The little gifts in life are more than just ‘stuff’ | Dr. Craig McMahan

Person in Maroon Long Sleeve Holding a Wooden Bowl with Food
Stock photo by Askar Abayev

The occasion was my father’s 94th birthday. My daughter, Rebekah, was talking to her 7-year-old son, Silas, about the birthday and what sort of present they might give. Silas had been making some age-appropriate suggestions as gifts for Grandpa, that is, age-appropriate for a 7-year-old, not a 94-year-old. Silas’s list consisted of mostly toys and candy — both of which would have likely pleased my dad. Ever wise Rebekah, however, tried to steer Silas away from Paw Patrol action figures and Clifford the Big Red Dog books.

She reminded Silas, “Grandpa is 94-years-old, and he doesn’t want a bunch of stuff. He already has everything he wants. Why don’t you make him a card? He would really like that.” Silas looked at Rebekah as if she had just concluded that 2+2=5. And then he eagerly announced, “Well, I am 7, and when it’s my birthday, I want lots of stuff!”

Sure, what 7-year-old doesn’t want stuff, lots of stuff? And, why not? Stuff looks like fun. The delighted faces of children on TV commercials, playing with the newest toy, the cuddliest stuffed animal, the hottest game, make the subtle promise that stuff is fun. And, who doesn’t want to have fun?

It’s not only 7-year-olds who are lured like a bear to honey with the promise of stuff. I often feel the tug in my own heart to run to a big box store or to jump online, so I can get more stuff. Of course, the stuff I want is bigger and more expensive than the dreams of a 7-year-old, but it’s still just stuff.

When I find a quiet moment during this week of Thanksgiving to reflect on what makes my life feel to me so rich and happy and full, I won’t be thinking of the stuff I own. I will be in the spirit of my 94-year-old father, whose seasoned and wise heart had mellowed in its eagerness for stuff and had come alive to more simple gifts.

I will be thinking of the circle of loved ones who surround me. I will be grateful for each of their remarkable yet different lives, who face their days with passion and purpose, with love and courage, with generosity and openness, who are free to give grace and receive it. As the moon shines with the light of the sun, so my life shines with the light of their good lives. No matter how far apart we may be, there remains a genuine closeness that holds us warmly together. Their lives are pure gift to me, as I hope that mine may somehow be to them.

I will be thinking of the course of my life that has enjoyed some moments on the peaks and endured some moments in the valleys but mostly walked through the forested flatlands of every day life. I will be grateful for the happy surprises, the unexpected turns and even the unforeseen disappointments because with each step I sensed that I was never alone and that there would always be enough bread for the journey.

I will be thinking of all the small gifts that make life beautiful. I will be thankful for the sound of dry leaves crunching under my feet as I wander through the woods, soaked in all the stunning colors of autumn. I will give thanks for the song of the Carolina wren and the majestic soaring of the red-shouldered hawk. I will give thanks for a glowing fire and a crisp wind. I will be grateful for a cup of hot chocolate and fresh-baked cookies. I will be grateful for each stranger I pass who returns my smile and for those who don’t. And, yes, I will be grateful for each card that might come my way from a smaller hand and loving heart.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing or submitting this online form.