Year Round Blessings: a Gift for life
When I was a child—well, to be honest, maybe for longer than that—Christmas was mostly about the gifts. Growing up in Oklahoma City, our Christmas ritual followed the same pattern every year. We would gather as a family on Christmas Eve, eat a nice meal, then attend the midnight service at All Souls’ Episcopal (often my brother and I in acolyte robes) and then after a restless night of sleep, pry our parents out of bed at the absolutely earliest moment we could. We would step past the half-eaten plate of cookies left for Santa and in short order the wrapping paper would fly in frenzy.
My wife’s family follows the South Texas tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve. We gather at her mother’s house for a huge potluck meal that includes ham, smoked turkey, tamales, borracho beans (my specialty) and lots more. After we eat, Grandma Bara presides over the opening of the gifts. After the gifts are opened, we play round after round of Loteria, with even more gifts at stake. (I have learned not to yell “Loteria!” when Grandma B is eying the prize, like a delicious box of chewy pralines. Her joy in winning will make it worth it, and she will share those candies with you anyway.)
And here’s the thing about gifts. If you put fancy paper and a bow on just about anything, just opening it creates a thrill. Many a Christmas morning, I would be delighted to open a package of tube socks from Santa. Yes, even ordinary socks can pack a small thrill on Christmas morning. And if you think about it, it’s not the wrapping paper that creates the thrill. The thrill comes in recognizing the gift for what it is, a gift. All year long, we receive so many blessings, each one a gift. Without the paper, without the bow, we should allow ourselves to be thrilled by each of these blessings.
One of the many blessings I seem to have in large measure is my good health. But even so, I have come to view every day I open my eyes as a gift. It is a gift from God that Christ calls me to use, to the best of my talents and ability, in service to others. Some days I actually answer this call pretty well, but on many others I take the day as a gift mostly for myself. What I do know is that one day, my gifts of days will come to an end, and my life will have been, by some measure, a gift to others. What will the gift of my life have meant to them? What will my gift have brought them?
To be candid, I have hedged my bets a little by providing that Episcopal Relief & Development will receive a generous gift when my own gift of life comes to an end. I know that my gift will be used for the benefit of those in need, to promote health and justice throughout the world—including for the benefit of children to whom a package of tube socks would seem a great luxury. Planning for this bequest does not relieve me of the duty to make every day meaningful for someone other than myself, but just thinking about it gives me as much a thrill as any gift I will open on Christmas morning.
May you and all your family—in the broadest possible sense—feel immense joy and love this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, and may we all feel the thrill of His many blessings and gifts we receive throughout the year!
Neel Lane is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Episcopal Relief & Development.
Images: Top—A young girl receives a gift; Middle 1—Neel takes selfies with children on the Presiding Bishop’s Pilgrimage to Ghana in January.