Call me an oddball, but I've never been a gift-giving conformist. The first and last time my husband and I exchanged traditional Christmas gifts was 1981. We purchased them in October, opened them in November and paid credit card bills till the following April. By our last payment, I barely remembered what we'd exchanged.
For the record, I have been receiver of a few noteworthy gifts: surprise trips with my husband, chocolate truffles made by our daughter, and special invitations from friends.
On the giving side, I've happily delivered concert tickets to girlfriends, played hostess for showers, and outfitted women in attire they wouldn't think to purchase for themselves.
For me, gifts that prove precious often transcend material purchases. My favorite gift of all -- one that brings magic to people -- is the gifting of forgiveness.
Here are a few examples.
When I was a child, I despised early bedtimes. By my ninth birthday, I announced that I wanted no presents and asked for a later bedtime instead. Angry and hurt by my mother's negative response, I decided to freeze her out. I'd limit my conversation to yes and no answers while still maintaining my manners.
The silent treatment went completely unnoticed. Within a day and a half, this former chatterbox felt ugly, miserable and weary.
Realizing the only one suffering was me, I gave up my offense. Anger required too much strength and ran contrary to my nature. Giving forgiveness to the situation returned me to harmony, even with the early bedtime.
A second experience with forgiveness occurred decades later at work. I accepted a new position and, in deference to my previous employer, took neither staff nor clients in the transition. An uphill challenge, the assignment required enormous efforts to set a firm foundation for a new company in an already established market.
Meanwhile, challenges mounted at home. My husband and I recently moved to a new house and took on a jumbo mortgage. We were soon surprised to find that normally stable tenants from both our income properties were defaulting on their rent. We now covered three monthly mortgages instead of one. Finally, my husband's income dropped when his largest client took its growing business direct.
The moment for things to hit the fan would ultimately arrive at work. While still struggling to build our operation, I learned that a large contract I'd negotiated turned sour. The client had completely misrepresented his business: The account produced a trickle instead of its anticipated roar.
The shock of being duped set in on a Wednesday afternoon. Phoning the client for an explanation, I was informed he'd be out of town for a week.
I saw red. My fears reached a crescendo and focused on a single individual: the blond haired, 30-something client who coaxed me into pricing he didn't deserve.
Already stressed, I allowed his misrepresentation to turn me to panic. I imagined the business reputation I'd worked years to achieve vanishing into thin air. How dare this guy take away my good name?
By Saturday morning, I stood alone in my shower as water pelted over my exhausted frame. Drowning in a blackened world and completely unable to see light, I uttered a quiet prayer of desperation.
Words arose from a deep abyss in response: This will kill you. He's not even aware.
Shocking my senses, the words brought welcome enlightenment. An unforgiving state of mind was metaphorically killing my soul. I could see that my client didn't know it and likely didn't care.
Immediately, I dropped my offense, forgiving my client and myself.
Stepping from the shower, I felt heaviness begin to lift. A small smile returned to my face.
My outer circumstances hadn't changed. But the gift of forgiveness was allowing me to emerge from insanity. I could return to work a less fearful manager, administrator and wife.
I'm reminded of a final story from years ago involving a precious female friend.
Struggling with unresolved anger against her mother and deep embarrassment over her husband's behavior, this otherwise beautiful woman found herself confronting hidden fears that were long denied. In the midst of her conflict, I became an unintended -- if not safe -- target for her anger. Unable to see through the pain, she remained blindly bound to her fears and chained to her offense.
One night, I had an extraordinary dream. In it, I saw the woman whose fear kept her from remembering who she was. Emblazoned across a piece of gold, three striking words appeared that would remind her of a lost identity.
Months later, this burdened woman received an anonymous gift sent from somewhere out-of-state. A jeweler's box revealed a 14-carat gold wedding band inscribed with the same words I'd seen in the dream: beautiful, perfect and pure.
I may never know whether the gift intended to remind her of peace was accepted into her heart. But an opportunity to gift forgiveness was pure joy.
Whether we're doing the forgiving -- or gifting forgiveness to others -- is ultimately hard to tell. But in either case, gifting forgiveness is quite the miracle. It prepares a path for peace, happiness and rest for our souls.
If you're experiencing an offense or merely observing one, here's hoping you won't wait for a holiday.
Extend the marvelous gift of forgiveness every day of the year!