“Your life is not about you,” our rector gave a nod and a slight smile from the pulpit. “Sorry to disappoint.”
I let out a sigh in solemn understanding from the vestibule. With a shrieking baby on my hip and a bouncy toddler tethered to me by my barely-long-enough arm, and two more (well behaved) boys sitting with Andrew in Mass, I was all too aware that my life isn’t about me.
I’ve fought this idea for the span of my adulthood and I think I’ll give up. Well, I’ll try to give up. I know full well, when gazing at the lot of my life, that it makes matters worse when I put myself at the center of it all; but to place Christ there and serve him through serving others – now that is unexpected bliss.
For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
Last Friday was my birthday. My 30th.
And at a time when I usually delight in simple indulgences, presents, and wishes fulfilled, I’m at last getting a grip on what my life is really supposed to be: an imitation of Jesus’s generosity, mercy, and love; the last 30 years are a blur of milestones, but what infuses life with meaning is when you give it away.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)
I feel like this shouldn’t be as challenging as it is for me. I love my birthday. Relish in it. Anticipate it. And not because I want to be queen for a day or enjoy everything just so; but because I want to be shown that I’m worth the same trouble I go to for my family. As a busy wife to a busy husband and a tired mama, sometimes I wish I could stop serving, stop making meals, stop cleaning, stop planning, phone calls, errands, just stop; and be on the receiving end.
The truth is that I am worth the trouble and my family have been showing me all along, but I didn’t see my own value until I started looking for chances to help or surprise others. For the last two weeks, I’ve set to performing 30 acts of kindness toward strangers, friends, and family. I’m not sure I made it to 30 – honestly I stopped counting. Keeping track wasn’t important after the first or second. Some of them required more of me, while others cost nothing but 2 ounces of humility and a smile.
I asked for ideas on Facebook and Twitter and was blown away by your suggestions – such FANTASTIC inspiration. Thank you for helping my heart to stretch. Prior to this, I was constantly emptying myself for my family and projects; what changed was inviting Christ to transform work into love. Then I saw how easy and joyful it is to give when I spend my life for others.
These acts are simple and though I listed only 16, they can be repeated for different people.
1 – Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through. This was a fantastic experience because it was hardly an experience at all. I asked the guy at the Panera window if I could cover the next customer’s tab. I asked him to pass along a “Have a great day!” to the lady behind me. And that was it. I didn’t see her. I couldn’t smile and wave or watch the surprise on her face. It was a gesture that drifted away like a balloon – untraceable, but certain. This kind of act is good for humility – you see no result and receive no credit. Good stuff.
2 – Write a little love note for your Sweet. I used to be super fantastic at writing notes for Andrew’s lunches every day. But I fell off and the wagon is long gone. Which is why it was so fun to resurrect, at least briefly, this bit of sweetness to brighten his day.
3 – I made the bed. Lemme tell ya, when you’re out of habit making the bed and you and your husband hit the sack in unkept sheets all the time, this is absolutely an act of kindness. And it made our room a joy to be in instead of another messy corner of the house.
4 – Give little gift cards. 5 dollars. 10 dollars. 15 if you’re feeling generous. Give one to a stranger in the grocery store, to the niece you want to connect with, to your big sister because she’s your hero. It is sheer bliss to surprise someone.
5 – Just give it away. The clothes you meant for consignment. The neglected and forgotten toy in your kids’ room. [My fellas had a small rocking horse that was shelved and forgotten once Legos entered our scene; but now, he has a new home with a baby boy who has three sisters and a dire need of something a little more manly around the house.] Right when we have needed it the most, God has worked through others to provide for our kids and I have been so grateful and relieved. Time to allow him to do the same through me.
6 – Take the kids to the place they’ve been dying to go. I surprised my fellas with a trip a particular playground. They had been begging and begging and one day, I turned into the parking lot. Oh the grins! Oh the squeals! It was insane, but it was so fantastic to see them thrill.
