Monday, November 24, 2014

A Ray of Sunshine

            Sometimes, a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds of life and grants you one wonderful moment of warmth and light. 
            In case you can’t tell from all my last posts, I’ve been working hard this past year to live with certain disappointments.  To stop hoping that something will change.  I know this sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing.  Because it’s allowed me to start living again, living life as it is instead of waiting for things to be just right. 
            But I will admit that sometimes the discouragement gets the better of me.  The past several weeks, whenever a disappointment that I can’t change pops into my head, I try to wave it off with this self-pitying line, “Well, I deserve it . . . so I just have to live with it.  You don’t need to do anything to change it, Lord, because I deserve it.”
            I’ve got this lingering eczema rash on my neck which looks repulsive . . . well, I deserve it.  I have a lingering ear problem that I really thought the Lord would heal . . . well, I deserve it.  This house is an under-construction mess that I simply can’t turn into a home . . . I deserve it.  I don’t have a close family-of-origin, I have very few friendships, and I always feel like I am on the outside, looking in . . . I deserve it.  So many attempts to do something for the Lord seemed to fail . . . I deserve it.  Prayers have been unanswered and God has been very silent lately . . . I deserve it.
            Somehow, convincing myself that "I deserve it" helps me to accept them as part of my life.  Not in a good way, of course.  But if I keep looking at life as unfair then I get bitter and sad.  I would much rather convince myself that I’m just getting what I deserved and so I have to accept it as fair “punishment” or consequences.  Once again, this is pathetic and unhealthy.  But so is being bitter. 
            Anyway, a couple days ago, I had a busy day of Thanksgiving grocery shopping.  I was at the check-out line of my last stop, Trader Joes.  Out of nowhere, a woman pops up next to me with a bouquet of bright orange gerbera daisies.  And she says, “I just paid for these, and I bought them for you.”

            Everyone around us stopped.
            I stared at her blankly. 
            And then she said, “I bought them for you because . . . you deserve it.”
            I still stared blankly, like the “I see your lips moving, but I don’t understand what you’re saying” kind of stare.
            At that moment, several thoughts were going through my head all at once:
            1.  I must look that pathetic with my tired face and frizzy half-brown/half-silver hair that she felt that sorry for me, making her think, That poor thing needs flowers.
            2.  I really have to be more careful about what expression I wear when I am out in public because someone could be watching me without me knowing it.  Or, God forbid, filming me on their cell phone. 
            3.  This store is packed with people right now and everyone has just stopped to see the sad, pathetic charity case that someone bought flowers for.  I want to crawl in a hole.
            4.  This never happens.  People don’t go out of their way to do things for me.  I do this for others.  I try to look for ways to brighten someone’s day; they don’t do that for me.  I give, not get.  I buy a chicken for the man in the grocery line who forgot his Costco card.  I stop and help another man pick up the carton of blueberries he dropped.  I stop young girls with glasses in the store and tell them that they are pretty.  I try to ask people about their lives and how they are doing.  I look for ways to make others feel noticed and cared for.  People don’t do that for me.  This is so backwards.  I want to crawl in a hole and hide.  I do better not being noticed at all because it’s what I am used to. 
            5.  I really needed this!
            6.  She said, “You deserve it.”  How strange because that’s exactly the same thing I’ve been telling myself all the time.  I deserve the unanswered prayers.  I deserve the loneliness.  I deserve the eczema rash.  I deserve a half-done home.  I deserve the colossal failure that is my book and blog.  But flowers . . . I deserve flowers?  And unexpected random act of kindness?  I deserve to have someone do something nice for me? 
            7.  Say something to her.  You are still staring at her.

