To paraphrase Kelly Cutrone, from her book If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, there's an important lesson to remember when you're having a particularly bad day, month or year - things will change.
This past Monday, as I was lying in bed with a fever nearing 102 and feeling as if I had a right to beg God to just let me die in peace (yes, that's a huge little bit of self-pity), I remember questioning why I had ever thought that life was about to change and run smoothly. I had just left my orthopedic surgeon's office with some fairly good news with regard to my recovery, but had asked about this horrible tightness I felt in my chest and the coughing ... the never-ending coughing. The sneezing, sniffling and general aches and pains, I didn't mind so much. The coughing, however, was really painful.
After a few days of bedrest, so many forced fluids I felt as if I was 98% water, and several doses of ibuprofen, I realized on Thursday that I was actually feeling somewhat human again. The sun was brighter, the flowers more colorful, the air sweeter and my optimism was returning quickly.
Mid-afternoon, as I was catching up on three days of news on Facebook, I struck up several "comment conversations" with others who were struggling. In each case, I was able to offer some general form of help, from an offer to cook a meal to some light housekeeping, to working with another concerned citizen to organize a food drive. My heart felt lighter, my mood elevated and I found myself totally unable to contain the fact that I felt better than I had in weeks. What was going on?
Debbie Macomber, the beloved Christian author, would say it was the power of generosity at work. In her book, One Simple Act, Macomber outlines, chapter by chapter, the powerful spiritual principle behind the gift of giving. We all know it; we were raised on it ~ 'Tis more blessed to give than to receive. As a child, the concept is almost impossible to comprehend, because, as children, we think like children. We are completely ego-centric, the centers of our own little universe, and everything else revolves around us. As adults, we are admonished to put away childish things.
Mind you, I'm a great advocate of being silly and acting childish in the sense that I love to swing beside my grandson and granddaughter and in moments of pure abandon, even go down the slide with them (the great big one!). But when it comes to the principle of generosity, I believe Deepak Chopra gets it right when he says, “Giving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.” There is something about giving that inherently blesses the giver, possibly even more than the recipient. I have no idea why it works that way, but I've come to embrace it as truth.
As I was recovering from my spinal fusion surgery, I was allowed to walk, sit, or lie down in the bed. Period. No driving, lifting, bending, twisting, pushing or pulling. To add insult to injury, several months ago I injured my right arm (my predominant arm) and the injury has deteriorated to the point where the arm is essentially useless. So I found myself, alone in my little cottage, with my cat. She is great company, Annabelle the cat, but pretty useless in terms of doing dishes, laundry, cleaning, shopping, or anything else. What's a girl to do?
I did what every self-respecting middle-aged mother/grandmother would do. I threw out all the axioms of self-sufficiency I learned from the time I could walk and asked for help. It wasn't easy. It was darned difficult (I really wanted to use another adjective). I asked for rides to the grocery, the doctor, Walmart, Dollar Tree, meetings, church, to see my children and grandchildren ... I asked for rides everywhere. Rarely did anyone say no. In fact, I was often so confused I booked two drivers for the same errand, yet no one lost patience with me.
One friend picked up laundry every so often, washed it, dried it, ironed it and returned it, hung on hangers and made sure it was put up properly so I wouldn't hurt myself. She had just lost her family home to a fire. Other friends brought food (after all, this IS the South!), and each of them had a story. One suffers with rheumatoid arthritis, but it doesn't stop her from cooking up a mess of vittles that would make Granny proud! Another cares for her precious grandchildren, among them a two-year-old angel with mitochondrial disease (not a nice diagnosis, but he is truly a little angel). Another friend, the same one who took me to the hospital and stayed throughout the surgery and called my adult, working children to let them know I was ok after it was all done - that friend showed up the night I was sent home with a luscious cake and sat on a footstool and rubbed my dry, aching feet for almost 30 minutes. Personally, I believe that was worthy of induction into the "Friends and Angels Hall of Fame!"
Mind you, everything didn't get done. My bathroom wasn't cleaned from April 2nd when I injured myself by tying my shoelaces (oh, the joys of arthritis!) until yesterday, when I awakened and realized I could actually move and wasn't coughing. As gross as that sounds, the earth didn't stop rotating nor did pigs fly. I have spent many hours over the past ten weeks wondering how I would have managed if I didn't have friends. Or if I wasn't willing to ask for help. The truth is, I wouldn't have managed and I probably wouldn't have recovered so quickly. My surgeon is so pleased with my progress and it's at least 49% due to following his directions; I attribute the rest of my healing to the powerful effects of prayer. If there's one thing I am totally sure of, it's that there were so many prayers offered for my well being, my provision, and my healing that there was no way the Good Lord could avoid responding.
The friends who received the hardest task were the ones who had to listen to me scream (before and immediately after the surgery) or whine. Oh yes, the pain was THAT excruciating. I will never again dismiss anyone who tells me they have ruptured discs and/or crushed sciatic nerves. The only other time I remember having that much pain is when I accidentally spilled boiling water all over myself in 1987. I have a whole new level of compassion and understanding for anyone in chronic pain. The wonderful, loving people who listened to me whine and complain and yes, even scream in agony during tests and after surgery ... there's nothing to compare with a friend who will do that.
Which brings me back to the point I was trying to make in the first place about the lesson of generosity. Although the idea of letting all this "help" happen was really difficult for me, person after person talked about the blessing THEY received by doing it. It really hit me yesterday, as I was thinking of ways I could now give back and I realized that it was so true ... that it IS more blessed to give than to receive.
In Macomber's book, one of the last chapters is on The Heart of Service. She writes how, after the bombing of the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center and all the other horrific events of that day, the nation was in shock. Parents had no idea what to tell their children. When a few parents wrote to Mr. Rogers, the beloved host of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and asked what to do, Fred Rogers said "Tell them to watch the helpers." How many of us were brought back to optimism and faith by watching the actions of those who selflessly helped others during those dark days? How many of us wept at the stories of bravery and heroism?
My personal journey from selfishness to being a helper was guided every step of the way. From my personal faithwalk to the actions of my "Steel Magnolias" (as I call the group of women who demonstrated helpfulness in their daily lives no matter what they might be going through), generosity is one of those principles that never fails to bless the giver. There are so many ways to be generous. It can be as simple as a smile or a kind, encouraging word and as huge as one's imagination can pursue. It's not the portion of generosity ... it's the gesture.
In fact, as Chopra states in his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, "The best way to put The Law of Giving into operation is to make a decision that
any time you come into contact with anyone, you will give them something. It
doesn't have to be in the form of material things; it could be a flower, a
compliment or a prayer. In fact, the most powerful forms of giving are
non-material. The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation and love
are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don't cost you
As you let your imagination wander on these lazy, hazy summer days, consider these questions:
How could you bless someone by giving up an hour of television time to bestow generosity?
In what ways have you been blessed abundantly? How could you give back? You have talents, what are they?
How could generosity become a traditional family activity? How would you model this for your children or future generations?
We hear about random acts of kindness. Yes, they are wonderful, but intentional generosity is a lesson well learned, and even better performed.