My favorite Christmas picks from Deseret Book (+a giveaway!)

Here are a few books that I’m using around here to a) celebrate Christmas or b) give as Christmas gifts or c) keep for myself. I wanted to share what they’re about and give you a chance to win some Christmas music too!

If you have someone on your list who likes inspiration with a no-nonsense approach, I recommend this new book by President Packer:

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This book includes some of President Packer’s most significant messages, delivered over a span of twenty-five years, on such topics as the plan of salvation, listening to the voice of the Spirit, spiritual growth, and marriage and family. Typical of his unwavering style, he tackles some of the challenges the world faces in the 21st century, such as the disease of profanity and the need for personal responsibility. He thoughtfully and powerfully address many major doctrinal, moral, and social issues of our day. At a time when the adversary has succeeded in “confusing the choices of man,” President Packer shares timely insights gained from many decades of serving as a special witness of Jesus Christ in the highest councils of the Church.

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If you enjoy biographies or books with a journal-style, this new book about President Henry B. Eyring’s book is really charming. I love the drawings he did and the sweet way he talks about his family and the hand of God in his life.

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Years of his journals form the backbone of this intimate biography, a candid look at his walk through life with his beloved companion, Kathy. “The journal shows how a good-but-imperfect man works each day to win divine approval,” write the authors, and this window into his past provides unforgettable insights about the man the Lord has shaped him to become. Henry B. Eyring’s professional, academic, and personal experiences all combined to make him uniquely qualified for the responsibilities that would become his. And Kathy, always at his side, matching his intellect and spirituality, has influenced him profoundly and contributed to his life mission in unmatchable ways. Their story, told largely in his own words, vividly demonstrates the power of the Lord and the example set by one who strives to follow His commands.

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If you spend any time online, you have probably seen some buzz about the place of women in the Church. Some of the confusion comes from voices claiming that women should hold the priesthood. I happen to think that women already have a lot of power–both within themselves and within the Church–and already have access to all the power and blessings available through the priesthood. (I’ve written my own thoughts here and here about some of that.) Well it turns out that someone else has already written about the real doctrine behind this issue, and done it well. I’ve long been a Sheri Dew fan because I think she’s a great example of a powerful woman–even by the world’s definition of power, but most especially in the spiritual sense–who uses her gifts and stewardship to truly influence the world in righteous ways. I have to admit I have not completely finished this book yet, but I have found myself spending all my time in it so far by nodding, saying, “Yes. Yes.,” and highlighting and underlining things. So I feel safe in giving it a hearty recommendation. Definitely ask for it or buy it for yourself for Christmas.

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For those who seek greater understanding about women and their relationship to the priesthood, Sheri states that the place to start is with the core doctrine of the Church. In this book she discusses the eternal truths that women are vital to the success of the Lord’s Church, that God expects women to receive revelation, and that both men and women have access to God’s highest spiritual blessings. Sheri writes that studying the doctrine of the priesthood will help people find the answers they seek about women and the priesthood, about women in the Church, and about the vital influence righteous women can have in the world.

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I love to collect Christmas picture books. This year I got Christmas from Heaven, which tells the very cool true story of a WWII bomber who dropped candy down from the skies to suffering children below. It’s heartwarming and has cool vintage-style artwork. The book makes for a great read-aloud along with good discussion about kindness, giving, and sacrifice–all appropriate Christmas themes. It also comes with DVD (info below)!

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Christmas from Heaven is the story of the humble beginnings of what became a beacon of hope to a war-torn land, the story of Gail Halvorsen, a young pilot in the US Army Air Corps who was assigned as a cargo pilot to the Berlin Airlift, in which US forces flew much-needed supplies into a Soviet-blockaded Berlin. Fashioning small parachutes, he and his crew sent them floating down as they approached the Berlin airport, wiggling the wings of their C-54 as a signal to the children that their anticipated cargo would soon arrive. Word soon spread, and donations of candy and other supplies poured in to the “Candy Bomber” from sympathetic Americans. Lt. Halvorsen’s small idea became a great symbol of hope not only to German children in a bombed-out city but to all those who yearned for freedom.

