Friday, December 10, 2010

The Gift

I've always enjoyed writing during the Christmas season. When I am famous beyond ridicule some day, I'll release all of my younger writings in which I lovingly detail the Christmas tree and its many qualities, the feeling that cinnamon spiked coffee gives me, and the indescribable jump of joy in my stomach when I realize that it is Christmas Eve.

Even for a young writer, Christmas provides an endless supply of inspiration and description. We never grow tired, after all, of hearing things that make us remember anew what divine joy is ours. "Christ is come! Deck the halls and pass the eggnog! Falala! God rest those merry gentlemen!" At Christmastime, a sympathetic and eager audience is guaranteed. We willingly visit Hallmark during this season, so reading a short article about the meaning of Christmas or carols or tradition of the creche is a veritable piece of Christmas cake.

Last year I wrote about a Christmas carol. I've been planning on doing the same this year, just a bit behind in getting the words on paper. I'm glad, for once, that I didn't write this sooner. I would have missed something tremendously spectacular that makes this blog worth writing.

I've been planning on blogging The Little Drummer Boy. I love this carol. I love many, if not most of the Christmas carols. But I looooove this one. In a season filled with Ye Same Old Arrangements, this song is different. Every group, each artist, puts his or her own spin into The Little Drummer Boy. I think it is the rhythm that sparks creativity. It is simple, but so very passionate! Once you hear the opening meters, you cannot help but sing along, even if you are singing in your head because you have a Grinchy heart.

But what gets us, or at least me, is the universal soul searching.

The drummer boy was told to come see a newborn. A baby king, nonetheless, and one that deserved the honor of all who attended him. The drummer boy has to bring his finest gift to lay before the majestic child. When the drummer boy arrives, he sees that this king is sleeping in a barn...and sees that the king is, like himself, poor. As one poor boy watches another poor boy receive gift after gift of costly gold and incense, honor after honor of bending knees and reverenced hearts, he realizes that he wants to give something. But what?

The drummer boy has his own heart, his own knees. He could have knelt with the rest and offered thanks to God above that something wonderful had just occurred. The Christ came down on this day!

But he didn't! It would have been enough if he had. But he didn't. He had a drum.

The drum might have been a tattered piece of animal hide strung over a gourd, or even a hollowed out piece of wood with nails and linen to hold it all together. But it was his, and it was his to give.

He asked the poor baby king if he should play the drum. Mary the mother nodded, and the little drummer boy bestowed his gift.

So amazingly simple, and so amazingly difficult to grasp!

Here's what moves me about this song:

1. He didn't give as others gave
His economic situation in life wouldn't allow him to give a gift of gold. It just wasn't going to happen. Sure, he could have pawned his drum and bought a bit of gold dust. But then the Christ child would have had gold plus more gold. The drummer boy might have been ashamed to not bring myrrh, but he didn't have it! He could also have just worshipped the child as the others did. He could have wept and prayed and blessed the baby, and it would have been received. But he had another gift, a better gift, a more appropriate gift. He had himself. He was a drummer, and to play for someone was indeed a gift. We don't know if he was good or bad, but he gave the gift of his talent, thus worshipping and blessing the child, the family, and all who heard the rhythm of his pa rum pa pum pum.

2. He gave appropriately
You might have noticed that the drummer boy could have just given the baby his drum. It was the only thing he had to offer, so why didn't he just give the whole thing away? Somehow, he knew that his gift wasn't in the object as much as the offering. We say that it isn't about the money, and we say it because it is true. Money can buy things that we need, but it doesn't always speak of the heart. I wouldn't be excited if my husband bought me an expensive car because I don't care about cars. The money wouldn't show me that he put thought or care into his gifting. He could take the same money and buy us a trip to Vienna and I would be delighted beyond words. It isn't about the money, even if you spend the money. Gifts are about appropriateness and thought. I'd rather have a book about Vienna than an expensive car because that is what I care about. The drummer boy could have given his most expensive item, but he didn't. It wasn't appropriate. The child might have needed a lullaby to soothe his newborn body to sleep. The drummer boy gave of himself, of what he had, but also what was needed.

