We are all looking for the perfect gift for the people in our lives. Here's a list for you to consider while you contemplate.
While it's fun to unwrap a toy or new outfit, often the fun of the new item wanes within a day or two. Memories, on the other hand, are etched into our minds. Here are a few ways to give the gift of memories this Christmas:
The Christmas my fourth child was a baby I skipped the gift-giving in our immediate family because running around looking for the perfect gifts with an infant, a toddler and two other kids didn't sound too appealing. That year we took our children forty-five minutes away to an indoor water park for several hours of fun instead of buying gifts. On the way home the kids told my husband and me they never needed presents again.
Because we have four children we rarely go to a movie while it is in the theater. As part of their Christmas gift, sometimes their grandma has included an outing for the whole family to go see a new movie over Christmas break. We go with her and she buys popcorn, too!
Last summer our family planned a two week driving trip so I could speak at churches in the western United States. A family friend brought over an envelope the day before we left with specific instructions about when we could open it. Imagine our delight when we reached Keystone, S.D. and opened the envelope to find not only a letter with some encouragement, but a twenty dollar bill so our family could have a treat at Dairy Queen. Believe me, we all remember well our night watching the lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore, then going to the Dairy Queen in Keystone for ice cream.
That's the kind of mystery and delight that lingers. Opening an envelope with the promise of fun to come builds the excitement. When the day arrives it's like opening the present all over again.
About a month ago I attended a mom's conference and heard Dr. Gary Chapman speak on his book, "The Five Love Languages." When I went home that night I asked our children which love language they preferred. My seven-year-old responded that she likes quality time, which broke my heart a little because as the youngest of four, she rarely receives quality time all by herself. A few weeks later while we were at the library she checked out several books by an author she really likes and told me, "I'm getting these so you can read them to me." Last Friday night I sat down with her and read four of them. It was a sweet time to cuddle next to her and read just to her.
This is an especially important gift if you have a widow in the family or a neighbor or a single or elderly person from your church you'd like to gift. An hour of your time visiting with them is so precious to them.
For nineteen years our family lived next to an elderly couple. This year the wife died and the husband was put in assisted living. Every Tuesday I go to see him. As I say good-bye I tell him to have a good day, and every week he responds the same. "I already have because you came to visit."
Perhaps you have a friend going through a particularly difficult time or because of family dynamics you haven't had much time to catch up. A coffee date is the perfect gift and usually blesses not only them, but you.
At a recent mom's Christmas party we broke into groups to discuss the issues that came up in our devotion for the evening. In the process of discussing I found out that many of our called workers would, more than anything, enjoy the gift of being invited over to enjoy a meal together. The meal isn't so much the issue; in fact, I was told pizza would be more than adequate, or even just appetizers. It's the idea of being invited to your home to partake in a meal and spend time with your family that is appealing.
The preconceived notion many of us have that our houses are too small or not tidy enough for our pastors or our children's teachers may be keeping us from showing hospitality to people who would love to share our lives and be encouraged by our fellowship.
This isn't just a good gift for our called workers. My mother-in-law is a widow. Cooking for one is not always fun or easy. It's nice to come to our house for a piece of lasagna or meatloaf, since making those things on her own would mean leftovers for more nights than she cares to think about.
And if you are a widow, what a perfect gift to give a family! Make a pan of lasagna and keep a piece or two for yourself and send the rest home with a mom who would cherish a break from cooking. I give two older ladies a ride to Bible study. Very often they get into the car bearing gifts of muffins or baked goods. It's fun for them to make those things and they have the time, but don't need a whole batch for themselves. Rarely do the baked good last more than a day with my family!
And a gift card for a sandwich shop or fast food place is the perfect gift for a family with children in activities. That will cover dinner for at least one of those hectic nights in the car.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to "Encourage one another daily" (3:13) and yet it isn't always something we do. Encouragement can be such a blessing to anyone.
I had walking pneumonia when I was pregnant with my fourth child. As my due date approached and the pneumonia sapped my strength I started wondering how I was going to make it through my labor. My godly long-distance friend who had been part of the experience listened to my fears, then sent a care package complete with a necklace that had a cross on one side and the word "Believe" on the other. I wore that necklace every day, even when I went to the hospital to deliver my daughter, as a reminder that God was my hope. During a dark chapter in my life, that encouragement brought hope and shifted my focus from the situation to God.
Everyone needs encouragement. Taking the time to write a letter or send someone encouragement for their situation in life can speak to them for a long time. To the elderly or a widow the encouragement may come in the form of a daily devotion book. To a parent it may be a note reminding them of the important work they are doing raising the next generation to know the Lord. To a called worker it may be an email letting them know just how much their work has impacted you. Or if you have an elderly family member in a care facility, a note and something to eat for the staff is a wonderful way to thank them for their effort and encourage them to keep doing a difficult job.
In Philippians the apostle Paul writes: "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (1:4-6).
What an honor for the Philippian congregation that the apostle Paul remembered them in his prayers! I'm not sure there is a better gift than this. My closest friends routinely ask how they can pray for my family or send me a note letting me know they are praying about an issue I've told them about. It's a great comfort to find someone else is praying for my children or my marriage or my ministry.
Take the time to pray for a family, specifically for areas you know they have, and then let them know that you have done that. Send your called workers or your friends an email letting them know that you are going to gift them this Christmas with prayer and ask what specifically you can pray for. Then, as you keep them in prayer, follow up. Ask them how the Lord has answered those specific prayers. It is more personal and time consuming than picking up a gift card or a box of candy, but it is meaningful and has both earthly and eternal rewards!
My prayer for you is that Advent and Christmas doesn't send you over the edge scurrying for the perfect gift. It's already been given with the birth of Jesus! Instead, I pray God works a good work in all of our lives so that we make the most of this opportunity to encourage, lift up and bless those around us.
Amber Albee Swenson is a forgiven child of God, and that's what she writes and speaks about. She has written four books. "Bible Moms: Life Lessons from Mothers in the Bible" and "The Whisper Theory" are in print. "The Bread of Angels" and "Ladies of Legacy" are currently in publication, hopefully to be released at the end of the year.