Discovering the gift of giving

By Josi Kilpack

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Mom had taken him to the thrift shop, and he’d picked the clothes out himself. A pinkish-purple sweatshirt and a black velvet shirt. My 14-year-old self was horrified when I ripped off the wrapping paper. My mom let him choose clothes for me? Seriously? And yet, because I knew how hard I had worked on Jeni’s mismatched-button-pajamas, I knew how hard Mike had worked on choosing my gift. I looked up at him and saw his bright blue eyes and brilliant smile — I can still see them today.

“I knew you really liked clothes, Josi, and when I saw these, I knew you would love ’em.”

Take in the eyes. Take in the smile. Remember the relief and pride you felt when Jeni liked your gift. I smiled. I even hugged the little belly-button picker. “I love them, Mike. They’re perfect.”

They weren’t perfect.

I could see right away that the black velvet shirt was too small, not that I’d have ever worn it in a bazillion years even if it had fit. The sweatshirt was my size, but it wasn’t right. I told him again how much I liked it, though, and he flashed that brilliant smile at Mom as if to say, “I told you so.”

Sometime over the next few days, my mom pulled me aside to tell me how excited Mike had been to buy the gifts. She told me she knew they weren’t really my style, but Mike had been certain I would love them. He was wrong, of course, but did that make the gift any less given?

Did my getting the buttons wrong, not to mention the fact that high-school seniors don’t really go for red hearts on white flannel jammies, make my gift any less given?

The pinkish-purple sweatshirt actually turned out quite serviceable. I cut off the ribbing at the wrists, neck and waist, turning it into a slouchy sweatshirt, kind of like the ones Jennifer Beals wore in "Flashdance," which would have been my favorite movie if my mom had ever let me watch it. I’m not sure if Mike realized I’d altered it, but I have a very distinct memory of him seeing me wear it a few weeks after school was back in and saying, “That’s the shirt I got you. I knew you’d love it.”

I put the black velvet shirt in my “trunk,” the locked box where I kept my treasures, with the vague idea that I might make it into a pillow or stuffed animal one day — the velvet was fun to run my hand over. I never made a pillow. When I was packing up my youth in the days before I got married, I sent it back to the thrift store it had come from several years before. Little did I know that Mike would be dead within two years. I wish I’d kept that shirt.

As a mother, I have not had the self-discipline to create the moment my parents would never have wished for us. I can look back now and see how hard that year must have been for them.

I can admire the brave faces they put on and the “This will be fun!” brush they’d used to paint the trial they were facing. I’m not sure my children have learned to receive the way I did from that Christmas, but I hope that somewhere amid my limitations, the black velvet shirts of their childhood will plant the seeds they need to one day look back and see beyond the moment.

I hope they learn to receive. Only then will they ever know what it is they’ve been given.

Here are more Christmas experiences from Mormon authors:

"Lt. Shumway survived hate and despair on Guadalcanal to find love, light, hope and joy" by Shawn D. Moon

"Finding Jesus in the nativity" by Emily Freeman

"Finding Christmas bliss" by Lisa Mangum

"The kitty cat Christmas" by Karen Tuft

"Woman received gift of music one Christmas season" by Michele Ashman Bell

Josi S. Kilpack is the author of a series of culinary mysteries along with other novels. She is also a mother of four. Her website is at www.josiskilpack.com.

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