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"A gift pleases as much for what it is, as for what it represents: you, your time, and your genuine appreciation," writes author Mary Beth Sammons. In Gifts with Heart she presents a wonderful collection of inspirational gift-giving stories as well as concrete ideas, for giving with thought and emotion. There are ideas for parents and grandparents, friends, children, guests, gifts for people who are sick or hurting, and more. Plan a "date" for your parents, write the story of your grandparent's life, create handmade Christmas ornaments depicting
"A gift pleases as much for what it is, as for what it represents: you, your time, and your genuine appreciation," writes author Mary Beth Sammons. In Gifts with Heart she presents a wonderful collection of inspirational gift-giving stories as well as concrete ideas, for giving with thought and emotion. There are ideas for parents and grandparents, friends, children, guests, gifts for people who are sick or hurting, and more. Plan a "date" for your parents, write the story of your grandparent's life, create handmade Christmas ornaments depicting times shared with the ones you love, or just simply show up and be there for your family member, friend, or loved one in their time of need. From compiling photo collections to creating "happy" memory boxes to putting together a winter blues "get well kit," there is something here for everyone in your life.
Celebrating the Enduring Strength of Friendship
Offer Your Help
Make Shining Memories
Support Your Friend's Dreams
Give Time Off from Obligations
Lend a Hand
Help Your Friend Reach Goals
Compile a Photo Collection
Lend Your Talents
Gather Your Friends Together
Each friend is indeed a world—a special sphere of certain emotions, experiences, memories, and qualities of personality.... We are all made up of many worlds and each friendship brings one or more of these worlds to life.
Do you have a best friend? Someone who has been there your whole life, through thick and thin? I feel lucky: My life has been filled with abundance, with friendships that have thrived for decades. In the midst of everything I do, I know I must pause and reflect on how wonderful my life is because of those friends.
One of my favorite childhood memories is the day I met my best friend, Mary Ellen. I can remember the scene as vividly as if it were yesterday. I was nine years old and had just moved from the western suburbs of Chicago to Northbrook, a town 35 miles away. It was the first day of fourth grade, and I walked into the classroom—the new kid on the block—knowing absolutely no one. I was scared to death.
Then I noticed this freckled redhead, decked out in the exact same Hawaiian-flowered Capri pants and matching top that I was wearing, making her way across the sea of desks to me. "Hi, I'm Mary Ellen," she said. "But they call me Minnie." We looked into each other's eyes and became instantaneous friends.
Today, we still joke about our impeccable taste in clothes!
We were inseparable from grade school through much of high school, even becoming roommates at the university. Over the years we've had our differences, and at one point barely talked when we were in totally different groups. But we've always shared a respect for each other's interests, an understanding of our diverging paths, and an appreciation for the rare gift of friendship we've nurtured for more than three decades.
My early friendship with Mary Ellen taught me about the tremendous world of possibilities that friendship opens us up to, and what a wonderful gift that is. She showed me the value of sharing my dreams and hopes and hurts with another, a gift I have carried into many of my adult relationships. Today we work, ironically, a block apart, meeting frequently for quick catch-up lunches.
Do we exchange gifts? Rarely.
The gift Mary Ellen and her enduring friendship have given to me is hope. She is the kind of friend who is sensitive to what I need. She makes me laugh, she listens, and we have a blast when we "play." Through her hospitality, loyalty, compassion, and spontaneity, Mary Ellen has shared all the gifts of what friendship can be—and more. These are the gifts that sustain me, cheer me up, and have seen me through whatever surprises life has thrown in my path.
I hope the stories in this chapter will remind you of your own friendships, stories of friends sharing from the heart. I hope you too will smile and cry with gratitude to have known the gift of friendship in such a wonderful, wonderful way as I have, thanks to my first and oldest friend and all the others who have shared in my journey.
Let these stories serve as an inspiration for you to find the right way to pay tribute to the presence of friends in your life, and the gifts that they bring to you.
Offer Your Help
It is possible to take our closest relationships and our best friends for granted. The heart cannot live without intimacy. We all need special people in our lives to which we can show our souls. But relationships need to be nurtured, nourished, and celebrated.
Let's face it, we all have chores or tasks we hate to do. As most of my friends know, I am not ever going to win an award for my organizational skills. Wouldn't it be great to have a friend step in and just take care of things for you?
That's why it was a great gift idea when my friend Mary presented me with a personalized address book. Not only did she pen in all the addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the friends we shared, she arrived at my house one evening with a bottle of wine in hand. She asked me for my old tattered address book, made sense out of all the papers sticking out of its binder, and patiently sat and compiled the old with the new. Her gift is one that keeps on giving, allowing me to stay connected to those I care about.
What can you do that isn't difficult to pull off but would greatly help your friend? Here are some ideas. A fun way to offer them is through "coupons for ..."
a night of entertainment at a bar, nightclub, coffee shop, movie, restaurant;
a day of pet sitting;
help with your housecleaning or other chores;
an outing to the shopping center;
a day spent together doing your favorite activity.
