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by Joni LeRette-Flores
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The Eiffel Tower front and center surrounded by make-believe postcards, stamps, a most appropriate cover to house the faux gold-lined notepaper.

“Wish I was there,” I sighed longingly lifting the cover, my mind partially fantasizing what it would be like to travel to the country touted for romance.

“Go ahead, look inside,” my Sister-By-Choice (SBC) whispered over my shoulder. Watching, she awaited my response. Friends for nearly two decades we mutually extended the SBC honorarium to each other a couple of years ago. SBC joins my two younger sister siblings; she smiles whenever I use the title to acknowledge the by-choice familial tie.

The restaurant too crowded to arrange a table, we had pulled up chairs at the bar, a rather ironic place to stable ourselves for our annual Christmas get-together. Methodically, I flipped open the cover to the elegant notepaper’s first page. Inked in SBC’s coveted handwriting were the words:
December 2010
…Today I am treating you to a shopping spree in shops that are new and fun. Enjoy! Live Today. Laugh Today.

“A shopping spree. Oh, you don’t have to do that. It’s very generous of you, but really, lunch is plenty.” Enveloped in a cloud of unworthiness, my visceral thoughts, at first silent, burst to affirm I did not warrant such an extravagant gift.

“Well, we’re going. That’s final. This is my treat to you, my dear. Boy, you sure are stubborn.”

“We are both tenacious, Dearie.”

SBC’s joy, not to mention determination at extending such a gift unsquelched by my reaction, still, internally I was a wad wondering how I could possibly accept her generosity, let alone deserve it, having nothing of equal value to return. SBC’s Armani style, the antithesis of my Granny (of Beverly Hillbillies) fame persona, caused further fret, "How am I going to go into such shops? I’ll be so out of place. I am so clumsy. I look so poor. I am so poor."

No matter my objections, the afternoon had already been arranged, so not out of character for SBC, one of her many gifts fine-tuned attention to detail.

“You’re going to ride with me. I’m going to take you to one of my favorite new stores. Then, if you don’t find something you really, really like there, I’m taking you to another. Afterward, we’ll stop for Diet Pepsi’s, then I’ll bring you back.”

Concluding lunch, SBC, ready to chauffeur, escorted me to my pseudo limo for the day, I climbed aboard the passenger seat of the spotless SUV, more than a bit unnerved at the endearment of such treatment. Challenged in a variety of ways, direction one of them, SBC personifies a “lane professional.” She wove in and out of traffic, on ramps and exists with ease. We arrived our destination in what seemed no time.

Anthropologies.I’d seen the logo emblazoned on shopping bags in the past, but never had I purchased anything from the store. A quaint shop, the ambiance was upscale, New York loft like.
“Pretend you’re anywhere you want to be, my dear. Chicago. New York. This is your adventure. Be in the moment.”

“How about Venezuela. I hear gas is only 10 cents a gallon there?”

“If that’s where you want to be, then that’s where we are. This is your excursion.”

Waddle walking slowly, careful not to catch my heel in the cobblestone brick entry, it didn’t take long to spy a rectangular cardstock price tag dangling from the sleeve of potential purchase. I couldn’t resist flipping it over. “Well, gas may be ten cents a gallon, but the fabric must be $900 a yard!”

“Quit looking at the price. This is my gift to you.I want you to find some things you really like and enjoy this. Stop worrying about the money!”

Scolded in a most pleasant kind of way, still I couldn’t help myself. This stuff is way too expensive. I could never afford to shop here. I cannot accept something so pricey. I’m not worth it. I don’t deserve it.

Familiar with the nooks and crannies, my friend whirled about the store, delightedly picking out pieces and exclaiming, “Oohhhhhhhh this would look so good on you. Look at this coat. It’s darling. This would look perfect with your red hair.”

