This month holds the tradition of those in love exchanging tokens of affection. It might be a simple paper Valentine or an expensive diamond, but the common ground to any gift that makes the receiver squeal with joy is the thought. There really is something to that old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.” So, before Valentine’s Day sneaks up on you, think about the message you want to send to those you love this holiday. The secret of great gift giving is observation.

Observe the Dream: As you find yourself strolling hand in hand along the beach, or in a mall, ask questions to find out those hidden dreams or goals of the one you love. One year, Bill really wanted to encourage my heart. I was a reentry woman finishing a degree and I wanted to succeed at writing. That year I (Pam) got writing helps (like Thesaurus, a writer’s magazine,) in my stocking , a new pen and a journal for Valentine’s Day and for my birthday he put a nightie in a briefcase and it was the perfect way to say, “I believe in your dream. I believe in you. I want you to succeed but I will always want you to be close to my heart, and in my arms.” In believing in the dream, the perfect gift might not be the tangible — but the intangible like a conference tuition paid, tickets to a special related event , or the day off so he or she can pursue the dream or hobby guilt-free.

Observe the Daily: Hints of what’s important to your spouse’s heart can be captured on random slips of paper, tucked into books, or on dog-eared pages in a mail-order catalog. For daily encouragement I (Pam) have motivational sayings and favorite Bible verses on brightly colored pieces of paper around my mirror. Once, when a small leadership group I was leading wanted to give me a thank you gift, they asked my husband. He knew that I had just gotten business cards so he suggested a business card container for my purse. Engraved on the cover was, “The Lord God is my strength, He makes my feet like the deer and makes me walk on my high places.” That was a favorite verse from my bathroom mirror. I knew Bill had been the one to communicate the favorite verse to my friends. Another time Bill noticed that I kept borrowing his pens — the ones he carried in his pocket or in his organizer to and from work. That year in my Christmas stocking I got a box of them!

Observe the Anxiety: The perfect gift is often the result of trying to lessen a stress on a person. One year, I knew Bill’s schedule was frustrating him and working out is the best medicine for a tight schedule. So I bought a gym bag, a walkman, and fun sports clothes and made it his relaxation package. This is also the reason that baskets filled with bath accessories often delight women–it is the sense of “someone noticed all I do around here and they appreciate me enough to give me a few moment’s peace!”

The anxiety could also be stemming from you, or your relationship. Take a self inventory and ask: Am I growing in my relationship with God? Am I helping enough with the kids? Am I being tripped up by things in my past and letting my family pay the price? Am I too focused on career? The best gift this Valentine’s Day could be a note that says, “I’m going to go to a men’s Bible study” or “Let’s join a small group together” or “I’m going to get help for my problem”.

Observe the Risk: Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and take a chance on a gift. Try the outrageous — two tickets for bungee jumping, a totally funky work of art that neither you nor any of your friends have a clue on its meaning, tickets to something neither of you have ever said you’d want to go on (like to a log rolling contest or frog jumping event). These risky gifts are best when coupled with one or more of the “sure thing” gifts on this list. These “wacky” kinds of gifts might be just the ticket for those in mid-life carrying heaping responsibilities!

Observe the Sentimental: Yes, many women really do like to ride in a horse drawn carriage like Cinderella, or have our prince ride up and whisk us away on the back of a white horse. Many women do love the thought of running across a meadow of daisies and into the arms of their true love. There are some plots that work over and over and over — like greeting her with a bouquet of fresh flowers at the door!

In observing the sentimental, you might notice that your husband keeps the broken pocket watch his dad gave him, or your wife might have jewelry she never wears but has been handed down in her family. You might seek out a great framer and have these cherished items framed in a shadow box. Maybe your spouse is a shy artist and framing a piece of art would encourage him or her. An easy way to find out just what really is precious to your spouse is to mock this drill and say to your spouse, “Let’s go room to room, and I’ll show you what I’d want you to grab in case we had a fire and you show me okay?” Then — months later — sneak those items to a qualified professional and have the artwork made for him or her.

Observe the Priorities: My husband, Bill, is a successful pastor and author but if I really want to encourage him, I give a gift that says, “I noticed your priorities and I’m thankful for them.” One year for our anniversary, I really wanted to thank him for his love and support to me during those tough years that I balanced mothering preschoolers with finishing a degree. I knew that the whole world can applaud Bill for his sermons or his wise counsel but it is a special comment from me that means the most to him. Bill’s trademark when he is preaching and he comes across a principle in the Bible that is really exciting or if he strikes upon a theological promise that is just awesome he will say, “Wow!” It’s become such a trademark that the congregation will often beat him to the punch and in unison say, “Wow!” Every year the children’s Christmas drama always has someone in it that says, “Wow!.”

Well, I wanted to “Wow!” Bill on this anniversary so I asked a jeweler to caste a gold tie tac that said, “Wow!” then I wrote a feature article about Bill in the same manner that I had written hundreds of feature articles for newspapers over the years. I created it in the graphics program on our computer so I could include a photo of him, catchy headlines and quotes that were set off from the text. I raved about his ability to reach those top priorities of life, loving God, loving me, and loving our sons. It did “Wow!” him when he opened the package and the “Wow!” lasted because he felt honored and respected for all the effort he puts in to be the best husband and father he can be.

Observe the Day: A sure fire gift is always the gift of your time. Set aside an entire day to celebrate your spouse. Choose a day and work it out with your mate’s boss and surprise your spouse by whisking him or her away from work! For an upcoming book, I took a survey of the most wished for gifts — more than any other item listed was a getaway to a quiet place with their mate. Give your mate your full attention, seek to meet their needs all day, compliment their talent and consider their feelings! If you really want to thrill your spouse then top off the day with a candlelight dinner and poem or song that you wrote!.

Celebrate your mate! Give the gift of time and attention. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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