The Last Gift

A couple of years ago, I attended a Christmas party for my Bible study.  These ladies are fun!  This night was no exception. We laughed, ate and laughed some more.

Time came for the white elephant gift exchange.  Under my friend’s Christmas tree were the most beautifully wrapped presents you’ve ever seen.  The gift wrap was so pretty, one could only imagine what it was keeping inside.  Vintage paper, giant bows and shiny tie-on’s made these gift sparkle in our eyes.

We pulled numbers and the game began.  Cute, seasonal dish towels, a serving platter, a few ornaments, a scarf – everything was very nice.  Someone “stole” the gift I received, thus I was the very last person to choose.

However, there wasn’t really a choice as there was only one present left.  It had been overlooked the entire time, because under the tree sat a small, purple gift bag.  It looked as though it had been re-gifted at least a couple of times judging by the dents and wrinkles in it.  The tissue paper looked as tired as the bag.

I didn’t mind, because to me this was just a game.  I was more concerned about the embarrassment one of the ladies must have felt that her humble gift bag had been neglected the entire game, so I made sure to express my enthusiasm for this little surprise.

The room was quiet.  Lovely gifts rested on the ladies’ laps.  Stomachs were full and souls were content…until I opened the bag.

I gently pulled out the tattered tissue paper and set it carefully on the ground.

It seemed there was nothing in the bag at all.  I reached my hand into the bag and there was a small folded piece of tissue paper.  I pulled it out and placed it on my lap.

It was weightless.  Formless.  I was puzzled.  All eyes were on this mystery.

Slowly, I unfolded the tissue paper, and as I gazed upon the gift my heart skipped a beat.

There, in my hand, was the most beautiful Chrismon ornament I have ever seen.  The shiny gold beads and pearls intertwined to make a fish with a cross.  It was stunning.

The room gasped!  Everyone knew instantly that I had received the best gift.

Indeed I had, and since I was the last one to pick, no one could steal it from me.  It was mine to keep.

Everyone wanted to know who brought this treasure.  The woman who made this Chrismon spoke up and said that, in fact she made it by hand.  She went on to tell us that she purposefully wrapped it in unassuming packaging, because that is how Christ entered the world.  Unassuming, but to those who had eyes to see – resplendent.

I looked around the room and saw the expressions on the ladies’ faces.  They were happy with their gifts, but longed to have the experience that I just had.  I felt so honored to receive this hand-crafted gift.

Although I wasn’t seeking this Chrismon out, it found me.

I was deeply moved by this experience.  With humble gratitude, I said a sincere Thank you and tucked it back into the lonely purple bag.  I could hardly wait to get home and share this with my family.

Now, every year, we place that same purple bag under the tree to remind us that the best Gift in the world is not of this world.

DSC_0142[1]

The feelings I had in this extraordinary experience seemed oddly familiar.  It wasn’t until I was driving home that God related this to my own love story with Him.

His appearance in my life was quite unassuming.  His presence has been with me since I was a child.  I can’t explain it and don’t deserve it.  One time my mother, sister and I were taking a walk when I was a small child.  We strolled down the tree-lined street hand-in-hand.  I was on one end, and with my left hand I held my mom’s hand, but I held my right hand out as if grasping another’s hand.

My mom saw this and playfully asked, Whose hand are you holding?

Without hesitation and surprised at her question, I answered matter-of-factly, Well, Jesus’ of course!  

God came to me as Friend first.  He was my safe place in a home that was dark and scary to a little girl.  Then, He was my Companion as I spent endless latchkey hours in the afternoons at home alone after school.

He came to me as full-on God when I was 14 years old.  When He revealed Himself to me in His Godship, I couldn’t speak.  It was the first time I heard His voice in my spirit.

Although I have a lifetime of sin He could audit me on, His Son’s blood sacrifice negated every last one I’ve ever done or will do.  His radical love is mystifying.  Audacious. Addictive.

I heard a sermon recently where the pastor told us to close our eyes and imagine what life would feel like without God in it.  I can’t tell you what that does to me.  I immediately welled up with tears.  My chest heaved in distress.  I wanted to scream.  My spirit lost all joy and hope – if only for a split second.  There isn’t a breath I can take without Him.

Just as this Chrismon found me, God sought me, pursued me, and bought me with His Son’s blood.  He is doing the same for you.

Jesus came into this world very unassuming.

Isaiah 53:2 – He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Jesus, for some, is their last resort.  When all else has failed and all options have been exhausted, they default to what is left – much like the only gift left for me to open.

He is so much more than that!  He is our prize, our jewel, our salvation.  He is God’s only Son.  Rather than making Him a last-ditch effort at happiness in this life, He is eternal joy for those who choose Him as Savior.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day expected a King to appear to them strong, powerful, wealthy and intimidating to all who opposed him.  However, Jesus was denied even a birthplace and came to all people as a poor baby born in scandal among the animals.

