Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Silent Night

Yesterday I stood with the choir to sing "Silent Night" as the closing hymn of the Sacrament service. This song is significant to many people, and I, too, have many memories associated with it. From the time my dad shared with us a story of when he was in Austria as a young missionary and heard it played in a cathedral (with its accompanying background story), to when we learned it in its native German to sing to an old German couple, and on up through the countless times we have sung it as a family, its words serve to tie me to each of those times, to the love and warmth that has been in attendance. But this time, I found my voice catching for a newer reason.

Two days prior, I had the honor of being part of a group of families who were delivering gifts to five families in need. For the previous couple weeks I got to coordinate these efforts and I was overwhelmed at the response. Before we loaded the cars, I laid out most of the gifts (another 12 or so were still coming) to take a picture. Maybe it was the sweet Christmas music playing, perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but probably it was that as I picked up and placed each gift, I had an overwhelming sense of love and tears streaked my cheeks. I felt the love that had gone into choosing and wrapping each gift. I felt love for the people who had given so willingly. I felt love for the people who would be receiving these gifts. A lot of love, is what I'm saying.

(some of the gifts - Gemma not included)

One of the things the Branch President of the other congregation had asked for was white shirts (to which I devoted an entire post, earlier). Upon meeting him at the church, I asked if we should bring them in. Oh yes, he said, and ushered me to a small room next to his office.

"Here are some hooks," he motioned.
I looked at the three smallish brass hooks on the wall, probably intended for one or two coats and I thought, He really didn't believe me or my Bishop when we told him we would deliver. I turned to him and could hardly contain the grin that had spread across my face, "Ok. Um, I have 93 shirts and 9 full suits. So..."

He physically staggered backward, exclaiming, "Oh my goodness! Oh that's WONDERFUL!" As person after person entered his office, arms laden with shirts and suits and shoes and belts and sweaters, he just stood there, speechless, patting his head. I brought in one of the boxes of ties (do you know how difficult it is to fold and stack ties?!) and grinned again, "I have 140 ties. But I maybe more - I lost count."

We divided up, pairing with a local leader, and set off to the homes. As we arrived at the home of the T family and began to pull out the packages, the Branch President's eyes went huge and asked, "Are these all for them?!" Yes sir!

I had a particular interest in visiting the T family. Even though 20 names had been on my list, this particular family had stuck out to me. Over and over I kept thinking of the mother, who hardly speaks English, and her three sweet children. I noticed on the list of wants/needs, the 10 year old wanted colored pencils and art supplies. How could my heart not melt, considering my own oldest's love of drawing? Her twin brother had asked for a basketball, besides some clothes. I wondered how he felt, being the man of the house with his father still in a refugee camp in Kenya. I thought of the 3 year old girl, not that much older than my own youngest, and how she had asked for a doll. But mostly I thought of the mother who had asked for knives, a cutting board, and some pans. She just wants to cook!

(excuse the camera phone quality - later my kids asked,
"Why do you look so excited?" Um, because I was?)

The 10 of us visiting the T family barely fit with them in their front room. Some sat on the floor and the kids all sat on laps. But they were full of joy and love. Since the mother speaks little English, the Branch President would say, "Translate!" to the twins and one of them would turn and say it in Amharic. I was amazed at how good the children's English was, considering they knew nothing when they arrived almost two years ago. When I asked what the youngest one spoke, the older sister laughed and said, "Mostly English, but she has her own nonsense language." Ah yes.

The Branch President shared a few words on the season and who we were, then he asked if he I wanted to say something. I spent about 5 minutes sharing with them the feelings I'd had in my heart - about how I had been thinking of them a lot; the feelings I'd had for them individually; how I didn't really know them, but felt a love for them; how the feelings I had told me that Heavenly Father knows them and loves them; how I was honored to be in their home; and finally how I hoped the gifts would bring them happiness, but also a sense that the Savior loved them and had touched the hearts of people not too far away who knew their names and purposefully went out and purchased those gifts.

As I concluded, the Branch President tapped the older girl's shoulder and said, "Translate!" Oh boy, I thought. But as the girl turned to begin, the mother raised her hand, nodded, and smiling, said, "I understood." As we hugged later, she whispered, "Thank you. Thank you."

We ended our visit by singing "Silent Night" and the mother bowed her head and rocked, as if in prayer. The song was not familiar to any of them, but they listened. And as I sang it again in church on Sunday, I thought of how powerful the music is. Whether you're among hundreds of people and accomplished musicians, or sitting in a tiny room with minimal furnishings, you can still feel that over 2000 years ago, a young woman gave birth to a tiny baby in the most humble of circumstances. He is the source of good and light and love, and I am blessed to have those in my life.


Lisa said...

Okay, now stop making me cry.

But seriously, what a wonderful story. I'm glad that you were able to be a part of that.

Nicki said...

so amazing :) I love that this year I really understand the reason for Christmas, and this just makes it that much stronger. Hey! I have a testimony of the real reason for Christmas! Sweet! Thanks Sarah :)

Margo said...

This is amazing. I can only imagine the wonderful spirit you must have felt and the feeling of love you delivered. You are the best.