But…I’m Already Happy…

IMG_4721It happens, now and again, as I scroll through my Facebook feed, to encounter a dangling carrot.  The dangler, or angler, or lifestyle salesperson, or multi-level marketing pitch-er, croons a solution and jiggles the carrot.  This presupposes that I have the problem they’re ready to help with.

I’ve never been a fan of motivational posters; I mean does anyone actually feel more heroic or brave or encouraged from reading some cliche splayed across a rugged mountain scene, with some self-actualized hiker standing at the edge with his fists raised double and high?

So when friends, acquaintances, and high school buddies post a triumphant selfie, product in hand, and then talk about wellness, no more migraines, boundless energy, community, opportunity, financial freedom, balanced chakras, vacation money, bonuses, Lexuses, joy, bravery, DREAMS, hot tubs, and talk abysmally about J-O-B-S (yes, some actually do spell it out like it’s a dirty word) that are implicitly heinous, life-wasting occupations for the cowardly, blind, subservient miserable masses, I find I genuinely have no understanding of what sort of fish is hungry for that bait.  And why, to me, it looks like a neon, rubber worm with a barbed hook inside?

And then I know it; you don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch.  If the fish is well-fed, even the flashiest of bait isn’t tempting.  See, I’m already happy.  I’m not hungry for that oddly-luminous, sparkly bait.

No, they’re right, I can’t afford to travel the world, nor drive a Lexus, nor buy a fancy hot tub, nor receive massive bonuses, but what I can afford to do still astounds me.

We can drive to the ocean, folks!  THE OCEAN!  Where I grew up in Montana, the ocean was several hundreds of dollars and hours upon hours away.  I didn’t see one until I was seventeen.  I get a thrill every time I see it, and getting tossed around in it’s rocking and rolling waves is pure joy.

And, seeing those dear faces, I get to have kids!!!  Lots of them!  I know so many folks whose bodies don’t have the ability to bear children, and that breaks my heart.  I don’t take it for granted that this unfathomable blessing has been given to me and my husband.

Every single day we eat and have clean water to drink!  There is a group I’m a part of in Facebookland called “Real Hope For Haiti“, and they regularly post pictures of incoming patients; little kids swollen from kwashiorkor (malnourishment), and ask for prayers for critical cases.  My eyes fill with tears.  How could I not be grateful, so very thankful for our daily sustenance?  It converts my hunger into hunger-to-help!  Keep your protein shakes and moon juice and algae-aloe-smoothie miracle powders; I’m astounded to have the food I have!

A lot of the pitches have three themes:  autonomy (you’re in charge, you own a business, you decide your hours), wealth (commissions, bonuses, free cars, cheaper or free products), and altruism (you’re helping other people achieve their dreams and/or improve their health) to make the first two seem like mere side benefits.  You can get the glow of a hero and the bank account of a CEO, all in one!

I almost feel bad for not having the problems they’re ready to fix; or in a lot of ways, I don’t see my particular sufferings in the same light as they do.  I don’t automatically assume that hard financial times are an altogether bad thing; they can be a crucible for one’s character, teach one frugal habits, activate humility, and make identification and empathy for the poor an immediate thing.  It’s hard to look down on someone you’re standing next to.

One seller posted accusingly, “Why be sick?  You can be free of that if you use essential oils, duh!” (my paraphrase).  I wonder how Job would have heard that, in his ash pile, covered in boils.  “Oh, so it wasn’t God allowing Satan to sift me?  I just needed tea tree oil?  Astounding!”  This sort of triumphalism in regards to health is the oddest bait of all of them.  The Bible says far more about the connection between our passions (envy, lust, resentment) and our bodily health than it does about what we put into us.  Even then, we’re cautioned from assuming a cause/effect outlook:

“His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.”  -John 9:3

We can’t rummage through God’s toolbox and eject the tools we don’t like.  They may be just the right ones to fix something in us that is very broken.

I stood in front of a room full of sixth graders and asked if I could share my favorite inspirational platitude.  They nodded, grinning because I had already proven myself funny and odd.  “Die” I said, raising up my hands to make exaggerated quote marks for dramatic effect.  “Shouldn’t I embroider it and border it with flowers; wouldn’t that be lovely on the wall?”  They laughed and maybe they didn’t know what to think.  “Dying to myself, my desires, dying each day, even imperfectly, always, always leads to joy.”  I asked them how they could die each day; in what ways could they deny themselves in order to serve others or Christ?  They had really good ideas; they may have had some dissonance, sure, because our culture swaddles youth with soothing words of self importance and self fulfillment and such.  No one tells them to “die”.

