There is simple kindness, among few, in the art of gift giving. An offering presented with joy and weightlessness; a smile of anticipation in the knowing of the goodness to be shared.
My grandfather was one of these givers: happy to delight others. One bright March afternoon, on my tenth birthday, he surprised me with an enormous teddy bear. This was no ordinary stuffed animal, but a Gund: soft, stitched to perfection, and created to last. Grandpa embraced quality: no cheap gifts on his watch.
One day, he invited me on an errand to the local feed and hardware establishment. He loved to tinker in hardware stores. Never mind that he was far from handy and could fix nothing without the use of duct tape. It was the comradery he enjoyed with the other fellows, who were clad in tired jeans and worn tool belts, wandering the aisles, assisting customers with a clipped: Morning! while sipping their steaming coffee.
As Grandpa chatted, I meandered the aisles, suddenly drawn to the cheeping sounds from the far corner of the store. Baby chicks! I scrunched down, patting the tiny geese through the wire pen: completely smitten. After a few moments, I returned to my grandfather, who was paying for his goods.
Unbeknownst to me, Grandpa had noticed my delight. Shortly after this trip to the feed store, he returned home calling my name, clutching a jumping box containing two cheeping goslings. My parents and grandmother were not impressed, and I could not understand why….the chicks were simply perfect.
Grandpa calmly told them that his granddaughter must have these, as animals were her favorite thing. (I now understand the lack of excitement from the other adults. Those goslings were cute for about fourteen days, before they grew with a vengeance, destroying our bushes and flowers, honking and disturbing neighbors, and driving our dog frantic with their aggression. I loved them unabashedly until the day they were given away, without my consent, months after being gifted.)
So Grandpa dispensed gifts with untamed abandon. Although impulsive, it was never about him, but always about the recipient. This shaped me, a person not impetuous by nature. However, there are moments, when I see something, and know deep down in my bones that this is perfect. My affection is so deep, and the present is right, and I am happy, reminded of Grandpa, who loved wildly: no holding back, and no chintzy tokens.
Yet the finest gift my Grandfather granted was the no strings attached component. This came with neither words nor fanfare; and nestled deep within my heart. He never once reminded anyone of his gift-giving. There was no: do you like your teddy bear? or Remember when I bought those goslings for you? He simply gave open-handedly, leaving the gift and the response in the hands of the recipient. The joy set before him was in fulfilling his kind deed: the choosing of a present to show his love in a way that would please the recipient.
Never did he expect a thank you note. I typically sent one, but Grandpa assured me that the pleasure was all his. With each passing year, I now realize that this very action in itself, was his legacy-gift. In this, his kind heart radiated selflessness, and it was deeply good.
One Sunday morning, as a young college student, I leaned in, as the pastor preached on finishing well.
Finishing? I thought. I have hardly begun!
For whatever reason, I was deeply interested. I had never heard a sermon on this topic.
Do not suppose that you will awaken at age forty, or fifty or eighty, said the pastor, and suddenly be more mature; more godly. You must be working out your salvation with fear and trembling. Good works? Godly attitudes? Godly fruit? These stem from humility and obedience and repentance, day in and day out. A soaking up of God’s Word, read then applied. If you do not practice such things, your sin struggles now with be greatly magnified with age.
Regrettably, I did not take notes, or scribble down the many Bible references he included. But the essence of the message marked me: fight sin now.
I am now forty-eight, and though not officially old, I am getting older. I think of my grandfather, who with all of his flaws, read the Bible consistently, carefully placing a checkmark upon each completed page. I remember his ongoing words about his love for King David, a man after God’s own heart. A king who took what wasn’t his, lied about it, and even murdered. The most important part? He humbled himself, repented, and then obeyed.
The grace of God, Grandpa remarked, shaking his head, eyes filling.
Grandpa, like all of us, had a story. He came to Christ in his thirties, remorseful and repentant. He always said God had forgiven him for so much; just as God had forgiven King David. It gave him great hope. His many sins had been flung far, from east to west, and he never forgot this: God’s gift. I believe this is why he could love big, with no strings attached.
When he died so painfully, cancer raging, it was clear that he had done the hard work of finishing well.
There were some older, church-going women sprinkled upon the periphery of my childhood. A tasteful, honest description of them would be busybodies. Gossip was highly permissible amongst them; shuffled around and labeled concern, or news.
These flock of women also enjoyed gift-giving: especially for weddings. The gifts themselves were lovely: bone china place settings, buttery yellow tea towels, 400-thread-count sheet sets. But those tasteful gifts had invisible strings attached: the firm expectation of an immediate hand-written note of profuse thanks. Following that came the folded arms and toe-tapping: impatient waiting for excessive verbal gratitude: Thank you, and Thank you again, and I love the gift and am using it often!
It would have been kinder, and far more generous of them to have given nothing.
One particular day, weeks following a wedding, I overheard the women whispering ill of the unthankful couple. A lot of huffing and puffing over the complete lack of gratitude; not even a thank you note! I rolled my eyes, privately, tired of the griping. The poor newlyweds had not even been married six weeks.
Those weren’t wedding gifts: they were chains.
So with another birthday around the corner, I examine my own heart in gift-giving. Not simply physical presents wrapped in paper, but heart gifts: charitable thoughts, an encouraging word, friendliness to a grumpy one, choosing to resist hearing or speaking gossip. And one step further in examination: Am I doing these things with thoughts of myself or others? Am I gifting shining trinkets with strings attached? Do I insist upon being properly thanked, and stir trouble when I am not? Do I always wait for something in return?
I sit a moment at my desk, thinking through this, carefully pondering in the still morning hours. Rather than aiming to modify my poor behavior, I jot down the three important words: humility, obedience, repentance.
Every truly generous person that I know is humble. Every humble person I know practices repentance. And every act of repentance is performed from a heart of obedience. A grateful heart is satisfied, cheerfully giving from an overflow of thanksgiving, for what God has done.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (ESV): The point is this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.