When I was in 7th grade, my grandparents set under our tree a large, beautifully-wrapped gift. It was adorned with ribbons, bows and my name on top.
My grandmother and grandfather wrapped everything and put it under the tree. Pencils, clipboards, barrettes, socks – even underwear. We still laugh at all the things they would put into a box and wrap. But this particular year, I knew that the huge box sporting my name had to be something special. It was far too nice to be filled with practical.
When Christmas came, I reached for that gift as we began to open presents. I eagerly tore through the paper, literally squealing with delight as I imagined what would emerge. Then, I stared in disbelief as the face of a doll emerged. Knowing that the sweet gifters were watching, I fought to disguise my disgust. A doll? I was almost 13-years-old! And my big exciting gift was a doll?
“Oh – It’s beautiful!” I feigned, fighting back the tears.
“Really?” my grandfather asked. “We thought you would just love it.”
I wondered if they even knew me. Then I wondered if they accidentally gave the doll to me, intending it for one of my cousins. But as I looked over at them, I knew they had bought it for me and I struggled to be happy. Then I fought jealousy as my sister and brother opened their gifts from my grandparents. They got envelopes with money.
That doll sat in my closet for years. It stared at me from its unopened box, conjuring a mix of emotions – guilt for my ungratefulness and curiosity as to why anyone would give a doll to a budding teenager. Did they know me? And, if my grandparents didn’t know me … did anyone?
That doll has long since been given away. But I got to see it again, yesterday. This time in the form of gifts I was giving.
It began Christmas Even when the kids each got to choose a present to open. Jack excitedly raced to grab his. We all watched as he opened … and stared. It was a LEGO Hero Factory thing. Just like he wanted. Right?!
“Umm…. We already have that one,” whispered his brother.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I thought that’s what you wanted,” I replied. Then I said what I would find myself saying more than once. “You can return it.”
Next came their oldest sister. I was so excited about what I found for her. A red bag just like one I bought my mother a few years earlier. The salesperson, not sure of my choice, had tried to point me in another direction. “How old is your daughter?” she had asked. I explained “Fifteen, but a very mature fifteen that has had her eye on her grandmother’s red bag for a while.” As I paid, the very nice clerk explained their generous return policy. I think she knew. I didn’t. And this was her big gift. The one.
Silence accompanied the opening of that red bag. I watched with eagerness, ready share in the glee of my perfect choice. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much glee. She was nice and feigned delight. But I knew better. I had missed the mark by miles.
Next, my husband’s gift. A new wallet. His has been looking a bit shabby. “The best gift you can get someone,” I had explained to my gift-grabbing sidekick, “is the one they need, but haven’t said anything about.” Yup. Wallet. I had seen the worn leather. I was excited.
He opened his box with me perched by his side, hoping that somehow my buying efforts could be salvaged. … No such luck. “Wow,” he said. “A wallet. It’s nice. … Thanks.” Pause. “Yeah, mine’s still pretty good. But, I’m sure I’ll be able to use this one in about five years.”
What?!! Five years! No go on the red bag! You already have that LEGO!
Deflated, I went upstairs to console my red-bag daughter. The lights were off in her room. She was already in bed. So I climbed in next to her. “I blew it on the bag,” I started. She tried to stop me, “I can make myself love it.” But I stopped her. “You don’t have to. It’s exactly what you don’t want. I thought you had said you liked Mom’s red bag. So I bought it for you. The sales lady tried to talk me out of it.”
“Yes,” I started to laugh. “She tried her hardest to steer me toward something more your age, but I insisted.” Now we were both laughing. Then, as we started to describe the bag’s geriatric features (pen holders, multiple sections, attached glasses case, …), we couldn’t stop laughing. We both got so tickled.
And it was nice.
I missed the mark on those gifts, but sat on the couch Christmas morning relishing every moment of other gifts opened. They weren’t big. Jon’s box of disposable razors and chocolate covered cookies (apparently, I’ve assumed my grandparents’ role of wrapping everything!), a couple bottles of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, small bags of candy from Central Market’s bulk section, earphones, other LEGOs and more. The happiness that I experienced each time someone opened something, a surprise to them, that I picked especially for them – for my folks, for my friend – filled my soul.
It was wonderful.
Their delight brought me such joy.
Quite the contrast from the evening before. Yet both occasions were born from the same intention – to give a gift of blessing.
And on that note, how can I stop there. How can I not be compelled by God’s gift of grace. The way He gives and the way I receive it.
He gives with the pure intention of ultimate blessing, knowing what we need even if we haven’t uttered a word about our want, seeing the worn leather, aware of our deepest desires, the deepest of which is to be known and loved.
But how do I receive? Do I have expectations? Do I think I know best? Am I ungrateful? Or am I thankful, but ready to return or exchange? Do I open, then look around to see what everyone else has and wish for me? See also: a tired and tearful boy who went to bed, thinking back on the day, wondering if all gifts are created equal – especially in consideration of the amount given.
Or do I rest in the perfect provision, set to individual specifications, full of grace, seasoned with peace, washed in love.
Thanks for walking the road with me.