The best gifts

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The woman kept cleaning. First she cleaned the filters so water could flow through and down the rock embankment into the fish pond. Then Joyce cleaned leaves, soured algae and threw the black muddy muck into a nearby dirty bucket. "Whew," she occasionally sighed as she wiped her brow. "I'm hot." All the while, Joyce wondered how she could afford to purchase Christmas presents this year.

Joyce was a single mother who tried to make ends meet by working a day job. After paying bills, she had little money left to buy Christmas gifts this year. The pond she was cleaning was at her parents' home. The pond was filled with dried twigs, soggy leaves and other debris that seem to fall and gather during autumn. Her parents usually paid to have someone clean, rearrange the rocks and refill the pond, but Joyce liked working at landscaping and took it on herself to do the job.

The next day, after work, Joyce came in carrying a big, gold brocaded bow she had made. The woman was talented at crafts. The bow was one you could use to place on a wreath or among a trail of green garland -- a gigantic one. "Mom," Joyce said, "here's a bow for your annual wreath upstairs." Her parents always hung one above the curved window on the second floor. Mom, Lelia, had to admit the old red bow was getting rather shabby, but nevertheless she would have used it again.

During a usual conversation, Joyce hesitatingly told Lelia that she doubted she would be able to get them much of a gift for Christmas. She had to spend what funds she had on her children. But still she asked her mother to name something she and her dad wanted. You could tell she felt uncomfortable. Lelia could have cared less if her grown children ever stressed themselves over a gift for their parents. Realizing how Joyce must feel Lelia looked out at the pond, now immaculately clean, and the carefully rearranged rocks the water cascaded over before continuing downstream. She thought of the hours of labor Joyce had given to make visible the colorful oversized fish hidden under the leaves. Joyce even placed a pond screen on top of the water. This was so an owl that had taken up residence on the property would not steal the overfed fish again this winter. Joyce had definitely done a professional and time-consuming job.

Then Lelia glanced at the dining room table and the beautiful huge gold bow that Joyce had given to them as a spur-of-the-moment idea. "Joyce, what more would I want than what you've already given? We would have needed to pay a professional to revamp the pond, and I badly needed a new bow for the upstairs window." Joyce had contributed what she did without it having crossed her mind that the work she had performed could be considered a Christmas gift. She had done it from the heart to help out and show her love.

Isn't helping out and demonstrating love what Christmas gifts are all about?

There is no shortage of ways one can give without spending a lot of money. Your presence at Christmas dinner or inviting someone to your home for a meal can be a gift to someone. Offering to shop for another, wrapping gifts, baby-sitting for overwhelmed parents, cleaning a house, writing letters, visiting the sick and lonely and sending cards are all gifts you can present that are free.

They are the greatest presents of all: gifts of yourself and your time.

"There is no greater gift than to lay down your life for a friend." When you give what's a coveted part of your existence, especially your time nowadays, you are laying down a part of your life for someone else.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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