previously published February, 2014
I have an ugly, odd habit of throwing away thank-you cards. Not ones that I receive, though. No, thank you cards that I wrote. I take the time to choose a card, hand-write a thoughtful, personal note, possibly even look up an address, and then I throw it away. I mean, I don’t throw it away right then. Not that second. Instead it will languish in a drawer or on a desk or perhaps even in a much larger stack of thank you cards until the window of appropriate mailing time has passed and I throw it out. Such was the stack of 20 or so birth announcements for Clara, each of which also had a personal thank-you tucked inside, which I didn’t find until right before Samuel was born. I was too embarrassed to send them 15 months late, so… I threw them away. My apologies to the family and friends who I never thanked for the gifts they gave my daughter. I really was grateful, I promise. Just too sheepish to take the last and MOST IMPORTANT STEP of actually handing you the card I wrote. This drives Sam insane, by the way. He catalogues this terrible habit in the same file as “not turning in work hours” and “getting lost on my way home.” I get it. I am irresponsible. My head is not always in a good place.
But shouldn’t it count that my heart is?
After Sam was born and after we finally took him home from the NICU, I wanted to make thank you cards for the medical staff who took care of us. All through the hard times of my pregnancy and labor and then the days following his birth, I had a team of people who showed compassion and love at a time when I needed it most. From my doctor to the ultrasound tech to our nurses at the hospital, God used the kindness of veritable strangers to minister healing to my worried and tired soul. So I wanted to tell them thank you for all they had done, for both me and my baby boy.
But I was embarrassed.
I’m almost always embarrassed to say thank-you, or to tell someone how much they mean to me.
Isn’t that strange? I’m not shy. I’m not quiet. I deal with words on a regular basis and I know how to say what I’m feeling. So why am I embarrassed to tell people thank you? Why do I throw away stacks of thank you cards? Earlier this fall, I spent an entire afternoon baking, and creating gift bags for my neighbors, complete with autumn themed notes that told them how thankful we were to have good people living by us. Those gifts sat on my counter for a week until the cookies were stale. Then I threw them away.
Then I MADE THEM ALL AGAIN, and THREW THEM AWAY. AGAIN.
I know I sound like a sociopath right now. There is something bigger going on here, some hidden agenda written in my deep, fearful places. I think the reason I am nervous to be generous with my thanks, or to compliment someone or to sincerely admire someone out loud is because it all reeks of such vulnerability. There is a baring of oneself that must occur in order for a thank you to be genuine. It means standing in front of a friend or a stranger and admitting that you needed them. Admitting that they mean something to you. And they may or may not feel the same way about you. You could possibly be standing alone at the end of the exchange, your admiration hanging in the stilted air, uncomfortable in its intimacy and suggestive tone of endearment.
It might feel weird.
My 6 week after-baby check up came around Valentine’s Day, so I decided to bake cookies, wrap them up in pretty heart boxes, and deliver them to the doctor and nurses with special thank you cards I printed from Walgreens with pictures of my kids. Even as I write this, I feel embarrassed at how elaborate the whole idea comes across. And that is really the crux of my fear; the reason I throw out gifts and squash down my feelings about other people. It’s because I am afraid that I am too much. It’s a line in my story I’ve fought my whole life, told again and again by so many different sources. This message of being too much has corroded something in me and I find myself acting out of fear that I will embarrass someone or look like a fool because my feelings are bigger than they should be. Like the kid professing his love to the coolest girl in school or the person crying during a political debate (yeah more than once), I stand naked on the stage of life and I am sincerely ashamed.
But this time, this time with the Valentine boxes and cookies and special cards, I followed through. I was embarrassed, mind you, imagine walking into a silent waiting room with my arms full of baked goods and a newborn fussing in his carseat, but I did it. I handed out my cards, head down low, and went home, glad to get it done.
A few days later, I got a voicemail from the nurse who had taken care of Sam in the NICU. She had been by our side through most of the process of his stay and become like family. We secretly called her Grandma Cherie, but it was very much a professional relationship and we didn’t discuss much outside of Sam’s care. She left a nice message asking me to call her back, and when I finally did, it was an astounding conversation. She was very emotional, telling me how much my card and cookies had meant to her, and then she hesistated.
“This is a personal question, but are you and your husband religious at all?”
I told her yes, we are Christians.
“I wondered if you guys were, because honestly, there was such a light wherever you were, and having a family like that was such a blessing to be around. (cue my weeping) And since you’re a believer, I have to tell you- I’m not sure why you brought that gift on that particular day, or if you were moved by any sort of prompting from the Lord, but I have to tell you why it meant more than you could ever know.”
Cherie had woken up that very morning of my thank-you delivery in despair. The day before she’d had a patient’s mother verbally abusing her all day long, a mother who turned out to have psychotic tendencies and need a guard at all times. But Cherie had gone to bed that night praying and asking God if it was just time for her to retire, and feeling like He had abandoned her. She said that the note from our family was the confirmation and encouragement she had prayed for, a message from the Lord that He saw her and cared about her and wanted her ministering in the NICU. She and I were both crying as she told this story, and I shared what an angel she had been to us, that God had used her as encouragement in our lives. It was a real tear fest, people.
God used my embarrassingly elaborate ‘thank you’ to bless Cherie. He used my too much and made it just enough, just exactly what she needed. And I needed to hear that. I needed to know that when I am afraid to say thank you, or afraid to appreciate someone aloud, I am being a thief. I am robbing someone the confirmation that they are good. And I am robbing myself the chance to be vulnerable. Because it doesn’t actually matter what I am thinking. Or what I keep quiet in my heart. No one wants to see the movie about a kid shrinking in the audience, thinking about how much he loves the girl. We want to see that kid stand on a stage and say how he feels, say how he loves, because the risk is what makes us look. The risk is what makes it worthwhile.
Take the risk. When you love someone, tell them. When you are grateful, say so. And when you see something good, name it.
Stop throwing away your thank you’s.
Get up on that stage and take the mic.
I promise I’ll be there too.
Probably ugly crying over a plateful of cookies.