Each day we wake up and seize the day, some with joyful enthusiasm, others with limp fingers, only just hanging on. We all go about our lives, doing the much we can in a day at work and for our families and friends. Most times, we don’t give a lot of thought to the legacy we’re storing up and we do not really know how much impact we are making on our world.
There are people we meet in our lives and even though our time together may be quite brief after all is said and done, the impact they have made in our lives makes it seem like they have been around us for ages. This was Mama Claire. I first met her at the kids’ childcare where she was responsible for the delicious aroma from the childcare kitchen everyday. I could always hear her chopping or stirring away but as soon as she sighted a parent from the kitchen door, there was sure to be an exuberant morning or afternoon greeting and chat. “How is ‘SMART GEIRL'” as she would call my first daughter, “She’s so smart”. Many times I would be rushing and only able to stop for a brief chat, but I didn’t know that her generous kindness in caring about my family, genuinely asking about my work, offering her tips for the fussy baby had broken down my defenses and endeared her as a mother figure to me. I was uplifted every time I left the daycare. She would waylay me with a huge hug and then an encouraging chat which always left me shaking my head fondly and smiling to myself – Mama Claire! Did she know how what she was doing – loving with such extravagance when she could have easily minded her business? I’m not sure.
She passed away suddenly two weeks ago and when I went to visit her children (she had 12 children) it became evident that she was everyone else’ mother as well. Everyone had similar stories to tell. Her daughter said to me, “Mum always said to us, don’t think I’m only your mother, I am also Mum to other people as well” then she added, “We didn’t really appreciate what she meant or the extent of her influence until she passed. She touched so many lives deeply”
Mama Claire inspires me on my quest to flourish. She poured out her life for her world around her. I used to think of generosity as involving money – giving to those who are less fortunate. Mama Claire has taught me that living from a generous spirit is so much more than giving money or food. One lady who left a tribute on a page dedicated to her memory talks about Mama stopping by as she sat on the balcony feeling suicidal. She credits Mama Claire’s encouragement and prayers as helping her move away from that point in her life. Generosity is more than money.
I want to be like her. I want to love extravagantly and live a generous life. Living like this is risky and we can get hurt but it isn’t stupid or unwise. Loving generously doesn’t mean that I share what is meant for my husband or my mother with everyone else. There’s a place for everything. However, everyone has something that is meant to be poured out and shared with the world around us. If we keep this part of our lives for ourselves or for our families only, then that will be a big tragedy.
Long before Mama Claire passed away, I have had this on my heart. How to live with an open heart? I am not going to pretend to be an expert in this extravagant kind of living. Many times I have the best intentions, but I hold back from following through. Golden heart but rusty actions. It can feel silly – this putting oneself out there and risking being trampled on. It’s uncomfortable and it’s mostly inconvenient. But no one changed the world because it was convenient.
5 Baby Steps I’m Taking to Live & Love More Generously
- Letting up on myself & others
I am learning to let up on some unspoken rules. Be sure to return my call after a certain number of days. Only call me after 9pm if it is an emergency. The house has to be a certain way before I can let myself be happy. I shouldn’t be the only one reaching out or checking in on someone. What about me? If I’m cranky, then everyone else gets ‘it’ because I run a short fuse. I’m learning to ask myself if ‘this’ or whatever it is that has not met my standards ‘really matters’ in the larger picture of life. “Does this really matter, Nancy?” Letting go of some expectations helps me be more generous to myself and those around me. I am learning to let people just ‘live’.
- Believing the best about others
When someone has done something to offend me, I am learning that it’s not always about me. I am learning to make allowances for people’s faults. Believing that they are not out to get me and that they mean well for our relationship is a generous foundation that then helps me explore other reasons why the event might have occurred. If we believe that people are out to insult and put us down, we will always be on a constant aggressive state, picking sentences apart to decipher sinister meanings. They could be having a bad day, or be sick, or the words could have come out wrong. Even if they meant bad, thinking good about them is even more generous because they do not deserve it and it helps our own peace of mind.
- Not Thinking Busy
We are all busy with stressful schedules and endless juggling but constantly thinking about how busy I am makes me less generous with my time. My default mental position when something comes up in my kid’s schools or over the weekend is, “I can’t make it, I’ve just got too much going on.” However, I am learning that life doesn’t have to be convenient and if the battle is won in my mind, then I am half there. If I change my thinking, I find that although I’m busy, I still have the ability to make out time for those who really need me. Not everyone who needs asks, so it requires us to make time in our minds to decide to cook for someone who has gone to hospital.
- Being Intentional About Caring for People
These days everyone minds their own businesses and it is more likely that our neighbours, colleagues and friends are doing life tough on their own. Recently I read this article about how we always say, “let me know if you need anything” knowing fully well that no one is going to call up and say, “please can you get me some baked beans and bread this weekend, I’ve used up all my savings on hospital treatments.” I’m learning to stop saying that and think of something I would find helpful if it were me then acting on it.
- Giving others & myself permission to live life to the full (whatever the interpretation)
We are always told to ‘live a little’ but I reckon we should ‘live a lot’. Mama Claire lived ‘a lot’. I love her colourful attires, her exuberance, her large heart and her loud greetings. Everyone else doesn’t have to approve. People don’t need our permission to live their lives, but sometimes we need to let go of that judgemental stance and give people that permission in our minds to live their own version of ‘living to the full’ on their own terms. We have different priorities and values and my friends don’t need to raise their children the way I do for me to be OK with them. I might value spending TV time with my kids and my friends might value cleanliness a bit more. These will show through in our approaches to living but I don’t need to be judged on how much TV I’m watching or how dirty my house is nor do I need to judge anyone else. We’re doing the best we can the way we interpret it and generosity of heart lets us just accept each other as we would a sibling who is 100% different from us.
Giving myself permission to live allows me to explore things I’ve always wanted to do but was scared of doing them because they felt silly or childish or I might look funny. Like trying a new type of dressing. Colouring my hair. Taking up dance classes. Eating organic. We all have strong feelings about things but we need to let others make choices that we wouldn’t usually make because it’s them. I’m not talking about bad choices, but harmless choices that are adventurous. I know people who don’t believe in eating organic, and those who swear by it. While we can have healthy discussions about why we choose to do things, we should let others decide on what they want to do without judging them.
I love these words spoken by the ancient King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure!” – Ecclesiastes 9:7. There’s so much bad news in the world today and sometimes it feels wrong to enjoy life when we are watching so much pain on the TV. Let’s not forget those who suffer but while we do that, we should not forget to live life a lot. So enjoy avocado on fruit toast without feeling guilty. Drink a glass of wine and dance to some Brazilian tunes. Dance to your music in the car. Sing it out aloud. Eat organic if you feel convicted to and can afford it. Don’t eat organic if you think it’s a scam. Rock those colourful scarves. Colour your hair pink if you feel like it. When we seize life with exuberance, enthusiasm and extravagant generosity, we inspire others who have become jaded that this messy life can still be beautiful.