7 – Watch your friend’s kids (or at least try). I texted my friend, “Can I keep your girls for you for an hour or two this week? Take a load off. Get some stuff done. Whatever!” While she was happy at the idea, my friend opted to come with her children for a play date complete with coffee. SUCH a blessing because it had been forever since we had seen each other.
8 – Bring a tasty snack for your women’s group or friends. My Bible Study met last week and I threw together a last minute sweet-n-salty snack. Nut crackers with cream cheese and this season’s very first King Cake. (Because in the South, Mardi Gras is a SEASON, not just one day.)
9 – Buy or make a meal. For your mom, for other moms struggling; make it a surprise or sign up for a meal train.
10 – Handwritten Notes. There’s nothing so charming and sweet as the surprise, personal, hand-written note in the mailbox. Who expects real mail these days? We get bills, unwanted catalogs, and ads. But a note? Just because? Why not?
11 – Stay home. I mentioned in my last vlog that our marriage is undergoing some major reconstruction. And that means we’ve gone from one extreme to the other – being emotionally absent versus being available as often as possible while we talk things over. I stay home more. I haven’t written on the blog as much. We don’t watch as many movies. My time with him is more deliberate. Our situation aside, choosing a night in shows your man he’s as important as a girls night out.
12 – Let him pick the movie. I know. “But you just said you don’t watch as many…” and we don’t. BUT I’m just sayin’ that if we’re going out or staying in, I’m frequently surprised at how much I love a good pick from Andrew. AND he likes showing me the movies he likes. Which I like.
13 – Kick him out. I emailed Andrew and told him we had a string of free nights coming up and that he should go grab a beer with a friend. I’ve learned the importance of supporting his friendships.
14 – Pick up a quick treat for your kids. I don’t know about y’all, but the Scibas run on Dunkin’. And we just got a new one near our house that we try not to frequent, but it’s just. right. there. and their “cream and sugar” proportions are perfect. I surprised the kids with a quick drive through, whisked everyone home, poured the milk (because Dunkin’), and watched their crumb-covered grins. Nearly-3-year-old Peter mumbled with a mouthful, “I wuf spwinkles, Mom!” The sugar impact was spent exhausting the puppy in the backyard.
15 – Show teachers some love. I’m part of a group effort for a teacher appreciation snack this month at our 4 year old’s preschool. His teacher as well as others there have been such a blessing to our family.
16 – Be kind to yourself. It’s true that I’m busy and spent, but I wonder how much of my exhaustion is necessary and how much I bring on myself. I’m giving myself permission to chill, to slide a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner, to say no; and I feel myself relaxing.
I have plans for more, but for the time I designated to kickstart more kindness and kick myself out of self-focusedness, this was a good beginning. What’s amazing is that I wasn’t able to totally absorb the abundant kindness of others until all this started. Somehow serving gives me a strong sense of my own worth, and I can see it without trying to place myself on a pedestal.
I woke up on my birthday and hit the ground running like any other day – breakfast for the Four, put the puppy out, make lunch for Andrew, clean up spilled milk a time or two; but unlike any other birthday, I didn’t wake hoping or expecting to be served. I treated myself to my favorite quick breakfast (tea and buttered toast if you must know) and went right along with our family’s rhythm.
It’s embarrassing to say that in previous years, I would have been heartbroken at how normal everything was – isn’t someone going to surprise me with a muffin or a flower or something?; but eyes and heart opened, I could take in how extraordinary my everyday blessings are and I was free to happily enjoy. The acts of kindness only amplified the receiving typical to birthdays and through them God continues to create in me a pure heart. I want to spend my life allowing God to work through me.
Giving is a blessing from the Father, an imitation of Jesus Christ, and an act prompted by the Holy Spirit. It was joyful to see how one little decision after another became blessings to others, but ultimately to me. I don’t reflect on each act to show off – on the contrary, I feel redeemed: I see a way that God will save me from making myself the center of the universe. I’m humbled and amazed at how he can use us to brighten the lives of others and bring us to change at the same time.
Hands down, the best birthday I’ve ever had.
He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)