joy….to give or to receive…

“I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.”

Anne Frank


(the work of a day / Julie Cook / 2017)

Thanksgiving afternoon, I was complaining to my daughter-n-law, dreading the notion
of having to begin the yearly arduous ritual, of “putting up” Christmas.
Some people will go into a feeding frenzy of all things consumerism and
I will go into light mode….

“Why do we do this?” I lamented.
“Why do we work our butts off, schlepping stuff up and down from basements
and attics every year….

Why do we move all this stuff in while moving all the other stuff out…
making way for holiday paraphernalia…
just to turn around to then put it all away again in just a couple of weeks???”

I lament so because I am the one who pretty much does it all….
all the lights,
all the decorating,
all the tree,
all the buying,
all the wrapping,
all the cooking,
all the cleaning etc…
because bless my husband’s heart,
he runs a retail business.

Suffice it to know that our lives are not our own right now…
nor will they be…not until about the middle of January.

Neither my husband or I truly “get” this Black Friday absurdity that consumes
this nation of ours.
He does nothing out of the ordinary for it and I don’t even acknowledge it.
Something about the wantoness of all the materialism consuming this country of ours
just oozes of emptiness.

Why do people stand in line for hours on end when they should actually be
home just enjoying Thanksgiving, family, time off, being outside, being inside, being someplace other than a strip mall, a big mall, etc…
oddly preferring to scoop up “stuff”????
Stuff no one really “needs” to survive.

Places like Syria just keep coming to mind when I see cars parked 4 deep,
wrapped around parking lots, just so folks can buy a flat screen TV or clothes,
a mixer or whatever it is they think they JUST have to have in order to survive Christmas…
along with all the other trivial things no one really needs in order to survive.
Like I say, I just don’t get it…..

So my daughter-n-law reminds me, “well you know he really does appreciate it”
He being my only child and son who was born a week before Christmas.
Christmas is his official holiday….but certainly not his dad’s.

The night our son was born, oh so many moons ago, in the wee hours of a December Monday morning…my poor husband had to leave us shortly after the birth so he could go
open the store and work all day…after having been up all night.
Missing his only child, his new son’s first day of living…
He is remorseful all these many years later, but it was how he fed us,
and for that we give thanks.
Yet how does one ever get back time?
They don’t.

In this family of ours, there is definitely some resentment concerning the consuming madness of holiday shopping…. on all sorts of levels…
and yet our son just adores Christmas…what are those odds?!

Sigh…..

So as I was lamenting, my daughter-n-law tells me about a movie they recently went
to see —-a movie I would never ever consider watching.

They are only in their late 20’s—they watch things on television and at the movies
that I pretty much consider toxic—
of which I hope they too will soon realize as toxic…but until then,
I just pray….

My daughter-n-law relayed a line from the movie which actually resonated with me….

She said that in the movie the main character was grousing, much like I was, about
this whole Christmas business.
In walks the mother who deadpan responds….
“don’t you know, mothers don’t receive
joy, theirs is but to give joy”
(a paraphrase)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

An understanding as to what exactly a lot of this is really all about.
It hit in certainly not a martyresque sort of understanding…but a deeper sense of understanding.

It is an understanding that none of this is about me….never has been.

It’s not about what “I” can get,
not about what I can buy,
not about what I can have….
nor is it about what I want….
but rather it’s about what I can give.

It’s about the ability to give verses the ability to get and receive….
And that giving has nothing to do with stuff—not of things gathered
from a store, or from on-line or from any place else for that matter.
Nothing tangible….

It has nothing to with with savvy shopping, marketing strategy, deals, door busters
or the madness that has become what we know as Christmas in the modern world.
A time that won’t even allow most schools to utter the word “Christmas”
but rather “winter break.”

What this season is about…isn’t about all this decorating,
or about all this consuming, or about all this buying and wrapping of “stuff”….

