we give what we want to receive

by rebecca on November 1, 2015

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We give what we want to receive. This gets us in trouble only when our expectations get in the way which is usually always. Because we want to receive what we give. In all likelihood, you, like me, have attracted people into your life who give you very different things than you offer. You attracted these people because it was exciting and new and adventurous.

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Then, when they lived with you for a decade, it became as familiar as the brand of toilet paper you choose. Every. Single. Time. Because who wants to be surprised at a vulnerable time like the bathroom?

One of the first things the man who would one day become my husband gave me was a set of dishes. It was a birthday present. I’m about to turn 50, and I’m realizing it’s the best birthday present he ever gave me, but I returned it. I took those dishes back to the store because I knew I was going to break up with him, and I loved him so much that I couldn’t imagine being able to serve food to anyone else on those dishes the rest of my life. I hadn’t yet learned the graciousness he would teach me. What I would give to have even one of those dishes now. Instead I have the lesson I learned. And I have his forgiveness.

Gifts are vulnerable tokens of love. Over controlling them leads to deep wounds. However, a gift can also repair a relationship, or set it on course.

I once gave David a set of ice axes. They might be one of his favorite gifts ever. They were expensive at a time when all our fights were:
Me: “You spend too much money.”
Him: “Quality costs money. But it lasts.”
Me: “You spend too much money.”
The ice axes were very expensive. In addition to the cost, I didn’t ice climb, so they were also another kind of gift. A statement of understanding that he needs things that I can’t offer, even things that seem to take him away from me for weeks at a time. It was a generous gift and he understood all that it meant. It was very healing in our relationship and, when we argued about money in the future, there was a different tone.

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Deep down I want him to give me those dishes all over again, but that is different from receiving. The first gift I ever received from the man I love was the one that showed my husband saw me. I can finally receive that now, instead of returning it.

He saw (and sees) that I love making a home. I love cooking for other people and making them feel nurtured and cared for. I have a hunch my husband loves it when I see the Mr. Adventure in him, and gift him appropriately. This is not a burden I place upon him, but the joy he brings to our partnership. I know because of the other presents he gives me.

We’ve been married for lots of years, and most often my husband loves to give me boots, jackets, and waterproofing. I give stories and photos and food. For many years I thought this was a mismatch, but it is merely a misunderstanding. We want to receive what we give, instead of understanding more fully the giver.

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I have a pair of boots my husband gave me 29 years ago that finally bit the dust last weekend while we were building a fence together. I began to tear up and swore I could get them repaired. “I’ll buy you a new pair,” he said.

I’m on my fourth car, this is my 5th washing machine, I’ve owned more pairs of jeans than I can count. I don’t own anything that has lasted 29 years. The boots were expensive when he picked them out in the store. I remember the conversation when I was trying them on,
Me: “These are too much.”
Him: “They will last.”
Me: “These are too much.”
Him: “Let’s get them.”

With those boots I’ve climbed Longs Peak, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, stood on ice that was millennium old. Those boots were my gateway to a myriad of adventures. I picked someone who gave me something I didn’t know how to offer myself. He gave me something that was “too much” and I chewed those boots up a year at a time.

In return, for I feel so much generosity I must pour some out as well, I take a zillion photos that line our walls and fill our bookshelves. This is how it naturally leaks out of me. His socks compete for space amisdt the notes he’s saved that have my handwriting. I thank him for trips, food, and children, all the while narrating the adventures we have had.

boots and heart

When I am looking for him to give me dishes, to tell me again, that he sees me as a good mother, I miss his most fundamental gift to me: himself. I miss how he has shaped me into a different person, a person I might not have had the ambition to become without him and his “too much” philosophy.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Ann Gleason November 1, 2015 at 6:37 pm

There are so many delicious layers in the piece, Rebecca, thank you. This line especially touched me today: “For many years I thought this was a mismatch, but it is merely a misunderstanding.” And, for me, there is so much truth in the perception we want to receive what we give. It took me a long time to understand that. I was forever gifting my husband with what it was that ‘I’ wanted to receive. He put a halt to gift giving between us a long time ago but I feel as though I am receiving so much more in the absence of those tangible gifts. My eyes are open wider now. Perhaps that a function of age, I don’t know, but I am loving these later years. They feel so much warmer.


rebecca November 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

“I feel as though I am receiving so much more in the absence of those tangible gifts.” Sue Ann, my parents did this same thing years ago and I thought “sad,” but that was my immaturity speaking, for now, like you, I see the chance to receive so much more in the absence of the tangible. As you said…the layers. I love living longer.


Sue Ann Gleason November 7, 2015 at 12:30 pm

The thing I love most about growing older (and hopefully a little wiser) is that so very much of what I see is my own projection. I think you illustrated that beautifully in this post. Thank you, Rebecca. xxoo


rebecca November 16, 2015 at 2:09 am

Totally agree.


Yvette Francino November 2, 2015 at 4:28 pm

That mismatch you describe was true for me when I was married… My husband, the adventurer and sportsman, was always giving me gifts that he liked rather than what I liked, and it did frustrate me. But, like you, I came to realize, he was giving me part of himself and it allowed me to get more into his world and share it with him.

That being said, I really appreciate when people who love me give me gifts that remind them of “me.” I discussed this once with my kids when we were making our Christmas lists… about how some people (like my ex-husband) gift more on who they are vs. on who the recipient is. In the end, we agreed that the best gifts are the ones in which they represent both the giver and recipient… finding the common bond or personal “inside story” and having a gift that represents the two of you together. Your picture of your boots with the purple heart is an example of your personalities melded… The shared adventure with his rugged outdoors-man personality and your fabric, colorful heart.


rebecca November 3, 2015 at 4:00 am

Yvette, you excel at seeing into the heart of others and who it is they are. I so enjoyed burning my colorful candle and reading the book filled with altared spaces.


Allison November 5, 2015 at 3:43 am

“I can finally receive that now, instead of returning it.” I love this practice of gracious receiving. You’d think it would be as easy as getting wet from rain falling, but it doesn’t seem to be. We want to close up our petals — why? Is it more intimate than giving? Well, your relationship surely is one of mutual giving and receiving. You’ve opened each other up.


rebecca November 16, 2015 at 2:08 am

“You’d think is would be as easy as getting wet from rain falling” I totally close up my petals. I don’t know why it feels more intimate…I suppose it is because of the vulnerability implied that I need someone to supply my happiness…


Mary November 5, 2015 at 7:53 am

What a wonderful read, thank you – I shall be returning to read more !


Laura November 6, 2015 at 3:20 am

I love the way you tease out all the different little complexities of gift giving. It’s difficult to get it right, sometimes. And I love this line: “Gifts are vulnerable tokens of love.” How true!


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