Oddly, this was the best Christmas my family has ever had. In my logical mind it only makes sense that it should have been one of our worst with all that’s going on in our family, but the magic of Christmas came alive for my family this year as we were able to participate with many wonderful people, in bringing joy to a family who is weighed down with some pretty harsh realities themselves.

In October, when I miraculously met Dani through God’s handiwork, it was evident He had brought us together for a purpose. Over lunch, the idea came to my mind to send Dani’s family to Bear Lake over Christmas. That is all I was going to do…. hand her the key to my mother in laws cabin, but as I drove home that day, ideas flooded into my mind about how special I could make Christmas for this family. As I began to plan and prepare the surprise I started to feel happier and my hate and animosity toward celebrating Christmas started to fade. It’s not surprising that celebrating Christmas the way Christ, himself might, would bring about the most joy. I have learned repeatedly it is when we lose ourselves in the service of others we are most happy ourselves. When I mentioned my ideas to my closest friends and family, the response I got was so amazing and wonderful. I ended up with far more than I had originally planned. It was so miraculous to watch it all come together. God’s hand was very evident in the fluidity and ease with which our surprise unfolded.

My family was blessed with the most wonderful feeling as we purchased and wrapped the gifts, loaded up the cars and drove to Bear Lake the Saturday before Christmas. I have to tell you that the trip through Logan Canyon was SCARY… I prayed most of the way, at times it was a complete white out and we were in our front wheel drive car. A few times we stopped for traffic, once to offer help to a person on the side of the road and the car was VERY slow to get going on the ice. I know we were watched over and blessed as we made that trek.

Upon arriving at the house near Garden City, we shoveled the walks, turned on the heat, set up a small tree with memorable “Bear” ornaments for the Madsen’s to keep as a keepsake in memory of this special “bear lake” Christmas. We filled the fridge with food, left snacks on the counter, family gifts under the tree, and a large pile of gifts with stockings stuffed to the brim for each member of the family. It was so much fun to plug in the tree lights and leave the house in anticipation of their reaction upon finding it full of so much love for them.

One of the gifts I gave Dani was a baseball cap with a buffalo on the front along with a short story I’ll include here…

There is a great lesson to be learned from studying the way that buffalo and cows respond to storms.

When storms come, cows sense this and they try to run away from the storm, we know cows aren’t very fast and so inevitably the storm catches up with the cows rather quickly. And without knowing any better the cows continue to try to outrun the storm. But instead of outrunning the storm they actually run right along with the storm. Maximizing the amount of pain and time and frustration they experience from that storm!

Isn’t that stupid?

Humans do the same thing all of the time. We spend so much of our lives constantly trying to avoid the inevitable challenges that come along with the difficult circumstances that our very own choices have led us to be in.

People who are in debt constantly try to find ways around paying their bills. People who are unhealthy make rationalizations for why they can’t do anything about it or why it doesn’t matter. People who are struggling in their marriage are often trying to avoid the difficult but meaningful conversations that need to be had to reconcile that relationship.

What buffalo do on the other hand is very unique for the animal kingdom. Buffalo wait for the storm to cross right over the crest of the peak of the mountaintop and as the storm rolls over the ridge the buffalo turn and charge directly into the storm.

Instead of running away from the storm they run directly at the storm. By running at the storm they run straight through it. Minimizing the amount of pain and time and frustration they experience from that storm.

Notice how it’s the exact same storm. It’s such a great metaphor for all of us because all of us are dealing with the same types of storms.

We don’t always get to choose whether or not we have storms. The only choice we get to have is how we respond to those storms.

You remind me of a buffalo, Dani.

You are a woman of great courage, wisdom and strength. I am honored to know you and pray you will

have peace and comfort as you charge directly into life’s storms.

The gifts that meant the most to me were the Nike sweat pants and shirts that Riley was able to get for them by coordinating donations at his work. It warmed my heart when I saw my son get excited to serve another even amidst his own heavy burdens. Mallory and Chase collected gifts, money and TONS of stocking stuffers from their friends and neighbors in Logan. Levi helped out anywhere and everywhere he could. My kids are my hero’s.

