Old man violin

The ‘Out Of Tune’ Christmas Gift


Many years ago I took my twelve-year-old Sunday School class to a local nursing home where we had regularly been visiting an older man who had no family.  On a bright sunny Sunday morning my class and I walked across the street from the chapel to visit him for the last time as I was moving the next week. It was December and the nursing home was in full regal.  The tinsel and decorations were up and Christmas music filled the air.  My class and I sat and talked with our friend for a while and then we gave him some gifts.  He graciously accepted them then motioned to me to follow him to his room as he had a gift for us.  My class of about ten youth and I piled into his tiny cramped quarters.  The old man went directly to his small closet and pulled out, to my amazement, a violin.  It was old and looked to be in need of repair. He smiled and started to tune it.  I guess I had read the story of “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” too often, because my mind started to conjure up images of this old man playing the violin like a professional.  This was going to be a special treat, I thought.

Then he placed the violin under his chin and started to play.  The notes didn’t float nor sound in tune,  but they squeaked and pitched and fought the air. I grimaced! “Yikes”, I remember thinking.  But the longer he played the  more recognizable the song became.   He was playing the hymn,  “I am a Child of God.”  I don’t know what happened next for sure, but I think the master’s hand passed right over that violin and touched something much more important; my heart!  As I watched the old man’s face shine,  and listened to the rendition of that hymn on his violin, the caustic sound transformed into a perfect melody. I’ve heard and sung that hymn thousands of times over my lifetime. But only once have I experienced such power and beauty in its performance as I did that day. Yes, we had come to serve him but he had ended up serving us.  What did the Savior teach us? “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) What I learned that day was that sometimes the “least of  these my brethren”, end up teaching us powerful lessons about the attributes of Jesus Christ.  I am sure that old gentlemen has long since left this earth. But his performance has lingered in my heart to this day, a testimony that the smallest gifts of service can last long after we have departed this life.



An ‘Electric’ Christmas


As I waited with my seven siblings on the steps of the unfinished basement I could hardly contain my anticipation. I was an eight year old boy, the seventh of eight children born to my parents. My eyes fixed on the doorknob waiting…waiting…waiting for it to turn and open up to the feast of presents that was certain to be there on the other side. It was early Christmas morning of 1964 and what personally awaited me was a lesson I learned that has stayed with me to this day.

The knob finally turned as my angelic Mother opened the door to heaven. We scrambled up the stairs racing for the tree situated at the end of the hardwood living room floor. It really was heaven! The room seemed to light up (in reality my Dad was filming with a set of blinding lights that were so typical of the sixties). As the other kids grabbed their stockings, I went straight to the tree looking for the shape of the prized present I so coveted! I was sure my parents would have placed it in a prominent place under the tree. Yet I couldn’t find it. My young heart skipped a beat as I didn’t see it. Perhaps I had just missed it I thought!

As was customary in my house, my Mom passed out the presents one by one till the giving tree was done! I stared at my gifts. There was plenty there, but I couldn’t imagine the coveted gift of my heart could be in one. I wanted to believe, but nothing seemed to match the size of the gift I knew would lift my entertainment life to new heights.

Beginning at the eldest, we began opening the presents, one by one. As I took my turn it became apparent that I was not going to get what I wanted. I didn’t want to cry and be a baby, but the lump developing in my throat was getting bigger by the moment! As the last of the gifts were opened I couldn’t help myself as I felt tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Just then my Mother made a statement, “Well,” she said, “I think there is one more gift that Santa left in the backroom.” As I turned I saw my father walking down the hall towards us and in his arms was the present I so coveted. I couldn’t hold my tears back because I was so relieved they had bought me what I wanted. It was an electric moment; one I have never forgotten.

But with plastic players that never went were you wanted them to go, to the ‘electric vibrational’ nature of the board, the magic of that game lasted about a week for me. The ‘Electric Football Game’ never lived up to the ‘hype.’ Like most of ‘die to have’ presents, my game ended up at the bottom of my closet gathering dust a short time later. A lesson I have learned so often over the years is that most material things end up on the heap of the throw out memories of our lives.

However, it has been over 50 years and I can still see my father walking down the hall towards me with that Electric Football game in arms. I remember the look on his face and the delight in my Mom’s voice when she joyously announced there was ‘one more’ gift. My Mom gave me a hug as my Dad handed me the game. I felt loved! The real gift of ‘love and caring’ given to me by my parents that year is still electrifying my soul and blessing my life. That’s a feeling that has never fallen short of scoring a ‘touchdown’ in the end zone of my heart!

