A true story!
July 2016, Minnesota
The texts flew as six of my old high school girlfriends decided to convene at the “old Sunsets” for dinner on a Tuesday night. No matter that it wasn’t called Sunsets anymore – the inside décor might have changed, but the setting near the lake, railroad tracks, and ice cream shop was the same.
Once we sat down we slid easily into laughter and conversation: which of us looked the most hip despite being 40; which of us re-met the other’s old boyfriend at the last reunion. We drank wine and cocktails and ordered fancy pizzas and arugula salads with goat cheese that we could have never afforded at 18.
And then the unexpected happened. A man sitting three tables down and dining alone sent the waitress over to buy us a round of drinks. He said, via the waitress, that I looked beautiful and we were all enjoying ourselves and he wanted to do something nice.
We laughed a bit uncomfortably. Said no thanks, we were driving home soon, but so sweet, and thank you, and gave a wave. “I don’t have cancer,” I told the waitress. “I have alopecia, that’s what has made me lose all my hair.”
Actually this happens to me all the time. I get to the front of the Chipotle line and the cashier says my lunch is on them. I get handed t-shirts and free gifts and drinks and dessert. People think I have cancer and when asked, I tell them the truth, and then ask if they are a survivor (they usually are, or they’ve lost someone who is).
I’ve had to get comfortable receiving gifts. It’s really hard most of the time. Especially because I feel like I don’t deserve them.
Back at the restaurant we resumed our laughter about trying to rein in our competitive nature at our kid’s sporting events, and then the waitress dropped some news on the table.
The man, not to be dissuaded, had proceeded to buy our entire dinner. $280 dollars worth.
My good friend wrung her hands and protested. “It’s not right, it’s too much.”
And it was true.
And yet this is the lesson I’ve had to learn, kicking and screaming the past few years. God’s grace – bigger and more encompassing than we can ever imagine, a forgiveness of our wrongdoing, a love all-encircling, a promise that we will be held through it all – is never earned. It is only received.
I’ve had to practice receiving gifts these past few years. It hasn’t always been easy to accept what is offered. To know that I am undeserving, and yet. To see others suffering, and be given abundance again, and again.
I am practicing.
May you open your heart this holiday season to the unearned gift. May you unclasp your hands to receive it. And may you gift someone else with light and hope.