29Gifters have amazing stories to tell! Please post those stories here so we can all be inspired by your experience and add a comment. Stories can be 1500-2000 words in length, and will be considered for the 10th Anniversary Edition of 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. Do you have a story that shows the transformative and magical experience of giving and receiving?
Yesterday I visited my friend and spent some time with her and her brother making them laugh with my stories of cooking.... yeah my cooking was too salty as I have started using the other salt and no idea how much to put. The other day I forgot to put and always do not taste it to see if it is good..... so no salt curry..... My friend is not able to go outside as she cant walk far. So most of the time at home only.
In chapter 12 of #29Gifts I read a piece of prose at a friend's birthday party. My editor chose to only include part of the piece. Here is the full story.
River Rhythm by Cami Walker
The green river before me makes me forget for a moment all we've done to it. When you see it from a distance, out of its current context, you miss out on its shame. The reddish-orange rusty hubcaps and sunken beer cans. It's sad, sad molecules now something closer to H2WhoKnowsWhat. The swooshing sound of flowing wind on water that helps to drown the sorrow it surely must feel when it remembers what it used to be. Underneath the surface, squishy bright green algae tries to cover the scars left by endless feet wading at its shore.
The yellow leaf that drifts by on top is a symbol of the river's hope that someday soon we'll all wake up and stop filling it full of muck. Even though I didn't know this river at its birth, I have a sense of its former self. Awash with happy flow. Crystal clear with life. Its memory held inside the rocks rubbed smooth with time and the tallest trees that have stood witness to its toils.
I sit here wondering what this river thinks about those who play at its side. Does it look up and see the little blonde boy with the red shorts and sunburned nose and feel proud of the joy it's giving him? Does it giggle when it tickles my feet? Does it wonder at the crazy family with its baloney sandwiches and fritos? Does it marvel at the lovers who've come to make out at its banks? Does it see all this happy activity and think the sacrifices it has been forced to make are maybe all worth it? Its pained state somehow ok?
I lean back on my elbows and close my eyes to ponder what this river knows about each of us. I bet it can testify to more of our lives than we'd believe possible. I bet it remembers the aqua blue headband you wore the day you met your husband on the bridge upstream. It could probably tell you the secret ingredients in your grandma's tart apple pie that she used to bring to the family picnics by the big oak tree on the north shore. I bet the river even knows that you used to steal packs of bazooka bubble gum from the corner store if the cashier wasn't looking when you went with your dad on a quick beer or cigarette run -- you in your yellow and black polka-dot swimsuit with the ruffle across the butt and river sand between your bare toes.
As I dose on the riverbank and let the flowing water ease my sadness, I think to myself what a perfect companion it really is to us all. It listens but doesn't judge. It understands but doesn't preach. It embraces us in familiar acceptance and reminds us that when we're all gone back to the earth and the light that made everything out of nothing, it will still be here. Flowing. Singing our song.
My giving journey began as a personal challenge in anticipation of my 40th birthday earlier this year. The challenge was to spread 40 acts of kindness in the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday. Throughout the 40 days, I collected supplies for a local animal shelter, volunteered for local organizations that feed and clothe needy children, wrote letters to the military, left goodie bags for the garbage collectors, and so much more. I started an Instagram page, @Fabfortykindnesschallenge, and kept track of my good deeds there.
This challenge was a game changer in both expected and unexpected ways. I knew I would gain more from this journey than any of the recipients of my acts of kindness would. As a stay-at-home mom, whose to-do lists look pretty much the same from one day to the next, this kindness journey gave me a renewed sense of purpose. Like so many others who commit to a month or more of giving, my challenge didn’t stop after 40 days; it became a way of life. My forty days of kindness helped me see that opportunities for giving are all around me, and opened my heart to respond to those opportunities.
Once my 40-day kindness challenge was over, I started to feel like something was missing. Although kindness had become a habit, I wasn’t actively looking for a NEW giving opportunity every day. After reading 29 Gifts, I understood: I was still giving when giving was easy but I wasn’t giving intentionally. I knew I needed to start again; and as Lent approached, I decided to start another 40-day giving challenge. Instead of giving something up for Lent as is the usual custom, I was going to give for another 40 days.
The outcome I didn’t expect from this little challenge of mine came from the Instagram page I had set up to track my acts of kindness and the giving challenge. I was following inspirational people on Instagram, and had gained some followers of my own. Social media had become an avenue to share my challenge with others, with the hope that if just one person completed a challenge along with me, I would have doubled my efforts for that day.
But it was about to get bigger. In late March, when I was in the midst of the Lenten giving challenge, I received a direct message on Instagram, which said:
“Angela, my name is Drew Myers. I’m the producer/host of the Defining Audacity Radio Show. I wanted to gauge your interest in coming on my show. We can record a 20-minute interview over the phone any time. Let me know if that would interest you at all. I want to discuss your kindness challenge.”
My initial reaction was “No, thanks, I DON’T want to come on the radio and talk about my challenge. I am not a public speaker, and there’s no way I could give an interview. And, anyway, why me? There are SO many other people who ‘do good’ on such a larger scale! Why not talk to THEM?” But a small part of me saw this as an opportunity to share my story with an even bigger audience and perhaps inspire other people to do something like this. So I accepted Drew’s invitation to come on his show.
Over email, Drew shared with me a little about his radio show. The Defining Audacity Radio Show, he said, “encourages people to #liveonpurpose, to stop saying ‘I’ll just do it tomorrow’ and start living a bold, adventurous and intentional life.” Drew said the show had recently been putting an emphasis on showing kindness and he wanted to share my journey because he thought I was “over-the-top intentional about showing kindness.”
If the 40-day kindness challenge was a game changer, then talking about my kindness challenge on the radio was a walk-off home run! After conquering a huge fear of public speaking, I now felt bulletproof! I was ready to live intentionally in all other areas of my life as well. At Drew’s suggestion, I made a “Life List,” a list of things I want to do in my life (think: Bucket List, but with the emphasis on the “Life” part). I now wake up every day with a sense of purpose and intention. Instead of thinking “Ugh, what do I have to do today?”, among my first thoughts every morning are “How am I going to make this day count?”
