The Dynamic Exchange of Gift Giving

There was a time when my love language was most heavily weighted toward gifts. Not extravagant things wrapped with a big bow, but a bouquet of wildflowers picked along a walk, or a note. Over the years, I have explored the beauty of each language, learning to express love and care in a variety of ways (to varying degrees of success). Recently I have been reminded by members of The Dale community of how special it can be to receive a gift given with heart. 

Olivia and I were walking along Queen Street West one Wednesday afternoon. The plan was to meet up with Joanna and Meagan who had picked up the van and were already getting things set-up for our outreach time. We ran into “Danny”, who always greets us with a little dance and a quiet smile. On this day he emphatically said, “I want to buy you both coffee”. He was not to be deterred by the long line of people waiting outside Tim Hortons, “I WANT to buy you a coffee because today I can and because we take care of each other”. Even the person behind the register seemed moved at Danny asking us each what we wanted, paying with change, and buying nothing for himself. He patted me on the arm, said a brief goodbye, and was gone as quickly as he had first appeared. 

She is someone we are very slowly getting to know. We mostly see her at our meals-to-go on Mondays and Thursdays. Last Thursday we weren’t sure who we would see given the heavy rain, but there she was. She walked right up to me and without a word handed me a bag of Jalebi, a South East Asian/Middle Eastern sweet that is served at festivals, weddings and family gatherings. Jalebi is a pile of bright orange sugary “squiggles”. I felt so grateful that she would make and gift us a treat that is so important to her. 

I have known “Jenna” for more than twenty years. Throughout our friendship she has taught me so much about gratitude, humility, and honesty. Though she would meekly disagree, there is a river of wisdom running through her. What many would consider mundane things, she counts as blessings. One day she carefully placed a gift wrapped in a piece of Kleenex in the palm of my hand. “I made this bracelet for you. I found these beads- do you see how they shine? Smile when you see them sparkle in the sun”. 

One of the lessons I have learned at The Dale is that it is as important for me to be comfortable in the position of receiver, as it is to be of giver. Sometimes this can be difficult: I might have worried that Danny didn’t really have the money to spare, or that I was depriving someone else of Jalebi or a beaded bracelet. But refusing would have robbed my friends of the opportunity to give, and I would have missed out on something beautiful.  In these three instances I was given very tangible items through which I experienced the attention and empathy of each gift-giver. To me these gifts are invaluable, as are the people who gave them. I am so grateful to be in a community where there is opportunity to experience the dynamic exchange that is both giving and receiving.

The Giving Toque

At The Dale we have don’t have an offering plate, we have a hat. This toque gets passed around during our Sunday service. Just prior, I always explain that we are each invited to give back a portion of whatever it is that we have been given; that this looks very different for each of us and may not fit in the hat; and that whatever our gift, it is received with gladness and will be used well. 

It is important that all people have the opportunity to both give and receive. I notice the look of relief on people’s faces when they realize we celebrate all gifts, not exclusively the financial kind, because for many, money is scarce.

So, what does this look like? 

For some people, there is an eagerness to give the small pile of change in their pockets. Occasionally little notes are tucked in the hat: “my gift is to cook pancakes at the Thursday Drop-In” or “my gift is giving hugs throughout the week”. We receive art supplies, or two-for-one Tim Hortons coupons, or mittens. It is a beautiful assortment of things. 

It is not always easy to identify what we have to give. Our hope at The Dale is that together we can help one another discover our gifts. We also acknowledge that there are people in our midst who do have financial resources to share, especially in our broader network. By combining and celebrating all of the ways to give, we get to experience a shared responsibility for this community. 

The ‘giving toque’ reminds us that we are in this together. For this, I am grateful.