Put the Good in the Good Life

The more I live, the more I realize that if we wait for the good life to happen, it’ll pass us right by. And “the good life” is, I guess, contingent upon what is defined by “good.” After the basic needs are met, what constitutes good for me is paying attention. It is a paying attention to the nuances of life and people in my life that make it so rich.

This does not necessarily come easily for me as I am not a person who is inclined to pay attention to details. In this way, I’ve missed prime opportunities to complement people’s newly-acquired hair-cuts or perhaps notice that the bag of chocolate chips I just bought are of the mini-chocolate chip variety, rather than the full size… thus leaving me with regular size cookies with miniature size chocolate chips. I also recall purchasing garbanzo bean flour in a haste, rather than oat flour, then neglecting to read the label when baking; thus, the final product culminating with cookies that tasted like hummus rather than — you know– cookies.

Details are not my specialty.

Rather, I am inspired by the big picture stuff — you know– the new year’s resolutions type things. Dreaming big and so on.

But, as Ani Difranco sings in her song “As Is”,

When I look around
I think this, this is good enough
And I try to laugh
At whatever life brings
’cause when I look down
I just miss all the good stuff
And when I look up
I just trip over things

Tripping — ass-over-teakettle — is a tendency of mine.

For me, the big pictures keep me inspired and help me get out of bed each day, but it is the details that make life rich. It’s noticing the folklore behind a place that I have always lived near and only know for the gas station that is close to it. It is paying attention to the people around me, and taking time to sit on the front porch and hear stories that make up their lives that we had not shared before. It is actually taking space to be okay with not achieving for a while- and instead, resting into the rhythm of the day. It is watching for the nuances of a movie that often contain more meaning than the plot itself. It is stopping to watch a sunset for its uniqueness because I know that particular sunset will never happen again. It is learning the fiddle because I love how Appalachian folklore is carried through its notes. It is writing a blog post instead of a sermon because writing keeps me alive.

Life is rich when I pay attention. This, I am learning.

 

A Tale of Three Women

Recently, I had the distinct privilege of being called upon to drive for the Saturday morning yard-saleing festivities of my Nana, Aunt Fannie, and Aunt Mary. Three sisters. The matriarchs of our family.

These sisters span very similar heights… all slightly teetering between the 4’11 and 5’0 foot mark. Born in Macdony, IL (Macedonia to those of us who are not lucky enough to have been born there) in the late 1920’s into the mid-1930’s, they have seen much that most of us haven’t seen. Their family farmed as The Great Depression swept across America in what has become known as the worst economic crisis this country has ever experienced. When most everyone was lacking something, this family cultivated as much love as they did corn, tomatoes, and beans. Each going into differing sectors of the medical community, the three sisters moved multiple times throughout their careers though each ending up living within 15 minutes of each other upon retirement. For several years now, they have made the Saturday morning yard-saleing ritual a reality. This is a very important process. One sister will scan the newspaper and stake out the sales ahead of time; they will congregate at one house to drink coffee, trade vegetables from the garden, and dictate a plan. You see, strategy is very important with this kind of thing. One must hit the correct sale in such a time that the good stuff has not been bought and the sale not been deemed “picked over.” Once the plan is made and the routes established, the car must be cleaned out of excess junk to make room for more. The supplies must be gathered. With the money bag of quarters, dimes, and pennies in tow and any close-to-expiration grocery store coupons, they set out to sale.

On this particular Saturday morning, I was awakened from blissful slumber to drive the three sisters on their weekly enterprise. After the pre-sale rituals were performed, we congregated in my car… we were off! At the first sale we came to, a Johnny Cash CD was purchased for the wallet-breaking price of 10¢. So now we were set, four women hustling down the highway through the Burning Ring of Fire to the next sale, chattering away about what store has the best deals that week or who won the award for the most achy back that day. Our plan was somewhat delayed when each sister would see something that her grandchildren absolutely needed and an early- morning call had to be made. More often than not, the grandchildren didn’t actually have to have that very specific thing that day, believe it or not. So on we went to more sales, finding more bargains, making more new friends. We grew hungry after such an eventful morning—but not to worry—McDonalds had their sausage Mcmuffins on sale. This is a particularly wonderful sale item because the top can be removed and eaten with jelly while the bottom half with the sausage can be eaten as a sandwich. I was honored to have been included in the senior coffee deal– .55 cents off always helps.

As we sat eating and laughing, I took a second to reflect… I was in the presence of 80 years of love and faithfulness. They were steadfast. These sisters had been through it all together… the very happy moments and the very painful ones. They had learned lessons that I hadn’t yet. They had seen beauty that I can only yet imagine. They had fought and cried together. They had shared each others daily woes, responsibilities, and joys. They had cooked casseroles for each other through funerals and hospital stays. They had been honest with each other. They had hurt each other. And yet, they had held each others hands through life and leaned on each other when it was just a little too hard to stand alone.

I realized that not many people understand that kind of commitment. We live in a day and age that it is very easy to give up on people who make us angry, who don’t share our views, who we are afraid of, or who we think just don’t make us happy. We hastily commit to them when the times are good and happy and easy, and we quickly abandon them when the harder times roll in. This sentiment is reflective of our society which generally discards something that isn’t pleasant, or fruitful, or immediately appealing. It’s the easier way to go, but I think it’s pretty detrimental. Detrimental to our work ethic… detrimental to our spirits… detrimental to our hearts. See, there’s something deep about sticking out that friendship, that relationship, that hard time… there’s something spiritual about not giving up on someone. There’s this connection that binds you together and helps you sleep in peace at night. It’s hard and it’s heavenly at the same time.

