Mom’s Present Was Missing!
Kathy worked her way through the holiday crowds. She considered the meager amount in her purse that was to cover Christmas gifts for her seven children and one or two close relatives. The year had not been good for her husband, who like others at the company where he worked had been required to take a pay cut to avoid losing his job.
With the shopping almost done, Kathy found a beautiful blouse, just the color, size, and style that she knew her mother would love. Best of all, it was on sale, and she could buy it and still stay within her budget. She purchased it and felt a glow of excitement, knowing the gift was exactly right.
Having finished her shopping, she gathered the twins and all the packages and headed for the car. Then she discovered that one of the packages was missing—the gift for her mother!
She retraced her steps carefully, but her unsuccessful inquiries brought a bitter realization of the truth: no gift for her mother, and no money left to replace it.
Standing amid the holiday crowds, the twins clinging to her package-laden arms, Kathy felt only the burden of the holidays and none of the joy. Her tears flowed freely.
A woman approached and touched Kathy’s arm, saying, “Dear, I noticed you talking with one of the clerks about your lost parcel. Please take this, and buy another blouse for your mother. You see, this Christmas I have no mother to buy a gift for. Please, it would mean so much to me.” The woman pressed a twenty-dollar bill into Kathy’s hand and slipped away before Kathy could speak.
Lost in thought, Kathy walked slowly toward the rack of women’s blouses. The crowds of men, women, and children still bumped and jostled her, but she was no longer bothered by them. She knew one of them might be another “angel in disguise.”
Prompted to Bring One More
We can seldom foresee how the Lord will make us instruments in his hands. One year when my visiting teaching companion was out of town, my daughter Elizabeth went with me on my visits. It was Christmastime, so we baked cookies, wrapped them in cellophane, tied them with red ribbon, and attached a pine sprig. Then we put all these little gifts in a bag and had a prayer together. At the last minute I felt a strong prompting and slipped in an extra package of cookies.
After visiting several houses, we reached the home of a sister who lived with her married son and his family, all of whom were members. Another older woman, looking very tired, was there delivering clothing. Her name was Margarita, and she earned her living doing laundry by hand. Knowing what hard work that is, I handed her the other little parcel of cookies and wished her a merry Christmas. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she was completely alone and that this would be her only gift.
I spoke to her then about the Lord Jesus Christ and told her that if he is with us, we will not be lonely. I assured her that she was a daughter of God, who was loved by him just as an earthly father loves his children and that if she sought him, he would receive her with open arms. I told her many more things. Her face lit up, and she agreed to receive the missionaries.
The next month when we went to visit that house, Margarita was there again. She hugged us and said, “Now I can really call you sisters. I was baptized last week.”
Alone and Freezing
It was a week before Christmas, and I was finishing my day’s work. The half-moon in the sky was shining on the snow as I fed the animals and then brought an armload of wood into the house. The thermometer read fifteen degrees. I sat down to read the paper as I do every evening. It was warm and cozy, and the Christmas tree lights seemed to make the room more comfortable than usual.
Then the thought came to me, “You haven’t done your home teaching yet.” It’s very cold tonight, I protested, and I haven’t made arrangements with my young companion. I settled back to read, but once again the thought came to me, “You had better go home teaching.” Realizing it was a prompting from the Spirit, I put aside the paper and called David Kunz, my home teaching partner, who agreed to go with me.
At the Baxter home I noticed Brother Baxter’s truck was gone. Sister Baxter looked worried. “Where’s Lyman?” I asked.
“My husband went fishing this afternoon up at the reservoir and hasn’t returned yet. I’m really concerned,” she said.
“Let’s go see if we can find him,” I suggested to David.
We left immediately and drove to the Lamont Reservoir, a mile or so from town. On the south side of the reservoir we noticed a brown pickup truck parked about thirty feet from the water’s edge. As we pulled up behind it, we noticed the engine was running.
“Can you see Lyman?” I asked.
“I think he’s under the truck!” David exclaimed. “I can see his feet sticking out.”
We jumped out and ran to him. “Lyman, what’s the problem?” I heard a faint moan.
