I would have been about 13 years old the year Virginia Johnston taught me about gifts. You see, that Christmas Day in 1988, I was pouting in our family church pew. “Our” church pew was positioned to the right of the altar and two rows from the front – the pew right next to the piano that Mrs. Johnston played while her husband preached. I was in her direct sight line with my arms crossed and a scowl painted on my face. The scowl was a result of Santa not bringing me the coveted Guess jeans I desired. My face is getting warm just thinking about it now.
Mrs. Johnston was the kind of woman that when you were standing next to her you wanted her to hug you. She was warm, pleasantly plump, and kind. Although on occasion, when she peered at you over her glasses, you instinctively knew to heed the warning you were being given. I really liked Mrs. Johnston and even more so, her husband Roy, the pastor, who without fail always included a Peanuts cartoon in his weekly sermons. I admired the Johnstons a great deal.
So, when after the morning church service, Mrs. Johnston sought me out in the small church basement where refreshments were being served and nestled herself into the seat next to me, I started to feel nervous. I knew I was being unpleasant and I was at the age that I didn’t know how to gracefully snap myself out of it. She pulled me into her soft side and said “Merry Christmas Angela” before asking me what was wrong. I pathetically recited to her my angst about not receiving the gift I most wanted.
Mrs. Johnston gently asked me if that was what Christmas meant to me – if that was most important. Tears pricked in my eyes and shame washed over me. My focus had been misplaced. I was a spoiled child and I knew it. I remember meekly replying “no” to her as I struggled to keep the tears from spilling over onto my cheeks. I will never forget this moment. It was one of the first moments I can recall where I was being asked to look at and evaluate my integrity, where I was instructed to evaluate my intentions and where I had to be honest about my bad behavior and own it in that moment. It was also one of the first moments I can remember where I was mindful that I had a choice about how I behaved.
I share this story today because it rings true for some of the feelings I have today. Tonight is Christmas Eve, a day that up until 2011 was always filled with my family around the Christmas tree while we passed eggnog and presents. Christmas Eve, up until 2011, had always been the night of family celebration in my house. Tonight I do not share Christmas Eve with my children, and in fact, as of this morning I didn’t have any plans. I was being a bit pouty about it. As soon as some of the pout was coming out of my mouth at the office this morning, I remembered Mrs. Johnston.
I remembered that I have control over how I chose to behave today and I have control over what I want the focus to be. I can chose to be spoiled and bemoan all that today will not be, or I can make an effort to appreciate all of the gladness that surrounds me. I can appreciate that I have parents I can visit this evening and that I have gifts to wrap for my daughters to open tomorrow. And what I know now, is that I want to behave to make Mrs. Johnston proud.