Each time the holiday season rolls around, I start thinking about gift giving, and what I would like to give to family, friends, and the world for the holidays. There are lots of clever toys, lots of wonderful books, cookies and candy, clothing… I think about what people need, what they might want, and what helps to create better people and more blessing in the world.

The world needs us to start living more sustainably…less plastic, less waste, so whatever we gift, can it use less packaging, compostable packaging or reusable packaging? Can we re-use gift paper, gift bags, bows and ribbon; or even use cloth bags that can be reused, or cloth that can be wrapped around packages and reused?

And can we purchase and use less (or NO!) plastic? in packaging, and in purchasing?! Many stores have reusable bags for purchase, which you can use at their store and even other stores! I believe we United Methodists can be the leaders and trend setters for folks to bring reusable bags to the grocery stores and other stores, so that single-use plastic bags can be phased out of production. The time is NOW to say NO to plastic bags! What a beautiful gift that is, to give the world this Christmas! And a great New Year’s resolution – to use only re-usable bags when shopping, anywhere in 2023!

But how about giving your Presence?! I think gifts of shared experiences are the best gift to give our families and friends as we move into the future. We live so isolated from each other even when in the same house or same room, all curled up in our phone screens. How about giving the gift of time together somewhere special? For instance, give a membership and trip to Morton Arboretum for your family or parent/s— pick a date to visit, and then even eat there, perhaps get a gift from their gift shop which helps support the arboretum’s work or related artists. A trip to a state park, with a hike and/or picnic, and take a game or activity to share there… There are several parks in our local park district that have special gardens, or historic sites that are interesting to share with the family. There are several non-profit organizations that could be an experience destination for the family or friends as well: The Northern Illinois Food Bank, Feed My Starving Children, Anderson Humane Shelter, Salvation Army, etc. And, if they don’t have opportunities to volunteer on site, many have projects you can help with at home, gathering supplies, writing notes or cards, assembling supplies, etc. The time together working on these is a blessing for you and the gift recipient, as well as the organization and their constituents. Nursing homes, Meals on Wheels, children’s agencies, Lazarus House, Hesed House etc, all appreciate helpers on site or working from home on their projects. These gifts of presence can be scheduled throughout the year, not just at Christmastime, too!

Are there Presents that can bless the world? Gifts given in honor or in memory of someone to non-profits that bless others are a great way to lift up values that you and your family or friends treasure. Many of us do not need more stuff but appreciate making a difference for someone else who is in need. Gifts can be given through Heifer Project International, Audubon, National Wildlife, UMCOR, Church World Service, and many other organizations, that allow you to choose a particular way to support animals, families, and communities that bring lasting benefits that bless the world. Some of these will send you back a small stuffed animal or a poster or a card that you can pass on to the person honored, as well.

Choosing Gifts that bless craftspeople and small business owners — from non-profit organizations or local businesses — is another way to bless those who most need your financial support, too. Many non-profits have catalogs of gifts whose purchase support the work of the non-profit. There are also online and in person stores that support craftspeople around the world or small sustainable farm cooperatives. Equal Exchange is one such online cooperative to support small farmers; Glen Ellyn has a Ten Thousand Villages shop where you can purchase unique handmade items that bless your family, and the family of the craftsperson, from countries all over the world! Local family-owned shops are also much blessed by your purchases that allow them to pay staff and supplies, and other shop overhead costs. While costs may be higher than in chain stores, there is value added by supporting those in your community.

These kinds of Gifts, Presents and Presence will bless both you and your gift recipient with meaningful conversations, shared time and work together, and will bless others far beyond your family.  I pray that your Christmas reach will extend the blessing of presence for you and yours, and the blessing of support for the earth and her creatures, and for community family businesses, here and around the world! Gifts, Presents and Presence – oh my! Three wise ways to give God’s Love this year!

Happy to be on the journey with you, Pastor Lisa