[illustrations] Illustrations by Daniel Lewis

[photo] Border © Photospin

He Gave My Gift Away

I ran the soup kitchen at the Food and Care Coalition in Provo, Utah, for 11 years. We encouraged our patrons to help us when they could. One man, Mike (name has been changed), had been living in his car for about four years. He always volunteered to help, and I appreciated everything he did for me.

It was the Christmas season, and I wanted to show my appreciation, so I gave him a Christmas card with a short message expressing my thanks and a book of tickets to the dollar-movie theater that was close by. Mike was overwhelmed. He thanked me several times and said he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a present from anyone.

This happened at about noon on Christmas Eve. After dinner that evening, Mike came to me and apologized for having given away two of the movie tickets. I told him they were his, and he could do whatever he wanted with them. He said, “Well, this lady was sitting across from me at dinner. I’d never seen her before, but she told me it was her birthday and she hadn’t received any presents. So I gave her one of the tickets.”

“Then, there was a man sitting by me,” Mike continued. “We got to talking. I found out he was leaving on the bus tonight, but it didn’t leave until 11:00 p.m., and he had nowhere to wait until it came. I gave him one of the tickets so he could go in where it was warm and watch a movie.”

I was so teary eyed and choked up that I could hardly tell him what a generous and Christlike thing he had done.

Christmas Tamales

I had about two months left on my mission in Costa Rica, and I was serving with an American companion, Sister Nguyen. We were excited to be celebrating Christmas and were preparing small bags of sweets and cookies to deliver on Christmas Eve to friends and families in the small city where we lived.

I had spent most of my mission in very poor areas, and I was grateful. The Lord had blessed me by allowing me to teach people in humble homes, to live among them and learn of their kindness, their humility, and their spirit of sacrifice.

The last family we visited to drop off some treats was the Carmona family, a large family that was one of the poorest in the ward. They all—parents, children, in-laws, and grandchildren—lived in a small wooden hut covered with sheet metal, lacking electricity and any other modern comfort. They were preparing traditional tamales that they would eat during the holidays. We made our delivery and returned to our house.

Very early on Christmas morning we heard a knock on the door. To my surprise, I found myself face-to-face with Minor, the 13-year-old son of the Carmona family. He was holding a small package in his hand.

“Sisters,” he said, “Mother sent me to give you these tamales. Have a merry Christmas!”

I was so thankful they had thought of us—we who had not yet received anything from our own families, we who had not been expecting anything. And this family that probably had just enough for themselves offered us a part of their Christmas “feast.”

I showed my companion the package, and I could see tears running down her cheeks. “Sister, what’s wrong?” I asked.

She answered me very simply: “Sister Burcion, it’s Christmas!”

Yes, it was Christmas, and they had shared the little they had with us, the missionaries, as they would have shared with Christ. It was the only gift we received that Christmas day, a gift I will never forget.

Our Difficult Neighbor

My husband and I were living in a second-story apartment with our small son and daughter. We looked forward to Christmas that year with our two children. Our son was growing fast, and as any normal toddler, he liked to move a lot. He often ran around the apartment just for fun. We enjoyed his antics, but our neighbor downstairs was rather impatient. He often turned up his music in retaliation and came upstairs to complain to us.

It was a frustrating situation for us. What is a little boy supposed to do all day if he is not able to move freely? It broke my heart to keep him quiet when he was so full of gleeful energy. We met with our apartment manager and our neighbor to try to resolve the conflict. As we talked I noticed that our neighbor was especially defensive in his words and attitude. During the discussion, the Savior’s words from Matthew 5:44 came to my mind: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I did not necessarily consider him an enemy, but we certainly didn’t see eye to eye.

He was in the military, and his wife had not been able to join him yet, so he was alone in a strange town. And when he came home from work, he had to deal with this noise above his apartment. I began to see how difficult it might be for him, but I still did not have a fair solution. I started to pray for him, and my heart was touched to be a little more sympathetic.

We welcomed my husband’s parents to spend the holidays with us that year. On Christmas Eve we were enjoying each other’s company and the special spirit of the season. Soon we heard and felt the vibration of loud music coming from the apartment below. It seemed very loud this time, but I remember feeling sorry for him rather than impatient. Thinking about the verse in Matthew 5, I made up a plate of homemade Christmas cookies for our neighbor.

My husband and I went down to deliver them. When our neighbor opened the door, he scowled at us and said, “WHAT?” I could tell he was expecting an unpleasant confrontation. Instead, we ignored the loud music and wished him a heartfelt merry Christmas. We smiled, and I could see his face soften as he accepted the cookies. He smiled back and thanked us, wishing us a merry Christmas also. It wasn’t long before the music was turned down.

We saw our neighbor outside a few days later, and he thanked us again for the cookies. He was smiling at us again, and we found it easy to smile back at him. We asked him if he had a church to go to, because he was new in town. He said he hadn’t found one yet, so we invited him to our church, and he accepted our invitation. He began visiting with the missionaries and soon wanted to be baptized. He and our son had their picture taken together on the day of his baptism.

I don’t remember any more problems with loud music, but I do recall the special blessings of following the scriptures in our lives. It still warms my heart to remember how the simple gift of Christmas cookies quickly changed an unpleasant relationship into a wonderful friendship.

My Pocket Was Empty

Finances were tight for our young family in 1979. I was a student at Colorado State University. Meager funds from loans and my wife’s enterprises were deposited directly into a savings account. Then we would withdraw a budgeted amount every week for expenses. As Christmas approached we recognized that this holiday would be a frugal one.

One Friday evening we decided that I would take the two oldest of our four children to explore the excitement of the local shopping mall. En route we made our bank withdrawal, electing to withdraw the full December amount at the beginning of the month to cover the increased expenses of the holidays. I took the full amount in small bills.

Although no snow had fallen, the weather was cold and raw with an icy wind. Arriving at the crowded mall parking lot, I hurriedly extracted the boys from the van, eager to get inside the bright, warm mall.

For well over an hour we wandered from store to store, enjoying the rich sights and smells. At last we agreed to cap our outing with some ice cream. With shock, however, I immediately discovered that my shirt pocket was empty of its recent bulge of money.

I fought down a rising panic as we quickly retraced our steps. But with each negative response to our anxious inquiries about someone finding some money, our sense of loss increased. After making a last, futile stop at a security desk, we sadly returned home.

We related the bad news to my concerned wife. How could we buy food, pay the rent and utilities, and cover other expenses for the month, let alone provide a few extras for Christmas? The children began to softly cry and whisper among themselves. Somberly we gathered in family prayer to ask for guidance. Then, as we were discussing every possible but unlikely avenue to compensate for the loss, the phone rang.

It was the security guard at the mall. “Are you the people who recently reported the loss of some money?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” I answered.

“How much was it, and in what denominations?”

After we gave him the information, he asked if we could return to the mall.

With guarded anticipation we made the short journey back. The security guard told us that several people had turned in numerous small bills found scattered by the wind in the parking lot. A count revealed the exact amount we had lost. There was no one to thank, for these honest souls left no names. The guard smiled and wished us a merry Christmas as he handed us the small stack of bills. Much relieved and profoundly grateful, we drove home.

We then knelt as a family and offered our thanks for the blessings given. Christmas was saved for our little family, and an eternal lesson was learned. These honest people were wonderful examples to us. What better way to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for the birth of His Son than by living the true spirit of Christmas?