The peaceful notes of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" drifted through my open window. Inside, the pine aroma from a sparkling Christmas tree filled the air. Warmth from a blazing fire should have added to the season's joy, but I glumly stared at the flames.
Christmas was only three days away, and I could think of nothing to give the girl I'd soon marry. It was our first Christmas together, and I wanted a gift that would let her know how much I loved her. I'd thought of a thousand things, but those I could afford weren't worthy of such a special person, and the things I wanted to give her were beyond my limited resources. What could I do?
I prayed, "Lord, this Christmas you're giving me the girl of my dreams to be my wife. Surely there's something special I can give her that will confirm your love for us and our love for each other."
The fire in the fireplace crackled and burned more brightly. Then it was as if the flames ignited something in my heart. I'd thought of the perfect gift.
My heart bursting with joy, I brought the present home and carefully wrapped it. I could hardly wait to give it to her. Finally it was Christmas Eve, and we were alone in her living room. The flames on the hearth burned brightly, augmenting the warmth of my love as I handed my present to her.
The tag read: With all my love, to God's most precious gift to me this Christmas. Carefully she removed the wrapping paper. "I love it! I've always wanted this," she said, eyes sparkling as she lifted the Bible from the box and tenderly held it close.
"I wrote something in the front," I said. "Read it."
She opened and read barely above a whisper:
To Bernice at Christmas 1947,
There are so many things I want you to have this Christmas, but I couldn't possibly give you all of them. I chose this gift because it can do more of those things than I can, and do them incomparably better.
I'd like always to be there to help you, but in this book lies the answer to your every problem. I want to comfort you when you're sad, yet what greater comfort is available than that which you can find within these pages? I want to give you strength in your hours of weakness, but I couldn't begin to give you the strength you'll find here.
It gives me pleasure to make you happy, but this gift is the source of the greatest happiness you'll ever find. I want to be your friend, but here you will find the staunchest of all friends. Most of all, I want to help you accomplish the task God put you on earth to do. Within the covers of this book you will find the tools, the instructions, the pattern, the teacher, and the friend that will help you accomplish this task much better than I can.
What else can I give you that will do so much? It can be with you when I can't, help you when I don't know how, and speak to you words of love and comfort more eloquently than I'm capable of doing. It can give you strength to minister to others, and the part of this book you store in your mind will forever be an invaluable resource.
All these things you know, and you would have gotten them anyway, but to furnish you with the medium through which they'll come brings me happiness beyond description. I wish you a joyous Christmas, and a New Year of blessing as you follow the path God has planned for us to walk together.
With all my love,
More than 57 Christmases were torn from the calendar of our lives. The gift's leather cover is cracked and worn, the pages dog-eared, but the notes in the margin and the underlined verses speak of the contribution my Christmas gift made to the quality of Bernice's life. Even though the ink of my inscription is faded, the passion of my love for her is brighter and more precious than it was on that Christmas Eve in 1947. For more than 57 years I rejoiced in knowing I'd given her the perfect gift.
William R. Nesbitt Jr., a retired physician, is a freelance author. He was married to Bernice for 57 years until her death in 2005.
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