The Gift of Connectedness

This season of gift-giving may prompt a myriad of layered feelings: excitement, pressure, anticipation, dread, hope, and inadequacy. How do we give gifts that are truly meaningful and encourage a deeper connection with the recipient? Join Dan and Rachael as they discuss gifting in this special holiday episode.

Episode Transcript

Dan: Uh, I, I really wanna begin by just going, “ho, ho, ho” but it just doesn’t seem, I don’t know. That has never, I did play in a couple student events, Santa Claus, and you know, a, um, that, that just didn’t fit me really well. So when we’re talking in this season about gifting, uh, there’s a lot of complication and it’s beautiful, but it’s also ho, ho ho, how how’s your shopping?

Rachael: I’m laughing because when you actually started that way, where it took me was just reflecting back to my childhood. And I know there’s a lot of different opinions about Santa Claus and, and all of those things. And also are just lots of realities of, of what the chaos and capitalism we’ve given our hearts over to puts heavy burdens on people when they don’t have resources to be, or to think that a gift is just giving something. But I will say just when you said that, where it took me was how much I loved Santa Claus. And I still remember when I was 11 and I, I confronted my father after like a few years of actually like just refusing to believe all these people who were telling me Santa Claus wasn’t real. I just had a lot of faith, you know? And I remember like just being like, dad, I just need you to tell me the truth of Santa Claus, real and him saying the person like the physical person of Santa Claus is not like a real person who flies around and does things. But the spirit of Santa Claus is real. And, and he asked me, would you, do you, do you wish that I would’ve never told you about this? And I remember feeling like absolutely not. I loved every minute of it. I would never give it back now. That was me. That’s not everyone. Um, but I do, I have been thinking a lot about that. Like what are some of the ways, um, we can gift and, you know, Michael and I have been talking a lot this particular season and um, just, I think the pandemic when you’re been stuck in your, how at home and you realize just so many things that don’t really matter or have meaning and, um, what does it mean to gift well and what are some of the things that, I mean, obviously all of us love to receive something we’ve been wanting someone’s thoughtfully thought of. So, you know, I wanna be careful not to like poo poo on gifting, but, um, no,

Dan: I, that’s why I may not be able to do the “ho ho ho” well, but I, I don’t want to be, I, I don’t wanna be aligned with the Grinch, uh, as come to this. So it’s really important to be saying, look, this season is complicated, uh, in terms of the indulgence, uh, the craziness, I mean, in some ways it is a manic period. uh, where people feel so much pressure to make it special. Largely out of the unaddressed reality of nostalgia and nostalgia is always a dangerous, uh, I would say, uh, untasteable, unseeable, unsalable gas that when you want to come back, there’s something lovely about wanting to go back to Eden. But in fact, when you demand to go back and everything in your home is a reflection of you going back to your childhood and to all the fantasies and illusions of wonder, it creates this exhaustion and pressure for many people. So I’m hoping what we can do in this time is come back to what’s the nature of true gifting. Uh, and how do we participate in a way in which as you shop, as I shop, as we go about buying for a whole bunch of people, or at least thinking about this process, that we can honor something of the real heart of what giving is about. So, given that, let me ask you the question. What are you thinking about getting from me?

Rachael: If I could, if I had the time, resources, uh, space and intentionality, I have thought about this because I would send you and Becky on a tour of interesting places that hold Chagall art in the US. But I mean, okay. Ideally would I love to send you to like the national museum of Marc Chagall in Nice, France, of course, and you could go sailing and it could be amazing. So that’s like a boujee Christmas gift for you and Becky.

Dan: Boujee?

Rachael: I’m just saying though, like, listen, this is, so listen, hear me.

