The Gift I Never Expected

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A few years ago a gift card to a local coffee shop became one of the most thoughtful and meaningful Christmas gifts I’ve ever received. And the experience is one that will no doubt stick with me for the rest of my life. Let me explain.

It was Christmas Eve so my daughter and I headed to the early service at church. It’s hard not to love the Christmas Eve service — a full sanctuary, festive greetings from friends new and old, a cozy feeling because of the extra people in attendance, time-tested Christmas carols and an excited, happy energy reverberating from the giddy children. We sat near the front, inadvertently adjacent to one of our favorite church families. Sophia has always gravitated toward them and, frankly, so have I — both the parents and their two girls have a magnetism that’s hard to describe and even harder to resist.

As per usual, Sophia, who was about 5 years old at the time, ended up wiggling her way next to the mom of said favorite family. I noticed them whispering but didn’t think much of it, as they often shared a few secret sentiments during church. We enjoyed the rest of the service together (especially the candlelit version of Silent Night), bid our final holiday greetings to those in attendance and headed home.

,When we woke up on Christmas morning Sophia eagerly opened her gifts and savored the treasures in her stocking. I sipped my coffee and soaked up the contentment that comes with watching your child bask in the glow of Christmas morning. All of a sudden Sophia jumped up and said, “Mom! I have a present for you.”

She grabbed my purse, pulled out what appeared to be a piece of paper and handed it to me. She had the biggest smile on her face and excitedly urged me to open it. Upon closer examination I realized the paper was from the church service the night before. Inside it was a gift card to a local coffee shop. She said that Heather (yes, that’s her real name) had given it to her so that she’d have a gift for me to open on Christmas morning.

Now, the tears that are emerging from my eyes as I retell this story match the tears that emerged that morning. It wasn’t the gift card per se that held value for me.

It was the thoughtful gesture and the joy that my daughter got from having a gift to give in addition to the gifts she herself had received.

Since we’re a one-parent family, Sophia hasn’t always had someone there to take her shopping, to encourage her to make cards, or to help her bake cakes. It hasn’t been a big deal, but I admit it’s something that’s nagged at me on occasion. So, taken in context, this small, impromptu Christmas eve gesture from Heather was, in fact, quite large.

Sometime after Christmas, I thanked Heather for the gift card and told her how meaningful it was for me and for Sophia. And while the gesture itself brought me to tears, the story about its origin was even more poignant.

Heather had asked Sophia what she was hoping to get from Santa and followed that with a query about what she’d gotten me for Christmas. She told me that Sophia got a worried look on her face and sadly said that she hadn’t gotten me anything. In her quick-thinking and kind-hearted way, Heather asked if I was a coffee drinker (yes!), pulled a gift card out of her purse and said she could help solve that problem. Together they wrapped the gift card in the church bulletin, and Sophia stowed it safely in my bag until the next morning.

My heart hurt at the thought of Sophia feeling sad about not having a gift but was quickly healed by the magnitude of Heather’s gesture, which seemed to grow ten-fold in the two minutes it took her to tell me that story. The monetary value of the gift paled in comparison to what it represented — a thoughtful, in-the-moment gesture that brought my daughter joy and helped reinforce the fact that giving is much better than receiving.

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So, do me a favor. As you go about your holiday preparations this season, take some inspiration from Heather.

Spend a moment thinking about whether there’s anyone in your life — young or old — that could use a little help spreading some holiday joy.

Maybe it’s the young child of a single parent, maybe it’s the middle schooler of a busy two-parent family, maybe it’s an older adult. It doesn’t matter who it is, just considering offering to lend a hand. Help a kid bake some cookies, make a craft or do a little shopping. Help an elderly neighbor wrap presents or address Christmas cards. The time and financial commitment can be small — as quick as wrapping a gift card in a church bulletin. But the impact of your gesture? It may be enormous and long-lasting.

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