Isaiah 53:3 – He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

Sometime’s life’s packaging is deceiving.  The best-wrapped things turn out to be mere moments of pleasure.  Christ, however, is more and more beautiful to us the more time we spend with Him and get to know Him.

The gifts that were opened, stolen and kept at the Christmas party are only a memory today.  But, the impact the Chrismon ornament experience had on me will last a lifetime – and the impact Jesus’ saving grace has on me will last for eternity.

Like the Chrismon ornament, salvation is ours to keep.  Unlike anything this world offers, no one can ever steal salvation from us.  We can’t lose it.  We can’t lend it or borrow it. Once it’s ours, it’s ours forever.  And, out of all of the gifts we could receive for Christmas, Jesus is the best gift.  He is eternal and His kingdom never ends.

If your house looks like mine post-Christmas, the Christmas tree is sagging, garland and bows are drooping, shreds of wrapping paper and candy wrappers hide under the couch, with pine needles stuck in the carpet, and evidence of celebration is scattered from room to room.  If you have never chosen to receive Christ as your personal Savior, one last gift remains under your tree.  It’s an unassuming package with a radically life-changing gift inside.  The gift of eternal life.  I encourage you to open it. Believe it.  Receive it.  Embrace it.

Christmas Day may be tucked into the history books, but a hope and a future lay waiting (Jeremiah 29:11).  The choice is yours to accept this free gift.  As the last present of the season, I pray all of the mystery, joy, curiosity and power it holds will be irresistible to you.  Go ahead – it’s got your name on it. 🙂

Romans 10:9 –That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

DSC_0796[1]

Hope thrives

Yesterday, my husband and I went to grab a quick bite for lunch.  He is working from home these days following his rock climbing accident on Monday which left him injured.  We hobbled into the restaurant together, both donning a right surgical boot – him limping with a crutch.  We look comical, really, and were given many stares and glances at our predicament by those around us.  Twinsies.

As I stood in line to order our food, I noticed on my left a very elderly man and his aide, a home health assistant.  They were engaged in conversation, and what spoke most to me was her softness toward him.

Having had my grandmother go through the assisted living regime in her later years, I am quite familiar with all it entails.  I have known attendants that were so sweet and kind and loved their jobs, and unfortunately, those who felt the opposite.

This woman was precious.

When he said something to her (I couldn’t hear over the noise), she laughed and he touched her cheek with the back of his hand.  She could be his granddaughter, or great-granddaughter, and it seemed as though she felt that way to him.

While enjoying a coveted, rare lunch break with my husband, I periodically glanced over his shoulder to watch them in the background.  It was obvious that going on a lunch excursion was a big feat for this man and his disabilities.  An effort, but worth it.  Toward the end of their lunch, I watched from across the room as she wheeled him to the restrooms.

Attendants are unsung heroes.  Their job requires more self-sacrifice than what others will experience in a lifetime.

After some time, they reappeared in the dining room and headed out the door – as she gently pushed him in his wheelchair.  We left a few seconds behind them, hobbling back to our van.

As we drove away, we passed them approaching their car.  He looked at us, smiled and waved, with his attendant at this side.  We waved and smiled back.

In a time with so much sorrow and pain in our nation, this woman was such a testament to the human spirit.  She was caring, attentive and considerate.  He thoroughly enjoyed his lunch out because of the way she treated him.

I remember with my grandmother, I needed to walk slower than my usual pace, repeat myself numerous times, and be willing to adjust plans on a dime because of unexpected health concerns or circumstances.  I remember waiting with her in the doctors’ offices, picking her up for family events, and simply spending time together whether watching my young children play on the playground, walking the aisles of the grocery store, or sitting on the couch and talking and talking and talking.  This was precious time to me.

The reason I have so many fond memories of that time in my life is because she modeled these things for me first.  My mom did her best, but from an early age my grandmother helped raise me.  She picked me up from school when I was sick, took me to get an ice cream cone on special days, and taught me how to be a lady.  She played games with me, advocated for me when I needed it, and countless hours were spent sitting at her pink-tiled kitchen counter talking and talking and talking…usually over a home-cooked meal she spent the entire afternoon preparing.  She did the best she could to finish raising me after Mom died.  She was smart, gentle and funny.  I learned through my grandparents that the generations ahead of us have an unending plethora of wisdom and knowledge to offer those following behind.

We were made for community.  With God’s help, community gets us through the tough stuff of life.  None of us can handle everything completely alone.  We weren’t supposed to.

Watching this sweet woman yesterday, and thinking about all that my grandmother did for me over the years, a flicker of hope in my spirit fanned into a flame that together, we can survive the storm – whether it be physical, relational, or weather.

God puts people in each others’ paths to share the journey.  Let’s not miss an opportunity to be that person to someone today, or to welcome someone’s help in our life.  Either way, we are all more blessed in the end.