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The Christmas Cold War

He liked lists; I liked surprises. Could we learn a new way to give?

It was the official beginning of another yuletide season, and preparing my list was the first step on the way to my annual shopping expedition. Although nothing makes me happier than combing every corner of the mall to select the perfect present for each person, my husband couldn't say the same.

After almost 30 years of marriage, he still doesn't share my enthusiasm for shopping. He's a logical, practical, no-nonsense guy. He wants explicit instructions on what I want and where to purchase it. It's his hunter mode: get to the store, bag the gift, get out.

What's the fun in that? I like to surprise people. The delight that lights up their faces—that's what excites me. And I practically glow when the surprise is for me. When I pick up a beautifully wrapped box, I savor the mystery.

Yet for all the hype about the joy of giving at Christmas, my husband and I typically wind up in a cold war. It usually goes something like this: "Sue, I don't wear European-cut dress shirts; I like flannels. I work outdoors, not on Wall Street. I wish you'd have bought me something I wanted. I gave you my list."

Yes, he did give me a list—detailed, with newspaper fliers attached. But I like to surprise him.

And I certainly didn't appreciate his present to me—a card with money inside. I'd refused to manufacture a list. I wanted him to surprise me. He did just that.

"Bruce, this isn't a present. This is money."

"Well, you didn't tell me what to get you, so I figured you could go shopping. That way you can get what you like. And besides, you love to shop."

"You don't care about me." I turned away, pouting.

"I wanted you to buy me a special present."

"When I tried that last year, you weren't happy either."

"A food processor is not what I had in mind."

As I headed to the mall to spend my "present," I pondered the whole issue.

I was getting tired of being at odds with my husband on what was supposed to be a happy holiday. And even

I was weary of my complaining. Besides, although Bruce wasn't meeting my needs by surprising me with presents each Christmas, it dawned on me that I wasn't fulfilling his either.

I recalled the clouded look on his face when he saw the shirt box instead of the square, chunky box that should have held the fishing reel he wanted, or the long flat box with the new hammer he needed. Perhaps I was wrong too?

I realized that I needed to learn to give his way, even if I didn't understand or agree with it. When the next holiday season approached, I didn't ignore his list.

"So which of these fishing rods do you like best?" I thought his eyes were going to fall out of their sockets.

"You're going to buy me something from my list?"

"Yep." I smiled and tucked the list into my purse.

"So what do you want?" he asked hopefully.

Instead of the usual "surprise me" that made him go pale, I handed over a list of a half dozen items. And to further stun him, told him where to find them.

"Wow! This is great, honey."

Although it was difficult to change the way I did things, it was now clear to me that I'd been trying to give Bruce what I wanted. I needed to give him what he wanted.

Christmas morning came and Bruce wasn't surprised when he saw the long, slender package wrapped in Santa paper standing in the corner. But he was ecstatic! And I was happy too. It was a whole lot better to see him beam over his new fishing pole than to return something he never really wanted.

I opened my small box, which I knew held my favorite fragrance. And it was okay. I knew Bruce was pleased to give me something from my list, and hey, I love Chanel.

With a sigh of satisfaction, I gathered up the sea of discarded wrappings and bows. "Wait," Bruce said with a grin. "There's one more for you." He slipped into the garage and came back with a huge, brightly wrapped box.

"What's this?" I asked in disbelief. "This is for me?"

"Yep!" His eyes danced. "It's a surprise."

I ripped off the paper and tore into the box. "It's my own karaoke system!" He'd seen how much I'd enjoyed the parties we'd attended that past year where we sang, hammed it up, and had a great time. "I love it, Bruce!"

It was the best Christmas ever. Not because we each got the very thing we wanted, but because we both learned how to give.

Susan A. Karas is a freelance author. She and her husband, Bruce, have been married 29 years.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Christmas; Differences; Gifts; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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