Giving people gifts used to be one of my favorite things to do. But it quickly came to feel more like land mines lurked around instead of blessings abound. When I first made an actual income and moved out on my own, I spent months shopping for the perfect Christmas gifts for everyone, all of my family and friends. I loved every minute of it-the looking at things through their eyes, thinking about what they need and want, working the budget to find something I could afford that would make them feel loved- up until the part where they said I “didn’t have to” or “shouldn’t have” or made them feel bad because they didn’t buy me anything. I didn’t understand; I didn’t give to receive.
One of my biggest motivations to excel in my career was to earn enough that I could give to others. When the gifts weren’t as well received as I thought they would be, I shrunk. I started questioning my own intuitions and discernment, scrutinizing my thought process, wondering if I even knew them at all. And I wondered, since my gifts weren’t enough, what else would I work for? Just me? These gifts were the visible, tangible ways I wanted to show people my love for them was real. They shrugged, looked down to the ground, or shook their heads instead.
Soon enough, I started doing it myself. We’re not the best gift-givers or gift-receivers when our expectations get in the way.
I grew up in an affluent city in North Texas. My first job was answering phones, filling in tennis lesson schedules, and clearing out the locker rooms at a Country Club’s fitness center. My parents gave in and helped me buy a car when I started working there and I’ll never forget the freedom I felt arcing the wheels into the parking lot the first time I drove myself to work. I’ll also never forget the same group of boys from my high school who came in from time to time to say hi. The leader of the pack took one look at my car, asked me if it was mine, and when I smiled and said yes, he laughed and replied, “Wow. I thought I had it bad when my parents gave me my explorer, but yours is way older and it doesn’t even have a rack on top. It looks like (expletive).” I didn’t say anything more than hi when they came in after that.
My parents gave me a great gift; I received it well. But greed snatched other people up and tried to catch me with its foolish accusations too. It never fully caught me- snagged me from time to time, yes. But a decade modeling at high-society luncheons and socialites’ private parties taught me more than I ever wanted to learn about the payoff greed gives.
Despite people’s own trappings, we can still give well and freely. God didn’t second-guess himself when He gave us His Son. And what we think about a supernatural God coming down to live a life of temptation and torment among us, in order to show us the truth about His love for us, is up to us. We get to choose if we receive the gift or reject it. Regardless, God gave well.
When people used to give me a compliment, I followed my gut instinct and deflected or reflected it back to them. Like a trap I set for myself. I felt unloved, but when people tried to love me with a sweet compliment, I wouldn’t let it sink in, didn’t let them in, and wouldn’t let myself be loved by them. Maybe I protected myself from some empty compliments sent to pierce my heart, not to fill it. We know the sting and scarring that never seems to leave when we’ve been flattered into something terrible, manipulated and stolen from. But does that mean we should throw a wall up to everything, just in case?
I’ve held on to so much just in case and then missed what could have come instead because I couldn’t stop reacting to the past. Jesus responded to adversity, but he never reacted to it. And He openly received gifts from God and obeyed Him because He knew He was loved by Him. Jesus’s gut instinct could be followed because he was (is) free from sin. I don’t follow my gut instinct anymore because my guts have been spilled and scarred enough that I can’t trust them anymore. They cause me to sin, to reject the lamb of Jesus because once I saw a sheep unzip to reveal a wolf inside. There is no wolf in the lamb of Jesus.
Now I consider the source and I have learned to say thank you to gifts, even if I know the source isn’t speaking or giving from truth or love. No sense in saying I am pursuing peace, yet stirring things up simmering just under the surface. But I never could have learned how to change until I believed I was loved by God- before anyone else ever questioned it or tried to add to it or subtract from it. I have received the great gift He gave us in His Son. And that makes me strong enough to live loved.
Honor what you have
My modeling career helped me highlight everything I didn’t have- a small waist, a symmetrical face, thick hair, thin fingers, great skin, confidence, thick skin against scrutiny, good business sense to pursue the right clients, a great relationship with the camera, a support system, etc. And I probably ran my career into the ground by thinking constantly about not being good enough.
Dwelling on what you don’t have might motivate you to pursue what you want, but what happens when you realize you will never get some (or all) of the things you want? What then? Live a life of bitterness and disappointment, groaning about what you want to grow, instead of sowing and tending and growing the seeds you already have? What a waste.
I don’t want to waste what I have- legs that can run (or walk for those who take it easy like me) and jump (or step-side-to-side because: babies) or ski (or swim, or just stand in the water like me)- because things don’t look like I want. I don’t want to deceive myself anymore into thinking that getting better looks on the outside will get me what I want on the inside.
We have everything we need in Him
When I sat in waiting rooms during castings, I faked a grin and kept the conversation light with my friends (the very friends I was competing against for the job). Inside, I melted. They flipped hair more beautiful than mine, crossed legs thinner than mine, raised eyebrows thicker than mine, glowed with smoother, plumper, clearer skin than mine, and carried work experience more impressive than mine. It will always be true that there are more beautiful people than you, than me, and than everyone we ever see that we think are the picture of perfect. But our looks don’t disqualify us from receiving everything good our God has for us.
God is creative and his workmanship will always stun us in ways we cannot expect. But, let’s be honest, people do end up looking more physically appealing to the eye than others. It is what it is. Maybe evidence of this fallen world is how unfair it feels to know people can be beautiful without doing a thing to deserve it- both a blessing and perhaps a curse for them, a refining and a slice of humble pie for us.
But He is who He is– the God who never asks for more than what we already have. We were made in His image. Made to love God and love others. We have everything we need in Him, not in our appearance or what we think our appearance will get for us. So while we spend hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars or minutes, or months, or years of energy pursuing better looks, we don’t honor our God who pursues a heart-change. God does not require a hair-texture-change or a bicep-definition-change or an ab-count-increase before we are qualified to receive love from Him. You won’t find a single verse in Scripture that teaches you don’t have a physical feature that you need to be loved by God.
So let’s honor God with what we have, with what He has already given us, not forsake Him to find our worth in things outside of Him. Let’s listen to our Creator’s heart for us, instead of our hearts that sometimes work against us.
For Mother’s Day, I didn’t know what on earth to give my mom and mother-in-law. But I knew they could probably use some pampering during this pandemic. So I looked around, gathered what I had (sugar, coconut oil, rose petals, a food processor, and a glass jar) and made them gifts: coconut rose sugar scrub. Simple and literally sweet. I loved giving it and they loved receiving it. And our expectations didn’t get in the way.