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Field Notes. Entry 105. Receiving with Grace.

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

When I was a little girl my grandmother, like most grandmothers, taught me how to properly accept a gift. Slowly remove wrapping. Look the giver in the eye. Smile. Big. Graciously say, “Thank you (no matter HOW you feel about the gift).” And tell them why you appreciate it (even if it is a lie). Because you never, ever act ungrateful.

Squirrel- The worst gift I ever received was a giant, fluffy, paisley-covered, emerald green velvet coat that had giant black velvet stars on the shoulders and gold lame’ stars on the elbows. It was Freddy Mercury-esque. Which you would think would be cool right? Wrong. Especially not if you’re a teenage girl that wanted the pink silk bomber jacket A La Madonna. When I opened the box I immediately started crying. But I knew the military commander, I mean grandma, was watching so I started blubbering about how much I loved it and how it was the best Christmas present ever, and that I was crying with joy. Later that night my dad told me that he knew I hated the hideous monstrosity, and that we could burn it. That made everything better.

I’m not sure my grandmother’s guerilla warfare tactics taught me grace as much as they taught me fear. We never had conversations about why we needed to be good gift receivers, we were just told what the consequences would be if we were not. (And Virginia Dogwood switches were no joke.) Now, in her defense, she was just trying to instill manners and values. I get that. It’s sorta’ a lost art these days. But I think a little conversation on the “whys” would have helped me immeasurably as an adult. It turns out, I ended up becoming an adult that was a not-so-great gift receiver. Instead of receiving gracefully, I received awkwardly.

Really awkwardly.

This applied not only to gifts, but compliments and help. If someone started to pay me a compliment, I immediately turned red and looked around like an escaped convict, mumbling incoherent monosyllabic phrases. It’s quite terrifying to witness actually. If you offered me help, I would give you a thousand reasons why I have it under control. If you gave me a gift, I would get embarrassed to the point of handing it back. I mean what is that all about?! I blame grandma. Once she went to go be with Jesus, I had no one to hold me accountable. I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

Here’s the deal. I am in no way ungrateful when people offer, gifts, help or compliments. I am very grateful. But I don’t convey it well. And apparently, I’m not alone in this. I have many friends who have a hard time receiving. And when I was doing research on the subject, I discovered scores of articles, and even an online community board about the issue. Here’s the deal. I’m not a psychologist (although I was a bartender for many years so that’s close), so I won’t try to psychoanalyze all the reasons humans may struggle with this. I will also not share ten simple ways to “accept gracefully.” We tend to overcomplicate things as humans anyway. I am going to give you one piece of advice given to me about ten years ago that has helped tremendously. You ready . . . drum roll . . . Just say thank you. And accept. Don’t deny the giver their joy.

That’s it.

To be perfectly transparent, I think the exact “phraseology” my tiny red-headed octogenarian friend used was, “Just shut up and say thank you Brandy Bell, and quit stealin’ my joy damnit.”

Well okay.

When I realized that my awkwardness was also taking the joy from the giver, that was enough for me. I love to give and I love to give joy. In order to do that I need to receive and allow others the joy. So now, regardless of whether it’s a gift, or a compliment, or an offer to change a tire, I just say thank you. Accept. Full stop. And yes, it still felt uncomfortable for a while. But it’s like any muscle. You exercise it, and it gets stronger. Heck, I’m so good at it now, when people offer me anything, I always ask for more. Ha. Kidding again. You’re welcome.


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