I spend money on things for others; but I am spent.
4 : the act of serving: as a : a helpful act <did him a service> b : useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity —usually used in plural <charge for professional services>” Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
During this time of year I find myself searching YouTube for the song, “Last Christmas” by Wham! The panoramic snowy views featured in the video immediately deliver wintry cheer. But the sidebar beckons and I find myself clicking the link to the song above; which has remained on repeat the whole month of December for the third year in a row. My mind sees the Wham! cassette tape constantly being replayed on my Sony Walkman. The device eventually ate this tape because I frequently pushed the rewind button for this particular song. I had coveted leg warmers, red hi-top Converse sneakers and Guess overall jeans at the time. I never got any of those things.
On Sunday I closed my bedroom doors and locked them; effectively shutting out my family. I kept this song on repeat for two hours. I was frustrated over a cup of coffee and a Santa picture. My anger, simmering below the surface for half of this year, clawed its way out.
It wasn’t really about the hubs grumbling about my desire for a Nordstrom’s cafe almond latte coffee. Nor was it about the spontaneous idea to stand in line with my three sons; who were over a decade older than the other children waiting for Santa (which we did not do). It is about being disappointed in life and people. My family is bearing the brunt of my wrath.
For the aging priest diagnosed with liver cancer who, along with his religious order, will no longer be serving our parish after December 31.
At the staff who turned their backs at my request for a family who has served the school for almost seven years.
To the parents who find fault with those who volunteer in booster organizations and PTA who serve for everyone’s children; not just their own.
For the salesman and family friend who is tired of filling someone’s coffers at the expense of his integrity.
The frustration of crumbling walls, leaky plumbing and cracked tile in a sixty-four degree house.
I hope that my husband does not think that everything I want is centered around material things. He is well aware of the love language that defines me, from Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. It is not words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch that make me feel loved. When my children open doors or do their laundry, when my husband mops floors and creates dinners, when someone does something kind, just because.
It is in acts of service that I find value; ones that come from the heart with nothing expected in return.
I have lost my love language; my desire to serve. For the past six months I’ve embarked on a mental journey of organization; clearing out junk to find what’s important. I sorted through my reactions and actions this past weekend; comprehension slow in coming.
I sat during the service, focused on our parochial vicar recently diagnosed with liver cancer. Priests are an ailing breed; the numbers greatly diminished of men who choose this vocational path. Wasn’t there anyone out there to help him? Their religious order no longer has priests to serve our parish.
Whilst typing an email response to a question, I found myself adding an FYI. I could finally give voice to my bitter disappointment; to the assistant principal of the elementary school that used to be my second home.
I listened to our family friend, a seasoned salesman, consider options. At what cost do we serve others before ourselves? Parents sobbed around me at a parent meeting and I seethed. Why is that those who serve humbly feel used and spat-out with a bitter taste in their mouths? Was it worth it?
I see the full glass rapidly spilling over. I need to know that serving has value. Because in my life; this is the gift that I can freely give. Service.
We know what it means to serve.
The USAA (United States Automobile Association) slogan, we know what it means to serve, scrolled across my computer screen as I perused our home insurance policy. USAA began with a group of army officers who couldn’t insure their vehicles and decided to create their own company. Military service members live the sacrifice of service. They willingly place their lives in danger to serve our country. My husband served sixteen years of active duty and my eldest son considers following in his footsteps. But the mother in me screams, no! The residing cynic wants to say it’s not worth it. I am selfish. I want him to live.
Because we can maximize our wealth and our health but in the commodities of life; the coffers I want to fill are the memories in my mind and heart. I have to invest my time in serving those who bring meaning to my life. The people that remain on my Christmas and obituary mailing lists who accept the flawed me; just as I am. The ones whose time spent in their company share the highs and lows that change with the season. The ones whom you can pick up a conversation when you don’t see them on a day-to-day basis; as if they were always there.
I heard the girls in the loud, busy restaurant as we shared ideas of what they were getting their kids for Christmas. The consensus: an experience. Instead of presents, be present and do something together. Day trips. Unique outings. The gift is in the giving; the investment of time. I can easily spend money but if my spirit is spent and not receiving joy, why spend?
The bff texted and called me out. She had placed me on her naughty list because the Christmas card I had sent was not as simple as it seemed. There are things worth spending dollars on; big or small. The hubs lamented the plumbing bill after six hours of labor was spent fixing leaky pipes. But I willingly invest money and time for a needed or worthy cause. This morning as I handed a gift of appreciation to the mom who carpools my three sons, from three different schools, I felt joy. It was heartfelt; my gratitude for her selfless offer to drive loops around our community to safely deliver my boys. On Monday, after receiving the naughty list text, I summoned the hubs into the office to snap the picture of the shirt I was wearing that day. The laugh escaped unbidden. Small joys. When I open the mail to another Christmas card portrait I have to smile. These greeting card tidings are one of my favorite things about the holiday season.
I cleared my schedules thinking it would bring me peace but this is not the case. There is no joy in building up walls and closing doors. The joy is in having something to offer; to contribute time to causes and people. It’s taken me all this time to realize that the panacea for an angry and bitter heart is not to try to fill its ache with food, stuff or white noise. The healing comes in filtering, sorting and giving things away.
I invest more time in soul searching.
I continue to let go of hoarding hateful things and struggle to find my gift; to give without strings.