In 29 Gifts, Mbali asks Cami to think, “What’s easy to give? What’s hard?” For me, it was easy to give gifts that were anonymous, and difficult to give gifts that made me more visible. And yet, here I was, talking about my acts of kindness on the radio and sharing my radio podcast with friends on Facebook. As a result of my being bold and sharing the story of my kindness journey with people that I knew, I received comments from friends who listened and were inspired to think they could do something like this too. One of my friends said her 8-year-old son listened to my interview and then spent the next day planning some random kindness acts that he could do. If the goal all along was to reach one person, then I had proof of success right there!
In this new undertaking to give daily and to spread kindness wherever I go, I really feel like I am starting to make a difference in the world, or at least my little corner of it. I know that I am a better wife, a better mom, a better daughter, sister, and friend. I’m a better PERSON. And all of that happened because of a little kindness challenge that I began in order to overcome the dread of turning 40.
Submitted by Angela Stanley, Wake Forest, NC, Stay-at-home mom to 2 boys and creator of the Fab Forty Kindness Challenge.
The biggest gift of my life came as a huge surprise. His name is Henry Zane Walker-Foster. My sweet son who turned three on March 5th, 2016. The night I gave birth—an emergency c-section under general anesthesia—was dramatic, to say the least. My potassium and magnesium bottomed out and Henry arrived on this planet six weeks early. Who knew such a magical being could arrive in a tiny bundle. Since I don’t have a single memory of the actual birth thanks to the anesthesia, it was baffling to wake up a little blue swaddled baby on my chest.
My second husband and I were not planning to have any children, and I did not enjoy pregnancy. My son is a miracle because we both almost died getting him here. I was 39 when I made a mistake with my birth control one month. I vomited so much during the week prior to when my period was due, I suspected immediately I was pregnant, in addition to the “morning sickness”—which really lasted all day. My breasts and belly were swollen and I felt some general tiredness. The fatigue was normal for me due to my multiple sclerosis. The other symptoms were too much to ignore.
I had a history of miscarriages, so worried, I went to my general practitioner on a Monday. She examined me and did a blood test. The results were negative. She also told me I had a blood condition called RH-, which means there are pathogens in my blood that attacked the fetus. Thus the explanation for my four miscarriages. She gave me a shot of a drug that was supposed to protect a fetus, if I decided to carry a child.
When my doctor came back with results--not pregnant. I was relieved. I was taking a lot of medication, including a once-a-month IV infusion for my MS. All of my doctors recommended not trying to move forward with a pregnancy, but my heart would not let me let go of the idea that, maybe, somehow a child would be part of my future. I was working as a freelance motivational speaker, traveling a lot to tell the 29 Gifts Story. My second husband, and I were living in Santa Cruz. I flew out to do a speaking gig and when I got home Thursday my period was now late and I was still puking. I did not know it at the time, but it would be my last speaking gig after three years of traveling I would literally be grounded.
I went to the doctor again, this time with my husband. My regular doctor was booked so we saw an older guy who didn’t know my history of miscarriage. He came back in after the blood test was done smiling.
“The test was positive. You’re pregnant, congratulations.”
My response was to burst into tears in shock “Oh, my God! We can’t have a baby.” Then I ran out of the exam room. My husband got me calmed down a little in the truck on the way home. “Maybe we will be a family,” I said to him hopefully.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but carrying Henry would be the biggest accomplishment of my life, and we would not look like your typical family. My (now separated) husband was a drinker. He was a binge drinker. He would stay sober for weeks, but would then go on a bender. It made getting through the pregnancy even more challenging.
My first concern was to get into my regular GP within days. She told me I needed to go off several of my medications, but she wanted me to stay on my pain meds. My age, MS and slightly nutso tendencies combined with the hormonal mess I became would prove to make it a rocky road, to say the least. I considered aborting the baby, and two times had procedures scheduled, and each time I couldn’t make myself go through with it. I knew the little boy growing in my belly would be even harder than it was to write and publish my fist book, 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change your Life. I often describe the process of writing book as being “pregnant” and “giving birth.”
After consulting with some OB specialists, my husband and I made the commitment to see the pregnancy through to the end because there was a little being growing in my belly who deserved a chance at life.
I got a very bad infection in legs from walking barefoot on a hospital floor, which put me on bedrest after a 10 day hospital stay while they pumped liters of IV antibiotics into my veins trying to save both me and the baby. I also developed dangerously high blood pressure, yet another complication. I found myself needing a wheelchair for the first time and was put on bedrest, which was a huge challenge for someone who was used to flying all over the country speaking for MS Society and other organizations.
Our team of doctors saw me through several psychiatric hospitalizations in Santa Cruz until they suggested we move home to the Midwest where we had family support. We decided we would make Denver home again. My parents and one of my two sisters lived just three hours away in Western Nebraska. My husband had a brother in Denver. Denver was where we met. I arrived VERY pregnant and very mentally unstable on Christmas eve 2013 by plane and my parents picked me up in Denver. My husband stayed in Santa Cruz with the huge task of pack up what we could bring back.
I was kept on opiates-- wich i dont take today because the extra 45 pounds, my MS and the high blood pressure combined left me in constant pain. My ex and I were struggling in our relationship due to his alcoholism and my hormonally induced insanity; there was abuse on both sides. But one thing we agreed on was to do we would get this little being to the planet. I was shocked when the ER ushered us straight upstairs to Labor and Delivery. The lead doc on the team came in with the anesthesiologist, saying they were going to have to change our plan.
The birth plan was to be admitted to the hospital for two or three days so the doctors could take me off certain meds, then have a c-section. Henry had other plans. Instead my ex rushed me to the ER because I started having contractions and after talking to the team of doctors, they decided to deliver right away because both the baby and I were in danger. This would mean a month long stay in to the hospital for tiny Henry as he was slowly detoxed on Methadone, fed through a tube and generally cared for by the nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My mother rushed to Denver and between my husband, myself and my mom, one of us with Henry much of the time. I could not get out of bed so the nurses would bring little Henry in so I could hold and bond with him.
