The summer after I turned 16, I saw my mother trying on one of my father’s old coats. “Money is tight again this year,” she said, “and mine’s worn out.” Right then, I knew I needed to help her. But how?
My first thought was that I could save enough money to surprise her with a new coat. After all, I was the oldest. But the longer I thought about it, the more I sensed there was one thing missing from my plan—one thing that would make the surprise even better. I should invite my two teenage sisters and my 11-year-old brother to help me.
“How about we each donate 10 percent of whatever we earn?” I said, after explaining the problem to them.
“I don’t make much money,” my brother said.
“That’s okay. If you make $1.00 and put in 10 cents, then you’ll have done your part.”
“We’ll go together to buy the coat, right?” asked one of my sisters.
“Yes, at Christmas.”
They looked at each other. “Let’s do it.”
For the next several months, we worked and saved for Mom’s surprise. Sometimes we gave more than 10 percent, and sometimes 10 percent was almost more than we could give after already paying 10 percent for tithing. But no matter how hard it was, we stuck to our commitment. I particularly remember one hot afternoon when my brother, dirty and sweaty from several hours of lawn mowing, came into my bedroom and handed me a dollar. I felt like I had just received the widow’s mite (see Mark 12:41–44).
Finally, one week before Christmas, we counted our money and discovered we had more than enough for the coat, so much more, in fact, that we could buy gifts for everyone in our family. We could hardly wait to see their faces when they found their surprises.
On Christmas morning, we got up before our parents. When my youngest sisters saw the dresses we had bought for them, they twirled around the room with them, saying, “Thank you, thank you!”
“Wow, thanks for the toy cars, Mom and Dad!” my eight-year-old brother shouted as he examined his gift.
“What’s going on?” Dad called from the bedroom.
“We didn’t get you that!” Mom added.
Within moments, they were beside us, staring in disbelief.
Then Mom saw her coat. She picked it up. Tears slid down her cheeks. “Who did this?”
We didn’t answer. We wanted it to remain a secret. Besides, I don’t think we could have spoken if we’d tried.
That morning, my sisters, brother, and I felt the true spirit of Christmas, the one that comes from service and sacrifice. And we felt something else too—unity. We had worked together to reach a common goal. We had done it without complaint, and we had each given the best we had. For those few months, we had become one.
And that was the best surprise of all.