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By: Steve Proctor on

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The Gift Giving Season: Lessons From The Heart

Reflections & Leadership

GiftGivingThe Christmas season is marked by the giving of gifts. While this is a wonderful tradition, for many it has become a source of stress as an expense and the need to think of something appropriate for everyone on your list. From my perspective, gift giving should be a source of joy for the person giving the gift as well as the receiver. To help you to understand my outlook on gift giving, I would like to provide you with a few of the insights I have gained over the years.

Our first Christmas with my oldest daughter is one of my favorite gift giving memories. While Michelle got a number of gifts that were appropriate for her age, her greatest joy was tearing open the wrapping paper and throwing it in the air. Nothing else seemed to matter. The lesson learned – the anticipation and excitement of receiving a gift often transcends the value of the gift that is given.

On my son’s 10th birthday I was attending a conference in San Antonio, Texas, so I thought I should bring him a birthday gift with a distinctly Texas flavor. After looking around for a long time, I picked out a bull whip. My son loved the gift. My wife’s response to giving him a bull whip was, in retrospect, quite predictable. “What were you thinking, giving a 10 year old boy with two sisters and a dog a bull whip? Who do you think he is likely to use it on?” This gift is still recalled by my family under the general heading of “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. The lesson learned – when selecting a gift, it is always a good move to get another opinion prior to the purchase.

Being a grandparent is an interesting vantage point to view the whole experience of gift giving. When my 7 year old grandson had a birthday party, where there were a number of gifts given – several of them relatively expensive and educational in nature. Of the many gifts opened at that time, the one that was the hit of the evening (which was not my gift) was the least expensive of all of the gifts given to him – a Whoopee cushion. If you know anything about the humor of a 7 year old boy, this was not a big surprise. The lesson learned – a gift does not have to be expensive to be truly appreciated.

giftgivinglessonsSome gifts that initially appear to be odd can be the best gifts ever. A number of years ago we gave my mom a Christmas gift that may be her favorite of all time – a headstone. While this sounds pretty strange at first, if you know the story, you can understand its impact. My great-grandfather, who had played a large role in my Mom’s life as a young child, had been buried without a grave marker because the family was too poor to afford a headstone when he died. For most of my life I had heard my mother express a concern that her grandfather was slipping into obscurity as the patriarch of her family. After locating his exact burial place, my siblings and I were able to purchase and place a headstone to mark his grave. The visit to the cemetery to see my Mom’s Christmas gift remains one of my fondest memories. The lesson learned – The best gifts often meet an emotional and practical need.

One year for Christmas I gave my wife of nearly 40 years a gift that may have been the least expensive of our entire married life – a collection of the poetry that I had written for her over about a 15 year period. I also made identical copies for each of my now married children with instructions to fill out the remaining pages of the book with expressions of their own love story. The book itself is not very impressive. Anyone else reading the verses contained on those pages may not grasp the impact of a love story chronicled in such a way. But my wife can recall the specific experience that inspired each piece. The lesson learned – the most treasured gifts often cost more in terms of time and less in terms of money.

Some gifts go out of fashion – Beanie Babies come to mind as something once in demand that is no longer a hot commodity. Whenever I think of giving a gift, I think about its immediate impact and long term value. Based on my experience the best gift you can give is usually something that strengthens the bond between the giver and the receiver of the gift. If you can find such a gift, it will be genuinely appreciated and retain its’ value in the eyes of the receiver.

I have a few suggestions for your gift giving experience this year:

  • Give your personal time and attention. All relationships require the investment of time. The gift of your attention is always appreciated.
  • Give the gift of fun. Plan an experience to share with those you care about. A fun experience does not have to be extravagant in order to be memorable.
  • Give the gift of authenticity. Do something that will help you to get to know someone else better. This will involve some risk in terms of self disclosure, but it is the only way to build an authentic relationship.
  • Give the gift of concern. The holidays can be a time of sadness for those who have lost loved ones or whose holidays do not measure up to what we used to call the “Norman Rockwell” experience. In such situations, an expression of sympathy or kindness can be a simple, but powerful gift.
  • Give something special to someone in need. There are many possibilities, from volunteering in a soup kitchen to more formal charities who reach out to those less fortunate – in this country and around the world.

As I think of the Christmas memories from my childhood, I can barely recall the presents that were supposed to be the centerpiece of Christmas day. What does stick in my mind is the smell of pancakes and hot chocolate that my Mom and Dad made for breakfast on Christmas morning, or the memory of 5 children climbing all over my Dad in a living room littered with wrapping paper in what could only be described as a spontaneous group attack on an unsuspecting adult.   In my opinion, the best gifts create memories that can last a lifetime.

Finally, I think it is easier to get into the gift giving spirit when we realize that we have been given so much, and that all of life is a gift from God. James 1:17 tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”. Gift giving comes more naturally to those who understand that they have been the recipients of such undeserved generosity.

Have a wonderful Christmas, filled with the joy of giving.

About Steve Proctor

Chief Executive Officer and President of Presbyterian Senior Living. Mr. Proctor has been employed by Presbyterian Senior Living since 1971. He is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Nursing Home Administrator with a BS degree in business administration from Elizabethtown College. He also holds a master’s degree in gerontology from the University of North Texas. Before becoming CEO, Mr. Proctor was Chief Operating Officer for 16 years. In addition, he has served as a Board member and is a Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Homes for the Aging (“PANPHA”). In November of 1995, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (“AAHSA”), now known as LeadingAge, recognized Mr. Proctor’s proven leadership and accomplishments by electing him to serve as Chair of its national board of directors. He served as Chair-elect in 1996 and 1997, as Chair in 1998 and 1999, and as past-Chair in 2000 and 2001. He has also served as chair of the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

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