Posts tagged Family Traditions

Without warning, an enormous clap of thunder exploded, and my boys and I jumped with fear.  A dark storm was brewing, and the afternoon sky had become almost dark as night.  The campfire we were just about to start would have to wait until the downpour passed.  From the looks of it, it seemed the storm was going to linger a while as the cool mountain wind almost ushered us into our tent for protection. 

Mitch squirmed into his sleeping back and wiggled around as if to snuggle deeply into the mound of soft things that surrounded him.  I chuckled a little because I did the same thing when I was a boy, and in that moment, I remembered how fun it was to be young.  I looked upon my boys with a touch of envy. Mitch pulled his hands behind his head, his face bearing a light mustache from chocolate milk, and began to smile softly.  “We’re safe and sound, right Dad?” Mitch said with a mixture of confidence and concern.  “You bet, Mitch.  This is going to be a crazy camping adventure.”  Mitch smiled and said, “I know you’ll keep us from floating away.”

Within minutes, we could hear the intermittent pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent.  A few minutes later, a burst of raindrops assaulted the side of the tent as the wind began to pick up speed.  Soon, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour.  I worried if our tent was rated for an hurricane-like storm.  Mitch nudged my arm and said, “Doesn’t this remind you of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day?”  Mitch giggled as I peered nervously out the window, keeping an eye out for a flash flood. 


We knew there might be bad weather, so our backup plan was to have a den party in the tent.  So, I pulled out a portable DVD player, broke out some snacks and pulled up our covers as the boys and I watched a movie under the thinly veiled safety of our tent. 

I didn’t sleep well that night.  Aside from a few breaks in the early evening, the rain never really let up.  So, I laid in the tent in a trance-like state – somewhere between sleep and wakefulness … sitting up every hour to make sure the boys were dry.  By morning the kids were rested, and I was hammered.

Of all the moments in life, the ones I remember with great fondness and nostalgia, aren’t the times things went perfectly. Instead, the moments I treasure most are when we struggled and found our way through a hard time.  Don’t get me wrong, perfect times are just that … perfect.  I love and appreciate them for what they are; honey is honey.  But the taste of lemonade is never so sweet as when you must work to make it so.  Perhaps that’s why hard times often end up becoming our best times, in the end. 

This photo of Mitch reminds me that even in our difficulties, we can make the best of what we’ve got – and somehow, some way, we’ll look back and be glad we lived the life we lived.  In every struggle, there’s a price to be paid; but in the end, that’s what makes the sweetest lemonade.



It was a beautiful late-summer day high in the mountains.  Natalie’s family had a reunion at Aspen Grove, a family-centered resort just a few miles up the road from Sundance, Utah.  The sun had fallen behind the mountain peaks, and you could feel the cool air rushing down the canyon – as if nature had turned on the air conditioning.  It was an almost perfect night.  Almost. 

We just watched a performance in an outdoor amphitheater when Mitch said to me, “Dad, everything is so beautiful.  Do you think this is what heaven is like?”  I smiled and said, “As long as you’re with me, I know I’m close to heaven.”  He smiled softly … and so did I.

The evening was drawing near, and I needed to go soon.  I was leaving for a business trip to Australia the next morning – and although I was excited to visit that country, I wanted very much to stay with my family.  Mitch had an especially soft demeanor about him that night.  He knew I had to go, even though he wished I’d stay and it seemed as if his gentle ways, his stillness, was his way of drinking in the moments.  I was so captured by his spirit; I had to take this photo.  It’s out of focus, but what’s in focus is all that really matters.

As I was about to go, Mitch held my hand and said, “Dad, I wish you’d stay.”  My heart sank, and I felt a lump in my throat begin to grow.  “Oh, Mitchie, I wish I could stay, too.  I’ll be back in a few weeks.”  Mitch squeezed my hand as if to say, “Okay, Dad.”

I decided I’d spend a little more time, so just after this photo, I took Mitch and my kids to an ice cream shop just out of view of this photo, on the left.  The conversation I had with them and the memories we made that night was sweeter than all the ice cream on earth.  While getting ready for my trip was important, the time I spent with my son was significant – both for him and for me.

In many ways, this gentle evening feels like it happened yesterday.  At the same time, it feels a lifetime away.

Mitchell’s birthday is this Sunday, April 29th.  He would have been 16 years old.  That’s hard for me to imagine … sixteen.  For as long as I walk the earth, young Mitch will always be my 10-year-old son. 

I think I’m going to cry more than usual this weekend – tears of grief, gratitude, and a deep resolve to live a life of quiet significance.  The longer I live, and the more I experience cycles of hurt and healing, I’m convinced a life of significance is often invisible to the casual observer.  Instead, significance is found in the quiet, meaningful things we do.  I’ve observed that a life of significance isn’t found in the things we own – for in the end, if we’re not careful, they end up owning us.   Nor is significance found in popularity or prestige – those are only figments of social imaginations.  At least to me, living a life of significance is found in doing things that matter with those who matter most to us. 

When I see this photo, I’m reminded what a life of significance looks like … what it feels like.  Yes, we must all work, pay bills, and manage adult things – that’s important.  But the difference between importance and significance matters; in the same way difference between being productive or simply being busy, or the difference between feeling happy or hollow.