3. The gift was received
Mary nodded, and the animals even joined in the receiving of the gift. They were grateful for the gift that was offered, and they honored the giver by receiving with gladness that which was given. What a joyous gift in return for the drummer boy! He could have been sent away, hushed by the mother who wanted her baby to sleep. The gift would have been no less offered. But oh, to have such a gift received is a blessing that often out gives the giver!

4. The giver felt good
"It is more blessed to give than receive" is often right behind 'it isn't about the money" in the speech we give our kids on the way to Grandma's house to open gifts. We mean well, of course, and we mean what we say. But what we are trying to tell them is to be grateful no matter what they get. It is a good lesson, and many adults would do well to learn that overdue assignment. Usually, however, our kids just end up getting the impression that wanting a gift is wicked and giving gifts is honorable. What we need to explain is that when we give a gift...a real, honest, piece of our self, our time and energy, our love and thoughtfulness, when we give something like feels better than receiving all the presents that Amazon can offer. It also feels great to get such a gift, and there is nothing wicked about being grateful and honored and excited about opening such a present. This is really receiving a gift, which is actually a hard thing to do. We don't want to seem greedy, we don't want to seem unthankful. Be like Mary and receive with grace and gratitude. Be like the little drummer boy and be proud. Play your best for him! Do your best for those you love, and even for those you've just met in a barn.

Well. Those are my thoughts I've been working on for a few weeks. I was, quite honestly, waiting on a story to tie in with it. I got one.

Last Sunday, I was at church with my family. Sabra, who has asthma, began to have That Cough that means business. She hadn't had any problems lately, and I was surprised that her inhalers weren't going to cut it. I handed her over to Austin and ran for the car, because it was time to drive home for the breathing machine. I prayed the whole way home. I prayed for her to be alright, which I mostly knew she would be. But I also prayed for myself. I was a little bit unhappy at yet another mad dash for breathing supplies.

"Come on, God! I thought we were past all this!" I whispered. "I'm tired of all this stuff with my kids, and I can't keep up with all their needs and I just don't think you gave them the right parent."

I trailed off, my mind wandering as it will do when I'm trying to pray and yet think, analyze, and organize at the same time. I got the machine, realized my connecting tube was busted, and made my way towards a friend's house who had one I could borrow. Now having the machine and all its parts, I got on the highway. I don't usually take the highway because I don't like cars and going fast, and highways being the natural marriage of these things, I try to avoid them. It was, however, the fastest way back to my wheezing child.

I whispered again at God, and I was asking what it was like to hear his voice. I cannot say definitively that I've heard God speak to me. I've been quite sure, pretty sure, maybe sure, or even just had a hunch that I thought God was trying to tell me something. I do my best to do that thing, but I've never really had to go out on a limb and tell someone that GOD SAYS TO STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GO TO NINEVAH or anything of the sort. I was just whispering, partly to God, partly to my embarrassed conscience, that I hope I would know the difference if the time ever came when He needed me for something.

I pulled off the freeway at my exit and waited at the red light.

A homeless man waited at the corner. He had a sweatshirt pulled tight over his head, some grubby shoes, and a cardboard sign. It was snowing, and not a little bit, as this man, name and age unknown, held the words 'VETERAN GOD BLESS' scrawled over a piece of thick brown paper.

A thought jumped into my head, and it said "Give him a hundred dollars."

I reached for my wallet before the thought actually translated with real meaning.

"Wooooahhhh....I told myself. That's not a small amount. I have a house to move into, Christmas presents to buy, and I would REALLY like to buy some great new shoes...."

All the same, I know when to bargain with myself and when not to. "Ok, if the first bill in my wallet is a 100 dollar bill..." and of course, before the thought was completed, I was pulling a 100 dollar bill from my wallet.

I'm not a rich person. I had a bill that large because we use the cash system and that money is for groceries. This wasn't like handing over $5 that meant I wouldn't be able to stop for a latte.

