When You Want to Find the Perfect Gift

Aletheia's PresentsThis Monday marks the start of a beloved Christmas tradition in my house: Chris’s Ten Days of Christmas. Every year starting on December 15th, my husband gets to open one present each day (sometimes two when he get’s snoopy) leading up to Christmas.

It’s a tradition that’s become rather legendary. Year after year our friends and family look at Chris, and all his presents, and think him completely spoiled. Honestly he is. But as his wife, I don’t mind. Chris spoils me all year long, and I love the chance to make him feel loved and special, to speak his love language of gifts.

This year, our oldest daughter is joining in the fun. This week, Aletheia and I went shopping at the dollar store for our “Honey.” With money from her piggy bank she made a list of items to shop for, got her gifts with a little help from mom, and came home to wrap them all by herself. It was awesome fun to watch her go. To watch her purchase and prepare gifts for her daddy and other people she loves.

MaryThe love language of gifts is a big deal in our family. My husband loves to give, and like a little kid on Christmas morning he also loves to receive. And now, what a joy it is to see our little girl following in his footsteps.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the idea or the pressure of finding the perfect present. Something tangible, something bought, something wrapped and stuffed beneath the tree. But the art of giving is so much more.

I n his book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman explains that everyone has one or two love languages that resonate more deeply than others.

According to Chapman the five love languages include:

Acts of Service

Words of Affirmation

Quality Time

Physical Touch

and Gifts

Our strongest love language not only determines how we best receive love from others but also impacts how we are most likely to show love to others.

When it comes to Christmas giving consider each person on your list. How do they often show love to the people around them? What sort of ‘gift’ would most likely speak love to them?

Personally a gift that speaks volumes to my heart isn’t a present under the tree but the chance to go write for a few hours. For my birthday my mom watched my girls for a whole day so I could do just that. It was the best present she could possibly give me.

When we take the time to observe the people we love and find what really makes them tick we can often give to them in ways that are far more lasting and far more meaningful than anything bought from a store.

NativityThe best gifts are gifts that speak to the heart, that say, essentially, “Hey, I noticed this about you. I saw this need or sensed that unspoken desire, and found a way to fill it.”

These are the gifts that echo the One Gift we celebrate at Christmas. The One Gift need wasn’t placed under a tree but inside a manger. The One Gift that came and met the need of a lost and broken world, that filled the deepest desire of every human heart.

When it comes to love languages, Jesus speaks them all, and He speaks them straight to our hearts. He is the master of gifts. The master of all we enjoy.

This year, don’t succumb to the pressure of finding the perfect gift. Succumb to His example.

Be the gift. Meet the need. Fulfill a heart’s desire.

Speak the language of Manger Love. The language that swaddles everything in billowing folds of grace.

The Coat in the Closet

For my eighteenth birthday my boyfriend, now husband, gave me a fur coat. He wasn’t rich. He was in love, and he wanted me to have something special, something luxurious, something fit for a queen so he worked his tail off in order to be able to give me this gift.

Despite the love and thoughtfulness behind his gift, I’m sad to say, that for years the beautiful coat he gave remained in our closet for years. Almost fifteen years later, the coat continues to hang in our front door closet, neglected and unworn.

It’s not that I don’t love or appreciate my husband’s gift. In many ways it’s precious to me. But somehow, whenever I try to wear it I feel conspicuous, silly, and awkward. My husband has told me time and again that he thinks I look beautiful whenever I wear my coat, but I struggle to believe him.

A few weeks ago my husband and I had a conversation about the coat and for the first time in fifteen years I told him the truth.

“I just don’t like it,” I said, trying ever so hard not to hurt his feelings. “It kills me to say that because I know how hard you worked to give it to me. I know how special it is, but I don’t know…sometimes I wonder what would happen if we tried to trade it in. Maybe find something more my style.”

He was quiet for a minute before saying, “We could do that. It makes me sad and I think you’re crazy, but I’d rather you have a coat you’ll actually use, rather than one that just hangs around in a closet.”

A few days later, Chris and I went to the shop where he bought my coat all those years ago. The saleslady admired my coat and looked up the trade in value. While she was incredibly helpful and happy to discuss our options I could tell she thought I was crazy. I knew she couldn’t understand why I would willingly trade my beautiful blue fox fur for something far less valuable.

Chris and I decided to take some time to consider our options and come back another day. When we got home he took a picture of me in the coat and sent it to our friend in a text message.

Jen thinks she doesn’t look good in this coat, he wrote. Can you give us your honest opinion? 

Seconds later our friend wrote back. She looks glorious! Blue fox is rare and exquisite!

Rare and exquisite?

As I read the words from my friend I knew God was using her to speak to me. “Don’t you see?” He seemed to say. “Don’t you know how precious you are to me? Don’t you know that in my eyes, you are rare and exquisite too?”

In that moment my heart for the coat began to change.

Fur Coat

Wearing my coat on the night we got engaged

I thought of our trip to the store. I thought of Chris walking the aisles of all those coats and picking one just for me. I thought of all the years he’s loved me, all the notes and gifts he’s given. And for the first time I could see this coat wasn’t a onetime expression of his love, but a reflection of our love story’s greatest theme: The theme of extravagant love for God, for each other, and for others.

The love my husband has for me is, in and of itself, a rare and exquisite gift. It is extravagant. It is a reflection of God’s love for us.

And I’ve taken both for granted.

