It had been a hard year for our family. I found myself working long hours to pay our bills on my meager salary. I was near exhaustion.
My wife and I prayed each night that our financial burdens would somehow be lifted and that our children would not be negatively affected by my absence and our constant denials of their requests for things that their friends had.
Less than a week before Christmas, I managed to resurrect an old plastic Christmas tree. We purchased two inexpensive gifts for each of our children. My eight-year-old son had been longing to own his own basketball, and his excitement over one box measuring approximately nine inches square nearly consumed him.
Then something happened in our lives that would change each one of us forever. Ronald and his oldest sister, Heather, had become good friends with a family up the street who had children their same ages. Eyes wide with concern, our little children told us of the family’s situation: There wasn’t a Christmas tree or presents in their friends’ home. The family wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas this year because the father was out of work.
I discussed the matter with our bishop, who said he would look into the matter personally. At first I felt relieved, but I returned home feeling there was more to be done, but not knowing what it should be. We already had spent all of our tiny budget.
After supper, we started our family home evening and shared our feelings. We decided to offer a special prayer for our neighbors and asked Heavenly Father to let us know what we could do to help them. When we arose from our prayers, two little faces bore a determined excitement as they simultaneously suggested the obvious solution to our problem: why not share our Christmas with our neighbors? There was precious little to share, but as our eyes met, we each felt a surge of excitement at the suggestion. We took a box of candy we had been given and a pumpkin pie my wife had baked earlier and met at the Christmas tree.
Then it happened! We each began to select one of our gifts to take with us. My eyes fell immediately upon my son. He sat before his gifts as if in shock. It was obvious that he was having difficulty deciding which gift he would take: the large box or the soft little package. In silence his eyes passed back and forth between the two. He looked up at his mother and then over to me. Then he looked back at the presents. He passed from one to another for a few more moments and then, quite abruptly, picked up the large box and said, “I think Jimmy would like this one best.”
With full hearts we gathered the gifts and treats and headed for the door. I stepped out first and almost stumbled over a tiny tree someone had left for us. We brought the tree inside, and Mother and the children removed some of the lights and trimming from our plastic tree while I went to the garage to make a tree stand. We hurried up the block with our bounty. We left the decorated tree and gifts with our friends and bid them a Merry Christmas.
The next evening a surprising thing happened. The bishop called and said, “I have some packages that need delivering to some of the families in the ward and wondered if you could use your station wagon to help us deliver them.”
I agreed to meet the bishop at his office as soon as possible and hung up the phone. The car was out of gas and I could find no money for gas. I remembered seeing a few dusty pop bottles in the garage that could be returned to the store for the deposit, and the children had seen more in the trash down the alley. So we gathered the bottles, and I bought a gallon of gas with the proceeds, and headed for the church.
When I arrived, the bishop had already carried many large boxes and bags of groceries to the curb. We loaded them all into the station wagon. They barely fit inside. When we were finished, he handed me an envelope and instructed me to deliver the packages to the names on the list. I agreed and opened the envelope. On a slip of paper was a single name—mine. My eyes filled with tears as I turned to the bishop and said, “Oh, Bishop, there are so many families that need this worse than we do.”
“I know,” he acknowledged, “but we have already taken care of them, and the Lord wants your family to have this.” He embraced me, shook my hand, and sent me home.
When I arrived, I called for the family to help me in with the boxes and bags. There were several brightly wrapped presents for each member of the family. At the bottom of one bag was a special gift, wrapped in a box measuring approximately nine inches square.
A special warmth and glow filled our home that night. We knew that our prayers had been answered and that Christmas that year was going to be special for each member of our family. And yes, the bishop had been aware of our friends up the street—someone had visited their home, too, and left many packages of food and gifts at their door.
Each year as we dismantle our little plastic Christmas tree and put it into its cardboard box, we threaten to replace it with a real tree. But each Christmas we keep putting it back up just one more time. Our little tree, which once shared its lights and ornaments and glory with another family, still captures for us the true meaning of the season. It was our best Christmas ever.