Sunday, December 20, 2009

Give and Receive

Over a week ago, a gift was left on our doorstep. A large package of Pampers Swaddlers. Size 2.

Just the right size. Our favorite brand. And perfect timing. I was just about to gulp down another giant order @ but now I could wait one more week.


Taped to the diapers was a small envelope addressed to our family.

The card was gussied up in curly letters ("It's Fancy!" Eliza observed) and signed by "Some Secret Elves."

Inside? A very generous gift card to Target.

Hmmmm.... someone knew our needs (even to the weight of our babies). And they gave a thoughtful gift that would go a long way. Anonymously.

We were pretty touched. (If you are reading this Secret Elves... Thank you!)

I began to think about the Lord's words in Matthew. That thine alms may be in secret...

There's something so pure and right about secret giving. The right hand planning and doing while the left hand knows nothing. Sharing ourselves without any thought of recognition or reward. Doing our alms in secret so the Magnificent Creator, the Father of Lights, can bestow His gifts upon us. Openly. (Matthew 6:4)

That sounds more attractive than a few seconds of fanfare from individuals who, no offense (I include myself) care mostly about how they are perceived - not you.

But sometimes I justify the sound of my trumpet. I do it without thinking. And amid the noticing and noise I welcome the glory. I have my reward.

Do my alms in secret, however, and my soul fills with the unsullied joy of giving. I am happy for all the right reasons. I have no expectations for reciprocity.

And the receiver? Happy too. No uncomfortable scramble to pay back, out-do, or match. The self-imposed feeling of debt completely eliminated.

In an essay by American preacher William Willimon called The God We Hardly Knew, Willimon writes about how we react to a gift.

"Now, what is the first thing we do in response? Right. We try to come up with a gift to give in return...Because we don't want to feel guilty. We don't want to feel indebted...By giving us a gift, this person has power over us."

Power over us. Something to think about.

So Monday evening we went to a neighbors' home to join them for cookie decorating and a Christmas lesson for the children. The wonderful Mom who planned everything taught the children about giving to others in secret. She prepared a beautiful plate of cookies for us to deliver to someone in the stealth of dark. We were to take the cookies home and accomplish our task as soon as possible.

The boys were tired and fussy so we hurried home and put them to bed. An hour later we finally had the girls down and we crashed onto the couch. I pulled the cookie plate out of the bag and left it on the stovetop to deliver some time the following day.

How I would manage a little trip out of the house I wasn't sure yet, but deliver it, we would! I was in the spirit of secret alms! It would be a great lesson for my girls and I was determined to make it happen.

The next morning a friend came around the corner to visit.

Why is it that phone calls, visitors, and any attempt at adult conversation spawns mutiny (and mischief) among the ranks?

In between our smattering of feminine talk, I changed a diaper, rescued one twin from the Hulk Hogan body slam of another, pulled out crayons and papers for distraction, turned down story time, brushed tugging paws off my pants a jillion times, and noticed (after she left) that I had pureed prunes all over the collar of my white shirt. Nice.

While closing the door behind her, I glanced sideways to see what my girls were doing. They appeared to be... Hiding? Yes. Under the kitchen table. And was that crayon I saw decorating the kitchen tiles? Um hmmmm... green, red, and purple. How festive! And the plate of cookies intended as a secret alm? It was no longer on the stovetop. It was on the floor.

And it looked like this.


Notice the charming note. "Love from your secret friends." Crumpled. Some kind of love. All that remained were crumbs, half-eaten sprinkle stars and little girl germs. Nothing suitable to give.

I shook my head. I couldn't even get a ready-made cookie plate out the door and into the hands of someone besides my own children! So much for teaching them about secret alms.

So I thought some more. About giving. And receiving.

Willimon goes on to say that he believes it's more difficult to receive than to give. But the receiving he writes about is the receiving of Christ himself.

The Nativity story, he explains, is not really a story about gifts, wise men, and our "alleged generosity." It's not about striding into Bethlehem self-sufficient, arms loaded with offerings. It's about standing before the little King empty-handed, needy, dependent. Humbly coming to the stable wanting. In poverty. In debt.


Me. Definitely poor in spirit. Undeniably in need.

So I resolved to make a replacement plate of cookies. I planned to follow through with our task and teach my girls about giving in secret. I also determined to think more about celebrating a genuine Christmas. I mean sluffing off this air of self-sufficiency and pride. Recognizing how beggared I really am. How desperately I need that tiny babe in a manger.

We all need Him.

Tonight Eliza came upstairs for story time with a pink polka-dot blanket hair-clipped under her chin. In her arms was a baby doll swaddled perfectly in blue.


"Mom. I'm Mary. And I've brought Jesus. We can celebrate his birth tonight. He's come to join us!"

She turned a diaper box over and gently placed baby Jesus on top. She kissed his forehead then hopped onto the couch.

"And tomorrow we can give him our gifts!" she exclaimed.

Sweet girl. You are so right. He wants to join us, doesn't he? But will we receive Him? Will I give Him the gift He really wants? Will I give up what's necessary to have a heart more like His?



Let earth...

Receive her King.

"Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come in their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."

- Oscar Romero


  1. this is just a great reminder of the beauty of secret service and sharing.

    the photos of your dear hearts are precious.

    i love sharing a little bit of your life dear girl. xox

  2. Aliza is such a sweet girl. And what a super surprise secret Santa! Lucky! I love too Cath how you keep it real with the prunes on the shirt unbeknownst to you..makes me feel like I'm not the only one!

  3. Cristie - I love sharing a bit of your life too! I enjoy every poem!

    Ang - You mean I'M not the only one?? Walking around with prunes on my shirt? Or spit up drooling down my back? Phew! Loved your comment. Thanks Ang!

  4. I tried to write a post about my mom because she exemplies this very quality (secrect service). I should have checked here first. So beautifully written (as always).

    And that picture of the mostly eaten cookies,

    What a beautiful little family you have!


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