Christmas is a time for exchanging gifts. Though most gifts you're giving this year will probably be material, you may want to consider giving other gifts - much more enduring - that people will remember long after the holidays have faded. These are gifts people can't hold or touch. They are gifts of love.

And what are gifts of love? Says one person: "A gift of love is knowing a person's special idiosyncrasies and then recognizing them with a gift, a thought, or a gesture that shows your keen personal interest in him or her."Says another: "A gift of love is often a companion to sacrifice - a gift of water from a thirsty man, a gift of music from one who is afraid to sing, a gift of a visit from a busy person."

Says still another: "A gift of love is one that lightens the spirits, or changes a person's perception of himself, or affects the direction of his life. It is a gift that a person can remember in troubling times - one that will stand by him in all places and conditions."

What kinds of gifts of love could you give this year? Consider these possibilities:

- The gift of respect.

- The gift of emotional temperance.

- The gift of patience.

- The gift of expressing love openly.

- The gift of tolerance of differences.

- The gift of time and focus.

- The gift of gentleness.

- The gift of positive thinking.

- The gift of listening.

- The gift of forgiveness.

- The gift of humor.

- The gift of courtesy.

- The gift of appreciation.

- The gift of opportunity.

- The gift of believing in another.

- The gift of affection.

- The gift of encouragement.

- The gift of cherishing.

Giving a gift of love involves getting beyond the daily routines, schedules and tasks that drive us.

It means stopping - and putting into focus - the needs of another human being.

It means seeing that person through different lenses - seeing the hurts, the pains, and the beautiful but vulnerable child inherent in the other.

It means getting in touch with your innermost self and remembering the deep love - often obscured by stresses of the moment - you hold in your heart for that person.

And it means acting from the heart to give a gift of self that penetrates the heart of another.

The poignant and inspirational story of a Vietnamese orphan, told by Col. John W. Mansur in an article called "No Greater Love," illustrates the selfless depths at which a gift of love can be given.

The mortar rounds that landed in the small Vietnamese orphanage one terrible day killed several missionaries and children, and wounded several other children, including one 8-year-old girl.

The American Navy doctor and nurse who responded to the village's request for medical help via radio arrived in a jeep with only their medical kits. After establishing that the girl was critically wounded, and that a transfusion was imperative, they conducted a quick test that showed that neither American had the correct blood type, but several of the uninjured orphans did.

The doctor and nurse attempted through a smattering of high school French, pidgin Vietnamese, and much impromptu sign language, to explain to the frightened orphans that unless they could replace some of the girl's lost blood, she would surely die. They asked for a volunteer.

After a lengthy silence, up went a small hand slowly, wavering, finally to stand firm.

Heng, the orphan who volunteered, first lay stiff and silent throughout the ordeal of giving blood, but after some moments let out a shuddering sob. "Does it hurt?" the doctor questioned, to which Heng shook his head. But after a few seconds, another sob escaped, and another, despite Heng's efforts to stifle them with his fist.

Concerned, the medical team asked a Vietnamese nurse who had arrived to find out what it was that was so obviously troubling Heng. After a moment of speaking to the nurse, Heng stopped crying and looked questioningly at her. At the nurse's nod, a look of great relief spread over his face.

Explaining, the nurse said that Heng thought he was dying, having understood that the medical team had asked him to give all his blood so that the little girl could live.

"But why would he be willing to do that?" asked the Navy nurse, a question which the Vietnamese nurse repeated to Heng. Heng's answer? "She's my friend."