I’m a winter baby born on the third day of the new year. My year’s worth of gift opening is concentrated into the span of two weeks. I keep my Christmas tree up for my birthday. I let the Christmas cheer of the past few weeks spill over and transform into birthday celebration. I am moved by the glow of the lights and the built-in party décor. In other words, ten days after Christmas, I still have presents on my mind.
The gifts I’ve been thinking about most this season did not sit under the tree waiting for my excited fingers to tear into the wrapping. Two of these intangible gifts came at Christmas time, but the other was a series of gifts that just kept coming—or calling. Though years have passed, they remain the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received.
In the ten months between when I filed for divorce and the divorce was finalized, I received a phone call from my friend June about every three weeks. I didn’t notice the pattern at first. I was too overwhelmed by the scary decision I’d made and all the unknowns that cropped up week after week. June’s calls were a balm. They were courageous, too. From call to call, she couldn’t have known what state she’d find me in. I’m wired to find the silver linings in the most difficult circumstances and would share those findings with her, but I knew—and this is the particularity of her gift—that June didn’t expect me to ‘pretty up’ the hard thing I was going through. She would take me as I was in that moment. There were tears, but there was also laughter. I always felt better when I could make June laugh. It was a sign that I wasn’t losing myself in all this pain. June never arranged that this was what she was going to do or promised the next call. She simply kept calling. She poured perspective and encouragement like water into a dry vessel.
A few months after the divorce was final and my daughter and I had had some time to adjust to our new life and our new routines, June called again. She invited us to her home for the weekend. For years, I had found comfort, camaraderie, and spiritual mentorship in the embrace of her home. This weekend she and her family showered us with more food, fun, and fellowship. As we prepared to drive home, June said, “I invited you this weekend because I needed to see you. I needed to see how you are really doing. I know things are difficult and will be for a while, but I also know now that you’re really okay. I just needed to see that for myself.”
On Christmas Day a few months later, I received my next gift—another call. I had met Pamela six months earlier—weeks after my divorce was finalized—when we met at a writer’s retreat in Montana. We were responsible for our own transportation and encouraged to coordinate with other attendees. Pamela had a rental car and offered to pick me up at the Kalispell airport. We made an immediate connection on our way to the rural Montana retreat center and kept in touch after the retreat ended. Pamela knew that this was the first Christmas that I had to pack up my precious eight-year-old and wave to her as she drove away with her dad for their family celebration. I shed some tears and looked around my empty house, and wondered, what now? I was a deflated balloon. And then Pamela called me. We’d been strangers months before, but now she was blowing new air in my spirits by checking on me and wishing me a happy day. She’d stepped away from her own family and holiday celebrations to check on me.
A few years passed. I was getting the hang of my solo time, but I was still hesitant about hosting and feeding my out-of-town family at Christmas. When I was married, my husband had handled the grocery shopping and meal preparation, and I had underestimated the amount of work and coordination it took to shop and cook for eight. I texted my worries to my best friend from seventh grade, Melissa, who doesn’t bat an eye at cooking for large groups. Some time passed and I got another text: I’m going to make a meal plan and the grocery list for you. All you’ll need to do is make a grocery store run and you’ll be set. I couldn’t have imagined as we sat in Mr. Switzer’s science class all those years ago that this friendship would have weathered time and distance and that a grocery list could feel like a warm hug.
I don’t remember most of the words I exchanged with these three women or what ingredients were on that shopping list. The magic of these gifts is the power of these friends’ presence and their time during difficult times. Their actions spoke volumes and eased the loneliness, fear, and sadness that had become daily intrusions. Their gifts remind me that we don’t have to know exactly what to say, live in the same state, or spend much money to make a difference. In their own ways, these friends helped me feel seen, reminded me that I matter, and that I wasn’t walking this path alone. One footstep at a time.