I am very blessed. My family gives very thoughtful gifts, tailored to what the receiver of that gift most needs or enjoys in life. We don’t bother with much secrecy, even at Christmastime. Sometimes, we are right alongside the gift-giver as they pick out and purchase the intended gift. Some would say this spoils the surprise, but I think it sweetens the pot, actually. We want the receiver to be apart of the moment of discovery, when we see them reflected in what we want to give to them. More than the thrill of the unexpected, we want the person we love and are giving the gift to to feel seen, included, and appreciated.
I’ve received some wonderful gifts from those I love: diamonds and sapphires, cozy sweaters, winter coats, rare vintage copies of classic novels, precious things. However, I think the best gift I have ever received from my family or anyone I care about is advice.
Advice is a precious gift because it lasts forever. It replenishes itself each time you draw on the wisdom shared with you, each time it guides your choices and helps to make your present and future better than your past was.
Last year, and the year before, I had to find the strength to leave places and people that were no longer healthy for me. This was difficult. No experience, place, or person is entirely negative, or positive either. It is not easy to weigh up the pros and the cons, and to realize that you’ll have to leave the pros behind to relinquish and escape the cons. I couldn’t have done so without turning my life over, day by day, more and more to Jesus Christ. My faith saved me, but this was not a journey I could take alone. So many wonderful people, some with whom I developed lovely friendships and others who graced my life for the span of only one chance conversation, helped me to grow in my faith and derive the strength I needed by giving me advice borne from scripture, their experiences, the wisdom of age and experience, and the empathy of having walked in my shoes and knowing that while I was going through Hell, if I just kept going through I would make it to the other side, happy again.
Months later, having turned the calendar to a new year, I am still raw from my experiences. My confidence, which I and those who know me best used to assume was an inherent and immortal part of who I am, has taken many near fatal beatings over the years, but this last was the worst. In some ways, I have lived up to my name, and risen above my past circumstances like an eagle riding the wind…but in others, I fearfully limp through life.
Just today, my mother told me, “I don’t want you to live in fear.”
I don’t want to live there, either. More than ever, lately, instead of performing obeisance to the familiar triggers of my fear, I feel my mind recoiling from it, as repulsed and exhausted by my fear and anxiety as I was by the circumstances and people who hurt me, who I also had to leave and sever ties from forevermore. I yearn to similarly divorce my fear and what conjures it.
The Sufi poet Hafiz wrote,
Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I would like to see you living in far better conditions
Wanting the best for each other is always the motivation behind my family’s gift giving. The advice my mother gave me is no different. I want better for myself, and appreciate that she wants the same for me. Advice from friends, family, and even strangers has given me a new life, and though it is not without uncertainty, no life is. The best gift I have ever received is the gifted wisdom of those who care, and the strength it gives me to learn to live again. I have hope, and pray, that one day I will be free from anxiety, and it will be thanks to the precious gift of being guided towards, and following, a better way to live.
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