Gifts we ‘do’

Tue, 05/08/2007 - 3:03pm
By: Sally Oakes

I have a daughter who will graduate from high school on May 25th. I asked her what she wanted for graduation — and I braced myself for the response. Most kids ask for something like a car or a computer. Miriam asked, “Would you knit me a blanket?”

At first I thought I was getting off kind of easy. I thought of a pattern I could make that I saw in a magazine years ago and I asked her what colors she wanted. Five colors in this blanket! The pattern is knitted in rectangles with a diamond pattern knit into it. It goes something like this ... Knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, purl, knit ... “Mommy! (my 9 year old, Lillian) Where is there a pencil?” ... “Uh, I don’t know; you’re the one who uses them! Look on the dining room table.” ... “OK, where was I? Was I on the row where I start the purl-knit pattern at 14 or 15 and have I done one or two of those ... Count, count, count, count ... It was about then that I recognized that it may not be so easy after all.

Still, this is a gift I love doing. Because I’m not giving it; I’m doing it. Whenever I sit down to watch Dr. Phil or the news and pick up the needles and yarn, I’m thinking of what it’ll look like in Miriam’s dorm room. I’m thinking of her carrying it out with her to the lobby to watch TV on a cold day. I’m thinking of her having it over the back of her couch when she has her first apartment.

Last fall, when the Girl Scouts did a project for Project Linus, the girls and moms and leaders had a mental picture of another little girl or boy who needed that blanket. A girl or boy whose house may have burned down, or who is in the hospital. The blankets, named after Linus’ blanket in “Peanuts,” are made with varying degrees of difficulty according to the scouts’ ages. They are made of fleece and are set aside to give to children who have experienced trauma. I like to think that, of the blankets my group of girls and I worked on, most went to children who adopted them as their comfort blanket. It’s not a gift that you give; it’s a gift that you do.

When Dorcas/Tabitha (Acts 9:36 - 43) was knitting and sewing for the widows and needy people in her community, I’ll bet she was thinking the same types of things. She’d be thinking, “Mary likes the color purple, so I’ll make her a nice tunic out of this purple fabric.” Or “I’ll bet Amos’ skin sores from leprosy hurt, so I’ll make him something out of this soft fabric.” Luke, the author of Acts, didn’t even find the people who received her gifts worth naming. In that day, poor people and sick people were looked down on as if they’d brought it on themselves and widows might as well have been invisible.

“Dorcas,” says the Rev. Jon Walton, in The Christian Century, “was a tireless disciple whose devotion to others inspired a network of support that undergirded an entire church community. ... She was not a preacher, theologian or writer. She didn’t make her mark on the church with brave deeds, miracles or major financial gifts. But she did win converts and touch lives; probably, influenced more people than anyone else in Joppa.”

She put a human face on the compassion of Christ. With her acts of compassion, she became the first recorded practical theologian.

What good is the best preaching in the world without the human face of the compassion of Christ? What good are all the advice books on how to follow a Christ-like life without actually adopting the human face of the compassion of Christ? What good is a local church without the human face of the compassion of Christ?

There’s a saying, “We preach our own funeral.” It’s true; we are remembered by our actions in our life. Dorcas was remembered well. At her wake, those who loved her gathered up the stuff she’d made for them and brought it with them to show what she’d meant to them. She’d shown the compassion of Christ to them in a real and practical way.

Simple acts of compassion such as Dorcas’ are the symbol of resurrection life — in a tangible way. It’s no wonder death couldn’t claim her any more than it could Jesus!

What deeds are determining our churches today? What gifts are we doing?

What’s wonderful about doing gifts is that you don’t have to do anything you’re bad at. Dorcas sewed and wove and knitted because that’s what she knew how to do. How about gardens — how many of you are dying to give away zucchinis long about August? Tomatoes? How about finding some single mothers and give them some of our extra vegetables? No strings attached, just as a demonstration of the compassion of Christ.

Sally Oakes is pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, 607 Rivers Road, Fayetteville, GA 30214. Phone: 770-964-6999 or 770-964-6992 or e-mail

login to post comments