Years ago my family and I lived in the small Texas panhandle town of Pampa.
Pampa is about 60 miles north and east of Amarillo and, on a windy day, the dirt from the Oklahoma panhandle comes over to pay it’s respects.
Pampa is filled with wonderful people who, due in part to it’s remote location, develop close and lasting relationships.
Church and School are the center posts of most social interaction, so involvement in both is essential, unless you prefer to live life as a hermit.
While we were living in Pampa, we attended the First United Methodist Church and “belonged” to a very active sunday school class of middle aged married couples.
Although we were involved in many different activities, one annual event always comes to mind as wee approach the holidays.
The annual white elephant gift exchange.
As many of you know, a white elephant gift exchange is where everyone brings a gift, most are something you wouldn’t think about giving to a friend and are sure to bring a groan from the receiving party and jeers from everyone else. But that is not where the fun ends. The receiving party is then given a chance to trade their newly acquired prize for something others may have already opened. The fun goes on until the last present is opened and the last present is exchanged.
This particular sunday school class had an ongoing annual white elephant gift exchange. It continued on unbroken for many, many years, so much so , there was a list of gifts that were certain to show up every year. As a result, new ways of disguising the same old gift became an art form.
There was the string art pictures, a rubrics cube (unsolved), and many others but the longest running gift was a bottle of Hai Karate.
For those of you who are too young to remember, Hai Karate was a designer fragrance developed by the Leeming division of Pfizer launched in 1967.
This bottle was complete, in the box, with the small “self-defense”, instruction booklet that was sold with each new bottle. It started to evaporate, and the color was changing from it’s original shade of green to a greenish swamp water color.
Still, the Hai Karate was passed from one unsuspecting victim to another, from year to year. Each year it was accompanied by a list of recipients dating back to the gift’s origin. The list of names was impressive. It included lawyers, doctors, judges, plant managers, teachers, and house wives. All unwitting recipients unable to convince others of the value this humble bottle of cologne offered if they took it off their hands.
Nevertheless, the Hai Karate held some strange attraction. As much as the recipients moaned at it’s unveiling, there was some hidden feeling of belonging attached.
For the first time recipient, perhaps, it was the opportunity to have your name added to the long list of those who went before.
For the repeat victim, it might be the opportunity to once again join the game and spend the next year creating the perfect ruse successfully hiding the contents of the package.
Even today, these many years later, I think fondly of the time I fell victim the the Hai Karate gift. I remember how everyone cheered when I ripped open the gift wrap revealing the prize within. How I pleaded, in vain, for someone to trade their equally useless gift for mine. Even the pats on the back and handshakes coupled with feigned condolences at having taken one of the perpetual relics of the annual event.
More than that though, I think fondly of the friends and fellowship this event created and sustained. These friends were always near, even in the darkest or most difficult moments.
In the end, it is all about the relationship. So much like the rest of life, we sometimes unwrap the beautiful package, full of expectations and excitement, only to find a bottle of Hai Karate.
It might be a move away from friends and family, job loss, or even something like a debilitating illness. None so easy to get rid of as to pass on to another unsuspecting victim.
When these things happen, we often hear the words of offered condolences, and the gentle hand on the back as someone attempts to console or reassure. More often these are only outward gestures and are often laced with judgment and condemnation.
It is the silent knowing of a true friend, who without a single word, reassures and comforts. Who, because of their relationship, know what you need.
These are people you want to be near you in time of trouble.
The bible speaks of this relationship in Proverbs 27:9 “Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”
When no one else is there, God is, and he will help you get back in the game. He will help you prepare for the next white elephant gift, life dumps in your lap.
He will comfort you with just his presence. He knows, more than anyone, what you need and it won’t be laced with judgment and condemnation.
In the end, it is all about his relationship with you. Take a look at that bottle of Hai Karate and find that hidden opportunity to learn and grow. Add your name to the list of previous recipients, as you do not walk this road alone, as long as he is present.
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