I surprised an 84-year-old sister in our ward the other night when my little girl was singing with a group in the living room of her care facility. Her door was unlocked and I found her wrapped tightly in a blue fleece blanket — one that we had secretly given her the year before as a nightly surprise on the 12 days before Christmas.
To see her gratefully using our gift made all the sacrifice of evening deliveries across town during the busiest two weeks of the year worth every effort. She jumped at the chance to see children sing and I helped her down the hall with her walker for the performance. She sang along to the classic tunes she knew and giggled unabashedly during the silly holiday songs she had never heard before.
After my 6-year-old gave her a hug and we helped her back to her room, my daughter said, “Maybe you could get a job here so that I could come and help you visit everyone.”
I responded, “We don’t have to work here to visit our friends. We’ll just come more often.”
And so we logged another precious holiday moment when giving to others became the best gift we could give ourselves and added a drop of sanctification to our souls for another season.
Unfortunately, our little family has experienced the opposite as well — when giving led to a tinge of regret and a small canker on our soul that had to be wiped away with repentance.
One year, with only a tiny toddler at Christmas, my husband and I learned of the needs of another family. We had just bought our first home, so cash was scarce, but we decided since our baby wouldn’t know the difference, that we would give our entire Christmas budget to the family in need. We both felt great about our decision and enjoyed a memorable season. We later learned that this family had indeed enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with gifts under the tree and food in the cupboard.
Unfortunately about 10 months later, in a conversation with the mother of that family, we were talking about the upcoming holidays and the temptation to overindulge. She said something to the effect, “Giving gifts at Christmas can be so superficial and meaningless. Heck, I can’t even remember what my kids got for Christmas last year.”
Well, we remembered.
Her thoughtless and innocent comment hurt deeply, but my husband and I worked hard to not let it tarnish our enthusiasm for future giving.
A few years later, my husband was serving in the bishopric and became more aware of a particular family in crisis. A mother and young son had escaped from an abusive situation and were settling into a new home in our ward. We had three little girls by then who had written a letter to Santa with three items they hoped he would bring. We took a moment to teach about Christmas giving and each daughter traded something on her list to buy a gift for the little boy instead. It was a precious moment in our family’s Christmas history.
My husband volunteered to deliver the holiday surprises to this mother and son. Armed with food and gifts from the ward as well as three presents to the boy from our daughters, my husband and his home teaching companion knocked on the door. They were welcomed into a living room overflowing with wrapped presents and more electronics than our local Radio Shack.
My husband picked his jaw off the floor, overcame the urge to return the three gifts from our daughters, and instead offered the boy some positive male-role-model attention he had been sorely lacking.
It was another opportunity to not regret but, instead, embrace sacrifice — even if it isn’t appreciated by the recipient in the way we intend. Ultimately, even souring Christmas experiences can become a tiny taste of what our Savior has endured following his atoning sacrifice for each of us.
And so, as we approach another Christmas morning, our family has learned that presents under a tree are not necessarily the best gifts we can give each other. Grateful words, kind deeds, secret deliveries to help someone feel less alone, hope during times of crisis — those are precious gifts of the season — ones we must wisely give without regret or judgment.
No matter how our giving is received, we should remember the perfect babe born to Mary and cradled in a manager, but be especially grateful for the Son of God who gave all, if only we will receive.