If you're alive and have been in America longer than five minutes, you've seen the ads: There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard. Welcome to Consumerism, the get-all-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can-cause-you-deserve-it-by-golly ideology to which the modern world clings for dear life....or for mere pleasure, as it were.
We're born with a desire to possess. Hundreds of millions of people spend their lives trying to get more than they have, to amass fortunes, to travel and dine in luxury, even simply to play. Is there anything wrong with ownership? Certainly not. But these days people don't rest until they own as much as possible, betraying the true desires of their heart and showing everyone what they value most highly.
One of the ways people have always fought their own greed while showing loved ones they care is through gift-giving. Gifts are easy to mistake for a consumerist ritual, reducing friendship and family bonds to an object or money. The truth is far less bleak—presents are physical representations of our spiritual attitudes toward others.
This is one reason we need to be careful what we give, and to whom. While bringing flowers home to your wife or buying your husband season tickets to the Mariners are thoughtful gifts that show you care, giving dear sweet grandma a Metallica CD or your pigtailed teapot-wielding daughter a subscription to Guns & Ammo will only demonstrate you were thinking more about yourself when shopping for them.
Jesus put it in no uncertain terms: "[W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11).
Gift-giving should be an occasion for joy, both for the recipient and the giver. Not only is finding the right thing for the right person just plain fun, letting them know you understand and care for them in that way will only serve to strengthen your relationship. The supreme example of this, of course, is God's willingness to send His son to death on our behalf.
Two pitfalls are easy to fall into, however, and both are equally dangerous. One tends toward lavish bestowment, trying to show love through many expensive presents ("Look at this Corvette I bought you! And these pearls! And! And!"). This is really only a ruse to cover the fact that the giver doesn't know the receiver; if they did, they'd simply give an appropriate gift, no matter how small or inexpensive it might be.
The other pitfall is a little more subtle. Most of us have used the phrase "it's the thought that counts" whether in jest or seriousness at some time in our lives, and every time it's to our shame. What if Christ had used that rhetoric? What if the redemption of sinners was only done partway, with the excuse that "at least Jesus' heart was in it"? The whole point of salvation is that it's a complete and effectual gift.
No gift any of us can give is remotely comparable to the one Christ gave. And yet, each one given in joy and with genuine love is a shadow or a reflection of that ultimate gift, and we take the exchange of presents lightly to our own peril. Gifts are symbolic, and as much fun as the contents of a Christmas and birthday package can be, we mustn't lose sight of the reason behind the object.
Those of us at Exodus Books enjoy gifts as much as anyone. While we believe any good book makes a great gift, we've gone out of our way to bring in games, CDs, toys, activity books, coloring books, paper dolls, etc. for you to choose from. Not everyone wants to unwrap a book, and as sad as that makes us we're willing to accommodate. These aren't educational CDs and games we're talking about, either: they serve little purpose other than being fun.
Obviously, we're careful to only carry products that promote virtue (among our favorite CDs are those by Sons of Korah, an Australian folk rock band that puts the Psalms to music), but that doesn't mean they're all staid and boring. Our Melissa & Doug toys for younger kids, and games for families and older children, are meant to promote nothing so much as imagination and person-to-person interaction and bonding.
We don't offer power tools or shotguns (yet), but we're pretty sure you'll be able to find something for everyone on your list here. Don't stress out too much about finding the right thing; simply enjoy thinking about whoever you're giving it to, reflecting on their interests and likes, and choosing accordingly. A good gift given humbly and with joy will almost certainly be received with love and thanksgiving.