Every single parent’s story is complicated, because real life can be messy. Today, I’m blessed to be married and live in a wonderful home. Still, as a former single mom, circumstances were not always this easy.
That’s why the Christmas when I received the diamond necklace is the one I will remember forever. Back then, I wasn’t expecting to get such a costly gift, especially not from my own son.
Raising a child alone, I found the holidays were the greatest reminder of the absence of family in the traditional sense. Our modest Yuletide celebration bore little resemblance to the sentimental TV commercials where joyful loved ones gather around a large dining table laden with delicious food, a colorful centerpiece, and flickering candles. On Christmas Eve, it was usually just Zach and me, because my late mother and stepfather lived in another state, along with most of our relatives.
Despite this fact, when Zachary was young, I tried desperately to achieve some sense of Christmas cheer within my very confining budget. Even the Christmas tree in our apartment was a hand-me-down from another once single mom who had remarried and graduated to greater economic stability.
At Christmastime, I wasn’t concerned about gifts for myself, but I did try to make sure there were packages for Zach to open. Not expensive items, just tiny tokens of my gratitude for being granted the special privilege of raising him. My dark-haired, sensitive boy never expected much or complained there should have been more. He understood our “situation.”
Of course, there were generous family members and friends from work or church who realized our circumstances were difficult. Sometimes little blessings like a gift certificate or toy for Zach seemed to miraculously appear.
“It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” is an age-old Bible verse that represents the plight of the single-parent family best. You have to learn to give without expectation, because frequently little comes back. But this reminds you that the true meaning of Christmas was never about gifts or trees, but rather about a tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable.
So it was for most of those first 20 Christmases that my son and I spent together. Along the way, he became a man, moved out and began a life of his own.
When Christmas Eve rolled around my young adult son arrived at my door to celebrate our tradition of enjoying the evening together. There was the usual church service, holiday snacks, and finally we opened our presents.
When he finished unwrapping his gifts, he looked at me with excitement and proudly handed me a small box. I began to tear the decorative paper, expecting a pair of costume earrings or a gold plated bracelet as in years past.
Lifting the lid of the ivory satin case, I tried to hide my shock. It bore the name of an expensive jewelry store. I was barely able to swallow an audible gasp as I glanced down and saw a diamond pendant and glittering chain resting in the box’s burgundy velvet lining. By now Zach’s deep blue eyes were dancing with unrestrained delight. Apparently, my son understood the importance of giving.
Unfortunately, I had not discovered how to graciously receive, since I had little practice. How much had this necklace cost him? The unmistakable sparkle of the stone left little doubt the ¼ carat diamond was real, and Zach’s ecstatic look confirmed its authenticity. My son worked hard for his money and was in college too. I often felt guilty I had not been able to financially assist him more in achieving his goals.
Thankfully, I thought of the Christmas sermon from the year before. The pastor had spoken about accepting gifts with graciousness, never offending the giver.
At the same time, sensing my discomfort, Zach shared the tender tale of a coworker who was a young single mom with a toddler. Needing some extra cash, she decided to sell the necklace, since it was a gift from a former boyfriend and didn’t possess any sentimental value. Zach had simply purchased it to help her make ends meet and to bless me with an incredible present.
All of a sudden, the diamond sparkled brighter and I looked at the pendant with new appreciation. My gift was a visible witness to the fact that my son had learned the most valuable lesson the holidays can teach, “It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.“
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.