The Gift of Nothing at All

I am blessed to have a number close women friends. Any one of them can make me feel great about my new haircut, laugh their butts off with me over the stupidest little thing, let me rant about my job/parents/kids/house/you name it, and offer wise advice if I want it or simply listen if I don’t. I trust them with my secrets, and I count on these friends when times are tough. You know who you are, and I love you.

But I don’t want to buy you presents even though you deserve them—loads of them.

Why? Gift-giving anxiety. Go ahead—roll your eyes. It’s stupid, I know.

It starts off innocently enough. I see cute a little tchotchke—maybe it’s a 4-inch tall robot that makes me smile and I think, that would make (name of close friend goes here) laugh. So I buy it to give at Christmas or your birthday. Sometimes I covet a lovely item—maybe a small oval box covered in marbled Florentine paper, but I stop myself because I already have a number of pretty little boxes. But one of my besties would love this too, so I buy it. And that’s how the gift exchange among girlfriends begins.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 8.09.38 PM

At first, it’s fun. I’ve received many wonderful, inspired gifts. I love them because you thought to give them and because I enjoy the things themselves. I’ve tried to return the favor. Over the years, I’ve given scented candles, deluxe lotions and soaps, cool earrings, whimsical artwork, Christmas ornaments, good books, pretty scarves, food treats—whatever little luxury I think you’ll enjoy.

But after several years of gift exchanges, I’ve exhausted my good ideas for small treasures. Gift-giving anxiety creeps in. Didn’t I buy you earrings last time? How many scented candles does a person need? Will this red scarf go with any of your clothes? I want to do something nice for you, but what? Soon I am haunting gift shops and boutiques in search of the perfect cool thing for you. And then the missteps begin. I get a book you’ve already read. Coffee hurts your stomach, so that special coffee and mug—well, maybe you can give it to somebody else.

If you didn’t matter so much to me, this wouldn’t be so hard.

Eventually, we are both struggling. Finally, one of us says let’s call off the gift exchange. We are both relieved.

We agree to go out instead and do what we love most: talk, laugh, advise, comfort. That’s the best gift—time with you.

Jumping into the Unknown

Ziplining to some would be the ultimate adrenaline rush, whooshing from point to point above the treeline attached to a cable.

Zach, Crystel, and Antonio on the launch

Zach was officially our guide on our zipline adventure at the Atitlan Nature Reserve. The 14-year-old and our two nine-year-olds had become comfortable with each other. They were bonded by the mutual experience of being adopted and meeting their birthmoms. During our launch from Santa Cruz la Laguna to the shore of Panajachel where we would start our trek through the jungle to the zipline, they talked about their visit.

Zach showed the necklace he received from his birthmom, Crystel showed her earrings, and Antonio described the weavings he received. All these gifts were very important to the children – a connection to their Guatemalan family.

The start of our trek

Just as their life is complicated, a crooked tree marked where our path started. We walked upwards on an ancient trail, stepped lightly over hanging bridges, and kept our eyes and ears open for spider monkeys.

The Ziptrek tour covers close to 35 acres of land. For 1 ½ hours we rode a total of eight ziplines ranging from 295 ft. to 1050 ft. along waterfalls, canyons, the valley and a coffee grove forest.

Zach, Antonio, Jody Crystel, Beth – ready to zipline

Ziplining took my breath away. Especially the first time that I let go and zipped above the valley, above the top of trees. If the cable breaks, it is a long ways down. A mother thinks of these things, even if she is just thinking of herself. True, after the first zipline it got less and less scary and I was more able to enjoy the view. Still, I was breathless.

Jumping off the cliff at San Marcos had been a warm-up for this. You take a leap into space without being hooked to a cable. You couldn’t see the water below before sprinting off of the platform. You had to assume the water was there to catch you.

Crystel on the zipline

After our zipline adventure Antonio was brave enough to ask the staff in Spanish to order us a tuk tuk to take us into the town of Panajachel.

Later, I asked Antonio and Crystel what was scariest, jumping off the cliff at San Marcos, ziplining, or meeting their birthmom? Without hesitation they both said meeting their birthmom. Ziplining came third.

For Antonio and Crystel, meeting their birthmom was jumping into the unknown. Will she like me? Will I like her? What will it be like to look into the eyes of the woman who gave me life? The mom who hasn’t raised me? Who hasn’t grown up with me? Who opened her arms and gave me to someone else?

Antonio loving the tuk tuk he ordered

Jody and I were there to catch our children if meeting their birthmom went awry. Yet, we couldn’t take that first step for them. They had to take that leap into the unknown all by themselves and trust that they could weather what came.