Christmas is weeks away, but I’m thinking about gift-giving. Finding the right gift for some people can be a challenge. I don’t recall many gifts I’ve given over the years. But I will always remember one, because it provided so much joy, not only for the recipient but also for me.
My partner, John, and I were living in Chicago. A Polish woman, Miraka, had been our housekeeper for many years. We had moved three times over the years; each time she followed us to our new home.
Miraka didn’t speak English, so we communicated through a daughter or her son. Every few years she would take off six weeks to return to Poland to visit relatives.
Then one summer we received the devastating news that Miraka’s son had been killed in a car accident. As a result, she was gone for an extended time, taking her son’s body back to Poland for burial.
Months later, with the holidays approaching, I asked John what we might give Miraka for Christmas. In years past we had always doubled her pay. For some reason this time that didn’t seem appropriate. I wanted us to do something different yet couldn’t make up my mind.
Suddenly, it hit! A voice inside me said, “You need to give her an airline ticket, so she can go back to Poland for a visit.”
As hard as I tried to block the voice out, I couldn’t. John and I chatted about it. We agreed it seemed like an extravagant gift. I’d give up some of my prized frequent-flyer miles to make it happen.
Later that week I took a Christmas card to a Polish neighbor who wrote a note on our behalf to Miraka saying we were giving her a ticket to Poland for Christmas. We left the card for Miraka the next time she came.
That evening her daughter called me. She said her mother had called that morning sobbing. Thinking the worst, the daughter asked what was wrong. Through tears Miraka said, “No, it’s good, it’s good.”
The daughter told me the gift was an answer to prayer: Her grandmother —Miraka’s mother in Poland — was terminally ill with cancer, and Miraka couldn’t afford a plane ticket because of the costs associated with her son’s death. No words came to me as I fought back tears.
Within a few weeks, Miraka was on her way to Poland to see her mother one last time. When she returned she again expressed heartfelt appreciation for the gift. Though we couldn’t converse, the bond between us had strengthened. When we later moved to Indianapolis, we wished she could follow us. Unfortunately, she couldn’t.
The ticket for Miraka amounted to many frequent-flyer miles and $5 for taxes. But no gift has given me more enjoyment than this one. I was willing to listen to an inner voice that prompted me, and I obeyed.
The best gifts are those given when we expect nothing in return — giving not driven by obligation but by love and generosity.
The benefits we get from these gifts remind us that, as Scripture says, it is “more blessed to give than to receive” — and, as others suggest, that it is possible to “give until it feels good.”
I’m sure readers have similar stories of gifts that brought unforgettable joy — joy that lives on as the givers remember how much the receivers appreciated them. That, for me, is the perfect gift.
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.