The last Sunday in November, a woman, new to our ward, shared this story in our sacrament meeting. I retell it with her permission.
When she was eight years old, her single mother (age thirty) moved their young family from California to Salt Lake City. It was late autumn and the weatherman was predicting a record snowfall by morning. She and her three brothers were giddy with anticipation. They’d never seen snow before. But her mother was slightly concerned. She had a new job to report to in the morning and they were ill-prepared. She needed a snow shovel if she was going to clear the driveway and report to work on time. While putting her children to bed that night she told them not to worry if they woke and she wasn’t home; she had gone to the store to buy a shovel and would be back soon.
The next morning she woke an hour earlier than usual and looked out the window to find fresh snow stacked more than a foot deep. Quickly, she grabbed her coat and left to buy a shovel. As she stepped outside she came to a sudden halt. The driveway and walks had been shoveled clean, long before she had stirred from sleep. Looking around she saw no one. No clue as to who had done this kindness.
Winter came to the mountain city with more storms and more snow. But each night it snowed, her mother would wake to find her driveway and walks magically shoveled. The family couldn’t figure out who was behind this secret service, and as Christmas approached, her younger brother was sure it was Santa’s band of industrious elves. Who else could work that fast that early in the morning?
One afternoon, after another snowfall, they pulled up to their house to find the man that lived across the street and his two teenage boys clearing a path to their front door.
The woman who told this story (and now has children of her own) said this service continued for years and meant a great deal to her mother. During a difficult time of adjusting to a husbandless, working life in a new city, this service eased her mother’s burden, made her feel known. They never did buy a snow shovel, and later they learned that the father across the street had grown up as one of seven children to a single mother. He made special efforts to attend to several single women in his neighborhood.
His service was a gift of self – given for the price of his time. But what stayed with me is that he did it wanting no recognition. He did it in secret so her family would not feel indebted to him. And he passed that same kind of quiet compassion onto his boys, as they silently shoveled alongside him.
All month long, I’ve considered the Lord’s words from his sermon on the mount.
“When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and they Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:3-4).
Last week I put on my running shoes, a black hat, and a black coat, in preparation to make an anonymous delivery. My breath hung in the air and my spine tingled with heightened attention as I scanned the curtained windows and placed our needed gift on a doorstep. Ringing the doorbell, I leapt off the front porch and hit the pavement, sprinting. As I rounded the corner, a smile spread wide on my lips. It was a rush I hadn’t felt in a while. One that reminded me of all the years my parents chose a family to whom we would do “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Somehow, on some of the busiest days of the year with six children underfoot, my mother managed to prepare a homemade treat and wrap a thoughtful gift for us to deliver. Those nights of crouching in the bushes with my brother and sisters, waiting for the perfect moment to place our treat on a doorstep, live bright and sparkling in my memory.
There is a reason the Lord asks us to do our alms in secret. It purifies our giving. At first glance it leaves us empty-handed, walking away with nothing. But the secret of it goes deeper than anonymity. Instead of a friend’s praise, a neighbor’s thank-you, or our name on a list of notable donors, something more precious is placed in our hands. A heavenly reward that can fill us with that which only God knows we need. Maybe these are the treasures He wants us to lay up for ourselves. The intangible but lasting rewards that fill us to overflowing and lighten the darkened corners of our souls.
Catherine Keddington Arveseth is a full-time mother of five young children, including two sets of twins. She is part of Segullah’s Prose Editorial Staff, writes occasionally for Power of Moms, and blogs at www.wildnprecious.com.