Rachael: Yeah. Hear me out, hear me out, because that obviously would be so extravagant and just phenomenal. However, because I do know you a little bit. I still think you would have more fun, both you and Becky, like going to the Chase Tower in Chicago, where the four seasons mosaic is because, you know, anytime you get to see like a really incredible piece of art in like a random building that somehow somebody procured and you’re just in like a hallway of like the Chase Tower. I mean, obviously the Chicago Museum of Art also has the beautiful stained glass windows, but I would also send you guys to the Union Church of Pocantino in Tarrytown, New York, where there areal stain glass windows, and some Henry Matisse in some random small church that I still, because I think part of the journey would have to be discovering the stories of how these came to be places. What was the relationship? How did this come to be procured? So when I was thinking about you and thinking about like, oh, if I could just gift people I love with things that I think would just really, you know, be meaningful to them. That was one of the thoughts I had cuz I just thought, oh,

Dan:  I’m near tears. Uh, like, yes, yes, obviously. Uh, uh, I love the work of Marc Chagall. Uh, I’ll also say I don’t like the life of Marc Chagall, uh, he was a brutal narcissist, uh, with great cruelty, uh, to his wife and to his son. So I, I, I grieve in some sense that so much of his own harm as a Russian Jew, uh, in the experience of post World War I,  World War II, that there was not, uh, the capacity or design or opportunity to attend to a level of both his grief, uh, and anger. But nonetheless there was a beauty and a compelling and to have found out, uh, that my own lineage bears Russian and Hungarian Jewry. I didn’t know that when I first fell in love with Chagall l in my early twenties, uh, it took me about 40 years. Uh, to make some of that connection. So here’s, again, what I would underscore you have thought about that you, you, but it’s thought based on what, you know, another loves, where they are touched and engaged, therefore, whenever you’re talking about thoughtfulness with regard to desire, you, you’re looking at more than just the desire of, I need a new coat. That’d be great to have a new coat, but the idea that all desires are layered, that there are, are multiple layers that even a desire for a coat has more than just the functionality that my old coat doesn’t work. There’s just something of the richness of what you have put words to. And I couldn’t be more surprised. So I, again, we’re gonna come back to these themes, thoughtfulness, depth of desire and something of the turn of surprise that yeah, I I’m gonna, I’m gonna pray that you win the lottery.

Rachael: Yeah. I’ll keep you posted.

Dan: Yeah. And you know, I might even send you a, a, a, you know, a, if it comes to be over 300 million, I’ll send you a dollar, uh, I mean buy you a ticket and send it to you and then say that would be so good to receive. Well, I did the same. 

Rachael: Yeah. I’m curious. 

Dan: I did the same. I, and again, I like your limitations. Like I, I, if I were buying a Christmas gift for you, one of the things that I would want to do is this, I would like to reconnect you with an institution that has been deeply meaningful to you, Oklahoma Baptist university. Oh, okay.

Rachael: I’m like, let me think about this. Where is this going? OK. 

Dan: And, uh, you know, I’m not gonna say I have much power certainly in the Baptist world, but nonetheless, uh, I would make phone calls, uh, to see if I could set up a time for you. And the two that I in in trying to explore this thought, um, again, you may not know these people, but the oldest faculty still, there is a gentleman by the name of Dr. Warren McWilliams, um, who is a senior professor of theology and just the audience can’t see your face, but obviously there’s a response.

Rachael: I’m so mad at you cause you’re making me cry on a podcast. yeah. Dr. McWillianms, was one of my first professors at OBU and then I had him for many classes. Um, but in one of his classes it was a theology class. Um, that’s where I actually got introduced to Stanley Grenz, um, which on my journey of kind of discovering just a bigger world that really opened and awakened my heart. That was such a powerful introduction. I could say so much more. Um, he was such a, uh, well, I don’t wanna get him in trouble, so I was still there, but very wise as a, a, a wise, as a serpent, innocent as a dove presence in my world and opened many doors from you to like more deeply connect with God in life saving ways. Yeah.

Dan: Mm-hmm oh, well, I’m, I’m already, I just like, I don’t know where the rest of the podcast is gonna go, but I’m just so happy. And that’s, I think part of gift giving is you, you need to be aware, of course, you’re doing something for the other when there’s something that lands. It’s like, I got the gift, uh, I, I may have given the gift, but I got the gift just in seeing your face. And I’m so glad that it is Warren McWilliams. Now also, I, I wanna find an opportunity to get, had a chance for you to meet, uh, Dr. Matthew Emerson. Um, and I don’t think you know him because he’s a recent faculty, but he, he, um, he’s written on, um, uh, Holy Saturday, uh, and his book is he descended to the dead and not gonna say that his primary argument against those like Wayne Grudem who say that Jesus actually never, that that’s not true. He didn’t actually end up in hell. So I, I don’t know, I haven’t read the book, but I would love to have connected you to a place. And again, this is where I would’ve probably needed permission, but I would love, uh, to see if I could get you to be, uh, a chapel speaker. That may not be a gift because given everything else, you do, adding one more responsibility… but at least that would be so that’s, that’s one gift. Uh, a second.

