This time of year I always reflect on a few desperate Decembers in the early nineties: when the children were young and their ToysRUs wish lists were more compelling than the household bills - and I was responsible for all of it.
There were annual late night holiday visits from my new friends Beth and Jim. They were second-time-a rounders and they seemed so happy together. They seemed to understand what really matters: love and generosity. I met them one Fall when they started to routinely park on my front lawn for Hawkeye football games.
Anyway, a few days before Christmas, Beth and Jim would stop by unannounced, barely ducking in my back door, just long enough to press $300 in my hand and wish my family a Merry Christmas. Every year they told me they were just passing the money to me - from someone who wanted to remain anonymous, somebody who admired me and wanted me to spoil the children. And so I did. Instead of just socks and pajamas, the kids received games and toys and candy those years.
And after a few of these Christmases, I met Shawn Steil and the holiday visits from Beth and Jim stopped. I guess they knew it was time to spoil someone else, but their gifts, the lessons I learned from them, will outlast any other present I've given or received.