This year the money has been kinda tight in many families, including ours. As our son turns a teenager (13) and our daughter, turns 15, we've been scratching our heads about exactly what to do for these two teenagers' birthdays. It does not make it any easier that both teenagers' natal day fall on the same day. Attribute that to perfect family planning techniques on our part. Or chuck it up to chance, and you'll be closer to what really happened.
At any rate, I have been thinking of low-cost or non-cost gifts that each of these teenagers can proudly call "cool". Clearly, no easy challenge. But whereas we may actually spend some money giving our children a birthday celebration worth the name, it is my hope that one day they will discover those special gifts in life that cost no money but mean so much more. There are at least 7 such no-money gifts I can think of and ramble about in no particular order.
1. Gracious words: These can be words of thanks, like "Thank you." They can be words of encouragement: "You can make it. Do not give up." What about words of praise or compliment: "You did great! You look sharp. That's a brilliant observation." Words of affirmation: "You are important to our family. You make a difference in our school, company or church." How about words of comfort? "I do not know what it's like to experience what you're going through, but I'm standing with you; I'll support you through this. I'm praying with you." Words of appreciation: "We could not have achieved this without you." What about humor, like a good joke? Or words of greeting: Please say "Good morning" every day when you wake up; yes, "Good morning", even to each person who lives in the same house with you.
2. You can give your ears at no cost to you. How? You listen. Simply listen. You come across as caring, concerned, and wise when you listen to another human being with that feel of empathy, which says, "I understand, I care, I know, I want to know."
3. How about giving your eyes? This is the gift of attention or eye contact, and it does not cost money. Do you know that 'love is in the eye'? A good look can seal the deal between two people as one falls in love, and the other confirm the feeling is mutual. Your eyes, if you are blessed with the gift of sight, are a wonderful gift; use them to give someone special that special look engenders love, confidence, compassion, and the like.
4. Forgiveness: More than a gift to another person who has hurt you or offended, the free gift of forgiveness can heal you and free you just as much as it releases your offender. "I forgive you" is one of the most powerful sentences one person can utter for another to hear. It says you are ready to move on, and so can the other person. Forgiveness sets two prisoners free, though they may still head in different directions from the cell of grudge, bitterness and resentment.
5. Presence: This is one of the most undervalued gifts in our world. Your presence, just being there can make a whole lot of difference. Presence makes a difference in the lives of millions of children. Do you know that a son may drop out of school, use drugs and alcohol, engage in pre-age sex, commit crime, and end up in jail, simply because his dad was 'not there'? Never underestimate the power of 'being there'. The gift of presence is also essential for organizations like a sports team, a church, or a company. What good is a team, a church, or a company if no one shows up, if the players, members, or employees do not attend, if they are never 'there'? Attendance is just another name for the gift of presence. For those who are religious, one of the beliefs that keeps many of them going is a simple promise from the Almighty: "I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you, even to the end of the world. " Presence. What a gift!
6. Smile or Laughter: Few things communicate "I'm on your team" like a genuine smile, or a good laugh. For years now, I have made it a point every day to have one good 'laugh of the day'. If the day wears on, and I have not yet gotten my laugh of the day, I will surf the Internet until I locate a good laugher. But on most days, I get my dose of laughter with a family member, a friend, or even over the phone. By the way, laugh relieves stress and conditions your mind like you know what. By the way, we are speaking of a "laugh with" someone, not a "laugh at" anyone.
7. The Gift of Touch: The Mother Teresas of this world have understood the great gift of that human touch, the tender kind. That gift can shape the personality of a baby for the rest of that child's life. A child that is often touched will develop differently from one who never gets a hug or kiss. A gentle touch from a nurse or doctor can cheer up or even speed up the healing process for a patient, or make the difference between a peaceful death and a traumatic exit from this life. Jesus the Rabbi distinguished himself from other religious leaders and endeared himself to the common people by being a tourer rather than just a detached teacher. He touched the epileptic, those with leprosy, the prostitute, the hated, and he touched his disciples. The touch of Jesus changed lives and brought tears to the eyes of the most macho of men, including Simon Peter, that strong fisherman of Galilee. Never regard a handshake, a hug, an empire, a kiss on the cheek or lips as anything less than a precious gift.
There is little chance that our son or daughter will be impressed with any of these cost-less gifts for their birthday. The good news is that, as their parents, we know that it is these gifts that they will remember the most once they leave our nest. And thankfully, we can dump these precious presences on them just about any day of the week, whether it's their birthday or not.