Used gifts

I watched them through the lens of my camera so I could hide the tears. "Who gives their kids used gifts?" Two of them tore through the paper like semi-rabid animals. One was more delicate, taking off the wrapping paper one strip at a time while her siblings twitched with impatience on the sidelines. The forth one just sat on daddy's lap, drooling on himself, enthralled with the commotion. I knew they were too young to notice that the bat mobile or Doc McStuffins doll had been bought off Craigslist. I knew even if they could tell they wouldn't care. But it still stung my pride. The other used gifts bothered me a bit less. They were more of the heirloom variety.

Peter's football. When Braxton opened that package he also opened up memories of Peter playing catch with his brothers, stories of the Buffalo Bills of the 90's and anticipation of backyard games of catch with his daddy, his uncles, cousins and even Titus when he was big enough.

My first "real" bible: its peach cover and gold lettering creased and faded with time. I found it amusing yet fitting that the color combination was trendy again. Before I gave it to Hayleigh I fingered through the pages smiling at the places eight year old me had scrawled in the margins and crookedly underlined passages with such gusto that I had ripped a line right through the fine pages. I prayed over this gift for the heart and future of my girl, my kindred spirit, that she would find the same life in those pages that I have found (or that has found me) time and time again.






Preparing for Christmas, knowing what we had to offer them that year, I felt simultaneously like the worst and best mom ever. I knew what really mattered, the real meaning of Christmas. I knew we were doing the best we could with what we had. I knew our kids really weren't suffering, but that didn't take away  how much I wanted to give them "good " gifts- shiny new ones that made them squeal with delight as they opened them, ones that would be proud to show off to all their friends.Yet I found peace in knowing in reality we were giving them something more, something that wasn't wrapped up in paper and bows, something never sold in stores.

I don't often feel sorry for my kids (ha. That sounds a little worse than I intended, yet I will acknowledge I am not the most sympathetic mom.) What I mean is, I am not typically the mom who feels the need keep my kids happy and spoiled. I don't prioritize how "cool" they are and I have come to learn through experience the value of having to encounter hard things that don't go your way. Early on in parenting Peter and I vowed as an act of love, to let our kids struggle sometimes, so they could grow. Like most good things, it's easier to say than to do though, right?

As I hid my tears behind the camera that Christmas morning, I remembered another time I had felt this way. It was in the wake of my dad's diagnosis. In the days and weeks that followed I felt an overwhelming sadness on behalf of my kids. My father-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer just over a year before and now my dad, their other grandpa had been diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimers. I ached for them at the thought of what they would face in the coming years. It seemed so unfair that my sweet, unknowing, chubby cheeked babies had been chosen for such a story. "Who gives their children such gifts?"






That morning gathered around the tree, I knew something to be true, beneath my tears. It is the same thing I have resolved to learn throughout the past couple years. There is always the good, because there is always God. God doesn't waste our pain. He uses it to strengthen us with His own strength, to comfort us with His own comfort and to change our hearts to look more like His.

I've told myself many times during seasons where I felt lack, "God has given me everything I need for life and godliness. If I don't have it. I don't need it. In fact, if I don't have it, then to have it would not be best for me right now." I need to trust that this is true. I need to hold fast to the knowledge that this applies to my kids as well. If they need it, God will give it. If they do not have it, then it is better for them to be without. This can be painful to live out, especially when I am not talking about a certain gift under the Christmas tree, one that would be quickly discarded and forgotten about. The thought of my kids losing their grandpas young, the thought of them having to muddle through with knowledge of such heavy topics such as cancer and Alzheimers makes my heart physically hurt.

I am torn, torn by the pain and by the decision I have to make. Instinctively I want to protect my kids from suffering, yet I know with all that is in me that suffering is what is best for them. Not only am I not able shield them from it, but neither do I want to. I might sound like a maniac, but I want my kids to suffer. And I want them to learn how to suffer well. I want them to stand one day in strength that is not theirs and proclaim with the wisdom which can only come from experience, about all the beauty found in suffering, all the good redeemed out of evil, all the disguised grace in every season of life. I want them to shout or whisper or silently hold this to be true: that God bring all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. How can I give them what they need for this journey?

Used gifts.

So I will box up the lessons I have been able to learn through the crappies of life and present them as the most painfully precious of gifts to my children. I can only give them from what I have, but I have been given everything that I need. How gracious of God to allow me to suffer and endure ahead of them, to have me face it first. God knew this would be their story. He knows what other blissful highs and searing lows their stories hold too. And in all His wisdom and love He chose me to be their mom. The insights I have been given, the intimacy I have experienced, the hard-fought growth I have inherited, these gifts He has given me in suffering are heirlooms. I want to use them well, to wring out every bit of what they hold for me, and then as they are aged with beauty yet still full of usefulness I want to pass them on. I will give them to my children with trembling hands and tear-filled eyes because I know they will only soften the blow. But I pray as they untie the ribbon and tear open the paper that these used gifts will be a light for them in the darkness of life, until they find their own light.


From last week at Mt. Hope Cemetary




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