During the next several months, the four of us worked, earned money where we could, and added 10 percent of those earnings to the Christmas envelope. Sometimes we gave more than the 10 percent we’d committed to donate, but many times, it was nearly more than we could give to donate another 10 percent after paying our tithing. But no matter how hard it was, no one complained and everyone lived up to their commitments.
I especially remember one hot afternoon. My brother had just come into the house after an extra-hard day of mowing the neighbors’ lawns. His face was dirty and streaked with sweat, and his expression was solemn. He hadn’t even stopped to clean up. He simply went downstairs to where I was in my bedroom and handed me one dollar.
“Here,” he said.
My breath paused. He looked like he’d worked harder for that money than I’d ever had to at my job. I wondered if I should tell him not to worry about it? We would probably have enough without it.
But then I remembered our agreement. “Thanks,” I said. When he walked away, I struggled to hold back my emotions because I saw him as I supposed the Savior might have seen the poor widow who, in spite of her want, had given all she had to the treasury (see Mark 12:41-44).
A few days before Christmas, we dumped the money out of the Christmas envelope onto my bed. We then counted what we had saved.
To our surprise and delight, we discovered we had more than enough to buy the coat. So much more, in fact, that we decided that after we purchased the coat, we would spend the remaining money on special, anonymous Christmas gifts for everyone in our family. The younger children, we knew, would love to find something unexpected under the tree. And our father? Like usual, we didn’t know what we could get him, but with the four of us working together, surely we could come up with something that would surprise him.
Since it was the Christmas season, my parents didn’t ask many questions when I requested to borrow their car to go shopping with my three oldest siblings, but when we reached the first store, we realized we were not as prepared to purchase the gifts as we’d thought.
We didn’t know what we should get everyone, but worse, we had no idea what size of coat our mother wore. Once again, we had to rely on one another. To determine our mother’s coat size, we took turns trying different styles on ourselves as well as holding them in front of us at about the height we knew our mother was and imagining her wearing it. For the other gifts, we did the only thing we could do: we guessed. I was particularly grateful that my brother knew what my 8-year-old brother would like, since none of us girls had a clue.
Finally, with our purchases made and the envelope empty, we headed home. On the way, we discussed how we might sneak the gifts into the house and downstairs to my room without anyone seeing us, but when we pulled into the garage, we discovered providence was with us again. No one was home. The four of us quickly took the packages inside and barely finished hiding them when the others returned.
Christmas Eve arrived. Our family gathered round the lit Christmas tree, turned off the house lights, and read together from the Bible the story of Jesus Christ’s birth. We also sang Christmas songs and watched the multicolored tree lights flash until it was time for us children to go to bed. Because my brother’s bedroom was located next to my parents’ room and my sisters and I shared the downstairs bedroom, the four of us decided my sisters and I would stay awake through the night until everyone had gone to sleep. After that, we would deliver the presents.
I don’t remember if my sisters and I stayed awake and played games or if we turned off the light and pretended to sleep, but in the wee hours of the morning, we crawled out of bed. Quietly, we gathered the unwrapped gifts in our arms, tiptoed up the stairs to the living room, and spread the gifts around the tree next to everyone’s Christmas stockings.
In previous years, each of us had crept from our rooms on Christmas Eve to see what Santa had brought us, but that year, I don’t believe any of us thought of ourselves. In fact, we barely even noticed the gifts Santa had left for us; we were too busy trying not to crackle shopping bags, crash into furniture or giggle too loudly as we set out our Christmas surprise.
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