The morning after waking up a new mother, a social worker, showed up in my room. I was still heavily sedated and thought she worked for the hospital. Kathy Jeffery, she was a small black woman with serious attitude. She handed me a business Card and it said she was with the Department of Human Services. She started asking me questions about why Henry was born addicted, which made me uncomfortable. I told her my doctors were all aware of all all substances I was on and that, including the opiates and medical marijuana she seemed concerned. I also told her I wasn’t feeling well enough to talk and that I would feel most comfortable having an attorney present before I answered more questions. I knew DHS was child protective services, and they had the power take my son.
The truth is my husband and I were not prepared to be parents. We were living off my disability income (both unemployed). Plus there were police reports from the domestic violence. I knew as I listened to the DHS investigator question my husband and mother outside my room. I recall yelling at them several times to NOT answer questions without a lawyer, but they didn’t listen. My disruptive behavior earned me a “sitter” which was a security guard who sat in my room and recorded every time I peed, who came and went from the room and what was said. I made it my mission to befriend the guards. One drew me a picture of an angel. Another Left me a little cross. Another bought Henry a tiny shirt with the hospital logo on it. The nurses were also phenomenal. Despite my best efforts and doctor care, my mental condition deteriorated as the stress of DHS intervention continued and post-pardum depression took over. I went into the bell jar and saw no way out. Depression so crushing. I do not even remember giving birth to my son, but I’ll never forget the day I was told by Kathy Jeffery and some other social workers and doctors who were supposed to be looking out for the best interest of my “case” filed into my hospital room and told me to temporarily sign over my rights to Henry. He was finally eating on his own and, though still on methadone he was deemed healthy enough for the hospital to release him into the care of two foster parents who had six other kids. My husband and I were crushed by the state’s decision. We spent six months together after the birth, visiting Henry weekly together for two or three hours a week.
When Henry was six months I had another mental breakdown because my husband told he was leaving me. I ended up in an institution for two weeks this time. When I got home, the house was cleared out the house of everything in our nursery – the crib, the bottles for feeding. Everything. He took the bed from our spare room, one of our sofas. There was a sticky note on our little family picture that said, “I love you. You will be ok.—K”
He told me over the phone while I was locked up that he was leaving me to pursue custody of Henry on his own. By this point, Henry had been moved to a second foster home where he was an only child. He really thrived in their care. He was off the methadone and growing, though he was still small for his age. This couple taught Henry to swim as an infant and showered him with love because they wanted to adopt him. The caseworkers for the state had told us Henry would be adopted when he turned a year If one of us could not parent him.
One day, I had an emotional breakdown in the bathroom after one of the visits. The case workers called 911 and I was taken to the hospital and placed on yet another mental health hold. This time I was out before the 72 hour hold expired. I came home and realized the friend who I had asked to look over my house had actually stolen my credit card and charged it up and he took and pawned my wedding and engagement rings from Kevin, a computer, several digital video cameras, two expensive cell phones, countless other items, my identity and dignity. Neighbors told me he had a party and there was a parade of shady both men and women in and out of my house. I had to call the police to have him removed from my home.
I would later realize this friend had a problem with meth and had a relapse during this time. I should never have trusted him to look over the house I can see now, but hind sight is 20/20. I found the pawn receipt at one point while trying to put my house back together and called them. Nothing was left and the police did nothing with any of the information I provided. They had bigger fish to fry than catching this guy.
This story isn’t done but wanted to post it… will update it later...
Occasionally I get to work with famous people. Angelique Kidjo came to see me via a French restaurateur I have known for many years. She and Angelique have known each other for an equally long time. Angelique was in town for a performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, touring and stressed, so my friend sent her in for a massage and healing session. Angelique was exhausted. Months of touring through many different cities, keeping odd hours, sleeping in hotels and handling ‘road’ food were wearing enough. Back home in Benin, her father and one of her brothers were dying. And Angelique could not yet go home. She talked about her life and her inner conflict between her current commitments to appearances and to being with her loved ones. It was easy for me to think she could just chuck it and say, “I have to be with my family.” I would. My job was not to push her (life was doing that), but to help her to relax and to let go of her stressful attachment to time and space and people for a short time. After her treatment I walked Angelique out to the car, where she immediately got on the phone. I felt a bit sad thinking how little control she had over her life. Had my French been up to par, it might have registered with me that she was calling to arrange a ticket for me to her performance that evening. Chagrined, I realized how little time “off” she had just had, and yet she did not hesitate to get on the phone to do something for me. I saw a few more clients that day for massage and spiritual coaching. I finished about 7 that evening without much energy left for more than a meal and a walk around the block. But a small insistent voice inside urged me to go to Angelique’s performance. By the time I arrived and found a spot for my car on the north side of the Berkeley campus, I was very late, certain I had missed most, if not all of the show. That night Zellerbach thrummed with happy, dancing, jumping and howling folks of all ages, colors and sizes. Within minutes of my arrival, Angelique introduced the band (each player from a different African country), and gave each time to display their talent and share the unique sound from their culture. She talked about the roots of rhythm reaching the heart of all cultures, the power of music to unite people around the world. After another exciting piece, she stopped again to talk with the audience. A hush stole over the room as she told us to be kind to one another, that if we are to change fear to love in the world, we must begin in our hearts and at home, and to remember to actively, deliberately “love the people you love and tell them you love them often, today…” because “you never know when (if) you will see them again.” I realized then what a great and noble act Angelique is in all aspects of her life. She did not dramatize or bare her personal grief and emotional conflict. Instead, she gave us a powerful reminder of our slender connections to this life and to those we love. It struck me that she had transformed her personal tragedy (the immanent deaths in her family) to a universal call to active love and unity, to be real in relationship, and to heal the old wounds that separate us from one another. I was humbled to realize how one person can influence thousands of people all over the world, every day through her music and messages of love, peace, justice and compassion. In Shamanic Healing work we often drum for others. Our teacher encourages us to “put people on the drum” as a way to build power and transfer or send that energy to those in need. Angelique’s concert was such a building and transference of power—the power of love. The evening soared to and end with a hundred or more people cramming onto the stage to dance with Angelique--children, grandmas, guys in suits, hippies, students--a fairly complete slice of humanity. I would have joined them but for the hundreds more jamming the aisles, dancing and whooping all around me, gleefully blocking my path to the stage. The joyful uproar of drums and voices had shaken the tension and smallness out of me and I gladly lost myself in the crowd.
