The Art and Joy of Giving Well

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ~Mother Teresa

When I was a new teacher (read: cash poor), a colleague’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted desperately to help. I looked through the house, begging God to show me what I could give.

A small wicker basket, a new dish towel, and two cans of peaches. I felt so ashamed, but it was all I had. And when I took the basket to my friend, she started to cry: “You didn’t know — canned peaches are my comfort food.”

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I have been humbled by many opportunities to give and receive over the years. To learn how to accept every offering with grace, to better read hearts and know what might be most meaningful, to give what I can without worrying about the outcome.

I’ve often handled things poorly and chosen wrongly, and no doubt I will again. Such are the inevitable human failings we all face. Still, past missteps should never keep us from looking for ways to make another soul smile.

There isn’t enough space to list all the ways people have loved me lavishly. From first chances to second chances, to teaching me to balance my checkbook, to helping me paint my house, to covering medical costs, to hugs on hard days, to pianos and concerts, to helping hang pictures and move furniture, to shoveling my driveway, to paying for my education, to letting me love on their babies …

I could go on and on — and I hope you could, too. I hope that the ways you’ve been loved well have inspired you in your own good works and words. And for the times others have failed to love you well, I’m so, so sorry. May you reject bitterness and instead choose a greater resolve to care gently, wisely, and joyfully for those who cross your path.

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Whether big or small by the world’s standards, the value of every gift is beyond compare when given willingly and with a sincere desire to encourage.

For my high school graduation, one of my mama’s high school classmates gave me a small framed print with my name’s etymology. This from a woman I didn’t know — but she loved my mama, so she loved me, and she recognized the importance of speaking life. The beautiful words in that print of affirmation and high calling grace my cottage to this day.

And when I was a college freshman, a great-aunt mailed me short notes and Far Side panels. They didn’t solve everything, but knowing that someone cared — about me and about reminding me to laugh — helped get me through.

We’re not all wired the same way when it comes to gift-giving. We’re not all wired the same way when it comes to gift-receiving. Pay attention to your Loves. What speaks deeply to them of your care? How do your talents and their enjoyment or need connect?

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It’s not always about money. Some of the most meaningful gifts cost nothing but time and a willingness to be vulnerable. Handwrite your tried-and-true recipes for a new bride. Pass on to a new mama an afghan lovingly stitched when you were born. Give a packet of wildflower seeds to a friend struggling to put down roots in a new place, a new season …

My mama planted sweet peas every spring for over 40 years. They required months of tending before a single bloom appeared. And then she shared them — because the only way to keep sweet peas blooming is to pick them.

Mama gave them to the mail lady whose own mother used to grow them. To the grieving friend who longed for a bouquet because it reminded him of his grandmother. To the neighbor too tired from caring for her ill husband to grow her own. If you stopped at the house to do business with Daddy, you’d find a bouquet waiting by your car when you were ready to leave. Friend or stranger, it didn’t matter. What mattered was sharing happiness.

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Then there will be times when you can and want to give something more costly. Go for it! Whether you make the gift or support other artisans, have as much fun in the process of buying it as you will in giving it. What does your Love do in their free time? What would they never buy for themselves even though they’ve talked about it with longing?

Out of ideas? If your friend says she’d always prefer a gift card, believe her! But when only a wrapped gift or something more extravagant will do, here are a few suggestions I’ve used or dreamed about — or those others have used to spoil me. Tip of the iceberg, of course. Brainstorm your favorite local and global marketplaces that would have just the thing your Love would love.

Whatever else you choose to give, remember: People need the gift of you. Laugh without reserve, cry without shame. When you study your Loves watchfully, selflessly — with no agenda — you will find ways to lavish care, speak life, and spark hope.

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