I wrote most of this post three days before Alrik's birth, and it never got published. I wanted to add more: first of all pictures and polishing, but then extra moments of grace that were coming to me after I started thinking about the topic, and updates on the ones mentioned below. Like, after the birth, I was visited by so many lovely folk who brought us meals and gifts and extra baby-snuggling arms, so I thought I should mention them each as well. But, just as my thank-you notes have been languishing unwritten in my living room since 'round about that time as well, there's something to be said for writing something, anything, even if it's not comprehensive or the best thing ever. Because this post is not about my efforts, and it's literally about what I don't deserve. So here is my post of gratitude.
I've been thinking a lot about grace lately, and receiving things I don't need or deserve. It started with Sam, because he's been expounding on it to me, in his mini-sermon way. Normally I think sermons are boring and day dream through them, but for some reason Sam's always resonate with me, and I start seeing the world through his eyes and go, "Yes! It's true!"
I've gotten so much recently for free. I'm not poor — I'm no longer in a state where I need charity. At first, it made me uncomfortable that people — friends and strangers alike — were taking care of me like that.
Here's a listing of the freebies I can remember from the past couple months:
As we've been renovating, we have desperately wanted our fireplace to have a mantel. We've never had a fireplace before, and this 1980s one just looked so bare without a little framing to lend it pizzazz.
Sam was headed out to the parking lot one day when he saw our across-the-hall neighbor struggling to lift a mantel onto the roof of his car. Sam was able to see from the window at the top of the stairs that it was The Perfect Mantel. He went to help our neighbor and asked what gives. Turns out the neighbors had just bought it from a salon that was closing down but that they felt it was too big for their fireplace so they were going to chuck it. Since we have, you know, the same size fireplace, Sam wasn't sure but asked if he could give it a try in our unit. The neighbor agreed, and both men carried it up and into our (then disaster of a) place (oh, embarrassing! and I was in my jammies in the afternoon!) and set it in front of our fireplace. Sam and I marveled: There it was.
We had looked on Craigslist and seen much more expensive mantels. We had looked online and seen much less interesting mantels — or much too interesting ones. This was it. It looked beach cottagey and sweet and classy.
We said we'd take it. The man said, Sure thing. Sam asked how much they'd paid for it. $25. Sam reached for his wallet. The neighbor consulted with his wife and waved Sam's money away. "You can just have it. We were going to throw it away, anyhow." Our neighbors know approximately how much we pay in mortgage. They know we could afford a $25 mantel. I was feeling grateful and uncomfortable — but mostly grateful.
I needed a few more items for my birthing supply kit. We had so many homebirth supplies left over from last time that it seemed silly to buy the midwife's prepared kit when all I needed from it were a handful of chux pads and a package of super-absorbency, supersize maxi pads. So I counted up what I had, then went on Freecycle to ask: Did anyone have 4 chux pads to give me? As an addendum, I mentioned that I was also in the market for some huge Kotex pads. I figured, maybe someone who just had a homebirth was getting rid of a stash.
A woman wrote back that day to say that she uses both the chux pads and the maxi pads for incontinence, and that she was expecting a bulk shipment within a week — did I have that long to wait? Well, who knew, right, but I said I was pretty sure I did!
She ended up having her home health aide personally deliver to me a full bag of chux pads and 10 each of two different kinds of maxis. I wanted to ask her if she'd accept payment for them, though I figured that was against the Freecycle ethos — because, again, it wasn't that I couldn't afford them; it was just that it felt silly to buy a full package of chux pads when I needed only four — whereas, I had been fully prepared to buy a full package of the maxi-pads.
I even wondered what I'd do with leftovers: Offer them back to her? Pop them on Freecycle to pass them on to the next person? I've so far settled for effusive emails thanking her for her generosity, and I know I'll think of her when I'm using my chux pads — ha! That sounds bizarre, but I'm truly grateful.
Speaking of birthing supplies, I was at The Salvation Army buying the last necessary homebirth linens (it seemed silly to buy new when all I needed according to the midwife's list were a couple receiving blankets and a sheet (and, of course, anything used might become unusable thereafter).
One of the receiving blankets I picked out didn't have a tag, and it was a really cute and soft blanket, too. There was a sign on the counter that read "Items without tags will NOT be sold." Apparently, the store takes this policy seriously, because the cashier refused to sell it to me — he just shrugged and gave it to me outright.
A local friend of ours — so far without kids, slated to marry this summer — has been rounding up our friends and scheduling meals for us for the upcoming birth. No one did this for us last time. I'm floored. I'm wondering if we'll have enough freezer space, but in a good way.
As I mentioned, Amy from Anktangle (I don't call her "Amy from Anktangle" in real life, fyi) drove up to help me prepare for the birth. She had been thinking about offering anyway, and when I showed my despair, she put her plan into action. As I was telling Sam when mulling over whether I should allow myself to accept her offer (is it just putting her out?), it feels like … community. And it feels like, for all the desire I have for community, and the frustration I've felt over watching my hopes for it crumble in various relationships and seasons, that I should embrace it when I can. Wherever I can. Nurture it, and allow myself to be given to, not just to give.
I realized that was the thread running through all these disparate gifts: an offering of community. The chux pad lady doesn't even know me, and there she was, reaching out to someone in an entirely different stage of life. Our friend with the dinner planning has never personally felt the sleep deprivation of the newborn stage, but he somehow intuited that feeding us was what we needed. Every stranger, every friend, every stranger become a friend — it was building this web around us, to cradle us. Even though we didn't financially need these gifts, we needed — oh, so needed — to feel that outpouring of charity in its purest heart of unconditional love. Of giving for no good reason, to people who don't deserve it. If we'd deserved it, if we'd paid for it, it wouldn't be grace anymore.
After our bathroom and floor demolition (which the dinner friend and his roommate helped us demo), we were trying to get rid of the assorted detritus. Some of the elements were broken or malfunctioning, so another friend brought over her truck as soon as we asked and helped us haul the trash out and away — I forgot to mention that one, too! But there was a mirror that remained intact — just a plain, frameless wall mirror, a la the 1980s, naturally.
I put it up on Craigslist for $8. Not so low that people would pooh-pooh it and fail to show up, not so high that people would think it was overpriced. The woman who asked for it had to drive out from another neighborhood, through rush-hour traffic. In her somewhat frantic phone calls to me on the way, I gathered she was new in town and was having trouble navigating to our address since she'd forgotten to put it into her phone. When she made it to our place, I saw she wasn't as young as I'd thought a recent transplant who was buying mirrors off Craigslist would be — she was in her 30s, like me, which endeared her to me. If you're in your 20s and reading this, you won't understand what I mean yet, but you will eventually…
She wanted the mirror to practice her dancing. She was a klutz and a beginner dancer, like me — she'd taken up tap and swing to help her gain some confidence in what her body could do.
Did I give her that mirror for free? You bet I did. And it felt good.
Literally the day I was writing this, I received a baby shower outpouring of notes and a gift from my Natural Parents Network Team, who have become very dear friends. Here is the video that still brings me to tears:
If you want to read the lovely notes, it helps to pop it into full screen and then pause each one to read.
I bet they're all wondering what I got with their gift! Here is what I chose:
I rented a birth tub! After all your support and encouragement for trying again for a home birth, I knew that was the perfect gift from you to me.
It was well used, and well loved. Thank you, thank you.
Pass on the grace, everyone.
How have you encountered grace lately in ways you don't deserve? How has community failed you or surprised you?