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Commentary: Just give this Holiday season

http://66.225.205.104/CM20091221.mp3

O foolish me! I had expected gift-giving this holiday season to be a thing of the past. But, according to friends and family I'm wrong. It seems you can put people through a recession, but you can't turn them into Scrooge. Gift-giving is important, not just when the economy is robust but all the time, and not just for you and me, but especially for the life of the world. Gift-giving must be encouraged both locally and far from home. I suspect that is what has driven the ministry of Operation Christmas Child. Organized by Franklin Graham's ministry, Operation Christmas Child is a ministry to children in over 140 countries. The 2009 goal is to send shoeboxes filled with gifts to 70 million children. 120 of those boxes came from our small church. What child, regardless of nationality, doesn't enjoy receiving a gift, and not just during the holidays? I was raised by parents who believed that it's not the gift but the thought that counts. Giving someone a gift means that you acknowledge them, that they exist, that they count, that they share time and space with you. There was a time when my gift-giving was expressed through hand-made gifts: a ceramic ash tray for mother, a cobbled together treasure box for sister, and a rope belt for father. I got the size wrong, but it was the thought that counted. Not long ago, I read about a young boy in Bangladesh who caught a fish and gave his catch to a neighbor who had no food for his family. Even in 2009, a gift can still make the difference between life and death. That's a piece of reality I hope the economy will never cause us to forget. Some gifts do make a difference. I wish I could follow to its destination one of those shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child. I would enjoy seeing delight sweep across the face of the child who opens it up. Admittedly, the gifts inside are not all that exquisite, but they do carry a message: someone cares. Somehow the sour economy and all the conflicts going on around the world have ignited my desire to add some small comfort to the lives of people I have never met, but somehow I feel I know. There are many reasons why in 2009 gift-giving should be curtailed or even eliminated. But, give a gift. Acknowledge and celebrate a friendship, maybe even a restored relationship. Surprise someone who thinks they've been forgotten. If it is a more friendly, humane, and peaceful world we seek, then let's put our gift-giving to work. And, when we give, let's remember that it's not the gift but the thought that counts. Gus Succop is pastor of Quail Hollow Presbyterian Church in south Charlotte.