Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas I Remember Best

I wrote this for a Deseret News contest a number of years ago, and it wasn't chosen.  I understood why, but figured, I could always publish it myself, if for no other reason, than for myself.  I hope you'll enjoy.

            The Christmas I remember best was the Christmas of 1975.  I had just turned 10 years old and was attending the fourth grade in elementary school.  My father, Robert M. Christensen, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph system a few months earlier.   For most of his career, Dad’s occupation had been in retailing and Christmas had historically been his busiest time of the year.  In addition to his work, he had served what would have been my ten years, in my church’s Stake Presidency, first as a counselor and later as Stake President.  It was a rare moment for me to have him home for any extended period of time and even more rare to see him unable to do hard physical labor.
            In 1975, Hodgkin’s disease only had about a 30% cure rate, but in my young and simple mind, I had accepted the fact my father would be ill, but never did I have the thought that he would die.  However as the months moved on, he became increasingly ill and the hospital stays seem to increase.  I missed the touch of his big soft hands and the little moments where he made me feel like I was his only concern in the world.  As the first part of December came around it was unclear when he would come home from the hospital. Fortunately, before Christmas Dad was allowed to come home to spend time with our family.  He had a difficult time getting up and moving very far and due to his weakened state, my family placed him in his own bedroom.  Being young and a very heavy sleeper, my parents decided to have me sleep on a bed in the same room with my Dad.  I could help him if needed, but also because I could sleep through the rest of the night due to his frequent need to get up and down.
            Early Christmas morning of 1975, my father once again was having a sleepless night.  My mother, Verda Mae Christensen was busy helping Santa place the gifts and as a young boy I lay awake anxiously wondering what it was that Santa would bring.  I could tell my dad was awake and started talking to him.  It was one of those rare moments you wish would go on forever and look back and would give nearly anything to have it again.  I really can’t remember much of what was said, but I knew he loved me and wanted me to be happy.  I don’t think I appreciated how much pain he endured and the myriad of thoughts you deal with as you realize your time on this earth will be drawing to a close.  My mother stopped her activity for a moment to go use the bathroom, so my father released me from our conversation and encouraged me to go check out the Christmas spoils in anticipation of Christmas morning.  Christmas came and went and about three weeks later, my dad passed away letting go of the physical strain of life and leaving a pretty empty void in my own.
            Thirty years later, I will now be 40 years old this Christmas.  While I can’t remember much about the presents received during Christmas of 1975, I remember the love and time of one who loved me.  My parents have now both passed away, and as we put up the Christmas Tree this year in the home in which I grew up, which is now my own, I lay on the floor adjusting the Christmas tree in hopes of getting it to stand straight.  As I looked across the floor, there lay my two daughters, Jessica and Sarah smiling at me, reminding me that the greatest gift of Christmas was there lying under our tree.  They represent many of my hopes and dreams and remind me of the good things of this life. And maybe just maybe, I can share with them the same gift my dad gave me, his love and his time. 

Picture from a family trip, being held by my Dad, Robert Christensen
With my daughters, Jessica & Sarah at the gravesite of my father

Friday, December 23, 2011

Making a difference in the lives of others

When the Savior commanded that we love our neighbor, I think it's easy to define that in a more narrower term than he intended.  Really, we are admonished to look out for everyone and it's sometimes troubling to watch some of my fellow elected servants turn their heads to the issues around us and quickly label one group or another as if we don't have a responsibility to them all.   This last week however, in doing some extra service, I had a couple of rewarding experiences that I wanted to mention, if for no other reason than to remind myself why I got involved nearly fourteen years ago.

Before I took office, back in the mid '90's, I participated in a United Way Funding Review panel on Homeless agencies.  After spending nearly two months reviewing different agencies each week, I came away from that experience knowing that the creation of transitional housing is the real key to the success of helping those in need.  Over the years of my public life, I've participated and been part of the creation of over 1,000 units of housing for low income families, with hundreds being set aside for those coming out of our shelter at The Road Home.  In fact, for the last four or five years, I've participated as a board member of Shelter the Homeless, which owns the shelter in Salt Lake City and Palmer Court, a new transitional housing complex.  I've heard personally many heart wrenching stories of those who have suffered on the street for decades, who now have a chance to be off the street and finally have a place to call home.  My friend Pamela Atkinson told a story once of her outreach efforts and how she once gave a hug to a homeless man and he had relayed that it had been years since he had ever received a hug. It's not uncommon for someone who is homeless to have had some tragedy or act beyond their control, leave them out on the street and yet I find myself guilty at times, judging them without knowing them.  It really isn't my place to judge, it's my responsibility to give.

Fast forward to this week and I was answering phones for the Annual Road Home Holiday Fundraising Drive and a caller called with a lot of emotion in her voice and said, "I don't really have any money to give, but I wanted to thank you for this housing in which I live, I am so grateful to have a place to call my own".   Later that night I was then helping to serve a Christmas Dinner at a transitional housing for Veterans, Freedom Landing in my district and a Vet, who had served our country and now was suffering from some extended medical problems, reached over to me and said, "If it weren't for this place, I would be down at the shelter with no place to live."  Both projects mentioned, were ones in which I had to work a little to make sure they got funded, but maybe in a little way, were making a difference and hopefully moving me a little closer to the charge given to me by my Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Today I celebrate my 46th birthday and I am ever so grateful for my parents, who chose to have me in their later years of life  Both of whom have had a profound impact on my life and my desire to do good.  I am equally grateful to my wife and children who have always been gracious in responding to my requests to help and were helping at the phone bank last night and playing the piano for the 100 Vets Wednesday night.  This has been a good week.

If you've gotten this far, take a moment and donate to The Road Home at to make a difference youself in the life of thousands in our community.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Land of Misfit Christmas Decorations-We Have a Place for Yours!

A few years ago our front yard Christmas decorations started looking a little tired and we had wanted to refocus a little more on the Savior's birth.  We decided to replace the front yard decorations with the Nativity scene and figured our Snoopy Santa Clause probably didn't blend too well. 

In looking at other options for Snoopy, three legged reindeer, and partially lit Christmas Tree figures, I realized they still needed some love and could still brighten our lives some more.  I then realized that we have a fruit orchard that lines our back driveway could be the perfect place for misfit Christmas decorations.  It was truly a location of non-consumption, but for these figures it would be dark. Yet we drive in there and see it more than our front yard.  A neighbor gave us all her old Christmas lights, some of which only lit up half a string, but as I draped them over the fruit trees, combining sets to get the full effect, our little wonderland started to take place.  It was actually a nice change, and Snoopy with his cracked nose, continues to remind my kids of the lights of their youth. 

Well, as reindeer began to go to one leg, and sleighs were only 1/3 lit, I've brought myself to finally start throwing sections away and putting the poor animals out of their misery.  This year, things have held their own, but it is starting to need something for future years.  If you happen to find that you have that three legged reindeer or a partially lit Santa that isn't cutting it in your front yard anymore, but don't quite want to throw it away, give me a call or drop me a note, to  Chances are we can provide it a home and give it some love for another year or two.  Every decorations deserves to live until it's last leg!