Monday, December 21, 2009


Use this holiday to give gifts that you don't have to pay for. Yes, be a free gift-giver. The Snuggies, gift baskets, bicycles, Wii games, Barbie Dolls, GI Joes, gift cards and fruit cakes all cost money. And what to buy, what to buy, what to buy? How often do we fret about which gift to buy? "Is this something she needs? Is this something he'll like -- or even use?" I think my brother still hasn't used that $20 Wal-Mart gift card I gave him three years ago. But it's the free gifts that provide the most lasting and life-changing fuzzies.

Consider giving truly lasting gifts, gifts that are guaranteed to be used because they feed the human spirit; they satisfy the thirst of the soul. They are timeless. These are the gifts that truly make a difference in people's lives -- and especially in the lives of people you care about. You can give these gifts all year long, and they don't cost a thing. Here are a few:

Give the gift of patience. There are times when we need to slow down, pause, and allow for the other person to be themselves. Give the teen who's learning to drive some slack. Wait for wifey to put on that last piece of jewelry before leaving for the party. Give that newby employee a little time to learn the ropes. Patience de-stresses everybody, gives people room to grow, creates a climate of acceptance. A Chinese proverb says, "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow." There's power in being patient with other people, and even with yourself. In the words of G-rated entertainment ads: It's a gift the whole family will enjoy.

Give the gift of encouragement. There's an old saying: "A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success." The world is littered with the demoralized and wanting souls hungering for encouragement. As much as I enjoy a good athletic competition, I get a little bothered when I hear fans boo players. Modeling such behavior with impressionable kids in tow creates the grievous impression that the ultimate goal in life is to please the maddening crowd. Encouragement is a gift that releases other gifts in the recipient: self-acceptance, confidence, peace of mind, and self-assurance. And it doesn't cost a thing.

Give the gift of listening. One of my favorite pithy T-shirt sayings reads, "My wife says that I don't listen to her...or something like that." We all have a need to be heard. When you give the gift of listening -- I mean, really listening -- you are telling the other person that they matter, that their ideas, concerns, frustrations, complaints and priorities really do matter to you.

Ever notice that angry feeling of disgust that you get when the fast-food clerk at the drive-through gives you pickles, onions and mustard on your sandwich, when you specifically told her, "No pickles, no onions and no mustard!" And you told her twice! Translation: Did my request really matter? Was anybody listening?

Who could you be a better listener to: your spouse, your son or daughter, your students, your friends, the people you work with? Listening is often simply the gift of silence, and sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Giving our undivided, uninterrupted, non-judgmental attention validates the other person. You're saying, "You matter to me." No pickles, onion or mustard? No problem. The gift of listening -- a beautiful gift, and it's free.

Finally, give the gift of kindness. Exactly how can you show kindness to someone? It takes a little thought. A nice note. A compliment. A pat on the back. A hug. I know that I feel good when someone shows kindness to me. Don't you? Aren't those unexpected acts of kindness toward you the ones that simply make your day?

My hero of kindness was Mother Theresa, a diminutive Catholic nun who dedicated her life to helping the poor. I consider her the "Queen of Kindness." She said, "At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread -- but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing -- but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks -- but homeless because of rejection." She lived to be kind.

She reminded a world of admirers and visitors to her mission sites that helping Calcutta's poor wasn't necessarily everyone's calling. Instead, she encouraged everyone to show kindness right where they lived. In a memoir about her visit with Mother Teresa, singer-songwriter Maria T. Elias wrote, "This saintly woman's message was to tell people that it is not necessary to go to Calcutta or Beirut or any other foreign land. She told us to begin with our own family. Keep a special love kindled, so that the times together will be good. Many need to hear a kind word, feel the touch of a caring hand or hear the sound of a friendly voice.

"In families or neighborhoods, maybe right next door, there are people who are lonely. Visit them, perform an act of kindness. Mother Teresa said, 'Just a simple 'hello' can make a person's day brighter.' This feeds more than food. Thank God for your country, for your blessings, for all that he does for you. Use your gifts to help others." Then she said, "Bread lasts but a day; love is for always."

The physical gifts last but for a season, but patience, listening, encouragement, and kindness are gifts that last a lifetime. Any of us can give them. These are the gifts we all treasure. They're not cheap, but they're free.

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