Unexpected gifts of Christmas. They may not be on your official Christmas list, but these presents may just show up out of the blue. If you’re like me, you might even overlook these tiny gems amid all the scurrying to drive, park, shop, wrap, mail, dress, dine, sip, sit, applaud, clean, entertain, pack, and travel.
A few Christmases ago, a teen girl I’ll call Taylor presented me with several unexpected gifts and she didn’t even know it. I met 16-year-old Taylor and her family at my church’s Christmas gift giveaway at a local community center. After helping Taylor’s parents pick out several incredible donated gifts for their three children, I whispered to Taylor that I would be thinking of her on Christmas because I knew what great gifts her parents had just picked for her (including a gorgeous down jacket from Macy’s).
As the family prepared to leave, I noticed Taylor get up and steady herself with a handrail leading down twenty-some steps. Taylor haltingly planted her right foot on the first step, then her twisted left foot. Lift-drag-lift. Lift-drag-lift. As I stepped behind Taylor, I found myself watching her misshapen left foot slide along in her squashed white athletic shoe.
No regular shoe would fit Taylor’s terribly pronated foot, so most of her bare heel stuck out, flattening the top of the shoe. Lift-drag-lift. Lift-drag-lift down each linoleum step.
In that moment, Taylor gave me the unexpected gifts of compassion and gentleness. Compassion for individuals with challenges who don’t want pity but crave fitting in. Gentleness instead of impatience expecting that everyone should move at my pace and to my overflowing schedule. I wildly unwrapped these unexpected gifts and vowed to myself to never stash them away or display them only during the holidays.
Two years later, I wonderfully saw Taylor again at the same Christmas gift giveaway—she was slightly taller and her face softly fuller. The greatest unexpected gifts of that day came without gleaming wrap and a bow. No cheery card. No fuzzy elf hat or eggnog.
A friend walking arm and arm with Taylor helped steady the now 18-year-old’s gait. Lift-drag-lift. Lift-drag-lift. I glanced down for an instant and noticed Taylor’s misshapen left foot sliding along, but this time in a shoe that entirely fit her outturned foot. No bare heel sticking out, no flattened shoe. Even Taylor’s lift-drag-lift had improved! As I called out an “It’s GREAT to see you!” to Taylor and her family, Taylor handed me two little gifts of Christmas: a smile and humility.
“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process” (Phil. 2:3-8, The Message).
“Staying human” might top my Christmas list every year. Add in compassion and gentleness and “share genuine smiles with everyone” next. Right up there with a grateful heart for courageous people like Taylor who refuse to settle for self-pity and defeat, and who remind us that we all shuffle along at times.
Some days we can barely lift-drag-lift our way through the hours and other days no one notices our slightly off cadence. But our imperfections remain, and it’s why Jesus was born in a lowly stable amid the animal cacophony and stench. He came to earth because, on our own we will always hobble, tripped up by pride, impatience, and a plethora of other wrongs.
Some of us are hampered by the past; some of us stumble over our current life. While others of us totter at the future. This side of heaven our lift-drag-lift is part of our humanness and what makes us real to our fellow sojourners. It’s what keeps us humbled and resiliently moving forward like Taylor—one sometimes-faltering step at a time. And what keeps us open to receiving unexpected gifts.
For the holidays we give gifts that will delight and dazzle, but I think one of the greatest gifts we can ever offer to others is a warm smile and genuine humility. Two thousand years ago an unassuming teen girl from a dinky town gave birth to a royal son who lived intentionally ordinary among everyday folk. The Bible’s book of Philippians encourages us to model his simple, respectful mindset: