The holidays are supposed to be of reflection, gratefulness, thanks, forgiveness, family, and lots and lots of materialistic filler for life. I have been blessed to never “need” for anything in my life. I remember “needing” that Easy-Bake oven when I was a child, but as I grew older and learned to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘want’, I became more grateful everyday for never being concerned about needing anything. I once remember a time when my mother told us she had received a pink slip and was being laid off. I was concerned for about 24 hours that I would have to quit my dream of going to college and get a job. It was only 24 hours where I was concerned because her company contracted her for 3 months through their transition and then kept her on for another 4 years until she left for a better job. I never had to give up my sports, my music, or any of my fun, we kept going on vacation, and that one moment in time was lost and forgotten (until this moment).
Growing up without ‘needs’ also came with a gratitude and understanding that not everyone in the world lives the kind of life that I was blessed to have. Mother set a tradition that twice a year we would do a give back that would give us a perspective into the lives of those less fortunate. Every year as we picked and argued over who was getting the newest or coolest backpack and as we scoured over all the school supplies options at the store, we were also reminded of children our age who didn’t get choices, and who without our donation of a “Backpack Giveback” probably wouldn’t have school supplies. It hit particularly close to home in 5th grade when a fellow classmate turned out to be 2 years older than me, and when I asked ‘Why?’, she shared that her family had lived out of a car the year before and so she couldn’t enroll in school. I never thought about the kids who were receiving the backpacks that I was packing, or that they could possibly be sitting next to me in the classroom. This reflection also came every year at Christmas time when we would pick a Christmas Angel off the tree at the mall and buy them things that in our opinion as children were ‘not fun’ gifts, but were ‘needs’ for kids who didn’t have the luxuries like new socks or warm coats that we took for granted.
These traditions have followed me into adulthood, and as I now buy gifts with my own income and give thanks for my blessings of a great career, I am more aware of the blessings to continue to never need. My parents gave us the world, and made Santa letters and wish lists a reality. There were often presents under the tree that I didn’t even think I wanted until I opened them. My parents rarely said no to anything, and it was no different at Christmas. We never needed for anything, and we often didn’t have a want for anything for long because it was fulfilled. Some may have called it spoiling, but I called it giving me the chance to understand grace in giving. As an adult, I appreciate what my parents did for me, and still do for me. Their lessons, and their choice to let us dream, and turn those dreams into reality, gave me grace. It gave me the ability to understand that generosity does not require reciprocation and that it should never be expected. I didn’t have to be good for Santa, I didn’t have to eat all my veggies, keep my room clean, and do all my chores to be rewarded. My parents shared a love of seeing us happy, and in return, we learned a love of seeing others happy.
The greatest lesson I ever received on grace and generosity was on a study abroad in Asia. I was invited to a birthday party of a fellow classmate (Jem). She was turning 15 years old and was having a small gathering at the karaoke parlor after school. It was my first party I was invited to in this foreign country, and I didn’t know her well enough to know what to give her, so I just grabbed some money from my wallet and put it in a card in which I wrote a poorly translated well wish greeting. It was the middle of the week and here we were singing American pop songs and drinking soda pop and eating junk food. When it was time for a small cake and presents, she opened mine and burst into tears. She had received trinkets and a shirt and some other small things from others who knew her well, and while mine was just a card, it brought her to tears. I had giving her $20 US Dollars, which I later learned was 1/5 of what her family made in a month. She didn’t want to take the gift and said she feared she would never be able to repay me for my generosity. In that moment, I learned the gift of giving, and the joy it brings not only to the receiver, but to the giver. That classmate had been saving for a year to buy a bicycle, which cost $15 USD, and here I was, giving her enough money to buy it plus some. I didn’t expect her to give me anything back, I knew I would be long gone from the country before my birthday would come. I just wanted her to have something that she could use. Even though I didn’t directly go and buy her a bike, that response to a gift gave me the ability to understand that the greatest gifts are given without expectations.
My passion for giving became a part of every fiber of my being. As I grew older, I noticed my mother’s giving as not just lessons, but part of her life. Her passion for her non-profit, and her continuously giving state of being, instilled a passion within me and gave me a purpose, because it felt like it was genetic, giving was part of our family blood line. It really isn’t the case because it feels like there are more selfish beings in my family than there are giving ones, but watching my mother help others by giving time, money, compassion, no matter their circumstance, made me want to do the same.
The way I give was brought on by the way my life has been touched. It also has boundaries, set by the way I have been burned. While giving means not expecting anything in return, I felt betrayed when I was deceived into feeling compassion for a human being who didn’t deserve it, and I gave to someone who was took advantage of it. While my mother enjoys being on the front lines, I prefer giving through organizations where I can’t feel an attachment or emotional connection to the receiver. I give to organizations that I deem responsible for delegating funds and products. It helps me feel content that my giving is going to someone in need, and is going to someone who will never know where it came from or take advantage of it. Boundaries are needed in my giving, reciprocation is not.
Giving gifts means receiving nothing in return, and while I often give to those in need, I thoroughly enjoy giving to those who I know will just enjoy receiving something. I get the gift of being surrounded by friends who have touched my life in some way; whether they know it or not; who are blessed with children who have the innocence to not expect anything. Their joy, brings me joy, their excitement is innocence that only lasts for a short span of a lifetime. It is a wonderment to many why I enjoy the experience of giving, why I would rather spend my money on someone else than myself, but it can’t be explained. It can only be experienced in the moment.
The best thing about gift giving is letting someone know they are being thought about. I have been lucky enough to be thought about throughout my entire life. I have been lucky to have friends who send me random post cards. I am blessed to have family who is always going to be there to lift me up. Most importantly, I will always have those moments where my life was touched in simple smiles and grand gestures or something in-between . Those moments, are my life gifts. Those moments are someone thinking about me, and with that gift, I want to pass on to others that I am thinking about them. That truly is the greatest gift. That is the purpose of all giving.