catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 23 :: 2011.12.23 — 2012.01.05


“Oh, is that for me?”

Or when you don’t care enough to send the very best!

Have you ever received a Christmas gift for someone, and you thought, “What on earth were they thinking when they bought (or made) this…this…well, er, um, thing?”  You’ve heard it before: it’s the thought that counts.  But what does it mean when it doesn’t appear that much thought was going into the gift-giving process?  “Oh, look! What’s this? A Pet Rock™?  Oh, a hand-crocheted cushioned cover case for my laptop! You shouldn’t have…really.”  Yeah, go ahead and laugh. It is the season to be jolly.

But, have you ever received a gift that made you really cry — and not in the good way?  Not like the diamond earrings you had your heart set on and thought you couldn’t afford, but somehow your hubby found the time and the money to make that wish come true, and here they are in your hands, and the gratitude pours out in streamlets of tears to match.  No, not that kind of a good cry. Not even a “love triumphs in the end,” because “oh, you tried so hard” bittersweet exchange that sounds like it came straight out of O. Henry’s classic short story, The Gift of the Magi. Not at all, but rather a shrill cry of the heart that says, “Oh! You hurt me.” 

But how can giving someone a gift hurt them?  After all, it’s a present, right?  Well, yes, but it’s also a message.  According to Dr. Gary Chapman in his famous book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heart-felt Commitment to Your Mate,  “Gifts are visual symbols of love.”  How much we love someone can be communicated as much by the presents we give as the words we say. And as Dr. Chapman points out, some of us need those visual symbols more than others.  And perhaps at Christmas more than any time of year, people are paying special attention to these visual symbols — and longing to feel loved in the process.  

One of my first lessons on the art of gift-giving came when I was about eight years old.  It was a Christmas I will never forget. Spirits were high and the family was buoyant with Christmas cheer. We had all gathered at the home of our family matriarch, and there was much food and frivolity, including deep dinner-table discussions and dancing to the music from the old 33-1/3 vinyl records of Holiday tunes like Bing’s White Christmas and Elvis’ Blue Christmas.  But the laughter stopped short and you could hear the ice tinkle in a single empty glass that someone put down just as Aunt Saye opened her gift.  A hopeful hush fell over the room.  It wasn’t just any gift, but a gift from her step-daughter, someone quite “well-to-do,” who would most certainly be giving Aunt Saye the kind of gift the rest of us could only dream of giving her.  The paper torn off, we could see that it was a jewelry box from one of the most expensive stores in town!  Gingerly, eagerly, Aunt Saye opened the lid…and then her jaw dropped! The look on her face went from White Christmas shock to Blue Christmas despair.  And she began to cry. 

“Saye, what is it? What is it?” 

“You’re damn right! What is it? Look at this thing! How could she treat me this way? What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?” 

To my unsophisticated eight-year-old eyes, it didn’t seem too bad — really.  The thing was a square-ish piece of pop-art jewelry that was supposed to be a pin.  Or a belt-buckle.  Or maybe one of those fancy scarf slides.  Or maybe it was one of those quirky combo things that could switch back and forth and be all three.  (I never got close enough to it to play with it, but I sure would have loved to!)  The surface of the “pin” (if you could call it that) had these interesting looking cavities of gold filigree filled with brightly colored enamel in high-definition hues of green, yellow, purple, orange and pink.  I definitely got the sense that the thing was a very expensive piece of cloisonné, and that there was no way my little piggy bank had anywhere near enough money to buy one like that, even on the outside chance it should so happen to be a cheap dime-store knock-off of some couture fashion work-of-art.

My marveling over the mystery surrounding the thing was subsumed by the sound of Aunt Saye’s sighs and moans.  She was really crying now. Weeping.  And very sad.  Over some useless gift.  But that was exactly the point. “What am I supposed to do with this?”  Like a lamenting mantra, she kept saying it over and over as she cried. Aunt Saye was hurt because that gift carried some messages I don’t believe that the sender intended to convey:

  • I’m too busy and too important to get to know you.
  • I don’t have the time and I don’t care enough to find out what you like.
  • I’m spending lots of money on this, and that’s what counts.

But to Aunt Saye, a fifty-cent Christmas lapel pin with bells or a wreath, enameled in red, green and white to honor her Italian heritage would have done the job just fine. Even a photo of her step-daughter and all the kids in a nice frame would have sufficed.  Aunt Saye wanted to feel like she was part of her step-daughter’s life, and not the just the baggage that arrived when Uncle Ave married the gorgeous young Saye.  Come to think of it, that weird thing that masqueraded like jewelry did sort of look like a luggage tag!

There was a year, too, that receiving a luggage tag would have been a most auspicious gift for me because I was getting ready for higher education and a subsequent move away from home. But like most teenagers, I received the dreaded, “Oh, it’s just clothes” gift for Christmas instead.  I was grateful that year to receive any gift at all, because money was so tight and I was living with extended family at the time. I didn’t cry any tears over it, but it still stung to see the other kids in the family opening gift after gift after gift, and once my one and only gift was already open, all I had to do was sit and watch the other kids having fun.  I did grow to cherish the shirt I received that year, and wore it until it no longer fit.  Now if I had been given a luggage tag instead, it would have cost less and chances are I might still have it to this day, as a sign of the love that was shared that Christmas — and as a sign that I would be doing lots of traveling in my life.

So now, whenever it’s time to give a gift, I try to think about what someone would like, because I want the gifts I give to say, “I love you.”  And more than that, I want the gifts I give to say, “God loves you, too.”  So, I pray about the gifts I give, and ask God to lead me in selecting the right gifts for the right people.  And more often than not, people respond with exuberant joy and surprise, and I have the joy of hearing things like, “Oh, how did you know?”  Just this week a good friend announced her retirement, and I wanted to give something just a little bit special.  So, I picked a snowflake necklace (the same as others I have given to friends at our workplace), and had fun packaging it in a snowflake motif gift bag.  On the little kraft paper sack are the words, “Let it snow, let it snow.”  When I presented it to her, she said, “Oh! Did you know that was the first Christmas song I learned to sing?”  I said, “No, but He (pointing up to Heaven) does!”  We shared a laugh and I basked in the warmth of deep rejoicing in knowing that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:7).

As Christians, our call is to become more and more like Christ.  When we give, we demonstrate the love of God.  I believe it is a reflection of Christ’s immeasurable love when we purposely choose gifts for other with great care, and endeavor to keep their needs and preferences in mind as we do.  Scripture teaches that we are to think of others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  Our goal should be to honor God in all we do, so that even our gift giving becomes a cause for praise to overflow in Thanksgiving to the Father (Matthew 5:16).

Let us always “care enough to send the very best” message by our giving, because Jesus is the hallmark on our hearts.  Merry Christmas! 

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