The first present under our Christmas tree is always a small, square box with a big, red bow and a message that says, "Life is God's gift to man. What we do with our life is our gift to God."
Our holiday festivities begin with each of us deciding what our gift will be to Heavenly Father and Jesus. This year, my 4-year-old daughter wants to give Jesus the gift of teaching her little sister everything she knows. So far, she has been giving it her all. I have walked in on several "manners lessons" wherein she instructs her little sister that it's rude not to look at someone when they are talking to you.
My husband chose to give more earnest scripture study, and my 18-month-old tried to eat the bow.
As for me, I'm still mulling it over. Much like the little drummer boy that we sing of, I feel inadequate that "I have no gift to bring that's fit for the King." I want my gift to be perfect because I have been blessed this year – and my whole life, for that matter.
So I've been thinking about sacrifice. What does it really mean to give up something you want for something greater or for someone else? What can I give up or give to Heavenly Father that would be a sacrifice to show my love.
It boils down to is this: A sacrifice must be difficult in some way, and a sacrifice must be made by choice.
We celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus at Easter, but at Christmas I think we celebrate two other great sacrifices.
The first is that of Mary, who sacrificed her body and her reputation to bear Jesus. She risked her relationship with Joseph and her standing in society when she accepted her mission. As a mother, I know that Mary's sacrifices did not end when she birthed Jesus in that manger. As any mother would, Mary gave her life for her children.
But perhaps the great sacrifice of Christmas was made by Heavenly Father. Although his son would not be crucified for another three decades, the act of sending Jesus to the earth as a babe was the first step in the greatest sacrifice on this earth.
He gave his son.
While we often focus on the baby in swaddling clothes at Christmas time, this year I'm thinking about a Heavenly Father who loved me so much that he gave another one of his children to save me. On that glorious night, my Heavenly Father looked upon that manger knowing there was only one way for this story to end.
He did it because he loved us. He did it because he knew the greater good of the sacrifice. As any parent can attest, I can't think of any more difficult sacrifice than that of a child.
So what gift can I give?
For me, the answer is that same well-worn response of the little drummer boy, who gave the only thing he could: his song. But he didn't just play a song or hammer out a mediocre tune. He says, "I played my best for him."
I am not a drummer; I am a mom. So that is what I can give. I can be the best mom I can be, and do it with a glad and willing heart. I can constantly work at being more patient, more Christ-like and more loving. And most importantly, I can quit complaining about the drudgery of motherhood, and relish in the joy of the sacrifices I am making.
These children are a gift from God, and how I spend my time with them is the most precious gift I can give in return.
This year, each time I see that square present with the red bow under the tree, I will recommit to doing my best for my children — and for him.
Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, Stewart discusses it all while her 4-year-old daughter crams Mr. Potato Head pieces in her little sister's nose.