What valuable lesson have you learned from one of your kids recently?

My daughter recently moved to California (I live in the midwest). Through texts, phone calls and social media, I’ve followed and participated in her journey (sometimes a roller coaster ride!): a rapid move, finding an apartment, connecting to her new community, experiencing the anxiety of threatening fires, company buy-out, and a new, promising career.

Through it all, we’ve remained connected, albeit at a distance. She’s my only daughter (I always tell her that she’s my favorite daughter), so she occupies a place in my heart that no one else can.

I’ve embarked on a new journey myself, by choice. Whether it’s a “mid-life crisis” or not, I don’t know. I do know that this journey reflects my decision to be more authentic, more aware and focused on how I feel about my life, its direction, and how I positively impact everyone around me, or not.

I learned something about the “or not” part recently.

Getting caught up in responsibilities, deadlines and everything that each day brings has often been my excuse for not truly connecting with those around me on the deepest level. “Multi-tasking” (not recommended) has often led to feeling constantly distracted and unproductive in work and life. While I’ve labeled others “scatter-brained” (not out loud, of course), I’ve noticed that this label applies to me. Instead of really listening and engaging with the person in front of me, I’ve kept working or thinking about other tasks. I have not lived in the moment, in the present. I’ve focused more on what I should’ve done (past) or what I need to do (future).

The present is all we have. That’s what hit me hard this Christmas season. I knew it on an intellectual level. I’ve even told others about this truth. I just haven’t embraced it in my own life. I had to feel it on a “gut” level. That’s the lesson my daughter taught me this Christmas.

You see, she invited me to visit for a few days. I told her that it would be great…BUT, certain projects at work and in my own personal life made it difficult for me to commit right away. I needed time to see how the dust settled before I could move forward.

I didn’t understand how much she was looking forward to a visit from me. We had lived under the same roof after my divorce for about 9 years (high school, college, working adult). I was happy that we had the opportunity to heal and grow together, to strengthen and build upon the bond we share. Her move back to California, where she had spent some time in college, caused a lot of emotion to well up in me, but I knew that she was ready to live more independently and am proud of her for taking that leap.

“I’m not going to be able to come for Christmas,” I told her after we had a protracted discussion about aspects of my own journey. I heard silence then a crying and hurt voice on the other end of the call. “I’ve felt like an afterthought after grandma and grandpa died,” she said. I quickly responded that I didn’t realize how much a visit from me meant, and that I would reconsider. “I don’t want a pity visit,” she said.

In the several days that followed, I felt terrible. At the same time, on a certain level, I felt that she was being unfair. I also knew that the buying out of her company and her anxiety to find another position soon, weighed on her right now. I thought it prudent to let her have the time she needed to pursue her career and process our conversation.

“I’m sorry how our conversation ended,” she said in a calm voice when she called. “It’s really ok if you can’t come. I understand.” Before she called, my “gut” told me that visiting her is the right thing to do, that it’s the opportunity to create a memory that I may not have again. I told her that I planned to visit. Even though less than a week before Christmas, plane ticket prices appeared to have dropped on certain days. “Really, you’re going to come?” she said excitedly. “Ok, then, we’ll have Christmas dinner together. I just need to prepare some things. I returned some gifts I bought after you said you weren’t coming.”

That last sentence hit me hard. Only then did I really realize what a negative impact I had made on the one person in the world I love the most. Only then did I realize how much my presence was valued above all the other things I had done for her to this point in her life.

At that point, I told her: “Please don’t get any presents. Let’s make this Christmas only about being together.” She had, in fact, originally told me not to bring any presents, that my flying there was present enough.

That’s the lesson my daughter taught me this Christmas. Christmas is about “presence,” not “presents”. The Son of God became man to be present with us, to show that God is a person and not some impersonal force.

Whatever your belief, being present to those around us, and especially our loved ones, is a practice that positively impacts our personal relationships, schools, workplaces, communities, and the whole world. “The present is all we have” is a universal truth. Have you learned that lesson yet?