The Gift


Wait for me, Holly Noel Hunt!” shouted her older sister, Sarah. Ten-year-old Holly stopped in her tracks, squinting into the late afternoon sunlight, glad for the chance to catch her breath.

“Where do you think you’re going—to a fire?” Sarah teased, when she caught up to Holly. She linked her arm through Holly’s. “Keep it down to a fast crawl, and tell me what you want for Christmas and your birthday.”

Holly had been born eleven years ago, two days before Christmas. She had always loved celebrating her birthday so close to the Savior’s, and she had been named Holly Noel in honor of Christmas.

Marching in step as they laughed and talked, the two girls soon burst through their front door. Mother was on the phone, a worried frown creasing her brow. She motioned for the girls to be quiet. “I’ll have to discuss it with my family first, of course,” Mother was saying. “I’ll let you know in the morning.”

Holly grabbed an apple and flopped into the nearest chair. “Ask your family about what?” she mumbled between bites.

“That was Mrs. Ortega from the Crippled Children’s School. Their vacation is starting, and they have a little girl your age, Holly, who has nowhere to go for the Christmas holidays. Debbie grew up in a foster home in the country, but her foster mother died last fall. They would like us to take her for the holidays.”

“Oh, let’s do!” Holly and Sarah chorused.

“I’m glad you’re so willing to share your home and Christmas with someone who needs us,” Mother said. “Debbie has some special problems, however. Mrs. Ortega said she is one of the most severely crippled children at the school. They wouldn’t even consider us taking her if I weren’t a registered nurse.”

Sarah and Holly looked surprised, and Mother continued, “She can only move her neck and head. The rest of her body is paralyzed and deformed. There is very little she can do for herself.”

“It’s hard to imagine a girl my age like that,” Holly whispered.

A look of steely determination settled over Sarah’s face. “Well, I’m certainly willing to help you take care of her, Mom. If it’s OK with Dad and Greg, I think we should take her, don’t you, Holly?”

“Yeah, I guess so, but it scares me a little.”

“I guess we all feel a little scared, honey,” Mother said, giving both daughters a hug.

That evening as they ate bowls of steaming homemade soup with hot, crusty french bread, the Hunt family decided unanimously that they wanted Debbie as part of their family for Christmas.

Holly had butterflies in her stomach as they pulled up to the school in their old brown station wagon, got out, and entered the building.

“Here she comes,” whispered Sarah, as a nurse came down the hall pushing a wheelchair.

Debbie was smiling at them, showing two deep dimples on each side of her face. Her clear, bright blue eyes were framed by soft yellow curls. She looked like the fairy princess in one of Holly’s old storybooks. Holly looked down at the rest of Debbie’s little body, then quickly looked away, hoping Debbie hadn’t seen her shocked expression. Nothing had prepared Holly for the little stub arms and legs coming out from Debbie’s twisted body.

“Would you like to come down to the physical therapy room with me before we go?” Debbie asked. “I’d like to show you some of the things that I’m learning to do with my teeth. Miss Durrant made me a special stick that I can type with, and I’m learning to paint and draw with some other special tools. I’d like you to meet some of my friends too. Oh, and I hope you can come to our Christmas program tonight! I’m supposed to be in it.”

By the time they reached the physical therapy room, Holly was starting to appreciate Debbie as a person.

When Miss Durrant proudly showed them some of Debbie’s accomplishments, Holly said ruefully, “I wish my schoolwork looked this neat.”

“Well, I think it’s time to get you settled at home if you’re going to be in a program tonight, Debbie,” suggested Mother. “Otherwise, you’ll be too tired.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you can come! I was afraid I might have to miss the program. I’m one of the angels in the choir.”

“Oh, we’ll all come. None of our children are in a Christmas program this year, so we’ll be happy to see yours.”

Later that evening the family sat together in the darkened auditorium, waiting for the program to begin. The curtains opened, and the program began with angels singing familiar Christmas carols. As she watched row after row of children from the audience around her go with their braces, crutches, or wheelchairs to perform on stage, Holly thought about how hard it must be for them to do things—and to do some of them in front of all these people too! She wasn’t at all surprised to see silent tears sliding down her mother’s face. Somehow after listening to Debbie all afternoon telling about her friends and the tricks they played and about how they got in trouble for racing down the hall in wheelchairs, Holly had nearly forgotten about their physical problems.

After the choir sang, a play about Santa Claus began. Santa had a bad case of gout, and he had to have physical therapy and treatment at the School for Crippled Children before he could go on his usual Christmas Eve rounds.

The part of the doctor was played by a handsome, humpbacked teenager who walked with a cane. Suddenly he lost his balance and went crashing to the floor. The audience gasped with concern. Holly felt Greg’s shoulder moving against hers, and she realized that he was struggling with the boy to stand up. Finally the boy got to his feet.

