I ask myself this question every year. And every year, I come up with disappointing answers. I’ve gotten my mother gift cards. Additional pieces for her dessert china. Bottles of her signature perfume—White Linen by Estée Lauder.
But every year, no matter how politely Mother thanks me, I always wish I could get her something more personal.
I’m so good at picking gifts for everyone else. Gifts that make them exclaim, “Where did you find this?” and “How did you know?” Gifts that show how well I know them, how much they mean to me.
Everyone, except for Mother. For her, I always draw a blank.
I pause to pray-cess my quandary: Lord, why is it so hard for me to think of a good Christmas gift for Mother?
Fragmented memories reassemble into a decades-old scene: The linoleum-lined eating disorder unit, where I spent six weeks as a teenager. A group therapy session, with Mother, Daddy, and me awkwardly perched on metal chairs. My counselor urging me to share my feelings.
“You’re impossible to please! I try so hard, but nothing I do is ever good enough for you!”
My words made me wince. But Mother sat motionless, staring at the floor.
I shake my head as familiar waves of emotion wash over me: guilt for not being a better daughter back then, grief that twenty years later, differences and defensiveness still divide us.
She’s impossible to please, that’s why it’s so hard. What am I supposed to get for someone who’s impossible to please?
But this, I know in my heart, is the easy answer. The convenient cop-out. The excuse that lets me off the hook.
That scene in the eating disorder unit has been a defining moment for so long now.
But there’s more to her than that. There’s more to me than that.
I sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to listen, really listen, as I try to recall if Mother’s mentioned anything she needs. Anything she wants. Anything she wishes she . . .
Yes. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, yes!
As far back as I can remember, whenever Mother has talked about her years as a fifth grade teacher, she’s always said, “I wish I had kept a copy of our reading textbook, Engine Whistles.”
So I sit down at my computer, click on eBay, type “Engine Whistles” in the search box, and hold my breath. As multiple editions show up on the screen, I exhale a thank you prayer, and start to giggle.
I know what to give Mother for Christmas this year!
Christmas Day can’t come soon enough. For the first time in my life, I can’t wait to give my gift to Mother.
She slits the tape with a paring knife, and the wrapping paper falls away. Mother sits motionless, starting at the book cover.
“Where . . .” She blinks and clears her throat. “Where did you find this?” Tracing the title with trembling fingertips, she looks up at me. “How did you know?”
I give her a sly smile and a hug.
And I give a quiet prayer of gratitude for God’s gifts to both of us: a small step in a new direction.
A re-defined moment.Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I love “re-defining” moments. What a beautiful memory to replace the linoleum-lined eating disorder unit. So glad that we serve a God who is bountiful in giving us redefining moments to layer over all the old and tired haunting memories we carry around. If I might share….the best gift I received this Christmas was my husband arranged to get a new and lovely displayed copy of my college diploma. My abusive ex had thrown mine out in an attempt to sabotage my worth. That gift said to me, “You are worthy and you are loved!” That was one of my re-defining moments. We all need those gifts….thanks for sharing!
Michele Morin says
“Pray-cess” Thanks for this new, freshly minted word and for the concept that all my decisions are worthy of prayer.
And what an amazing story, cementing in our minds the truth that so often the key to understanding a loved one is simply listening to their words.
What a lovely post to read this morning! Redefining moments are something we all need at one time or another. Thank you for sharing yours.
Susan Kennedy says
Wow! That was amazing. I’m rebelling a little (yes, at 58 I still have a tendency to rebel a little when God touches an area of my life I’m hoping I can ignore), because I have a less than perfect relationship with my 82 year old dad. Long story, but let’s just say I have perfected the art of not seeing past his difficult exterior. I could use prayer and courage in this area. Thanks for this reminder.
