'Tis the season for gifts. We spend our time and money to buy gifts for the people we love and spend hours wrapping them in pretty paper and bows. "What did you get me for Christmas, Aunt Linda?" quizzed nephew Zach on Sunday. "I've been a very good boy."

"All you're getting from me this year is a lump of coal," I teased him.

This 21-year-old was just like an excited little 5-year-old. His sister, Jennie Rose was almost as bad. Only she was more excited about giving this year than receiving because she said she had bought really "banging" gifts. Abby was still hanging on to the hopes there was going to be a real live chinchilla under the tree. (I'll update you next week.)

On Sunday, Pastor Suzanne's sermon was "Unexpected Gifts." She talked about how the baby Jesus was an unexpected gift for Joseph and the three wise men brought unexpected gifts for the Christ Child. She related a true story about a woman who was shopping and saw a little girl with her father in the toy section. The little girl had been given money from her godfather to buy herself something special. She found the perfect Barbie doll in a beautiful gown and asked her father if she had enough money. He assured her that she did.

The woman also observed a little boy with his father. He too had some money in his hand. When he found the video game he really wanted, he asked his dad if he had enough money. His dad shook his head 'no'. After a few more selections, he finally settled on something he could afford.

The little girl had been watching the boy. She whispered something to her father. He nodded. She put back the doll and then they went to the check out register. They talked to the cashier and made their purchase.

Now the woman who had been observing all of this quietly, paid for her items and stood by the exit to watch, as did the little girl and her father.

When the boy and his father began to check out, the cashier said, "Congratulations! You are the 100th customer of the day and entitled to a prize!" She reached down and presented him with a video game. He was so excited and shouted with joy, "Look Dad, it's exactly the one I wanted!"

A lot of people left the store that day having received unexpected gifts.

My brother-in-law's stepmother passed away last Friday. After much family discussion, it was decided that only George would fly to Texas for the funeral, due to expense and it being the holidays. Later my sister told me she had received an unexpected gift. When a friend of hers heard about George's stepmother, she very generously offered Diane her frequent flyer miles for a plane ticket to accompany George. The offer touched both Diane and George's hearts profoundly.

I heard from a friend this morning that she was dressing up like Santa and going to visit a young man, 19, in hospice. What a sweet and unexpected gift for him. She is asking for prayers for a Christmas miracle. Now that would be the most amazing unexpected gift of all!

Some years ago, my mom received from a friend a prettily wrapped gift box, the size that might hold a pair of earrings. There was a small tag attached that read, "The gift inside is my friendship and sincere wishes for good health and love."

Mom has kept that box as a reminder of her friend's very generous gift.

As a kid, I thought it was pretty stupid. Who gives a good friend an empty box for a present? Of course years later, I understand the sentiment and realize what a beautiful gift her friend gave her ... the gift of friendship.

There's a story about a father who worked very hard to make ends meet. A few days before Christmas, his little 5-year-old daughter used up the family's only roll of gold wrapping paper. Because money was so tight, he punished her for wasting it to wrap a shoe box that she had placed under the Christmas tree. He was concerned about where she could have gotten money to buy something to put in the shoebox. On Christmas morning, she was so excited as she presented the golden wrapped shoe box to her daddy. Now embarrassed by his overreaction and regretting how he had punished her, he opened the box to find it was empty. He grew angry again and harshly scolded her. "Don't you know, young lady, when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside the package!"

The little girl looked up at him, sad tears rolling from her eyes and whispered, "Daddy, it's not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was all full."

The father was crushed. He fell on his knees and put his arms around his precious little girl. He begged her to forgive him for his unnecessary anger.

An accident took the life of the child only a short time later.

The father kept this little gold box by his bed for all the years of his life. Whenever he was discouraged or faced difficult problems, he would open the box, take out an imaginary kiss, and remember the love of this beautiful child who had put it there.

Unexpected gifts. Sometimes they come in the most incredible forms of unconditional love and kindness. From gold wrapped shoeboxes filled with imaginary kisses; prettily wrapped empty boxes like my mom's; my sister's friend's offer; a little girl's unselfish act of kindness; a friend who dresses up like Santa Claus to bring a little joy and hope to a very ill friend.

Let us always be willing to give unexpected gifts.

(In last week's column, I "hid" several Christmas songs and carols. Did you find all 49?)