A while back my eldest niece sent me an unexpected present. When I thanked her for it, she said it wasn’t a present at all, it was a gift. Puzzled, I asked for more info, and she explained that presents are things you feel at least somewhat obliged to give, but that gifts are something that you neither feel required to give nor expect thanks for. Well, my mama taught us to thank people for things no matter what you called them, and I have some thanks I’d like to share on this Christmas Eve before we delve into the pile of presents under the tree.
This year has been abundant with gifts, but the ones I’ve treasured most involved the presence of the giver in some way. I'm at a stage in life where I have less and less of other things to give, but my time is available. But I realize that that is not true of everyone, so their gifts are doubly precious.
There have been my internet friends that have reconnected and shared their lives with me from afar and my friends around Memphis that take time to play Mahjongg with me or go to lunch or dinner on the spur of the moment.
There are the times my family and I enjoy around the pool or at the lake, not doing much except being together. The little kids indulged my whim to make concrete stepping stones for my new “fairy garden” (dubbed by Becket) and spent a lot of time on the design and then execution. They are true works of art and gifts of time shared.
My sons in law all have wicked senses of humor, and their gift to me is always laughter...mostly at my expense, but welcome whatever the cost in dignity.
The thirty minutes little Walker and his dad and I spend together watching Wheel of Fortune every night is one of the gifts we give him. Up until we discovered that he had a knack for solving problems, sometimes faster than either the contestants or his parents, the announcement of that program was almost immediately followed by my husband shouting, "Change the channel!" Now we all gather around the television during pre-dinner time, engaging in a little friendly competition. Sometimes this leads to more discussion over dinner, although not always.
Big Walker doesn’t realize that I don’t just appreciate the labor he puts in in our yard to indulge my whims and need for beauty and order, but I really appreciate the rare times he’ll sit back with me and let me gush on over how beautiful it is and enjoy the sun setting and night sliding over the garden.
Friends have invited us to spend weekends with them and we’ve returned the favor, loving the luxury of an extended visit and musing over good times we’d mostly forgotten. Sometimes there’s something splendid to do like Lessons and Carols or perhaps an easy hike at Sewanee, other times, it’s just visiting.
Last summer while I was visiting friends in her vicinity, my sister give me the greatest gift of our lives, although she’s given me some pretty fabulous presents through the years. She insisted on spending some time with me, and we giggled together as we went to the pamper parlor and I got the best eyebrow waxing ever…her gift to me was not only a brighter, somewhat prettier countenance, but of herself.
My brother took time to send me a note about how much he enjoys the eclectic assorted collection of reading material I send him, mostly things he would not have read.
At Thanksgiving this year, my girls knew that I really wanted to put up our Christmas tree while Sarah was home with the baby. It was to be his first official Christmas Cousins photo, and I wanted it to be festive. After a little grumbling, and a lot of yeoman’s work from our husbands, the tree was up and decorated before I got the dishes in the dishwasher. Two hours later, we had a photo. What a gift!
I treasure the old friend I found recently after a long search who told me that once we reconnected he went through and read my whole blog. My goodness, that is a gift of presence…even I don’t want to read all about me in one sitting. But if you’re reading this, you’re giving me a gift too. So thanks for being there for me.
When I was doing Pastoral Care, one of the training guides advised being “fully present” for those we visited in times of need. I never felt like I was really good at that, preferring to organize the visits and send others to sit and listen. Perhaps next year I’ll make more time to be fully present for someone who needs it whether it might be a friend or stranger or member of the family. I know how much I’ve appreciated all the gifts of presence this year. Maybe some of you will choose to do the same. Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year too!