I suffered a birthday recently. As birthdays go, this one was pretty good - a nice quiet day without a lot of fuss.
There is a dear old saint at church. She's been attending for longer than I've been alive. She's seen pastors come and go. She's served pastor's wives who are far better than I; in her economy, the pastor's wife ranks right up there with the angelic host. I am the antithesis of a typical pastor's wife. I am reserved and introverted. As sweet and saintly as she is, because I am much younger than her and don't meet her expectations of a pastor's wife, she shows in small ways that I don't quite measure up. She often calls me "our little precious." If a meeting is starting late, she sends a look my direction. When I give an announcement, she looks away as I speak. She's utterly respectful in word, but the undercurrent seems to send another message.
Every year, this woman presents me with a birthday gift. They are often items I would never use - a fancy scarf, a tiny pillbox-size jewelry box, a wind-up trinket that plays a hymn. While I have appreciated the thought, I have often felt that she was giving me items she'd quickly picked up somewhere, or even that others had given her. She's the type who gives a gift because it is the appropriate thing to do, and knowing that she doesn't think very highly of me, it was easy to assume the gifts didn't reflect much thought.
This year she presented me with a long, thin box. Without unwrapping it, I knew it was a necklace. I took it home and opened it with my kids. As I lifted the lid of the box, we all gasped. Then the kids began to laugh. Loudly. I struggled not to join them.
It was a necklace, but what a necklace it was! Nine beads - very LARGE beads - were connected by knots on a ribbon. The beads were ultra-fake - a peachy beige with a pearlescent glow. Wow. She'd outdone herself.
Should I wear the necklace? I've worn a few of her gifts before (another necklace, a pin) and she'd never seemed to notice. Then again, this necklace was beyond noticeable. Surely she would realize it if I didn't wear it. But how could I?
I made up my mind. If I wore it once, I would have fulfilled any obligation to her. I decided to wear it to church the very next Sunday. The color was neutral enough to be easy to match, so at least I had some confidence that it would coordinate with my outfit.
That Sunday, I dressed, styled my hair, applied my makeup, then placed the necklace around my neck. Interesting. It didn't look nearly so bad as I thought it would. It matched my coloring well (I am fair skinned), so didn't stand out as I had supposed.
I gathered the kids and my supplies and went to church. As I walked in the door, a friend greeted me. "Love the necklace!" she exclaimed. In fact, several people admired it. But most notable was the response of the dear saint who'd gifted me with it. She was absolutely joyous. "It looks lovely on you! I was afraid it would be too bold, but no, it looks just perfect!" Over and over she declared how wonderful the necklace was for me, and how delighted she was that I appreciated it. She was far more thankful that I'd worn her gift than I'd been to receive it!
I wonder what changed. She has never taken an interest in my response to her gifts before. Maybe she considered this one long and hard. Then again, maybe she always has. Maybe she feels as if she finally selected something I like.
Makes me think, long and hard, about my response to gifts and about being a gracious recipient.