But we do seem to tell each other how to “live”, how to be happy, how to digest our food better via pills, how to melt fat around our tums with body wraps, how to use our social networks as ladders into our bright futures, how to be successful and bright and better looking, and brave.

How come no one is telling each other to die?  To embrace unavoidable suffering with an obstinate love, patience, and trust in Christ?  To see limited finances as a gift from a wise Father?  To not buy hundreds of dollars worth of pills and wraps and creams and oils, but rather to give that money away so toddlers can not swell up and die?  Because that kind of stuff gets my attention; that scratches where I’m itching.

 

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Perhaps You Got Something Else

It is in this quiet, on this gray morning with gentle rain, that I open the door which is straining on its hinges and release some words, if for nothing else, to relieve the pressure of them within my mind.

“What is the matter?”, he asked, concerned, because I had withdrawn from conversation and was studying the design in the carpet.

“I’m sorry…I’m writing in my head.”

He understands without understanding, the way good spouses do.

My parents have been here from Montana, and I have been a sponge soaking up their presence, their words, their nearness.  When my rarely-verbose father begins to tell a story, we all gather near; we know it will be good.  And my mother, what a hoot.  We had gone to a friend’s reclaimed wood business to pick out slabs for some tables my father is going to make and she and I rode on the tailgate of the truck down from the warehouse to the storefront, holding on to the boards atop the pickup topper as Dad managed to find every low-hanging branch for us to duck and/or get our face washed by.  We roared with laughter, getting smacked with greenery.  Seeing her joy, silliness, and love of adventure is always, and ever, a gift.  Her and Dad are good people; they’re a matched pair,it’s hard to imagine one without the other to reference them by, to echo their characters back to.

Life is different on the east coast; many times I am out of step with cultural norms or ways of reckoning.  Many times my lack of university education shows and I feel shame, almost as though I wear a scarlet letter “U”, for “uneducated”.  I am always around my betters, and I know it.  Being around my parents reminds me, however, of the goodness from which I spring; of the generosity of spirit, the adventurousness, the good humor, and hard work ethic.

Once, in a self-pitying frame of mind, I was comparing my background with that of an English novelist friend.  Where he had been brought up in London, taken from the age of four onward to the Tate and the National Gallery, sent traveling on the Continent in every school holiday, taught French and German and Italian, given access to bookstores, libraries, and British Museums, made familiar from infancy on with the conversations of the eloquent and the great, I had grown up in this dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere, utterly without painting, without sculpture, without architecture, almost without music or theater, without conversation or languages or bookstores, almost without books.  I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe air….

How, I asked this Englishman, could anyone so deprived a background ever catch up?  How was one expected to compete, as a cultivated man, with people like himself?  He looked at me and said dryly, “Perhaps you got something else in place of all that.”

Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner

 

I watched as my three older children charged upstream through the swift current.  They had found a fishing lure and attached line and were hunting a good stick to tie it to.  They spent the next hour fishing in the clear stream with their hodgepodge pole.  Their Grandpa told us how to best remove a hook if they got snagged, and that launched him into a related story.  I watched the smoke go up from the campfire and let his rich voice paint a scene in my mind, and I was glad for what I got, “in place of all that.”

 

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Reading Together, a Novel Priority

It seems that anything is possible over coffee in a quiet cafe.

Even studying a biography 600+ pages long by three mothers whose combined progeny number fourteen.  Fourteen souls to care for, wash for, cook for, run about for, and yet, three mothers laid aside a portion of time, of energy, of brain, to read and discuss together.

When you’re in the thick of it, in the swirl of parenting young children, a coffee with adults is luxurious.  Add to it conversations of depth, on history, theology, politics, and it becomes downright heavenly.

We are reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who plotted to assassinate Hitler, eventually dying in a concentration camp.  There is so much to respond to, so much to think over, and it’s a true gift to do so with friends.

Most of my day is spent in cooking, feeding, and cleaning up from cooking and feeding, peppered with laundry and reversing the chaos of toys wrought by my toddlers.  I find myself ever so grateful to add the discipline of study and reflection into my duties; it has become a priority, and this is due to the ladies who have banded together with me.  We are happily obliged to one another to keep up, keep going forward; make reading an important task, which clearly, it is.

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