I liked the book better than I liked the movie. This seems to be the comment about every book that I have ever read that has been made into a movie. This is one of the times, though, that I watched the movie before I read the book. The movie is “The Ultimate Gift”, based on Jim Stovall’s novel of the same title. It was one of those evenings when I was home alone and wanted to watch a movie that I haven’t seen before. After perusing a long list of titles on Amazon Prime, I settled on “The Ultimate Gift”. A few minutes after watching the movie, I ordered the book. I was able to get it on Amazon for a little less than $5. I really liked the movie, but I loved the book!

The story (I’m going from the book) is about the death of Howard “Red” Stevens, and the division of his multi-billion dollar estate. Most of his bequests to his family were large, but not unusual in nature. There was, however, one exception. That was his bequest to his great-nephew, Jason Stevens. Red regretted that he had tried to give his family members everything that they desired in life and felt like he had robbed them from learning important life lessons. From the grave–through his will and video messages–Red tries to share these lessons with Jason. Red felt like Jason had wasted his life up to that point, but there was still time. In Jason, Red saw a spark of character that made him believe that Jason could rise to the challenge.

Over the span of one-year, Red gives twelve challenges that need to be completed within a month of when they are given. Each challenge is designed to give a gift. These include a gift of: work; money; friends; learning; problems; family; laughter; dreams; giving; gratitude; a day; and love. If Jason doesn’t complete the current challenge, the bequest is canceled. Only after receiving each of the twelve gifts was Jason ready to receive the ultimate gift!

The problem that I had with the movie is that the challenges work best with a billionaire relative. Not many of us have one of those. There is still some of this with the book, though I believe that most of the challenges can be modified to work for all of us. This is a book that I recommend to you, and I believe that it could also work well for a church book-study. If anyone reads it, or decides to use it at your church, I would like to hear about it. This book was copy-righted in 2001, so it has been around for quite awhile. If you have used it in the past, I would like to hear about that, too.

I’m guessing that this book can easily start conversations about lessons that we have learned from life that we would like to “gift” to others. One of my biggest personal lessons is the gift of letting go of anger. I discovered this gift way back when I had cancer. After a couple of surgeries and chemotherapy, I was so sick! I had very little energy, and had to be very intentional about how I used my energy. Getting angry no longer made any sense to me. In my opinion, anger is a choice (it’s amazing how many people have gotten angry at me when I say this!), and I decided to give it up.

Shortly after I finished my chemotherapy I had to interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination as a Deacon (back then we had a two-step ordination process). They had a question that I’m guessing they ask all of the candidates. It was: “What really makes you angry?”. It is apparent to me that they thought there was only one wrong answer. Of course, this is the answer that I gave. “Nothing makes me angry”. The entire board had a look of anticipation when they asked me to explain myself. Evidently my explanation made sense to them.

I would like to say that I never got angry again, but that would not be the truth. This is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again. I have found, though, that when I let go of anger I am more centered spiritually, and it is easier for me to be deeply at peace. There aren’t many places willing to talk about lessons, and gifts, like these. Church is one of the places where this can happen.

Your brother on the journey, Mark

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