Ruth Anne remembers a Christmas gift that wasn't

Ruth Anne remembers a Christmas gift that wasn't

The Rev. Ruth Anne Henley is pastor of the Draper Circuit, which includes Draper UMC in Draper, Va.; Cecil's Chapel UMC in Hiwassee, Va.; and Glenwood UMC in Barren Springs, Va.

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 2 in a series

Draper Circuit
Draper, Va.

There is a memory that persistently interrupts my thoughts on Christmas although I have actively tried to squelch it. It was an awkward moment, one of those terrible things that gets filed away in our "what-if" folder on gift giving. But it was also one of the most formative moments in my understanding of gratitude and celebration.

I was little, maybe as old as six, but surely not older. The season was progressing as planned with each of us counting our pennies and dividing them out to cover the cost of remembering each member of our family on Christmas morning. Shopping was a ritual for us with Daddy taking us to town to meet Mom as she left work for the day. We scattered among the dime stores and trinket shops along State Street, to make our secret purchases.

I knew, of course, that a parent or older sibling was always watching, so I watched, too. No buying for Buddy or Missy unless it was Daddy or Mama in my line of sight. No buying for a parent unless it was a sibling keeping watch. Charlie and Steve were more likely to spy. I was always on guard for one of them, though the truth was that they were less interested in what I was buying for them than what our parents were putting under the tree.

All went as planned and as I lay down on Christmas Eve, I was sure each member of my family would be pleased with the little gifts I had purchased. Only when my eyes fell closed did my thoughts turn to the treasures under the tree with my name on them. What would I find when I woke?

As Christmas morning dawned I was, as usual, the first to stir. I ran to the tree and my eyes were drawn to a stuffed puppy. He was collie-like, soft and beautiful, and it was love at first sight! I scooped him up, oblivious to the other packages, and squealed with delight.

My voice woke the house, and my parents were instantly there. The look on their faces confused me. It should have been a look of pride in their gift-selection, but instead it was nearly a look of painful horror. How does one explain to a six-year-old child that the toy with which she has just fallen in love is intended for her sister? The thing that transfixed her is not her own, but someone else's.

One of the hardest lessons of life is that we cannot have everything we want. It is not enough, though, to recognize that the thing we felt drawn toward is not ours. It is important that we learn to celebrate with the one whose hands receive the thing we cannot have. To know that things are transient and that others may enjoy what we cannot is a liberating concept. We can and must celebrate their joy and good fortune, knowing that the moment of happiness is increased by our generosity or decreased by our selfishness.

Oddly, this is not a painful memory for me. It sometimes makes others wince a little in the telling, but for me it was a moment of timeless truth. Some things will be forever in my line of sight but never held in my hands and enjoyed as my own. And I am okay with that. I can celebrate with my sisters and brothers with no trace of covetousness because I know that I am loved and that what the Father gives me is best for me. Their gifts bring me joy as well.


See other memories in the series.


Related News

Bishop Mary Virginia
Dindy remembers an impromptu Santa parade

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Last in a series DINDY TAYLOR, age 65 Holston Conference Alcoa, Tenn.   It's hard to select just one Christmas memory to share with you. Once I open the door, the memories just keep rolling out. I'll ...

Palmer Cantler, a graduate of Wofford College, is in her first year at Duke Divinity School.
Palmer remembers traditional Christmas Eve worship

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 6 in a series. PALMER CANTLER, age 22 Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church Johnson City, Tenn.   My favorite Christmas memory cannot be narrowed to one year, nor can I express a single story. ...

Charles remembers tragedy and a Christmas Eve fire

 Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 5 in a series CHARLES LIPPSE, age 81 Tyner United Methodist Church Chattanooga, Tenn. In 1989, while I was pastor at Munsey Memorial, a cold rain began on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Several...

The Rev. Kevin Blue celebrates Christmas with his wife Stephanie and children Kloi and Samuel.
Kevin remembers the angels at his home church

 Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 3 in a series KEVIN BLUE, age 37 Vestal United Methodist Church Knoxville, Tenn.   I was 12 years old and had just finished my confirmation in the spring at my home church, First United Methodist...

Tim Belcher stands next to the Christmas tree at Shades of Grace UMC.
Tim remembers banana pudding and family time

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 4 in a series TIM BELCHER, age 36 Shades of Grace United Methodist Church Kingsport, Tenn.     My Christmas memories of being a kid, of course, usually involve getting presents. From an adult ...

Rueben Castillo is the son of the Rev. Daniel Castillo.
Rueben remembers Christmas caroling with neighbors

Holston friends share scenes from seasons past. Part 1 in a series. RUEBEN CASTILLO, age 10 St. John United Methodist Church Maryville, Tenn.   The children at St. John go caroling every year with a few adults. Some of the people that we sing for ...

Seven Holston friends share their Christmas memories

  We asked seven people from our Holston Conference family, ages 10 to 81, to share a moment or two from Christmases past. Some are happy. Some are not. But all will make you think and give thanks for the gift of all gifts. Merry Christmas.   Rueben...