It's Christmas and I'm in a happy place. It appears that three of the Christmas gifts intended for family members will be no shows. Instead of stressing over it, I've given my husband and children fair warning that the season of giving may be extended a few days or weeks. They know I can't control the lousy weather that has gripped much of the Midwest and Northeast this month. Nor can I control the mail or package delivery services. Their compassion is about the best gift they could give me.

All this gift-giving gets a little crazy some times. Gifts are supposed to be tokens of our love and affection. They're supposed to be offered with a giving heart. But some gifts are exchanged out of a sense of obligation. That's the worst kind of gift.

Some of the best gifts I have received over my lifetime weren't found under a Christmas tree. They were gifts of time. They were unexpected kindnesses. They were lessons. They are my memories of time spent with my husband, my children, family members, friends and mentors.

My mom, of course, was my first mentor and teacher. One of the most important things my mother taught me — and continues to model — is gratitude. Every gift is acknowledged with a handwritten note. When we were children, she impressed upon us the importance of being grateful for what we have and expressing thanks to those who had remembered us with a gift, card or their kindness.

Another important mentor in my childhood was my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Smith. She actually enjoyed junior-high age children — to the point that she would drive a carload of us an hour away to eat lunch and see the sights. When my father died about two years ago, she and a small group of volunteers from the church prepared and hosted a lunch for the family and friends. What a lovely gift of service.

One of my favorite mentors growing up was Mrs. Silver, a kindly librarian at our county library. She took an interest in helping me find books that were engaging and age appropriate. Her recommendations were golden, and each time I'd return a book, she'd ask me what it was about and what I thought of it. It was her crafty way of determining whether I had actually read the book. I never let her down.

I have been shown profound kindnesses in adult life, too. I'll never forget the Christmas when my purse was stolen from my car. I was picking up my daughter from day care and left my purse in my unlocked car, rationalizing that "I'll only be a minute." In that "minute," my pocketbook was lifted, along with a few hundred dollars in cash. I had cash on hand to buy Christmas presents, thinking I could do my shopping faster if I wasn't fumbling with the checkbook (back in the days when merchants accepted checks). When my friends at the Deseret News heard about it, they gave me a new wallet — brimming with cash. Talk about unconditional love.

As my teenager becomes increasingly invested in friends, I've learned how precious family time can be. One of our treasured Christmas traditions is gathering for a reading of "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg. It lasts only a few minutes, mind you, but the entire household comes to a halt for this ritual. I love to watch the expressions on each family member's face as the story unfolds. It's a lovely tale about believing in Christmas. (I'm certain that Mrs. Silver would have recommended it had it been available when I was a child.)

Professionally, one of the best gifts I receive are thoughtful comments from readers. Some people upbraid me. And sometimes I have it coming. Others send verbal bouquets when they have enjoyed something I've written. It's alternately flattering and humbling, but I feel as though it keeps me honest.

What I'm getting at — if you've hung in this long — is the nature of gift-giving. If the past is any sort of guide, I will receive some lovely, thoughtful gifts today. I will cherish many of them for years to come. But the memories burned into my memory and my heart will be more of the variety of a kind word or a deed — the kind of gift I endeavor to give more often.

Merry Christmas!

Marjorie Cortez, who believes the true heroes of the season are our underappreciated snowplow drivers, who help us get to where were are going, and sanitation workers, who clean up when the party is over, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer. E-mail her at [email protected].