I always struggle with Christmas. I feel if the gift doesn’t express some sort of intimacy and knowing it becomes just because I had to or wanted to get you something. And my budget cannot afford those type gifts in this economy. . .every dollar counts. I love this story and the diploma story Bev shared. This year I stayed home rather than join family. I’m a single Mom with one son. I was trying to decide what to cook because my son does not favor any traditional Christmas dishes. But he loves fried chicken. . .and I rarely fry chicken. His joy and delight when I asked would he like that for dinner. . .priceless. And if only he’d let me post photos of him eating. I am so happy that something so simple could become so grand. It’s not the size or cost even. . .when we know what our loved ones want because we listen/love. . .pay attention.
Very well said…..I totally understand….The holidays make me so sad, irritable, and I’m glad when they are over…..Blessings to you and your son!!!! 🙂
Indeed, many of us somehow feel this way. I have surprisingly found the less I do (and that was initially extremely difficult), the more meaningful everything seems to become. Its a time of year that I still am uncomfortable with but the tears and saddness aeem not as overwhelming.
Thank you Cheri for a teared up reading! Beautiful!!! Merry Christmas and a 2017 full of blessings from Him.
Leah LaRosa says
What a blessing for you and your mom! It’s never too late to find a connection. I’m really happy you found it, finally! I know that feeling. I had that with my dad, one day before he passed away. I’m thankful everyday for God’s Mercy, that for the first in my life I felt my father’s love. Really felt it. And truly felt it in the purest sense for him.
My kids ( boys) 14 and 21……Say this about me….Especially my oldest who is not a big shopper anyway….Neither am I…He struggles over what to get for me…And I always tell him not to worry…..That I don’t really need a gift…..I don’t really like giving hints because I like a gift that comes from the heart. I can be a difficult person to live with….Suffering from depression and I sometimes blow up over minor things…..And I feel like he feels so much pressure to make a big impact….But he doesn’t notice the little things…The things that matter…..He even bought me slippers that are too small….
I feel sad that he probably feels like nothing would be good enough, and I blame myself for that.
I’m trying to be more calm…I’m a control freak who has no control. I have to learn to stop…Breathe….And realize that we all make mistakes in parenting…But it’s not deliberate or with malice intent.
Very nice article…..That’s the kind of thing I might do, because gifts should mean something more than just a gift.
Rebecca L Jones says
Well ladies, not to brag except on Jesus, I have always had a great relationship with my mother, sometimes her attention was focused so on helping others, it took some of my time but other than that, she’s easy to please if it is perfume or a spa day, I’seed time when she was happy with very little, watched her cover for me, my mistakes. I have been angry at her but for not seeing herself as worthy or good enough, she’s loaded with grace and favor. I always wanted her to be proud of me as a writer, a daughter, a woman. She said she was even though, I’ve yet to see the fruition of that work. I pray for you all to be able to come to terms with these defining moments, even for grief and if mothers or fathers have passed. Nothing is too deep for His love to healing, and Christmas doesn’t have to be blue but a blessing.
And often a simple, challenging ans so very meaningful gift is one of your TIME. I would love to have a few minutes or hours spent with someone who REALLY wants to be with me. No matter who anyone is they can never be replaced. Their annoying characteristics speak volumes about them ans their own issues and vulnerabilities. With our own life experiences and in death it all becomes so much more evident and precious.
Thank you for this.
Beth Williams says
We all have people in our lives that can be hard to buy for. My step mother-in-law is one of those. She is 81 and has just about everything she needs. I try to listen to her and sense what she would like. Each year I get her a nice bath set and a gift card for eating out. The gift card is appreciated the most as she won’t have to cook a meal. Redefining moments in life are precious. Sometimes it takes prayer and quiet to really know and understand a person.
Have a blessed Christmas everyone and May 2017 be a great year for all!
Jayne Smith says
Thanks for sharing.
Diane Bailey says
Cheri I understand the struggle to please my mom – have her approval.
You have given her a wonderful gift. But I think the best gift, is that you heard her heart.
Merry Christmas. Good Job.
