“Kids!” Mom yelled after I heard the front door slam shut. “Come here quick!”
I’ll never forget what my mother asked of me that Christmas Eve when I was nine years old. Mom was the Relief Society President in our LDS ward which meant she helped the bishop take care of the poor in our area.
“There’s a family in our neighborhood that doesn’t have anything for Christmas,” Mom said brushing the snow off her coat. “They haven’t asked for any help but I’ve been in their home and there is no tree, no presents or food. They just moved here from Hawaii. The stores are closed. We’ll have to put together a box from what we have. I want each of you to go to your room, pick out your favorite possession and bring it to me. We want our gift box to be the very best we have.”
Then my mother read from a piece of paper filled with the names and ages of the children in this family to help us in our search. There was a girl on the list just my age named Linda. I imagined what she looked like. She would be bare footed, dressed in rags and shivering with the cold. So I bounded up the stairs to my bedroom to find something especially nice.
I was feeling enormously generous as I spied each possession on the shelf above my desk. First I saw my jewelry box, my third favorite possession. Then I spied my collection of books, my second favorite possession. Then I saw her, my favorite doll. She was still inside the plastic case she came in. I’d never taken such good care of anything in my entire nine years. She was a delicate ballerina who possessed all the grace and beauty I lacked.
I can give away anything but that doll, I remember thinking. But Mom said it had to be my favorite. I carefully took the doll from the shelf. Then something occurred to me. No one knows this is my favorite, I thought. I could give something else and no body would know. I put my favorite doll back on the shelf and reached for my jewelry box. Then I took several steps toward the door. But I know, I remember thinking.
I walked back to the shelf, set the jewelry box down and reached for my doll. I walked slowly downstairs and placed her ever so carefully inside a large cardboard box filled with food and other gifts from my siblings. I didn’t want my brother or sisters to make fun of me so I saved my tears until I was alone in my bed that night.
Several days later I was sitting in Sunday school at church when my teacher introduced me to a new girl in my class.
“This is Linda,” my teacher said. “She just moved here from Hawaii.”
My heart jumped. This was the little girl from the family my mother told me about. I visualized her family opening the door on Christmas Eve with such wonder and delight that it took away some of the sting of parting with my doll.
“Did you have a nice Christmas?” I asked Linda.
“Our things from Hawaii didn’t come yet so we spent Christmas with my Grandparents,” Linda said. “They fed us a feast and gave us lots of presents. Then as an afterthought she blurted out, “Somebody left a box of junk on our doorstep on Christmas Eve like they thought we were poor or something.”
I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. I could picture my favorite doll in a rusting garbage can covered with old rotting food.
It has taken years for me to put some perspective on that Christmas Eve when I was nine. I have come to understand that how a beneficiary receives a gift does not diminish the giver or the significance of the gift offered. That tiny babe in the manger still reaches out to all. How we receive Christ’s love is our gift to God.
Because of that experience long ago, I look around me each Christmas morning and ask, “What is my favorite possession? Can I give it away?” Though my possessions are larger now and more expensive - baby grand piano, comfortable home, new car - if I can truthfully answer yes, I am at peace.