Rachael: Wow

Dan: I don’t have, I mean, there’s no issue of time or money here. 

Rachael: I know it’s just very, very luxurious. 

Dan: I’m gonna send you and Michael to Vienna, so I, maybe we can connect.

Rachael: yeah

Dan: We’ll be in Nice. So if you guys wanna get together, it’s not that difficult, uh, to, you know, make a connection in that place. But anyway, I, I want you both to have the opportunity to hear the, Der Fliegende Hollander, uh, the Wagner, um, and again, it’s not an opera, but it’s sort of one of his first, uh, movements into sort of opera operatic work. Um, and I, I personally, of course I love Wagner, but this is, uh, outside of my poorly pronounced German. Uh, this is the flying Dutchman. And I don’t know if you know the story, but it’s a story of a man who feels cursed, uh, and who in some sense has cursed, uh, and is now in this, in some sense he’s soulless without, uh, having actual materialities like a ghost, but once every seven years, he has to come to land to see whether or not he can come back to the land of the living. Uh, and the curse will only be lifted, uh, if he can find a maiden to marry. And so this is a, a story of redemption. A story of how love changes the human heart and watching, you know, again, uh, it’s not a perfect picture of what’s happened between the two of you, but there is a sense in which all of us know some level of curse, all of us know, some level of cursing and all of us have a certain degree to which our being isn’t as substantial as we’re meant to be. And so just watching how Michael’s love has transformed you, how you have transformed his life. I just couldn’t think given that I like Wagner, um, I just couldn’t think of a better symphony, uh, to send you to particularly in Vienna, so,

Rachael: Wow. 

Dan: Merry Christmas. 

Rachael: Thank you. Such good gifts. Wow.

Dan: So here’s a, a question. So what are the tears? Oh, I

Rachael: Oh, I mean, I, you know, I think just what you named, like the way that thoughtfulness connects with just desires. Um, but that turn of surprise that, you know, I don’t, those were not, I, I didn’t know what you’re were gonna say and, you know, to be fair for our podcast listeners, you know, I knew we were talking about gifting and you, and I talked about how would we even begin to think about this and how would we think about if you could gift, if I could gift you, if you could gift me, how do we, how do we come to the work and labor I think of giving good gifts? And so I did feel very surprised and very known. And yeah, I think just both, both of your gift ideas also take me back to places in my life and my heart and places on significant places of faith and hope and love. So, yeah, I mean, even as you’re asking me about the impact of your gifts, just even into my imagination, it’s like, what I’m really mostly feeling is like, oh, was my gift good enough? And isn’t that just also so true, like gift giving and witnessing, like witnessing someone else, give someone a really good gift. I, I just, I feel like that’s also a part of this.

Dan: Oh gosh. I, I like, I love my gift now. I also have to say that, um, you know, when, uh, redeeming heartache came out, um, our, our leadership team purchased this beautiful Chagall print. Uh, and, uh, I, I know it was the entire team, but I also know you were very central in this process, so to be known, and actually that you did research, you had to do research. You didn’t know someplace existed in New Jersey, New York. Yeah. So all, all that to say, you know, I think it’s so many times it, it is certainly not the, immensity of the gift it’s that you have put thought in, and that you have spoken to, again, this almost to amorphous category, but desire, you know, I, Becky asked me like, what do you want for Christmas? And because I’m having surgery right before Christmas, you know what I said to her was, uh, like to be pain-free. And she said, uh, that’s not something I have a whole lot of control over. And it’s like, yeah. So you really can’t get me anything. And it’s like, well, and what she threatened and I’m looking forward to receiving is, oh, she said, I, I have some things that I think will be really sweet for you, and it’s not candy and it’s not sugar. And I’m like, oh, you, you, you beautiful, godly seductress. You just created intrigue. I mean, I dispelled it like nothing, look,  I’m gonna be recovering. I’m good. Let’s just wipe Christmas off. And it’s like, no, she’s already been at play. And she knows that in some ways, big gifts are fine. I’m all fine. But it’s like the stalking gifts, these teeny little things that you would never even think about, possibly that matters as much, if not more, just because it it’s playful. So to step back and go, yeah, we are so critical of our own capacity to know, dream and risk on behalf of someone. And then when we do there is always the threat of it was not, if it was not, what was, I mean, I, I just hate when I give a gift that it doesn’t fit. That’s just always like, oh, it’s brutal. So what, when you begin thinking about other ways that as a gift giver, a gift receiver, like, what are the struggles you need? 

