The key to a good gift is that it takes into account who the person is and what his or her desires are. I learned this by being on the receiving end of gift giving. It was a painful lesson that has stayed with me to this day. It may have been our first Christmas as husband and wife. We were still finding our way around this marriage thing. Days before Christmas my wife showed me something she had been crocheting for a while. I thought she was joking with me when she said, “I’m making this for you for Christmas.”
I thought she was joking because it was a crocheted pixie, toboggan, stocking cap like thing, without the fluffy ball on top but with a scarf built right into the hat. The scarf grew out of the side of the hat and you just wrapped it around your face. I thought it was for one of her sisters or nieces. It just seemed to be rather girly, therefore being a funny, taunting sort of joke that a wife might make with her new husband. I made this for you and I’m going to make you wear it in public just to humiliate you, HA! I thought that until I said, in a joking, taunting way back at her, “I ain’t wearing no #%*& hat like that.”
I began to think she might not be joking when the smile that had been on her face just seconds earlier quickly faded away. Her eyes were open wide and a tear ran down her cheek. I thought to myself, “Oh no, I’ve done it now. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done, but it’s not good.” I had that thought a lot in the first few years of our marriage. I began back-peddling as quickly as I could, but it wasn’t helping much.
“Didn’t you notice that it matches the color of your winter coat exactly?” she sobbed at me. I had in fact not noticed that it did indeed match the color of my winter coat because I was busy thinking how I had never before seen a hat so odd and feminine-looking in all my days. The thought that this hat could be for me never entered my mind because I wouldn’t have chosen such a hat. I know me. I would never wear a hat like that. I was sure my wife knew me. She didn’t yet, at least as far as my taste in hats went. Today if she had to get me a hat she’d know to go with a simple ball cap in either camo or with a Harley logo on it. But that was then.
Back then we each were still thinking about the other as “the person I’d like you to be.” This person I’d like you to be gets in the way of seeing the person you really are. So in the early days of marriage we were hit and miss on getting the right gifts. Instead of getting the gift you wanted, you got the gift I wanted you to want.
These days I know my wife so well. I know she’ll love jewelry. I also know that I will never be able to pick out the one piece of jewelry amongst a vast display case of limitless options that pleases her heart. It’s the same for the fishing and hunting gear that I desire. I have very specific items on my wish list and there’s no way she could ever figure out what to buy. And so because we know each other, my wife comes home from shopping and says, “This is what you got me for our anniversary.” I look at it and ask, “Do you like it?” She says, “I love it!” I say, “Great!” and we’re done.
A package shows up on our doorstep. My wife asks, “What’s that?” I say, “It’s the new fishing reel you got me for my birthday.” The “gift” we give is guilt-free gifts we buy ourselves that are what we really want. Not very romantic, I admit, but it works for us.
Giving good gifts is also complicated by the problem that I don’t always know what it is that I want. I know what I think I want. But often after I get it, it’s not at all what I thought I’d like. My mom knew me better than I knew myself as a kid. Christmas was coming. I had seen the TV commercials and I had scoured the JCPenney catalog. My decision was that I had to have a Vertibird if I were to ever be happy again.
A Vertibird was a battery operated helicopter that could fly. Sort of. It lifted off the ground and flew in circles around the base it was connected to by a plastic rod. On the Saturday morning commercials I saw boys picking up cargo with the hook suspended under the helicopter. There was even an astronaut that you rescued from a life raft after his splashdown. It looked amazing. I took a pen, circled it in the catalog, and made sure to explain to Mom the wonders of this Vertibird. A week later Mom asked if I wouldn’t rather enjoy the airplanes that you flew outside with a tether. There were no Saturday morning commercials about airplanes you flew with a tether so they couldn’t possibly be as much fun as the Vertibird. Just so there would be no confusion I crossed out the airplanes in the JCPenney catalog with such fervor that I ripped the page. I hoped I had made my point.
On Christmas morning my dreams came true. Amongst the landscape of colorfully wrapped boxes was my Vertibird. I assembled the pieces, loaded the batteries and gave it a whirl. It was amazing! It did everything I had seen on the commercials. For the first week or so. Soon the helicopter wouldn’t pick up the astronaut, even with fresh batteries. Then it wouldn’t pick up the fake cargo. It hardly did any of the things promised on the commercial. Instead of bringing joy, it brought frustration and disappointment.
Up to that point, I was too old to believe in Santa, but I still believed in Saturday morning commercials. Clearly my mother knew better. Looking back now, I imagine those airplanes would have probably been pretty spectacular, especially in comparison to the Vertibird. My mom was a better judge of what I wanted and what would make me happy. If I would have trusted her, I would have gotten a better gift. But I insisted on having my way.
After the impression that experience made on me (I can still recount the whole ordeal 40 years later), you’d think I would have learned my lesson. But no, not always. My Father in Heaven has good gifts He would love to give me. Often I have a different idea of what I want. But He knows me! He has an idea of the “me” He wants me to be, but He’s very aware of the “me” I am today. He knows what I think I want. And He knows what would truly make me happy.
I want Publishers Clearinghouse to knock on my door with the promise of $10,000 a month for life. What I really want is the peace that comes from knowing that I’ll have my needs met. God offers his promise to dress me better than the lilies of the field and feed me better than the birds. I’ve heard a bird can eat 3 times its body weight in a day. That’s eating pretty good.
I want people to notice me and validate me. What I really want is to know that my life has meaning and positive influence in the world. My Father has a plan for my life. He has a reputation planned for me, a new nickname that affirms me that no one else knows. He has good works for me to do, prepared before I was even born. He has crafted an amazing adventure for me and a destiny of great—dare I say eternal—significance.
I wonder if I will ever grow up. Will I ever stop crossing out the gifts my Father would like to give me? Will I ever trust that He knows me and wants the best for me? I hope so, one day. Maybe this Christmas I’ll take a chance and leave my wish list empty and my hands and heart open, just to see what happens.
Photo (Flickr CC) by RawheaD Rex