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A Shared Story: The Book Bag

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Often as adults we lose the ability to be surprised — even at Christmas.  Once we reach a certain age, we’ve seen it all and lose that sense of wonder and expectation. We’ve been around the block a few times, and flogged more than once.  Our hearts grow jaded and learn to live without anticipation.

A special Christmas memory is one that brought the gift of surprise just when I needed it most.  I often give books to my family and friends on Christmas.  It’s a tradition inaugurated for my children the year of their birth, and continues still.  On this particular Christmas, I put each book in a plain brown bag with handles and printed a quote about books on the bag with a colored marker.  I used some of my favorites:

       We read to know we are not alone.  C.S. Lewis

       When I get a little money I buy books; and if
        any is left I by food and clothes.  Erasmus

       Never judge a book by its movie.  J. W. Eagean

I found some that seemed to fit certain personal situations:

       I find television very educating.  Every time
        somebody turns on the set, I go to the other
        room and read a book.  Groucho Marx

        Book lovers never go to bed alone.  Unknown

And I laughed at this one:

       Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend;
        inside of a dog, it’s too dark
         to read.  Groucho Marx

Getting a book from mom is nothing new, but the unusual presentation of the gift was fun and surprising.  And because I love to surprise as much as be surprised, I felt a little smug that Christmas.  Then I forgot all about it.

Imagine my surprise the following year when one of the bags came back to me.  My daughter used her same brown gift bag for a book she bought me.  She scratched through the To and From to make them read right, and added a new quote about books:

  A man who won’t read has no advantage over the one
   who can’t read.  Mark Twain

(I taught her well, huh?)

I was utterly delighted because the gift of surprise feels so darn good.  And that this surprise came from a daughter who, since the previous Christmas, had moved four states away made it more special.   My gloominess about the distance that separated us lifted instantly.  What’s 900 miles when she can still manage to surprise me?

A tradition had been born.  The following year, I sent the bag back with another book and an added quote:
Wear the old coat and buy the new book.  Austin Phelps
Then the tradition went on hiatus because my daughter moved from Dallas to Los Angeles, and didn’t make it home for Christmas.  The bag was packed away “ but where?  My daughter couldn’t find it, and I knew I didn’t have it.

I figured the book bag had been forever lost.  Such is life.  But I was in for another surprise.  A thorough search of my attic for a missing baby book resulted in its resurfacing.  Who could have put it there?

Guess what’s back under my tree this year?

Surprise is divine; it’s at the heart of the Christmas story.  What could be more surprising than our Savior coming to us quietly and humbly in the form of a baby?  The invitation of Christmas is that we keep the gift of surprise, of wonderment, in our hearts.

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