Rachael: Yeah. I mean, I’ll go back to something I said at the beginning, I definitely think in our culture, in our world where there is such a kind of drive for things, which don’t get me wrong, I love things. And you know, like I just recently turned 40. And you know, that felt like a big birthday. And so we, we purchased a piece of furniture for our home. That’s something that will probably be with us, hopefully for decades, that felt like a bigger kind of something we’d been looking at dreaming about saving for, but it felt extravagant, right? So I’m not disparaging the collection of things, but I think sometimes what can get in the way for me is I start to get in this one track mind of like, I gotta get a good gift. That’s something they don’t have that will feel special. And when I’m only looking in the world of something, you can like purchase online, quite often that it’s like, you kind of get in this like, well, what more does someone need? And sometimes people do need things, but when we can think about gifts as, I mean, this is so cheesy, cuz you know, as, as like a way of a different way of being present, a good conversation, making ourselves available, like you’ve shared this many times on the podcast that like of your best gifts from your kids have been like an invitation to relationship, to like an ongoing, you’re gonna read books together. You’re gonna have dinner together. You have to share stories with each other. And I think sometimes in our world we forget that’s often what our hearts and our souls most long for is connection in a meaningful way. That is somewhat disruptive of the norm. You know, a, a thoughtful date for your spouse, a some special time with your kids where you get to do something outside of your normal rhythms that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. And it doesn’t even have to be big and extravagant and costly. So I think for me, sometimes it’s both the frantic nature of our world that doesn’t allow for a lot of time for thoughtfulness and intentionality and kind of being seduced by things. When I forget sometimes the best gifts are words or connection

Dan: Mm-hmm well, I, I don’t know how to say it so that it doesn’t sound like, well, of course, uh, but this is the surprising presence of Jesus. Um, the maker of heaven and earth, the inversion of becoming fragile, small, helpless, you know, in, in one sense, yes, the large gospel, uh, is the gift, the gift, the charisma. Uh, but there are portions that every year have a different way of coming into our lives. And as I said, given surgery, given the fragility of my body, the notion of Jesus becoming, uh, helpless, um, the reality that I will not be able to dress myself, that I will not be able, I’ve been practicing, brushing my teeth. So I’m not gonna have Becky help me on that. But there’s a certain reality of, you know, I’m having to now do things, uh, post surgery that I would not have done before. And that, that gift of engagement with fragility and Becky, and I’ve been talking about that and it’s like, I wonder how well she has been hearing. So I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that part of the gift is an engagement with my fragility and with honor. And so the idea that experiences last longer than things, um, I don’t, I honestly cannot remember almost any major gift over the last 70 years. Um, but boy, those experiences, um, they are part of the sweet gift of memory. And even for you to bring up my, my children do such, I just, I adore, you know, they probably haven’t spent a penny on an actual gift though. The last time my daughter, Annie and I went out to eat, she paid and I ordered even something I didn’t want, uh, that much, but it was one of the most expensive. She at one point looked at me and she said, you don’t really like scallops that much. And I said, I know she said, is it just because you want me to pay for it? And it’s like, yeah, I need to just get a little bit back from all, all the years that I have put money into you. And she said, why don’t you take it home to mom, get the scallops now, get something else. And I’m like, oh, come on. I was actually doing it to bug you. And now you’re responding with more generosity. Even that was such a gift again, of turning the table. And again, turning the tables often has that sense of violence, but a surprise is meant to like bring a sense of almost… This is dangerous is almost a little bit of a trauma response. You know, most of us don’t like being surprised, like surprise, birthdays, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But we love that exhilaration that comes when like all good humor has that sense of reversal. So we may not expect it. We may not anticipate it, but when it comes, it shocks us and yet we can now rest, uh, in that sweet, sweet gift. So as we’re beginning to think about this, I, I, I would love to hear, I, I’m not gonna ask you to talk about what you actually got your beloved husband but how did you think about it?

