It hardly feels like it’s been weeks now, weeks since we sat in my living room sharing friendship, talking about what inspires us. And when these dear sister-friends of mine turned my question back to me, I said, “A million things. A million things inspire me.” I listed for them just some and neglected many more, but one I should have said just then. Really we should always say. We should not let the enemy write fictions all over our silences. I should have placed this right in at the start of the list, right then when we sat close enough to see each other:
I am inspired by all of you.
And here is just one way:
Years ago now—how can it have been so long? (Can you see that time coming nearly knocks me to the ground?)—one of you started this among us, the gifts appearing the first three Wednesdays in December, one for each child, given by another of our children. My kids mark the days and come home asking if their secret Santa has yet come, and then they squeal with delight over packages on the porch or in our mailbox, packages bearing their names, packages festive and sometimes awkwardly wrapped. The way they wait—excited, expecting, looking hard to see something left, it reminds me to wait that way on the gifts of God—gifts that come small and large, many—so, so many, daily, always, and promised. Oh, that He might find me looking, watching (Luke 12:37), waiting, giddy to unwrap His grace, anxious for a glimpse of Light. Today—right now—He pours out His love in thousands of secret, unimaginable gifts. I wonder: How will they be wrapped this time? Where will I find them?
I get so self absorbed, so wrong-headed, so wrapped up in the temporary things sometimes that I know I miss the lasting gifts left right in front of me. It comforts me to know that when Christ returns, He will rip apart the sky and no one will wonder who or if (Matthew 24:27), because if I had to be waiting and looking hard like the Magi (Matthew 2:2), I might just miss Him. I whirl chaotically. I don’t wait well, which is why lately the Spirit has me fighting for the daily anticipation of Him. And so for me, it’s good that next time He’s promised to come Glory-bright and earth-shattering loud instead of humbly, almost secretly, to a poor young girl from a tiny town spending the night in a stable. How like Him to reserve the big reveal for the final Gift.
For two weeks, my friends and I watch our children bolt across lawns, wild hair flying, trying to deliver gifts to each other unseen. Last year, I stood on my porch giggling through a conversation with a friend while watching Zoe freeze behind her and dive behind a bush. The memory–a gift—still makes me smile.
Gifts like these are the smallest things—we have a rule about this—a box of candy or a pair of gloves, a hair bow or a ball, a Christmas necklace. This week, Adam unwrapped a chalkboard countdown to Christmas, Riley a pretty planner, and Zoe a box of gummy eyeballs that made her laugh out loud and speculate as to the identity of her Santa. The gifts made their day giddy and golden and extraordinary, the way gathered blessings do. But what shines in their hands still really isn’t the thing itself, but the evidence of friendship, thoughts enscribed with their name and delivered by hand, and even more, the opportunity they also have been given to give in secret. These joys sparkle in the middle, halting our frantic bustling, like stars blown slowly from a Holy hand. We savor the grace as part of our Advent, and Zoe says to me,
Every gift we give reminds us of the greatest gift of all, the one we were given.
She says this pausing pencil poised over homework, an empty cup and a wrapper on the table by her wrist, her other palm pressed against her forehead. She looks back at me and smiles.
The giving really is our favorite part for just this reason, because every reminder glistens with greater wealth than this world can imagine.
And that’s when a feeling, a word, rushes through me, a joy too great to hold, and this: Everyone needs a St. Nicholas, a secret giver, a Christ-follower who understands that this is God’s favorite way, the way that the full share of glory might be His. “But when you give to the needy,” Word says, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:3,4). When we “play Santa Claus,” this is the giving we celebrate, not an elaborate and playful ruse, but the humble bestowing of grace, the exceptional Glory and mercy all God’s.
“Zoe, what if we just play secret Santa all season, to whomever God chooses? What if we pray and ask Him? What if we make things and just give them away anonymously?”
She nods, then stands, then comes to wrap her arms around my waist. “Mom, can you imagine how God might use that?”
So this year, inspired by our friends and all our festive fun, we have decided to extend the grace, extend our sneaking, wrap happy as many anonymous packages as we can. Because every day for us comes gilded with hidden gifts, thousands of expressions of God’s love—sometimes wrapped awkward and left in the most unlikely places, all borne tenderly, humbly, by the overcoming of the Spirit.
So Zoe and I conspire, passing Light between us, passing the inexpressible joy of being Held, as we whisper about who—souls we don’t even yet know, or specific names pressed into our palms in secret by the Spirit. We giggle over things we’ll never know, like how God will use our hands to place gifts—wide open so the treasure inside might be seen—in just the right space at just the right moment, what maybe the recipient will feel just then, how something given might remind them of the greatest Gift. We smile over our sneaking, our secret, this sacred whisper. And with it, the echo of something swathing our whole holiday: This is not just for now. It’s for always.
Because every gift given reminds us of the greatest gift of all, the one we were given.
Zoe stops mid-sentence, gripping my arm, to say, “Oh, Mom, let’s send something with Dad to work too, and let him see who maybe God has in mind for it.” Her eyes sparkle with Spirit’s heat, Spirit’s flight. And I feel the energy, electric.
We agree on the what–mostly little things made by and held in our own hands, humble, hidden, baby gifts that only God could use to redeem us all from the darkness. And we agree, with giddy joy, on the how:
We will spread this grace always in secret, lest undue attention be given to the vessel instead of the Hand that lifts it. The inspiration, the conspiring, these are the gifts we hold in our laps, the raw materials for joy and thanksgiving. And every day and through every season, we will make gifting an Advent celebration, a breathless anticipation of the big reveal, when at last the Giver will make Himself visible to all.
It’ll be our little secret, and maybe yours too? So, shhhh. Don’t tell.