Giving gracious and heartfelt thanks can be tough.
I once gave myself a challenge: for thirty days I would authentically compliment someone on something. Of course my challenge was no challenge; once my eyes opened to the world around me, I saw brilliance and beauty everywhere.
Authentic compliments demand nothing in return. Yet people's responses fascinated me.
"Oh goodness! This mop of hair? It's hideous!"
"THESE jeans? Really?"
"That solo was terrible. I hit seven wrong notes in the second verse!"
I might have believed I had no taste and was tone deaf.
And you know? I did the same thing to people. Was it that I thought accepting praise was arrogant? That nice girls should be self-depreciating? That I was unworthy of praise?
For awhile I took the praise-begets-praise approach. When someone offered a compliment to me, I offered one in return. It's trickier than it sounds.
My uncle approached after Mass one Sunday. He grabbed both of my hands and looked me in the eye: "I can't stop watching your hands on the keyboard. It's not just the music that moves me; it's the way you touch the piano."
My husband hugged me after attending a show I wrote: "That was amazing! I'm proud of you."
A teammate of Joe's caught me after a Florida game I watched with my sister: "I saw you listening to your friend during the game. She was telling you something important. I have never seen anyone listen so intently. I wish people would listen to me like that."
The parent of one of my faith formation students waited for me outside my classroom in May: "You are the best religion teacher my daughter has ever had. She could not stop talking about the stories you shared and the things you taught. Thank you."
Genuine compliments are gifts I unwrap long after receiving them. Don't the gift givers deserve something authentic in return? Don't they deserve my undivided attention while speaking? Don't they deserve acknowledgement?
Still, it took me a long time to accept praise in a way that honors the person offering it.
I've learned to pause when someone offers me a compliment. I make eye contact with the person. I say "Thank YOU. Your opinion -- and the fact that you took the time to tell me -- matters to me."
I hope the gift giver leaves feeling as warm as I do.