“What is the best gift you’ve ever received?”
A recent guest speaker posed the question to our church congregation.
“And no Sunday School answers,” he told us.
My mind whirled. Was it the large print Bible Preacher Creature gave me one Christmas? That sounded too much like a Sunday School answer. The beautiful music box a piano student gave me one year? Too materialistic. I searched my memory banks. Nothing was coming to mind. ‘
Then I remembered Anna’s gift and there was no better answer.
Anna lived in the care home in our small Kansas town where Preacher Creature and I served in the 1990’s. After seven busy ministry years, we decided we wanted to seek a different kind of ministry where we thought we might have more of an influence. We didn’t realize the impact our current ministry had had, especially on folks outside our small congregation. We also didn’t predict how the news of our leaving would affect people, again, especially on which people.
One day, two weeks before our moving date, the director of nursing called P.C. “Anna wants to see you before you leave,” she told him. “She has a gift for you.”
Not a member of our congregation, Anna was a very elderly woman who resided in the care home only at the mercy of Medicaid. She had no friends and owned hardly anything. But she had come to know my husband through his bible studies held weekly in the care home’s parlour.
What was Anna’s gift?
P.C. returned from his visit with Anna and quietly handed me a plastic bag bearing Anna’s gift. In the bag was a package of cookies, a half-full travel sized bottle of lotion, a stick of gum, and a personal sized ackage of Kleenex.
Then I pulled out a large item and recognized it immediately for what it was. Inside a brittle, yellowed zippered plastic bag was a blue, ragged sweater that had that distinctive “old lady in a nursing home” smell. It was the sweater Anna wore all the time.
Anna gave us what she had.
Jesus’ remarks about the gift of the widow with her two pennies now makes more sense. The takeaway of that story is not necessarily the woman’s faith that God would provide her next meal. The story is more about what the woman was willing to sacrifice to express her love and gratitude for her God. She loved God so much, she was willing to give what she had, even if it was something she needed, even if to the rest of the world, it looked pathetically small and insignificant.
The essence of sacrifice is giving up what you have and even need because you love the Lord more.
At times I fret that I can’t do more for my Lord, that I don’t have enough to share, that my limited eyesight prohibits me from doing all the good work I think God and others expect of me. I’ve got it wrong, at least the part about what God expects.
When we give what we have, even, especially when it’s the last of what we have, we honor Him even more, for that gift comes from the heart. A true gift comes not out of our abundance or from what we can do without. A true gift, a meaningful gift, involves sacrifice, a willingness to do without so we can show honor to the one we love.
Twenty years later, Anna’s sweater is still tucked in the corner of my cedar chest. No, I can’t use it nor would I ever wear it. That’s not the point. It’s not just a sweater. It represents an older lady who wanted to give us a piece of herself as a way to say thank you. And it’s a reminder to me to be generous, because the person is more important than the possession.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?