The Gift Exchange
December 1995

“The Gift Exchange,” Ensign, Dec. 1995, 59–60

The Gift Exchange

At a Relief Society Christmas party in Brussels, Belgium, we had a gift exchange in which we were allowed to unwrap a new gift or choose someone else’s already-opened gift.

The woman sitting next to me was Marie-Jeanne. She opened a lovely gift of three round, nested containers brought by Mei, a sister from China. The group gave a collective sigh of “Oooh” and “Ahhh,” and the containers became the prize to trade for. Marie-Jeanne particularly loved them and said they would be a great addition to her collection. I had never had anything like them, but I admired the enameled containers, thinking the set might be a nice way for me to start a collection of my own. In the spirit of fun I promptly took them from Marie-Jeanne. But another sister soon took them from me. In the end, however, there they were in my lap, much to my delight.

Others smiled at my good fortune. Though Marie-Jeanne was gracious and careful not to show her feelings, I knew she was disappointed. Knowing of her unhappiness, I couldn’t feel really good about winning the gift.

As we went our separate ways that night, it occurred to me to wrap the gift and give it to her husband to give back to her on Christmas Day. I knew that if I tried to give it to her that night, she might be too embarrassed to receive it and wonder if she’d made too much of a small thing. But if I gave it to her for Christmas, she could not refuse it.

I wrapped the containers in Christmas paper and gave the package to her husband. He sensed that this was a meaningful gift and kept it for the last present to be opened on Christmas morning. When Marie-Jeanne opened it, she was astonished. She told me later that my gift had a most profound effect on her and that for a few minutes she could hardly speak. Her tears flowed so freely that her family was concerned, but she said she just felt very loved and very humbled.

Marie-Jeanne later told me that Mei had thoughtfully brought her an identical set of enameled containers. Already grateful and humbled at that woman’s sensitivity, Marie-Jeanne was overwhelmed on Christmas morning when she opened the second set.

For hours that day, she had felt such love and appreciation that she didn’t even dare call me on the phone, for fear her emotions would prevent her from speaking. When we spoke later, she told me how her mind had been flooded with things she wanted to change about herself and how she wanted to serve more and share more of herself. This woman had already been a devoted servant in her branch and her stake. Yet now, increasingly sensitive to the workings of the Spirit, she was profoundly impressed with how much the little things we do can affect others for good.

Marie-Jeanne asked if I would please accept the containers as an expression of her love. I was happy to receive them, and I told her that each time I saw them I would think of her as well as Mei and the potential effect of one small act of kindness. No matter how insignificant an act of love seems, it is like a stone cast into a pond: it creates many ripples that touch other people’s lives.

This touching experience reminded me of a truth I’d often heard: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will come back to you buttered!” (Compare Eccl. 11:1.)

  • Isabelle Briner is a MIA Maid adviser in the Hidden Valley Third Ward, Sandy Utah Hidden Valley Stake.