We pulled him out from under his truck and noticed that his hands and head were scraped and bleeding. His clothes were wet and nearly frozen, and he was almost unconscious. I opened the truck door and said, “Let’s try to get him inside.” The weight of his limp body and wet, frozen clothes made this task very difficult.
“You drive my truck, and I’ll drive Lyman’s,” I told David. As we drove, I tried to get Lyman to talk. “Tell me what happened,” I said.
He only mumbled, “… don’t know … sure cold!”
As we pulled into the Baxter driveway, Sister Baxter hurried out to the truck and said, “Lyman, should we take you to the hospital?”
“No, just help me into the house.” As his feet touched the ground, his legs collapsed, so we carried him in and helped him out of his wet clothes and into bed.
The next morning I drove back to the reservoir and found the fishing pole—with a trout hooked firmly to the line! I stopped by the Baxters to give Lyman his fishing pole, complete with fish. “What happened last night?” I asked him.
He had stepped from his warm truck, he said, to check his fishing rod. As he stooped to pick it up, his leg slipped and buckled, pitching him into the water. The shock of the icy water immediately paralyzed him from the chest down. He grabbed at the sharp rocks along the water’s edge, cutting his hands and face, and finally managed to drag himself up the embankment and over to his truck. Once there, he was too weak to get in. He pulled himself under the truck, hoping for warmth from the running motor.
And there we had found him, just in time to save his life. Our Christmas gift to the Baxter family that year was a simple willingness to put aside the warm comfort of a fire on a cold evening and follow the promptings of the Spirit to do our home teaching.
The Gift Exchange
At a Relief Society Christmas party in Brussels, Belgium, we had a gift exchange in which we were allowed to unwrap a new gift or choose someone else’s already-opened gift.
The woman sitting next to me was Marie-Jeanne. She opened a lovely gift of three round, nested containers brought by Mei, a sister from China. The group gave a collective sigh of “Oooh” and “Ahhh,” and the containers became the prize to trade for. Marie-Jeanne particularly loved them and said they would be a great addition to her collection. I had never had anything like them, but I admired the enameled containers, thinking the set might be a nice way for me to start a collection of my own. In the spirit of fun I promptly took them from Marie-Jeanne. But another sister soon took them from me. In the end, however, there they were in my lap, much to my delight.
Others smiled at my good fortune. Though Marie-Jeanne was gracious and careful not to show her feelings, I knew she was disappointed. Knowing of her unhappiness, I couldn’t feel really good about winning the gift.
As we went our separate ways that night, it occurred to me to wrap the gift and give it to her husband to give back to her on Christmas Day. I knew that if I tried to give it to her that night, she might be too embarrassed to receive it and wonder if she’d made too much of a small thing. But if I gave it to her for Christmas, she could not refuse it.
I wrapped the containers in Christmas paper and gave the package to her husband. He sensed that this was a meaningful gift and kept it for the last present to be opened on Christmas morning. When Marie-Jeanne opened it, she was astonished. She told me later that my gift had a most profound effect on her and that for a few minutes she could hardly speak. Her tears flowed so freely that her family was concerned, but she said she just felt very loved and very humbled.
Marie-Jeanne later told me that Mei had thoughtfully brought her an identical set of enameled containers. Already grateful and humbled at that woman’s sensitivity, Marie-Jeanne was overwhelmed on Christmas morning when she opened the second set.
For hours that day, she had felt such love and appreciation that she didn’t even dare call me on the phone, for fear her emotions would prevent her from speaking. When we spoke later, she told me how her mind had been flooded with things she wanted to change about herself and how she wanted to serve more and share more of herself. This woman had already been a devoted servant in her branch and her stake. Yet now, increasingly sensitive to the workings of the Spirit, she was profoundly impressed with how much the little things we do can affect others for good.
Marie-Jeanne asked if I would please accept the containers as an expression of her love. I was happy to receive them, and I told her that each time I saw them I would think of her as well as Mei and the potential effect of one small act of kindness. No matter how insignificant an act of love seems, it is like a stone cast into a pond: it creates many ripples that touch other people’s lives.
