One of the best gifts I have ever received did not come in a wrapped package. It was not something I could hold in my hand. But my heart was filled with so much gratitude; it has changed my life. I recently stumbled across this picture, and all those feelings of love and gratitude overwhelmed me once again. It is not even a very good photo, not flattering is any way. Just a quick snapshot of a moment in time. But the memories are rich and full of the best gift I have ever been given.

 This will require a little bit of background. When my kids were young, we bought some property where we chose to build a home. I am a great believer in hard work, and I love challenges. This one brought me to my knees- the work was extremely physical and because we were amateurs it took a great amount of time. We had a groundbreaking ceremony with our kids on Thanksgiving Day and four years later we moved into our home on Thanksgiving Day in the pouring rain, because that was the day our families could be there to help.

We only contracted out the concrete and masonry work. Everything else we did virtually by hand. That first Thanksgiving we rented a small excavator to dig the foundation and footings for the home and garage. The excavation work included the creation of 3 one-hundred-foot-long trenches for the leach field for our septic system. Soon after that excavation work was complete, a mountain of gravel was delivered to the property, and I learned that leach fields filter out the waste from septic systems. Gravel is needed to line the trenches, and all these years later I can no longer recall how many inches needed to be under the pipes and how much gravel needed to be on top of the pipes lining the trench but let’s just say it was a lot. I had two wheelbarrows, two shovels, some plywood, 3 five-gallon buckets and a kid work crew of 4 who could work once a week. Every day I scooped and wheeled and carried load after load of gravel down the long deep trenches, slowly filling the required amount of gravel and working my way closer to the trenches’ opening near the pile of gravel.

Every day I measured my worth by how much gravel I could move, how many wheelbarrow loads I could manage without tipping them over. When my blisters were too sore to push a wheelbarrow, I measured my worth by how many buckets of gravel I could carry. This was months of work. Through the spring and summer, I carried buckets and shoveled gravel. Then in the fall, my mom and dad came to visit. They brought camp chairs out and shared picnic lunches with me and we talked and laughed, and I proudly told them I would be finished with my pile of gravel in a week. I had started working part time at the library and I had a 6-hour shift. I told them to go to town and relax. They could visit the sites around Moab or go for a hike.

The picture was taken just before I left for my shift. I do not have a picture of when I returned. The only picture I have of the best gift I ever received is the one my heart took. As I drove up to the property after work, ready to put in another two hours of work before it got dark, I saw my family, my parents, and my sister all sitting down around a tiny spot of debris, where once stood a mountain of gravel.

To this day I do not know how they did it. I am not sure that it is even possible to do the math and get the number of trips it would take them to finish, but I saw a miracle. I felt such an outpouring of love. My body and my spirit were completely depleted from the monotonous lonely labor of filling the trenches. I did not even realize how much, until those feelings of love and support and kindness filled up my soul. I was a completely new woman standing there with my shovel and no work to do. I have never felt such gratitude and love. It was the best gift I have been given.

My mom passed away last year, and I miss her every day. My dad’s steps are deliberate and careful now. But once upon a time, he was a mighty man who performed a miracle and made his daughter feel loved, appreciated and worthy.

As we consider what gifts to give this season, never underestimate the power of being where your loved ones are, seeing them in their plight and offering your time or your talents to succor them. I am not a keeper of many things, but my heart is filled with the gifts that can not be held in my hand and yet fill up my soul. These are truly the best gifts I have ever received. 

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