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The Cookie Connection: Teaching My Kids To Love Abundantly

erol ahmed

Halloween is over; our family candy horde is replenished, and the squirrels are chewing the faces off our jack-o-lanterns. It’s snowing here in Minnesota, and my thoughts have turned to my next and biggest holiday hurdles: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

There are turkeys to consider, and wish lists and mall trips and cascades of Amazon deliveries. So many tasks. So many ways to fall short. So many things.

This past month, I cleaned out my closet. And not for the reasons you might expect from an embattled perfectionist. I still haven’t read Marie Kondo; I don’t pine for the Jetson-family-minimalism of Dwell magazine.

I was listening to a book by Ann Voskamp, in particular a passage describing how her family spent a birthday “gift-blitzing” small gifts to friends and strangers in a commitment to “give it forward #bethegift.” She talked about living without possessing, holding the material of life loosely, about the happiness of giving, which is the defining value of love.  Hearing these words made me realize that my things were hemming me in, binding me, so that I couldn’t really transform from old thoughts or beliefs. Because no matter how much I learned and changed for the better, my things were there to force me back into my old shape, as if to say This is who you really are.

My husband and I keep things as tidy as we can with three moving tornados on the loose between 7am and 9pm, but in true perfectionist fashion, I hid the mess of my inner life. And rather than pause and tend to the mess in kindness, I ignored it and let it grow. So long as my chaos was secret, so long as there were no witnesses to my pain and insecurity, I didn’t consider it a problem.

By clearing out my closet, I was committing to myself—I was deciding that how I feel matters as much as how I appear. Now, cleared out, my space feels like it reflects the life I try to live, and some days, realize: Peaceful. Purposeful. Mindful.

With all the holiday gifting on the horizon threatening to fill up our physical and emotional closets, I’ve been wondering: What are we doing when we give each other things? Are we stuffing each other’s emotional closets? Are we burdening or un-burdening each other?

And I’m reflecting, too, on all the not-ideal but oh-so-human reasons behind a lot of my past gift- giving:

I gave to create the illusion of abundance—a (false) sense, for my kids and for me, that there’s nothing they will ever want that I can’t give them.

I gave not just because I loved, but because I want to be loved.

I gave to cultivate an image, to ensure that I, and my husband, and our kids looked “on message” (that is, kind, happy, prosperous, generous, well-adjusted).

It feels so good in the moment, to hand someone you love a beautiful box with something beautiful inside. But I think it’s helpful to ask, what are these objects doing for us in the days and weeks after we unwrap them? What kind of giving can teach our kids, and ourselves, gratitude, resilience, and self-acceptance?

I’m beginning to think that I feel most abundant when I am abundantly myself—that is, not trying to be the “most” or “best” in any way, and being loved not in spite of, but because of all the strange contours of my character. I want my kids to feel this abundance too, to know that they are complete as they are, that they will be loved without asking to be.

As a family, we started thinking of ways to unburden the people in our lives, and practice loving ourselves enough that we can show our love without expecting any in return. We had so many ideas and they were big and complicated and fun, but in the end we decided to keep it simple. We wanted to do ONE thing, we wanted to do it well, and we wanted to do it it together (and have fun in the process).

We know that life will get messy and busy, and there will be times when we fly without thinking, race without thanking, take our love, perhaps a little bit, for granted. So this holiday season, the five of us are going to make cookies together. And we’re going to give these cookies to friends, neighbors, and strangers in the hopes that they will make their day lighter, that they will help them find a moment to sit and share them with someone they love.

And whenever our family is feeling overwhelmed and overbooked and drifting apart, our memory of this love that we created and shared will give us a place to rest (we’re storing a little extra up for the winter, just like the squirrels).

It’s a new tradition of not just of bonding, but of bravery. Because walking out into the world with a smile and a box of cookies, with love, freely given, is brave. Your love can be rejected, or simply not returned. Your love can be unnoticed or ridiculed.

But as Ann Voskamp writes, “Our bravery wins a thousand battles you can’t see because your bravery strengthens a thousand others to win their battles too.”

So often, we want to be the last to show our cards—we want to shield our true selves from sight until we’re certain we’ll be loved. I hope that the giving in our family honors and emulates the love that God showed the world before the world could love Him, the same hopeless and total love that parents have for their newborn children. And I want my kids to grow up giving, risking, loving, learning, hoping, and praying, all the while finding out who they are as people.

-Cara

What’s your gift-giving strategy this holiday season? What ideas do you have for lessening the burdens of the strangers and loved ones in your life?

#bethegift  #thebrokenway

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Monday, 14 October 2019