Dani, her husband Christian, and their two youngest children, Lucas and Noelle, arrived at the house on Christmas evening. They needed to be home on Christmas Day to Skype with their oldest boy who is serving an LDS mission in London. (I used $200 of the cash to send to him)

Here is the text I received from Dani upon their arrival at the house…

Jackie are you freaking kidding me with all these gifts? We are totally speechless. Well that’s not true… our kids are jumping up and down, going out of their minds with excitement. Christian and I cannot decide if we should laugh or cry. This is truly unbelievable. Just the sight alone, we haven’t opened a single gift yet… it’s all too beautiful to open. I think we’ve taken 100 pictures already. You are the kindest people I’ve ever known.

Later that night, after they had opened all the gifts I got this text from her…

We just had THE FUNNEST gift opening party! Oh my gosh! It was so fun! We kept saying that you must have a hidden camera in our house because you seem to know everything we love. Every gift was such a fun surprise! I can’t believe it. My kids keep saying “I feel like I’m dreaming” and “is this seriously real?” They are having so much fun. We love the gifts from Riley. Just the sight of them made me tear up. We also love the story of the cows and buffalos in the storm… So much to learn from the comparison. Thank you for giving us so much to be happy about and for helping have the courage to face our storm. You are incredibly inspiring! We love you all… Merry Christmas! ps… when we first got here we were all saying that just the house was enough of a gift and then Noelle came running in the house saying that just the snow was enough of a gift. You guys went above and beyond.

After they left the Friday after Christmas I got the following text…

We were so sad to leave, we didn’t want the vacation to end. We got home about an hour ago and the first thing the kids wanted to do was lay out all their gifts by the fireplace with their other gifts. It was so cute. We had so much fun there. It was exactly what the four of us needed. Just a good minute to get away and breathe. We hadst much fun playing games, watching movies, sledding behind the four wheeler, driving all over the mountain in a four seater, eating so much yummy food and treats, having snowball fights, staying up late and just talking and laughing without any interruptions. I muted my phone, ignored every message and forgot about all the cancer stuff. It was Heavenly. Thank you so much. Please tell everyone who made this possible that we will never be able to thank them enough. Please pass along our gratitude to your friends and family that made this all possible… I love them.

As you can see… it was a huge success and blessing in their life. The gift of giving is honestly the best. So often we have been on the receiving end of the giving and it has definitely been an enormous blessing and oft times has made it possible to survive when survival doesn’t seem possible, or even desirable, but having the opportunity to be part of the giving was such an incredible experience that I am planning to do this every year. Each year I am planning to find a family who is suffering the effects of cancer and plan to do all I can to give them the gift of a memory they will never forget. I’m sure you’ll hear from me again next year and every year that follows to see if you’d like to be involved again. Having been affected by cancer ourselves, our family knows the blessing of generous people very well. We know how it lightens your load and offers moments and even hours of joy when there is no joy to be had.

I love each of you and am very, very blessed to know you. I want to thank you from the depths of my heart for your generosity and support in providing an extra special Christmas surprise for the Madsen family. They absolutely LOVED all that was done for them.

If you would like to be involved in putting “more Christ in CHRISTmas” next year with my family, through our “CHRISTmas for Cancer Families”, please let me know. I am keeping a folder so that we can carry out this tradition for generations to come. Over the course of the year I will be looking for families we can serve and love through this tradition in honor of my sweet son and and his battle, as well as Dani… the woman who inspired me to begin this tradition.

Sincerely,

Jackie

(IN THE PHOTO: Lucas, Dani and Noelle…. Dani is 40 years old, was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer in May and has been given a limited amount of time to live. Her son left in July to serve his mission in London… they live in Lehi, Utah. I met Dani while getting my hair done and we immediately connected and exchanged information… I also received a thank you card in the mail from Dani’s parents… telling me how grateful they are for everyone who made this possible)