This touching experience reminded me of a truth I’d often heard: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will come back to you buttered!” (Compare Eccl. 11:1.)
Our Christmas Came Back
It had been a hard year for our family. I found myself working long hours to pay our bills on my meager salary. I was near exhaustion.
My wife and I prayed each night that our financial burdens would somehow be lifted and that our children would not be negatively affected by my absence and our constant denials of their requests for things that their friends had.
Less than a week before Christmas, I managed to resurrect an old plastic Christmas tree. We purchased two inexpensive gifts for each of our children. My eight-year-old son had been longing to own his own basketball, and his excitement over one box measuring approximately nine inches square nearly consumed him.
Then something happened in our lives that would change each one of us forever. Ronald and his oldest sister, Heather, had become good friends with a family up the street who had children their same ages. Eyes wide with concern, our little children told us of the family’s situation: There wasn’t a Christmas tree or presents in their friends’ home. The family wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas this year because the father was out of work.
I discussed the matter with our bishop, who said he would look into the matter personally. At first I felt relieved, but I returned home feeling there was more to be done, but not knowing what it should be. We already had spent all of our tiny budget.
After supper, we started our family home evening and shared our feelings. We decided to offer a special prayer for our neighbors and asked Heavenly Father to let us know what we could do to help them. When we arose from our prayers, two little faces bore a determined excitement as they simultaneously suggested the obvious solution to our problem: why not share our Christmas with our neighbors? There was precious little to share, but as our eyes met, we each felt a surge of excitement at the suggestion. We took a box of candy we had been given and a pumpkin pie my wife had baked earlier and met at the Christmas tree.
Then it happened! We each began to select one of our gifts to take with us. My eyes fell immediately upon my son. He sat before his gifts as if in shock. It was obvious that he was having difficulty deciding which gift he would take: the large box or the soft little package. In silence his eyes passed back and forth between the two. He looked up at his mother and then over to me. Then he looked back at the presents. He passed from one to another for a few more moments and then, quite abruptly, picked up the large box and said, “I think Jimmy would like this one best.”
With full hearts we gathered the gifts and treats and headed for the door. I stepped out first and almost stumbled over a tiny tree someone had left for us. We brought the tree inside, and Mother and the children removed some of the lights and trimming from our plastic tree while I went to the garage to make a tree stand. We hurried up the block with our bounty. We left the decorated tree and gifts with our friends and bid them a Merry Christmas.
The next evening a surprising thing happened. The bishop called and said, “I have some packages that need delivering to some of the families in the ward and wondered if you could use your station wagon to help us deliver them.”
I agreed to meet the bishop at his office as soon as possible and hung up the phone. The car was out of gas and I could find no money for gas. I remembered seeing a few dusty pop bottles in the garage that could be returned to the store for the deposit, and the children had seen more in the trash down the alley. So we gathered the bottles, and I bought a gallon of gas with the proceeds, and headed for the church.
When I arrived, the bishop had already carried many large boxes and bags of groceries to the curb. We loaded them all into the station wagon. They barely fit inside. When we were finished, he handed me an envelope and instructed me to deliver the packages to the names on the list. I agreed and opened the envelope. On a slip of paper was a single name—mine. My eyes filled with tears as I turned to the bishop and said, “Oh, Bishop, there are so many families that need this worse than we do.”
“I know,” he acknowledged, “but we have already taken care of them, and the Lord wants your family to have this.” He embraced me, shook my hand, and sent me home.
When I arrived, I called for the family to help me in with the boxes and bags. There were several brightly wrapped presents for each member of the family. At the bottom of one bag was a special gift, wrapped in a box measuring approximately nine inches square.
A special warmth and glow filled our home that night. We knew that our prayers had been answered and that Christmas that year was going to be special for each member of our family. And yes, the bishop had been aware of our friends up the street—someone had visited their home, too, and left many packages of food and gifts at their door.
Each year as we dismantle our little plastic Christmas tree and put it into its cardboard box, we threaten to replace it with a real tree. But each Christmas we keep putting it back up just one more time. Our little tree, which once shared its lights and ornaments and glory with another family, still captures for us the true meaning of the season. It was our best Christmas ever.