Always, always, it’s the thought that counts, right? So each gift we receive, chosen with love and appreciation, offered with generosity, is special. But some are more so, and today I’m going to share the best gifts I’ve been given over a lifetime.
It’s hard to choose, though. For a recent ladies’ tea hosted at my home, I plastic-wrapped and twine-tied Christmas plates piled with homemade goodies. I also received some lovely gifts: a silky scarf with the color name of toast, a hand-crocheted change purse in shades of lilac, a yellow notebook, a pink-and-pale-green flower arrangement. Try picking the best of those.
In Chile these days, November is the new December. Many of the former year-end highlights in the Southern Hemisphere—exams and graduations, school picnics and ministry parties, even weddings—have been switched to a (supposedly) less hectic month. Sometimes it seems like we’ve merely extended the season of crazy-busy. But in theory, and perhaps in hope, the lightening-up of the weeks before Christmas should provide more time to pause, reflect, and focus on the reason for the season. As well as cherish friends and loved ones.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift. That’s why we call it the present.” – Joan Rivers
So lately, as I “prepare Him room” and prepare to welcome visiting family over the holidays for the first time in a decade, my heart goes back to those that are missing around the table, either because of death or distance. In remembering the givers as well as the gifts, I’m likely in danger of overlooking a few I should no doubt mention.
But I can’t resist attempting to share the stand-out gifts that made a difference in my life then and impacted my future:
1. The Wristwatch… Love, Grammie and Pippy
As nearly as I can calculate, this is the first gift I remember receiving. The luxury brand, Bulova, meant nothing to me back then. In fact, I might have preferred a Timex that I could’ve sported as carefreely as my friends at school. Too bad I don’t still have it—it might be considered vintage!
“Be mindful of how you approach time. Watching the clock is not the same as watching the sun rise.” –Sophia Bedford-Pierce
In my mind, though, the watch from my grandparents equates with time in more ways than one. It’s connected with a Dr. Seuss book and a handsewn green-and-white windowpane-check dress that I had my third-grade photos taken in. Oh, Grammie’s long labors of love—the hours of work and play and prayer.
Droplet Gift #41: Give. And give some more. And give again.
First of all, if you can: Give time.
2. My First Barbie Doll… Love, Auntie
Barbie got her launch into the world in 1959, so she’s nearly as old as I am now. But she was young and the height of cool in the mid-’60s when my dear aunt bestowed dolls, clothes, and accessories (as well as case-houses to store this imaginary world in) on all of us girl cousins. We were in the seventh heaven. It sure beat paper dolls cut from the Sears catalogue (and we didn’t have Legos).
This same aunt, recently gone home to the Lord, also sent us a Christmas box in Chile for 25 years, without fail, which must be something of a record. It often included Barbie stuff for my own daughters.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Barbie’s generated her share of controversies over the decades—about fashion and career trends, race and ethnicity, and body image, among other topics. However, this gift symbolizes for me an open door to dreams.
As Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) says, “The imagination at play is at the heart of all good work…”–and certainly of all creative work! Whatever else Barbie did, she offered fun and future possibilities.
Give the delight of dreams… Give play.
3. Dear Santa, Please Bring Me a Suitcase and an Umbrella
Strange requests, I agree. Especially for a girl who’d never been farther than Bangor (25 miles from home) at that point! And letters to Santa didn’t even make it to the mailbox (let alone the North Pole) in the home I grew up in. But I did tell Grammie, who was almost as good.
Heaven only knows why I wanted a suitcase and an umbrella. However, they turned out supremely useful, iconic of the life of the girl who eventually traveled from rainforest to desert, mountain to island. From sea to shining sea, the peach-and-gold suitcase—about the size of today’s carry-ons—accompanied me everywhere until I departed for Chile, when I left it storing my wedding dress and love letters in my in-laws’ basement.
In the Chiloé Islands, it rained 13 months a year, people joked. So that umbrella—navy-and-white-checked with red roses—would have clicked open nearly every day. “The world is my parish,” John Wesley said, and so it’s been for me.
Give travel—present and future.
4. Books and the Keys to the Library Tower
Does Nancy Drew sound cliché these days? I have no idea, but I devoured those books, along with many others of course, during junior high. One Christmas near the tail end of this craze, my parents gave me a couple of Nancy Drew books. I had started on the second one by the end of the day! However more sophisticated these days, I credit Nancy with my lifelong fascination with the mystery genre.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” –Kate DiCamillo
When I was in sixth grade, our family moved to a home across the street from the town library. Talk about heaven! Some time later, my father took on maintenance of the clock tower there, and we felt as if we owned the keys to the kingdom. You could say I practically grew up in that magical place.
The magic of stories offers a unique sort of travel through time and space. Every imaginable opportunity, and the only ticket needed is a library card.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” –Stephen King
Want a gift idea? Give books… Give magic.
5. A Curling Iron… From My Cousin
Does anybody use those things anymore? You tell me. I sure don’t, but then, I’m out of the loop. Maybe? Maybe not?
But let me assure you that in the fall of 1976, a curling iron was the beauty tool to have. My college roommate lent me hers for special occasions, but how tears-in-my-eyes happy I was that Christmas to receive my own from a cousin, my first friend.