Famed broadcast journalist and author Tom Brokaw brings this remarkable true story to life in a stunning live performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, captured on the accompanying DVD. Also included in the book is a template and directions for creating your own “Candy Bomber” parachutes.

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And finally, what is Christmas without good–really good–music? Nothing is more classic that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir belting out Christmas favorites. The only thing that makes it better is when they team up with amazing individual talent: in this case, Alfie Boe of Les Miserables fame. I could listen to the “Bring Him Home” track on repeat for hours.  Deseret Book has offered to do a giveaway for my readers. Yay!!

Enter by leaving me a comment below telling me what is your very favorite Christmas song and you will be entered in a drawing. Two individuals will be chosen to win the DVD or CD of Home for the Holidays. Drawing will close Sunday night at 11:59 pm.

Home for the Holidays DVD Home for the Holidays CD

As seen and heard by more than 80,000 people in the LDS Conference Center, Home for the Holidays is the live recording of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2012 Christmas concert. This year’s release features internationally acclaimed TV personality Tom Brokaw and Tony Award–winning Les Miserables tenor Alfie Boe.

The Choir also welcomed surprise-guest Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, the renowned Candy Bomber of World War II. Together with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, these three special guests delivered an unprecedented excitement to the stage that brought all in attendance to their feet more than once during the night.

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Good stuff available from Deseret Book for Christmas, folks. Make a comment below to win Home for the Holidays, and all these items are available at your local Deseret Book or at their website.

GCBC Week 12: Christmas Break

Christmas

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume you have a busy week ahead of you. So rather than study and discuss a talk this week, take the time to review the Christmas story with your own family.  If you’re looking for something to get you in the right spirit, here is a lovely video with clips from the Bible Videos mixed with excerpts from the First Presidency’s Christmas devotional messages.  Enjoy.

And have a very merry Christmas.

Lessons learned from Mary

Christmas is a time to reflect on and celebrate the birth of Christ. I love to think about Mary and her incredible role in this pinnacle moment in history. She was truly a woman of God. I admire her so much, and her life has taught me many lessons.

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1.  Mary was foreordained and placed in circumstances to fulfill her important mission.

Hundreds of years before Mary was born, prophets testified of her sacred role. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” King Benjamin prophesied, “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” And the prophet Alma declared, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”

Because Jesus’ mortal lineage would come through Mary, in order for all prophecy to be fulfilled, she had to be born herself into the royal line of David and be raised with faith in the God of Israel and the Holy Prophets. And while my own personal mission may not be as magnificent, her story bears witness to me that our Father in Heaven places us on earth when and where he needs us and creates the circumstances in which we can reach our potential and achieve our royal destiny.

“As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, Inc., 1965, vol. 1, p. 85.)

2. Mary was “beautiful and fair.”

I don’t think the scriptures mean that Mary was a bombshell or excessively beautiful by worldly standards. She was “virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy,” and had the kind of beauty that radiates from obedience and spiritual light. The Hebrew word for “fair” can mean “goodly” and implies righteousness and covenant-keeping. Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Spirit “develops beauty of person, form and features.” We all know women who are absolutely beautiful because of their goodness and the spirit of attractiveness; Mary was such a woman.

3. Mary found strength in friendship with righteous women.

I love the story of Mary and Elizabeth. When Mary was processing the almost incredible news of her pending motherhood, she ran to Elizabeth, who by virtue of her own miraculous circumstances, was able to rejoice with her and offer support and encouragement. Even the children in their wombs lept for joy when the women embraced. I love the influence that good friends can have in my life. When we associate with covenant women, their faith and testimony increase ours; they make us better.

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4. Mary knew and experienced loneliness.

