“Gift Exchange,” Liahona, Dec. 1998, 47
Anne, Lisa, Paula, Vicki, and Joanne* weren’t members of the Church, but they seemed to have high standards. And since there were no Latter-day Saint girls in my neighborhood when my family moved in, I was grateful they befriended me and took me into their group.
A few years later, we left our little elementary school and entered junior high. Right away, things started to change. Soon our conversations began to include fashions and boys. I noticed that my friends were treating me a little differently, too. I brushed it off, but then it got worse. Whispering ended abruptly when I joined the group, and the other girls paired up more. Joanne and Vicki seemed to splinter off, and Anne, Lisa, and Paula spent a lot of time together, often leaving me alone.
It hurt when I learned, one Monday morning, of Friday night’s party at Anne’s house. “We thought you were too busy” was supposed to be an explanation for not inviting me. Another day we were all to meet at the park, but when I got there one of the girls told me that another girl was mad at me, so I’d better leave.
Christmastime came, and our usual Christmas gift exchange was planned. Usually we drew one another’s names, but since I hadn’t been around, someone drew a name for me. I was to buy a gift for Paula. No one had drawn my name, and they were sure I’d be too busy to come to the party, so they asked me to drop off my gift at the door.
I don’t remember whether I was more hurt than angry, but I do remember trying to think of all the mean ways I could get back at them. After some thinking, it occurred to me that being mean wouldn’t be right.
Maybe the best thing to do would be nothing at all, I thought. For a while I settled on ignoring them and their party until I realized that if I didn’t give Paula a present, they might think they were justified in treating me unkindly. I decided, finally, to give Paula something beautiful to show I could rise above pettiness and forgive.
The prettiest wrapping paper I could find made a lovely lining and covering for a small shoe box. I carefully chose items to fill the treasure box: a dainty cut-glass perfume bottle, a miniature vase with tiny dried flowers in it, and other dried flowers in doll-sized bouquets, all tied with ribbons.
The most important part of the gift was the inspirational poems I copied in my best handwriting on pretty stationery. I rolled each like a scroll, tied them with ribbon, and carefully laid them in the box. Finally, I laid the covered lid on the box and tied it closed with a matching ribbon. I walked to Anne’s house, where the party was being held, gave someone my gift, and left. I felt good knowing that I had done the right thing. From that time on, although I never rejoined that group of girls, they were never unkind to me.
We graduated from junior high and went on to high school. If we happened to meet in the halls, we always acknowledged one another with a friendly hello but rarely stopped to talk. After high school graduation, I went away to college.
I came home to visit during a holiday that year, and I heard that the LDS students attending the local junior college had planned a get-together at the institute of religion. Everyone who had gone away to college and returned for the holiday was invited. When I arrived, I saw Paula. She was waiting for me with tears in her eyes.
She threw her arms around me, and after a few minutes she explained: “After high school the missionaries came to my house and taught me the gospel. I was baptized just a few weeks ago, and I’ve been attending institute classes.
“We were so mean to you in junior high, and I felt so bad. I’m so sorry! I loved the box you made for me, and I kept it. I love the poems. They’re spiritual and beautiful, and I reread them all the time.”
I sure had some exciting news to tell my parents when I got home that night! Sometimes rewards for doing right come immediately, but sometimes not for years. We may never learn of the good we’ve done, though the effects of our good deeds may span many lifetimes. I am relieved that I didn’t give in to my angry feelings those many years ago and do something unkind. I am glad that, during that Christmas season long ago, I chose a gift of love—a treasure that Paula now more fully shares.