The crèche figures are tissue-wrapped and packed inside the stable. The Sno-Babies are bubble wrapped and boxed. We managed to get Christmas decorations put away earlier this year. For some reason, I didn’t linger as usual, but packed them neatly away in their big tubs even before mid-January. It is as nice to return things to their normal places as it was, six weeks ago, to make space for angels, stars and shepherds.
There’s nothing like a crisp January day with sunshine and blue sky. There’s a white strip of jet traffic across the blue and birds are flitting from feeder to the tops of our very tall trees and back again. A deep breath of this air is like a tonic. I really enjoyed the two short January thaws we had, but anyone who has lived in NYS knows a thaw is only a gift on loan; winter always returns to snatch it away. And it surely did come back with gusto; both ice and snow along with wind. The temperature dropped 50 degrees from a Friday evening to Saturday morning, and I went from walking outside in sneakers and no jacket to my winter parka and boots. The cats looked stunned; “WHAT happened???” the expression on their furry faces clearly asks. And they shake their paws like Lady Macbeth, trying to cleanse her hands of blood. Some gifts --- snow and ice --- aren’t quite as welcome as others, but still good for the garden and our stamina.
Having just exited the Christmas season, we immediately think of gifts as delightful items wrapped in pretty paper and ribbon. An old Shaker song speaks of gifts a bit differently: “’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, ‘tis a gift to come ‘round where we ought to be and when we find ourselves in a place just right, we’ll be in the valley of love and delight…..” Gifts do not have to be things, but can be qualities of life. Those fortunate individuals who feel gratitude for the simple things of each day, have the gift of awareness and appreciation.
A member of our church, now deceased, used to encourage us to consider our gifts. Who listens with open heart and closed mouth? Who sings well or plays an instrument? Who brings life to any group? Who is able to keep a discussion on track? Who is perceptive about the needs of people? Who gardens with two green thumbs? Who is good with small children? Who shares life from a spiritual depth? Who makes great soup? Who doesn’t give in to complaining but exudes contentment?
So many insist that they have no talent --- no gifts. I do not believe that ---- of anyone. I think each of us was designed to contribute to this world from our very being. Some gifts may be splashier than others and attract more attention (painters, speakers, singers, composers, engineers, dancers) but all gifts are designer-originals and worthy. If we all would accept that, we might not have the two difficult extremes; people who exhibit swollen egos and those who feel worthless. Most of us have multiple gifts; it just takes some maturity to recognize them, and also to cease wishing for someone else’s gifts.
I spoke with a friend a few days ago; someone I haven’t seen face to face in many years. We spoke of the good times we’d had together and I reminded her of how infectious her laugh is; she can start a whole auditorium laughing. She said, after a moment: “I’d forgotten that!” I hope that Nancy keeps sharing her wonderful gift of laughter. Another friend comes to mind ---- she can’t (as far as I know) paint, dance or design skyscrapers ---- but wherever she is, there is a feeling of warmth, of real listening to one’s thoughts and she doesn’t forget. She notices and finds what people need, she shares her thoughts via small groups and she has been a mentor for me both in years past and still today. You can be sure that if you’ve shared a problem with Connie, she is praying for you. She has the gift of caring! And a young man I know, who is in management at a city hotel, is applauded by his co-workers because of his empathy and his consideration. Bringing harmony to a group of employees is no easy task, but David seems to have done that. Truly a gift! None of these individuals will make headlines or be up in neon lights ---- but they all make such a difference where it counts simply by being who they are.
So we need to adjust our thinking when it comes to gifts. Some of the very best ones aren’t wrapped in glitzy paper and ribbon; in fact, they aren’t wrapped at all; they are within. And we need to take seriously the realization that developing our gifts with integrity ---- whatever they are ---- brings us one step closer to a world with less pain and brokenness. “Life is the first gift, love is the second and understanding the third.” Marge Piercy*
One of my favorite things to do with kids in January, is to plant Paper-White Narcissus. We talk about how people grow, hopefully making adults who are fine people and how slow the process seems when one is five or seven or ten. Then we plant narcissus bulbs in stones with a little water, and the kids watch them zoom up into tall, aromatic, frilly blossoms. I tell them that narcissus can be a fast version of what happens to people, and we all can bloom---- or not! A lot of adults enjoy watching the process too. The fragrance can be a bit strong, but narcissus blooms look like spring ----- only three months to go!
With all the cold weather we’ve had, I’ve been very grateful for our woodstove. Our house has a perfectly good heating system but by itself, doesn’t offer the comforting warmth of a wood fire. I emerge in the morning, joints a bit stiff, and not very awake. If it’s a cold morning, Kerm usually has a fire made, and I can gratefully sink into the chair beside it, allowing the warmth to penetrate reluctant bones and muscles. Eventually I become fairly alert to the day. I like campfires too. A crackling fire outside when the night is cool --- perhaps with singing --- and certainly with marshmallows to toast ---- is just the very best way to end a summer or autumn day. Whoever it was among those early peoples, who managed to make fire ---- I hope they won the Aboriginal Nobel Prize.
Meanwhile, I hope you are all --- in whatever climate you find yourself now ---- enjoying January. And, I trust that you are filled with awareness of and gratitude for the gifts you have to share. If those of you I know well need to be reminded, I’ll be glad to enumerate them for you. ☺ “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, this would be giving as the angels give.” George MacDonald**
*Marge Piercy ---- American novelist, poet and social activist. 1936-----
**- George MacDonald ----Scottish writer, poet and pastor. Especially interested in fantasy literature and mentored Lewis Carroll. 1824-1905.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.