This is timely, as I am going through a difficult season with my mother. I’m going through a divorce, one which should have happened long ago. My mother tends to respect males over females, so even though most of the blame for the marital strife is on my husband (repeated adultery), I protected him by never telling family members what was going on. Keeping my family together was more important to me. Now, it is my fault, I’m to blame, I’m the bad one…mainly because I’m a strong female. My mother is not. I’m 50 years old and should not need my mother, but I do, and she is not there for me. She does not know how to be, so she doesn’t even try. Instead, she says, “Call me and let me know you’re okay.” Well, I’m not. Twenty one years of my life, my family, my business, my world…is not okay. I’m struggling to lovevher despite her inability to be the adult, the motherly counselor I so desire. The one who comes to comfort me when I can’t reach out and ask for help. Thank you for sharing your story. May you get the healing and peace you need through our gracious, loving Father.
Oh, Jennifer, my heart goes out to you. I pray for you and your mother. I cannot imagine how it would be to not have a strong loving mother, since I’ve always had one. I pray for you in your new post-divorce reality. May the Lord reach down and touch your aching heart. May He fill you with His audacious love (Beth Moore’s word, not mine!). May you reach out to Him and open yourself to His loving presence in your life. May you also receive “the healing and peace you need through our gracious, loving Father.” Keeping you in my prayers.
Jenni Ho-Huan says
This is so moving, sweet, and Spirit-inspired! Yes, indeed, as adult children, we can redefine our family narratives can’t we? I am turning fifty soon, and my parents are no longer around – which made me long all the more for a deeper conversation with them. Some of you may find this account (set in Asia though) meaningful for you: http://jennihh.blogspot.sg/2016/12/a-letter-from-50-yr-old-to-my-ma-and-pa.html
Robin Chapman says
This story is beautiful. Thank you.
MaryLou Caskey says
Cheri, this is so beautiful. Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you and your mother better. I am certain this helps many of us to understand others better.
Theresa Boedeker says
What a blessing to you both to have this new memory. A better and newer memory. Thanks for sharing and encouraging that it is worth the effort to take the step to forge ahead and make new memories over painful memories.
Lora Leftwich says
Thank you for your story. I too struggle to hear the heart of my loved ones, especially my parents. They keep silent in their so called, “Oh, I don’t need anything” independence and strength. This year however, one of them let a desire to do some home canning slip from her lips. Bingo! Not only did it open the door for new gift ideas but also a whole new way to connect. Unknown to her, home canning is my hobby, aka- therapy!
I love this idea of re-defining moments: new memories which replace the painful moments of the past. I have a particular memory of my eldest son which is very painful for me. I’m not sure if he remembers it but it seems that something changed at that time. I need to unpack this memory to understand it’s impact on me and then find a way to replace it so that it no longer has such a hold on me. I was once told that whilst it’s good to move on, we must never bury things alive as they will keep coming back. I think redefining moments can overcome the power these memories and hurts we are trying to move on from hold over us so that they can be laid to rest. They will always be a part of our past but they won’t be able to hurt us any more.
I struggled with my relationship with my mum for many years and always felt guilty about it. Nothing I did seemed to help. Then last year I opened my heart to Jesus and asked him to help me build a new relationship with my mum. Slowly I see that happening and I look forward to redefining moment and memories to replace the hurts of the past.
Thank you Cheri for the gift of re-defining moments.
My mama has been with the Lord now for 11 years. I always tried to give her things she not only needed, but tried to listen for things she wanted….She loved purple – her favorite color. But she always said, “Don’t get me anything! Spend that money on the children”. Sometimes I felt like I was successful – a nice set of purple/lavender flowered sheets for her bed – other years, I felt couldn’t come up with anything, so I looked for something “nice”. But I always listened and I always tried – the kids had their own ideas at times, so we would go with that. But the main thing is I listened. I made the effort to find something I hoped she would enjoy. It is so disappointing to open a gift from a loved one – someone who should KNOW what you like, need, etc. – and think to yourself …”I think there must have been a mix-up? Surely, they didn’t intend this for ME?” My daughter does a good job of gift buying for me – and she helps steer her daddy in the right direction. Now that my son is married, his wife is the “gift buyer” at their house. Last year, for my birthday I got a sweater 2 sizes too small in a color I never wear. This Christmas, my husband and I got a “joint gift” – a Keurig coffee machine – I don’t drink coffee. Oh well, maybe next year? Be blessed today!