Thursday, November 12, 2009

Column: Small Gifts

My mother also gave me half of her set of heart shaped pans, which I wrote about here.

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 12 November 2009.

I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put in more than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.— Mk. 12:43b-44

I pulled the shiny aluminum cupcake tin from the lower shelf. Nearly an anachronism in these super-sized days, it makes only six at a time, and I can no longer find paper liners to fit its modest wells — but I use it every time I make chocolate cupcakes. Even if the cupcakes it makes will be odd-sized.

Thirty years ago, when I left home to go to graduate school, my mother gave me one of her two cupcake tins. Not an extra one, her best one, the one she’d gotten when she was married. There was no reason she couldn’t have bought me a new one, or given me the larger one that was prone to rust. She gave, not of her excess, but of her treasure.

My mother’s gift certainly did not utterly impoverish her, as the widow’s did, but it did leave her wanting in small ways. With three teenaged sons still living at home, “extra cooking pans”’ was as much an oxymoron as “leftover food.” Like the widow, the signifi-cance of the gift was not in its worth to the world, but in its worth to her. But as with the widow’s gift of her last two pieces of silver, which gained her treasure in heaven, my mother’s relinquishing of this prized piece of her culinary armamentarium was not meant to meet the needs of that one moment but would be a continuing treasure in my life.

Her gift teaches me again and again that efficiency is not the prime directive, either in gift giving or in feeding your family. Yes, it takes twice as long to bake a batch of cup-cakes when you have a half-sized pan, but it gives you time to tell the story again to your children and nieces and nephews — and yourself. And each time I put an extra fold into the not-quite-right cupcake papers, I am reminded that there is much to be said for those gifts that do not fit so perfectly into our lives that we forget we were ever given them in the first place.

These gifts turn me gently toward contemplating Christ’s ultimate gift. When we come to receive Him in the Eucharist, the goal is not efficient distribution — we could do the whole thing in 10 minutes if it were — but about taking the time to hear again the stories that brought us the gift. And on occasion, when things don’t go quite the way I wanted, but they still go, I manage to notice the gift of my own redemption.

For 30 years I’ve thought of this pan as my mother’s and not as mine. Like the life I’ve been given by Christ, I cannot think of it as my own — it remains firmly rooted in the Giver. When the moment comes, I hope that I, like my mother and Christ, can graciously hand over what is mine, be it a pan — or my life.

God our Father, gifts without measure flow from your goodness to bring us your peace. Our life is your gift. Guide our life’s journey, for only your love makes us whole. Keep us strong in your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. — Opening prayer for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time


  1. What a beautiful testament to gifts (giving and receiving), to mothers, to daughters and to Christ - who is our ultimate Source for all these blessings.

    Thank you for writing so eloquently about your mother's gift, and the depth of a moment's notice.

    I know I can only take a moment at the altar during Communion, but I do know that it is also a deep, profound moment of wonder. And appreciation.

    And love.


  2. As Cindy said - a beautiful testament to gifts, both in the giving and the receiving.

    I needed to read this today. Thank you