During the Saturday afternoon session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles mentioned what President Thomas S. Monson had described as the ideal birthday gift. Here is a little background on how that description came about.
On behalf of the Church News, I interviewed President Monson for several noteworthy birthdays. He noted how birthdays were always important celebrations in his family and extended family.
"I've never spent time worrying about birthdays, but they creep up on you," he told me before he turned 80. "It seems like I just get settled into one year, and then I'm in another."
But his birthday in 2008 was special — his first after becoming Church president earlier that year.
President Monson had a busy schedule in the days leading up to and following his 81st birthday, which was Aug. 21, 2008. He dedicated the Panama City Panama Temple on Aug. 10 and was preparing to dedicate the Twin Falls Idaho Temple on Aug. 24. In between those events, he took time to speak with me about his birthday and upcoming Church events. Ours was the sixth item that day on his agenda.
Toward the end of the interview, I asked him to describe what he would consider the ideal gift members could give him for his birthday. Without a moment's hesitation, he said, "Do something for someone else on that day to make his or her life better. Find someone who is having a hard time, or is ill, or lonely, and do something for them. That's all I would ask."
Besides another interview the following year for his 82nd birthday, the Church News also invited readers to tell us about acts of service they had done or were planning to do in honor of President Monson's birthday. Responses included:
— A Salt Lake City woman spoke of several Relief Society sisters throwing a party for a handicapped woman in their ward. She would be alone for her birthday and loved the color pink, so everyone brought pink gifts, sharing laughter and hugs.
— An anonymous reader reported taking a woman in her neighborhood to the emergency room, remaining until she was discharged and making a follow-up appointment.
— The children of the Natchitoches (Louisiana) Ward celebrated both President Monson's birthday and the Primary's 131st anniversary. They invited nonmember friends and made thank-you cards for stake members serving full-time missions and in the military and an oversized birthday card for President Monson.
— A member of the Troy (Alabama) Branch noted the branch president's wife checking out books on CD from the local library every two weeks for an elderly, home-bound sister.
— Gerry Avant, Church News senior contributing editor