Sunday, December 23, 2012
The Best Christmas Present Ever
He used to stop by about once a month just to talk – and talk he did with a keen and critical eye on things religious and political and an Irish-born sense of humor to match. Our conversations were equal parts spiritual direction and political debate, brotherly bantering and shared sadness over the many faces of injustice.
By nature he was, and by nurture he became even more, a self-sufficient man and yet one who ached to be loved. He especially longed to know that he was loved by God – with whom he had a life-long sparring match. Unfortunately, his early church experience had done little to convince him of God’s love and much to make him deeply doubt it.
Over a few years’ time he shared with me his personal oral history, recorded in my heart and memories if not on tape. Especially sharp with detail were stories of his youth, his love affair with horses and the adventures of making his way in the world.
I don’t know which I enjoyed more: his stories or the look in his eyes as he told them. His words told the tale while his eyes invited me into his soul which I found to be, indeed, a sacred place to visit.
On a late October morning, complaining about the commercialism of Christmas items for sale alongside bags of candy for Halloween, he segued to a remembrance of an early Christmas when his heart was set on only one gift: a copy of Boy’s Cinema Annual. And he’d made sure that his mother and father knew of his wish. Come the morning of December 25th he found other gifts in his stocking and under the tree but not the one he so dearly wanted. He was old enough to understand that even if Father Christmas hadn't known his wish his parents did and they could have easily afforded the gift he had asked for. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a cherished hope had gone unfulfilled.
It’s much too painfully early in life that a child can come to expect to be disappointed. Some of our earliest disappointments are the ones that shape our souls and how we see everything – even how we see God.
My friend’s story joined my own soul-shaping memories in the place where my heart’s hopes and hurts are collected and guarded. Perhaps you have such a place in your heart, too...
A few days later it took me only a few hours online to locate at a used-book shop in Australia an issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual dated close to my friend’s youth. I ordered it and was pleased with the condition in which it arrived. I remember wrapping it in red tissue paper and attaching a store-bought bow to top it off.
He stopped by in early December and we talked for about an hour. When he was ready to take his leave I produced the gift from my desk drawer. He was embarrassed not to have a present for me and I assured him that the wit and wisdom he brought to each visit were more than generous gifts.
He opened the package and for several long minutes simply looked at the magazine until the tears from his eyes began to fall upon it. Then he looked up and, as had happened so many times before, his gaze invited me into his soul... He asked me if I knew how much this meant to him. Through my tears I told him yes, I knew.
I believe a wounded corner of Michael’s heart was healed in opening that gift and I know a corner of my heart was healed in giving it. At least for a moment we both knew that we are indeed loved in the heart of our hurts and hopes - the very place where God’s heart aches to be with us.
An old, used issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual was the best Christmas gift I ever gave someone. And, you know, it was the best Christmas gift I ever received.
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Posted by Austin Fleming at 7:07 PM