Three days before I am set to leave town for a writing conference, my personality takes over.
(Don’t you hate it when that happens?)
I convince myself that if I am going to be away from my family for an entire weekend, I need to justify my absence, which is to say, I must work and work and work, and squeeze every possible ounce of productivity out of the 48 hours I’ll be gone.
A list starts to form in my head: the essay I need to finish, the podcast script that’s not done, those website updates I’ve been meaning to complete, the edits I promised a friend, emails that need a response, invoices that need to be paid. And on and on and on.
Of course I have no clue when I am actually going to do any of this, because the writing conference begins at 8am each morning and runs through dinner. But I am excellent at multi-tasking, at working in the margins, and there’s always early mornings and late evenings in the hotel room to maximize.
The day before I leave, I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom placing a folded sweater in my suitcase when a tiny voice reminds me: this is supposed to be a gift. My mother-in-law gifted me the writing conference, as well as the hotel room, for my Christmas present.
Yet here I am, doing it again, twisting a gift into something I must earn. Here I am, tale as old as time, trying to prove myself worthy of something so extravagant, instead of simply showing up to receive, with open palms, something freely given to me.
The day I leave town, I have to say it over and over again, like rehearsing lines for a play. This is a gift, I remind myself while I pack my suitcase. This is a gift, I say to myself while I drive away from my children. This is a gift, I whisper as I stroll the grocery store alone, placing a fresh turkey sandwich in my shopping basket alongside a pack of bougie vegan cupcakes.
Back at the hotel, I eat dinner alone on crisp white sheets. I put on a face mask and watch one of my favorite movies. I sleep in until 7am, and relish a quiet morning before driving to a gorgeous college campus surrounded by redwood trees.
This is a gift, a gift, a gift.
I am curled up in a patio chair, sun shining on my face, staring out at Priest Lake on day four of a five-day retreat. A single, permeating thought courses through my mind: I don’t deserve this.
I have spent the past several days holed up in a gorgeous cabin with a dozen incredible women—eating, drinking, laughing, learning, praying. I have been physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally cared for around the clock.
And now, for the grand finale, I am reading a stack of letters composed by my husband and friends. Every single one of them is filled with generous, over-the-top encouragement, paragraphs upon paragraphs validating my talents and gifts.
I am three lines into the first letter when I begin to cry.
I read through each letter once, and then I read through them again, slowly, underlining everything I believe God wants me to hear in this moment—specific words and phrases, lines that are repetitive. Tears roll off my chin as I let the words sink in. I am completely overwhelmed.
It’s one of those moments when you think, This is too good to be true, but God says, Yet it is. It’s one of those moments when you think, I don’t deserve this, but God says, Here it is anyway.
A few years ago, I heaped some praise on my friend Rach Kincaid, and I will never, for the rest of my life, forget her response.
She laughed and said, “I receive it.”
She didn’t downplay the compliment. She didn’t redirect. She didn’t make a self-deprecating joke. She simply took the kind words I offered her, and stuck them in her pocket.
The day I sit facing the lake, I suddenly think of Rach, and remember that phrase.
When I finish reading the letters for a second time, I place them in my lap, open my palms to the sky, tilt my head to the sun, and say out loud to nobody but God, “I receive it.”
Back in my room, I find my bunkmates in similar emotional states, with red eyes and mascara running down their cheeks.
We all agree: this is too much. The retreat. The letters. This entire experience. It’s too extravagant, too lavish, too generous. We don’t deserve any of it.
Then again, maybe that’s the whole point.
It’s the week of Christmas and I have failed at advent, again.
I meant to do some kind of study, or reading, or … something, but then work got stressful and the children got sick and somehow 800 tiny commitments popped up on our family calendar.
This morning I woke up with guilt creeping through my veins. Here I am, doing it again, twisting a gift into something I must earn.
Immanuel, God with us. It’s too good to be true—and yet it is—a Savior putting on skin, coming to save the world. We don’t deserve this kind of lavish grace, this wild mercy, this overwhelming love, this redeeming hope, yet here it is, threaded through every ounce of stress and chaos and anxiety, present in the crumbs, the sleepless nights, the laundry and the Tylenol and the ants on the kitchen counter.
Here I am, palms open, a still small voice reminding me that I have nothing to prove this Christmas. I don’t deserve that baby in the manger, and I never will. That’s the whole point.
Immanuel, God with us.
This is a gift, a gift, a gift.
… and I receive it.
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Crying while forwarding to friends - you are so talented. Please never stop. ❤️
Merry Christmas Gadd family. 🎄☃️✨
This is absolutely beautiful Ash 😭💛