Two days before Christmas in 2010, a neighbor from church called and said he and his wife had something to deliver to me. I figured it was a fruit basket or plate of cookies and didn’t give it much thought. When I came out to his minivan, there were several bags of gifts in the back seat. I asked which one was for me. He chuckled and said that they were all for me and Gabby.
I was certain there was some mistake. While I was a single mother, I wasn’t having any financial problems or worried about providing gifts for my daughter. He wouldn’t tell me any more information about the gifts or why they had brought so many. All he would tell me is that he was just asked to deliver them by the Relief Society (the women’s organization in our church). Each of them was labeled with mine and Gabby’s names.
I was so overwhelmed and astounded. I called our Relief Society President, Amber, and all she would tell me is that someone from church had been a single mom before and wanted to make sure Gabby and I had a wonderful Christmas. I felt guilty that we were given so much as I didn’t consider myself someone who needed help or charity. I worked hard to be self-reliant. I had too much pride in my self-reliance as illustrated by how uncomfortable and resistant I was to receive gifts. I even thought maybe I should find someone really in need to give to instead of me. Amber was firm that they were for us and advised me to just feel loved.
I’ve thought about that experience a lot in the decade since. I still have and wear a couple of the items I was given (the vest as pictured). What my Secret Santa didn’t know, but perhaps surmised, is that I usually only had a couple of gifts to open on Christmas. When I was married, my husband wouldn’t give me gifts on Christmas. There was one Christmas away from my family when I didn’t have a single gift to open on Christmas morning. To avoid total awkwardness and humiliation as I watched others open gift after gift, I started buying and wrapping my own gifts and saying they were from my husband. As a single mom, I found it easier not having gifts when there was no expectation of receiving any. But Christmas morning could still bring a sting with it and highlight my singleness.
What I didn’t expect or even know that year, was that my soul needed those gifts, not for the physical things or because I was struggling financially. I needed to feel loved. I needed to feel seen. I needed to feel I mattered. I would never have admitted or asked for those priceless gifts though. Every year, I wear the vest, use the Christmas blankets, and I feel loved, seen, and that I matter all over again. I remind my daughter of our Secret Santa every year with these treasured items and we can’t help but smile at that memory. She keeps that teddy bear for the same reason.
As joyful as this season should be, Christmas can also be a difficult time for many of us for a variety of reasons. As mothers, we take on so much extra giving this time of year. We’re getting gifts for our children, other family, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, and on and on. If you’re at all like me you will agonize and stress trying to find just the right gifts.
I think what’s more important than the gift or gifts is showing love, showing you see the person, showing that this person matters to you.
I know too many moms who say (and sincerely mean) that they don’t need anything. Mothers, you need to receive gifts because you are seen! You are loved! You matter so much! I hope you will search and find the holiness of this season through not only giving, but being willing to receive gifts from others even if they aren’t wrapped or put under a tree. Maybe it’s someone offering to pick something up for you while they’re at the store, maybe it’s a compliment, maybe it’s just spending time with you. Maybe the gifts under the tree are not exactly what you would have wrapped and put under the tree for yourself, but you may receive the exact gift you didn’t know you need.