I understand what it means to be poor – at least in America. My five siblings and I were raised by a single mom who struggled with mental illness. We lived on welfare and usually burned coal in our fireplace to stay warm in winter because firewood was too expensive. One night we ran out of coal, so we all piled into our Plymouth Volare station wagon and drove down the dark alleys of our rural Idaho town in search of firewood. We didn’t really consider it stealing as our mom trolled with her headlights off and we hopped out to silently swipe a log here and there from our neighbors’ neatly stacked woodpiles. We figured they wouldn’t miss the wood and we needed it to keep from freezing.
Christmas, because it is associated with gift giving, can be particularly stressful for the poor. When you don’t have much, it can be challenging to find creative ways to give thoughtful gifts at Christmas that cost little or no money. Even those who have plenty of money with which to buy gifts may not have much time to do so because they are too busy working to acquire that money. And if you are in the blessed minority with both ample time and money to purchase gifts for your loved ones, you may still struggle to find that elusive, perfect present for each person.
You know the one I’m talking about. That special something your loved one doesn’t already have, which says you took the time to consider what they enjoy, care about, and would never buy for themselves, and for which you went out of your way to get for them. That magical gift that tells them they are special and precious and loved and irreplaceable. Yeah – that one.
When I was a child, the perfect gift was a Mrs. Beasley doll, a Louisa May Alcott book, a new Milton Bradley board game or the year I hit the mother lode: a 10-speed bicycle. These days I dream of peaceful, laughter-filled family gatherings and healthy, God-honoring children and grandchildren.
When I think about the best gifts I have received over the years, with few exceptions cards and personal notes come to mind. I have saved and tucked away thousands of words of love, gratitude, caring, compassion, encouragement and healing.
Whether spoken or written, kind words are the perfect gift. They are free, readily available and in ample supply, require minimal time and effort, need not be wrapped and are sure to bless the beneficiary. If you can speak or write, you can give the gift of a genuine, kind word.
In a world that has become increasingly negative and full of hate, the opportunity each of us has to extend kindness by a simple word or deed is priceless. To whom can you give a word of encouragement or appreciation today? Who do you owe a heartfelt thanks or an apology? When was the last time you told someone you care about, how much you care? Who do you love who may not have felt your love in a long time? What simple thing can you say or do at no financial expense that will express your gratitude and love for another?
December is the month we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Bible says that sometime after he was born in Bethlehem, wise men came from the east to worship Jesus and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Interestingly, we never hear what Jesus, Joseph and Mary did with these gifts, nor does the Bible suggest that Jesus would have appreciated it if his disciples would have given him some gold, frankincense or myrrh to demonstrate their love for him.
Instead, Jesus says repeatedly in John 14 that if his followers love him, they will obey his commands. And then he says his command is this: love one another. John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17. We begin to love our neighbors, our co-workers, friends, spouses, and children when we offer a truthful, kind word that builds them up for their benefit.
Consider giving the perfect gift this Christmas.
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11