I have trouble buying presents for people. Others in my family don't have a problem at all. In fact my daughters always give really thoughtful gifts..........just what suits the person most. But not me. I can never think of a thing. Even though I love the recipient dearly I end up wandering around stores, picking up random stuff, carting it around and then putting it back. Well, this last holiday was different. My family just opened their Christmas gifts the first week of June and I think they loved them!
You see, way back before the holidays, Larry and I reserved campsites on the beach just south of Santa Barbara, Ca. for early summer. I figured they all had enough “stuff” so we’d go for memories. A shell was wrapped for each person with a card enclosed including the dates of the trip. Larry and I couldn’t camp but we managed a couple of days at a nearby hotel close enough for us to visit. We had a wonderful time. The kids went boogie boarding in the ocean and flew kites on the beach. There was a farmers market and nightly campfires, funny little restaurants lined the streets into the campground, and raccoons “as big as great danes!” visited every night. Memories galore! I’ll tell you about three of the gifts I enjoyed giving most.
One of the kids had a little book that gave the times of high and low tides. Carpenteria beach is famous for its wonderful tide pools. One morning around 4:30 an alarm was set and everybody hiked down to the sand at low tide. It was just before dawn so they all took flashlights. I was told later that they saw hundreds of sea creatures in the pools and on the rocks. Huge crabs, starfish and tons of anemones were everywhere. A group of seals had hauled out and lay resting at the edge of the surf just a few feet from where they were exploring. Being desert dwellers I’ll bet they’ll remember that morning for a lot longer than anything I could wrap.Later in the week our youngest grandson constructed a trap made from a box, a stick, some string, and leftovers. He actually caught a live squirrel! Never mind that it was practically tame or that his mom made him “give it back.” It’s something I think he’ll remember for a long time.
And then all during their stay our two oldest grandsons went off to explore around the shore, town and woods together. Among many other things, they put coins on the rails of the train tracks that run next to the sea and the lovely beach towns along the California coast. Then they searched for them after the train had passed by. They’ll both turn 18 in less than two years........ just a couple of months apart. I wonder if they’ll carry one of those flattened coins in their pockets as missionaries. I hope they do and that they’ll remember those lovely summer days they spent together in their youth.
So I finally managed to get people gifts I was pleased with. Hurray! I’m already thinking about next Christmas!
It was then that something awful happened though. Something I'll remember for a long time. In the midst of all these precious gifts of family and beauty and plenty, Heavenly Father sent a test. And although usually I’m a good test taker I’m mortified and ashamed to admit that I didn’t do well on this one.
The test came when a homeless man riding a bike and pulling a makeshift trailer came riding up to the campsite. Some of us were sitting around talking while those who had KP were making lunch. He pulled up and said he was collecting cans and asked if we had any empties. He didn’t seem to have the $10 daily parking sticker so he must have snuck in. He was friendly and talkative, though dirty, possibly slightly under the influence, and just a little bit scary. I heard one of the kids whisper something under their breath and I could see discomfort on some faces. In any case someone went for cans and Larry and I struck up a conversation with our visitor. He asked if we might spare him a cold beer. I replied with a smile that we didn’t have even a single one as we were all Mormons.
“Oh, Mormons....... Mormons huh?” he said thoughtfully. “So no cigarettes or coffee right?” he said.
“Yes, and no fooling around either,” I replied. He chuckled.
“We have bottled water or pop though,” someone called out. He took one.
That’s when I failed part one of the test.
I failed because right then I should have said, “So you know something about Mormons. Would you like to know more? We have a young person here with us who’s leaving for a mission in just a couple of months. She’d love to talk to you.”
But I didn’t. I thought of it later after he’d gone. Do you suppose if my heart were closer to the Lord I would have remembered sooner? Or maybe I’d have remembered if he were cleaner and well dressed. Later was also when I recalled what the Prophet had only just recently taught, “Look at everyone not as they are at present but as they may become.”
And then that’s when I failed part two of the test.
We chatted for a while and as we said goodbye he put out his hand to shake mine. I must have hesitated slightly, (he was so dirty after all!) because I saw Larry quickly hold out his hand to give our visitor a warm shake and wish him a friendly goodbye.
Shame flooded over me immediately.
I watched as he peddled off and wondered guiltily if he was hungry. I went after him to see if he might like some lunch. I caught up to him and asked if he’d like a plate and he said, I’ll be right there.”
That’s when I failed part three.
Worrying that he might become a nuisance or worse I quickly said, “That’s okay, I’ll be happy to bring you a plate.” I went back for the food. Thank heaven my wonderful daughter-in-law jumped up and said “I’m going to invite him to sit down at the table and keep him company while he eats.”
As I watched them, my heart filled with gratitude for Lisa. My wheels won’t go on sand so I couldn’t join them....... though by this time I really wanted to. Instead I sat there and wondered how I managed to get this old and still need so much work. What do the scriptures say? Something about “When did I visit you?” My heart sinks to know that someday Jesus will tell me that he did indeed visit me once. “Why I was that homeless man at the campground. Didn’t you recognize me?”
Later I read this in Matthew 25: 43-45;
“I was a stranger and ye took me not in: naked and ye clothed me not: sick and in prison, and ye visited me not.”
Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?”
Then shall he answer them, saying, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”
So, I didn’t recognize the homeless man riding his bike and pulling a homemade trailer when he came riding up to our campsite. And because I didn’t know who it was I didn’t do well on one of the most important tests in life. I forgot that no matter who it is.... it’s always really the Savior. He said so didn’t He?
Sure, I was friendly and polite and made sure that he had food and water. But I didn’t think to offer him the most precious thing I’ll ever have when I had a chance to offer it.....the truth about the greatest gift ever given. Even though our tents were overflowing with blessings and gifts more valuable than all the riches on earth, I never offered them to him when I so easily could have. He was given the empty cans he asked for but then I hesitated to take his hand in mine. If the scriptures are true then I hesitated to take Christ’s hand in mine! (I can’t tell you how hard that sentence is for me to write!) I didn’t invite the Lord to sit at the family table to have friendship along with food because I was afraid and worried he’d become a nuisance and upset my family.
I gave what I had that was least important and didn’t offer that which was priceless even though it was freely given to me, and at a sacrifice I can barely understand.
I know that Heavenly Father loves me but I fear that right now He may be as bitterly disappointed in me as I am in myself.
All I can say is may God please forgive me! May the Savior forgive me! I’m truly sorry and I promise to do better if I get another chance! Please....please...... just give me another chance! Thank heaven’s for repentance. It seems that just when we think we’re old enough to know better it turns out that what we know and what we do still doesn’t always match up. Even at my age.
As for the rest of my family I don’t know how they did on the test. I saw some of them get cans and water and prepare a plate of food. I saw some offer their hand and true companionship too. But only they and the Lord know what was in their hearts, and that’s really all that matters. I hope they did better than their mother and grandmother that’s for sure.
And I pray that all of us will pass every single “heart test” that Father sends in the future.