She’s blessed my life with so many beautiful, personal gifts over the years that I’d couldn’t mention them all. My sisters, as well, have showered me with clothes and home décor. These ladies know my needs and my tastes because we grew up together—our roots are entwined, our hearts are linked. I’m so grateful for these family connections.
Give personal wishes.
6. A Date with Dolphins… From God
Fast forward through marriage, children, and a move to Chile. One of our early years in the islands, we experienced the disappointment of not making it home on Christmas Eve. Not uncommon for missionary families, as we came to learn, but it was a first time for us then.
The Lord Himself stepped into our story that sad morning to give us an unparalleled dolphin show on the return ferry trip. (You can read the longer version of this in a post from two years ago.) An absolutely unforgettable Christmas.
“Memories are perhaps the best gifts of all.” – Gloria Gaither
Later that day, Chilean friends invited us to their seaside home for a luscious lamb barbecue. So different from Christmas dinner at home…or at Grammie’s or Auntie’s or my Canadian mother-in-law’s. And yet…not so different. The music of laughter and chatter, the fragrance of delicious dishes, the warmth and welcome—all familiar.
Give food, fun, and experiences… Give memories.
7. Surprises… From Churches
We have amassed a huge collection of Christmas decorations gathered over the decades. Some you would find common and familiar, others are specific to a Chilean Christmas: the plaster nativity set, the woven-straw figures, the seashells.
Many years ago, a young mother in Nova Scotia embroidered a dozen plastic canvas ornaments while awaiting the birth of her baby. We became the lucky recipients of her hospital hobby. Another creative woman crocheted and starched an entire garland of exquisite white snowflakes, each with a design as unique as…well, a snowflake.
What a kind investment in sharing holiday joy with others. A New Brunswick church sends us a homemade ornament in a card every single year. I see effort and sacrifice in that kind of long-term commitment.
Give unexpected surprises.
8. A Trip to the Beach… From Me to Myself
Then there was the Christmas, not too many years ago, when all of our family of three daughters had flown the nest. After the parade of parties and programs in Santiago finished, my husband and I took off for the coast on Christmas Eve (two hours away in those days). Something we’d never done before—and seriously, we were happier than clams at high tide.
“Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” –Ovid
Oh, we missed the girls all right. But instead of cooking all afternoon and sweltering in the city heat as usual, we luxuriated in a wonderful day of rest and relaxation and returned home full of energy for the next stage of the summer.
Give yourself a break and a breath of fresh air.
9. Christmas Tins and Teacups… From China in July
After university, our youngest daughter taught at an English immersion school in China for two years. During the summer break, she traveled halfway around the world to spend winter with us in Chile. We celebrated an all-out Christmas in July, complete with tree, turkey, chilly weather, and roaring fire. What a change!
She brought a set of blue-and-white Chinese tea-ceremony dishes and taught us the technique. Several tins from China and Korea were added to my collection, along with a copper tea thermos, a jade pen holder, framed four-seasons prints, porcelain chopsticks.
A few months later, another daughter did an internship in Germany. Again, tins came home. A Delft china plate, Swiss chocolate, Venetian Murano glass… A friend who recently visited England gifted me a Big Ben tin. Another, a green phone-booth tin from Ireland.
My best gifts haven’t been those things, though. It’s more the special people who’ve allowed me, through their sweet gestures, to travel the world with them by proxy.
Give education… Give the world.
10. Cold Drinks in the Desert… Love, Your Family in Chile
Our first Christmas in the city of Coquimbo, where we now live, really was a lonely one. We were new in town and had hundreds of acquaintances but very few friends. A loving young couple from our church dropped by on Christmas Eve with the gift of a beverage dispenser. A literal cold drink in a dry desert, their wrapped box constituted the only item under our tree that year.
“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.” ―Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Talk about loving strangers! That same couple often acted as our family over the next few years. Our first Christmas in the new house, in the midst of the pandemic, the best gifts were tiny flower-shaped candles and a tin of hot chocolate mix, “to remind you of back in Canada,” they said.
Like these young friends, we try to remember in some way each Christmas season those who represent the biblical “fatherless and widows” in our community. In Santiago, it was orphans, prisoners, and singles. Here it may be the girls whose parents work hand-to-mouth at the open-air market. The jobless, the homeless, the immigrants far-from-home. The cancer patients, the neighbor with a new baby, the deaf man who approached at the supermarket. The striking truckers, I don’t know.
Give family love to those who have none.
Let’s ask God to help us notice the needs of others. Let’s show up, be there, pray. Encouragement is one of the best gifts of all. Change someone’s Christmas…or life. Make a difference.
“Being gifted doesn’t mean you’ve been given something. It means, you have something to give.” ―pleasefindthis, I Wrote This For You
Not all my favorite gifts have been Christmas gifts, to be sure. Some arrive on my birthday, others on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, perhaps. Would you like to share your best gifts? What gifts have changed your life? And what gifts have kept on giving in your life?
By all means, enjoy everything! Though even the best gifts won’t give us total satisfaction and joy, we can remember we have Jesus and Christmas forever in heaven for that.
Lord, don’t take me home… until I give what money can’t buy, time can’t wear out, and memory can’t fade.