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What is generosity, anyway?

Kimberlyn next to bicycle

In case you missed it, this is a continuation of last week’s message, Can you accept help? regarding generosity and what I learned as a result of being in need. This month marks the 11-year anniversary of my bicycle accident and the rebirth of my self.

To re-cap, the “Rules” I learned sounded something like this:

  • To be generous meant, you can’t say “No” to a request.
  • Generosity was measured by how difficult the gift was to give, and
  • To accept help was to admit defeat/failure.

I had a lot to re-learn about HOW, WHEN and with WHOM to be generous. Basically, I needed to create and uphold boundaries. As Paulo Coelho wrote, “When you say ‘YES’ to others make sure you are not saying ‘NO’ to yourself.” So now, after years of reflection, exploration, and practice, I have come to understand that:

  1. Self-care is a responsibility not an indulgence.
  2. It is as HONORABLE to GIVE as it is to RECEIVE.
  3. Generosity is BEST when it is offered from abundance.

How did I re-frame my understanding of Generosity? I think it started with accepting that MY need did not determine my value as a human being. My lack did not define me. Secondly, my need created an opportunity to appreciate and experience the skills, talents, and support of others as well as appreciate all the things I had been doing prior to my injury. In fact, the months after my accident were the first time I felt completely helpless, but also the first time I really appreciated my own strengths and talents. There was nothing I could do to expedite my recovery or even keep-up with the life I had prior to my accident: doctoral school, a home-based business, three small children… except rest. And that meant I needed a lot of help.

I’d always been very self-sufficient. That is not to say I was solely responsible for the achievements and accomplishments of my life, but rather, I honored the privileges of my upbringing and appreciated the efforts of those who helped paved my way. I felt a strong sense of obligation to do my part!

But after my accident, “my part” was to rest so my body and brain could heal. No one could do that for me. They could help with food preparations, laundry, grocery shopping and even childcare. At first I declined offers of help and even denied my struggles to do even the simplest things. Keep in mind, I was suffering from a concussion and resulting brain injury which made it difficult to think and hold on to thoughts long enough to finish my own sentences let alone process questions and formulate answers. To plan a meal was almost impossible, but to prepare a grocery list and shop was unbearable.

When asked, I put on a pretty face (after the scabs and bruises healed) and told friends and family I was fine. The diligent and the dedicated knew better. They knew better than I did!

Now by this time, I had already been out of the loop for over six-months: I wasn’t working. I wasn’t making meals. I was barely able to care for my home and children while Peter went to work and managed as much of our home life as he could.

I enrolled in state funded aid programs and accepted Christmas gifts from a local business sponsor. I will never forget the relief of opening a grocery store gift card from this holiday sponsorship program. My family would have a special holiday meal because of this generous gift.

The story gets better… I was introduced to yoga and after being cleared by my neurologist, I embarked on a journey to restore my health through the practice. Every day I practiced postures, breathing and meditation. “Breathe. Move. Rest.” and “Begin again.” became my mantras, my reminders for how to live. This practice continues today!

Had it not been for the generosity of friends and strangers, a community of resources and support, I don’t know how my family would have made it through this struggle. I don’t know how I would have made it out of the dark recesses of my fear and shame. I will always be grateful.

I am grateful for the accident that forced me to slow down. I am grateful for all the people who encouraged and assisted and were patient with me as I remembered and re-created my life. This period of my life was probably the hardest I’ve ever experienced and although I never want to do it again, I learned a lot. As a result, I promised myself, my family and my friends that I will remember and practice what I learned:

  1.  I learned the importance of INTENTIONAL self-care. I practice self-care as a prevention strategy as much as a validation of my value and worth as a human. I see self-care as my pre-requisite for showing up for others. Without my consistent practices of self-care, I quickly fall out of sync and lose my way. 
  2. I learned the value of GRATITUDE. In learning gratitude, I also learned how to accept gifts from others. I learned to trust (okay, I’m still working on trust!) that if someone offers time, attention, our resources, it is a gift. I accept if I need the gift but decline if I do not. It is not easy to decline, but I have found that it gives those around me permission to evaluate their own sense of obligation and burden. We all have something of value worth sharing. But our abundance is not a perfect fit for everyone’s need. Finding the match is the work of paying attention.
  3. I learned the privilege of CONNECTION. Connection is the foundation of generosity. We build our community and connection by sharing our time, donating resources and money, and offering our attention to people and projects that reflect our core values. When I see someone in need, I try to remember that we all have our battles. I may not be able to fix or even offer ease, but I can offer compassion and empathy. Take your pick: “I see you.” “You are not alone.” “This too shall pass.” “You are not your circumstance.”

 Thanks for reading and for being part of this journey!

May you breathe deeply, move freely, labor lovingly and live vibrantly.