I was the family gift wrapper, the child asked to wrap even her own Christmas gifts. My mother would give me a taped box with an unseen gift inside. I liked nothing better than a stack of boxes, a bag of bows, and rolls and rolls of patterned paper.
I loved the sounds of wrapping—the crinkle of paper, the slice of scissors, the rip of tape. All of these were part of the allure. But the best part was the challenge in deciding how much to cut off the roll and in which position to wrap the gift so that paper wasn’t wasted. I was sure “waste not, want not” was in the Bible along with “Jesus wept,” another easy star on my Sunday School chart.
What no one knew, and what I never confessed, was that I was also the child who unwrapped her presents to sneak-a-peek before Christmas. I could peel off scotch tape so carefully it rarely made the tell-tale bubble that tape can make when it’s pulled across a paper sleigh or candy cane. I prided myself on being able to re-wrap with the same paper, using the same tape.
Unwrapping secrets was an itch I often scratched. Maybe this was just my yen from birth. But I wonder if it also had to do with what felt like something under the mattresses, waiting to be pulled out. Our home was full of strange things I couldn’t name.
Whether by nature or by nurture, I was on a constant search for clues I didn’t know what to do with.
My mother once said she’d thought about naming me Nan instead of Eve, but decided she’d save it for the next daughter instead. A sister named Nan? Where was she? I began to imagine her at the kitchen table beside me, eating cereal and reading the back of the Cheerios’ box.
I’d wake in the night to a cry in the dark and a thud. Then silence. Sometimes a muffled moan pulled the wail of wind outside my window into my room. Was it wind? Or was it Mama? I didn’t know, and I was afraid to find out.
My brother sometimes crawled out from inside the cabinet under the bathroom sink where we stashed dirty clothes. How did he manage to get himself all the way in? And why? I was nine before I realized my friends’ brothers didn’t surprise them when they brushed their teeth. Mine never said, “Gotcha.” He just sighed.
There were other clues I had to grow up to find out about.
My mother had garments she never wore in the back of her dresser drawer. These bright items looked lost, forgotten. They languished for years, untouched, unmoved. Always digging for clues, I knew.
After we saw a play in town, Daddy left us to get the car. It was cold, and I wanted to run after him to find his hand in the dark. He was a big man with a long stride, and he was well ahead before I thought to dash off. By the time I caught up, I saw a tiny glow near his hat and smoke in the moon’s silhouette. Was that my dad with a cigarette? I didn’t know.
I walked back.
I’d see my father take off his shoes at night and stuff them with crumpled grocery store flyers. When I asked him why, he said paper soaked up the sweat. But once I saw folded pages in his Johnston & Murphy’s. And the pictures weren’t like any from the A&P.
My gifts at Christmases also baffled me.
Had I asked for these? A chandelier, a pair of French figurines, a desk, a lamp, a bell to ring. Maybe this was the reason I unwrapped my gifts. Knowing ahead of time managed my sighs. At least I wouldn’t waste my wanting for weeks on things that weren’t for me. It felt strange receiving gifts meant for somebody else. If she were here, would Nan get the loafers and tennis lessons I’d asked Santa to bring?
We went to church on Christmas Eve. We sang carols, lit candles, listened to words. I knew the baby in the manger was the point, but I couldn’t feel the tidings of comfort and joy. What I felt were Mama’s tears, her sighs, her fears. These dripped off her chin and put her candle out. Why did Baby Jesus’ birth make her weep? This was a clue I knew nothing about.
We sold Mama’s house last month. I cleaned out her dresser drawers. Those unworn items were long gone, tossed out no doubt after the divorce. The desk and chandelier, I gave to a grand niece. Unloved lamps and figurines went to GoodWill. My kids divided up linens and antiques. It felt good to give things that made their hearts sing.
Packing up boxes and a moving truck was a clean sweep, a fresh wind without moans. My brothers and I traded stories and teased. We’d found friendship in the years between, our brokenness pieced together, healing. It was relieving to be freed from the quest for clues, to pull mattresses from beds and not be afraid of what lay beneath.
What had intervened?
There was one Christmas gift my mother gave me without my wrapping. Despite her benign bungling, Mama got this one right. Her Christmas Eve tears were clues that rang true. They told me something real touched her life. The baby’s birth gave her hope, and eventually, her hope gave way to faith. When Daddy left, it was Jesus who held her through divorce. At the end of her life, it was he who held her in death.
Mama’s unwrapped gift to me was the change in her life, brought about by the babe under the star that holy night. It was he who whispered love and gave her a voice. He used her to help others find his joy. I had the ringside seat, I collected the clues, I knew when it happened this was something brand new.
What better gift for a digger of truth, for a seeker of safety, for a collector of good news? Jesus’ love fills and heals and delights, and the best part is, it can be unwrapped for life, “namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” Co 2:2-3.
I’m the hidden treasure.
I’m the mine.
Find my pearl of great price.
Stop throwing yours to swine.
Find me and find life.
Leave the rest behind.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Je 29:13