I grew up in Denver, Colorado, in a family of nine. Usually, with a family that size, you can guarantee difficult times, and this was often the case for my family.
To help make ends meet, my entire family did a newspaper route. This was no ordinary paper route, which you see in paintings depicting a young boy riding his bike throwing papers. Instead, our paper route had hundreds of papers (sometimes over a thousand) to deliver, which canvassed a significant amount of area.
It required us to rise around three in the morning to roll, and by the time we were done, our hands were black with ink. To speed up the laborious process, we laid a blanket to collect all our papers. After a paper was rolled, we placed it into the middle of the blanket with the mountain of other rolled papers. Often throughout the early morning hours, we would need to stop, grab the edges of the blanket and carry the numerous papers out to be loaded into the car for delivery.
A system was devised for delivering the papers as well. Each child had a day that he or she was assigned to go out with mom and dad to throw the papers. One parent would drive, the other would throw, and the assigned kid would push the papers up to the front seat to give easier access to the papers for the parent who was throwing. We had a light blue station wagon for many of the years we delivered papers, which made this delivery process run much smoother.
Yet, even with our family’s well-oiled-paper-throwing system, my parents barely scraped by. There were many wants we children went without because feeding us was the greatest need to be attended to.
As one might imagine, Christmas seemed to be the hardest time for my parents. Trying to provide for the basics –and at the same time keeping alive the dream that we could receive anything from Santa as long as we were good –often was hard.
Looking back on my Christmas memories, I am amazed at how well my parents made each Christmas magical on such little means. They could never give us lavish gifts, but there was never a Christmas we went without. Often, though, this was through the help and assistance of anonymous individuals.
This Thanksgiving, my parents came to visit my little family. As we talked about the hard times of the past, my mom told me some details of one Christmas that I wasn’t aware of.
She shared that this particular Christmas was a struggle for them to make ends meet. She and my dad sat down and made two lists. The first list was the needs of the family, which had small, necessary items like socks, t-shirts, and gloves. The second list was the numerous desires and wants of the family and included things like new coats and wanted toys.
With the little newspaper income they had, my parents knew it would be a stretch to provide for most of the family’s needs this Christmas. If by chance, they were able to meet the needs of the first list, they planned only to buy one gift from the second list to be prudent with any extra funds.
After my parents made these two lists, the Bishop of our Ward approached my dad. The Bishop shared that a family in the ward wanted to help with our Christmas and asked my dad for a list of what our family would need. My dad gave him one of the two Christmas lists he and my mom had created.
It wasn’t until he returned home, and to the horror of my mom, that he realized he had given the Bishop the wrong list. He gave the list that held our family’s numerous wants and desires, not the list with the much cheaper necessities.
Without wasting a moment after hearing this, my mom went straight to the Bishop and apologized profusely. The list he had was not the correct list, and he asked the Bishop to give the generous family the less expensive list. She requested that this anonymous family provide only a little of what we needed and nothing more.
Two nights before Christmas, one of my older sisters went to my mother sobbing and quite angry. She felt that no matter how hard we worked, the Lord was unaware of us. We rolled papers every morning and paid tithing on our meager earnings. To her, it seemed the Lord was blind to our sacrifices and offerings.
She and my mother sat on the stairs that led from our living room to our front door, and while my sister was lamenting, there came a quick knock on our door. My sister immediately opened the door, and much to her and my mom’s complete surprise, there was a porch full of many beautifully wrapped presents. Her tears of anguish turned to tears of astonishment and joy.
It wasn’t until after we opened our presents on Christmas day that my parents discovered that this forever-mysterious family purchased every single item on both lists. No matter how much my parents saved with our family’s paltry paying paper route, they would have never been able to afford what this family brought us this Christmas.
So it is with Christ. No matter how black our hands become with the hard work of this world, we cannot return to our loving Heavenly Father without the most cherished gift of the Atonement. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob teaches us, “…wherefore, I know if there should be no atonement made all mankind must be lost” (Jacob 7:12). It is Christ’s eternal gift of the Atonement that will always fulfill the list of our needs.
Yet, often, unbeknownst to us until the end, our loving Savior stands on our doorstep with the gifts found on our list of wants as well. These, too, are fulfilled by the Atonement, and the only requirement to receive these gifts is to ask. Luke writes, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). This is a recurring promise that is stated numerous times throughout the scriptures.
Finally, James shares that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17). The Lord does not wait until Christmas for us to give Him lists. Instead, His eternal love seeks to bless us continually.
I have learned that life is hard at times, but I have also learned that the Lord is aware. He does care and loves us infinitely more than we will ever know. As we strive to drink deeply from the Atonement, the greatest gift of all, we will see that there are always treasured gifts waiting for us on our doorstep.
Merry CHRISTmas from the Wilson Family!
Awesome story ! Thank you for sharing it. I , too, was raised in a “tight” family situation. We would be called if anyone butchered a steer or a cow. We grew up on ox tail, heart and liver. The things that the butcher was going to throw out. I am going to use your story with a twelve days of Christmas for my missionary Daughter in Brazil. Thanks again.
@Lori: Ox tail? Hmm, I think I will take my childhood Bishop storehouse ketchup and meatloaf any day! I am glad you enjoyed the story. I hope your daughter has a magical Christmas in Brazil. I know the Christmases from my own mission have become sacred and tender memories that I have never forgotten.