“Nurse, see that something is done about that floor!” the boy commanded, thumping the offending floor with his cane.

Waves of applause filled the auditorium along with relieved laughter. It was a Christmas program that none of them would ever forget.

The morning of her birthday, Holly carefully closed the bathroom door, then tried drinking a glass of water without using her hands as she had seen Debbie do. She only managed to soak herself and drop the plastic glass with a clatter into the sink. She looked into the bathroom mirror, and solemn brown eyes looked back at her.

Yesterday she had come in from building a giant snowman with her friends and found Debbie watching from the window, her usually merry blue eyes shadowed with sadness.

“I wish I could run and play like other kids,” Debbie had said with a long sigh. “I wonder why I was born like this.”

Holly had put her arms around Debbie in silent sympathy but had had no answer for her. She thought about her birthday three years ago when Grandfather had become very ill and had been in the hospital. Holly had heard her parents say that he would never get well. She had sat in a corner by the Christmas tree, sobbing and tightly clutching the hand-carved cane Grandfather had made especially for her. Her father had picked her up and wiped away her tears with the back of his big, gentle hand.

“Remember when you became separated from us in that crowded store last Christmastime, Holly?” he had asked. “You were so frightened—just sobbing when we found you.”

Holly had nodded solemnly.

“I wiped the tears from your eyes, and you were safe and happy in my arms. When Grandfather goes back to Heavenly Father, it will be a safe and happy time for him too. We may all feel lost at times, but because Jesus came to earth and died for us, there will be a time when all our tears will be dried.”

Holly had felt the truth of her father’s words then, and she longed now to find a way to tell Debbie how she felt.

“Hey, come on, birthday girl—Greg’s famous pancakes await you!” her brother shouted from downstairs. Holly shook away her thoughts and ran downstairs.

“Boy, are your missionary companions going to love you when they find out about these pancakes,” she said as she pulled up her chair. Greg was going to leave on his mission right after the Christmas holidays.

“Every year on Holly’s birthday we have a tradition of giving her some special gift that we do or make ourselves,” Mother explained to Debbie. “Her birthday is so close to Christmas that we wanted to make sure it wasn’t overlooked in the holiday excitement. Greg’s gift is his special pancakes.”

“And I’m going to be her slave for the day and do all her chores,” groaned Sarah, rolling her eyes in a gesture of mock despair.

Holly’s eyes were twinkling as she said, “Tonight Mom and Dad are going to tell the Christmas story, wearing robes my uncle brought back from a trip to Israel.”

Debbie seemed unusually quiet all afternoon. She spent most of the time alone in her room with only Mother going in and out.

After dinner everyone watched as Holly blew out eleven flickering candles with one big puff. Then they all sang “Happy Birthday.” Mother and Father disappeared for a moment while Greg built a fire, and everyone gathered around the fireplace, waiting expectantly.

All the lights were extinguished except the tree lights and a few candles flickering around the room. The fire glowed and crackled in the fireplace, and soon Mother and Father returned, dressed in flowing robes. As Father and Mother told the age-old story of the first Christmas, a feeling of love and contentment surrounded the little group.

When the beautiful story had ended, they watched the fire in silence for a few minutes. Then Greg jumped up to get more wood. Just as he threw a log onto the fire, Holly noticed that one of her new furry white mittens was snagged on it. She hurried to fish it out of the flames with a poker, but the thumb already had a hole burned in it. Swallowing her disappointment, she laid it carefully on the mantel and went to open her birthday presents.

When the gifts had all been opened and Holly had thanked each giver, Debbie said shyly, “If you’ll come here, I have something else for you, Holly.”

“But you already gave me a beautiful red sweater,” Holly said as she walked to Debbie’s side.

“I wanted to give you something of myself, like the others,” Debbie said shyly, nodding to an envelope on her lap.

Holly opened the envelope and looked with amazement at a button sewn on a little square of cloth.

Debbie smiled proudly. “I sewed it on myself!”

Everyone but Mother looked at her in wonder.

“She did,” Mother affirmed. “I watched her do it.”

“But how?” Holly asked.

“I stuck myself a lot,” Debbie admitted cheerfully, “and my mouth is quite sore, but I wanted to do it for you.”

Holly’s eyes pricked with tears at the enormity of Debbie’s gift. Her eyes wandered up to the hand-carved nativity scene nestled among the pine boughs on the mantel. She walked over and reverently touched the Babe in the manger, then looked over at the charred mitten.

Turning to Debbie she said softly, “I think because of you, I understand more about giving and about Christmas than I ever did before. Debbie, I want to give you something too. She grabbed her ruined mitten and ran out, returning immediately. “Look, Debbie,” she said, holding out the burned mitten, “the part of your body that’s crippled may seem like this to you.” She tugged gently and pulled its mate from inside the burned one. “But the real you inside is just as perfect as this.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Karl Hepworth