As we were leaving McDonalds with full bellies, a gentleman in a suburban who was backing out, almost hit me. Aunt Mary, who was in the co-pilot’s seat, addressed the man from the inside of my car, saying: “Well, mister, are you going to stop, or not?” I chuckled to myself because I knew that she had my back as she always had and always would.

Unexpected Mercy

As I was driving through a little town close to my hometown yesterday, I decided to stop for lunch at a cute, mom and pop diner along the main drag. I felt at home as I entered the diner where an assortment of country folk were enjoying their BBQ and root beer floats. Lots of plaid, ball caps, and half- empty coffee cups. I was alone so I made my way to the counter to sit on a bar stool. Having ordered my squash and field peas, I was looking forward to managing a quiet lunch while catching up on some reading.

Though there was other seating available, a smiling middle-aged man approached and with a heavy country accent, asked: “is this seat taken?” I said “no, feel free,” while secretly annoyed that he had parked it at this spot beside me. I don’t feel like talking and I definitely am not interested in you, I thought. I happened to have my best shirt on and frankly, –and this is not at all bragging– my hair was just working for me that day. Maybe I should have chosen the grungy look this morning, I thought.

As he settled in, I went back to my endeavors. Ironically, I was reading over some notes I’d taken on a recent talk about compassion and apparently, it wasn’t quite sinking in yet. The man began talking to the waiter as she came to ask his order; he unfolded a sad story, his husky voice trying unsuccessfully to hide the pain in it. Recently his daughter had suffered a traumatic brain injury that had rendered her a subsequent neurosurgery and was currently incapacitated, needing a ventilator to breathe for her.

Well, suffice it to say, I began feeling terribly guilty for my shallow first impressions of this man. I didn’t know what to say since I hadn’t technically been invited into this conversation. I’m a big fan of keeping my mouth shut if at all possible, especially when I haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about.

As the waitress walked away, knowing nothing else to do, I leaned in closer to him as we both sat eating. We were close in our communal silence. It was as if he knew I was saying, “I hate this for you right now. And I’ll sit right here beside you as long as you need. Because when it comes down to it, you and me… we’re really not so different after all.”

Eventually, he slowly rose, smiled just slightly, and walked away.

And there I sat, having learned another lesson.

Sometimes just being close to someone, even a stranger, is enough when you are hurting so badly. And at the end of the day, all we can hope to do is take each others hands and walk each other home.

What are you learning these days? Pray, tell!

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

This week has been one that I have long since been looking forward too… its been a reprieve from busyness, a chance to breathe. This year has been SO amazing so far… but also one that has demanded the most of all of its moments. I stay busy, I use busyness as an excuse to not feel sometimes; I think this is something that we all do at times, and come to face reality once we slow down.

I’ve enjoyed this break because it has helped me to gather my thoughts and regain my priorities, a chance to fellowship with my Maker. I am reading a book that I won’t soon forget… a Donald Miller book. And so I have to give him credit as my inspiration for this post. Miller becomes transparent in this book so that he can relay his story…one that he found boring and meaningless. He began changing things… he initiated the steps of creating a catalyst that sparked a change in his life. He wanted to live an epic story. It’s as simple as that. He wanted his story to be lost in the greater story of Jesus. “And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”

I know that we often read books that “light a fire under us,” and we quickly resolve to change our ways and actions. We do this because we feel God using the words of another author to speak to us….then as rapidly as the words came into our lives, they leave. I say “we” here, and mainly mean “me.” I think though that since January of this year, the Lord has been preparing my heart, growing me, asking me to change. And so, I say that to say, that I feel like the Lord was getting me ready to read this book and allowed me to read it when I did because a wonderful brother in Christ so kindly gave it to me. I am thoroughly encouraged by Miller, a man whom I have never met. I am encouraged to not let fear keep chains on me… I will live abundantly, I will do what the Lord has called me to do, I will be in love with Him. I will live in a story that is greater than my own, a story where it’s all about Jesus. My life is His. And that gives me joy that’s unspeakable.

Life’s too short to be caught in meaninglessness. It’s too short to miss the sunset. It’s too short to be unkind. It’s too short to be boring. It’s too short to be scared.

Every story is different. I am not even beginning to suggest that I am surrounded by boring stories. At all. I have met some incredible people with incredible stories. Some women I’ve met are strong mothers and have chosen love above all else. Their stories are epic. I’ve met brave children in Africa who smile in the midst of turmoil. Their stories are epic. I’ve met a guy who trained for months to run a marathon to raise money for an organization that he cared about. His story is epic. I’ve met a man who makes wheelchairs and made one to push a disabled friend in a marathon. His story is epic. I’ve met a woman who gives herself to loving the homeless of Nashville. Her story is epic. I’ve met a couple who gave up what they were doing in Tennessee to go serve for a month in Haiti after the earthquake. Their stories are epic. I met a woman who lives with constant back pain but gets up everyday, loving and serving her loved ones. Her story is epic. Does your story point to Jesus? Are you laying everything you have and everything you are on the line for Jesus? Will someone someday remember your story as epic…and will not be able to recall your name because you pointed your story towards Jesus?

If you read this…I want to hear your story. Message me. Much, much love to you.