Fast forward a little, in what felt like the blink of an eye; I remember kneeling by my son’s bed as he was softly dying.  I thought back on this perfect moment with Mitch, and I remembered his tender words to me.  I then whispered in a weepy tone, “My sweet son, I wish you’d stay.”  To my heartbreak, he didn’t stay – but I have found other ways to keep him with me – through writing, examination, and prayerful meditation.  It’s not the same as having him actually with me – not by a long shot – but keeping him in my heart is the best I can do.  There isn’t a day I don’t think about him, and I often wonder what kind of young man he’d have become.  I don’t cry like I used to.  But I always think of him.  Always.  And sometimes I cry.

Though I wish he had stayed, there are a few things my son left behind.  Little Mitch taught me about the art of stillness.  He taught me about the gift of gratitude.  He taught me how to slow down and drink in the moments.  He taught me to understand the difference between what’s important and what’s significance. 


How often do we look back on the holidays with a sense of nostalgia and a longing for warm memories?  Chances are your best memories come from spending time with the ones closest to you.  The truth is, sometimes we get so busy finding and wrapping presents, we forget to treasure the best gift of all - the gift of time and attention.  Here are 8 things you can do to make lasting Christmas memories with your family.

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With so many forms of entertainment these days, the magic of reading books would seem to be in jeopardy.  Yet there is more magic that comes from the words of a book than all the special effects on earth.

One of our favorite holiday traditions has been to read Christmas books and allow those touching stories to play out in the theater of our minds.




When I was a young child we used to watch our old 8 mm family films on Christmas Eve.  I remember sitting by a roaring fire in my Christmas pajamas while our family laughed at old, grainy footage of a time long gone.

By spending time as a family enjoying old memories, we were reminded that the best gifts we could ever hope for weren't under the Christmas tree, but sitting around it.   

Try to watch home videos as a family.

If you can prepare some old video footage or photos in advance, you will be surprised how much your children will enjoy seeing themselves when they were younger - or when you were a child.

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You're never too old, or too young, to serve people in secret.  In fact, anonymous acts of service often bring a joy to your heart that lasts far longer than anything you can buy with money.

This Christmas try to do one or more of the following:

  • Search for a family who may be struggling and drop a box of gifts at their doorstep.
  • Find a way to pay a utility bill for someone in need.  
  • Leave a note in someone's mailbox with an observation about something you admire about them.

There are so many ways to serve others. The important part is doing something special for someone, unnoticed.

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If available in your area, find local Christmas plays or performances to attend. High school plays, musical performances and other theatrical presentations are all ways to support your community. You can also search your city's listings to see if there are any special performances you might attend. As you invest your time enjoying various art forms for the holiday, you will find yourself being swept up in the best parts of the season.  

Some classics are:

  • The Christmas Story
  • The Nutcracker
  • A Christmas Carol
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During Mitchell's last Christmas, two separate families decided to give Mitch a 12 Days of Christmas surprise at our doorstep each night.  Little Mitch had so much fun learning about the new surprises.  Each gift was thoughtful and had a special meaning to our family.  

It wasn't just the gift that was special, it was the special care they took to be thoughtful that made it amazing for our family.  As you think of families you might serve in this way, take a close look at their family dynamic and try to give them gifts that celebrate their family and create bonds between them.

Read this essay about Mitch and Secret Santa:

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Make candy as a family!  You'll be surprised how fun it can be.  Don't worry about making a mess - just have fun doing it and let your kids express themselves.  Take photos while you're at it.  You'll thank yourself later.

If you don't do candy, make cookies - but experiment.  Try something you haven't done before. 

If you don't have kids, invite a neighbor family over to participate.  Or just do it yourself. 

Find someone special to share your candy creations with.

Here are 17 Recipes you can try.

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Seriously.  Play.  In the snow.  

  • Make snow caves.  
  • Build jumps for sleighs.  
  • When you go sledding, bring hot chocolate with you. There are new vacuum-sealed thermoses (Yeti & Takeya) that can keep hot chocolate piping hot for 12 hours.
  • If you can, bring a Bluetooth speaker and play Christmas music in the background.  It really adds to the experience.
  • Be sure to take photos of your snow play, too.



For Mitchell's last Christmas, we made a special effort to play in the snow - and looking back, we're so glad we did. 

If you live in a warm climate, just play outside!



With all of the fun and exciting ways to celebrate Christmas, remembering the reason for the holiday in the first place is the most important thing of all.  Take time to connect to the spiritual aspects of Christmas and the Savior's sacrifice.  

There is nothing wrong with the commercial aspects of Christmas, like Santa & sleigh bells, just remember the reason for the season.  



I just love Christmas ... I love everything about it. I remember when I first bought this little USB Christmas tree ... Mitch thought it was so cool and he loved to come to the office and see it aglow on my desk. The screen saver (behind the tree) is close to my heart because it reminds me of Mitchell's love of sunsets, cozy atmospheres and his romantic view of the holidays. To him, he looked forward to giving gifts to others then snuggling up in a warm and cozy home with the people he loved. That's all I want to do anymore: give and love.

I thought I lost this tree a year ago, but Natalie recently found it buried under other Christmas decorations. Today, when I look at this little tree I think of Mitch and the beautiful gift he was and remains in my life. Despite the heartache that comes and goes like an evening tide, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Though painful, I wouldn't trade the gift of Mitch for anything.

I just hope one night I can see my son in my dreams so I can tell him how much he mattered to me and how very much I love him.