giving good gifts


One bright fall day, my friend, Phyllis, and I traveled from our homes in Bad Tolz, West Germany to a nearby town that was known for its great shopping.  Each of us had been saving money from our already-meager budgets so we could spend the day acting like tourists rather than the army wives that we were.  Before we left, we exchanged all of our dollars into marks, purposing to not overspend, and off we went.

We had wandered down the brick sidewalks and past a woman’s gift shop, when I saw the most beautiful silk scarf I had ever seen.  The background of it was a grayish brown and sprinkled across, from corner to corner, were falling leaves in all the glorious colors of autumn.  I had never seen anything so wonderful, so luxurious, or so frivolous in my life.  I was a blue jean baby.  I dressed in anticipation of spit-up.  I had nothing in a single closet or drawer that was suitable to be worn with that scarf.  But I wanted it.

Phyllis and I continued shopping and every time I considered making a purchase, my thoughts drifted back to the store with the scarf so by lunch when we sat down and relaxed in a charming guesthaus, I had not made a single purchase. Phyllis began opening her bags and showing me Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers that had been made in East Germany, and a variety of chocolates beautifully wrapped in foil.  I had nothing to show for my morning’s shopping.

After lunch, we, again, went our separate ways and I thought I might have just one more peek at that lovely scarf before I decided how to spend my money.  I hurried back to the shop where the scarf was still neatly arranged across an attractively dressed mannequin.  I knew I had to have that scarf so I quickly paid every last mark in my purse.  The clerk chatted to me in mostly German as she carefully wrapped my package, though I kept hearing some English phrases I understood, like “it is exquisite” and “what lovely taste you have, madam.”

When I met Phyllis at her car, her arms full and her feet, very sore from the weight of her packages, she took one look at me with my one, small bag and laughingly said, “You know, Karen, my great aunt used to have a phrase for this sort of purchase.  She called it having a “hyacinth for the soul.”

I don’t recall that I ever wore that scarf very often.  I once had a raincoat that it matched but I was afraid to get my treasured scarf wet so I only draped it around the coat before I wore it, and then I put it back in the drawer, where I saw it every time I opened my dresser.  The scarf eventually burned in a house fire and I was really sad when it was gone, but I was never sorry that I had owned it.  It was a gift for me and I cherished it.

Sometimes I think about that scarf when my children share with me about some item they long to own.  I see their eyes light up in the same way that I know mine did every time I looked at that scarf.  Often their longings seem foolish to me, extravagant or just plain silly.  I find myself wanting to suggest something practical, something “educational,” something that I think they should love rather than what they do love.

One of the 5 important love languages is the giving of gifts.  Dr. Gary Chapman suggests that we need to give gifts often and especially at times when they are not expected.  He also reminds us that they are never to be given in exchange for something else, that those kinds of “gifts” aren’t really gifts at all, but rather, payment for services given.

I think it is also important that a gift reflects some sort of sacrifice, either in terms of money, of the time it took to choose the gift, or the time spent in making the gift. One thing I like to do in women’s groups at Christmas time is to draw names for a gift exchange but include the stipulation that the gift be something that was made by one person for another person.  Immediately, women begin complaining that they aren’t crafty or creative.  Then I suggest things like family recipes copied and assembled in a notebook or favorite Bible verses with your own devotional thoughts attached.  They catch on and once the gifts are exchanged, they begin to see that a gift made just for another person conveys love and care in ways that a dime store trinket can never do.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a simple but profound statement about parenting when he says in Matthew 7:11:  “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You see, Jesus is assuming that parents, even bad parents, give good gifts to their children!  We give gifts, sacrificial, unexpected, delightful gifts to our children because it paints a picture for them of the precious gift of eternal life that God the Father gave to us through His son, Jesus!

I would like to suggest that we each ponder the idea of giving gifts to our husbands and our children, a “hyacinth for their souls,” as an unexpected act of love for them. Perhaps we could start today!

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