Some of my most vivid Christmas memories include the image of a Salvation Army Angel Tree. I remember journeying through the mall with my mom in search of that modest, yet magical tree, and after we'd picked a couple flimsy paper tags from its branches, we'd hurry over to Target and purchase the items listed on them. I remember the specific items we bought to give away – Legos, dolls, and jeans.
There was something special about that tree – it held so much hope – for those whose names adorned it and for those of us who stood before it.
And that hasn't changed.
When my daughter and I dropped off gifts at a slightly different version of the Angel Tree than what I remember, hope flowed from both sides. Hope that whatever was lacking would be supplied. Hope that need would be replaced with plenty. Hope that physical, emotional and spiritual deficits would be overcome for everyone involved. Hope that joy would make an appearance during what, for many, can be a difficult time of year. And hope that somewhere in the giving and receiving, the glory of Jesus would be apparent.
Now, when I was growing up, we didn't have much. Our Christmases back then weren't fancy. There were no “it toys” under our tree. I knew that none of my gifts would be the envy of my classmates. And while there wasn't always enough to give away, my mom made sure that when there was, we did just that.
Perhaps that was one of the greatest gifts she could give me – the understanding that Christmas wasn't just about receiving. Or just about me.
I can't recall much about the gifts I received as a child. In fact, there is only one that stands out in my memory – a doll that I desperately wanted. And thanks to her slightly used and therefore more affordable condition, she was waiting for me under the Christmas tree that year. To me, the memory of the special gift is still worth something, but the gift itself no longer is.
It turns out that the only gift I received as a child that has held its value is the gift my mother gave me in teaching me how to give to others. It's a gift that will never wear out.
But if I can be honest for a moment, it's also a gift that I don't put to use as often as I should – or even as often as I want to. I get caught up in myself and all the things I think will make me happy. I become trapped by my naturally selfish disposition and tend to do more for myself than for others.
And yet, standing before that little tree with my daughter reminded me that the warmth, the joy, and the excitement associated with receiving are multiplied tenfold when I opt to give instead. I realized that the gifts I thought would make me happy as a child have long been forgotten, but my memory continues to shine a spotlight on the gifts I gave with the hope of making someone else happy – proof that giving has a greater impact than receiving.
Yes, I want my kids to have fond memories of Christmases spent in the glow of our family Christmas tree – the anticipation, the twinkling lights, the gifts chosen especially for them. I want them to remember the joy found in the piles of tattered wrapping paper that litter the floor on Christmas Day. But I don't want the joy of receiving to overshadow the joy of giving.
It's the giving that I hope will be highlighted on the reel of their Christmas memories.
And it's the giving that I hope will become their most precious gift.