Monday, May 13, 2019

On Gratitude and Grace

Image Credit: Gary Warren Niebuhr
Hello dear friends,
It has been about two weeks since I sent you the health update and admitted I needed help. The response has been more than a bit overwhelming, as you sent me messages via email, messenger, phone calls, texts, and drop in visits to my studio. Even more overwhelming, has been seeing the donations rolling in to the gofundme that my dear friend started  on my behalf, combined with all the notes of why the giver was responding. Notes from strangers, notes from friends, notes from former students and art buyers, studio neighbors and long lost acquaintances.

In the initial outpouring, when the post first went public, I was so taken aback by the things you all were saying to me, and the generosity you were showering me with, that I needed to pull inward to process it. I couldn't read a single message without bursting into tears. I spent days reading and sobbing, feeling my insides receiving it all in a shocked sort of disbelief. I confided to my friend that I was at a complete loss for words. I had no idea what to say. And in her no-nonsense sisterly way, she replied "most people just say thank you."

Thank you. These two little words sound so simple. They easily roll off our tongue to the cashier in the check out line, or after a stranger holds open the door. Such a simple gesture of gratitude we've been trained to offer from the day we first learned to talk. But in that moment all I could think, was thank you felt so inadequate. There just didn't seem to be adequate words to convey how deeply, profoundly moved I was in the receiving of so much attention and praise.

Even now, just now, typing those last words "and praise", made me squirm. So much so, that I deleted them and retyped them twice. What is it about the receiving of so many testimonies about how much my writing, teaching, friendship, or art has meant to you that has me feeling so uncomfortable? Why can't I hear such words and let them have the soft landing you intended for them to make?

Hearing my friend's words "most people just say thank you", spoken so casually that they were hardly a breath, made me sit up and take notice. Suddenly it struck me that it has nothing to do with feeling the profound gratitude that I do feel for this showering of your love, but had everything to do with feeling worthy of it.

It wasn't that the words "thank you" felt inadequate, but that I felt inadequate. It is so much easier to be on the giving side of grace then the receiving of it. In my head, I know people respond because they care. I too have donated to many gofundme campaigns and fundraisers over the years and have never felt anything buy genuine concern for the person or people in need. It is in my wiring to nurture, care for, lift up and encourage others. But I never realized how much of that wiring had gotten mixed up over the years. How much I believed that you deserved it, but I didn't.

I don't say any of this in order to have you reassure me that it's okay. I share it with you because I think many of you can relate. We have catchy little phrases that we quip during the holidays like "it's better to give than to receive" and mostly when we say these things, we mean that the warm fuzzy feelings we get by being kind to another person is in itself a gift.

But there are so many of us who use these phrases like armor without even thinking about it. We grew up never truly experiencing what it was like to expect to receive unconditionally. We approach exciting opportunities with words like "don't get your hopes up" because we don't really believe that hope is a thing that we are allowed to have for ourselves. We take in good news and sit waiting for "the other shoe to drop" because "bad luck always comes in threes."

Recently I read a post by Richard Rohr in which he explained that humans experience transformation in life in two major ways, through great trials and great love. I have done some very hard and very transformative work over the years through the experience of great trials. I've shared much of these things with all of you too, as it is so connected to the art that I make. Yet in this season, suddenly I am feeling a shift - Yes, I've had plenty of transformative experiences through great trials, now thanks to all of you, I am opening to the possibility of a transformative experience through great love.

And the greatest of these things is love.

I guess all that is left to say now, is thank you.  
With so much love and gratitude.