Last year I wrote this story as a submission to a blog about service. Because we're in the middle of "Secret Santa Season" right now, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share it with you! :-)
It’s just after seven o’clock on a Wednesday night as I drive slowly past the single-story brick house. There are lights on, but the blinds in the front window are closed. Excellent sign. Less chance I’ll be caught.
I turn around at the end of the cul-de-sac and drive slowly back the way I came, past the house again, this time carefully planning my strategic approach. There’s a thick row of hedges right up against the wall- if I can stay low and hug the bush, I should be able to make a clean getaway.
I begin to slow the minivan and carefully pull off to the side of the road just past the house. I debate leaving the car running for a quick getaway or turning it off to avoid drawing attention to the lights…I finally decide to turn it off. I’ll lay low and wait, then I’ll go once it’s all clear.
I pull my long black coat tighter around me, then tug on a black cap that I borrowed from my husband, pulling it low over my ears. I grab the black scarf from the seat next to me and wrap it around my neck, pulling it up over my mouth and nose as well. Better safe than sorry.
“Mommy, you look like a ninja!!”
“SHHH!!!” I say. Then I stop. We’re in the car. Nobody can hear me. Boy, am I jumpy.
“I mean, I know Mommy looks funny, sweetie,” I say in a normal voice, “Just sit tight in the car for a second and I’ll be right back.”
I grab the gift bag from behind my seat and carefully open my door, feeling the rush of cold air as I step out into the night. I immediately get down into a crouch, taking long, swift steps as I slink sideways across the lawn, heading for the bushes. Suddenly, I bright light is shining in my eyes, illuminating the yard and everything in it- including me!
It’s a motion light! Curses!! Suddenly my swift slink turns into an all-out sprint as I fling the package onto the front porch while simultaneously ringing the doorbell. On the way off the porch I skip the steps altogether, taking a flying leap off the landing onto the walkway below and immediately breaking into an all-out run as soon as I hit the ground. The bushes!! The bushes! Must make it to the bushes!
Just before I reach the safety of the boxwood hedge I catch a glimpse of my minivan out of the corner of my eye. I can just barely make out my six-year-old son with his wide-eyed face pressed up against the glass, watching my manic sprint with what I believe to be surprised awe. I manage a quick smile and a wave before throwing myself to the ground out of sight.
My breathing is heavy as I wait, my heart pounding in my ears…I really need to get in better shape for this…I can hear voices inside, gradually growing louder as they reach the front door, and becoming clear as the door opens wide.
“Oooh!! I think I got something from my Secret Santa!!” she says. “Thank you, whoever you are!” she calls out into the night.
A smile spreads across my face as I hear the door close and the voices recede once more into the house. I peek around the bush just to make sure the coast is clear, and then I walk quietly but quickly back to my car.
As I slide into the driver’s seat, my son yells, “Mom, I’ve never seen you run that fast before!! That was AWESOME!!!”
I just laugh and say, “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”
And so it is every year in our ward. The little holiday tradition that started with a few friends has now grown to an annual event that involves nearly half the Relief Society. Young mothers, single women, even grandmothers have found themselves suddenly acting like they are twelve again, sneaking around leaving small gifts and planning acts of service for women they often didn’t even know before their name showed up in their e-mail inbox.
Every year these six weeks of secret service culminate in a holiday party where each participant learns the identity of their Secret Santa, and sisters laugh and cry and hug as seemingly silly tokens of affection take on a greater meaning when the givers learn how much a particular boost was needed that day, and when recipients learn how much the giver went through to share an act of love.
For those six weeks every year, we are all sisters in the gospel, warm in spirit and young at heart. We “delight in service and good works”, and we find ourselves loving women we barely know because we are serving them. We expand our capacity to love and we discover our ability to run- really, really fast!