One of my favorite family traditions is the way we wrap our gifts. For as long as I can remember, we have all relished wrapping each other’s presents in such a way that the recipient has no idea what is inside.
A couple of years ago, my nephew wanted an enormous set of Harry Potter Legos that were sold out everywhere (of course). We explained to him that he would just have to wait until after Christmas to get the Legos because they were impossible to find. Though he was disappointed, he understood and accepted that he would not be getting them. Being the overly indulgent aunt that I am, I of course was the one that could not accept this reality and spent hours tracking down these coveted Legos via Ebay. On Christmas morning, when he got to my gift- a tiny box containing a note that led him on a scavenger hunt to find the Legos- I could barely contain my excitement. The fact that he was not expecting it made the joy of the gift- for both the giver and the givee- exponentially sweeter.
As I have considered my own path and watched many of my friends cycle through various chapters in their own lives, I have come to realize that God enjoys delivering His gifts to us in much the same way. In fact, the best gifts I have received have typically been wrapped in the most deceptive of packages.
Rejections, challenges, disappointments….
Ummmm- not exactly what I had in mind.
I imagine these types of “gifts” arriving into our lives in the most battered of boxes, covered in tacky wrapping paper and topped with crooked bows. The antithesis of the Tiffany blue box if you will.
In the Fall of 1995, I received one of these mysterious “gifts” when I moved to Gainesville, Florida to start law school. At that time, I had a long term boyfriend who was still in college, and I did not know a soul in Gainesville. To say I was not excited about the move would be quite an understatement.
I was so desperate to know someone- anyone- at that school of 36,000 people (a 33,000 student increase from my prior school) that I actually called a total stranger that a friend of a friend had casually mentioned I should contact. I felt pathetic- but my fears outweighed my ego at this particular juncture. Fortunately, she took pity on me and invited me to her house so we could walk to school together on the first day.
As I spent last weekend celebrating the fortieth birthday of my best friend- that girl who took pity on me our first day of law school- I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that place, that time and even that loneliness because the gift it brought with it- Cathy- was and is without question one of the greatest blessings of my life each and every day.
When I was changing jobs a few months ago, I was again reminded of how the biggest gifts often arrive into our lives disguised as hardships. After having held the same job for fifteen years, the thought of going somewhere new was overwhelming. For many months, I was forced to deal head on with conflict, uncertainty, change, risk- all things I try to minimize in my own life because I spend so much time dealing with them for my clients. After many sleepless nights, a lot of trial and probably even more error, I realized that while the absence of those things from my life may have lulled me into a false sense of safety and protected me from feeling too many lows, their lack had also robbed me of the highs- and even the chance of having those highs. And that attitude had bled over far beyond my career. But perhaps the scariest thing I discovered was that had I not been pushed to the point of unbearable, nothing would have changed. Nothing. And now that it has changed and I am so much happier because of it, that realization both terrifies me and causes me to feel immense gratitude.
Much like the start of law school leading to the introduction of Cathy into my life, my job change was also an “ouch”… followed by a “thank you.”
And there are also those gifts that aren’t so much an “ouch…thank you” kind of thing but more of a “what the heck is this….oh…i get it… i think… yes… wow…seriously… for me… wow… thank you” thing.
When diamond earrings arrive wrapped in a vacuum cleaner box, it’s confusing.
When you are convinced you are supposed to work/live/marry someone/something/somewhere that fulfills A, B and C and it/he/she shows up with X, Y and Z, it’s also confusing.
It’s these checklists we all seem to have- whether we admit it or not- for what our mates, our jobs, our families, our relationships are supposed to be.
The irony of these expectations/lists/supposed to’s is that all too often we ask for something that is so much less than what we actually deserve and then initially feel disappointed when something better arrives. All we can process at first is the different; it takes a while to appreciate the better.
I love asking my close friends who seem to be in happy relationships (and yes, I realize “seem” is a big word and “happy” is a relative term) if they ended up with the type of person they thought they would. Almost without exception, the answer- from both people in the relationship- is a resounding no.
What I find even more interesting is that when I ask them that question, most have to stop for a minute or two before they answer because it is as though they don’t even really remember what was on that seemingly important “list” now that they have found someone who truly makes them happy.
The same goes for my friends who were once lawyers, doctors, consultants and are now successful and happy authors, photographers, chefs, etc. The list was just… wrong.
I would be a liar if I said I look forward to more “ouch…thank you” and “what the heck is this….oh…i get it… i think… yes… wow…seriously… for me… wow… thank you” moments in my life.
A girlfriend recently sent me a card that summed it up pretty well. It said “I am ready for some blessings that aren’t in disguise.” Amen to that.
On the other hand, where would I be- where would any of us be- without them?
When things happen that I immediately want to deem “bad” or “wrong” or “unfair,” I have learned to at least consider the possibility that something good could come from them. Maybe- just maybe- there is a once in a lifetime friend in the wings or the perfect job or even a soulmate.
Because I know how amazing the contents of these deceptive packages can be, I feel compelled to continue on the scavenger hunt that God has made for me and to try and feel excitement instead of dread and hope instead of fear about the future.
I must make my “thank you’s” every bit as loud as my “ouches.”
I must throw away the damn lists that waste space in my head and let my only expectation be that I will be blown away by what happens next.
And when times are tough and I find myself doubting the joy of these gifts, I must try to remember Austin’s face on Christmas morning when he saw the Legos….
The fact that we are not expecting it makes the joy of the gift- for both the giver and the givee- exponentially sweeter.