The Cashmere Sweater
Among many other things, my dad was a discount merchant. That meant my family spent many evenings around the dinner table discussing the price of tomatoes and orange juice, D-batteries and tires. His aim was to bring to the customer the best possible value for their dollar. If it was of high quality and could be sold at a lower price, my dad and his colleagues felt it was their mission to pass that value onto their customers. To this day, it is difficult for me to shop anywhere but Costco, Target, or Wal-Mart. I just can’t help myself.
Well, imagine my utter astonishment when I discovered one Christmas morning that my wife had place a Nordstrom box under the Christmas tree with my name on it. When I spotted it, I remembered I had hinted in passing that a cashmere sweater from Nordstrom would be nice to have one day. It was a throwaway line really, having seen one on my friend but never really expecting to have one myself. Yet, when I opened the box, there it was, a crimson sweater so soft and fuzzy I wondered if it would melt in my hands. I loved it, and yet at the same time I knew I couldn’t accept it. After all, it was purchased in peak season and at a luxury retail store. So, I did what had to do. I refused the gift. At least I tried.
I said, “Sweetheart (I always call my wife sweetheart when I’m about to put my foot in my mouth), I just can’t accept something so extravagant. It’s beautiful, but I know it must be as expensive as it is lovely. I hope you understand.”
Well, I must have brought out the Irish in her (Jan is 7/8th’s Irish) because she replied, “No, I don’t understand. I know it’s extravagant. I thought about that when I went shopping for you. I wanted you to have it. Now it is yours. You can choose to wear it or not, but I’m not taking it back.”
As I reflected on that exchange and what happened afterward both in my attitude toward gift giving and in our relationship, I realized that I almost turned away the most precious gift she could give me. And, no, I’m not talking about a cashmere sweater; I’m talking about her desire to cherish me and to show me how special I am in her eyes. Because of my focus on dollars and cents (which have their place in other contexts, for sure) I almost missed the much greater gift of her generous love toward me, and her belief that I was worthy of such a treasure. The sweater was a beautiful gift, but her intentions toward me were of far greater value and worth. Let it be known, I have since learned my lesson and come to enjoy wearing cashmere sweaters without too much internal angst.
As Christmas draws near and I read the birth narratives once again, I feel unspeakably privileged to be born into this line of grace. I have no idea why God would choose Abraham and Sarah to bless the world and why these thousands of years later I would be privileged to be called one of their decedents by faith in Christ. It is just mind-boggling to me, but I’ll accept it, because when I live into it, I sense in my heart of hearts that this way of being, this extravagant way of loving and caring, is rooted in the heart of God himself. I especially feel this way when, by God’s grace, I am freed from my own prejudices about what will make me happy and focus instead on what I can do to demonstrate to others their infinite value and worth. This comes in spurts and sputters, I confess, but even a taste of this perspective and this way of living is enough to keep me going.
As I close, let me share one of my favorite passages of Scripture as it is offered to us by several Los Ranchos pastors. I hope you will receive it, as I have, as a special Christmas greeting from your larger family of faith to you. It is called “Mary’s Song,” and I draw your attention to it because it so beautifully expresses a servant’s openness to the extravagant love of God in her life and her passionate desire to offer herself back to God’s service with joy and thanksgiving (Luke 1:46-55). It is my prayer that all of us will become more like Mary, and that our capacity to receive and give God’s love will be the hallmark of everything we do.
My best to you and yours, with love,