By Joe Boyd
Our culture creates expectations around Christmas. One of the greatest of these is gift giving. When done out of compulsion, giving gifts can become an unhealthy habit. However, when done in love, a gift can change a life.
About a dozen years ago my wife, Debbie, gave me the most transformative gift I have ever received. It changed the trajectory of my life (and hers) forever.
I’m not setting you up to talk about the birth of my kids here. I am talking about a normal, regular old traditional Christmas gift that changed everything. She had no idea the portal she was opening.
My Secret Dream
She knew I was depressed. My pastoral career wasn’t exactly going the way I had planned. I had secretly confessed to her a few times that I wanted to perform or do comedy. I felt like I was too old to try something that off-the-wall, though. (I was 29 with two kids. We were building a new house. I was trying to accept being a grown-up.)
On a date night a few months before Christmas, we attended The Second City comedy show at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada. We lived in Vegas at the time and would occasionally check out a show on a Friday night. I loved that show.
I fell in love with improv when I was in middle school and found the BBC version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? This was long before Drew Carey did his thing in America. It amazed me that these people could perform flawlessly with no script and no plan. As a kid, I thought deep down that maybe I would try that someday, but I had other seemingly more important ambitions that kept me from the chance. Until my wife gave me the one gift that changed everything.
What was this big gift? She enrolled me in The Second City Training Center in Las Vegas. I remember thinking she was crazy. I wasn’t sure I had the time to attend the “how to be funny” training, but I gave it a shot. I walked into a dance studio on Industrial Road just off the Vegas Strip. It doubled as a storage unit for showgirl costumes. I just remember lots of feathers.
There were about 12 other beginning students there. My first-level instructor
was named Michael. He told us we were going to have fun, play games, and tell stories. He told us to listen, to support each other, to always say, “yes, and. . . .” He said we were allowed to fail.
The three hours I spent every week in that dance studio were the best hours of my week. In some ways, they were among the best hours of my life. I remember walking out of that first class thinking, So this is where people like me end up. I had found a community, a tribe, and though it would take me years to put words to it, I had found a life philosophy that dovetailed perfectly with my faith.
Within a year those classes gave way to a new career. I went from taking classes as a hobby to performing six nights weekly at an improv show in Las Vegas.
That led to opportunities to do improv and act in Los Angeles. Within three years of that first class, we had moved to LA.
Within four years I was working in TV. Within five years I was producing my first movie.
That morphed into a production company called Rebel Pilgrim. That production company has now produced seven movies, sparked a growing creative agency serving businesses and nonprofits, and given meaningful jobs to 12 employees.
I’m prone to being overly dramatic at times, but that’s not what this is. This is the truth. This article you are reading wouldn’t exist if my wife hadn’t given me that particular Christmas gift 13 years ago. My company wouldn’t exist. I would have never met some of my best friends. It was all sparked by one great act of empathy in the form of a Christmas gift.
Right Time, Right Person
Sometimes the people who love you know what you need more than you do. I have this hunch that all of our lives can be traced back to one or two gifts we received at just the right time from just the right person.
In that regard, gift giving is spiritual. It’s prophetic. At its very best, the right gift at the right time can change everything and lead to decades of meaning and joy, not just for the person receiving the gift, but for all those who will meet that person in the future.
No pressure, though. Sometimes Dad just needs a tie. But sometimes God is whispering in our ear to give a gift that goes way beyond the wrapping paper and a date on the calendar.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.