give better gifts
He lifts his arm in my direction and stretches at the same time, poised with two bottles of nail polish in his hand—sparkly red and day glow orange. The other arm reaches up, up as Adam yawns. He does not want to be here, and at least he’s honest about it.
“Who’s that for?” I ask, because I know he always goes in list order and I know who is at the top of his list, and I know him too well to put up with sloppiness when it comes to gift giving. When we first walked in the store, he’d taken one look at his list and reached for a box of Christmas cards, but before he could pick them up Zoe and I both said, “NO,” in unison, to which he replied, “and then go home.”
“Nail polish,” he says, the syllables stretched and wide and leaning. He puts the other hand on his hip and arches his back, lifting the two bottles all the more pointedly in my direction.
“I know what it is,” I say to him, manuevering our blue plastic basket-on-wheels out of the way so that another shopper can move past. As we walked across the parking lot this afternoon, the sun began to slip away, leaving red-gold streaks across slate blue sky, and I wanted to stop where I stood. Even from outside I could see that the aisles were clogged with browsing people of all varieties, so I wasn’t all that surprised to discover that the only carriers left were the too small baskets that slide on wheels at floor-level and bruise the shins of the less attentive or more preoccupied. “Who is the nail polish for,” I ask him again.
“Dad,” he says, in a voice that says why not.
“Dad doesn’t wear nail polish,” I point out, and Adam sighs. He really wants to check someone off of his list, but he can’t convince himself to skip out of order to someone who might. Reluctantly, he puts the nail polish back in the bin where he found it.
“So, on this list it says she likes purple and Snickers and snowmen,” Riley says, scanning the sheet of paper in her hand. “So I’ll get her those things.” But she doesn’t step away or move toward any of those things, although she could, and I know she’s waiting for me.
“Mom, look at this,” Zoe says, showing me some sort of speaker shaped like a unicorn that she found who knows where. She walks away again, a yo-yo swinging out and back, out and back, returning each time with something different in her hands. I notice that she puts none of it in the cart. Eventually, I will have to roll the yo-yo back up for the sake of productivity.
I gave each of them a list before we left to make this process more efficient, knowing Adam would require my raised eyebrows to stop protesting and get into the effort. I thought the girls might be more independent about their choices, but they seem happiest vetting their ideas with me and hardly seem anxious to step out from the umbrella of my supervision.
“Interesting,” I say to Zoe, and then “sounds good,” to Riley, and then, “Adam, what would Dad like?” Adam reaches for my ears while I weave the little blue floor-crawler between some moms spraying perfume into the air and their kids, who are behind them opening a package of travel toothbrushes. I walk out of the cosmetics and into an area where Adam has greater potential for successful discovery. I don’t want to take away his freedom to choose, but I will align him with several good options. He moves with me just naturally, and I give thanks that I get to be that person, the one to whom he is most naturally drawn. It still astounds me the way God builds life, the way He allowed me to be the vessel for shaping these children, the way He still lets me touch and tend and root them. What grace.
Resolved that I will not be pacified with any sort of random, barely-invested box checking, Adam finally begins to look at the shelves around him. Riley lifts a thermal drink container from a shelf just a few feet away from me–something with a big wedge of pizza printed on the side and the words pizza forever salad never and lifts it toward me, smiling. “I’m getting this for the youth group gift exchange,” she says, pleased with her find, and I nod. Perfect.
“Mom, I still need something purple, and a Snickers, and a snowman,” she says, and I turn, feeling Adam’s gaze. He has his hand poised in mid-air over something, waiting to see if I approve before he picks it up. “Yes,” I tell him. “That’s a good gift for Dad.”
I smile as Zoe returns with something else she’s found, something maybe for a friend. “Wouldn’t this be great?”
I walk and they orbit me like planets, asking their questions, sometimes seeking my guidance; sometimes just looking for affirmation that they haven’t lost their way; sometimes just narrating in my presence the things we both already know because somehow it makes them feel better; sometimes reaching to touch me, and all the while I navigate us all through pitfalls they never notice—a toddler bent in the middle of the aisle; a silver-haired man pushing a shopping cart, a jumble of children hanging off the sides and end; a shattered, goopy jar at our feet. They wait when I wait, they turn when I turn, they skip the aisles I skip. And as we stand in line to pay at the end, it will be me—alternately exhausted and overwhelmed by joy—who pays the price for all that they’ve chosen, even the gifts they’ll offer others.
As we move and they choose, this is the gift I gather up, that God does exactly the same thing for me every day. As long as I move with Him; as long as I remain reluctant to leave the umbrella of His supervision; as long as I lean on Him for understanding and trust Him; as long as I talk to Him—asking—reaching for Him, taking my discoveries right to Him, I can hope to be a blessing to other people—His vessel for administering grace in its various forms. I can give better gifts. And when I don’t want to be the person I should, that too He will correct and realign in me, until I am determined again to try. Oh may it be that moving with Him—He who formed me; He who faithfully loves me; He who gently corrects me; He who paid the price and gives me every good thing—may it be that moving with Him becomes the most natural thing I do.