When I graduated massage school in 1991, I told my class that my goal was to heal the world, one massage at a time. I believe that each of us hold the power to change each other’s lives in some small way. Small things become big things. I figured each person who received a relaxing, rejuvenating massage would go home a kinder and gentler citizen, a more loving spouse, a more present parent, a more self-respecting being. Imagine hundreds and thousands of people transmitting and receiving love, peace, charity, encouragement, justice and hope. Keep going. Imagine the small changes making bigger changes in the way we treat each other as nations, ultimately to how we relate to the living entity that provides everything we need for life: Earth.
Some of the greatest service we offer to one another is in our transformed pain. This is the path of the wounded healer in action--to take our perception of injury, apply the magic of personal alchemy (time+pressure+insight+courage) and work it into a blessing for another. As we heal deep emotional pain, we open to deeper love, an energy that travels back and forward in time, changing our self-concept and rippling out into our sphere of humans. Thank you for reminding me why I am here! And Brava, Angelique!
People often ask me how Mark and I broke up. This answers that question. This is an older story of mine--one that might make it into our 10th Anniversary Edition of 29 Gifts.
You Have to Ride the Waves of Life Cami Walker
In 2009, after six months of cloistering myself to get the 29 Gifts manuscript done, I was spent on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual. I called one of my best friends, Lisa, and begged her to come visit me in L.A. for two weeks. I missed her long dreads and smiling face. Lisa also has MS, but at the time was undiagnosed. We met in the mid-nineties when we were both single living in San Francisco. We connected through a yoga teacher and holistic women’s counselor, Darshana Weill, who helped us both overcome food and body image issues. Lisa and I immediately began hosting dinners at each other’s houses and attending yoga classes together. After nearly a decade of close friendship, Lisa took off to travel all over Asia for a year and returned to settle in Arizona working on an organic farm. After communicating via occasional phone calls, I was missing my dear friend. Plus I wanted to put her skills as a trained chef to work in my own kitchen.
I was excited to learn that the founder of the healing center where Lisa worked in Arizona was leading a workshop at a large Los Angeles church, Agape Spiritual Center. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, the founder of Agape Spiritual Center, would be co-leading a week-long juice cleanse. I had read and followed Dr. Beckwith’s work for some time, so I eagerly registered for the 7-Day Juice Fast for Peace. Lisa signed up too and we spent the week to reconnect, relax and renew. Lisa made it through the entire seven days only drinking the yummy green juice made in five gallon buckets each morning. I did not. I had to supplement with solid food each time I went into detox because it triggered my MS symptoms.
I was nervous the first day of the workshop, but felt reassured to have Lisa at my side. Dr. Michael Beckwith led one of the introductory sessions and I felt inspired to raise my hand when he asked us why we chose to attend. “I just finished writing my first book,” I shared. My voice was so quiet that Michael walked over and handed me his microphone. He asked me to stand up. I did. He led me up to the front of the room. I looked out at seventy strangers and nearly gagged on my own tongue. Then my eyes locked on my friend Lisa and I just spoke to her through the microphone.
“I just finished writing my first book,” I repeated. “It has been a solitary process and I feel like I am coming out of a cocoon. I’m here to start making contact with people again. This book could take me around the country talking to large audiences of people. I'm nervous about that.”
The room was silent while Michael watched me standing, still shaking a bit with nervousness. “Let’s give her some practice,” Michael yelled. “Everyone stand up and give Cami her first standing ovation.”
Everyone in the room stood up and began to clap and cheer. Michael had to reach out and steady me. “Just take in the love. All is well,” he said quietly.
As the crowd stomped and clapped and yelled, I began to settle into myself and feel their enthusiasm for me. These people supported me because I was allowing them to be present with me. It was a profound moment when I realized the positive energy from others could be harnessed and turned into fuel for my spirit.
By the end of the standing ovation I was standing tall, smiling big and laughing into the microphone. Silence settled over the room and I felt myself take a deep breath and release with it stores pent up exhaustion. “Thank you,” I said into the microphone before I handed it back to Michael and returned to my seat.
In October 2009—two months after my “practice” standing ovation at Agape, the 29 Gifts hardcover was released and I made my television debut live on NBC’s Today Show. I arrived at the studio in New York City with only 30 minutes to spare before my interview with then Today Show host, Meredith Vieira. My agent, Rita, and then-husband, Mark ushered me inside to the green room, already packed with guests and their supporters. I remember being tense because I felt some major fractures in my relationship with Mark that he and I had not acknowledged out loud.
The show was broadcasting live onto a big TV mounted on the far wall. There was a table piled high with pastries, coffee and the other goodies you expect to see in this setting. I was too nervous to eat, but sipped on a small cup of water. All too soon, a makeup artist rushed me into a chair in the dressing area. She dabbed at my face with some powder, added some color to my lips and suggested I remove the sparkly clip in my hair. “It will be too distracting in the light.” I obediently reached up to remove the offending adornment.
A stylist placed a few stray hairs back into place across my forehead and deemed me camera ready, even though I did not feel ready. Ready or not, I stepped out into a new world of being known.
When I step into the studio I am surprised that so many people can fit into such a small space. There are three sets. Stage center is occupied by Rod Stuart and his band, all standing quietly awaiting their cue. The producer for my segment walks me to stage right, which has two arm chairs separated by a small table. I make a space on the table to set the gift I brought for Meredith. It is a small brown box with bright blue ribbons bursting off the top. Stage left is where the action is right now. Dan Ackroyd sits with Matt Lauer and discusses his new book.
Though I spent years in advertising “behind the camera” nothing could prepare for the nervous jitters percolating in my body. I have never met a celebrity, so I am awed to occupy the same square footage as these superstars. I take a few deep breaths and focus my energy internally for a few seconds. I say a silent prayer, asking to be a channel of faith and light.