Certainly Mary, more than any of us, had a right to feel like no one understood what she was going through. Her situation could have very well threatened her upcoming nuptials, and her secret was so sacred that, other than Joseph and Elizabeth, she probably cold not make it known.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

I’ve thought of Mary, too, this most favored mortal woman in the history of the world, who as a mere child received an angel who uttered to her those words that would change the course not only of her own life but also that of all human history: “Hail, thou virgin, who art highly favoured of the Lord. The Lord is with thee; for thou art chosen and blessed among women.” (JST, Luke 1:28.) The nature of her spirit and the depth of her preparation were revealed in a response that shows both innocence and maturity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)

It is here I stumble, here that I grasp for the feelings a mother has when she knows she has conceived a living soul, feels life quicken and grow within her womb, and carries a child to delivery. At such times fathers stand aside and watch, but mothers feel and never forget. Again, I’ve thought of Luke’s careful phrasing about that holy night in Bethlehem:

The days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and [she] wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and [she] laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6–7; italics added.) Those brief pronouns trumpet in our ears that, second only to the child himself, Mary is the chiefest figure, the regal queen, mother of mothers—holding center stage in this grandest of all dramatic moments. And those same pronouns also trumpet that, save for her beloved husband, she was very much alone.

I have wondered if this young woman, something of a child herself, here bearing her first baby, might have wished her mother, or an aunt, or her sister, or a friend, to be near her through the labor. Surely the birth of such a son as this should command the aid and attention of every midwife in Judea! We all might wish that someone could have held her hand, cooled her brow, and when the ordeal was over, given her rest in crisp, cool linen.

But it was not to be so. With only Joseph’s inexperienced assistance, she herself brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in the little clothes she had knowingly brought on her journey, and perhaps laid him on a pillow of hay.

Then on both sides of the veil a heavenly host broke into song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth, peace among men of good will.” (Luke 2:14, Phillips Translation.) But except for heavenly witnesses, these three were alone: Joseph, Mary, the baby to be named Jesus.

At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.

How true it is that many of the greatest moments of motherhood are quiet and sacred.  Since most of ours are not accompanied by stars and angels, they are often unnoticed by the rest of the world, but not by God. It makes sense that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

5. Mary loved the temple.

It stands to reason that Mary would have been raised in the deeply religious Jewish culture, and the temple was the center of that faith. Given her devotion, it is possible that she could have been one of the many young virgins that were known to do work in and for the temple “includ[ing] sewing and creating vestments, washing the vestments of the priests which would be stained regularly by animal blood, preparing liturgical linen, weaving the veil of the Temple, and most importantly, liturgical prayer.” (Dr. Taylor Marshall) We do know that shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to present him to God. There they were met by Simeon and Anna, who both bore testimony that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Not only did this confirm His mission, but it reaffirmed hers. This is what the temple does for me now. When I attend the temple, I learn about the Savior and I learn about me. Having that testimony of her divine role reinforced in the temple must have been a powerful boon for Mary.

We also know that “[Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.” (Luke 2:41.) And after twelve years, that testimony was reaffirmed, once again in the temple, when Mary found Jesus there teaching the elders and he testified, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The temple seems to have been a sacred, defining place for the Holy Family.

6. Mary knew the scriptures.

Raised as a devoted Jew, Mary would have known and understood the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Both during and after the annunciation visit from Gabriel, Mary showed an understanding of who Jesus Christ was to be. Her questions centered on her own part, but she believed in and rejoiced about the arrival of the long-prophesied Savior. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)

When Jesus first announced his divinity, he did so by standing in the synagogue and reading and expounding upon the scriptures. He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:21) Robert J. Matthews taught about the circumstances of Jesus’ childhood, which would explain his knowledge of the scriptures:

The atmosphere of the home was one of obedience to the Lord as commanded in the divine law. It was at home that Jesus probably received his first lessons about the history of Israel and of past deliverances of his people by the hand of the Lord; here he also undoubtedly learned of the hopes and expectations for the future, as written in the scriptures.

My heart tells me that Mary played an important role in teaching and testifying about the scriptures and helping young Jesus recognize and understand his own mission.

