A really (really) expensive watch, a wilderness fishing trip, a hand painted (literally hand painted) picture from my child, a signed book from one of my heroes. These would certainly all be in the running for the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. But none of them were. Even though they were each generous, thoughtful, and full of profound meaning, there is still one that stands out in my memory even more.
It was December of 1973 and I had just celebrated my eighteenth birthday. I finished my first round of finals as a college freshman and headed south on Interstate 55 to celebrate Christmas with my mom. My sister was married, and mom and I were going to be alone that year. Before I even arrived, my mother alerted me that this Christmas was going to be a lean one.
While we may not have been the poorest family on the street, my mom and I really struggled financially. She was the sole provider for my sister and me, and for as long as I can remember, she worked two jobs to make ends meet. And she did it all with the most grateful, non-entitled, joyful heart imaginable. That Christmas my mom simply had no money for presents. None. So, she got creative. The old adage of “necessity being the mother of invention” was never more true.
GeGe, as her grandkids call her, basically gathered a bunch of old Christmas cards that she had received over the years (she likes to keep cards) and repurposed them into my single Christmas present. It was all she had. She cut out pictures, text, and messages and made a small storybook album for me. Around each cutout picture or borrowed message she personalized a message for me. With every page, she spoke guidance into my soul and poured courage into my heart.
I remember sitting next to our small, pitiful Christmas tree and seeing a single wrapped present. Honestly. My mom gave it to me and told me to open it. As I did, she just sat there quietly and watched as I worked through each page slowly and deliberately.
That was my best Christmas present ever. I will never forget it and it truly became the gift that never stopped giving, that never stopped yielding returns in my life.
As I read those re-purposed, customized cards, the Spirit of God worked over and over again in the heart of an impressionable teenage boy and made one huge deposit after another into my soul. It was stuff money couldn’t buy, rust couldn’t ruin, and forty years of the latest and greatest presents couldn’t make irrelevant. That single gift opened a myriad of gifts that have never left me.
- An epiphany that I was deeply loved and that nothing could ever make me feel insecure.
- Immeasurable gratitude for my mom’s tenacity, selfless character, and commitment to my sister and me.
- A bridge of dependency upon the God of the universe to be my “daddy” in the midst of not having an earthly one.
- Recognition that God had a plan for my life and that I was not on my own to figure it all out.
You talk about the gift that kept on giving. That single gift has paid more dividends in my life than a thousand shares of Google stock ever could have provided. Not a Christmas has gone by since 1973 that I have not revisited that scene—sitting on the floor in that tiny apartment on the Mississippi coast experiencing the greatest Christmas gift I would ever receive.
As Christmas draws closer, and we’re all scrambling, grabbing and buying up the latest gifts and gadgets for those around us, let’s also make sure that we give gifts that last, that will leave an impact far beyond December 25, 2014. Let’s make this especially true for those closest to us, for our families, friends, and co-workers.
Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly the Gift of the Gospel packaged up in the birth of the Savior?
Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.” (Luke 2:8-12, MSG)