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Painted memories: This year, give a gift that will last forever

Down a long dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, sat a single-wide mobile home. The walls were paper-thin, and the windows howled as the wind penetrated every nook and cranny. Heated by a wood stove, the warmth struggled to make its way throughout the house.

Around the holidays, the balance of providing essentials such as heat, food, and a safe home are enough to juggle, let alone the added pressure of gifts. This year was no exception. Once again, like every other American family, I watched as my mom was faced with the harsh reality of providing a magical Christmas that her kids would remember forever.

Perched on the top of the worn old couch sat three gifts. One for my brother, one for my sister, and one for me. The very sight of gifts overwhelmed us with excitement. As we ran across the cold floor headed toward our gifts, mom smiled as she joyfully shouted, “Wait, wait, wait!”

Weeks earlier, she sat us down with old cans of paint. With all the joy she could possibly muster, she explained, “This year there’s no money. We can barely pay our rent, and we are almost out of propane for the house.” There was little question what this meant. We had run out of propane many times before and knew soon we’d have no hot water for showers or a flame to cook a meal. My mom didn’t need to go into a deep explanation of what the implications would be. We knew how to survive — this was life. We’d made couches into beds in other people’s homes and slept in our car before being driven to school the next morning. My family was no stranger to “going without.”

This isn’t the life my mom wanted for us, but as we sat on the floor, she was intent on giving us a reason to hope. One-by-one, she popped the lids open and with a smile said, “We can’t buy a tree — but we can paint one.” On the back of the old white door, stroke-by-stroke we painted the branches of a tree. The anticipation built as we waited for it to dry. Over the next couple of weeks, we woke up to freshly painted gifts under a perfectly ornate tree.

Christmas was coming…

As we held our only present in our hands, she wept. Would it be enough? Holding out her hand, signaling for us to wait, my mom said, “One at a time. One… At… A… Time…”

My brother couldn’t wait a moment longer and tore into his gift.

Wrapped up perfectly, he found a huge jar of pepperoncinis. He loved those things and could eat a whole jar in one sitting.

My sister was next: “Maraschino cherries!!!” She shouted with excitement. Those bright red cherries were delicious all by themselves. As far as she was concerned, they didn’t need to be a topping on a delicious dessert.

As I sat and watched my siblings open their gifts, I could hardly wait for my turn to come. As I waited, I looked up and saw my mom’s face. Growing up I always felt the weight she carried, and today was no exception. Her load was huge, and I know at times it felt like way too much to bear. But this? This was all she had, and she was giving it with all her heart.

What did my mom choose for me? She’d been so thoughtful with her choices for my siblings. I didn’t have a lot of favorite things, but if there was something, I knew she’d figured it out.

“I love them!!” I grinned as I removed the wrapping paper from my jar of Italian Mix Giardiniera, pickled vegetables.  I couldn’t wait to dig into the tasty treat. Weird, I know. But it was yummy and so special.

She picked all our favorite things. Every gift was carefully, lovingly, and specifically chosen by my mom for her kids.

Today, I’m no longer a little girl, but I absolutely remember this Christmas like it was yesterday. I’m now the mother of seven of my own kids and can only imagine the angst in my mom’s heart as she sat us down in preparation for the Christmas season.

As parents, we work daily to provide for our families. What we are able to offer our children varies family-to-family depending on our resources. We are all vastly different, but in so many ways, the same.

We all long to provide for our kids in a way that will matter in the long run.

 What we all long for is hope. But we buy and buy and buy so much all in hopes that the perfect gift will satisfy and leave a lasting impression. Whether it’s the latest Apple product, the most perfect little doll or an incredible vacation at the end of the year, what they’ll remember is you.

Your kids want you.

What we hang on our tree or what we wrap and put under it won’t have any lasting value if it isn’t anchored in the truth of the Christmas season.

Almost 30 years ago, in the midst of chaos and total uncertainty, my mom’s gifts offered my siblings and me hope.

Often, the things our kids think they want aren’t the things they desperately need.

I have no doubt the list your kids gave you is absolutely amazing! And giving those gifts isn’t terrible, but, this year consider shaking it up a bit and doing something that gives a little glimpse into your heart. Perhaps it means you write letters to each of your kids and express some of the things you wish they knew. Your fears, your hopes, and your absolute love for who they are. Sometimes they need to feel the things you feel and hope for the things you’re hoping for. Wrap it up, slip it under the tree and make it the last thing they open on Christmas morning.

Connect with your family in a way they’ll remember for years to come. Even if it requires you to step way out of your comfort zone; give them the gift of truly seeing you.


About Nicole Howes

Nicole Howes
Nicole is passionate about marriage and family. She desires to see every home thrive right where they are. It's because of her own experiences as a child growing up in an unstable and often tumultuous home that gives her hope for every family. Two days after high school graduation, Nicole and her husband Tim, both eighteen at the time said, "I do." Twenty years later, Nicole firmly believes in the gift of marriage and desires to see every relationship come alive in-the-midst of everyday 'stuff'. Together, Nicole and her husband are raising their seven kiddos and for fourteen years they've had the privilege of co-parenting Nicole's youngest brother. With eight kids, four boys and four girls, life is seldom boring or quiet. Being a wife and mom is both rewarding and difficult but Nicole is so thankful for the opportunity to be both. She speaks candidly about marriage and openly about her experinces as a mother. Having a big family and a thriving marriage it gives Nicole a unique perspective and plenty of writing material.

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