What Do You Do With a Birthday Gift? Use It Well

Whatever gifts you have, use them to serve others — maybe by serving yourself first

I rifled through my husband’s desk.

Not there.

I ransacked his most recent pile and filled box populating the dining room.

Nothing.

When I spied a box on the back porch, I ventured outside to sift through it.

To no avail.

Meanwhile, my coffee was getting cold, exactly what I wanted to avoid.

Where was the mug warmer my daughter had purchased for my husband at Christmas? Not being used, I can assure you. Silly Steve.

My Goldilocks tendencies were in full force. Drinking coffee from my vacuum-insulated stainless steel mug was Papa Bear hot. Scalding. Too hot. Drinking it from a ceramic mug made my coffee Baby Bear cold too quickly. What I wanted was coffee just right all the way to the end of the cup. Mama Bear coffee.

What I wanted was a mug warmer. Just like the one my colleague had gotten me for my birthday the day before. The one I was using for Mama Bear coffee at work made me want just right coffee at home.

Another colleague had purchased me a large steel vacuum-insulated water bottle — covered in old-fashioned script and roses and spattered with pink flamingos. Perfectly pink and eclectic. I hadn’t realized I needed such a product until I forewent my lime-green Nalgene bottle with its sock-like Vancouver Canucks koozie behind and hoisted 25 ounces of stay-cold water with me to the gym. (I’m not a Canucks fan; it was just the cheapest knit bottle koozie I could purchase.)

How did I manage without these gifts?

The bigger picture

Then I watched the evening news and saw the people fleeing Afghanistan with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Nothing. Some were thrusting their children — their babies! — into the arms of U.S. Marines in hopes they might give their flesh and blood something they don’t have. Safety. Security. Hope.

And I am still looking for a second mug warmer to use at home. Does this seem selfish and uncaring?

Last Thursday, I checked in guests for a networking event in our building. Each month, I sit at the entrance and welcome guests. I card those who look young, provide drink tickets for those who don’t, and orient anyone new to the shindig. I even tell them if they feel shy to come back and talk to me. I am sincere.

Because I feel uncomfortable at events like this too. That’s why I offer to help at the event. Then I don’t have to invite myself into a conversation or cluster of people. They wait in line to talk to me. (Drink tickets are so powerful people freely give up their email addresses to get two.)

Imagine my surprise when one of my new interns entered the building to join the event. He pulled out his phone so that it might translate my words to text as I gave him instructions. Registered, he strode confidently toward a cocktail table circled by my boss and a few others. He sat his phone on the table to capture the conversation and then contributed to it.

This young man is deaf and mute.

I checked in guest after guest and in between spied Eric communicating via his phone with my boss and others. No fear. No insecurity. No apology. He came to network. And he used his resources so he could do so effectively.

Meanwhile, I was hiding behind the guise of manning the registration table. I mean, I was manning the table, a job that needed to be done, but it was my way of avoiding something outside of my comfort zone.

Exiting the comfort zone

Last week, I asked you to leave your comfort zone. My post led readers to a different website, Medium.com, to read my weekly post there. I also asked you to applaud (50 times!), highlight, and comment, and join Medium if you weren’t a member there so you could. Some of you did!

Seeing your highlights and comments and applause blessed me — in part because it took some effort and likely brought you to a strange website that demanded you create a profile to partake. Thank you for leaving the comfort of All Things Work Together on my account.

(A number of people also liked my post on WordPress, too, and that’s also wonderful. Thank you for that.)

Especially with the backdrop of the turmoil and tragedy in Afghanistan and the contrast in seeing my resourceful intern inserting himself into conversations he couldn’t hear, I recognize that I am blessed — and not always using my gifts. my health, my wholeness to their full extent.

I also recognize that not using my birthday gifts — as demonstrated by my husband’s abandonment of the gifted mug warmer — doesn’t benefit anyone else. What if using a mug warmer and an insulated water bottle strengthen me in some way that I might use my gifts — my talents — to make a difference in the world?

I know I am blessed to live in these United States — no matter the politics and lawlessness that threatens our peace. By many standards, I am wealthy and healthy and whole — and I am thankful.

(Sometimes after the fact, such as when I realize that time and age are altering what “healthy and whole” means for me now. “Dear Sara,” my back wrote this morning. “Do not jump rope. Ever. Again.”)

Use it well

I am reminded of the movie Saving Private Ryan, which captures the story of a U.S. Army battalion of eight men tasked with bringing Private James Ryan home. His three brothers had died in service to their country, and the Army wanted to bring his mother’s one remaining son home.

Most of the men in the battalion died in pursuit of finding Ryan to save him. As the battalion captain lay dying beside Ryan, he said to him, “Earn this… earn it.”

My Friends, God is seeking me and you. In contrast to Saving Private Ryan, He gave His only Son and seeks to save us. We can’t earn this. But we can recognize the gift and give Him glory — thanking Him by using the gifts we’re given to serve others, as the Apostle Peter said:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 

1 Peter 4:10, NIV

Could Private Ryan really “earn” his life at the expense of so many others? No. But knowing the price paid for his life, he could seek to live his best life and make the world better for having been spared.

We can too. We are blessed — and we can bless others. It means unwrapping the gifts you’re given and using them as intended.

Even mug warmers and water coolers.

P.S. This morning, as I chatted with God, He said, “Look in the boxes in the garage for the mug warmer. You’re welcome.” You know what? I found it there! I unboxed my husband’s gift, and I drank a Mama Bear cup of coffee. No gifts wasted here.


Thank you for reading, my friends! If this post spoke to you, would you share it with someone else?

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