The GiftBy Tess Almendarez-Lojacono
ose was a little girl like many other little girls, curious about some things, oblivious to others. “Mama,” she said one day, “Does God have a birthday?”
“No Little One,” her mother smiled. She put aside her rolling pin and pushed the hair from her forehead with a floury hand. “God always was.”
Rose chewed her lip. She held up a crooked gingerbread man and examined it in the light. “Then when does He get presents?”
“Every time you’re kind to someone else, God gets a present. When you read to someone younger, when you see a classmate who is alone and invite her to play with you, when someone is unhappy and you put your arm around him and tell him it will be alright, God gets a present.”
“Oh. Can I eat this one?”
Her mother nodded.
That night Rose thought about what her mother said. How sad it would be, never to receive a present, one chosen by a loved one and wrapped especially for you! As she climbed into bed she vowed to spend the next day giving God as many presents as she could. She was surprised she’d never thought of this before.
When she awoke, she dressed herself, including her shoes, which she had trouble tying. She made her bed and quite pleased with the lumpy result, ran downstairs to the kitchen.
But when her mother saw her shoelaces she said, “Can I tighten those for you Rosy? Double up the knot?”
Rose shook her head, her uncombed hair flying. “No! Mama, please. It’s a gift.”
Her mother jumped to the stove because the coffee boiled over.
After lunch, when Rose went upstairs to fetch her Barbie doll she noticed someone had remade her bed. She frowned. Did this mean a present had been returned? She looked down at her shoes. She’d have to retie them for the third time.
When she returned downstairs her mother was sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by the household bills. Her head was in her hands; her shoulders slumped. Rose crept to her side, slid her arm around her. “Don’t worry Mama,” she whispered. “It will be alright.”
Her mother pressed her daughter close. She laid her cheek against her hair, then told her to go play.
Rose kept on giving God presents when she went to school. She pounced on unsuspecting loners, dragging them into her games. She carried books for younger children, stayed to help Teacher clean up. The more she tried to be helpful, the more opportunity she found.
Eventually Rose went to college (mostly to please her parents) and when she graduated, she found a job near home. It was at a day care center two blocks from where she lived. Her neighborhood was working class; some people called it ‘bad’. Rose didn’t care. She was needed there. At the daycare she was drawn to the troubled, teary children. These slowly became her specialty.
Rose never married. Every week she sang at Sunday mass. She shopped on Wednesdays, washed on Saturdays, planted petunias every spring. Rose grew old while the neighborhood went from bad to worse. The children she watched at the day care grew up and she watched their children and then their children’s children.
One night, still in her mother’s house Rose died in her sleep. Her funeral was modest. She had few relatives, but the whole neighborhood came to pay their respects. They were the grown children she comforted years ago. Generations of people shared their memories of her and all agreed Rose had made their lives easier, soothed their childish fears.
Rose found herself at heaven’s door. She hesitated to approach when God, Himself, opened the gates and stood before her.
“Lord,” she whispered, looking down, “I have no right to be here. I cured no illness, saved no lives. I did not build a monument or craft a testament to your Glory.”
God smiled on her, though she did not see. “What did you do with the life I gave you, Rose?”
Even lower she whispered, “I stayed home.”
“Ah,” He said, “Come with me.”
They walked through streets shining with golden cobblestone; buildings capped with diamond steeples, windows all stained glass. At last they came upon a hall of immense proportion. The Lord pushed open doors that stood as tall as Himself.
Inside, lining the walls as far as one could see, were presents of various sizes, wrapped and glistening, festooned with bows and sparkling paper. Rose gasped.
God chose a small gift from a nearby stack and handed it to her.
“What’s this?” She trembled, afraid to open it.
“Look inside,” He gently said.
She lifted the lid and saw a little girl, her arm around her mother. She heard a childish voice, “Don’t worry Mama, it will be alright.”
“All these,” God waved his arm around, “Are the presents you gave to me. You spent your life making my home a more glorious one, indeed. You cured no illness, saved no lives but you did make many lives better. And in so doing, you built a monument to Me. Welcome home, Little One. Your life was a gift to me.”