One of my favorite books of all time very nearly wasn’t written. The year was 1956, and a 30 year-old woman named Nellie was feeling unfulfilled in her job as an airline reservations clerk. She had a passion for writing despite not having much time for it and many publishing rejections slips. That Christmas, good friends Michael and Joy Brown invited her over for dinner and on the Christmas tree was an envelope for her with a note inside.
The note said, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”
The Browns loved her writing and they knew great things would come if she took a year and wrote a manuscript. They believed in her and gave her a priceless Christmas gift: time. She was given the time to pursue her passion. The Browns could never have predicted what would come from that selfless act.
Nelle (Nellie) Harper Lee quit her job at the airline and devoted herself to writing. Within a year she had a finished manuscript, and in 1960 her book was published. The gift that was given to the world from that year off is a masterpiece known as “To Kill A Mockingbird” – arguably the most influential piece of American literature ever written. There are 30 million copies in print and, after over 50 years, it remains a best seller.
I would say that the story of Harper Lee’s Christmas gift is one of my favorite stories of generosity. I can’t imagine if the Browns hadn’t given from their hearts. It wasn’t about the money. They simply believed in the talent of a friend so they wanted to bless her and inadvertently mankind benefited from this act of kindness. If it wasn’t for the Browns, “To Kill A Mockingbird” probably wouldn’t exist or, if it did, it would be a rough draft sitting in a drawer – possibly unfinished and unpublished.
This Christmas, I want to think outside the box. I want to give of myself the way the Browns gave to Harper Lee. I want to pour into my family and friends with a lasting gift of love, not something I got on clearance. I won’t be able to give someone a year’s salary this Christmas, but I can give relationally. I can use the resources that I do have to change a life for the better, and I can use my words to make a difference… and wasn’t that why Harper Lee wrote her book in the first place?
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird