Presents of Mind

Dear Will:

Just by hanging around we have managed to live through over five dozen Christmases. For just a couple of humble heads, that’s a lot of dancing sugar plums. We figure that over the course of two lifetimes we have received hundreds of gifts around the holidays, some magical, some practical, most all of which, we hesitate to admit, we have already forgotten. (Except that thing you gave us that one time. We still have it and cherish it. Use it all the time. To this day we just love it. It’s our favorite.)

OK, in fairness, we’re not as sharp as once we were and our synapses fire only inconsistently at best. So maybe some really great stuff just sort of slipped out of our brains while we were trying to find our reading glasses. But try this experiment and see if you can do any better: Look around your home and see if you can identify more than, say, three or four things that you can associate with a specific Christmas giver. You don’t even have to limit it to what’s currently in your home. Open up whatever is left of your memory and scan all of the Christmases come and gone. How many of the dozens of presents you’ve received do you still recall to this day? Not that many, we’re betting.

Or if you think you can take it, here’s an experiment we do not actually recommend: Ask your spouse or kids or significant someone which gifts they remember getting from you over the years. When you do that, you’ll probably be thinking of a couple that you were certain you got just right. Look into their eyes anticipating the sparkle that will settle upon them as they recall the tenderness of the moment and the thrill of the receiving. Just don’t be surprised if instead they furrow their brows and admit that nothing immediately comes to mind. 

What you and your loved ones are more likely to remember are favorite holiday traditions, most of which have nothing to do with the stuff under the tree. Unsurprisingly, those are memories rooted in doing and feeling rather than getting. And before you know it, those memories may start to give way to the sounds of Whos down in Who-ville, singing their Christmas morning song. And perhaps you’ll think: Well, of course! It’s not about ribbons. It’s not about tags. It’s not about packages, boxes, or bags. Boris Karloff says as much every year about this time. And perhaps then your mind will drift to a dimly-lit stage where Linus is reciting from the book of Luke. And you’ll think: He’s been preaching that same sermon since the sixties, but somehow it never seems to fully land.

Which is why, when you finish reading these last few lines, you’ll still be tempted to put down this letter, open up your browser, and click on Gifts for Her—because you can never figure out what to give your mother who always says, with unquestionable sincerity, that she doesn’t really want anything but love and peace and common courtesy. (At this very moment, we are likely in the midst of doing something similar ourselves.) After all, the wrapping and the giving is a way of saying (poorly) a thing that words don’t properly convey. 

Those kinds of urges—to do something nice for those we love—we should always give in to, even when they lead us inexorably to Amazon. But after you BUY NOW, it will be even more worthwhile to ponder if there might be a better way. Because deep down you know there is. You just have to figure out what to do about it.

When you do, please let us know. Because we have this one friend who is impossible to shop for.

This letter is an imperfect way of expressing our love and wishing you holidays filled with the very best gifts of all. 


Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Settling for a Tonka Truck

Dear Will:

Today we celebrated my son Seth’s second birthday. Throwing a party for two-year-olds is a little tricky since they are as likely to become interested in their shoelaces as in the activity of the moment. Recognizing that we would not have a whole lot of attention span to work with, my wife and I designed a lot of activities that could go start-to-finish in a few minutes and which could be abandoned without consequence should our constituents wander off to play under the kitchen table. We also had the good sense to invite just one other two-year-old to the party.

Everything pretty much went as expected. I felt a bit like a sheepdog from time to time, but for the most part the kids got into it.  (One piece of advice: Next time you’re entertaining two-year-olds, skip the piñata.) When it came time to open presents, you can probably guess what happened: After opening the first gift (a giant Tonka truck), Seth was pretty much done. We kept foisting other presents upon him, but we could easily have stopped after the truck and he would have been perfectly happy. There are still a half a dozen other presents remaining to be opened, but to be honest Seth really couldn’t care less.

His indifference is to be expected, I suppose, but I admit to feeling a little disappointed. We got him some really great stuff (a real Radio Flyer tricycle, for example) but he’s willing to settle for much less. Now I realize the guilty parties in this little tableau are the eager-to-spoil parents rather than the content-with-what-he-has toddler, but nevertheless it occurs to me that the whole thing is in a small way emblematic of a common, eternal phenomenon.

I’ve got a pretty good hunch that our Heavenly Father has a lot He would like to give us—in fact, we are probably incapable of conceiving the enormity of it. But His ability to give is constrained by our ability to receive. In the Book of Mormon we read:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.  (2 Nephi 28:30)

I wonder how often I have prevented God from blessing me because I have not taken full advantage of that with which he has previously blessed me. I fear that my indifference has deprived me of greater blessings. And I wonder to what degree my own lack of faith in this life may prevent Him from bestowing upon me the unfathomable blessings of eternity that He has promised “those who love Him.”

I’d hate to settle for the Tonka truck when He is prepared to give me a Radio Flyer—if you know what I mean. It may be a lame analogy, but it seems relevant to me, especially as I consider how easily distracted I become in pursuit of my spiritual goals. I guess in the eternal scheme I’m the two-year-old, and I’m hoping that you’re more grown up than I. Here’s hoping, in any case, that you’re quick to acknowledge the ways in which God has blessed you, and that He may bless you much more in the months to come.