I was eight years old that Christmas, and I wanted to get something special for my mom and my older sister, Tanya. We were living in an apartment in Spanish Harlem, in Manhattan, close enough to school that I could walk there with my friends—Tanya keeping an eye out for me—while Mom went to work.
Every year, I couldn’t wait for the holidays to arrive. We’d make a big batch of Orville Redenbacher popcorn and take out Mom’s sewing kit. We’d push needle and thread through each popped kernel, making a long string to loop around our Christmas tree. Whatever we didn’t hang on the tree branches, we popped into our mouths. Soon there would be a pile of presents under those branches, many of them for me.
Mom had confirmed my suspicions about Santa Claus long before, but now that I was getting older, I wanted to be able to give something back to her and Tanya. I didn’t have any money, of course. I couldn’t buy any of the nice things that I wished I could, but I wanted to give them a taste of what it felt like for me to open a present from them. After all, didn’t the Bible say it was better to give than receive?
One day, I came up with a plan. I snuck into Tanya’s closet and grabbed her favorite leather boots. When Mom wasn’t looking, I took a brandnew box of light bulbs out of the kitchen closet. I wrapped both presents in our prettiest Christmas paper, taping a card on top—just like Mom always did—by folding a square of leftover paper and signing it, “Love, Ty’Ann.” I carefully put the gifts under the tree.
Did I hope that Tanya and Mom would be surprised when they opened my presents to them on Christmas Eve? I wasn’t sure what they would think, but their smiles and laughter and heartfelt thanks were more than I could have imagined.
We all love to retell the story of that long-ago Christmas when I gave my mom and my sister things they already had. What they gave me in return was even more precious. The sheer joy of giving.
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.