It was Christmastime, 1976. My father had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 46 just 6 weeks before. We were staggered. I was limping through my senior year of high school, sometimes stalled by grief, sometimes able to carry on well, until I felt guilty for not remembering my father. My mother, just 40 years old, was rocked by the sudden change in circumstances, and the burden of responsibility on her shoulders. My brother was home from college, torn between making a life for himself, and not knowing what his obligations were at home.

Death had caught my father financially unprepared: We were struggling. My mother was being very creative to find gifts for people that she felt obligated to give to. It was hard to find any sense of joy in gift giving. Although I had made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ 3 or more years before, I was barely treading water. Was this Christmas business just a bartering system of “I only give to those who give to me?” What’s the use in that?

My father’s family was sparse. I’d never known his parents. The aunt who had watched over him after had died a few years before he did. But her brother, Bill, still lived one town from my mother’s family. Bill lived with another brother, because Bill couldn’t live alone. Bill was what we called ‘slow.’ He worked part-time as a laborer at a nearby farm. No one used language of what he couldn’t do. They just helped him do what he could. We stopped by out of obligation, painfully aware that we had nothing to give. When we made motions to bring our awkward visit to a close, Bill stuttered to say, “Wait – I have something for you boys.” He brought out 2 small gifts: travel kits for my brother and for me. We stammered words of thanks, but also tried to make excuses that we didn’t have anything. Bill said, “Don’t worry about that – these are for you.”

Bill was smart. He knew that love wasn’t an economic arrangement. He knew the greatest joy came from giving a gift that would be appreciated. I used that kit for 30 years, but I’ve forgotten that a simple gift from a simple man pretty much saved this man’s life.

Good to remember that God’s simple gift is all that you need, too.