            I thanked her for the flowers and let her know how much I really did appreciate that act of kindness at that moment, how rare it was for me. 
            (And then, thankfully, after the woman left, the checkout girl told me that she saw this same lady do that last year for someone.  It must be a traditional “Thanksgiving week” act of kindness she does.  Thank God, because I was really wondering just how pathetic I looked that she felt she needed to buy me flowers.  Glad to know it’s just that this is who she is and how she likes to encourage people.  We need more people like her.)
            As I got in the car and drove home, I began to think about what she said . . . “You deserve it.”  Out of all the phrases she could have used (Just a special treat for you . . . Just wanting to spread a little sunshine your way . . . Just to show you someone cares . . . Hope you have a blessed week . . . Because God loves you . . .), she chose to say, “You deserve it.”
        And she said it two or three times.  “You deserve it . . . Don’t you?”  (She added the “Don’t you?” because I hadn’t said anything yet and was still staring at her.)
            That phrase stuck in my mind as she said it . . . “Don’t you?”
            I felt like telling her, “No, I don’t deserve flowers or acts of kindness or to be noticed.  My whole life has been one of ‘Don’t worry about me.  I’m fine.  I don’t need anything.  In fact, let me worry about and help you.’  But I don’t deserve this stuff.  I’m the giver, not the receiver.”   
            But it was like God was using her to say, “I notice you.  And every now and then, you deserve a special treat, too.  Not because of what you do or don’t do, but just because.  And no more using “I deserve it’ out of self-pity to accept disappointments.  There are blessings to be accepted instead.” 
            As I drove home, I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.  Having someone bless me in that way really broke through the “You deserve all the disappointments” year I’ve been having.  For one night, I deserved a bright, cheery bouquet of flowers.  (Of course, I’m using “deserve” not in the “I earned it” way but in the “Let yourself accept a blessing” way.)    
            And guess what happened last night when our friends came over for a visit? 
            My friend – the one I have been growing the closest to over the past year, the one who God provided in answer to my husband’s prayer in the January post, The Spider – showed up with a bouquet of orange and yellow flowers for me.  Just because she knew I had been having a rough emotional time.  The thing that makes it even more special is that she has been going through her own rough times.  It warmed my heart to imagine her thinking, I think I’ll go buy flowers for Heather.  She could use it.  I’m not used to being the one that others think about.   
            As a first-born child with five younger brothers, I always played the “maternal role” with others, taking care of them but not needing others to take care of me.  And as someone who never really “belonged” to a dad or felt like I really mattered to one (and who has had a very complicated, yet as-good-as-it-can-be relationship with my mother), I learned to be okay with not being cared about by other people.  (Except, of course, by my husband and children.  But I even struggled with letting God care for me.  That has been a huge part of my spiritual journey.)  I always felt over-looked and like that should be okay with me. 
            So when my friend bought me the flowers, I really wanted her to know that it meant a lot because that kind of thing doesn’t happen for me.  (Except, of course, the day before in Trader Joes.  I get it, Lord.  I get it!)  And I don’t take it for granted.  So I sent her this email later that night:

            I just wanted to say thanks again for the flowers.  My table looks so cheery.  It's been a long time since I put flowers out.  This year, because of the neighbor’s moldy garage, I didn't go outside and cut any of my garden flowers to bring in during the summer.  And that was depressing and sad.  But looking at the table now makes me smile.  And as I think about it, I really think this is the only time a friend has ever given me flowers.  (Unless it was like my birthday or graduation or something.)  I've been the one to do these kinds of things for others, but I've never been the recipient.  And I think as a first-born, I've always been the "No one needs to worry about me, I'm fine" kind of person.  But between you and the stranger who bought me the other flowers, it's like God is saying, "It's okay to let others think of you and to care about you."  That's such a foreign feeling, but I want you to know that it means a lot that you would take the time and effort to do something like that for me.
            And thank you for praying for me.  I really do feel a lot better.  I think part of it is like what you said earlier about accepting that "this is how life is going to be now."  I've had to learn to just live the life I have and not want or need things to be different.  Others might think it sounds like admitting defeat, but I really think it's more about learning to be genuinely content regardless of the circumstances and to say, "Whether You give or take away, Lord, blessed be Your name."  Definitely some heavy, bittersweet lessons to learn, but I think eternity will be the better for it.  Sometimes, I just wish that learning how sufficiently wonderful His grace is didn't have to be so emotional painful and didn't involve being stripped of so much of ourselves.  But such is the spiritual journey and battle.
            Anyway, thank you again for the flowers and for being the kind of friend that would do that.  I really value your friendship and I need it.  I need someone who I trust enough to call and say, "Please pray for me, I'm feeling depressed and overwhelmed."  Thank you! 
            I'm making it an easy night tonight and we are having cereal for dinner.  So I'm going to get my bowl of Cheerios and look at my flowers and smile.  Thank you!
            This morning, I did my devotions at the kitchen table, looking up every now and then at the flowers that brightened my table and sighing in peaceful gratitude . . . not only for the flowers but for the friend who would do something like that for me.  (As these flowers die, I’m going to replace them with matching silk flowers so I can look at this bouquet for years to come and remember how it felt to be blessed this way.)
            To the lady in Trader Joes who noticed me, who gave me the bright orange gerbera daisies on a dreary dark night, and who couldn’t possibly know how much the phrase “You deserve it” spoke to me in that moment . . . Thank you! 
            And to the friend who I am growing closer to, who took the time and effort to encourage me when she herself is going through a rough time, and who is filling a very empty place in my heart . . . Thank you!  Not only for the flowers but for being who you are, for being a blessing to me.    
            And thank You, Lord, for reminding me that there are blessings to be found even in the midst of a messy life and that every once and while we all deserve a ray of sunshine, a moment to smile and to be cared for by others.  So humbling and so uplifting.  Thank You!