~by Michelle

This has been quite a week in our family. Our oldest child, J, turned 12. We celebrated his special day with the traditional gifts and cake and a little family celebration. He had one of his favorite meals for dinner (polish sausages) and we rented a movie and enjoyed some hunker-down time as a family. We love being together.

But I felt he was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a fun toy in his little pile of gifts. (I’m being very practical in my approach this year. Birthday and Christmas are mostly preparing him for Church responsibilities and for Boy Scouts, an organization in which Mormon young men in America and Canada participate.)

I confess to feeling a bit sad that I somehow didn’t meet his expectations. Even as I’m not a fan of the game of “bigger-and-better” when it comes to presents, I still always hope our children feel happy and celebrated on their birthdays. And I remember what that twinge of disappointment felt like as a child.

But I didn’t sense disappointment in him yesterday, and there was no sadness in my mother heart. We had a celebration of a different kind.

J’s grandparents met us after our block of meetings for his ordination to the office of a deacon in the Aaronic priesthood. I was in awe as I watched a group of men — J’s dad, his grandfathers, our bishopric [ward leaders], and several of J’s new youth leaders — encircle him, lay hands on his head, and participate in the process of conferring the priesthood on my son. His dad (who performed the ordination) spoke words of counsel and strength in a blessing as part of the ritual.

Afterwards, J went around the room, shaking hands of the ward members and hugging his family members. As I wrapped my arms around him, my heart was full of gratitude for the gift of being J’s mother, of having the gospel in our lives, and of being a witness of this marvelous moment in our son’s spiritual journey.

J then spent a few more minutes with the bishop to be interviewed for a temple recommend, something he has eagerly been anticipating for months. (Starting at age 12, young men and women can go to the temple to participate in performing proxy baptisms for those who have died.) The sparkle in his eye as he showed me his temple recommend was priceless.

We gathered together as a family for a simple dinner, basking in the joy of togetherness. J received gifts from his grandparents. And if I do say so myself, the desserts yesterday were better than the birthday cake we had days ago. {grin}

There’s nothing like having grandparents around, so I’m sure that was part of why it was such a special day for us. But there was definitely more. It was clear that J was moved and energized — all of us were strengthened by the events of the day, bound together as we felt the Spirit of God.

Now J will participate in passing the sacred sacrament (bread and water) to congregation members every week. He said as he pondered that responsibility, and others that come with this priesthood office, the words “Feed my sheep” came clearly into his mind. He’s understanding that the priesthood is about service, about reaching out and caring for individuals in the way the Savior would. And he’s realizing that even as a young man, he can be an instrument in God’s hands to help His children. He plans to visit the temple often to do service there as well.

I reflect on the contrast between his birthday and what transpired yesterday. While I always love a good party or family gathering, and it does give me joy to bring a smile to our children’s faces with a gift or a cake, nothing I can do or give can compare to the gifts God offers them. They were spirit children of Heavenly Parents long before they graced our family here on earth.

As a family yesterday, I think we all were reminded that God’s gifts fill our deepest needs, bring the greatest joys. All we have to do is open our hearts and look to Him to help us better understand and receive these gifts.

I continue this Christmas season with an even greater determination to remember and acknowledge God’s gifts more  readily, and to help my children do the same. It’s so easy amid the stuff of life to forget!

How grateful I am for the gift of His Son, for a knowledge of His plan of happiness, and for experiences like yesterday’s that help me remember.

What helps you remember God’s great gifts in your life?