7. Mary faced fear and grief with faith.

When the angel first told Mary that she would be the mother of God’s son, she was bewildered. “How can this be?” she asked, perhaps equivalent to the modern “Are you kidding me?” She must have felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy and uncertainty. Her whole future must have seemed suddenly unexpected and even dangerous, but she responded with faithful surrender, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord…” When Herod’s decree threatened her newborn’s life, she and Joseph again responded to heavenly guidance and were protected. There were probably many times that Mary faced fear during Jesus’ childhood and ministry. From the time he was lost for many days and finally found in the temple to the day when an angry crowd shouted, “Crucify him!,” Mary had to trust that her son was in his Father’s hands. In her moment of greatest grief, Jesus himself showed her tremendous respect and love. Elder Bradley D. Foster taught,

In the final, most pivotal moment of His mortal life—after the anguish of Gethsemane, the mock trial, the crown of thorns, the heavy cross to which He was brutally nailed—Jesus looked down from the cross and saw His mother, Mary, who had come to be with her Son. His final act of love before He died was to ensure that His mother would be cared for, saying to His disciple, “Behold thy mother!” And from that point on the disciple took her unto his home. As the scriptures say, then Jesus knew that “all things were now accomplished,” and He bowed His head and died.

8. Mary was obedient to the will of God.

Oh, how I love Mary’s example of obedience, even in times of uncertainty. She seemed to inherently trust God and know that He would do what was best, even when the details didn’t make sense to her. She must have felt an incredible responsibility, and I have no doubt that her initial submission to the Father, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” set the example for all that Christ did throughout his life. Perhaps even in his darkest hours in Gethsemane, when he was of necessity left alone to suffer and face his own fear and uncertainty, her example gave him the strength to say, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

I love Mary because I love Jesus Christ. I know she was a “precious and chosen vessel” and her life teaches me how to be more truly Christian. The Savior of the world came as a baby and was given the gift of a righteous mother. Her example is one of the many gifts to celebrate at Christmastime.

4th Annual 12 Days of Christmas Challenge (It’s easy.)

You are hereby invited to participate in the easiest capture-the-real-Spirit-of-Christmas activity that you can do by yourself or with your family: Random acts of kindness every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas. It can be anything. (Hence, “random.”)

Here are a few ideas I threw around in my head: mailing a Christmas package to someone, paying for the next person’s order in the drive-thru window or swiping my card to pay for a particular someone’s purchase behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store, write a letter or make a phone call to someone who might need it, show up at another tired mom’s house and help her fold laundry or wrap presents, drop off goodies at the house of a grumpy or lonely neighbor, . . . You get the idea. No need to spend– just look for an opportunity for kindness and jump on it, whether for a loved one or a stranger.

So join me, starting on Thursday, December 13th and spread some Christmas kindness every day through Christmas Eve. And I’ll involve my children as much as possible– coming up with ideas, or making something together, or delivering or whatever– so that we can feel the spirit of it as a family. Who’s in?

Here’s a button if you want one. You can blog about it and invite others, or put it on your sidebar as a reminder, or do whatever works for you.

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This post right here can be the gathering place for sharing the joy. Come back and report some of the things you do, if you want to, or if you have a great story to share. (I’ll keep a link on my sidebar here for easy access.) You’re welcome to comment your “reports” anonymously or with initials or a pseudonym or something. I just think it would be fun to hear about each other’s experiences and rejoice in the whole business of joyful service together. Plus, we can read and then steal each other’s ideas.

“In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. ‘It is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to which will bring ‘peace on earth,’ because it means—good will toward all men.’ Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Then each Christmas will be the best Christmas ever.”Thomas S. Monson

Here’s a fun idea that my family did last year and we’ll do again because the kids loved it.  We made up award ribbon signs and then drove all around our neighborhood looking at everyone’s Christmas lights.  We decided together which houses were our pick for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, then knocked on their door to give them their awards.  I’m sure they were flattered by the great honor.