During gift-giving times in our home, we often refer to "the box ripper." This is not a person.

A box ripper is when you start to casually open a gift and suddenly realize that beyond your wildest expectations someone bought you that special thing you really wanted. All you have to do is just get the box open, and it's yours. (A famous one in our house is a Christmas gift I once received of a full-length coat with lamb's wool collar and cuffs.) The subsequent excitement may lead to rapidly torn paper, shrieking, fast-talking, many big grins—and hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

Of course, our family has acknowledged that finding, affording, and buying said box ripper—every time someone gives a gift—is not always possible or feasible, which may be why those types of gifts are so very exciting.

Sadly, many of our family gifts these days come in the form of 2x3 plastic cards with a store logo on them. Not my idea of a box ripper, though sometimes more appreciated than a size-too-small sweater or a tchotchke designed to sit on a shelf. I still always try to give at least one non-gift card item for each family member to open. It just doesn't seem right to only exchange pieces of plastic, no matter what their monetary value.

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I came from a home where my mother was the Christmas lady. Going back as far as 1963, she began making felt Christmas ornaments. Some were dolls like Little Miss Muffet, Alice in Wonderland, and Dorothy from Oz. While others were storybook characters such as Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio, Puss n' Boots, Peter Pan, and more. These she stitched, stuffed, and glued all year long, selling to mail-order customers and big stores such as Frederick Nelsons and Marshall Fields.

By the time December rolled around, most everything had shipped, and it was her time to make her special box-ripper gifts and decorate the house. Every room had festive decorations, including the bathroom. We even had a Christmas toilet seat. She had created a huge garland, which she wrapped around the stair railing. Wreaths decorated the doors and flickering candles lighted all the windows. In the years my father was still alive, we had a life-sized Santa that played an even larger wooden organ set out in the yard. He mechanically rocked back and forth to holiday music piped out of the house through a special record player. And who can forget the delicious smells and tastes of Christmas baked goods!

Most years, due to the size of the family, packages would fill the area beneath the tree, sometimes trailing around the corner into the next room. It was a magical time. Throughout my childhood, my mother created some tremendous gifts for the family. I received handmade dolls, clothes, and other painstakingly created items. (I still wonder to this day how she had time. I don't think that women ever slept.) And while I still have some of those things today, I have come to realize one of the best things she ever gave me (besides love itself) came in an old, ratty 1900s cardboard suitcase.

When I first received it, my mother had given it to me as an afterthought. I don't think she even wrapped it, though I did receive it over the holidays. It was a time in her life when she was downsizing. She had been blessed to be able to move south and enjoy the last few years of her life in sunshine and warmth.

From that time on, I became the keeper of the family archives. Amid the suitcase (which sadly, eventually fell apart from age) were letters written by my great-grandmother and the last writings penned by my grandmother. Photos taken by generations going back as far as my great-great grandparents filled several albums. To my dismay, most were unlabeled, but having spent years documenting them and researching the different family trees, I now know who at least 2/3 of them are. It's always rather exciting putting a face to a name, though I'm still trying to discover the names of the two Victorian ladies in beautiful coats and my relation to "Chuck and Cola," a young, dapper Victorian couple.

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As someone who writes about the value of our ancestry and who grew up with most of my family already on the other side, this last family connection is so very precious to me. I've taken time to scan most of the images and I've created live and cloud backups of them, hoping to preserve them for generations to come. Delving into my ancestral past has taught me so much about them and myself. I'm blessed to be able to look back so far.

My father once begrudgingly said the only thing his father gave him in his passing was $500 and an old raincoat. There was no love lost between the two. Amid the archives in the old suitcase my father had saved his father's scathing, lecturing letters, most, as far as I can tell, were incorrect about his displeasure in my father's demeanor. But my father was wrong. When his father died and passed on the tattered suitcase, that meant my father received the most prized inheritance of all. Who can put a price on that?

Over the years, I've spent a lot of time deciphering ways to better understand myself including looking at those who came before me. And as much as I wish I could speak again to my mother or father and ask them questions about their heritage, with their long-ago passing, that's no longer possible in the physical.

Instead, I've resorted to creating my own way to "look back to leap forward" in deep soul-searching sessions where I link my present concerns and challenges to theirs. Then by examining their lives, I find new pathways in mine. Over the years, I've perfected these explorations, turning the process into well-honed sessions that my clients love.

I would be amiss if I didn't credit and offer great appreciation to writers such as Mark Wolynn and Judy Wilkins-Smith who have validated my long time beliefs with scientific-backed evidence. Both authors write about epigenetics and how we are not just living our own lives, but also completing that of our ancestors. We get to figure out where they went wrong, where they got it right, and how that entwines within our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. We get to borrow from their talents and skills to enhance and forward our lives.

I can't express enough how these sessions I created are possibly the most appreciated of all that I offer. While they center on the challenges you are facing in your own life, being a medium, I find listening to the whispers of spirit are often very eye-opening to the clients who receive them. It's taken me quite a while to be willing to offer these to the public (years, even) because of their unique and deeply moving quality. (I'm still a bit nervous about it!) Yet here I go! I'm offering only ten of these one-on-one ancestry sessions in January. Will you be one of them?

If you'd like to learn more about how these work and what I do, check out the recent interview I had with Pam Perkins of ROC Magazine. We chat about my life experiences, my spiritual training, and how I use all of these in my sessions. 

So maybe like my father, I didn't think an old ratty, falling apart suitcase might be a box ripper. But seeing the paths it has led me down and the abilities it has handed down to me, it surely has been among the gifts I cherish the most.

If you'd like to have your own Marvelous Messages from Your Ancestrysession, because you are a newsletter subscriber, you'll find a discount code below that is available for a limited time. I look forward to sharing this and my other inborn gifts with you through all the sessions that I offer.

Until then, I hope you find your own box rippers and have a happy and tremendous New Year.