December 9, 2014


The gift came in a reused grocery bag.

“We don’t have a lot of extra money this year,” she said, smiling weakly.

I met her a couple of years ago. She works in the service industry, and I come every six weeks or so for my regular appointment. Almost immediately, we noticed an ease in conversation, even though our worlds are far apart. She grew up poor, the single-mom-working-two-jobs poor, and I lived in a cushy suburb with a stay-at-home mom and a father in a successful career. I went to college on a full scholarship and got a car as a graduation gift; she scraped to finish her GED after she got pregnant. She’s in a good marriage now, but the first was scary, and her daughter no longer speaks to the family. She’s older than me and often weary.

It doesn’t make sense but somehow we’ve carved out a friendship. We both look forward to our meetings. Maybe because there’s no overlap in the rest of our lives, the conversations are candid, with lots of listening and encouragement.

Yet I was still shocked by the gift. Not because I didn’t think we might exchange small tokens for Christmas but because hers was an offering of the heart. 

“We bought a side of beef for the winter, and we wanted to share,” she said. “Merry Christmas.” 

And indeed inside the bag were three packages wrapped in white butcher-block paper. Two pounds of hamburger and a roast. 

It’s not often that meat brings tears. 

I’ve been scouring the Internet, looking for good deals on gifts. Each night our porch has at least one or two packages, thanks to free shipping and faithful delivery folks. I’ve been wrapping Lego sets and horse pajamas, iPhone accessories and stiff new Levis. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on gifts for the children, our family, friends, and coworkers. And I’m not sure that any of them are worth the gift I received last night. 

The idea of sacrificial giving doesn’t trend on the Internet or in most of our churches. It’s anathema to talk about giving until it hurts, giving from a place of sacrifice instead of offering the extras. We know that the joy of Jesus’ birth will soon be followed by the pain of his death and sacrifice. We hear in scripture about giving selflessly and about the widow’s mite, and every once in a while, we are truly blessed to experience this grace for ourselves.