Giving with Grace

photo taken yesterday by son Collin

I wrote here about the problem.  Some friends of mine can help with solutions.

Alyssa is a natural shopper.  She finds wonderful bargains and is always looking for potential gifts.  Shopping, after all, is a skill. Alyssa knows which stores to avoid and which stores to patronize.  She instinctively knows where to look; she also knows when to shop; finally she knows her recipients.  She finds treasures on the after-holiday clearance shelves, she has good taste, and she considers her loved ones when she shops.  When she finds a product she particularly loves– socks, tea or gardener’s hand-creme– she looks for a supplier with the best price.  Alyssa doesn’t spend outrageous sums: she knows how to convert two dollars into a small plant or a special candle that says, “I appreciate you.” Alyssa keeps a gift drawer and usually resists the impulse to give her treasures prematurely. 

Chloe is creative.  Chloe always gives a piece of herself.  She used to scrapbook, but now leans more toward computer graphics and photography.  Chloe jumps in the deep end: her first quilt was a queen-sized duvet for her husband’s parents. When she sits down, she picks up her yarn and needles.  Chloe gave her college-age kids and their best friends a shipment of homemade cookies every month  as a high school graduation gift.  Chloe listens.  When her friend mentioned how much she’d like a tea cozy, Chloe converted a scrap of peculiar fabric into a way-cool cozy.  When Chloe’s pastor’s wife went through a series of medical procedures, Chloe wrote a note of encouragement to her each week. 

Clarissa, by the way, does it all.  It would be fun to hate Clarissa, but it would also be impossible. She’s just too wonderful.  Clarissa is the queen of gift baskets.  Clarissa does everything by dozens.  She reupholsters furniture in her spare time.  She probably plays the trombone in secret, just for fun. She makes cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. Ask Clarissa how she gets it all done and she shrugs as if you’d asked her how she manages to breathe. 

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Alyssa, Chloe and Clarissa are composites of friends I admire, friends to imitate.  For the Alyssas, the Chloes and the Clarissas of the world, giving is a hoot.  A pure whacked-out joy!  Sure, they get stuck at times – but they look at those sticky situations as a fun challenge.  If they were sitting across the table from you this morning, perhaps they would give you these tips. 

1.  Take time.   Gift cards are the closest thing to instant gifts; they are certainly appropriate at times.  However, we usually underestimate the time it takes to put a (non-gift card) gift together.  Undoubtedly we don’t figure in the time it takes to coordinate all the gifts of the Christmas season. By not planning ahead, we are caught wandering WalMart on December 23rd.  If  you work on this throughout the year the time is spread out into smaller chunks.  The discipline of thinking, exploring ideas, making plans, executing them, cleaning up afterwards: it all takes time.

2.  Give time.  A phone call, a cup of coffee together, a free afternoon to work together on a project: these are all precious gifts.  Last Wednesday I received a piece of bad news which paralyzed me while I processed the emotions.  I needed to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, but couldn’t get moving. My perceptive daughter-in-law suggested that we go grocery shopping together.  She didn’t need to shop; she sensed my paralysis and wanted to help me through the fog.

3.  Take courage.  So many socially awkward scenarios wouldn’t be awkward if we weren’t afraid.  Know what you can afford and work within your boundaries. It’s okay to give someone a small gift in comparison to the large(r) gift you received, if that’s what you can manage.  The world will not end if you are given a gift – an expression of love – and you receive it graciously without reciprocating.  

4.  Give freely.  Free of expectations.  Free of the need of reassurance.  Free of manipulation.  Free of guilt.

5.  Take off your own desires.  Especially for people who are, um, different.  So often we selfishly give what we would like to receive, with little regard for the pleasure of the recipient.  A mature giver recognizes differences and works at discovering the preferences of others.  It’s a wide, wide world and thank goodness we’re not all alike.

6.  Give what you love.  This contradicts the words above.  You have to know your loved one.  Christmas is a great time to share the books, music, food, clothing and products you’ve discovered over the past year, if the recipient is inclined towards books, music or products.     

and two tips about gracious receiving…

7.  Take care not to dissemble.  If you lie, and say you love fruitcake, you may get fruitcake every year until you die.  I always chuckle at Judith Viorst’s line: “Dear Aunt Agatha, My mom said to write you and let you know how much I enjoyed the gray slippers you gave me.  Not much.”  When the gift doesn’t appeal to you, focus on the giver: it was thoughtful of you… it was kind of you… Wow! You remembered  our family! … Honesty and kindness do not live on different continents. 

8.  Give thanks.  Gratitude is so becoming. It takes a little effort and planning.  I still struggle with this one, often falling down on the task because I start writing thank you novels instead of thank you notes.  Be specific.  Generic thank you notes that don’t even mention the gift are lame.   

My favorite gift, the bread-and-butter-gift, tomorrow!

What would you add to this list of give and takes?


Victims of Prosperity

I’m trying, really trying, not to make this a rant.  I’m just saying.  There is a difference.  As I type, I am trying to keep my written voice low and steady.  No screamin’ meamies allowed. 

This thought began in July when a house down the street from us put the makings of a garage sale on the corner of their lot with a sign that said, FREE. [Our Salvation Army went out of business (!); which means there is no local entity that accepts donations.] The pile sat there for day after day after day. Weeks later the lonely and neglected pile remained. Gracious, I thought, we have become such a prosperous people that we can’t even give away our stuff.   

This morning, while I was serenely sipping tea and soaking in the heat from the wood stove, I received an SOS call from a relative who was shopping, totally bereft of gift ideas for certain loved one.  “I feel your pain,” was about the best I could do. 

It has become the national question: 
“What do you get for the person who has everything?” 

The problem is that everyone on my list, down to my grandson, fits that description. 

Our lack of want is stealing some of the joy, don’t you think?  We’ve become victims of our own prosperity.

Because I’m not a shopper, I’m not a good gift giver.  I’d rather clean toilets than shop in a store full of grimacing people listening to tinny canned music.  And if I give into the temptation to procrastinate I find myself in the most loathsome position possible:  wandering around WalMart on December 22nd, looking for some plastic thing made in China to wrap and give.  Blech.

Because I’m not a good observer, I’m not a good gift giver.  I really don’t remember which colors my daughters (in-law) love to wear.  Or what makes my mother-in-law’s eyes light up.   An organized person would have a little notebook and  keep track throughout the year.  An observant person would know without the notebook…

The fact is that it is easy to get gifts for people who share the same tastes and interests that you do.  When you see/read/smell/taste/drink something you love, you know that person would also love it.  Somehow, we often end up related to people who don’t share our tastes!  My friend put it well:  [insert name] and I always give each other hair products because we just don’t know each other very well even though we are closely related. 

Perfectionism can also block the way.  The search for the perfect gift, the one sure to delight, can keep us from getting something pretty good

Thus far, the problem.

The truth is that it is more joyful to give than to receive.  Do you remember the moment when you got it right?  When the gift was opened and then the eyes opened wide?  The little “o”, and the sucked in breath?  The wonder? The delight? 

Gifts should be an expression of love, not a tribute to obligation.  How do we express our love in a way that is fitting, true, full of delight? 

More to come….