I've never been much of a Christmas person. There are a lot of reasons for this. But one of the big ones is that I really struggle with the gift-giving aspect. I'm a terrible gift giver. I have a really difficult time communicating my feelings for another person through objects. It's not my "love language." And I don't think I sufficiently appreciate gifts that are given to me, either. To me, gifts are typically as valuable as they are useful. And because Christmas revolves so much around gift-giving, I have a difficult time connecting with the holiday. And instead, I tend to feel anxious for it to end.

If Christmas was all about writing love letters to one another, it would be totally different. And every year I think that if instead of finding an item to gift, I could just write or tell a person how I feel through words, it would probably be my favorite holiday.

But have you ever tried to just give words of affirmation instead of wrapped items? And then everyone is like, thanks. BUT WHAT ABOUT STUFF?

It's rare that a gift will affect me in any way. And because of that, I have low expectations for such things. And that's how Christmas started this year.

I sat around with my family, exchanging nicely wrapped packages, and enjoying hearing the squeals come from my adorable nieces and nephews. I watched sincere thank yous pass across the room. And I felt grateful to get to spend this Christmas with my family, having so missed being with them one year ago.

The gift exchange had mostly concluded when Krishelle handed me a large package. I asked her who this was from. "Daniel," she said. And then she nodded at me to open it.

I was surprised. I had no idea he had sent me something. It wasn't uncharacteristic of him. Daniel is thoughtful in a way I wish I could be too. But having not seen him for several months and in some ways having lost touch with him--at least compared to how it was earlier this year--seeing a present from Daniel who lives in another state was really unexpected.

I opened it. And as I did, I realized immediately what it was.

Daniel had painted it with water colors. A view of our favorite spot in Palau. Looking across the quiet still water at the sunset happening just beyond the reach of a tiny island with one tall palm tree.

I stared into it. And I felt emotion well up inside of me. This gift. This wonderful wonderful gift communicated a thousand things at me at once. That sunset. That wonderful wonderful sunset communicated a thousand things at me at once at the close of this interesting year.

There was a note taped to the back. "I know my painting skills leave much to be desired," it said. "But I'm hoping this captures the essence of what you felt/saw all those months. . . . That beach, and its sweeping views, contain my fondest memories of that great year. . . . Truly, for me, that is a magical place."

I felt tears come to my eyes as images of my experiences from Palau ran through my mind.

Daniel, you did good with this one. You are much of the reason why that is a magical place for me. Thank you for those fond memories, for the care and compassion, and for giving me so many reasons to laugh for so long. I miss you.

Your painting was already hanging on my office wall the very next day.

~It Just Gets Stranger