Wednesday, July 02, 2008

To say Thank You.

One thing that I'm exceptionally grateful for is the ability to be ... well ... grateful. I think that this is one of the most astounding gifts that my parents gave me. We didn't grow up with much. When I think back to my childhood, it was pretty barren in comparison to what I see children with today. I distinctly remember standing at an endcap of a store looking at an Etch-a-Sketch and being told that we didn't have money to buy that. Such a simple toy and there was no money. Mom would spend hours creating amazing toys for us to play with. She was a fabulous artist and I remember how she would create gorgeous paper dolls on tagboard. We would cut them out and then create clothing for them from stacks of paper. You see, mom loved to write and she would type all of her stories and poems and lessons, so there were always reams of paper around the house. Carol and I would sit for hours designing gowns and outfits along with hats and shoes for the paper dolls mom had created. A pile of paper, a bunch of crayons and some scissors was all it took.

Since we were a pastor's family in small towns, the church community took care of us in wonderful and weird ways. One church made a huge deal at Christmas over us. One year, there were small red stockings hanging on the Christmas tree at the church with each of our names on them. Mom and Dad both received cash, but the three of us kids received hundreds of pennies in our stockings. We were awfully small and thought we had incredible wealth poured on us. Another year, they pulled back a curtain and there was a beautiful wing chair. They gave us a television one year and a stereo (yes, with an 8-track player in it) another year. It was awkward standing in front of the congregation while these gifts were given to us. But, mom and dad taught us how to say thank you. Because you see, the gifts weren't about us, they were about the love that the congregation had for Dad.

Gifts are rarely about the receiver. They generally describe the heart and soul of the giver. It's the connection between the two - the giver and the receiver - that makes a gift fabulous.

I remember a few 'awful' gifts. One year for her birthday, dad gave mom a wheelbarrow. He desperately needed one at the cabin and didn't have the money to spend on two separate things. It was either the wheelbarrow or a birthday gift for her. She cried. Fortunately, she had a great sense of humor, too and within a few days, it was a classic family story.

As soon as I was old enough, Dad began to rely on me to actually deal with mom's gifts. She loved Chanel No. 5 perfume. By the time I was purchasing gifts for her, Dad planned a little better and saved enough money to send me to Corner Drugstore to purchase a bottle for her, wrap it up and have it ready at dinner that evening. She cried, but this time, I believe they were tears of relief.

Parishioners have given us many strange gifts over the years. We would receive wonderful produce from their gardens - one woman gave us 200 pounds of potatoes. You might think I would hate potatoes after all of that, but mom learned to use them in many ways and to this day, it's a favorite staple. One day I came home from school and on the dining room table - in a vase - were two cow's tongues. Someone had given them to Dad and he thought it was a howl. Mom didn't, but she did cook them up for dinner that evening. Nope, I don't like tongue. Another time, we received a batch of pig's brains. I'm not really sure whose sick joke that was, but mom was never one to throw away good food.

That night at dinner, she set the table with candles and the fine china and silver. When we asked what we were having, she informed us that it was "Cerebral Delight." You know what? We had no idea what she meant, we were much too young and we liked it!

We three kids were always told who had brought us gifts and food and were asked to please say 'thank you' the next time we saw the person, which generally happened within a week at some church function.

Mom never let us get through Christmas Day without writing thank-you letters to our grandparents and anyone else who had given us gifts. In the morning, we opened gifts, there was lunch and generally a nap and before we took off or did anything else in the evening, we were required to write out our letters. We wrote thank yous for everything that was given to us from our grandparents. Mom didn't care what they said, as long as 'thank you' was in the message. Let me tell you, I've seen a few of these letters and they were insane babbling from very young children. But, as soon as we could write, we were writing them.

I'm grateful for that training. It makes it easy for me to say thank you - sometimes I forget, but I do try. And it makes it easy for me to say those words to God regularly. I want to be seen as a grateful person. I want people to hear those words from me. I want God to know how much I am thankful for all that He has done. Because I am a fortunate woman. I have been given much.

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