They all sound great to me.
Make Shining Memories
We have made a space to house our spirit and to give form to our dreams.
Every year when the holidays roll around, I get really excited scouring through craft magazines or going to hobby shows to get ideas for making creative homemade gifts for my friends.
Will, a writer and graphic designer, has taken the homemade gift-giving concept and added a very special touch. This is what he has done for his friends during the holiday season:
At Christmas, when I didn't have cash for "real" presents, I would take a large ornament (the mirrored globes ... in fact I'd bought an entire stock of old patina-ed '50s ornaments from a garage sale) and a fine permanent marker. Then, for all of my friends and family, I would write my memories of the fun things we'd done all year, around the globe, in concentric circles.
The pieces were very decorative and fun, but most important, they seemed to "humanize" Christmas in an immediate way by giving thanks for all the good times spent together over the past year. The globes became friendship diaries, and my friends would put them up on the tree every year, reading the inscriptions as they did so. I love to think of my words filling their hearts with holiday joy as they decorate their trees.
Very creative, don't you agree? But don't despair. You do not have to be an artist like Will to come up with something personal for holiday gifts. You just need to use your imagination.
Support Your Friend's Dreams
A friend may well be reckoned a masterpiece of nature.
Do you find yourself passing a store and seeing something that just screams a friend's name? That happens to me all the time. I'll see a crystal heart and think of my friend Lois, who gives talks on "Opening Your Heart," or I'll see a book on comedy and think of my friend Tracy, who is taking classes at night at Second City. I think how much that gift would mean to her if I stopped to buy it and take the time to get it to her. But, my actions aren't always as strong as my intentions, so I walk by without doing so, and later regret it.
Once, a friend did something special for me, and I learned how important it can be to have someone do something that says, "I support your dreams." My friend Maureen knows how to feed her friendships. She always thinks about her friends. That is why it was no surprise when she, a divorced mom of four teenagers, showed up at my house, rang the bell, and handed me a book. It was by my favorite mystery author, Mary Higgins Clark.
Maureen knows that one of my dreams is to write mystery novels and that my favorite, favorite writing mentor from afar is Mary Higgins Clark.
Maureen explained, "We [her three daughters and herself] were at the mall, and we saw this line outside the bookstore. I saw the sign and it said 'Mary Higgins Clark,' and I thought, 'That's Mary Beth's favorite author.'"
They waited for almost an hour in line, bought the book, and asked Mary Higgins Clark to sign it for me. Maureen's gift to me was an autographed book, with the author's note personally encouraging me to be a writer. The book sits on my nightstand, a tribute to my favorite author and one of my most caring friends.
What are the small gestures you can make to show a friend you support his or her dreams?
Give Time Off from Obligations
True friendship is never serene.
—MARIE DE SEVIGNE
How well I remember the days of being a parent with three young children. I could barely squeeze in time for a shower; much less dinner dates with my husband or even the possibility of a weekend or vacation away. One of the greatest gifts during that time came from my husband's sister, who offered to stay at our house for the weekend so that we could go into the city and celebrate our anniversary. It felt so good to be an adult again. I fully appreciated the gift of Camille's time and the comfort of knowing that my children were safe in her hands.
Often, when we think of gifts, we think they have to be something tangible or something that costs a lot of money. The precious gift of your time can in fact be one of the greatest gifts you could give.
Karen tells how she gave such a gift to her girlfriend:
I have a friend who is happily married with three kids. Her tenth wedding anniversary with her husband was coming up, and when I asked her if she was going out and what she was doing to celebrate, she made some half-hearted reply about maybe getting a sitter and going out to dinner. She and her husband really wanted to get away for the weekend to celebrate, but with three boys ranging in age from four to eight years old, it just wasn't feasible for her.
So, as an anniversary present, I came into town and babysat the boys for the weekend, while my friend and her husband went away for a "second honeymoon."
They had a great time, and I got to play mom all weekend to boys who thought I was wonderful because I let them stay up late, go to church with their hair spiked and gelled, and eat sugar cereal for breakfast. It was a gift for all, and everyone had a great time.
Is there someone for whom you could offer to watch children or help with an elderly relative for an evening or two? Indeed, sometimes when we give a little bit of ourselves, the gift in turn comes back to us.
Lend a Hand
Did I choose you? Did you choose me? And what difference does it make? All that really matters, friend, is that we choose together.
For me, the times I need my friends are usually the times when I'm least likely to gather them at my side. You may be like that too—good about gathering friends for fun and adventure, but bad about asking for their help during moments that are difficult and painful. I learned what a great gift a friend can be when one of mine showed up unexpectedly during a "letting go" moment I didn't want to have.
I was holding a garage sale, trying to get rid of excess items from my house in anticipation of selling it in order to survive financially. There were people all over my driveway groping at clothes and toys and the things that once were an important fiber of our family life. I was sad and frustrated, feeling out of control in the release of all my material possessions and all these people jostling for them.
