Gift Exchange

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“Gift Exchange,” New Era, Dec. 1997, 35

Gift Exchange

They wanted my present, but they didn’t want me. Here was my chance to really teach them a lesson.

Anne, Lisa, Paula, Vicki, and Joanne.* They weren’t LDS, but they were nice girls; and since there were no LDS 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, in the sixth grade, 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. As our seventh grade year began, I noticed that my friends were treating me a little differently. I brushed it off, but then it got worse. There was whispering that ended abruptly when I joined the group, and more pairing up between the other girls. Joanne and Vicki seemed to splinter off more, and Anne, Lisa, and Paula spent a lot of time together, but what about me?

It hurt when I learned, one Monday morning, of Friday night’s slumber 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 supposed to meet at the park, but when I got there one of the girls told me that another one of the girls was mad at me, and that I’d better go.

Christmastime came, and our usual Christmas gift exchange was planned. Usually we all got together and drew 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 that I’d be too busy for the party, so they asked me to drop my gift off at the door.

I don’t remember whether I was more hurt or 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. 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 that I could rise above pettiness and be forgiving.

The prettiest wrapping paper I could find made a lovely lining and covering for a a dainty cut-glass perfume bottle, a miniature vase with tiny dried flowers in it, other dried flowers in doll-sized bouquets, all tied with ribbons.

The most important part of the gift was the inspirational poems that I copied, in my best handwriting, on pretty stationery. Each one was rolled like a scroll, tied with a ribbon, and carefully laid in the box. Finally, the covered lid was laid on the box and tied 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; and 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. In September after high school graduation, I went away to BYU.

I came home to visit during the Thanksgiving holiday that year, and I heard that the LDS students who were attending the local junior college had planned a Thanksgiving get-together at the Institute of Religion. Everyone who’d gone away to college and come back for the holiday was invited to attend. The institute was a pretty, old-fashioned building, and I admired the French doors, and terra-cotta tiles as I walked in. Then I looked up and 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 re-read 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 other times not for years. I was so relieved that I hadn’t given in to my angry feelings so many years before and done something unkind. Sometimes we never learn of the good we’ve done, though the effects of our good deeds may span many lifetimes. I was glad that, during that Christmas season so long ago, I’d chosen a gift of love, a treasure, that Paula could now more fully share.

Illustrated by Roger Motzkus