Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Gifts that Keep on Giving

During a difficult period in my life, my friend Alice gave me a prayer plant. “It will remind you of where your strength comes from,” she said. Sure enough, every evening as the sun went down, the prayer plant extended its leaves upward. I was reminded to turn to God more often, and I also remembered my friend.

When a move across country forced me to leave the plant behind, I photographed it. Sometime later, I created an oil painting of the plant sitting beside a garden glove and a trowel. The painting still hangs in my kitchen. Whenever I look at it, I remember my friend and her reminder to reach up in times of need. Her priceless gift of love was simple and inexpensive, but never forgotten.

With the approach of Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn once again to the gift giving season. If you’re like me, you’re already worrying about money, and how you’re going to buy school supplies and gifts. Expectations are high and everyone from the postman, your child’s teacher, your coworkers, your church friends and neighbors ends up on your shopping list.

One low-budget year, I gave my friends a small Christmas cactus. The plants were only $1.50 each; some even had blooms. A couple women accepted their plant reluctantly, complaining that they didn’t have any luck with plants; the rest accepted their gift graciously and seemed to be pleased.

Over the next few years, I was surprised by their reactions. Each time I saw one of these women, she always gave me an update on the status of her plant. When I visited in their homes, I was shown how well their plants were doing. Some struggled to keep their plants growing just for me. Eventually most if not all of the plants bloomed. As the women cared for their plants, they remembered my gift. The perky green cactus became a symbol of our friendship, and a gift of love that kept on giving.

We don’t all have green thumbs like my mother. She had the largest, healthiest plants in the neighborhood. Her African violets were the envy of many. My dad was equally talented and had the most prolific raspberry bushes, peas and tomatoes around.

My former father-in-law was well-known for his garden and for his love of plants. When you walked into his home, you entered a jungle. Wandering Jews, philodendrons and ivy wrapped around the room and crawled over and under the other plants. When a grandchild skinned a knee or got sunburned, grandma quickly broke off a leaf from one of grandpa’s nearby Aloe Vera plants. The soothing gel washed over their pain and tiny tears were wiped away.

He had a wonderful garden as well. Neighbors, relatives and friends were recipients of his beautiful Shasta Daisies, iris and gladioli bulbs. These gifts of love became living connections between the people that came in and out of his life.

If you’re not into plants, there are other ways to share your talents and your love. My 97 year old friend Dorothy bakes bread and cakes for those she loves. She called me the other day and thanked me for sending her one of my thank you cards.

Since I’m an artist, I turn my drawings of birds and animals into greeting cards and add ribbons and feathers for color. Other cards are created by printing copies of original paintings. Dorothy told me she had 11 different cards from me lined up in front of her. “Every time I look at them,” she said, “I think of you.”

Another elderly friend complained when I’d forgotten her birthday: “I missed getting one of your beautiful cards,” she said. I didn’t realize how much my inexpensive gifts of love had meant. There have been many recipients of my cards over the years. It is my way of telling people that they’re worth the extra time it takes to create a personal card and message just for them.

Carol’s drawings and paintings are on her gallery at  and