If you're not in a position to spend money on gifts, don't feel bad. You're not alone. There are numbers of people who don't have disposable income these days whether we recently lost a job, have been out of work longer than we ever dreamed, have a limited income, are on a tight budget, or just aren't good at shopping for people. It's a horrible feeling when it appears that everyone around us is spending money on things to celebrate a holiday, a birthday, or some other celebration.
A couple of days before a Christmas holiday some years ago, I visited my eight and ten year old nieces to spend time with them since I had to work on Christmas. Another reason for the visit was to let them know I couldn't afford gifts for them. It was incredibly stressful to break this news to the kids, but I told myself they would have some ideas about gifts I could give that didn't cost a penny.
I asked them to name some things that are important and don't cost any money. Well, they looked at me as if I were from another planet. Granted, they are kids, so although I was a bit disappointed I understood their reactions. Even many adults expect to receive or feel obligated to purchase commercially-driven gifts, but there are others to consider. Here are a few of them.
TIME. For New Year's Eve one year, I gave my sister and brother-in-law the gift of time by taking my niece for the evening so they could be alone together. It was perfect because it doubled as a gift for my niece who loved to spend time with me. Even the teenagers valued the time I spent with them (even if they didn't talk to me much, and spent most of their time doing other things that didn't even involve me).
One year, one of them actually HUGGED ME and KISSED ME on the cheek after spending the weekend with him while his parents were on a get-a-way.
I had given the parents a computer-produced gift certificate for nephew-sitting redeemable at any time. He hung out with his friends most of that weekend. He even thanked me for the barbecue-grilled lunch I put together one of those days, even though he gulped it down quickly, and left me to join his friends again.
My greatest lesson about time concerns the consequences of NOT giving it. There are people I love today who I never gave much or any time to at all in my past. I feel like a stranger to them, and it hurts. All the monetary gifts in the world can't build the bonds built by time, or make amends for lack of it.
LISTENING. Some are better at listening than others. It's an area in which I sometimes feel I need more growth, so giving it as a gift is a way to become more disciplined. My mind and thoughts move at great speed, and I'm one of those people with the annoying habit of talking before someone has finished what they're saying.
Sometimes I get so excited thinking about my response that I cut people off. I do my share of apologizing for it, and acknowledge active listening is a gift I can offer to the people in my life and myself.
Three of four of my nieces had cell phones. I received calls and text messages from one of them. She complained about and shared the trials and tribulations of being a big sister. She unburdened herself to me about her relationships: family, friends, and school.
The one without the mobile tool talked about how she was feeling when we were physically together. Neither one wanted to leave my house when I had them for a weekend, and I know it's because I paid attention to them and listened, listened, listened. No matter what our age, we all want people to pay attention and wholeheartedly listen to us.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. When R and B artist Aretha Franklin sang this song released by Atlantic Records back in 1967, it quickly became a Billboard chart hit. The music was great, but what also contributed to its popularity was that people identified strongly with the message: "What you want? Baby, I got it. What you need? You know I got it. All I'm asking is for a little respect when I get home! R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me." People wanted and needed it then, and do so just as badly now. Many people believe it's in shorter supply today than ever.
One year, one of my cousins, who in in her early 30s, was visiting from out-of-town and asked my family to pronounce her name differently. Our family didn't take her seriously; in fact, we made fun of the name. Over a short span of time in our communications with her, it became clear she was hurt and felt disrespected. I apologized for the part I played, and began to call her what she requested. No matter what our age, the gift of respect never fails to hit home in a good way.
FORGIVENESS. This is a big one. Although it's beneficial to the person receiving it, the person offering it may also get a huge personal payoff. Why? Forgiveness tends to release the giver from RESENTMENT. Resentment is one of those things that begins as anger (a feeling that occurs in the present) and moves into resentment (leftover old anger that hangs around ad nauseam). I've heard resentment described as drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. The longer we put off forgiving, the longer the energy leech called resentment drains us.
Although it was tough and took incredible love on my part, I had to forgive someone who sexually abused me as a child. It happened a long, long time ago, and I had therapy in the past that was a bit successful. I was so tired of this resentment rock I'd been carrying over time, and didn't want to die with it weighing me down.
Although I confronted him face-to-face, and he didn't admit to it, I forgave him. Today, I have a limited relationship with him, and am comfortable with the boundaries I employ. What happened will always be a chapter of both our life stories, but it's in no way, shape, or form the entire book. The gift of forgiveness can lead to freedom for both parties.
HONESTY. How many of us do the injustice of telling people what they want to hear because we want to please them and avoid conflict? I won't be casting any stones. It takes courage to share the truth, especially when fear is stirred up concerning how it will impact a relationship. What's worse is knowing in our gut that intimacy requires honesty, so we're living an illusion if honesty is missing from our relationship.
Once upon a time, a friend told me she was head over heels in love with someone. Next, she turned to me and asked me if there was anyone I felt that way about in my life. The easy, perceived safe answer was a lie: "No." Instead, I said, "yes," and told her it was her.
I took a chance that she wouldn't end our friendship, or feel so uncomfortable that it would never be the same. As it turned out, it did change: for the better. She thanked me for the gift of expressing and feeling what I did for her knowing her feelings for someone else. She honored my courage and our friendship.
Our life paths took us in different directions. Recently, I received a call from her after many years. She'd been trying to find me for a while, and we were both eager to see each other again. She came for a visit from another state and brought her college-aged daughter with her! It was wonderful! Honesty stated from love is a powerful gift; it's cruel when used to deliberately hurt or harm someone. I find it important to be clear about my motives when using it.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. As time goes by, I'm beginning to believe this gift is a combination of other ones like acceptance, non-judgement, and intimacy. The truth is, I'm open to other people's experience and knowledge about it, so perhaps people can respond and help educate me. It's great to realize our humanness, another gift that provides plenty of room for healing, growth, and change.
Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, weddings, birthdays, Christmas, and all other times money changes hands to acquire things for people as gifts are fine if we can afford it and choose to do so. Let's try to remember the jewels in the crown of humanity outside the reach of finances.
Image: In Native American spirituality, Turkey Power Animal Medicine equals giving, giveaway, sharing. Read more in the blog post, titled "Turn Your Love My Way: Every Day As Thanksgiving Sharing and Gratitude."
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