I have been gifted many things over the past few days – a beautiful dutch oven from my mother-in-law, great walking shoes from P, money to buy myself an outfit from my dad, the presence of dear friends at my birthday party, and candles (I LOVE candles!).  I am grateful for every one of those beautiful things.

Yet, here I am, realizing with the kind of profound understanding that causes my stomach to tingle, that it has taken me almost 40 years to ask for the things I need and to take them as I need them, even if that means I put myself first sometimes.

Perhaps there are people in the world – perhaps there are WOMEN in the world – who come to adulthood knowing this lesson, who balance their own needs with the needs of others well and with an acumen that allows them to both be healthy and generous.  I am not one of those women.  For most of my 40 years, I have put myself last, choosing instead to put others before me in every way.

I can analyze why this is – the lessons of Jesus about the first shall be last and last first, the ideas of sacrifice that women are taught as we grow up, my own mercy-showing, compassion-driven nature – and I fault none of those lessons entire.  It is good to put others first, it is good to sacrifice, it is good to show mercy and compassion.

But it is also good to care for oneself – to love others AS WE LOVE ourselves.  I think we forget that last part a lot, us women.

***

Last night, I went to bed at 8pm.  I was very tired, felt a cold coming on, and just felt like being prone under satin-lined blankets in my beautiful house.  P tucked me in, wished me a happy birthday, as he has done since Friday, and kissed my cheek.  He honored what I needed, and I am grateful to have such a husband.

But he would not have known I needed that if I had not asked for it.  And it wasn’t too many years ago that I would not have asked.

This morning, I woke up feeling better after 10 hours rest. . . and today is bright, and I am a better wife, daughter, and friend because I cared for myself.

***

Years ago, I gave all of myself away. I moved across the country, I did work that did not fill me, I poured myself into a life that was not mine to live.  No one asked me to do so, but they came to expect I would.  Then, when I spoke for myself, the paradigm shift was too much, and that world fell apart, and me with it.

I will not make that mistake again.

***

I am reading Claire Messud’s book The Woman Upstairs, and I see myself in the pages – the woman who has put herself to too much of expectation, of responsibility and who loses herself for a bit when she finds her way back to a self that finds joy in HER things.  I was both of these women, lost to herself and lost in herself. . . now I hope I found balance.

So today, on this last day of my 39th year, I have learned this – I must give myself the best gifts because it is my way of loving myself and keeping myself whole to love other people.

This afternoon, I will stop work and spend time with a move and yarn.  Tonight, I will dine with friends who share my deepest passions and wishes for the world.  Tomorrow, I will spend the day with a man who helps me be the best version of myself that I can be and for whom I strive to do the same.

40 is going to be a great year.

Women, do you give yourself the best gifts?  Why or why not?