“Gifts for the Poor,” Liahona, Dec. 2000, 10
Sister Melbourne was grouchy. There was no other way to describe her. Just the other day I heard her telling the bishop that children took too much time in testimony meeting. I walked out of the chapel feeling very angry.
My anger didn’t last long, however. It was December, and Christmas was in the air. Excitement filled me right up to the top of my head. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. My family began singing Christmas carols on the way home from church, just to let some of the excitement out.
After dinner Mom and Dad called us together. We all knew what we were going to discuss. Every year, we choose a family in our ward, and we secretly take gifts and food to their house. It is one of our favorite traditions.
When we were all together, Dad said, “It’s time we decide on a family to help this year. Does anyone have a suggestion?”
When none of us said anything, Dad looked at Mom. “Maybe Mom has a suggestion. Sometimes she notices things the rest of us miss.”
Mom smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do know of someone who needs our help. We have always chosen a family with children, but this year I think we should help Sister Melbourne.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! “But, Mom,” I protested, “she’s not poor or sick, and she’s really grouchy. She doesn’t even like kids. I think we should choose someone else.”
“I agree with April,” said my older sister, Beth. “She really is grouchy. It wouldn’t be any fun doing something for her. She might even kick our gifts off her porch. Besides, she seems to have plenty of money.”
I looked at Beth gratefully. Peter spoke up. “She’s always telling me to ‘shush,’ even when I’m being quiet.”
Lynn and Josh didn’t say anything. They were too small to know Sister Melbourne.
“I know Sister Melbourne has enough money to take care of herself,” Mom said. “And I know she isn’t very pleasant to be around, but that’s exactly why I think she needs our help.”
I wasn’t convinced, but I listened as Mom continued, “Sister Melbourne has had an unhappy life. She was divorced before she moved here. She has three children who are married. They have children of their own, but they never come to see her or let her get to know her grandchildren. Perhaps she has done something to make them want to stay away. I don’t know about that, but I do know she is very lonely and unhappy. I think she needs someone to let her know she is loved. April, you weren’t quite right when you said she isn’t poor.”
“You mean she’s poor in love?” I asked.
“Yes, and sometimes it’s much more painful to be poor in love than it is to be poor in money.”
We were all quiet for a few minutes. Then Dad said, “Let’s take a vote. How many of you would like to share Christmas with Sister Melbourne this year?”
Slowly Beth’s hand went up. Lynn and Josh raised theirs. Then Peter raised his. Looking around at everyone, I reluctantly raised mine.
Mom said instead of buying gifts for Sister Melbourne from the store, we should make them. All the next week we cut out paper decorations, strung popcorn and cranberries, and made cookies and candy. We bought apples and oranges to go with the things we had made.
It was Dad’s job to get a box just the right size for our gifts and to decorate it. We carefully arranged everything inside the box and put on the lid. Dad added a huge bow on top.
We gathered around the kitchen table to have a prayer and make our final plans. In the prayer, Dad asked Heavenly Father to soften Sister Melbourne’s heart and help her receive our gift in the spirit of love with which we were giving it. I was comforted by those words, because I remembered that Beth had said Sister Melbourne might kick our gift off the porch. I had visions of cookies, candy, paper decorations, apples, oranges, and strings of popcorn and cranberries strewn all over the ground.
We put on our coats and piled into the car. Since the box was pretty big, we decided Dad would carry it to the porch. After he returned to the car, it would be my job to ring the doorbell and run before Sister Melbourne opened her door.
I could feel my heart pounding with excitement as Dad parked down the street from her house. “April and I will walk to Sister Melbourne’s house,” he said. “The rest of you must be very quiet so you don’t attract attention.” He lifted the box out of the car and motioned for me to follow him.
“Dad,” I said, “I’m afraid Sister Melbourne will catch me and get mad.”
“She’ll never catch you!” He grinned at me. “You’re the fastest runner in our family. But if you’re worried, I’ll wait for you behind those bushes on the far side of her yard. When she’s inside again, we’ll go back to the car together.”
“I’d like that,” I said, smiling gratefully.
Dad carefully set the box on the porch. I waited until he was hidden behind the bushes. Then I ran up the steps, rang the doorbell, and flew across the yard to the bushes, where I crouched down next to Dad. “Good work,” Dad whispered.
The door opened, sending a ray of light across the snow. Sister Melbourne didn’t see the box at first, but as she was about to close the door, she saw it and stopped. She stood there for a second. Then she bent down and read her name on the top. She lifted the lid, and once again she was very still. Finally she picked up the box and looked around the yard. She was smiling, but there were tears running down her cheeks. “Thank you,” she called out. “Thank you, whoever you are.”
Dad and I were quiet for a few moments after she went inside and closed the door. I whispered, “I think she really liked our present, don’t you?”
“Yes, I think she really did.”
The next Sunday as we were coming home from church, we began singing Christmas carols again. When we passed Sister Melbourne’s house, I saw our decorations in her front window, and the popcorn and cranberry strings were on a Christmas tree that hadn’t been there the week before. “I think Sister Melbourne’s getting richer,” I said.
Mom stopped singing long enough to give me a hug and say, “So are we.”