The Joy of Giving

My mom called me last week to see what I want for Christmas.

When asked that question, I instinctively think, “What do I need?”

Then nothing comes to mind.

I don’t need anything.

But what do you want? Mom asked.

Doug’s Dad says you should never buy people what they need.

(Photo credit: top10things)

Instead, he believes you should give impractical, unexpected gifts.

(Note: This comes from a man who also believes you should fall asleep every night savoring a piece of milk chocolate because “There’s nothing like sleeping with your throat coated in chocolate.” He also has false teeth, so take that into consideration before following his advice.)

Chocolate Kiss
Chocolate Kiss (Photo credit: alykat)

So, what do I want for Christmas that I don’t need?

I couldn’t think of anything I wanted that could be presented to me in a box on Christmas morning.

I decided I wanted my Mom to buy a beautiful wreath and place it on my Dad’s grave with a note that said, “Merry Christmas, Dad. Thanks for teaching me the joy of giving.”

She resisted, saying that wasn’t a “real” gift for me.

But, today, when I talked to her, she told me she gave me my gift.
She went to the cemetery and displayed my wreath, and will go back tomorrow to attach my note.

And, I believe, somehow, my Dad will know it’s there, and he will appreciate it.

When I was a little girl, my Dad was the Jaycee president.

I thought he was famous because everybody in town knew him and he always seemed to have his picture in the paper.

He also managed to orchestrate the most amazing, magical arrival of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen.

He had him land in the middle of town in a helicopter!

Santa arrives in New Orleans
(Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

One night before Christmas, Dad came home and gathered our family around the kitchen table and told us about the Sub for Santa program.

He had a piece of paper with the name of a family on it and listed the gender and age of all the children and what they wanted for Christmas.

“We need to help Santa this year because this family can’t afford Christmas gifts.”

I will never forget the feeling I had that night as I listened to him tell us about that family.

I loved the idea that we could secretly help Santa Claus and make another family happy.

We all excitedly talked about how we could help.

I went into my room and found a brand new doll.

I wondered why I never played with her.

I decided it was because she needed to be saved for another little girl who might need her more than I did.

I ran back downstairs and showed her to my Dad. He agreed that maybe I’d saved her because someone else needed to have her more than me.

He showed me the little girl’s wish list and said she was my age.

He asked if I could go shopping with my mom to get the other gifts she wanted.

I couldn’t wait. The idea of helping Santa made me want to burst with excitement.

Sub for Santa became a tradition in our family, and one way or another; we always found ways of giving to others.

The first thing my Dad did on Christmas morning was make secret deliveries to people in town who said were “down on their luck.”

We waited for him to come home and then ran into the living room to see what Santa left for us.

My parents taught me that the best gifts are often the good feelings that come from our own giving and not just from the gifts we receive.

I’m happy my Mom agreed to my Christmas request and delivered the wreath and a note on my Dad’s grave.

That is a true gift to me.

And proof that the best gifts don’t always come in a box.

From the News

Hurricane Sandy and Losing Control

I like to believe I am a calm, controlled kind of woman.

So when I heard about the storm of the century heading our way, Doug and I took all the necessary precautions.

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9]
Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9] (Photo credit: The Birkes)
We filled the tub with water, charged up our battery-powered lights, moved all of our deck furniture, brought in all the pumpkins and Halloween decorations, made a pot of soup, did all the laundry and checked bits of advice of preparations lists.

Then, we waited.

And watched the news.

Always a mistake. But, how do you pull yourself away from it?

The more I watched, the more my anxiety grew.

The sky darkened, the rains poured down, and the winds picked up.

I pestered Doug with questions like, “Should I move that bike out of the backyard? Should we go to the basement now?”

I also kept returning to the bags of Halloween candy like they were the last bags of candy I would ever see in my life.

Halloween Candy
Halloween Candy (Photo credit: JefferyTurner)

I wrote a couple of storm stories for the Deseret News to stay busy.

I checked Twitter and Facebook obsessively and I looked out the window repeatedly.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Doug told me to relax and sit down.


We  have a hurricane the size of Texas heading our way!  The weatherman says we could lose power for weeks!

How can I relax?

I could not relax.

More TV, more Twitter, more Facebook, more window watching, and more candy.

Finally, it was bedtime.

Every time I closed my eyes a gust of wind or a heavy downpour jolted me out of bed.

I kept looking toward the window to make sure the streetlights were still on.

Finally, I fell asleep and empathized with Dorothy and Toto.

The next day, I woke up and it was over.

Trees standing. Power still on. Basement dry.

Enormous relief and gratitude washed over me.

Then, I turned on the news and saw what was happening to our neighbors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

And while my personal worries had evaporated and my high level anxiety had subsided, I felt guilty.

Why did we get off so easy while they got totally slammed?

As I watched homeowners standing in their vanished neighborhoods holding their children and shaking their heads in disbelief, I was reminded of  how desperately we all want control over our lives and how tragedies like this prove to us that we never really have it.

When I was going through chemotherapy (a recurring theme in a lot of my blog posts, I know. I know…), I stood over my jewelry box one afternoon and dumped everything out on my dresser.

Feverishly I focused on sorting all my jewelry and organizing it neatly into little compartments.

I took such deep pleasure in that moment because I had total control over  that one small thing.

Waiting for a hurricane to land is like staring at a messy jewelry box with your hands tied behind your back.

You desperately want to put everything in its place, and you can’t.

So, you pace the floor, eat the candy, try to read a book, put it down, and keep watching disasters on TV.

Today I put the pumpkins back on the porch, the furniture back on the deck, and tried to walk away from the bags of candy.

Those small things helped my life feel normal again.

Except for the pangs of sadness I still feel for those with the overwhelming task of trying to turn chaos back into order.

In my helpless state, I looked for opportunities to help, hoping to lessen my feelings of guilt and to give me some of that elusive feeling of control over something, anything.

Maybe somebody has a jewelry box I could organize, a child I could hold, or a water bottle I could hand out.

I read an article by Sandy Wallace at, that said, “”Hurricane Sandy may have taken a lot of things away from New York and New Jersey, but the storm known as Frankenstorm and Superstorm Sandy can’t take away the resilience of the people.”

This article reminded me that this is when we choose resilience over control, and take a moment to recognize the ultimate power that resides in the elements, over which we have absolutely no control.