Annual Ward Goal Survey

Here are the results of our annual ward goal survey that we conducted during tithing settlement. The results are merely representative. They don’t paint the whole picture, but they do help us get an idea of what is going on in the homes of our ward.

We had a sample of 32 respondents, each respondent was made up of either a couple or family.

Among the families surveyed, 50 individuals read the Doctrine and Covenants during the year. That means that for every family that responded, 1.5 persons read the book. If we were able to get a response from all ward members, the number who read would likely be much higher. Congratulations. That’s a lot of reading. Keep it up.

Families were also asked if they felt like they had improved their home or visiting teaching over the last year. Twenty-seven responded yes, 4 said somewhat, and 1 honest soul said no. However, when we look at the statistics for home and visiting teaching for the past year, the numbers are down. We are continuing to pursue this goal through 2010.

Finally, we asked if ward members felt as if their understanding of the principle of repentance improved. We hit this topic often over the pulpit. Again, 27 said yes, 5 said somewhat, and 0 said no.

Our ward goals are mostly an emphasis by ward leaders. We of course can’t set goals for you, but we encourage you to set appropriate goals for yourself. I am grateful for those of you who have taken the ward goals seriously this year. Thank you for stretching yourselves and reaching beyond the status quo.

I want to thank Ted B. for compiling the results. Danke schön.

How I Ruined Christmas

Growing up, we had a Christmas tradition in my family: The three children—my little sister, my big brother and I—were allowed to open just one gift on Christmas Eve. That gift was almost always a new pair of pajamas. But we were still surprised. We would forget what the drill was. We have continued this tradition in our own family, and now the grandchildren are part of it, too.

It was always fun, except for one year.

That was the year that we talked our parents into allowing us to open all our presents on Christmas Eve. All of them. In a blizzard of wrapping paper and bows and ribbon. Done. The night before Christmas. In a matter of minutes. I am pretty sure I was the one that lobbied the hardest to get my naughty, bratty little way. Thinking back, I believe my parents knew exactly what they were doing.

Then came Christmas the next morning—with nothing to do except to get dressed and ready for Church and then to wait for my grandfather, uncle and aunt to come over in the afternoon. It was probably the second saddest Christmas morning of my life (someday I might get the courage to tell you about my saddest), but with it I have come to appreciate one of the most important gifts in life, the gift of expectation.

After all, one of the best parts of Christmas, and of life, really, is expectation. What will be in the mail today? What will I get for my birthday? What is under that wrapping paper? Will I get that job? How many days until Christmas? Will I be surprised? Will he/she call me?

Expectation is a joy that is kept alive by patient waiting, by the tangled dance of suspense, and by the discipline to hang tough. I think this anticipation is a form of faith and hope.

It is part of everyone’s life. Think about the things you have anticipated with joy: a birthday, a baptism, a graduation, something you’ve saved money for, a letter, a reunion with a friend, the return of your missionary or your prodigal, your first trip to the temple, receiving the priesthood, your engagement, your marriage, your first baby, your last baby, being reunited with a loved one, in this life or the next—the list could go on and on.

For me, about 90 percent of the fun of Christmas is in the winding up, the planning and waiting and wondering—the joyous wonder of anticipation—but when we cut our waiting short by an impulse, like I once did, the fun is over and the joy ends. And it is difficult to recover it.

Sometimes I hear from children, “I wish every day was Christmas!” But as an adult I’ve learned that, without expectation, there can be no Christmas. Most of the fun is built up in anticipating the fun. Without anticipation, fun would not be fun.

So enjoy the simple awe of waiting. You are exercising your faith, and true faith never goes unrewarded. Don’t open your gifts too soon in a spasm of torn paper and dreams. Wait, with a smile on your face and peace in your heart. Some things are not worth waiting for, and though sometimes our expectations are not met, still, much of the joy in life comes in waiting with patience and faith.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas. You only have to wait until tomorrow, and it will be worth it.

P.S. Enjoy this short video of about the real meaning of Christmas.

I Am the Christmas Spirit

I am the Christmas Spirit.

I enter the home of poverty, causing pale-faced children to open their eyes wide in pleased wonder.

I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.

I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the glad old way.

I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.

I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind them hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.

I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way, and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.

I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been, and pointing forward to good days yet to come.

I come softly into the still, white home of pain; and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.

In a thousand ways I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God, and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.

I am the Christmas Spirit.

—Unknown, from Thomas S. Monson, “In Search of the Christmas Spirit,” Ensign, Dec 1987.

The Empty Stocking

In The Bishop’s Wife, the 1947 film starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, young Niven plays the role of Bishop Henry Brougham, a clergyman with the vision to build a new cathedral, but who is distracted by his mission, neglecting his wife and family. After recognizing his folly with the help an angel (Grant), the reformed bishop delivers this sermon on Christmas Eve:
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

“Once upon a midnight clear, there was a Child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts.

“We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts.

“You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe.

“We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up—the stocking for the Child born in a manger. It’s His birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that.

“Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each put in his share: Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

I encourage each one of you (and I am including myself) to think of an intangible gift that you can give our Savior in the weeks leading up to Christmas, some private act or series of acts that will bless the life of another and bless your own while you are at it. Let us not leave the empty stocking empty this year. I promise that as you do so, you will draw closer to the Lord, which to be sure is the real hope and purpose of Christmas. 
Thanks to Chris C. for sharing this sermon with me. It has enriched my week. 

Another Year

As the year winds down, I’ve been considering the goals we had as a ward this year.

  1. Read the Doctrine and Covenants.
  2. Become better home and visiting teacher.
  3. Understand the law of repentance.

I did read the Doctrine and Covenants once this year, and I am reading it again. We are also reading it this year as a family. It is an amazing book. It carries it’s own unique spirit and power—the words and witness of Jesus Christ are simple, pure and powerful. I love that book. It is one of the greatest treasures we have in this world.

I can always be a better home teacher. I could always be more kind, caring and attentive. I could be more prayerful, more sensitive to needs, of greater service. I think I need to carry that goal through the next year.

My understanding of repentance has certainly increased this year. For example, never before have I understood on such an elemental level the need to forgive others and myself. It is a unselfish, compassionate act to forgive another, and I congratulate those of you that lay aside your resentment and misunderstandings to forgive.

You free yourself more really than you free someone else when you forgive them. Forgiving is not the same as excusing behavior; it is letting the other person be accountable to God for his or her actions, and having faith that all will be made right by Him who is Eternal. That gives me great peace of mind.

I also have learned more deeply that even though we are commanded to forgive all men, we are not commanded to trust them, though we might like to. This helps me feel more free as well.

I have enjoyed serving you this year as your bishop so much. I love you. The greatest joy that has come to me over the last four years has been watching so many of you grow in remarkable ways. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and much joy and prosperity in the coming year.

With love,

Bishop Fitzgerald