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A Gift I Cannot Repay

Lucas and his family were invited to a beautiful place in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In the face of this extraordinary hospitality, a greater awareness has taken hold of him.

Lucas and his family on vacation in the Black Hills

I recently received a gift that I could not repay. The experience of being given this gift that I could not in any way reciprocate created a problem. This problem was inequality, and it opened a series of questions about who I am, what I am, and who the Giver is. There has been a change in me because of this experience, both in how I live my life and in understanding the deeper meaning of all of reality.


This gift was a family vacation, and the journey has been extraordinary.


Two years ago, I went with a friend to a beautiful home in the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit friends of his whom I had not met before. The first morning, as the sun rose on this breathtaking valley in the hills, I began to understand that I was in a special place. As we left, the owners of the home said that I could bring my family out some time to stay there. Normally I would take this as a nicety, with both parties knowing that the chance of taking up an offer from a mostly unknown acquaintance was unlikely. As the fall and winter went on and spring arrived, we began to consider a family vacation for the summer.

The beauty of the place and the generosity of the offer were too attractive to pass up. We reached out to the owners, and off we went to the Black Hills as a family. After we returned, two things stuck with me. First, when anyone asked about our vacation, I told them it was the best vacation I had ever taken. Secondly, it was striking that several times on vacation people we saw remarked on the beauty of our family. I happen to think my kids are cute as well, but these people seemed to see something else, a unity among us that was visible. I think it is unity because they responded as if they wanted to be part of what they saw among us.


This year, we began to consider our summer plans again and we really did not consider anything else. If vacation in the Black Hills was possible, we were going there. The owners again offered to let us stay. The day after arriving, I realized that we were given a true gift. My wife and I considered ways to repay our hosts, but it was too much to repay. Realizing we were given something that could not be paid back changed everything. I began to notice that I was treating my kids differently while we were on vacation. As my oldest daughter and I fished, I just watched her with my own fishing pole sitting on the shore. It was clear that the way I was treated was the real source of change. I am not always the most thoughtful person and often want to be valued for the things I do for others. Only by being looked at without conditions was I able to do the same.

I began to wonder if my children could see this different awareness in me. Elyse thought it was amazing when I jumped off the rocks at Sylvan lake. Madison’s face was full of joy when she picked out a leather purse in a little shop in Hill City. And Leo thought he was pretty special when he got to lay in bed with his mom in the mornings. As we left that store with Madison’s new purse, the shopkeeper said how beautiful our family was. I asked her what she meant, and she said she could just tell we were happy. There was something visible, and it originated in the growing awareness of being given the gift of reality.


In a meeting with some friends just before we left for vacation, we discussed Chapter twelve of Disarming Beauty. On page 165, Father Carrón talks about a new beginning “that does not start from ‘What should I do?” but from ‘Who am I? What am I?’” The proposal of the meaning of my life given through Father Giussani in the charism of Communion and Liberation and an extraordinary hospitality given on a family vacation opened this question about the Giver for me to the point of my recognizing that every moment in my life is just as dramatically unequal in my favor. What would my life look like if I saw reality as total gift in the same way I received this gift of vacation? From belonging to the Church and living a full life through those friendships that arise, a growing difference is beginning to appear. A difference I have been looking for my entire life.


Lucas, Harrisburg, South Dakota

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