Giving makes me happy.
Giving is easy.
I love this time of year. I love to shop and wrap and give; tremendously self-serving as it gives me such happiness to please. I give at church and give to charities and give donations of all sorts: to school functions, fundraiser and such.
I am not selfish.
I love to share.
I model giving to my children and hope to teach them the joys of sharing. One of my children is giving by design. My daughter is the first one to offer help, to take in a stranger, to make everyone feel included.
Cadence was brought into the world with direct instruction from God. I remember debating the recommended tests while Cadence blossomed in my womb. I remember the morning that I discussed the testing relative to my age with my husband. At thirty-seven, it was recommended I have amniocentesis to rule out downs syndrome and other birth defects. We had rejected these tests in the first two pregnancies, knowing the information would not change the course for us. This time, my husband hesitated; suggested perhaps it would be a good idea.
The discussion was unpleasant. I felt divided. I retreated to the shower to clear my head. The hot steam circled and I looked down at my swelling middle, watched the water caress the baby within.
Loudly, a voice spoke in my head, “I created this child. Why are you doubting me?”
Chills covered me in spite of the heat as this voice, not audible, yet louder than thunder filled me.
The voice was not mine.
The thought was not mine.
I dashed dripping down the stairs to the kitchen to inform my husband that I had heard from God. Without hesitation, he nodded, “Skip the tests.”
Cadence has a purpose and I have known that since my shower that morning. She has delighted people with her smile, her friendliness and her exuberance since she was tiny. As a baby, she welcomed all strangers with a smile and offered love to all creatures. She has a bold and brave spirit and compassion for everything; a tiny lady bug trapped in the window and the child at school left out of the game at recess. She is the first to offer when she sees someone in need and is easily moved to tears in hearing of another’s pain.
She quickly and faithfully turns lemons into lemonade. Presented with a problem or disappointment, Cadence automatically turns the adversity over to find a gem beneath. Her cup is always full, her compassion spilling over.
Her gifts, I have always told her, are her big voice and kind heart and God expects her to use them together. Using her big, bold voice without kindness could be hurtful; her compassionate heart kept silent would serve no one. Cadence knows she is commissioned in this way and is never to stand as a spectator to injustice of any kind.
In kindergarten, this natural path revealed a speed bump. I was the mommy helper in Cadence’s class. Her teacher read The Rainbow Fish; a story about a fish who was beautiful and the envy of all. He was happy with his glorious sparkling scales until one day a little fish asked him for one. Shocked and angry, he retreated from the others who coveted his glory and wanted him to share it.
Ultimately, the rainbow fish lived in isolation, unhappy in all his beauty as he had no love. Finally, he decided to share one scale with the little fish who asked. He felt so wonderful watching the delight of the little fish that he shared again and again until he, like all of the others, sported one shiny scale. Messages of sharing and belonging and kindness were discussed and the children were sent to draw and write about a time when they felt that tingling, wonderful warm feeling that came from giving and sharing.
I roamed the room to find children who needed help, careful not to gravitate toward my own. I noticed, however, Cadence sitting, chin in hand, staring at a blank page. She rose and went to her teacher and firmly stated, “I know the feeling you are talking about, but I don’t get that feeling for giving.”
Suppressing humor or judgment, her teacher spoke of examples to help her conj our up that warm and loving feeling. How about when you donate something to charity?
“No,” Cadence clarified, “that’s stuff I don’t need anymore.”
“What about when you share your favorite toys with a friend?”
“Pretty much when I do that, I just am waiting for when I get it back. I don’t get that good feeling you’re talking about.”
Well A+ for honesty.
No speaking the rote the lines expected here! I cringed with the reality that my sweet, helpful, loving, kind child was apparently selfish.
Three years later, Cadence is a precocious and grounded third grader, fortunate enough to be involved with a “Girl’s Group.” This group was formed with the intention of guiding girls to relate on a deeper level, different from typical, clicky third grade style. They come together once a month on a quest for deeper relations with “soul sisters.”
They discuss feelings, relationships and caring while exploring cultures old and new. Native American traditions, cultures from around the world and various religions are intermingled to give the girls a deeper meaning of relationships.
The December meeting was to be about ‘giving.’
The story this time is shared in advance to help the girls understand.
The story, The Giveaway Girl, is about a little girl, the sister of the little drummer boy in Bethlehem, who is anxious and worried about visiting the child laying in a manger. She is worried because she has seen the kings coming with their valuable gifts under the bright star; anxious because she is poor and has nothing to give to this important new comer. Her brother has his drum and will play a song for the baby God. She has nothing to give.
She stands under the blinding star and looking for guidance in the cool night air. She wraps her sweater around her for warmth, seeking inspiration. It is suddenly clear. The sweater, her only beautiful possession made by her late grandmother. She decides that it is filled with love from her and her grandmother. She cuts off the sleeves, mends the remains into a beautiful blanket to warm the baby.
