Gifts of the Heart

Gifts of the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Gifts of the Heart

The love we give away is the only love we keep.

—Elbert Hubbard

In this hustle-bustle world we live in, it’s so much easier to charge something on a credit card rather than give a gift of the heart.

And gifts of the heart are especially needed during the holidays.

A few years ago, I began to prepare my children for the fact that Christmas that year was going to be a small one. Their response was, “Yeah sure, Mom, we’ve heard that before!” I had lost my credibility because I had told them the same thing the previous year, while going through a divorce. But then I had gone out and charged every credit card to the max. I even found some creative financing techniques to pay for their stocking stuffers. This year was definitely going to be different, but they weren’t buying it.

A week before Christmas, I asked myself, What do I have that will make this Christmas special? In all the houses we had lived in before the divorce, I had always made time to be the interior decorator. I had learned how to wallpaper, to lay wooden and ceramic tile, to sew curtains out of sheets and even more. But in this rental house there was little time for decorating and a lot less money. Plus, I was angry about this ugly place, with its red and orange carpets and turquoise and green walls. I refused to put money into it. Inside me, an inner voice of hurt pride shouted, We’re not going to be here that long!

Nobody else seemed to mind about the house except my daughter Lisa, who had always tried to make her room her special place.

It was time to express my talents. I called my ex-husband and asked that he buy a specific bedspread for Lisa. Then I bought the sheets to match.

On Christmas Eve, I spent $15 on a gallon of paint. I also bought the prettiest stationery I’d ever seen. My goal was simple: I’d paint and sew and stay busy until Christmas morning, so I wouldn’t have time to feel sorry for myself on such a special family holiday.

That night, I gave each of the children three pieces of stationery with envelopes. At the top of each page were the words, “What I love about my sister Mia,” “What I love about my brother Kris,” “What I love about my sister Lisa” and “What I love about my brother Erik.” The kids were 16, 14, 10 and 8, and it took some convincing on my part to assure them that they could find just one thing they liked about each other. As they wrote in privacy, I went to my bedroom and wrapped their few store-bought gifts.

When I returned to the kitchen, the children had finished their letters to one another. Each name was written on the outside of the envelope. We exchanged hugs and goodnight kisses and they hurried off to bed. Lisa was given special permission to sleep in my bed, with the promise not to peek until Christmas morning.

I got started. In the wee hours of Christmas morn, I finished the curtains, painted the walls and stepped back to admire my masterpiece. Wait—why not put rainbows and clouds on the walls to match the sheets? So out came my makeup brushes and sponges, and at 5 A.M. I was finished. Too exhausted to think about being a poor “broken home,” as statistics said, I went to my room and found Lisa spread-eagled in my bed. I decided I couldn’t sleep with arms and legs all over me, so I gently lifted her up and tiptoed her into her room. As I laid her head on the pillow, she said, “Mommy, is it morning yet?”

“No sweetie, keep your eyes closed until Santa comes.”

I awoke that morning with a bright whisper in my ear. “Wow, Mommy, it’s beautiful!”

Later, we all got up and sat around the tree and opened the few wrapped presents. Afterward the children were given their three envelopes. We read the words with teary eyes and red noses. Then we got to “the baby of the family’s” notes. Erik, at 8, wasn’t expecting to hear anything nice. His brother had written: “What I love about my brother Erik is that he’s not afraid of anything.” Mia had written, “What I love about my brother Erik is he can talk to anybody!” Lisa had written, “What I love about my brother Erik is he can climb trees higher than anyone!”

I felt a gentle tug at my sleeve, then a small hand cupped around my ear and Eric whispered, “Gee, Mom, I didn’t even know they liked me!”

In the worst of times, creativity and resourcefulness had given us the best of times. I’m now back on my feet financially, and we’ve had many “big” Christmases with lots of presents under the tree . . . but when asked which Christmas is our favorite, we all remember that one.

Sheryl Nicholson

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