When a gift is not what it seems

This morning, as I was sorting through a box of “treasures,” I found them again.  They are faded and stained, they were imperfectly made, and quite frankly, they aren’t exactly my style. But they are a treasure.

They were a gift from an elderly relative, one I was reluctant to receive because they were useless and unwanted. But the real gift… was the story.

the gift

I was sitting on the floor of her house, watching as she sorted ancient quilts from her cedar chest. They stunk of mothballs and lavender and age. They had been made by various aunts and women whose faces I could only hazily recall.

And then she paused.  “This quilt. This one was made by your grammy. She made it one summer as they camped by the dry creek bed. Their house had been burned by the Indians, but they had to get the cattle to market before they could build a new cabin.”

Ah yes. Grammy. My great grandmother. According to family legend, she’d lost various homes to fires, floods, tornados, Indians, cattle stampedes. dust storms, mud slides, banks, and “gov’ment.” She’d seen Billy the Kid walk the streets of her West Texas town.

My fingers twitched.  I wanted that quilt. It was a string quilt in the shape of a giant red Texas star set against the pale cream background of flour sacks.  It was cool.

I tried to hide my disappointment as my relative carefully packed the quilt away and pulled another one from the chest. It was small, too small for a twin bed. It wasn’t in style. The colors were depression era golds and greens.

It wasn’t wanted.

All I could do was stammer an excuse.  “Oh, no.  I couldn’t, it’s far to precious to use.”

She paused. She looked at me hard, as if sizing me up.  And then she reached into the chest again.  She pulled out a tiny bundle, wrapped carefully in faded tissue paper, and placed it gently in my lap. As I reached to open the tissue, she wrapped one hand around mine and used the other to lift my chin.

We locked eyes.

“Your grammy gave these to me when I was about your age,” she said. “The story goes that Grammy got them when she was young, just a few years into their marriage.  It was one of those springs when it seemed like winter would never end.

“Around Easter, they had a blizzard. Grammy’s husband was out checking the herd when he found a young family stranded in the snow. Their wagon was stuck, they were out of food, and likely would have died if he hadn’t found them.

“By they time they got back to the cabin, everyone was half frozen. The four of them spent I don’t know how many days in that cabin, waiting for the snow to thaw.  But thaw it did.  The men folk got the wagon out of the mud, and Grammy packed them up enough food to last a few weeks.”

She still help my chin in her firm grip as she continued.

“As the wagon was pulling away from their cabin, it paused. The woman jumped out of the back of the wagon and came running back to Grammy with a bundle in her hands.”

She nodded downward, making certain that I understood that it was THIS bundle. The very bundle in my lap.

“Grammy protested. She looked at her and said ‘honey, I don’t want your things.'”

And then, my elderly relative got a crafty look in her eyes before continuing.

“That’s when the lady looked right back at her and said ‘I know you don’t NEED it and may not even want it. But I want you to have it. I NEED to give you something.'”

“And now,” my relative said with a smile, “I want YOU to have them.”

I unwrapped the bundle. Inside were three hand-crocheted doilies. Hopelessly small, as if the maker didn’t have quite enough thread. Lopsided, as if the maker was still learning.

Utterly useless.

It was a gift.

I took a deep breath and swallowed my pride.

I managed to choke out a “thank you” with sincerity. With that, my relative placed the quilt in my lap as well. Then she stood and walked away, wandering into the kitchen to brew up bad coffee or sweet tea.

I took the gift.

I took the lesson to heart.

Sometimes, a gift isn’t what it looks like. Sometimes, the whole thing gets twisted up backwards to where the person opening the package is the one giving the best gift of all.

The magic of a gift is that it blesses the giver.

Sometimes, the most generous thing we can do is accept a gift. 

Sometimes the best part of a gift is the story

Twenty-five years later, I’m still accepting hers.

Each time I accept (needed) help when I’d rather tough it out alone, I can remember the weight of that tiny bundle in my lap and the firm grip of her hand on mine.

Each time I unwrap one of those “puzzling” gifts at Christmas and feel sincere gratitude, it is because someone took the time to teach me how important it is to accept what I am given.

This season, don’t forget to give the gift of joyful acceptance.

An unwanted gift is an opportunity to give acceptance.

An unwanted gift is an opportunity to give acceptance

Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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  1. This post is absolutely beautiful. And the truth is written so well here, thank you.

  2. Susan… this is lovely. And your family history? Amazing. Truly grateful I came by to receive your gift today.

    • My Grammy lived to be 103. I was a teenager and can actually remember bits and pieces of her tales of an untamed Texas. My grandfather would tell tales of the cattle drives he was on (he started before he shaved!) I wish I’d spent more time listening to them as a kid, I’d love to hear their stories in full detail now.

  3. The stories shared in this post are so cool, Susan. The message you weaved into those stories is both touching and beautiful. Thank you for sharing the reminder that sometimes the gift blesses the giver more than the receiver. Lovely post!

    • Thank you Heather. For years, I would have sworn that the giver was more blessed in my story. But now… years later… I suspect I’m the one who was ultimately blessed. My character was molded by that gift in ways that took years to understand.

  4. This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. I love this story. Thanks for sharing. I wish I had stories like that from my great grandmother. What fun memories.

  6. “I need to give you something” – how many times have we been like you in the beginning – “Oh, no, I couldn’t”!! Your story is beautiful and touching! Thank you for sharing it with us during this season when so much is being givebn and received…YOU have given a gift! So happy to see these stories IN WRITING! Hope you continue to write them and pass them on to your family…I only wish I had written down MORE of my families’ stories – I have some; but not many!!

  7. You should be thankful for every gift you receive. I had fun and learned reading this article. It’s very inspiring too. Thanks for sharing this post. It’s such a great post!

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