Just like the coat in my closet how many times have I passed by God’s gifts, God’s countless expressions of love for me and failed to recognize how rare and exquisite they are?

How many times have I let my insecurities and shortcomings keep me from the extravagant gift of His love?

How many times have I failed to treasure and use His gifts or thought it better to trade them in for something far less valuable, less satisfactory?

The warmth of a fur coat…

The smell of a lemon…

The sound of my daughter’s voice…

The sight of a rose in full bloom…

My husband’s strong hand in mine…

A love story that lasts through the ages…

His one and only son…

His endless gifts are extravagant. His love? It’s the most exquisite thing I know.

They aren’t to be taken for granted. Tucked away in the closet, buried, neglected, unnoticed. They are to be used, valued, treasured. They are the theme of His love story for us. A reflection of His greatest gift. A reflection of His, the greatest, love.

This Valentine’s Day may you be reminded of God’s extravagant gifts, of His rare and exquisite love. May you pull them from the closet and drown in their warmth. May you know that you’re His treasure. May you treasure Him in return.

And just in case you were wondering, I think I’ll keep the coat.

Today Was A Fairy Tale

Snow ShineOnce upon a time there was sunshine and snow…

A couple weekends ago, during the worship service at my church, we sang the old but familiar hymn, Jesus Paid It All.

Later that week while fixing lunch for my family I found myself singing the words,

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe.

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed…

As I sang the last line I glanced out my window and stopped mid-stanza. Outside the sun gleamed warm and bright against the snow that filled our yard. Snow so white and brilliant with sunshine, it hurt my eyes to look at it.

“…He washed it white as snow.

The words rang from my soul.

As I stood and stared at the scene out my window, at the snow, at the splendor piled deep in our yard, truth piled deep in my heart.

In the middle of my day, in the middle of apple peelings and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, God gave me a visual of what this song is all about. I felt Him, and sensed Him, and heard Him say, “This song is for you. This moment, for you. This snow, this beauty, all for you. A picture of how I see you.”

If you’re like me, living in the great white north, take a moment and look out your window. Really look. Look at the snow. Look at blankets of white and flakes that sparkle like diamonds.  

If you don’t get to enjoy the snow like I do, then Google it. For just a moment forget about emails, and Facebook, and Pinterest, and scroll through pictures of snowy white mornings or winter landscapes.

And see for yourself. Know it down deep that this picture, this beauty, is a reflection of you. A picture of His work in your heart.

It’s what He sees when He sees you.

Sweet friends, may you wake up this day to the fairy tale found in the radiant beauty, the awestruck truth, of a winter wonderland and a heart washed white as snow.

Every Gift

My family's beautiful Christmas tree.

My family’s beautiful Christmas tree.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

I’ve always loved this verse and during the holidays it seems to be everywhere.

Yet somehow I’m always a bit puzzled by the ending. “…coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows?” I’ve often found myself wondering what this means, and how does it relate to God and his good and perfect gifts. I feel like I’ve never quite understood how the two parts of this verse go together.

What I do know is that the beginning of my New Year is sure to be marked with changes.

For five years my husband, girls, and I have shared a roof with my mom and dad. While this sort of arrangement may spell out disaster for some families it has always and only spelled out blessing for me and mine.

And starting this January, our time together is coming to an end, at least for the time being. My dad has accepted a job that is relocating both he and my mom to North Carolina. It’s a position that will last for at least six months with the possibility of a more permanent position to follow.

To say the least our future as a household is a bit uncertain.

When I look back at the years we’ve spent together, and the moments that have transpired within the walls of this house, all I can see are gifts:

Bringing both my babies home from the hospital…

Mom’s holiday (or weeknight) dinners around the table…

Dad’s tea parties with my girls…

Birthday parties…

Barbecues on our back porch…

Mom’s special talent for rocking my girls to sleep…

Walks around the block on mild summer evenings…

Movies, football, and basketball games on cold winter nights…

Goodnight kisses, “Welcome Home,” hugs, laughter, tears, and, sweet, sweet memories…

My dad's beautiful for gift for wrapping presents.

My dad’s beautiful for gift for wrapping presents.

Gifts that I’m learning to hold in an open hand, freely given, freely accepted, freely given away.

Gifts that were given for a time and purpose.

Gifts that were never meant to last forever.

And that verse in James, it hits me full to the brim with truth and meaning. In a life full of good and perfect gifts, the only unchanging gift I have is Christ.

There is an Alison Krauss song that I love with lines that speak to the tendency I have to hold onto the changing things of this world instead of God’s perfect love for me:

“Hurting brings my heart to you, my fortress in the storm,

When what I’ve wrapped my heart around is gone.

I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world,

When the One who loves me most will give me all.” (From “There is a Reason for It All”)

This Christmas, this year, instead of wrapping gifts for each other, what if we wrapped our hearts around Jesus? What if we looked at our lives and found that every good and perfect gift is from above but that God is the only gift unchanging?

James, he must have known how our human hearts get twisted, get wrapped around other things. And that’s why he reminds us, here, in this verse about gifts, in this verse about a world full of shifting shadows that God doesn’t change.

The giver of gifts, the Father of stars doesn’t change. Our souls can rest in him. Your soul can rest in him. In a season of gifts, and change, and blessings that come to an end, my soul can rest in him.

This Christmas, this year, in the gifts that are given, in the changes that come, in the blessings and shadows that shift and fade, may Christ be your good, your perfect, your unchanging gift.