Then my friend Nancy walked up. She carried a cooler with lemonade, cups, a plastic bag filled with all kinds of goodies, brownies, magic markers, and a change purse—in case I was starting to run into the garage-sale change crunch.
Truly, it was as if an angel had appeared, an angel who knew exactly what I needed. Nancy ended up staying for the afternoon, sitting at my side, and offering comfort as I watched some of my cherished household possessions become the new belongings of others.
Sometimes the most obvious needs of our friends stare right in our faces, but we don't think to act on them. Is there some way you can show a friend support during a life transition or a moment in which your unexpected appearance could bring great relief and joy?
Help Your Friend Reach Goals
It is not what you give your friend, but what you are willing to give him, that determines the quality of friendship.
—MARY DIXON THAYER
My friend Kelly understands that a true friend is one who pushes us to achieve excellence. During the time we worked together, she was my daily motivational person, making me keep my promise to myself to get in better physical shape and to fight off stress by swimming laps every noontime at a nearby health club. Stubborn as I am, her task was a daunting one, as I always had a million job-related excuses—deadlines, deadlines—for bowing out. But she was relentless. Today, now that I am in fairly decent physical shape, I appreciate Kelly's perseverance with me. It was a gift.
Lynda tells the story about all the excuses she used to come up with: "No time to get to the gym," "I'm too tired after a day of work." So, her husband, Tim, created a mini at-home gym for her. It included dumbbells, an exercise ball, workout mat, exercise tape, and mono-grammed towel.
Peter got his friend Brad a session with a personal trainer and a massage at a nearby gym. Says Brad: "Hopefully now I'll be able to develop a productive weight regimen, or at the very least figure out where to sit myself down on some of those torture devices masquerading as exercise machines."
Do you have a friend or buddy who does this for you? A person who helps you keep your promises to yourself?
Certainly all of us have a friend who could use our support in doing something challenging that he knows he needs to do but is avoiding. Lending support and accompanying the friend on his road are great gifts.
Words are the voice of the heart.
Materials needed: Pen, paper, cards
I store them in a laundry basket now. They are overflowing, like mismatched socks that keep piling up. I have hundreds of cards, collected through the years from friends. I can't think of anything more important and special than the feeling I get when a yellow envelope arrives in my mailbox amid the pile of bills, a special greeting from a friend. Instinctively, I know by the return addresses that it will contain the exact reassuring words I need to hear on that day.
Letters and cards are reminders of a shared connection. The ones I receive come from near and far: a clever, handwritten invitation for my friend Mary Jean's fortieth birthday containing remembrances of who she is and how important she is, from her husband Jerry; a thank-you letter from a colleague; a letter reminding me of a family gathering, with a wonderful recipe tucked in by my sister-in-law Beth; a note my eight-year-old, Emily, slipped into the mailbox, saying, "Mommy I love you." I wait, hope-filled, at my mailbox for these gifts.
I don't know about you, but I treasure my letters more than any gifts I've ever received, for they let me know my friend's feelings. A card is an inexpensive gift, but one of the most valuable. And it's easy to find. Next time you pass a card store, stop in and send a message to a friend, just because.
Compile a Photo Collection
Things house our feelings, memories and connections with others, both living and dead. When we regard things this way, our interactions with them become spiritual exercises.
—MARY ANN BRUSSAT
Materials needed: Photographs
What is it about the power of photographs and their ability to tell a story? Every year around the holiday season, I run to my mailbox because I know I will be receiving photographs from all my friends and their families. Throughout the month of December, I cover my refrigerator with all the new and old faces, looking to see how much each family has grown and changed from the previous year. I've got boxes of these Christmas photos in my attic, because I would never dream of throwing them away. My friend Tim, however, tells a great story about his friends who created a wonderful gift for his family from their annual holiday greeting-card pictures:
Our best friends, Connie and Ed, gave us a once-in-a-lifetime Christmas present last year. For sixteen years, I have taken a Christmas picture of our four children that we've sent out to our friends, along with a family letter (including a funny quote from each of our kids).
Well, unbeknownst to us, Connie and Ed had saved all of our Christmas pictures from all these years, and last year they took each one, had them copied, and then presented us with a large, round Christmas-like wreath with a collage of all the Christmas pictures inside.
Excerpted from Gifts with Heart by Mary Beth Sammons. Copyright © 2002 Mary Beth Sammons. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Introduction: Making Gift Giving Special
1 Friends: Celebrating the Enduring Strength of Friendship
2 Spouses or Significant Others: Saying "I Love You"
3 Parents and Grandparents: Recognizing Those Who Gave Us Life
4 For Children and Grownups: Gifts for the Young at Heart
5 Relatives: Honoring the Ties That Bind
6 Colleagues: Showing Thanks for a Job Well Done
7 The Hurting: Saying "I Care" to Those Who Are Hurting Outside and
8 Nesters: Appreciating Homebodies
9 Adventurers: Giving to Travelers and Explorers of Heart and Soul
10 Unsung Heroes and Strangers: Sharing with People at Nursing Homes,
Homeless Shelters, and with Passersby on the Journey of Life
About the Author