Chris Carlson, Associated Press
Two events changed my life the summer I turned 16. I started a full-time job at a potato processing plant in the outskirts of Rexburg, Idaho, earning more money each week than I’d ever had, and I saw my mother take my father’s winter coat from the entry closet of our home.
When she then tried it on, I wondered what she was doing. It was much too early in the year to worry about coats; it was hot outside.
“Money’s tight this year,” she said when I asked her about it. Though she needed a new coat, she and my father couldn’t afford it.
My father worked long, hard hours providing for our family, serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the community. My mother, always stalwart, always faithful, always striving to teach her seven children correct principles, was a stay-at-home mom who kept our home and family together.
At that age, I knew on an intellectual level that my parents’ righteous sacrifices for our family often went unnoticed, but just then, that knowledge struck an emotional chord inside me. Wasn’t there something I could do to show my appreciation?
That’s when I had an idea. Because of my job, I could save enough money before winter to purchase my mom a coat and give it to her as a surprise Christmas present. Christmas and surprises went hand-in-hand, after all.
Motivated by my new plan and hoping my mother hadn’t noticed my smile, I found a manila envelope and went downstairs to my basement bedroom. I wrote “Christmas” on the front of the envelope and added it to the three others I’d already labeled “Tithing,” “Spending” and “Savings.” I then secured the four envelopes between my bed’s mattress and box springs. I was set.
Or so I thought.
The longer I considered my plan and imagined my mother’s surprise on Christmas morning, the more excited I became. To this day, one of my favorite activities is to surprise others with gifts that touch their hearts. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love the Christmas season.
So, as the oldest of my siblings, and wanting to involve them in my excitement, I told my two teenage sisters and my 11-year-old brother what I’d seen and heard from my mother. Then I explained what I planned to do and asked them if they would like to help me with this Christmas surprise.
“I thought we could manage it the same way we pay tithing,” I said. “Everyone just donate at least 10 percent of whatever they earn.”
“A coat costs a lot of money,” one sister said. “The only money I ever get comes from baby-sitting.”
“I don’t make much money either,” my brother said.
“That’s all right,” I said. “If you make one dollar and put in 10 cents, you’ll have done your part.”
“And we’ll go together to buy the coat?” another said.
“Yes, at Christmas.”
Each paused for a moment, and then, one by one, each agreed to participate in our Christmas project.
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