Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mismatched Gifts

Photo by reikhavoc.
When it's close to Christmas, people will ask me, "What do you want?"  I have a hard time answering.

After the holidays, people will ask, "What did you get?" and "What was your favorite gift?"

I'm always hard-pressed to answer these questions as well. Why? I'm not really a "thing" person.  I enjoy more just spending time with friends and family and talking.

The greatest gift I ever received was an email listing 51 positive affirmations about me.

This post is part of a Blog Hop hosted by Midlife Boulevard,
a network of midlife women bloggers.
Because the links below will expire soon, here are a few post on the same topic:

"Self-Reflection, A Gift That Continues to Give" by Beth Havey @BoomerHighway 

I was 51 years old at the time, and I had just gone through a really rough year trying to manage perimenopause symptoms, anxiety, hypoglycemia, graduate school, shifting responsibilities at church, and some vociferous, soul-rattling criticism.  I was probably less grounded that year than any other time in my life and still struggling to "get my feet under me."

The person who sent me this email knew me well enough and long enough that she could have listed 51 character flaws. Instead, she focused on the embers of goodness in me and took the time to articulate them. I cried and cried and cried because I was so touched by her generosity.  And her gift empowered me to magnify my strengths in an effort to crowd out my weaknesses.

Unfortunately, I am not very good at selecting gifts for others because I too often assume that everyone wants the gifts of time and conversation. I will spend time and money to go visit people during the holidays, but I usually show up empty handed, thinking that they will see the sacrifice it took just to travel there.

I have lived in 8 different states, and my loved ones are scattered through all four continental time zones. Really, it does take some effort to see them, but I could swing some physical gifts, too!  Recently, I gained some insight on why I experience a mismatch during this season of gift giving.

I have learned about the five languages of love.  
  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch
Learning about these five languages shows me that my "languages of love" don't always match up with others'. If I want to improve ties with loved ones, I need to make the effort to observe their preferred languages of love and give them gifts that match up.

This mismatch reminds me of Aesop's fable "The Fox and the Stork."  Here is a video showing a sculpture of the fox and the stork with a 1 minute summary of the fable.

Briefly told, the fox served the stork soup in a shallow bowl, which prevented the crane from eating anything. In turn, the stork served the fox fish chowder in a tall glass, which prevented the fox from eating anything.

So while there was the potential to sustain and nourish, the medium was mismatched. In other words, a gift was offered but never enjoyed.

Because I feel such a strong vocation to serve older adults, I need to be particularly attentive to the languages of love preferred by my friends and relatives in the generation above me. 

I am very verbal and abstract, so crawling out of my head can be a challenge. However, I recognize that I need to more frequently offer my labor to others, offer more physical gifts, and do more kissing and hugging if I want to communicate the deep affection I feel for my friends and family.

So my Dear Ones from all generations: If you hear a clattering outside this holiday season, I might shoveling snow off your walk and placing a tin of homemade cookies on your porch. And if you open the door, I'll be giving you a kiss on the cheek and a big bear hug.

But don't be surprised if I also try to tell you a very long-and-involved story about my shoveling adventure and its relevance to heroic epics from various ancient cultures.  If I do so, just nod and smile.


The Importance of Touch Persists through the Lifespan
Talking with Older Adults, Serving as a Witness


  1. Thanks for reminding me of all the different affirmations of love. Some of the best gifts can't be bought.

  2. I will gladly take any of the gifts you choose for me, but I think you already gave me mine.

    The gift of reading your post.

    It was magical, marvelous and I agree with you 100%. Give of yourself and be who you are. Amen. And, oh, Merry Christmas.

    1. Thanks for reading, Cathy. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. : )

  3. Oh this is so true Karen! I am also the sort of person who appreciates time and connection much more than a bunch of stuff. (If I want stuff I can buy what I need and go from there!) But it's true that not everyone is like us....My husband and I actually stopped buying gifts for others years ago and I know it hasn't been a "popular" move for some of my family members--now I know that it could be because they don't have the same love language. Thanks for letting me know about this...is it too late to run out and do Christmas shopping???? ~Kathy

    1. So many possibilities for communication to get derailed. But when people "click," it's magical! My best to you this holiday season.