Looking for the Ultimate Gift?

 In Relationships, SHIFT

Give the gift that keeps on giving. Sounds like an ad for the Energizer Bunny, right? The present of which I speak is even better than a battery, but it behaves much like that.  It provides a spark that goes beyond anything manufactured.

We all know about that season when much of the world is scurrying about, anxiety driven, dragging a list that seems to grow longer each year. There is a perfect way to both attend to the list, while spending very little money. Oh, it will cost us, but it is not about dollars and cents. I read recently that the purpose of gift giving is to express how much someone means to us. It is easy to see why that is daunting. How can a present convey just the right message that might have to deliver a year’s good will?

What do people want? What would they appreciate? There are plenty of merchants vying for our money during this season. We find ourselves being swayed by their advertising. It is maddening that children see these ads and get new desires for trinkets and toys. The consumer tends to not enter this season with a pre-determined idea of the perfect gift for each person on their list, so they are willing to entertain the suggestions of the merchandisers.

A popular book circulated among my friends a few years back that was offering the idea that each of us has a “Love Language” that speaks to what we value receiving from other human beings. I found it thought provoking that, according to this philosophy, most of us seek something more precious than physical gifts.

We already have the perfect gift that all of our loved ones desire. As I said, there is a cost involved, and in many ways that price is the hardest of all to pay. What is that gift that keeps on giving? Most of us want those we love to spend time with us.

We all may feel short of money, but what we seem to lack most is enough time. While we are out walking the mall, we should take a break, sit down and listen to the snatches of conversations as folks flow by. Many a conversation is centered on schedules, appointments, store hours, driving distances. So much running to and fro.

It begins to become frantic trying to fit everything in. A suggestion. Determine the things that must be done and take a hard look at all the rest. We each decide how to spend our most precious possession – time. We want to make room for our health and the needs of our immediate families. In order to do so, we must be ready to say no, even to ourselves. We will have to focus on the things that only we can do or say. It is in our control how complex and even chaotic we allow things to become.

We don’t seem to be able to simplify our lives. New devices advertised to take over mundane tasks and give us more “free time” seem to do just the opposite. When we do manage to open up some time slots, do we use it to be with our loved ones? That would not be typical.

The evasive solution to the dilemma of how to show our love and appreciation for folks lies in us. Not just for this season, but for all year. Let’s determine to pay attention to those loved ones. What can we do perhaps with them, but at least for them that will be a blessing? Starting with the youngest set, many a child would enjoy a spontaneous or even a regular moment of adults’ time playing a game or hearing a story.

I am sure it is not news that little ones prefer to play the thrilling peek-a-boo and hear the familiar Little Red Caboose over and over. I have to confess that I was the fidgety reader of too-familiar children’s stories and would attempt to skip or summarize parts. I got busted every time. My husband was the patient one to read the stories to our children, while I was the one who would create spontaneous games. In the end, our kids got much of our time and energy with the simplest most accessible activities.

I know the older kids are more dazzled by the current electronics, but I was recently amazed to have a grandchild leave her iPad to learn how to play marbles with me. It was gratifying to see that she was happy on the ground learning how to shoot her little orbs. It seems to me that kids will enjoy whatever fun and games parents want to spend time doing with them.

Since I am in a time of life where I am taking care of an elderly parent, boxes of candy will last a while, but time spent together is what she wants. As we age, our world tends to narrow. Older people want to continue to be in the family circle. We can make plans for how to stay involved in their lives while encouraging their involvement in ours.

Our worlds often involve a much wider circle. What gift can we give a friend or colleague? Plan a bike ride or hike. Take a drive together. We can go to a unique place to eat and have conversation. Or we might choose to write a note, or cards and “use your words” to express how much that person means to us. That is how the Christmas card idea got started, but most of us take the pre-printed ones and just sign at the bottom. Don’t neglect some personal thoughts being part of those cards or letters. Why not let the written expression be a sufficient gift?

Many of us have children still in school and we want to show appreciation to their teachers. I recently read of a parent trying to give presents to all of her children’s eleven teachers. Being a retired teacher from many years in the classroom, the things grateful parents did that spoke to me was to send me a note, or better yet offer to come into the classroom and help out occasionally. The typical “love language” of teachers is receiving “service,” especially in the classroom.

Our biggest challenge, however, is to show our love and appreciation to our own family. We hit on an idea when our children were small that everyone needs a date at least once a month. Each week we would take out one child for usually a short time alone with his/her parents. It usually involved only an ice cream cone or hot chocolate, but it always provided time for us to hear that child and shower our love without any siblings around.

After all the kids, it was our turn. We can express how much our spouse blesses us with time together. There is no bauble that shines brighter. Hire that babysitter or call in grandma. Do something special. My son wanted to take his “bride” on a very special anniversary trip last fall. With funds being short, he got creative. He sent the kids to Grandma and transformed their home into his own Bed and Breakfast. Now there’s a spark starter.

We get it. Let’s don’t throw away the shopping list, but use it to come up with ideas for how to spend more time, and probably less money, to convey our love. Gifting should not be a matter of how much money we have, or don’t have. We cannot be worried about the Joneses! Most of all we must not let the merchandising world conform us to its image.

We have heard enough of what not to do. We should focus now on what we can do.  I believe our loved ones will be so grateful they won’t even moan the absence of so many “things.” No guarantees since we are such a jaded people, but if we don’t start now, it will only get harder. I want my family to know that value is in people, not things. I strive to show others how much I care. I want to give them the gift that keeps on giving – myself.


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