Present Perfect

How to find that special something

My daughter has always had a reputation for giving perfect gifts, and it’s hard to tell who gets more joy from them—the recipients or Jackie herself. (She can barely sit still waiting for the right day and in fact has been known to cut that corner by a week or more.) Because of the stunning surprise she arranged in her dad’s final days, I thought to ask if she could dissect her uncanny knack for those of us less gifted.

Perfect presents, naturally, are as unique as the recipients and their current circumstances, but I asked Jackie for her advice and she gave me five simple suggestions that will likely improve your aim. Or you may find, as I did, that her ideas build confidence by triggering memories of gifts that hit the bull’s eye.

1. It’s a Golden Rule thing—sort of.

Luke 6:31 says to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” But when it comes to selecting presents, you’d also do well to recognize your taste and preferences may not be theirs. That is, choosing a gift has less to do with imagining others in your shoes than picturing yourself in theirs.

Choosing a gift has less to do with imagining others in your shoes than picturing yourself in theirs.

An example that comes to mind involves my husband’s favorite color. Elliot saw orange as playful and upbeat, but I disliked it. Strongly. When we were invited to a family wedding (read: an event to be memorialized not only in the couple’s album but also in mantel photos coast to coast), I considered lobbying for him to wear a color I preferred. Now I’m grateful I didn’t—he interpreted my selection of an orange shirt as the love gift it was. And that decision is still paying dividends, as those photos have outlived Elliot. Instead of commemorating an unimportant but selfish choice, they’re a sweet reminder of the ways we gave “preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10).

2. Tune in for clues, and not just in December.

Only God is omniscient, but you’d be surprised how much you can discover by simply putting up an antenna and purposely listening for clues. Last fall, in anticipation of his baby’s arrival, my son changed the guest room to a nursery and moved the spare bed to the basement. Thinking out loud, he casually mentioned it can be chilly down there in the winter but should be okay for sleeping. After he went home, I jotted the comment on my reminder list (an index card I keep on top of the fridge). I was able to find an electric blanket for his January birthday—shortly before the other grandmother came to help with the baby.


A word of warning: Don’t forget to write clues down ASAP. (I’ve lost count of how many good ones “got away.”) And be sure to store them in a computer file, on a calendar, or somewhere else you’ll know to check.

3. Ask the Holy Spirit’s advice. He not only is aware of what a person will love but also knows where to find it and which store has the best price. Not to mention that communicating with Him frequently will bring other blessings into your day. I’m reminded of an August long ago when my high schooler wanted to use her own money for some back-to-school shopping. That summer, I’d been trying to explain tithing—that God can make 90 percent go farther than our 100 percent—but the idea of giving up one dollar out of every ten was a tough sell. So before heading out, we prayed God would come shopping with us.

For the first stop, our daughter chose a store with clothier in the name (translation: expensive), and there found THE perfect sweater—at a price that would have wiped out her savings and then some. She left, disappointed, and we decided to instead try a discount store with odd lots and only one or two of each item. Imagine our amazement to shuffle through the rack and discover the identical sweater! It cost a third of the exclusive shop’s price, and the only one in stock was my daughter’s size. By the end of the afternoon, she had three new pieces of clothing, a few dollars left in her purse, and a fresh outlook on giving to the Lord.

Sometimes a gift is more special to both parties because of the sacrifice involved.

4. Extravagance isn’t necessary, but be open to the occasional splurge. Occasional is the operative word here, especially when the recipient is your spouse and budgeting’s a hot button—in which case generosity can backfire, coming across as disregard for his or her concerns about spending. On the other hand, if you’re the more conservative money handler, beware of constantly skimping. That can send a wrong message about the recipient’s value in your eyes.

Sometimes a gift is more special to both parties because of the sacrifice involved (2 Sam. 24:24). My friend Cindy was a great example of this many Christmases ago when college tuition was a budgetary challenge. Her husband loved a painting reminiscent of his favorite fishing spot, but Cindy—an accountant determined to stay in the black—found the price hard to justify. She decided to make it a matter of prayer and soon sensed a divine green light. Her husband was surprised and positively thrilled by her gift. More than two decades later, it still hangs in their room, reminding them both of the sacrifice she lovingly made for him.


5. The hunt may be even more cherished than the gift.

I wasn’t feeling very festive about my first birthday as a widow, but Jackie asked me to name a dessert that might make the day a bit special. What came to mind was almond horns—chubby little boomerangs, chewy yet crisp and bursting with my favorite flavor. I loved them as a kid up north and (to my utter delight) happened upon them several years ago here in the South, at my neighborhood Publix. So Jackie called to place an order.

What neither of us realized was that almond paste had since become so prohibitive that the chain stopped making the recipe. To me, that news was just an “oh, well” but Jackie is not easily deterred. I was unaware that her hunt became an obsessive quest, involving Internet searches, Facebook queries, and phone calls. She finally found Shakil, a sweetheart of a baker at Publix, who chased down the recipe until he located it at a store in Florida. Then he whipped up what may be a year’s supply (and even called afterward to be sure I liked them).

I wasn’t feeling very festive about my first birthday as a widow, but Jackie asked me to name a dessert that might make the day a bit special.

Now, picture Jackie trying to contain herself as she handed me a box full of something I knew couldn’t be found. And picture my amazement to open it, and then to learn how she made the impossible happen. I’m not sure what Shakil did, but that batch of almond horns was the best I’d ever tasted. An even better gift, though, was the awareness of Jackie’s loving persistence and a stranger’s compassion, which made a hard day rather festive after all.


Read about the gift Sandy's daughter Jackie got her father in his final days in "The Ultimate Gift."


Photography provided by author

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31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;

24 However, the king said to Araunah, No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

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