big girls got some cool and fun motorized scooters.
Birdie and her Pichu. She also got a cocoon reading chair and some Disney toddler princess dolls and clothes.
Simon's wrestler collection grew!
I love our awesome and thoughtful kids so much. They FILLED our stockings with love notes and coupons! Now THAT is Christmas!
Christmas morning we headed out to Branson, MO. We spent the afternoon and night at an indoor watermark/hotel. It was a fabulous time indeed.
The following day we drove to Christopher's in Springfield. Joseph family was there too. We love getting together with them. Birdie sobs every time we have to say "goodbye."
We came home to quite an ice storm. We are learning that this how winters go in OKC.
In brighter news....Simon mastered riding a training wheel less bike. Yippee!!! He was so cute, when he held up the training wheels and said, "Well, I guess we can give these to Ava now."
We got our fence up. Just look at that backyard! The kids (and I) have been in heaven with all this space and privacy. They have never spent so much time outside. It's just so good for the body and soul and it makes my heart happy to see them get to be kids in this way.
Dad's work party was at a man made snow tubing course at the baseball field. This was a good time and a great l, festive way to begin our winter season!
Now, for Dad's annual Night Before Christmas Poem...........
It was the night before Christmas in the Zepp House
Nobody could be heard, not even the trapped mouse☺
As we close out the year and look back on many things
The joy in seeing Ruthie and the smiles she brings
Moving to Oklahoma you must be kidding me
The only way this flies is a White Kitchen and Shutters for Mommy
Sy rides a bike and attends his pre school
If we can get him to forget about Slappy that would be cool
Biridie what a year, Tee Ball, piano, and losing your chops
Buddy and Boo still love your smile and your lovely brown locks
Your reading skills are amazing, as parents we couldn’t be more glad
We can only hope and pray your talent is picked up by Liv and Madz
Liv speaking in stake conference, is an impressive accomplishment on its own
Playing soccer with the Hawks was enough to make you groan
Through the season you fought and kept your head high
Although the ride through Lake Hefner almost killed you and I
Madz your talents this year have been on full display
Piano, choir, soccer and softball you all have played
We are excited to see what this next year you will bring
Even if it means not playing for Coach Hussein
We always love when you do missionary work
We pray the Pokemon and Jack this year you will shirk
Mommy who loves us and daily keeps us fed
We hope she will calm down and say her prayers off the bed
We love you mommy and wouldn’t trade you for the world
Even when we had to leave the Rockets and you almost hurled
We look back on a year, with Kims Place and Uncle John
I could never have over come without my family to lean on
As we look forward to a new year with hope and with faith
I will cry like a baby when Madz turns middle school age
With love I leave you and hope you enjoy what I have said
And yes Simon, tonight you can sleep in my bed
Merry Christmas- 2015