The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”

 

Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.

***

Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.

Guiding Principles

When I started planning the trip to France, I had no idea what I was doing.

I take that back. I knew two things. One, that my father had talked for a long time about going to the beaches of Normandy, and, two, that I was going to make that happen.

So I started planning the only way I knew, with economy and frugality at the forefront. It’s how my mother always did things. It’s how, of necessity, we did things with our children.

My neighbor set me straight. I had asked her about how to find a private guide, things to do in Paris, stuff like that because she traveled extensively.

“We got a real bargain on our airfare,” I told her. It had cost only about $500 per person to fly economy from Newark to Paris. I was pretty proud of myself for finding such a deal.

“You need to book a bed for your father,” she said. I had no idea such things existed on commercial airplanes. “This trip is all about him. Remember that.”

And I did. Book a “Biz Bed” — and remember her advice.

It became a guiding principle. When in doubt, think about what was best and most comfortable for him.

Hence staying at the Villa Lara because it had an elevator.

Hence doing only half day tours of the beaches. (It would have been more economical to hire Colin for full days, plus we could have covered more ground, but a half day of touring was plenty for my father.)

Hence forgoing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and choosing the Eiffel Tower. (Eiffel Tower is  much more wheelchair-friendly.)

Hence hiring the Paris Black Car to pick us up at the airport, drive us right to Bayeux, then pick us up again at Bayeux and get us back to Paris. (If we were all able-bodied, I probably would have looked into the train to save a few dollars.)

When I think about that advice and how we used it to guide us for everything — how we got around, where we stayed, where we dined, what activities we chose — I am so thankful for it.

Looking ahead to my trip to Croatia and Bosnia, I thought, I need another guiding principle. It added so much clarity to France.

The first part of my next trip is spending time with my friend, Leah, while exploring Dubrovnik and Mostar, and the second part is a work project in Bosnia with a team from our church.

We had a team meeting last week, and we had to say why we were going on the trip. I hadn’t clearly formulated my thoughts on that, but I have now.

For me, that trip is about investing in friendship.

Friendships, like every other relationship, take work and time. I’m looking forward to my time with Leah as an investment in my friendship with her. When we reach our work project, I’m looking forward to investing in time with the other members of our team, especially Amy. And, I’m looking forward to meeting new friends from a new place and investing in them.

The more I thought about it, the more excited about it I became — not the trip, but the purpose.

So much so, that I’m dedicating June to “Ulagati u prijateljstvo” which, Croatian means, “Invest in friendship.” Kind of like a jumpstart on Bosnia.

Today I’m sending a little package to a dear friend who’s going through a difficult situation. I made her a little card showing one rabbit helping another. She’ll understand what I mean.

Tomorrow, I have another little package almost ready to go.

They are investments.

I’m so excited for the next few months.