The Best Gifts

by Mary Johnson, Director of Children's Ministries & All Things Bright and Beautiful

When I was 10 years old there was the most spectacular red bike for me on Christmas morning. It was the shiniest and most perfect bike ever! That's the first time I remember being really "wowed" by a gift. When you're a child there are many opportunities for the "wow" factor. As an adult, it's not that the appreciation isn't there for gifts received. I think it's the fact that there is so much joy derived in seeing the happiness in the faces of those receive the gift from you. For the children, the lists are predictable and able to be purchased, wrapped with a bow, and placed under the tree. It's the grown-up gifts that become more difficult with each passing year.

My siblings and I just had a great reunion in Iowa and without question, the greatest gift was that we were all together - all eight of us. As I looked around the room at my brother's house where the conversation was lively, the reminiscing continuous, the laughter loud, I was struck by the presence of the gifts we celebrate during Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It was all there - right in front of me. Hope - that we'll ALL be together next August to celebrate at our niece Katie's wedding. Peace - that all the angst that was present over the last couple of years, as we sorted through our differences, was gone. Joy - most definitely there was Joy! And a Love that was undeniable.

We made a pact when we all arrived at my brother's that we would not talk about politics, religion, or our health issues. That lasted about 10 minutes. We are a very passionate bunch of stubborn Irish folk, and while we do have our differences to be sure, the bond of our family raised in love and faith prevailed. We were able to put aside our differences and celebrate. Celebrate just being together.

I don't take it for granted that we'll all be there at the wedding next year. As I said, I HOPE we are. But over the past few months I've become acutely aware of just how uncertain plans can be, since various siblings and spouses have had our share of health concerns. I also have a niece who at 29 has been diagnosed with a very serious cancer and is doing everything possible to beat it. With a strong family and support group we are prayerful - and hopeful - that there will be a positive outcome.

If I could wrap up the best Christmas present ever, it would be a clean bill of health for this beautiful young woman, who is the mother of a precious one-year-old daughter. Clearly not a gift selection I am able to make. But what I can do is hold her in my heart - in my daily thoughts and prayers - that she and our family will be sustained by Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love this Christmas time and for many, many years to come.