Latter-day Saint Voices: Gifts of Love

By Jacqueline Michea Martínez

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    “Christmas is more than trees and twinkling lights, more than toys and gifts and baubles of a hundred varieties,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “[Christmas] is love. It is the love of the Son of God for all mankind. It reaches out beyond our power to comprehend. It is magnificent and beautiful. * * * “It is peace. It is the peace which comforts, which sustains, which blesses all who accept it. * * * “It is faith. It is faith in God and His Eternal Son. It is faith in His wondrous ways and message. It is faith in Him as our Redeemer and our Lord” (“A Season for Gratitude,” Liahona, December 1997, 6). * * * This season reminds Christians everywhere of the Savior’s redeeming gift of love, a gift prepared for all who will receive it. Following are experiences of Latter-day Saints who have both received and shared the love of the Lord at Christmastime.

    [illustration] Detail from Lost Lamb, by Del Parson

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Brian Call

    Our Christmas Miracle

    My marriage was in crisis, and when the week of Christmas came, my children and I were alone in our home in Los Andes, Chile. It was the hardest week I had ever experienced. We had no money and nothing in the pantry.

    I asked myself what kind of Christmas I could give my three young children. They had always had a Christmas dinner and a gift. How could I explain to them that Santa Claus, the old bearded visitor, was not going to come?

    The worst of it was that we didn’t have anything to eat. My daughter Michelle went into the kitchen the day of Christmas Eve and couldn’t find anything. I was sitting in the living room thinking about Christmas when she came to me and said, “Why don’t we have a Christmas tree like all the neighbors, and why don’t we have any food?” I had no answer. I was worried, but I also had great faith that our Father in Heaven would not forsake us.

    Suddenly I felt strength come into me. I gathered my children together and told them that the dinner and the tree were not necessary. We were going to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we were going to get to know the true spirit of Christmas.

    During the day we cleaned our house and left it looking beautiful. In the evening we put on our best clothes and sat down at the table to read the scriptures. My children asked me what we were doing. I replied that this was what Jesus wanted from families, for them to draw near to Him. I explained that other years we had almost always been concerned about the dinner and the gifts; we had forgotten the true meaning of the day. They were content.

    While we were finishing our scripture reading, someone knocked on the door. How surprised we were when the neighbors came in with a beautiful Christmas tree and with gifts for the children. A few minutes later they knocked on our door again with all kinds of food. They kept knocking on our door all that night.

    My children are grown now, but they have never forgotten the miracle that took place in our hearts that Christmas.

    Cold Hands, Warm Heart

    Winters in Europe can feel even colder than usual when you’re riding a bike. One day right after Christmas while I was serving in the Belgium Brussels Mission, my companion and I rode our bikes past a lady also on a bicycle.

    I immediately noticed she wore no gloves. On impulse, I asked her if she would like my gloves because I had received a new pair for Christmas. She hesitated and then talked about other things.

    Finally, I took off my gloves, put them in her hands, and said, “Merry Christmas.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she hugged me. At that moment I felt a portion of the love Heavenly Father has for her, and I told her God loved her very much. She said her husband was sick and she had left the house to run some errands. I asked if we could come and see her, but she declined because of her husband’s illness.

    I will never forget what I felt as I watched her ride off. I felt the sting of cold on my hands, but my heart was warm with the love of God.

    Through service we can come to feel the love God has for each of His children. It is often by our service that He blesses others and answers their prayers.

    The Crumpled Letter

    It was a cold December day in 1988 in San Luis Obispo, California. Stricken with a rare disorder, I struggled with rigid muscles in my abdomen and legs. The cold aggravated my symptoms, making walking difficult and painful.

    After our children left for school, I hobbled out to the mailbox to send some letters. In the box I found a damp, crumpled envelope. I glanced at the address.

    To my surprise, scrawled across the front was “To Santa, From Sarah.” Sarah, our nine-year-old daughter, was a sensitive and loving child who cared deeply for those around her.

    The thought occurred to me that this might be my chance to discover what she really wanted for Christmas. I opened her envelope and read: “Dear Santa, I am nine years old and all I want is this. My mother has been very sick and has not been able to walk, and I am hoping you can get her better for Christmas. That’s all I want. Love, Sarah.”

    Icy raindrops blended with the tears on my cheeks. I thought my heart would break, for there was nothing I could do to give Sarah what she wanted for Christmas, and I regretted that her belief in a generous Santa would have to be shattered on Christmas morning.

    As I prayed about what to do, I realized I had never prayed to be made well. I had let hopelessness seep into my soul, and despair had replaced my faith.

    After a great deal of prayer, I composed a letter from Santa to be delivered to Sarah on Christmas morning. I explained that Heavenly Father has reasons for why things happen as they do and that if she would just believe in Him and keep on praying and doing what she could, things would work out for the best.

    Sarah learned that Christmas in 1988 that Santa could not make her mother well but that Heavenly Father could one day, if it was His will. Our daughter quietly transferred her belief in Santa to faith in a loving Heavenly Father.

    During the following years, Sarah never ceased praying that I would be made well. After more than six years, a breakthrough in medical technology placed me soundly back on my feet and eliminated my need for either a cane or a wheelchair. Sarah knelt in prayer to express her deep gratitude to Heavenly Father.

    Years ago as I opened Sarah’s letter to Santa, I thought I was going to deepen her belief in a fun Christmas tradition. Instead, her selfless request taught me to have childlike faith in a kind Heavenly Father, and that lesson turned out to be my most precious gift of all.

    Gustavo’s Smile

    On Christmas Day in 1993, the single adults of the Caracas Venezuela Stake visited an orphanage that housed some 40 children. We wanted to bring some happiness to God’s precious little ones. I will never forget the expression of one four-year-old boy named Gustavo.

    As we arrived, the children enthusiastically greeted us with hugs, kisses, and other expressions of affection, which we happily returned. The hope and innocence in their eyes helped me better understand the Lord’s admonition to “become as little children” (Matt. 18:3).

    Our activity began with a little party, at which we gave out treats and toys we had brought. When lunchtime came, each of us sat down next to a child to help serve the meal. Many were too excited about their toys to want to eat; others told us fantastic stories woven from their imaginations. Some were extremely quiet and just stared at us, but they laughed when we made funny faces at them.

    I asked the workers how many occasions like this the children had already experienced. They told me the children were seldom visited; as a result, many of them were lonely and shy. Many were ready to be adopted, but the law has many requirements that delay the adoption process. Most of the orphans could not be adopted until legislation was passed in their favor.

    When the children finished eating, Gustavo came up to me and began to play. I tried to talk to him, but he answered only in short phrases. At the end of our brief encounter, he gave me a hug and a big smile and said, “Thank you, Daddy.” A lump formed in my throat.

    By midafternoon it was time for the children’s nap. We helped put them to bed, but they were too excited to sleep. When they realized we were preparing to leave, they began to cry, and it was hard to comfort them. There was nothing to say; we could only give them our love, expressed in hugs and kisses. Gradually, sleep began to overcome them.

    And then, as we left, I again encountered Gustavo’s smile. He was still awake, and he said to me, “Come back soon, Daddy.”

    I spent the rest of the day thinking about him and feeling sad that I couldn’t do more to help him. Shortly thereafter, I learned he had been adopted. I don’t know who adopted him, but I believe my prayers and the pure desires of his heart helped bring him this blessing.

    I will probably never see Gustavo again, but his smile that Christmas Day taught me about the importance of giving love and being willing to receive it.