“That really is cute. Do you think red works with red hair?” I asked, as if I knew anything about fashion or style. The cranberry colored coat reminded me of a yesteryear Christmas, maybe the 1930s, pristine, with just a bit of flair on account of a pulled-down-over-the-shoulder ruffled collar. Pulling the unique cloak from the rack disengaged the cost-reminder, leaving it to hang, a swaying pendulum, tick-tock, from the sleeve. Again, unable to resist, I flipped it over.

“Oh my gosh. This is waaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy too much. Three digits before the decimal!”

“Would you stop that? PLEASE.” Try it on. Let’s just get a room going for you.”

“Oh Dearie. Really, I’m not comfortable….” Before I could finish my sentence, SBC had located a sales clerk and was reserving a fitting room just for me.

“Just try some things, okay. Have FUN!!” She shouted, motioning for me to scurry over to the try-on area. “Your dressing room is started. Back in the corner! Check out your name, it’s on the door!”

Denials not dissuading SBC’s giving spree, my svelte friend kept her pearly smile in place as she resumed a hither-and-yon Roadrunner dash to pick up more articles. Making my way back to the fitting room, sure enough, on an oval of mirrored glass outside the door, my name was written.

“Wow. My name on a door. I’m a star!” The dressing room, large enough to house a small family, would certainly accommodate SBC and me, SBC doesn’t take up much space.

“I’ll wait out here. Make sure you come and show me what each piece looks like on you.” SBC took a seat in the posh, yet cozy, waiting area outside the dressing room.

“Would you like to join me?”

“Really?” Surprisingly pleased at the invitation, SBC jumped from her almost-seated position and smiled her way inside.

“Okay. Prepare to be mortified. You will face a conundrum deciding whether to feast your eyes on these gigantic buttocks or stare in disbelief at the size of each of my thighs. I grew them myself.”

“You really are too hard on yourself. You see yourself so much differently than I see you. I think you are stunning.”

I pulled the first article from its hanger, a coral, maybe more orange, long sleeved sweater with just slight flower-petal-like ruffles angled from left shoulder to right along the collar. “Oh, this is cool. I love how it hangs.”

“Me too. It’s adorable.”

Behind me, in full view thanks to the ceiling to floor mirror, I spied SBC feigning a tap dance within the walls of our temporary, upscale Venezuelan hut.

For those few brief moments I let go my fear…of living, my disdain at a body gone flab, my lack of income, my saddened state of marriage, my lot in life. I smiled. I twirled.

“Oh, look at this. I love these sleeves.”

SBC was doing the Twist. Then the Pony. Then the Swim. “These are keepers, then,” she said unreservedly, twirling like a ballerina to retrieve not one, not two, not three, but four chosen pieces. Her slender fingers, French manicured nails, carefully folded each. I couldn’t help but tally.

“Really, you can’t. You shouldn’t. You mustn’t.”

“You’ve got to stop that. This is my gift to you. Why are you so stubborn? Receive it. I want you to know how much I love you.”

Yesterday, my sister-by-choice treated me, extravagantly, abundantly. The articles of clothing are concrete reminders of her from-the-heart, planned out gift

SBC’s gestures remind me of Another’s gift from the heart. It is ironic the Savior of the world was born not in a royal palace, but a stable, the least of spots, the poorest. God’s willful act of preplanned extravagance, generosity, offering His Son as a sacrifice to make us right with Him is available to all; we can neither repay the gift, nor do we deserve it. Before the beginning of time, God planned a gift too marvelous to comprehend because our names are written on the door of His heart. Because we are more valuable than stars to Him, God chose to give His Son, Jesus Christ to pay all our debts (we could never truly keep accurate tally). Jesus’ nail scarred hands prove the gift cost something, the price was precious, but He gave unreservedly. And though we are stubborn, God does not retreat or retract His outstretched hands. He stands ready, willing and able to extend His gift to us.

SBC’s gifts cost her something but were freely given to me. Today and for the next several I will wear each one of her presents and be reminded of the free-to-me spree. We can wear God’s gift, His Son, every day, if we choose to receive the gift. I can’t be positive, but I think it possible God may just twirl with joy when we do.

Thank you, SBC for personifying God’s generous gift in this season which bears His name.

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