Gifts vary in shape, size, wrapping and content. This is the delight of gifts, the unexpected surprise. Children with their individual uniqueness are our most valued gifts, an unexpected and unknown that is revealed with time. This mostly cannot be planned or even controlled. I have asked Michelle to join me in sharing our stories about giving and receiving gifts.
Michelle writes: As a child, I always made a mental ‘wish list’ of toys and books I would love for a birthday or Christmas gift. My secret hopes were mostly on the most extravagant gifts. When I was 12 years old I lost my heart to a hair styling curling iron and expressed this to my parents on a wish list for Christmas. I would spend hours looking at curling irons in shops, imagining my beautiful bouncing curls. On Christmas day I scanned my pile of presents, my gaze beamed on a curling iron shaped gift with my name. I saved the best for last and ripped open the gift and there was a book of short inspirational stories to ‘warm a teenager’s heart’. My hopes were crushed. The disappointment was tangible and I could hardly look at the book. I somehow managed to thank my parents as they taught me to be grateful and see the intention behind a gift. I pretended to like the book with a poker smile and some comment about reading before bed.
Through the years, my wish lists have changed but I still put much thought into the things I hope for. My siblings remind me and I can laugh at my 12 year old disappointed self with curling iron hopes. However, that unexpected book became one of my most treasured possessions. This was the surprise.
Two years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter. Six weeks after her birth I was told that she had severe brain damage that would make most tasks we take for granted unattainable for her. In the moment I felt many emotions. I was crushed and disappointed that the gift I had imagined receiving would never be. I felt the same pang of guilt and sadness grip my heart as I wished for some way to fix my ‘gift’. Just as my 12 year old heart had managed to accept the book for Christmas, I was thrust onto a very slow journey to understanding the gift of my daughter. Perhaps like the book, time together, reading the story, loving and honestly appreciating my daughter’s being and presence will make this another most treasured gift.
Jacqui writes: Travelling by plane for me comes with some sense of anticipated anxiety. The last time I flew I nearly missed my plane, and last weekend I had a mishap with my luggage. The pottery bowls I had made and carefully packed for my hosts broke. I was so sad and had no other gift for them, just myself and a few broken bowls that could become the next upcycling project. However this experience made me aware of my intentions in giving, to show fondness and appreciation of my hosts. I felt the vulnerability of showing my broken bowls to my hosts realising that the gifts we give to others comes with some fragility. A gift that is given might be used or not, exchanged for something better or enjoyed and appreciated. There is no knowing how a gift will be received and used.
I am sure that there is no perfect gift nor intention in giving and receiving. We just do our best and hope that this is good enough. I have a feeling though that the value of our gifts is not so much in what is seen, such as the curling iron, book, broken bowls or child, but in the unseen, unknown and unexpected. This could be in the joy a child brings, the love expressed in a handmade bowl, the long term view of inspirational stories and the journeys of growth and love through giving and receiving. Each child is a gift, with a particular story, genetic material and experience of life. Each child has their own gifts and also imperfections, some obvious and seen as in a physical condition or delayed developmental milestones, others not seen as in emotional struggles. There is no knowing how a child’s life will unfold, but with time together, sharing love and life experiences, we find the treasure in each child.
At this Christmas time of giving and receiving gifts, let us be open to the unexpected surprises and unknowns in each gift, including our children. Being open may not always follow the hopes of our imagination but there is greater value in learning to appreciate the surprise and unexpected gift in each child. Each and every child, no matter the wrapping or contents is our most treasured gift.