As Christmas approached in 1951, I had but one wish: a doll named Meg, from the book, Little Women. Somehow I knew she would be my last doll — the one I would keep forever. Even then I knew my parents had little money. Nevertheless, I hoped for a miracle.
The thrill I felt upon finding Meg under the tree that Christmas is still fresh. Only much later did I learn that Meg was the toy every girl wanted that Christmas. After saving enough money, my mother, Ruth Dansie, discovered that every store had sold out of Meg dolls. Just how many stores she visited before finding my Meg, I'll never know. But I do know that Mother sacrificed for me that Christmas — just as she did for countless others in our little town. I still have Meg; today she is more than a doll — she is a symbol of my mother's charitable heart.
Some gifts become family legacies, passed through generations. Usually they are things — a watch, a photograph, a hair pin. But of all gifts, said Moroni, the greatest is charity, the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:47). This is the gift my mother received from her mother, and it is the gift I'm still struggling to develop and pass on. For Mother, charity was not just acts, it was who she was.
After Mother died, my brothers, sister and I found stacks of grateful notes from people to whom she had extended pure love. We grew up watching her serve and bless the lives of many, but because she was mostly home, we had no idea just how wide her heart expanded beyond our small home.
Rae Butterfield, a young mother with a baby girl, exemplified Mother's reach. Rae arrived in our small town with her husband. Having driven all day, her husband brought her to our little store, where, he said, "They have the best cheeseburgers anywhere." Rae remembers, "I decided I would just wait out in the car with the baby, but Ruth came out to the car and said, 'Oh, you need to come in so I can get to know you.' "
While Mother did not have a lot of material things, she listened and shared her heart and time. She was kind, not hurried, nonjudgmental — giving others the benefit of the doubt, believing in them. Her charity extended beyond the walls of our home to all within her reach. And she is not alone. Almost daily I hear stories from Latter-day Saints around the world telling of moving acts of charity received from others who extended themselves.
Su-ping Ou of Taipei, Taiwan, desperately wanted to attend college. But to do so, she would have to quit her job, leaving her insufficient funds to live on. She wrote, "While I thought about this matter, I received a call from a sister who went on her mission around the same time as I did. . . . She would send money to me every month to cover my expenses. (The sister) said: 'Don't worry about it.' " This good sister was not wealthy, and yet she helped support Sister Ou not only through college, but graduate school as well. "She (personified) the teaching of charity by our Savior," wrote Sister Ou.
Catherine Edwards, a sister attending a New York City singles ward, was sick. She called her home teacher for a priesthood blessing the following evening. One of the brethren was in a daylong competitive bike race, but came to her home directly afterwards. Following the blessing, Sister Edwards asked if he had eaten enough energy bars during the race. He smiled, and said, "Well, I wasn't eating today. I wanted to be prepared for the blessing so I fasted."
"I was overwhelmed," said Sister Edwards. "I asked him why he'd done it. He wanted to be in tune to hear what was being said and to know how to respond. Mark wasn't the man giving the blessing and yet he wanted to know best how to serve."
Another sister, Carol was called to be Dora's visiting teacher 12 years ago. Because Dora was seen as reclusive, difficult and unapproachable, people generally avoided her. Nevertheless, Carol visited regularly, but was never invited in. One day, Carol delivered a holiday treat. "I cannot accept that," Dora said. Shocked and somewhat hurt, Carol asked, "Why not?" "Because you'll want something in return," Dora declared. But Carol's tender response changed everything: "All I want is your friendship."
Over the years, Carol found ways to minister to Dora and Dora reciprocated Carol's love.
"Recluse," "difficult," "unapproachable" were words many used to describe Dora. "Remarkable woman," "cherished friend" were words used by Carol to describe Dora as she eulogized Dora at her funeral. These were words that Carol could use because she knew Dora — and loved Dora — as few others could or would.
Sister Christine Allred told of moving from Boston to Boise. Not only were they moving their belongings, but they were hauling horses as well. The winter was rife with snow storms, requiring the trucks to make many more stops than planned. She wrote, "Throughout (this ordeal), the elder's quorum president from our new ward kept calling. He wanted to help us unload (in Boise), but I couldn't tell him when the trucks would arrive. I promised Thursday, then Friday, then Saturday. Late Saturday afternoon, my husband called to let me know they'd hit another storm." This final delay meant the trucks would arrive on Sunday, and so they would have to unload their trucks and horses by themselves.
On Sunday, their bishop told the ward about the family caught in the storm. As Sister Allred's husband and brother-in-law drove their trucks into town that Sunday afternoon, they passed the Eagle 3rd Ward just as the meetings were letting out. "I saw the moving truck, then our pickup and horse trailer," Sister Allred continued, "and then cars bringing over 40 members. They watered our animals and unloaded our belongings in less than half an hour. This was a kindness we will never forget."
I am humbled by such stories — by the way so many reach outside of their own circles, extending Christ's pure love to their sisters and brothers.
Frequently, when we think of charity, we think of acts outside our own homes. In fact, sometimes I think it is easier to unselfishly serve those we know less well. And yet, home is where we do our greatest work. Thus, it is with those closest to us that our charity will be most challenged, but should be most constant. Charity begins with outward acts, but must ultimately move inward, reshaping our very hearts.
I am amazed that my mother's acts of patience, long-suffering, kindness, love unfeigned did not happen just outside our home — they also happened within. "Love," said Joseph Smith, "is one of the leading characteristics of deity."
One woman remembers learning of such home-abiding charity as a teenager from her grandfather: "My Grandfather Bennett redefined the word charity through his example. My grandma had Alzheimer's disease and was extremely forgetful. We grandkids thought it was so funny when she would ask the same question repeatedly, forgetting not only the answer but that she had already asked the question. But my grandfather never laughed, never mocked, always treated her with utmost respect and dignity. . . . One exemplary ritual was the careful pains he took to put her at ease whenever he left the house. Knowing she would likely forget where he was going and when he'd be back, he'd leave her not one, but many notes, placed strategically throughout the house: 'Emily, Dear, I've gone to the bank. I'll be back at eleven. Love, Hal.' When we visited their house, we'd often find several of these notes: one by the telephone, one on the dining room table, one on her nightstand. I'd always held my grandpa in the highest regard, but observing his daily kindnesses during that difficult period raised my respect for him to infinite heights."
At home, challenges to our charity can seem unending. Which is why charity "suffereth long"! We cannot give up — even after raising our voices or losing our patience.
A mother had a teenage son who was living away from home, estranged from her and his father by deep-seated anger. One morning, as she was studying the scriptures and pleading to know what to do, she had the inspiration to write letters to her son for 100 days in a row. Each day on attractive stationery, she handwrote a letter to her son. They weren't lengthy letters — one or two pages, three at most. But they were filled with love for him. "Heavenly Father helped me do it," she said. "Everything I wrote was positive, and true." In the process of receiving 100 loving letters in the course of 100 days, his anger was drained away. The love contained in those letters changed the relationship. "He never went back to that vicious, angry state," the sister said. "Love had made the difference."
Charity is more than acts: it is the state of our hearts manifest most in how we treat one another, not only without but — especially — within our families. My mother was such an example for me. Her pure heart could not help but extend to all those around her. Thus, Moroni said, that of all gifts, the greatest is charity, the pure love of Christ — both for Him, and from Him. In honor of Him, may charity become our lasting gift not only to our neighbors, but also to our families.