If you haven’t been to Goodwill for a while–or ever–here’s an idea:This weekend, see if you can locate one near you (or a Salvation Army or other large second-hand store).And then, on your way home from the mall, just step inside the doors of the Goodwill. You don’t have to buy or even touch anything if that creeps you out–just step in and look around.As you scan the racks of clothes and aisles of toys and plates and fondue pots and exercise machines and purses and belts and lamps and alarm clocks, think to yourself:Is that Ann Kroeker over there trying on roller blades?No, I’m kidding. Well, I’d kind of like roller blades, as that was one of the risks I intended to take this past year and never attempted. But I digress.Try thinking this to yourself, instead:Once upon a time, many of these items were Christmas presents. And now….A year ago, or two or three, somebody drove all around town looking for just the right thing. He found it, wrapped it up, and gave it to the person on his list. It was given with love, let’s hope, and was fully enjoyed, let’s hope; but, eventually it made its way here.Don’t get me wrong–it’s sure fun to give gifts to the people we love. I think about my family while I’m in the stores, wondering if this or that would be the right gift and hoping they love what they open from us on Christmas Day. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that–in fact, I think that’s the delight of the gift exchange part of Christmas.When the giving and receiving flows from a deep appreciation of God’s love, there’s another layer of meaning–the gifts we give each other are a small symbol of the love we received from Him, through Jesus, whom we seek to honor during this time chosen to celebrate the Incarnation.But in the end, the stuff, the items that we can obsess and fret about during this stressful countdown to Tuesday, “all just goes to the curb eventually,” as Shalee said in the comments of my last post.Or, as a friend of mine told me one time as she quoted an African who visited America for the first time, “It’s all gonna burn.”And in the meantime, before hitting the trash can or burning up in the End Times, that elusive item you’ve been out shopping for may very well make a stop at Goodwill one day in the future.And, actually, there’s a good chance that it will sojourn at my house if I find it in the mountain of donated goods, because I’m guessing you gave a cool gift that I would enjoy even if it’s scuffed up a bit.But my trips to Goodwill and the shopping in “real” stores this season remind me how fleeting these worldly goods are compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.They’re so empty compared to the relationships God has given us on this earth in which we give and receive, celebrate and struggle through, love and serve.We’ll go ahead and shop, of course. We’ll enjoy expressing love through giving.But if we can’t find just the right thing, or we’re not sure about the color or size, or if the traffic is maddening, or somebody reaches past us to grab the last item on the shelf…the very item we were searching for…We’ll think of Goodwill.That very item will be sitting on one of its shelves one day.And that always gives me healthy perspective.Before I log off, though, I can’t help wondering: What did you buy this year?I’m just curious, because I might keep an eye open for it myself.In a year or two.At Goodwill.
During a quick stop at Target today, my oldest daughter and I bumped into The Boy’s preschool teacher from last year.I asked about school, and she admitted it was a hard year. One of the moms, she said, passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.”They were believers,” she said, “and modeled to all of us what really matters. They lived well. They made every moment count. They spent so much time together making memories.”But that wasn’t all. She reminded me of a tragic local story associated with our recent snowstorm–a van slipped down a slope and into a retention pond. Nobody made it out.The victims were her neighbors.This was not the typical Merry Christmas exchange I’ve enjoyed while out and about–nor has it become the typical Merry Christmas blog post, now that I’m relating it here–but her words were powerful to me. Prior to crossing paths with her, my daughter and I had been thinking about games and gifts.”Kind of puts all this in perspective, doesn’t it?” I said. “All of this [I gestured to the products hanging on the wall next to us] is just….stuff.”She nodded. “It’s true. I keep telling my kids that we don’t need this. We need to be sure we’re focused on each other. That’s what counts. None of this [she, too, nodded toward the aisle] matters.”Suddenly aware of how serious our conversation had become, she forced a grin and suddenly said, “Well! You all have a very Merry Christmas! No more snow, right?”I nodded. She didn’t have to pretend to be “up.” I appreciated the honesty. I needed the reminder.As I finish my shopping this week, I, too, need to remember that it’s all just stuff. I don’t know if my daughter needed to hear that, too, but she was standing there the entire time.It’s all just stuff.In the midst of the rushing, fretting, ordering, and wrapping, don’t forget about the best gifts, the truest, most precious gifts of family, friends, and faith.They, not those items tucked under the tree, are the treasures.For actual tips, return to Rocks In My Dryer’s last-minute Christmas edition.Or poke around my collection of past Works For Me Wednesday ideas.