Meredith sits down across from me and reaches over to shake my hand. She quietly thanks me for making the trip from the west coast. We wait for Matt and Dan to wrap up their discussion and the next thing I know my short segment is counted down. “3 – 2 – 1- Action,” says the director and I am facing my first television camera. I watch a quick introductory segment the show produced to give an overview of the 29 Gifts story. It is nicely done, I note happily.
As soon as I begin talking with Meredith, my nerves settle and we have a pleasant five-minute exchange. The conversation feels natural and the interview closes with an impromptu gift exchange as Meredith hands me a bouquet of white roses and I give her my small box, which includes a 29 Gifts Journal, magnet, mirror and a few other small trinkets. After our segment wraps, Rod Stuart and his band break into a lovely version of Maggie Mae and I sit with Meredith to enjoy the brief show. The song closes and they cut to commercial and clear the set. I am standing next to Meredith again, talking, when Rod Stuart walks up, puts an arm around me and says, “That was a lovely interview. I am going to buy your book.”
I stare dumbly at him, unable to produce a single word beyond, “Thank you.”
Rod’s arm stays firmly anchored across my shoulders as we walk out of the studio together. A swarm of women rush toward us and I am baffled by how quickly he disappears. My agent, Rita, sees Rod exit and rushes over to where I am standing. “Please tell me you are never going to wash your shoulder again,” she jokes with me. I leave the Today Show studio feeling good about the interview, but not realizing how important it will be in my life until one week later. I come back home to Hollywood, California and face the harsh realization that my marriage with Mark is over. After lots of trying to make things work in our relationship, we have both finally given up. I am brokenhearted and grieving the morning my telephone rings and my editor, Katie McHugh, greets me. I do not tell her about the break up. I am not ready to talk about it. Nobody knows except me, Mark and our immediate families.
“Hi, Cami,” says Katie cheerfully. “I’m calling you with some good news.”
“I could use some good news. What’s up?”
“I’m happy to tell you that 29 Gifts is a New York Times Bestseller.”
Stunned silence from me.
“Congratulations,” continues Katie. “We are all so excited. 29 Gifts topped out at number 18 in overall nonfiction on the Times list. We were the second best-selling memoir on Amazon.com last week.”
“How?” I stutter into the phone. “How is this possible?”
“People are buying the book and loving it. Congrats, Cami.”
“Thanks, God, for that angel Meredith Vieira.” I responded and we both laugh.
I hung up wondering how it was possible to feel completely elated and totally defeated all at once. Not only had I just realized my life-long dream of becoming an author, but I was now a New York Times best-selling author. Unbelievable. I did a little jig around my apartment until I got to the living room and then I fell onto the couch Mark and that Christmas Eve, and burst into tears. Mark is gone. There is nobody here to celebrate with me, except my little chihuahua, Charlie.
My sadness over the split with Mark weighs heavily on me. We have admitted defeat, despite the brief rekindling of passion we saw during my first year of giving. The sparks didn’t last long, and we entered therapy together to attempt to work out our problems. We do not communicate well. Except for our honeymoon and a few brief months of reconnection, we had not been physically intimate more than ten times in over past year. Both of us were miserable.
We agreed to split up on November 1, 2009 – just one month after the 29 Gifts book was released.
Mark moved out that month while I was away at book launch events in San Francisco. I returned home to Los Angeles to a half-empty condo and the harsh realization that I was now on my own for the first time in more than five years. I had no car so relied on friends to get to appointments, to get groceries… for everything. My health took a nosedive. I began to have problems with severe depression. pain, weakness and balance problems. I was given a course of steroids to help reduce the inflammation in my nervous system. The steroids gave me physical relief, but caused a psychological crash. Once again, I found myself facing severe depression, triggered by the steroids and the loss of my marriage. I called my father at work one day at the end of December 2009.
“Daddy.” I whimpered to my father, 1500 miles away in Nebraska. “I need help. You need to come get me.”
I did not have to ask twice. My dad quickly organized and made the long drive in his truck.
I gathered a few friends to help us sort through my belongings, putting some things in storage and giving away the rest. By mid January 2009, I was settled back into my little old bedroom in my parent’s home. My mood continued to plummet and I lost touch with my daily giving practice and most of the other coping tools that helped me live a more healthy and positive existence.
I did not share my misery with anyone. Not a single mention of how sad and hopeless I felt passed my lips. I often slept sixteen hours a day and spent hours crying quietly in my small bedroom while my parents were asleep or out of the house.
On February 5, 2010 – the day before I turned 37 – I woke up wanting to die. I did not call for my mother or father or take myself to the doctor as I had in the past when I flirted with the dark demon of depression. Instead, I allowed myself to be wrapped in the dark fog as I reached for a bottle of pills by my bedside and proceeded to swallow every one. Then I closed my eyes and prayed for a drugged sleep to take me away from the difficult battles of my life. I felt calm for a few brief seconds until the reality of what I had done came over me and I reached for the phone. I called my ex-husband. He answered and I told him I was calling to say goodbye.
“How could you do this to me?” he screamed, and hung up the phone. He did not understand that I was doing this to myself, and I did not understand that my actions could have major impact on so many others.
Suddenly I wanted to live. Next, I called my friend Darshana, who is more practiced with dealing with people in crisis due to her work as a counselor. Darshana asked for my dad’s work phone number, and kept me on one line while she called my father. Once again, dad came to my rescue in his big Ford truck. I am lucky that Kimball, Nebraska is a tiny town because he brought me to the ER within fifteen minutes of swallowing the pills. My sister’s best friend was the head nurse on duty. When she was a child, I was her babysitter. She guided me protectively into the exam room as I gasped for air. "It was a mistake. I want to live."
“We are going to take care of you,” she reassured as she inserted a catheter and worked with the doctor to feed a tube down to my stomach. They pumped my stomach with saline and liquid charcoal. I was pliable, obeying their commands because I knew I didn’t want to die that day. Several quarts of liquid spilled out 25 whole, intact pills from my belly. I am hardly any of the medication had begun to be absorb. I escaped this episode without any permanent damage, except my shattered self-image.