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The Shattered Music Box


A few years ago I was preparing to teach an early morning religious class for our youth. It was centered on the gift of “spikenard” that Mary used to anoint the head and feet of the Savior just prior to his death. The lesson asked the instructor to bring to class a memorable “gift” that they had been given, and then tell the class about the gift and its background. I immediately thought of several, one of which was a porcelain music box statue of “The Little Drummer Boy” one of my sisters gave to me almost thirty years ago. I dug through our Christmas decorations and there it was. I listened to its chime sounding the familiar tune.

Early the next morning, around 5AM, I put my cherished statue on the back seat of the car and then drove to the church building. It was a typical winter day; dark and cold. I pulled into the parking lot, got out and opened the back door of the car to get my things. To my horror, as soon as I opened the door, the “Little Drummer Boy” fell out of the car door and crashed onto the pavement. Pieces went flying all over the parking lot pavement. I stood there surveying the horrible scene in disbelief! Splinters of porcelain were everywhere! I just couldn’t believe it! The drummer boy’s body was in four pieces and the base was in five pieces! The musical components were completely exposed. My grief was mixed with the need to get ready for my class. My first thought was to toss the pieces into the garbage; yet I hesitated. I so loved it. Quickly I gathered up as many pieces as I could see. I placed them in the car and went in to teach the class.

Upon returning home, I painstakingly began the “reconstruction” of “The Little Drummer Boy”. I was mad and sad as I started to glue each piece together. Eventually “The Little Drummer Boy” took on shape. In the end, half an arm was missing and cracks were visible in several locations. A few splinters of porcelain were still sitting on the table, with no logical place in which to glue them. Still, he looked pretty good! I slowly picked it up and surveyed it from all angles. Then I gently wound it up. The sweet melody of the music was still the same. It floated on the air and I sat back and enjoyed it. As battered as my drummer boy looked, the music he played was still as sweet and rewarding as before. Maybe I could find another one on the internet, but, well… it wouldn’t be the same! I will guard him a little better, next time!

And so, the lesson I learned that morning is that sometimes life treats us like “the little drummer boy.” Many times we come out of trials and events looking haggard and worn. Perhaps we are missing an arm or leg or a foot. Splinters of our life might be in the parking lot or we can’t make sense of what’s left of it all! But the Savior will not throw us into the garbage because he loves us infinitely more than I love my music box, and he will help us put our lives back together. We may not look the same; we may not feel the same. But we can play the same beautiful melody that we have always played! We can still bless the lives of others! Look to the Savior for healing. Look for His saving grace! We can still be a “thing” of beauty, even in moments of great tragedy!



The Tale Of A Rich Poor Man’s Christmas Eve Night by Scott K. Stephenson


It was Christmas Eve and my wife had just got home from the hospital after giving birth to our second son. It had been a tough year.  And so it was that as I sat on the hard kitchen chair that night,  I can still remember the dim lite apartment that we were living in,  and the silhouette of my wife lying on the couch with our new son lying closely beside her. Our one year old was in the other room sleeping and although they were all well and I felt richly blessed, a certain amount of despair set in. Here it was Christmas Eve, yet you would never know it. We had no tree, no lights, no decorations and no presents. We really didn’t even have money for a Christmas meal. Sometimes, as a provider, you just feel so defeated. And for me, that was certainly one of those times.

Suddenly I heard a knock at the door. Who could that be, I thought. I walked to the door and opened it. There was no one there, but something had been left at my doorstep. In fact, a lot had been left. There was a small tree, already decorated. There was a ham, and other food items. A box held a number of presents nicely wrapped. I felt the tears start to flow. I don’t know if I was crying because we were so poor, or that fact that I was embarrassed that apparently someone else also knew we were poor.

I stood on my doorstep a moment and looked out into the night searching for someone; someone who I never saw or found. I slowly put the gifts, tree, trimmings and food into the apartment. I turned to close the door and just as I did so, I stopped and, with hand raised high I shouted an emotional, “Thank you!” out into the darkness. I don’t know if anyone heard me. It doesn’t really matter I suppose. Because I really was thanking my Heavenly Father for an ‘unknown’ benefactor who he had inspired to help me in my time of need. And though my thanks was directed into the emptiness of the night, he who gives us all had heard.

You never forget kindness like that! It’s been 30 plus years ago since that night. I’ve never forgotten the feelings of gratitude I felt that evening.  So, I send a shout out of, “Thank you!”, once again to the special saint or saints who so thoughtfully helped my family out that night. And thanks be to the Lord for inspiring such people to do noble deeds for those in need. May all of us take the time this Christmas season to bless the lives of those who have less. May we be part of the reason that this Christmas Eve Night air will be filled with emotional cries of, “Thank you!’, coming from the mouths of those who need a helping hand.  Even those richly blessed need help from time to time. I know I did those many years ago, and I am much the richer for having been helped that Christmas Eve by ministering angels of the earthly kind.




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