Let me set the scene for you… It’s Christmas morning and a young Caitlin is waiting to open the final gift. The most special and desired gift was always saved for last in my family and this year, I felt sure it was going to be a good one. My sister and I had been incredibly clear on what we wanted the main event to be. I watched as my sister opened up her gift. It was a Puppy Surprise… I knew it. You know, that toy from the 90s that allowed you to experience the joy of birth over and over again as the expectant mother stuffed animal produced her tiny, tender offspring through a Velcro slit in her stomach. If my sister got her Puppy Surprise, I knew what was coming my way. It was going to be a Kitty Surprise. I was sure of it. A grin was plastered to my face as I tore open the wrapping. Boy, was I wrong. Much to my chagrin, what I ended opening was a Beary Surprise. What on earth was a “beary” anyway?! Shouldn’t it be called Cubby Surprise or something?! What was worse was that the mother bear stood upright instead of lying on her stomach like the other versions of the toy. Apparently, in order to accommodate for this slight variation, the makers had decided to put the Velcro slit in the mother’s back. IN HER BACK! My young mind found this anatomical error to be very disturbing and did what any young child lacking any and all impulse control would do. I threw a fit. It turns out the stores were out of Kitty Surprise, which had been quite popular that Christmas and there was nothing my parents could do. So instead of being able to enjoy a happy, heartwarming Christmas morning as a family, my poor sister and parents had to endure my tantrums, which lead my mother to do what any sensible mother trying to teach her child some impulse control would do, she took that bear away. Of course, this action was immediately followed by another fit, which as you can imagine, didn’t help my cause any. Eventually, after things calmed down, maybe hours later, maybe days later, my Beary Surprise was returned and at some point I remember getting to a low-grade level of fondness for the toy.
I wish I could say this was the only time such an event occurred, but unfortunately this scenario played out many, many times over. It turns out I was a notoriously difficult child to buy gifts for (I’ve been told this characteristic remains). Along with the Beary Surprise there was the Storyland change purse debacle, the bunny with the broad embroidered smile my mother stitched together with love, and last but not least, a very large quantity of “Smile Jesus Loves You” paraphernalia (it is likely my mother was trying to subliminally coach her very difficult, miserable child to smile more). Some of these items were returned after a time, others were gifted to those who would be more grateful, none actually taught me to be thankful for what I was given…
I’m getting to a point in my life where I can honestly say, I have never, and I mean never, gotten what I actually wanted. In fact, these past couple of years have been littered with things, that if given the choice, I would have gone out of my way to avoid. Life is rough sometimes in a bunch of little, confusing ways I can’t even put my finger on and other times in fat, giant ways that no one can even begin to sugarcoat. Ways I can’t work my way out no matter how much I scheme or strategize. All the things I don’t want just sit there piled up, and much like with my Beary Surprise, the only option I’m left with is to see if it’s possible to muster up even a low-grade level of appreciation for them while trying to sprinkle in a little gratitude for the things in my life that I guess aren’t that bad.
Now everything I’ve just shared is completely and totally true. But I need to share another story about not getting what I want to give you a little context. I spent WAY too much of my young life pining after this one particular guy. We were obnoxiously terrible for each other. He really loved ego massages and my young self with my poor boundaries was absolutely great at giving them. I, of course, was oblivious to this flaw and was really convinced, that if he just wanted me as much as I wanted him, my life would be made. Clearly, since I’ve already stated pretty overtly that I never, ever get what I want, you know how the story ends. At that time, it was heartbreaking. Now, with the clarity that only comes with age and experience, I recognize that a life in which I got what I wanted in that situation would have resulted in my own personally handcrafted nightmare. You see, as it turns out, I am absolutely terrible at wanting the right things.
I want french fries and cheesecake instead of the food that will nourish my body. I want instant and immediate pleasure when patience and perseverance will prove to be more valuable in the long haul. I want ease and wealth and praise and power in doses that sometimes even disturb me. Worst of all, a lot of times, I want precisely what I know I can’t have and when it looks like there is a small possibility that it might become available to me, I don’t even want it anymore.
Slowly, I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t even want what I want at all. I’m exactly who I am because my life hasn’t been easy. It’s been frustratingly messy in fact. Funny thing is, it’s in my messiness and brokenness that I’ve found in the cracks and crevices my truest joys. If I’d never felt the loneliness and lack of belonging that created such a shadow over my youth, I don’t think I’d have the same power to make people feel so valued and loved. If I’d never experienced the heartbreak of failed relationships and unmet expectations, I know I wouldn’t be so effective in supporting others through the burden of pain and loss. I’m not going to lie to you now and say I’m thankful for the difficulties that season after season keeps throwing at me, but I can say, that I think I’m better because of them.