The Gift I Left Behind


What I gave to her wasn’t nearly as important as what she gave to me.

With the hovering heat it seemed more like the Fourth of July than Christmas Day. It was the kind of heat Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is famous for. But I soon forgot about the stickiness and my longing for a white Christmas in my excitement to visit Lily and her family.

I had thought about them often, worrying that the children wouldn’t receive any gifts for Christmas because of the economic situation of the family. Yet during the three months I lived with them, they always offered to share whatever they had with me and my companion.

The courage and determination of Lily, the mother, had impressed me as I watched her fight to support her six children by her own ingenuity and the sparse, sporadic help of her estranged husband. She was always an example of faith and trust in the Lord. She often visited other sisters in the ward she knew needed help, even when she was greatly in need of help herself.

I had wanted this to be a special Christmas for the family, so I bought gifts for the children and wrapped each one in pretty paper. But I had a hard time finding a gift for Lily. I kept thinking of the one thing I knew she needed.

Oftentimes missionaries would leave personal belongings behind to make room for souvenirs in their suitcases. Clothes that had been well broken in during their mission life were usually left with friends. Lily had always admired the one thing I hadn’t thought of leaving behind—my coat. It was a burgundy raincoat with a removable wool lining. My mother had helped me pick it out, and I loved it. We had bought it on a special sale where a certain amount of the price was deducted if you traded in another coat which would be given to charity. My mother had donated one of her coats to help me buy mine. My raincoat was my favorite possession. But now I just had two months left in my mission and it was summer.

They had invited us to join with them in their meal of chicken and rice. We gratefully yet reluctantly accepted. I knew that what we ate would be subtracted from their share. We talked and laughed, and the children opened their presents.

Lily told us how blessed they had been that Christmas. All the children had received one nice present through the telephone company where their father worked. Since they all had received a nice toy, she had asked each one to take a favorite toy, not one that was all worn out, and wrap it up. They each took the toy to church with them and gave it to one of the children in their ward who had not received anything for Christmas.

While we were talking, Lily motioned to the girls to go get something from the back of the house. The girls returned a few minutes later with a small package they laid in my lap. I opened it, and pulled out a white, odd-shaped, furry ball that had orange ears and crystal blue eyes. I wanted to cry. It was probably the funniest little stuffed dog I had seen, yet it meant more than any other gift I had received. I tried to protest. They didn’t need to give me anything. But there was no getting out of it. That little fur ball was mine.

It was then that I went to the corner and picked up Lily’s present. When I gave it to her she at first refused. “No, it’s your coat. I couldn’t.”

But as I insisted she began to cry.

She didn’t expect to receive anything, yet she had given me so much by her example of selflessness and her great power to love.

Now, years later, when I hold that little dog in my hands, I can still feel the warmth of our embrace and our tears intermingling. I remember the sweet peace I felt that Christmas day with a family that thought more about giving to others than they did about receiving.

[illustration] Illustrated by Rick Graham