December 20, 2010
Other than the sound of a few mouse clicks, Thanksgiving afternoon was quiet for my family. While everyone else went downstairs to play ping pong, my mom and I were in the middle of some intense online shopping. Manned with our laptops, we went from site to site looking for the elusive cowgirl Jessie doll from the movie “Toy Story 3.” Jessie is the one gift my 5-year-old daughter Shayla (and apparently every other girl in the nation) wants more than anything else. My mom and I were determined to find one for her. Other than a few mumbled website addresses exchanged between us, we were in the online shopping zone for most of the afternoon and evening, taking advantage of some Christmas gift bargains and trying to find a website that still had Jessie.
On the trip home from our Colorado Thanksgiving, Shayla spent most of the five-hour ride talking about Christmas and all the things she wanted. I knew her excitement for Christmas was turning a little selfish, so later that week I took her to a local store and had her pick the name of a needy child off the angel giving tree.
To my delight, Shayla enthusiastically picked out presents for “her girl” when we went shopping. I was glad she was so excited and willing to help someone in need, but her taste in gifts was expensive. She was throwing things in the cart that I would buy her for Christmas, not give away to someone I didn’t even know.
I put all of Shayla’s gift choices away and decided we’d shop somewhere else on another day. We needed to find cheaper gifts.
On the way home from town I made a call to my dad. I wanted him to remind me of a night back in the mid 1990s that gave him a giving lesson he’ll never forget.
“The story actually starts back in the 1970s,” my dad said. “I was going on a date with your mother for the first time and your grandpa gave me a $20 bill and told me to keep it in my wallet for emergencies. Over the years that $20 turned into a $100 bill that I kept hidden.”
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“That night that you are talking about, your mom and I and all you kids went up to the church for a meeting. We got there before anyone else, so we just waited in the pickup. A few minutes later an old, beat-up car pulled into the parking lot beside us. The man from the car came to the window and asked if we had any money to spare for him and his family. We could see a woman and a few kids in his car. They seemed to be a family that genuinely was in need.”
“Your mom and I didn’t have hardly any cash between us,” my dad said. “All I had was that hidden $100. I thought about giving it to him, but it seemed like a lot to give away, so we told the guy to wait. We headed to the ATM and got a $20 out. When we pulled back into the parking lot of the church, the family and the car were gone.”
“That night has haunted me ever since then,” my dad remembered. “I was too selfish to give him my $100. It wasn’t very long after that that I had to break into that hidden money. And it honestly wasn’t until five or six years later that I was able to keep another $100 hidden in my wallet. I can’t help but think how things might be different if I would have given him that money that night.”
I thanked him for the story and hung up. And I couldn’t help but think of how my life might be different if I gave some of my best to others, not just kept it all for myself and my family.
Later that week, Shayla and I went back to the store and she picked out a nice gift for her angel tree girl. I was proud of her genuine excitement to give a gift away. I thought I was going to teach Shayla a lesson in giving, but she showed me how it was done.
When I got home that day, I got on the Internet to finish my shopping and find a Jessie doll.
A week ago, when my husband was out of town for the day, he found a Jessie for Shayla. It turns out that after the Thanksgiving shopping frenzy; Jessie dolls became almost as common as the cheap Christmas decorations flooding store shelves everywhere. We look forward to Christmas morning and can imagine just how excited our daughter will be when she opens her gift.
What I will be left wondering, though, is how my angel tree girl feels when she opens the Jessie doll I bought for her.