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Are you still searching for that perfect gift to express your love, intensely aware the days are quickly ticking toward Christmas and New Years? Surrounded by festive lights and carefully appointed decorations, are you experiencing peace and joy, or is stress over the shopping and errands on your never-ending list getting you down? If you’re becoming distracted by the glitter of the tinsel this season, take a moment to slow down and remember that sometimes the perfect gift is not a “thing” at all.

This certainty hit me profoundly as I headed off to Connecticut in early December to surprise my cousin, Maria, on her birthday weekend. A birthday sandwiched between the hectic time of Thanksgiving and Christmas often comes with the reality of receiving a little less focus and attention than birthdays at slower paced times of the year. This made my visit even more unlikely and surprising for my cousin!

For me, it was an equally unexpected and odd time of year for an adventurous escape. Yet, leaving behind all the decorating to be done and gifts to be purchased permitted me to let go of those distractions and focus on something poignantly meaningful – particularly this time of year.


Blessed to grow up with a fun-loving older brother, I learned that boys don’t hold grudges and laughter can lighten any moment. I always wished for a sister, too, to share secrets (and clothes), who would understand me in ways I imagined only a sister could. As adults, my cousin and I have become the sisters we did not grow up with. We joke that perhaps we are blessed to share a sisterly connection without the baggage of childhood fights and jealousy!

I recognized the amazing present in PRESENCE as I left behind a long “to-do” list to instead relish some unexpected time with my cousin and her family. From a Saturday morning Pilates class and shopping to two surprise birthday gatherings with extended family and friends, we cherished the time together. Equally wonderful was relaxed time spent watching Hallmark movies, and the conversations that led to laughter over family memories.

We even recreated a missed childhood opportunity. As Maria recalls, one Christmas she received a Barbie Ice Cream maker, invited me over to make ice cream and I never showed up! Of course, I have no recollection, but she remembers the disappointment as she waited and waited, to no avail! I’m pleased to report that 30+ years later, the wait is over. We made ice cream and reenacted the excitement that we might have experienced as kids.

Time is a treasured gift that passes too quickly when we are not focused on the moment and the relationships that mean so much to us. Back home now, I’m slowly checking the boxes on my “to-do” list aware that not everything will get done perfectly, and some boxes may not get checked at all. Maybe some of you are feeling the same. It’s okay! Remember this journey of Advent is one of quiet, hope, peace and joy as we anticipate Christmas. Welcome the opportunities that arise to gather with and enjoy family and friends. My hope as the year draws to a close is that you’ll find the quiet moments to appreciate the gift we have in our relationships. The best present you can give to those you love might very well be your presence.

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