The year I was fifteen I received the last Christmas present my mother ever gave me. It was her last Christmas gift because she died the following March.
I have since forgotten most of the other presents she and my father annually wrapped and placed under the tree. Toys, clothes, books—they were given in love and were enjoyed, but they are now gone. That last present, though, has never been broken, outgrown, or lost.
She knew, I think, that year would be her last Christmas with us because of the disease that was draining away her life. She had been in the hospital since Labor Day, but was permitted to come home for the holidays. A fifteen-year-old girl can’t know what a mother is feeling when she looks at her five children and realizes she must leave them. But when the fifteen-year-old girl later becomes a mother, then she can know. And so I realize now why my mother gave us that last present.
There were so many heartaches to come in the years ahead that she wanted to be able to comfort—so many questions she wanted to answer—so many dark days she wanted to try to lighten. So she laid up what she could against the future. She wrote and wrapped it with great care—a letter, dated Christmas Eve, 1954.
Christmas Eve 1954
I am so very proud of you—and can scarcely believe that you are grown up. It seems but a few years that we hustled you off to bed saying that Santa couldn’t come if you weren’t asleep.
But tonight you are all as busy as the ten little Elves I used to read to you. And as I saw you, each of you bringing home a bundle of presents, I knew that you were the Santa Claus.
If I could give one gift to you—it would be Love. Love for each other, as brothers and sisters, and for the family that you are a part of. Also love for the truth—for the Lord’s ways, and for all the good things of life.
I have been so happy that you have always wanted to attend your meetings and have loved to obey the Church leaders. I love you all and wish I could be better to you.
One other gift I wish I could give you is Courage—courage to choose the right and courage to do the right. I have been oh, so proud of you trying to do just that. But you have to be on your guard always. For all along life’s pathway there are choices to be made, and you must have courage to stand up for your convictions—for the teachings of your parents and of your good teachers.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “When the day dawns face it with a song,—a whistle, eager to labor—happy, if happiness be our portion, and if the day be marked for sorrow, strong to endure.”
One other gift I wish I could give you is Faith—faith in yourself. Look forward to the changes of this life with full hope—for Heavenly Father will keep you in the future as he has done in the past.
And one important source of unhappiness is the habit of living for some future date. Let us not put off those good intentions—for we would lose sight of the present and its chance for rich living today.
I have faith in you and love you.
In the years that have followed, that letter on many occasions has brought me comfort and guidance my mother so wanted to give. Many obstacles seemed more surmountable with the remembered phrase, “I have faith in you and love you.” And many a gray day in which life had lost all appeal became endurable with the words, “‘happy if happiness be our portion, and if the day be marked for sorrow, strong to endure.’”
That letter has become a sacred bond between us, shared here only that other parents might ask themselves what their children will have of them once they are gone.
We choose our gifts with such care and such expense. Let us include among them—at Christmas or a any time we are so moved—something of ourselves stored up for the future.