Michael J. Readinger

As we progress through Advent and enter the Christmas season, let’s focus on all the gifts that life, living and love bring instead of thinking about the gifts we may give and receive. These gifts cannot be bought, put in a box, wrapped and given. These gifts are beautiful presents with far greater meaning and worth. After all, what better gift is there than the gift of life, living and loving?

This column may not be for everyone. I recognize that the holidays are not always joyous occasions for many people. I will never forget how I felt the year my mom died the week before Christmas. There are many other reasons that we struggle during the holidays and they all matter. So, for those of you who are in a different space, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you hear this message from my perspective as much as I am sensitive to yours.

There are so many miracles about life that just cannot be explained in a biology, chemistry or physics class. How did these chemical, physical and biological reactions come into being? What triggered all that this world has been, has become, and will be? I certainly do not know, and I have never yet heard an iron clad explanation of the origin story. So, I am going with an acceptance of miracles and divine intervention. That is the first gift of life.

There is also kindness. What a gift that can be! Simple acts of generosity, courtesy, thoughtfulness and compassion towards those you know, those you may never know, and those you meet can change their lives as well as your own. Try it one step at a time. It does not need to be a pay it forward type of thing, either. These gifts of love do not need to be repaid or rewarded — they are just gifts of life.

Selflessness and generosity are also precious gifts. Volunteer at a local charitable organization in your community. Assist a needy neighbor, a friend, a relative or a complete stranger with a daily chore that may be difficult for them. Make those end-of-year donations to your favorite nonprofits, educational institutions or churches. These are gifts of life that keep on giving as your dollars provide healing, learning and ministry to so many.

Here’s a tough one that I am constantly attempting to improve on — try spreading a little forgiveness around. Let go of slights, wrongs and hurts that you have experienced. Say goodbye to irreconcilable differences about politics, race, religion and other issues. Look for the common ground that comes when we can make amends and accept apologies. Life is a gift when we are not burdened with hate, distrust, despair and disgust.

Not the least of the gifts mentioned here are gratitude and thanks. Remember to say thank you repeatedly and always. No matter what is happening, there is something to be grateful for. The feeling of gratitude given and received is profound in its ability to generate feelings of love, peace and joy. What better gift is there than that?

Advent is here. There are religious holidays all month long. This is a season of giving. Where will you focus your giving? Presents, or these gifts of life that can produce smiles and benefits far beyond those experienced from opening a box? I know what I have chosen.

I hope you remember the reason for this season and honor it in a meaningful way that honors the miracle of life, the beauty of living and the magic of love. Life IS a gift. Happy Holidays.