The Best Sort of Gift

My dear friends,

Love Begins at Home has the honor and privilege to introduce to you all Athena Mota de Alcantara, one of my dear friends. As we are quickly approaching Christmas, deadlines are imminent as well as time to come up with last minute gift ideas for those we love. Athena sheds some wisdom regarding “the best sort of gift” that we all can take to heart. She gives us a lot to think about and reflect upon as Advent is almost over and Christmas is just around the corner. Athena shares her perspective as a single person living with her parents and siblings while learning to love them better each day. Her witness to love has inspired me to love my own family more deeply and through our conversations she has taught me more about the Holy Family. May we hold her words close as Christmas draws near and reflect upon how we have spent our Advent thus far. 

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Athena with our family

As Christmas is quickly approaching, most people turn their mind to gift-giving. Recently, I’ve been jotting down gift ideas for family members and have come to terms with the fact that not everyone appreciates a beautiful scented candle as a Christmas gift (shocking, I know). It seems like an obvious truth, but I’ve realized that I often forget that just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that my loved ones will too. I’ve noticed that a good gift-giver learns what the other person values and then chooses to give that gift, even if it may be inconvenient. That means that if I have a sibling whose Love Language is Quality Time the best gift wouldn’t be found after a few clicks on Amazon, but in an evening out at a nice restaurant, even if my December is already busy.

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I’m realizing more and more that this sort of personal stretching is at the heart of love. As a single person living at home with my parents and siblings, there are definitely a million little daily opportunities for this heart-stretching. I remember whenever I’d come home to visit during my time at college the difference between home life and dorm life always struck me. In the dorm there were definitely ups and downs with my fellow dorm-mates, but the girls usually tried to keep everything together. At home, things were and still are, a little more… real. No one is really worried that they’ll lose your friendship, so let’s just say honest opinions are constantly aired and family needs are always presenting themselves.

Family life is demanding because love is demanding. Love is always asking for the best gift, the one that more often than not requires a sort of self-stretching to reach out and meet the other person where they are at. Just like I’ve realized in Christmas shopping- the best gift is the one that is the most “for another,” not the one that is the most satisfying or enjoyable to give. “Please prepare me for the inconvenient opportunities to love,” has become a common theme in my prayer life over the past couple years. It might seem like a strangely specific petition, but how many times has a chance to love taken us by surprise?

At home, I’m notorious for making To Do Lists and running myself ragged in order to finish them by the end of the day. On one hand, I love that part of myself, the part that keeps things together and gets things done. On the other hand, how many times have I let my To Do List get in the way of giving whatever gift Jesus is asking of me in that moment? I have been totally guilty of the “I’ll love you when I’m done with this” mentality. Do I really need to make that appointment right now or can I listen for a couple minutes to my brother’s play-by-play of his entire soccer practice? (Truly, his entire practice-complete with most of his movements re-enacted in slow motion in the living room). Do I have to check my email right now or can I clean up the kitchen when everyone is tired from long days at work?

Something that’s helped me to love in the moment is coming up with a short mantra that reminds me why I am doing this act of love. When the challenge of loving in the moment presents itself, I’ve been using, “Drop your nets and love.” It’s an allusion to when Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew from their fishing boat:

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“As he [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fisherman. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once, they left their nets and followed him” Matthew 4:18-20.

At once. At once they left their nets and followed Him, the best decision of their lives. In that moment Peter and Andrew showed a radical readiness to do what love required. They were literally in the middle of something and something very important, earning their livelihood, yet they were able, by a special grace, to put what they wanted aside to answer a Call.

May the rest of this Advent and Christmas find us giving our best whether it’s convenient or not and may the Holy Family intercede for us to have a radical readiness to love.

With love,

Athena

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