Rachael: Yeah, well, it’s kind of interesting for us because, um, the way our home works is we’ve got birthdays in one, like, um, like lots of birthday, I don’t know the right word pockets where it’s like, there’s multiple birthdays in the home and then there’s like a little bit of a break and then there’s like anniversary and then there’s like multiple birthdays and then there’s the holidays. And so in some ways we, I laugh because this whole season of the year is like a gifting season, basically for everyone in our home and multiple gifts. Like birthday anniversary, Christmas, um, lunar new year. Like the, it is kind of like there’s, there’s, it’s just a plethora of thinking about, um, how to gift. And so I think for me, um, I just try to enjoy, uh, it can feel daunting because you want, when you love so so much, you want to give them like the best gifts all the time. And I feel like we’ve done a good job of trying to like, we, you know, take some of that pressure off. Um, cause that’s part of it. You get so preoccupied. I mean, that’s the paradox, right? Like if you get so preoccupied with trying to get the best gift, then you kind of miss out on just some of the journey. But, um, so I think for me just thinking about what I know he loves, um, what would surprise him and make him feel known and seen in ways that I think often he can be missed or just aren’t the places where, you know, are that are nurtured the most. Um, and you know, just like, for example, last Christmas I felt like I really nailed it. And it was so simple because it was, um, you know, he was, we were talking about Bach and he plays the cello. And um, and so I just, I got him a music book that he could practice with the cello. It was such a simple gift, such a simple gesture. Um, but it made him really happy. So I think trying to think more in those categories and especially in this season of life, um, when the is just a lot of busyness and you know, there is need for things. And sometimes we do go a more utilitarian route in this gifting season. Like last year we got ourselves for Christmas, also a mattress like a new mattress, you know, cause when you spend so much time, so I think it varies. But I do like to try to imagine, I think your, your sense of surprise. I would call it more like catching him off guard, um, disrupting what might be expected and the playfulness of that. And it’s not always, it doesn’t always get to be that, but what about you?

Dan: Well, um, well, I, I, it’s one of those moments where I’m going, I don’t, I know given the realities of, you know, my physical state, I doubt Becky’s gonna be listening to this on, on, on the day that it’s released. But I, I will put a few words, uh, when she turned 50. No, no, yeah. 50, um, uh, I, I set up a huge event where, uh, it’s too much detail, but I’ll, I’ll say I sent her to Europe without her being aware she was gonna go. And when she was there, I had three dear friends that she traveled with in Europe. When she was like 21 years of age to meet her at the October Fest that alone like freaked her out. That was one of the best surprises, best con jobs I’ve ever pulled off other than getting her to marry. What she didn’t know was I was gonna show, show up. Um, and we had literally had pamphlets and others made that I was gonna be in Alaska at a conference that whole week. I mean, it was a lot of money. And so I flew from this conference, but only for one day being there flew from Alaska to Munich and surprised her. And it was, I mean, my wife has spent a lifetime scaring, the bejeebeez out me, you know, she loves to hide behind or in closets around corners. And I, I personally think <affirmative>, we’ll see if this is true. I think she’s gonna take me out of this life one of those moments, uh, she just loves scaring me. So to be able to scare her, to surprise her in this well, we’re rising to another birthday and at eight 50 and it ain’t 60, so I’ve been plotting. So I’m, I’m going to give her a gift that hints as to what might be ahead and what I generally do, what I did, she turned 50 was I have the whole year to celebrate this. Don’t expect it on your birthday. 

Rachael: Well, that’s fun, 

Dan: But something something’s going to happen in the year that you turned 70 and it will be a surprise. And I’m telling you for that whole year, she was terrified. And that’s part of the thrill of what I think the Gospel brings the intersection of awe… terror. Like what? Simultaneously deep, deep, deep sense of delight and gratitude. So that’s what I’m wanting to give her. I’m going to give the promise of a birthday celebration. 

Racheal: I love that. 

Dan: Well, as we come to an end, let’s simply say, uh, as some sense, our year is coming to an end, um, being with you on these podcasts, uh, it’s always Um, let’s just say it’s often deeply thoughtful, um, your engagement with the ability to open up desire and your love of reversal is a gift to be with you, Rachel Clinton Chen. So Merry Christmas

Rachael: Thank you. And I just want to say likewise to you, my friend. Merry Christmas to you and yours.