Monday, January 12, 2015

So Many Gifts...How about 29 More?

There are a few times in my life where the outcome of something has been completely unanticipated. Going to Japan as a missionary and meeting my future husband there.  Becoming an artist which lead to being a barn saler which led to being a blogger. Going to a thrift shop in Maryland for a filing cabinet and coming home with my forever dining room table in a style I never would have intentionally considered. (read that adventure here)

That's kinda how I felt about my experience reading 29 Gifts by Cami Walker. I checked it out from my local library because the title sounded festive and Christmas was coming.

Not exactly the Hallmark Channel misguided lovers figuring things out story I was expecting.

29 Gifts is a memoir of the Cami Walker's experience learning about how to give back to the world despite her daily struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. Note: For those of you with weak constitutions for suffering, hang in there with me. We are not talking about an Oprah book here.  I am a total pansy when it comes to reading about other people's sufferings. I wouldn't do that to you. (OK, I just googled it, and this actually IS an Oprah book. How ironic. Here's the link. But it's not one of her normal, wrenching, searingly painful with no redemptive value ones. I hate those freaking books.) This is a study of gratitude and showing intentional love for those around us, strangers and those we love most alike.

When we meet the author, her Multiple Sclerosis has progressed to the point where moving is difficult, and daily tasks like doing the laundry or washing the dishes seem like huge mountains of effort. She can't work, despite her love for her job and she is terrified her wonderful husband of two or three years is going to get tired of caring for her and leave her.

One day while talking to her dear friend Mbali, an African medicine woman, Walker pours her frustrations out about how miserable she is. Mbali simply replies with the "prescription" of giving away 29 gifts in 29 days. Walker is stunned. She can barely move. What could she possibly have to give? She writes "Give 29 gifts in 29 days" in a notebook, slams it shut and promptly forgets about it. One day, she rediscovers the notebook and figures that since even the pain medication she's taking isn't working, she might as well try following Mbali's advice. 

And that is when everything starts to change.

Photo by DK 

As much as I love that the book is about giving and receiving, that is not the message it held for me. I was raised by an insanely generous father, and learned a long time ago about the joy of giving to increase other's quality of life and mitigate my own misery. It is one of the pillars I build my life on.  

For me, this book held some new keys to living with an eye towards my own abundance. I struggle with scarcity. I am often afraid we don't have enough money or that this thing or that thing will run out. And I never feel like I have enough time to do all the things I want to. Some of this is well founded in experience. I have been very poor before and didn't relish the experience. But most of it is just my own preferences and paranoia taking over my better judgement. I have never been so destitute as to not have food or housing. I have always had resources of some sort or another. But just like most people, I tend to focus on what I lack, rather than embrace and rejoice in what I have.

In the book, everything Mbali says to Walker felt like it was for my heart as much as hers. I had never thought to connect giving and abundance before. The following thrilled me when I read it:

"Healing doesn't happen in a vacuum, Cami, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life. Giving of any kind is taking a positive action that begins the process of change. It will shift your energy for life."

I am good at giving. It is easy for me in most cases. But I never thought to use it intentionally as a vehicle for my own positive change. Huge, right?

And this one about knocked my socks off:

"No matter how much we have materially, we are often in a place of scarcity:we never think we have enough or that we're good enough. Instead of getting lost in a sense of lack, once we realize we are a part of something bigger, it becomes clear we have many gifts to offer the world."

I have spent the last three years feeling poor.  How ridiculous. 

I live in a beautiful home in a wealthy county with great schools and a husband with a stable job that he loves. My kids are all wonderful and well adjusted. I have lovely things to look at and do. I have many many friends who love me, as well as a supportive extended family. There is most certainly no lack in my life. 

I have also spent the last three years helping my kids do well in school and providing opportunities, granted often at large sacrifice to myself, for them to gain new skills and have important experiences that will shape their lives in powerful ways. I have used my skills as a group builder and energy maker to launch several small artist's careers to a professional level. I have used my time and wit to support my friends in the blogging and Instagram world. I have turned many strangers into dear friends. I have used restraint and generosity and sensitivity to help my husband through an insanely difficult period professionally. In fact, as I look back over the last three years, it has been the giving that has saved me. My ability to use what I had to enhance the lives of those around me. 

Tears are coming as I type this and look back over the years with eyes focused on my own abundance. I have never thought about it like that. It is humbling to see how much God was able to do with my heart and hands. How much I could have been rejoicing in all this time. 

I can see the truth of Walker's statement, 

"The best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a 
perpetual state of giving and gratitude." 

You become aware of what you have, of what you can do. 

So as I step forward into this fresh new year, I have decided to focus on being aware of the gifts I am giving and receiving.  I have missed a lot of my own joy in my lack of mindfulness. I have felt empty, when a shift in perspective would have shown a cup running over. 

And my prayer for you,dear reader, would be that you be aware of your own worth, your own magnificence in this world. Simply because you have so much to give it, so many ways to bless those around you. And so much joy to find as you wander through this lovely life.

Talk to you soon,
 CM Shaw

PS: Have you read 29 Gifts? What did you think? Leave me a comment because I'd love to know what your take away was.