Feeble Knees

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Cheap is How I Feel

Today is the day that all of my siblings, their spouses and their children gather together at my parent's place to celebrate Christmas. Or as one nephew puts it: "Time to go hollering with the relatives!"

All together, we number about seventeen, twenty if you include my nephew's girlfriends. It's a lively bunch, it's an opinionated bunch, and it is a loquacious bunch, which means you need to shout to be heard over everyone else's constant chatter. The chatter may start out at a reasonable decibel, but as more opinionated, talkative siblings arrive, the level increases to the point where an uninformed observer could legitimately think we're trying to break the sound barrier. Thus, Hollering with the Relatives is a very apt description indeed.

There will be embarrassing amounts of food involved as well. You might not think it would be possible for people to gorge themselves in the midst of so much talky-talk, but somehow we manage. Mum makes enough for several platoons of men who have heretofore subsisted solely on MREs. They could eat their fill and then some and there would still be plenty of lasagne, ziti, meatballs, sausage, soup, bread and dessert leftover.

We also exchange small gifts. Yesterday my gift idea got railroaded because Mum ended up making the same recipe to serve with dessert. (Yeah, I'm still not over it!) Because I hadn't yet finished coating the homemade truffles with chocolate, this little revelation from Mum didn't exactly inspire me to finish them up. I wanted to chuck them out the window and let the deer have them. But I didn't. Instead, Mr. Feeble and I dashed off to Wal-Mart at 9 pm, desperate to find some substitute. Let me tell you, the pickins were pretty slim indeed.

All my insecurities welled up as I froze, helpless from indecision, between chintzy looking pre-wrapped gifts of wood puzzles and holiday packs of summer sausage and potted cheese. Mr. Feeble did his best to cheer me up, and make jokes about silly things we encountered on the shelves. But still felt awful. Here it is, Christmas, and just like the little boy in that infectious little song I had no gift to bring.

Pa rum pa pum pum.

I wish I could say that it's because I'm such a generous and thoughtful person, and that's why it matters so much to me to give a nice gift. But I think there's something less pretty behind it, like needing approval and a deep rooted insecurity. Maybe it's a need to be thought very well of, to have people say "Oh isn't she such a generous and thoughtful person! Egad.

The whole time we were running around Wal-Mart, an infernal running critique was playing itself out in my head:

"A candle? For goodness sakes there's nothing special about a candle."

"Christmas ornaments? You did that last year, remember?"

"Gift boxes of baking mix and tea? Come on now, you know none of them will use that."

"You don't want to get anything cheap looking, do you?"

And on and on it went until we'd canvassed the entire store, my legs started aching and I just wanted to go to bed.

Once or twice I was tempted to just buy the potted cheese and sausage boxes because my mother would hate it. Then there were these chartreuse green feather covered cones that were a plausible facsimile of what Christmas decorations would look like if they had them on Mars. I put one on my head like a putrid dunce cap and yelled to Mr. Feeble: "This is it! Ugly things! Let's give them Ugly things!"

And I'm searching all the windows for a last minute present
To prove to you that what I said was real,
For something small and frail and plastic, baby,
'cause cheap is how I feel
-Cowboy Junkies

This morning I am coming to the acceptance that my gifts are not going to be that much. They're not going to be the best Christmas gifts ever, and I am not going to swell with pride when they open them. This is pretty tough for an over-achieving perfectionist to swallow. It's on a much, much smaller scale, but it's kind of like that feeling I get when I realize I have absolutely nothing worth giving to God.

If my righteousness is filthy rags, then what of all the things I've tried to do for God? My little frail plastic trinkets of self-effort? What do you give the God who doesn't just have everything, but can speak new galaxies into existence?

It is frightening to think when you get right down to it that there is this impossibly Big and Perfect God that is incredibly interested in you and I. Frail, flawed, annoying, and petty though I am, His heart's desire is towards me.


There's not a thing I can do to re-package myself into something that would be any more lovable in the eyes of God. Me, the lousy-last-minute-Christmas-gift-giving neurotic mess that I am, I'm beloved of God and accepted as-is. That's some mighty mind-bending reassurance.

Boy am I going to need some of that later today.

Merry Christmas everyone, and many happy returns...

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