The story touches Cadence and she takes the edge of her pajama sleeve to absorb the tear collecting in the corner of her eye. I then read the commission letter. The girls in the group are to bring something ‘special’ of their own, wrapped anonymously in a bag, to the next meeting to give away. It should be something that is meaningful: a favorite toy or object, perhaps something given by a Grandmother. Cadence begins to pace around her bed, piecing the words together in her mind.
“Mom, I know how this is going to sound and I know that this probably means that I am selfish, but I like my things and I don’t want to give them away!” Our eyes meet and she huffs, tapping her hand on her thigh, “I can’t give away my tamagachi, it’s on its third generation and its part of my family! It would be like you giving me away!” She looks up, brown eyes wide and troubled, “and I can’t give away Alex,” she pleads, cupping the sparkling stuffed turtle in her hands, “he’s like my child.”
“You don’t have to give away your most special thing,” I reassure her, stroking her silky brown hair hanging sadly across her face, “but it should be something meaningful. You have four days to think about it. No need to decide right now.” She hops off the bed renewed and determined to figure out what she can part with.
“Perhaps something from one of your collections,” I suggest. Brown silky hair swishes back and forth as she scans the room. A smile spreads, one finger pointing forward with a head nod and she slips into her dressing room. Quickly she emerges with a vase from her dresser, a dreamy look on her face and in an Academy award-winning voice announces, “This is it. It sits on my dresser and every day when I look at it, it makes me think of all the people who love and care for me.”
I say nothing but gaze at her through the top of my eyes, raising one eyebrow.
“What?” She looks at me, holding the passionate expression a moment longer. “Okay fine it’s not that special but its pretty and I don’t want to give away my special things!”
“Give it some thought,” I say as I stand to leave, “you’ll know the right thing when you find it.”
“Aha!” she bellows as she jumps over her bed and dashes to her desk, “This is it! It’s from you to me and so it has both of our love. I’ll give this!”
My stomach clutches as I swallowd hard and rolling my lips tight to keep the word ‘NO’ inside.
She victoriously holds high a huge chunk of amethyst that I had purchased in Newport when I was in college. At the time, I bought it because I believed it was a powerful source of energy. Over the years, it represented many things to me. It has been packed and unpacked, move after move, from this life to that one; from college to marriage, through divorce to independence, from remarriage to mother hood.
It sat, through all phases, in a prominent place in my bedroom as a symbol of hidden beauty. It is proof positive that what appears ordinary, even ugly on the outside, contains beauty and magic inside. Its final role, before I passed it to Cadence, was as a focal point during my labors to deliver these three beautiful children to the world. It only seemed fitting that Cadence, my grand finale who embodies the spirit of finding the gem inside the rock, should be the recipient.
“Are you sure that’s the right thing?” I squeaked out in a voice too high pitched.
“Yep! It’s perfect!”
I breathed deeply, exhaled and managed to say, “Whatever you decide, you have four days.” What else could I say? Wasn’t the lesson being taught how to share and give away something meaningful? What lesson would I teach if I were to say that object was too special? How could I model self-less giving if I restricted her decision? I began to wonder who this lesson was for.
Two days later, Cadence appeared beside me at the kitchen sink, fiddling nervously with her turtle in her hands. “Mom, about this giving thing, I know I am supposed to give away something that is special to me and I know that I will come home with something that is special to some other girl, but if I give a way something that I care about a lot and it means nothing to the other girl, and I take home something of hers that I don’t care about but she’s sad not to have it, what is the point?”
I put down the dish in my hand and looked out the window for an insightful answer. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. What is the point exactly?
For two more days, Cadence pondered her selection and finally landed on a stone angel from her collection. It was from a collection I gave her grandmother over the years who in turn, gave the collection to Cadence. There were two identical angels; twins sitting on opposite ends of the shelf. She decided that this was meaningful because the angel not only came through several special people, but that it had a matching partner which tied her to her soul sister as two parts to a whole.
She came home from the experience with a small dinosaur skeleton that her soul sister won at a science fair. It had meaning to both girls in that they are both lovers of science and animals.
The exchange was successful.
The lessons that came out of that week were profound.
We give in many ways, but it is only giving from the heart that has true meaning.
I could give away all of my possessions and live in poverty, but if the purpose is to be a martyr, to be glorified in self-righteousness, then it is not true.
Giving out of obligation is dove-tailed by resentment. Cadence seemed to know this all along. Giving because you ‘have to’ is void of joy and therefore is an empty gesture. My ‘give-away girl’ is not selfish, but true in her intentions. She gives easily in love and with kindness, but to give without truth of heart is as bad as being selfish.
When we give of ourselves because we care deeply, because we are grateful, because someone is in need, because we want to, that is love and that is true.
True giving makes me happy.
True giving is easy.
Real giving feeds my soul.