It’s not about the amassing or consuming….or materialism.
It’s not about the biggest gift, the best deals, the nicest trip to some
exotic wonderland.
Rather it’s about what we can offer and what we can give…

Because the original notion of this holiday Christmas business wasn’t about
Black Fridays and sale margins…it wasn’t about cyber Monday’s or on-line surfing…

It was about a gift…. but not a gift in the modern mindset of what constitutes
as a gift…

It was a single tiny gift that was actually given in order to save…
to save both you and I, as well as all of mankind, actually from ourselves….

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything
we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

2 Timothy 1:9

Dear Parents. . .

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

DSCN8751
(presents under the tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

When asked, I suppose most, if not all of us, could tell anyone asking what the best gift was we ever received. Maybe it was a shiny new bike, a much sought after doll, maybe it was a new baby brother or sister, maybe a pair of skates, maybe a car, a smartphone, a precious and greatly anticipated birth of a child, maybe it was a hot meal, a worn but loved coat, maybe it was shelter from a cold and icy night, maybe it was the returning of a loved one who had been gone far too long. . . .

As we find ourselves, at this particular time of the year, with time running out and patience running short. . .
As we dash about here and there in search of the “perfect” gift for those special someones in our lives. . .
As we find ourselves up to our elbows in wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and bows. . .
As we spend entirely too much time and money searching and buying things that folks could most likely do and live without. . .

I was deeply touched by something I read this morning.
It was a letter written to a set of parents. . .

Dear Parents. . .I don’t need to tell you how much I long for freedom and for you all. But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas.
Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties. I believe that those who know they possess such reserves of strength do not need to be ashamed even of softer feelings—which in my opinion are still among the better and nobler feelings of humankind–when remembrance of a good and rich past calls them forth. Such feelings will not overwhelm those who hold fast to the values that no one can take from them.

These words and this message is not only timely but most current as this letter could be written by anyone who may be finding themselves far away from those dearly loved and cherished individuals of one’s life, especially during this time of year. As it always seems to be during the holidays, the certain times of the year which pulls at our hearts more so than any other time of year, when being away and “missing” intensifies to a near maddening unstoppable pain, our thoughts inevitably seem to return to matters of the heart and of cherished memories of times long and not so long past.

The letter was written just before Christmas in 1944 from a Gestapo prison in Berlin. It was written by the young Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was soon to be transferred to the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He spent two Christmases interred by the Nazis before ultimately being hanged two weeks before the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps.

The greatest gift Bonhoeffer’s parents had given him was not a toy or a ball. . .for their gift was not something tangible or of material merit, but rather their gift was a gift of great intrinsic value.

Their greatest gift was actually somewhat multilayered.

Firstly the gift consisted of the deep and abiding love his parents first held for one another and then for each of their children–of which created and fostered a deep sense of security in each child.

A second layer of the gift consisted of time—of both time and energy of which his parents extended to the entire family making certain that each Christmas and holiday season was indeed special for their eight children—Not by showering the children with extravagant gifts and presents, as buying such for 8 children would have been nearly impossible, but by providing their family with the knowledge of the importance of the true meaning of Christmas—the enduring message of Hope and Grace–of doing undo others as they would hope would be done for them, and ultimately the gift and knowledge of Salvation. A gift that would weave its way throughout the year and not merely just at Christmas—for this was a gift which would be carried in each of their children throughout a lifetime which witnessed not only contentment and happiness but that of hardship, sorrow and suffering topped off with the ultimate ending of Joy.

It was to this gift given long ago by his parents which would help to sustain Bonhoeffer during his lowest and darkest days as a Nazi prisoner. Isolated and never knowing if each new day would bring freedom or death, Bonhoeffer lived out the last two years of his relatively young life in a small cell very much alone.

I spent a good bit of time this morning pondering over Bonhoeffer’s letter to his parents and I found myself thinking about what it is to be a “gift giver” and to what constitutes the best gift we can give–especially to our children.

I pray that I may give my child, as well as those I love, the gift which will sustain them all during, not the easy times of joy and happiness, but rather a gift which will help to carry them through the darkness, sorrow, pain and isolation which most often finds all of us at some point in life when we least expect it.

Which brings us back to the initial query at hand. . .indeed, what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received. . .