With some serious help from my family and friends, by March 2010, I felt able to say yes to a number of speaking offers that had begun to flow in without any effort on my part. One of the first gigs I did was a fund-raising event for the Oklahoma MS Society. I gave the gift of my time and words to the audience of more than 600 women. I wrapped up my talk, stepped back from the podium and was overwhelmed when everyone in the room stood up and began clapping.
I remembered Michael’s words during my “practice” standing ovation, and allowed my heart to soften and feel that all is well. Never in my life have I felt so high. I waited a while for the audience to settle into their seats, but nobody sat down, so I walked off stage to the happy tune of 1,800 hands clapping.
Something shifted inside me that day because I realized how many people were hoping the best for me. This new awareness produced a deeper sense of safety and assurance as I recognized support comes not only from those we know and love, but sometimes from total strangers. Any help I need is always at my fingertips if I find the courage to reach out to others around me.
Cami, I have been moved so many times by your words in 29 Gifts, reading this story, this particularly dark time in your life, gave me a new respect for you. You have faced so many demons and continue to prove that life provides us with solutions and opportunities to grow, rebound, and heal; we just have to be open to them. Thank you for your willingness to share!
The gift of Marriage as a community event/Angel Stork, minister-officiator
“A life lived well, is an embodied promise and commitment to all” Elliot F. Eaton
Before equal rights in marriage came to California, San Francisco’s mayor made gay marriage legal in the city-county, and thousands rushed to get married before the legal machine would shut it down again. During one of those brief windows of open time, Rick and Elliott and I sat down for the first time to discuss their wedding ceremony. I could tell from that first glimpse into their personalities, their life together and their shared beliefs, this would be an unusual wedding ceremony.
We talked about the many ways we could bring their beliefs and vision together in words and simple rituals. They were already several steps ahead having chosen a location, some readings and some private rituals. I could see that my skills would best serve to fine-tune any idea already on the table. Working together, they transformed mundane rituals into sacred and created a context for ceremony where private intentions could bond with community.
Rick and Elliott are Buddhists in temperament as much as in practice, though they do not seem to be aligned with a particular temple or system. Rather, the ideals of Buddhism—non-attachment, loving kindness, and mindful, compassionate action—seem to permeate every choice.
I was not surprised to see the first draft of the ceremony: nearly complete without much adjustment or editing needed from me. Here is a reading from their ceremony that served to clarify their perspective.
“Serenity Found” by Beverly Sills
“We had found a kind of serenity, a new Maturity… we didn’t feel better or stronger than anyone else but it seemed no longer Important whether everyone love us or not – More important now was for us to love them. Feeling that way turns our whole life around, living becomes the act of giving.”
There are people (family) who would not attend the ceremony because they could not support a gay marriage. Rick and Elliott chose to accept them and make space for them anyway.
Gay and Lesbian couples live as a community within a community that largely chooses not to acknowledge their rights or accept their way of life. Within their ceremony, Elliott and Rick held a loving space for one community, choosing not be party to divisiveness, but to uphold their commitment to have compassion for all beings.
There are many who do not feel any support from their community to be openly partnered, let alone married. Rick and Elliott, overflowing with love and richly adored by their closest friends, chose to dedicate their own marriage to healthy and compassionate relationships for all.
“…Rick and Elliott rededicate their marriage to be a symbolic invitation, they give permission for those not currently partnered and for those who are enjoying a committed partnership, to hold a place of compassion for each other, our families, friends and community.”
Finally, after making their personal promises to each other, Elliott and Rick made their “I do” confirmations with Tibetan singing bowls-- “…by the sounding of the Bowl do you make this commitment for you, (each other) and the Entire Community?
Many of the weddings I perform have one couple as the center, one central idea summed up in statements and vows. After this ceremony, I began to serve more couples reaching beyond their personal focal points, and whether gay or not, looking for ways to include others in the ceremony, broadening the whole notion of commitment, appealing to the “village” to support the marriage.
I am fascinated to see who attends a wedding. We are not merely witnesses. Family and friends who gather to celebrate become participants in the “contract” created by the couple. We help them uphold the intention and reality of their marriage. Furthermore, couples have tremendous power to influence family and friends through the act of declaring and ritualizing their own beliefs and intentions.
Rick and Elliott have given me and their family and friends a rare gift—an opportunity to expand the love we feel for them toward all people, to transform the ideal of compassion into a living, breathing act of love. By opening the invitation to all beings, they opened the heart and intention of marriage to include even those who would scorn them. Abundant in love and hope, Rick and Elliott, through their marriage, have performed an ultimate act of charity for us all.
Please give two gifts to www.29Gifts.org today. Invite a friend to join us here today so we can grow. And submit a story for book two by the New August 30, 2016 deadline. Here are submission guidelines again. This is a 10th Anniversary edition of 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. The book turns 10 in October of 2018. My co-writer, Angel Stork, and I will are looking for new giving stories that are 1500-2000 words long. We already have a number of strong submissions, but want more accounts from you 29Gifters. To submit your story for the book, simply post it in the Great Giving Stories For Inspiration Discussion Forum here: http://follr.com/Communities/29Gifts/Discussion/20587 *Also email your story to 29Angels@gmail.com
Write a story of a single gift that helped you feel a sense of deep connection to the Global Giving Spirit. Tell us about a few gifts that taught you a life lesson. Reflect on how completing all 29 Gifts once, twice or more times changed your life. We want stories that show the transformative and somewhat magical experience of giving and receiving. Looking forward to reading your stories. For good examples, just visit the Discussion Forum link above. Or pull out your 29 Gifts book and read the nine stories in the back of the book. If you haven't read the book, it's available here. There's a free "look inside" pdf on www.amazon.com too. http://www.amazon.com/29-Gifts-Month-Giving-Change/dp/0738214302/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463066676&sr=8-1&keywords=29gifts
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[Via Follr.com] Give one thing away each day for 29 days. Share your stories about how it impacts your life to focus on giving. Join the 29-Day Giving Challenge community today. Why? Because to see the world change, we have to do something to change the world. Plus, the best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a perpetual state of giving and gratitude. Be an important part of the global giving movement that inspires more generosity on our planet.