I was now worried that the light would turn green before I could get the money to him. It was his, and I needed to get it to him quickly. I rolled down the window, waved him over, and he took the money without looking at what it was.

He thanked me, 'God blessed' me, and then looked at the bill in his hand. He pulled back his head in the way that those over 45 are known to do, and looked at me. He didn't think he could see correctly. He politely asked what the bill was, and it really was polite. He had already thanked me very warmly for the money, and was now just asking for my young eyes to tell him what the bill said.

"Its a hundred dollars", I said, "God bless you". I smiled and teared up as he began to cry. He put his face towards the sky and shouted "THANK YOU! OH THANK YOU!" while he continued to weep. Standing there in the snow, he told me that he was going to get a room for the night. He then held his hands out towards me as if to shake my hands.

His hands were almost touching mine when he looked at them. He pulled them back, ashamed. "They're so dirty..." he said, "my hands are too cold". "No!" I almost shouted, and leaned out of the car to grasp his hands. They were indeed cold, and dirty. But they were his hands, his offering for the gift that I gave him. I took them in my own and we stayed that way for a few moments, both of us crying, while we shared a simple human moment.

The cars were starting to move when he held out his sign to me. "Do you want my sign?" he asked. I thanked him, and did so graciously, but told him to keep it for when he needed it again. It was written on the back of a Miller Lite box. The car in front of me moved. It was time to go.

"God bless!" we both called to one another.

And I drove away, feeling that wondrous sense of gratitude that comes when you give and receive a gift. I gave of my heart, and he gave of his.

Some of you would argue that he needed a meal more than money. You might be right, but you might not be. It was impressed on me in a profound way that I was to give him a specific gift. So, I did. It was the right gift. Some of you will wonder what he did with the money. But it wasn't your gift.

He could have thrown it at me and told me that he didn't need charity or hand outs, just a few dollars to make ends meet. He could have acted like it was my duty to give to him, spoiled posh brat that I am in my SUV with a warm coat on. I could have told him to use it on food and not drugs. I could have told him to get a job. We could have interacted, the money still changing hands, without a gift being exchanged.

Instead, I gave a gift. It was received, and it was returned, ten fold and more.

Please don't assume that I'm some amazingly wonderful person. That would be quite an inaccurate assumption. I was the most stunned of all at this exchange. I was honored to hold his cold, dirty hands and pass the peace of Christ, and blessed that I had money to share. I was honored that he wanted to give something to me.

We inherently have a need to share ourselves with others. Sometimes this need gets twisted and we share ourselves in ways that aren't safe or wholesome. Sometimes this need gets burned out and we no longer want to share, because others only take. But the need is still there. It was given to us by the Creator, who shared himself with us in the ultimate gift.

The gift has been shared. You can receive it.

He receives you, cardboard sign, little drum, SUV and all.

The Little Drummer Boy

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone


Pastor Austin said...

There is nothing to add to this. It is one of the most beautiful things I have read.

palmahome said...

Truly one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Gaj said...

Tiffany Cagle, I truly believe you know what giving a "gift" really means. I am not saying you are "holy", just enlightened. I love this blog. I wept through the last part of it, because what you experienced was what God charged us to love one another. I love you. Gaj

Becky said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this. Beautiful. I found my tears welling up by the end of this-thank you for sharing this with us, and for using your gift to glorify our heavenly Father! God bless you, sister :)

Kristen said...

That REALLY blessed me in a moment when I really needed to read it.

ColleenA said...

Seldom am I moved to tears by something I read, but you, dear Tiffany, have done this. Thank you for the insights on gift-giving that I needed to hear.

Anonymous said...

This was the most beautiful of your writings yet my friend. I am moved to tears but mostly moved. Thank you.

Beatrice Blount said...

Thank you so much for the kind words. I really appreciate it so very much.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, just beautiful. I love you and cannot wait to see you!!!

Rob Blair said...

Amazing read, from the unveiling of the meaning behind the little drummer boy to your Blessed story. Just awesome! Thanks for sharing.