“The Year We Had No Gifts to Give,” Ensign, Dec. 1987, 42–43
I was sure this Christmas would be the best our family had ever spent together. It was only a week before Thanksgiving, and we were almost finished making our Christmas gifts. Most of our gifts were homemade and were designed specifically for that special someone. How I looked forward to seeing these expressions of our family’s love opened.
When my husband, Bob, came home from work that afternoon and said, “Let’s go into town and finish that Christmas shopping tonight,” I was elated. How good it would feel to have more than a month left for just decorating and baking! Hurriedly we packed ourselves and our two small boys into the car for the last shopping trip of the year.
We purchased the gifts and headed home. As night fell, again my thoughts drifted to our homemade gifts. Our friends and relatives would enjoy the purses, embroidered and hand-sewn items, pictures, paintings, floral arrangements, genealogical papers, handmade toys, and dolls. I was thankful to have been chosen as chairman of the Relief Society Christmas workshops for the past three months. It had been a learning experience to prepare these items as examples for the sisters in our ward.
When we were fifteen miles from home, these pleasant thoughts were abruptly interrupted by Bob’s question, “What would you do if our house was on fire?”
I could hardly believe my ears! What a horrible thought!
A mile away from home Bob said, “Our home is on fire.” By now my heart was in my throat, and as we came over the hill, we could see it blazing.
When we got to the house, I remember tightly embracing my four-month-old son, Ryan, and falling on my knees until a neighbor finally pried the child from my arms. Bob paced around the house several times, staring with his mouth gaping.
Our two-year-old son, Robbie, stared in amazement at the burning toy box the firemen had retrieved and placed in the front yard. Bob put his arms around me and reminded me that we were all safe and that was what mattered.
There was nothing anyone could do but watch the fire take its toll. Then we remembered our genealogy and how we had searched for years for our ancestors. Recalling where these important papers were located, Bob raced to the garage for a rake. He pulled the burning siding from outside our bedroom, reached in, and grabbed the genealogy, which was just beginning to burn.
Now it began to rain. It was late. We were cold, wet, and in shock. The children were tired. But we had no change of clothes, no diapers, no place to go. Arrangements were made for us to stay at a neighbor’s home. Once we were settled, the bishop and his family arrived to counsel and comfort us.
As we gathered together for family prayer that night, I felt the gentle Spirit of the Lord stronger than at any time before. I’ll never forget our humility and reverence that night. I remembered that our patriarchal blessings were with our genealogy and I felt inspired to read mine.
These words seemed to leap off the page: “I bless you, dear sister, in the living of the Word of Wisdom and in the payment of your tithing, that you will not want for the necessities and the comforts of life while here upon the earth …” It was a tremendous consolation to know that our needs would somehow be provided for.
The Relief Society sisters and the elders quorum brothers in our ward coordinated their efforts, and the day after the fire, our family’s immediate needs were met. We experienced emotional ups and downs as we struggled to regain normality. By now our resistance was low, and each of us became quite ill. It became very difficult to take care of ourselves. We needed to rely on others even more.
Within weeks we had rented a house and were planning the architecture of our new home. Each of us had clothing to wear, and we even had a sewing machine with which to alter what didn’t fit. We received bedding, towels, and washcloths, as well as money, school and stationery supplies, and boxes and boxes of food. We wondered how our brothers and sisters could think of all these important and necessary items.
Christmas approached, and one day as I was decorating our humble little Christmas tree with gingham bows and Christmas cards, I suddenly realized that I had no gifts to give this year.
I hoped the children were too small to remember this Christmas. It would not be the same one I had been preparing for them for months.
Then, the Sunday before Christmas, we found the back seat of our car filled with presents for our children from the Primary children in our ward. A church in the community selected us as their Christmas family and showered us with gifts. A local Boy Scout troop bought us a beautiful rocking chair because they knew our children loved to be rocked.
A neighbor made us a baby cradle just like the one we used to have. One family brought us a television, and another brought us house plants. Late Christmas Eve we heard our front door open and close. Bob went to check and found an entire Christmas dinner, complete with turkey and cranberry sauce, from the local Jaycees.
We read the Christmas story that night and prayed that our Heavenly Father would remember those who had treated us in such Christlike ways that Christmas. Great joy and blessings were bestowed upon us the Christmas we had no gifts to give to others.