The Gifts of Giving: Kindness as a Wellness Practice
In the summer of 2011, I’d been off antidepressants for more than a year, cigarette-free for eight months and had been building a toolkit of practices to help me find and maintain inner peace. I read about the 29-Day Giving Challenge, based on the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker. The premise was simple: Give something away each day for 29 days. I decided to give it a try.
By the end of the 29 days, my mood was better more consistently than it had been in a long time. The Challenge was such a powerful experience that I decided to do another 29-day round. And another. Of all the many (many, many) techniques I’ve used in my healing journey, giving is one of the most transformative, right up there with meditation and walking in nature.
>>>One late afternoon, I was going to leave chocolates with a note attached at a bus stop — what I later came to call a Random Act of Chocolate — but as I was crossing the street, I saw a woman who looked like she was having a rough day. I offered them to her, and at first, she looked perplexed. Once she understood it was a gift, she beamed — not at me, specifically, but at the idea that a stranger was doing something to make her day brighter.<<<
What ‘Giving’ Means
Giving isn’t about money. It can be, but the idea is to give whatever a person needs — time, attention, patience, money, help with a project, etc. The opportunities are infinite.
Mbali Creazzo, the medicine woman who prescribed the first 29-Day Giving Challenge to Cami Walker, says, “Give what feels scarce.” It works. Whatever is difficult for me to give, I get exponentially more joy from giving. When I didn’t have enough money to live on, even leaving a quarter on a wall where children walk — that felt awesome. If I’m feeling pressed for time, just pausing to let someone go in front of me feels expansive. If I’m lost in my own thoughts, stopping to take a photo of some tourists (who invariably are taking pictures in rotating combinations) gets me out of my head and into my heart.
This is an important distinction, too: Giving benefits both recipient and giver when it’s done from the heart. Giving because “I have to” doesn’t shift anything. It’s like the difference between being polite and being kind: One is obligation and a social construct; the other is organic and, well, heartfelt.
>>>A man whose face was etched by years on the street came up to me and stopped, a little unsteady on his feet. I immediately said, “I’m sorry, but I have nothing to give you today.” (That was the truth.) He said, “Oh, I don’t want anything from you! I’ve come to pay you back.” He pulled a small bunch of $5 and $10 bills out of his pocket — I’m guessing it was a day when Social Assistance was paid — and said, “A year ago, you gave me a gift card for the grocery store. And I want to repay you.” I thanked him and told him I couldn’t take it, that he didn’t owe me anything. He kept insisting that he did, so I said if he really wanted to repay me, to please give it to someone who needed it even more than he did. As I made my request, I referenced Ben, a local transient everyone knows — and this man looked me in the eyes and finished my sentence: “…Someone who really needs it. I know. You can feel it with your heart.” In that moment, his eyes were clear and bright; they shone with the joy of realizing that he had something to offer another person.<<<
There Are No Wrong Recipients
The purpose of a giving practice is to keep the flow of kindness and generosity going, not to decide who is a worthy beneficiary. When my ego starts getting involved (i.e., judging who should/shouldn’t get a gift), my energy constricts — the opposite of what happens when I give freely. For me, this exercise is about trust: there is enough, and I don’t have to micromanage the whole thing.
I’ve sometimes paid ahead for a random stranger’s ice cream cone at a mom and pop store, and I’ve asked the owners to choose the recipient (it’s fun to involve other people in giving). They told me they scrutinized everyone, because they wanted to make sure it went to someone who really needed it — someone who was counting change for a treat. Which is a noble idea — and certainly those people need the help more than others. But for me, it’s not about determining who deserves a treat. What if someone wealthy came in and received a free ice cream cone? It could inspire them to generosity, and the ripple effect might create even more giving in the world.
I generally haven’t minded giving cash to people living on the street, because I believe they know best what they need in that moment. I realize that what they think they need might be alcohol or drugs, and I’m okay with that. Who am I to judge? If I landed on the street, I have no idea what I might need to do to numb myself. It is only by grace that I’ve never been in that position. That said, addiction is a brutal thing, but withholding a few dollars from someone isn’t going to get them clean.
One of the things I hear most frequently is that people say they don’t want to give homeless people money that could be used on drugs or alcohol. In that case, gift cards for a local grocery store are a great gift and enable people to buy their own food. [In Canada, grocery stores don’t usually sell alcohol.]
Free will is one of the things that makes us human, yet for many living without basic necessities, the opportunity to exercise choice is rare — they eat what the soup kitchen has; they sleep wherever they feel least in danger (which is not to be confused with anything resembling safety). Being able to choose even as much as what kind of sandwich to eat can be a source of joy.
>>>One morning, I saw a tall, skinny man in his 50s with a grey-flecked scraggly beard, holding a sign saying he was hitchhiking across Canada and was hungry. Next to him was a fraying canvas, metal-frame backpack that might have had its heyday in the 1970s, with an old cotton sleeping bag attached to the bottom. I gave him a grocery gift card for $10. I explained what it was, and that he’d have to go another kilometer to the grocery store. Once it sank in, he began crying and laughing at the same time. He couldn’t stop saying thank you, over and over, even as he wiped his eyes on dirty sleeves. He told me he hadn’t eaten in two days. His joy was contagious, and I felt elated, expanded and tearful myself. It felt really good to be the vehicle for someone else’s miracle.<<<
Giving means relinquishing control. It’s possible that one of my gifts will go to somebody whose politics I’d find abhorrent, or whose behaviour I’d consider dodgy. The point is, we’re all connected, and that connectedness is more important than our differences.
Personal giving isn’t like giving to a charity, where you expect someone else to spend the money in a specific way, in line with your values. It’s not about the end result — what someone will or won’t do with a gift. It’s about the process. It’s about letting go and trusting.
Benefits of Giving I’ve benefitted from a giving practice in more ways than I can identify — and probably more than I’m even aware of.
Connection Giving gets me out of my head and takes the focus off me. As an extreme introvert and someone who spends a lot of time in solitude, it’s really easy for my mind to start in creating stories around situations in my life — and once it does that, I’m lost in a flight of thought until I remember to come back to the present moment (which, depending on the day… could be a long time).
By committing to give something away daily, I make a commitment to consciously place the focus on others. Every morning, when I wake up, instead of the usual litany of thoughts and fears, I’m driven by, “What can I give today?” It makes me pay attention to my surroundings, to look for opportunities to give (Does that woman looking at a map need directions? Maybe I can let that student get on the bus ahead of me. Is that elderly man at the register a few cents short?)
Appreciation We all have so, so much more than we realize, and nothing helps us see that better than giving. A year ago, I was in a freelance famine: I had less than $20 to my name and no work on the horizon; I was two months behind on rent and bills, and I was scared — a fear not entirely unfounded — of becoming homeless myself. Yet even then, I was able to find ways to give. I could listen — really listen — to someone I might otherwise have tuned out. I could send a thank-you email to someone, or a text to say “I’m thinking about you.” (I have Internet access! I have a phone! There are people who love me!) Every single time I give from my heart, I feel better. If I’m having a difficult day, that effect might only be for a second, but for that moment, it expands me.
Flow Every spiritual teaching I’ve ever come across has said that giving precedes receiving. The more I give with an open heart, the more I open myself to receive. That’s not why I give, but it’s proven true time and time again. Giving creates flow. It has to flow out before it can flow in. We have to make space for it.
This pattern, which has played out in my life innumerable times over the past three and a half years, has shown me without a doubt that we are all connected; ultimately, we’re all rays emanating from the same sun. When I withhold from someone else, I’m cutting myself off from the whole.
Giving shifts something in the universal fabric. Spending money on someone else has a different energetic charge than spending it on myself. Whenever I’ve given consciously, amazing things have come back to me in all areas of my life. It’s undeniable that there is a flow at work. But mostly, I give because it feels good. That doesn’t make it selfish. That makes it a win-win.
Since I began a giving practice, I have received so, so much, in so many areas of my life — and at first, I was hesitant to write about that. Embarrassed. In our culture, receiving help can be seen (by some) as a moral defect. Over time, I’ve become more comfortable with receiving because I recognize it as part of the flow, and because I know I’m actively contributing to that flow.
Many people are uncomfortable receiving, especially when it’s something they need, because they feel it makes them “less than” or a failure. It doesn’t. Money and status are both human constructs, and the idea that money equals status is a massively flawed human construct.
Happiness Performing acts of kindness boosts all kinds of feel-good brain chemicals: oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. But here’s the thing: witnessing acts of kindness also boosts those neurotransmitters.
I didn’t fully appreciate this until I stood behind two women in line at the drugstore. One left the line to check on a price, and the other handed the cashier some money to pay for the purchase, then she walked away. When the first woman returned, the cashier told her the other woman had already paid. Both the cashier and I had assumed the two women were friends. It turns out they’d never met. The first was simply helping out someone who needed it in that moment. Just witnessing that act of kindness, I felt as giddy as I do when a gift really meets someone else’s need.
Healing the Past I was raised by a father who, from the time I was five or six, would ask every night, “What have you done today to justify your existence?” followed by, “What did you do for other people?” This wasn’t balanced with self-care; it was Puritanical self-denial. In a metaphysical sense, I now know that giving to other people is self-care — and maybe on a soul level (if not a personality one), that’s where he was coming from.
So for a long time, I hated the idea of giving, because it was tied up with all this family stuff. I didn’t want to give anything, because it felt like I had to. And I had that parent voice inside my head telling me I didn’t deserve anything, and I should spend my time and energy on someone else (pretty much anyone was more deserving).
I’ve heard variations on this family story from so many people, people who are kind and generous but balk at the idea of a giving practice, because they were raised to believe they didn’t deserve abundance. It was a zero-sum equation, and they’d always been left on the zero side.
If you give from a place of obligation, it doesn’t work; it doesn’t have the same impact. If you can find a way to give with an open heart, though, it can not only help you see what you have, but also the ways in which we’re all connected.
>>>One summer afternoon, as I was walking, a short, plump First Nations woman in her 30s — who looked much older from her hard life — came up to me and said, in an earnest and almost girlish voice, “I don’t mean to be a pest, but I’m homeless.” She didn’t even ask for money. It broke my heart. I looked into her eyes and said, “You’re not a pest,” and she began to cry.
I told her she could always ask for help, and if I could help her, I would, but that I didn’t always have money myself. One time, she quietly asked me for a hug. I’m not a touchy-feely person — I can count on two fingers the number of people I’m comfortable hugging — yet for some reason, I felt no hesitation in obliging her request. Sometimes we’d talk for a few minutes, and I could see the sparkling eyes behind the traumas that life had dealt her. She just wanted to be seen. One day, I told her that I was sorry, but I didn’t even have money for my own food — and she tried to give me a few coins.<<
See the Human As humans, we are so hungry for acknowledgment, and people living on the margins often are discarded as Other. Even if you can’t or don’t want to give someone money, try to see the human being behind the pain. (It’s difficult — acknowledging that amount of pain brings with it, well, pain, as well as guilt — which often quickly gives way to blaming: “He must be an addict; she must’ve done something to get kicked out of her apartment.” Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. It’s not my place to judge.)
One of my pacts with myself is that, whenever anyone on the street asks me for money, regardless of whether I have it, I do my best to look into their eyes. If I don’t have money to give, I tell them that, but I try not to make them feel bad for asking. I can’t begin to imagine the humiliation involved in having to ask random strangers for money. Being in a position where there’s no other option than to ask for help is not a comfortable place. I know how Other I felt when I didn’t have enough to eat, when my only clothes were tattered and torn; I didn’t feel like a member of the human race. I remember how judged I felt by many people, because I’d been successful and then…I wasn’t, at least by society’s definition.
The woman who ran the ice cream shop used to think that I must be wealthy, to pay for a stranger’s ice cream cone. In fact, it’s the other way around: Giving has made my life richer.