Always greener

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I finally found a job.

After six months of searching and two months of desperate job applications and silence pushing me to the edge of a depression I always thought I was immune to, I finally found something. I don’t call it my dream job. But it’s a job that pulls deep down from roots that have been withering since before I was even born. It’s a chance to tap into a family history book almost closed for good. A legacy soon to be forgotten, until I took the tattered and cracked reins.

And since then, I have discovered connections to my passions that I wasn’t expecting. A rich history of ordaining women into ministry, a foundation of egalitarianism, and of course, an age-old need-meeting of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. 82 cents of every dollar donated to the Salvation Army goes straight to its missional work of meeting the needs of the community. Beat that.

But my dreams of old have lingered still. A question of when, and how, and where. Will I still one day finish the higher learning I dreamed of? Will I write and publish and all the fun things associated with it? Will I teach the cultural fabric of religion to university students in my old age? Who knows. I can’t put these away, and I won’t. But I’ll wrap them tightly for safekeeping. And they’ll somehow manage to break out of that because out lives are constant measures of paths taken and not taken. All I can do is trust that just as my needs have been met in ways not anticipated, so will my desires.

Also, in one week, we will finally have our own place, thus cutting half of my commute off (thank heavens). Providence proves once more to be just what it is. All the falling-into-place moments of sweet perfection have graced our lives and cuddled us into feeling like we can breathe. Finally above water.

And yet, that subtle inkling of unsettledness will not retire. This idea that there is still more to attain. Better things to seek. Our prayers have been answered, and provisions have been made, and I find myself making plans for when things get STILL better than that. Now, having a job is not enough. It’s all about when I get a raise. Now, having a nice (very nice) place to live actually in town isn’t enough. It’s all about when we get a house and extra bedrooms. I went from being relieved that it all finally happened to looking ahead to better things. No enjoyment or thanksgiving or pleasure-taking in between – all skipped over to finding the next best thing.

Grass is always greener.

Yes, it is.

Grass is always greener where you water it.

And then the truth of how I live so gently reminds me of its existence. It doesn’t always do that gently, so I appreciate the moments when it does.

Where have I  been watering . . . not as much where I should. The treasures bestowed upon me don’t look so shiny compared to what others have. But perhaps it’s because others have taken care of their treasures. Of course they look better. Mine go neglected because I spend my time yearning for theirs. I neglect my lot and pity the day that it finally withers because I couldn’t connect the dots. I couldn’t live in gratitude for my blessings, sweet and sorrowful, for both kinds need love and attention, care and security.

I had to learn this when I was single. I regret nothing about my life and my choices, though some things turned out differently than I imagined ten years ago when I knew so little, I find myself in a place with what I always thought I would have. I knew I’d be married by now. I knew I’d be in Nashville by now. I knew I’d marry a musician. All those things. But even though I spent many years wishing for a partner, a companion, I’m so grateful those years were not granted that very thing. Everything happened as it was supposed to, and I want no other life now. But that doesn’t change the truth that there are quite simply many things I would like to do if I were single that I simply can’t do. I can’t live in Paris for a year teaching English. I can’t buy a cottage on a Gulf Coast island and spend days at a time to myself writing and cooking and reading. I can’t road trip across the country at a moment’s notice. These were all dreams that I once had that don’t cease to exist because of the choices I made, but that’s not the point. My point is that because life is about choices as much as it is about happenings, my choice was to choose what is real. What I had presented before me at any given point in my life was and is real. And I chose to believe that what was real was better than a dream.

I had to choose that when I was single, dreaming of a partnered life. And now I choose that again.

But I want to make a clarification about this. Choosing to live and be content with what we have been given does not mean that we necessarily give up on our dreams. I don’t give up on teaching abroad one day because I know he is not opposed to it in the future. It’s just that our choices and shared dreams for now don’t include that. It doesn’t mean they won’t include that in the future. We don’t shut it out because we don’t know the future. However, because of our choices, I also have to be okay with the possibility that it may never happen. When you’re single, choosing to be content with it does not mean that you stop wanting to be with someone. It means that you choose to water your own garden and enjoy the fragrance of what you have. Tending to our lot doesn’t mean we can’t tend to our dreams. Both need to be nurtured. The tragedy, is when one of them gets neglected. Unfortunately, for many of us, it’s the present that gets forgotten. Feeding and encouraging dreams is important. It’s a a must. It’s the only reason anyone is able to accomplish anything.

But let’s not forget the importance of what we actually do have over the things that we don’t have and that are yet to see material form. They are both meant to work together to fulfill our lives. Contentment is the only way to remain grateful, but at the same time, we are still meant to grow and keep seeking and keep exploring. It all works together. And if it doesn’t . . . well, then you just have to choose. Choose your life, and choose to live with the consequences, because there will be some regardless of the choice. But, by God, choose what is real. And water, care for, and love your life for what it is, for you will never be granted these days again. In the wise words of whoever wrote Andy’s lines in The Office series finale: I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.

And there is. Decide that you’re in the good ol’ days, and live in them. Because I know one day we’ll be saying fondly, “Remember that time we moved and didn’t have jobs for two months?” “Remember that time we  only had a one-bedroom, and all our friends had to sleep on the couches?”

Maybe it’s impossible to think none of us will ever say the words, “I wish I had…” at some point in our lives.

I have chosen a verse for this season of my life, of settling, building, and such. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, minding your own business, and working with your hands.” And I think that will be my key to contentment as spring begins to wake us each day because the times for resting, grieving, and sinking into the dark have passed, and there is work to be done.

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Time is making fools of us again.

 

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I have a special place in my heart for adolescent literature. Harry Potter and Anne Shirley battle for the top of my list of favorite stories. And I believe that what impresses me the most is the depth with which these, and other stories like them, can be written. Not simply because the authors want to include tones and themes that adults will appreciate as well, but because I think the authors believe that such deep themes are ones that children are equally capable of perceiving and understanding, even if it’s in a different way.

We don’t give kids enough credit. We talk in hushed tones about serious adult matters so they won’t hear us and ask questions since such big talk will be too much to understand. When they do ask, and we respond with that condescending smile and that nothing, sweetheart, everything’s okay, go back to bed, they turn away with a crushed spirit because, guess what, they don’t believe you. And while they may not have the vocabulary to articulate this or the developed emotional intelligence to understand this, they are crushed because they know they have been lied to and that mommy or daddy doesn’t trust them with the truth. Of course, we as adults know it is not a matter of trust, but one of protection.

My feelings will likely change when I become a mother myself, but right now, I don’t see the value of protecting children from the harshness of the world. I don’t think that means we should expose them to violent movies before they can speak or that we should explain the birds and the bees while they’re still in preschool (as I’m sure many parents have unfortunately endured the embarrassing announcement by their kids of BOYS HAVE A PENIS AND GIRLS HAVE A VAGINA), but what I do believe is what my mother once told me, and that is if your child is old enough to ask the question, she’s old enough to understand the answer. Now, when you’re my mother and your child is asking questions constantly about why can’t I touch the clouds and why is it cold on the first day of spring and will it rain in three weeks and why don’t you know, you have to treat that truth carefully. We live in a weird paradox of a time where adulthood is reached later and later with each generation and where information can be grasped by people younger and younger with each new iPhone version that makes the equally capable one cheaper and therefore acceptable for parents to pass down to their toddlers. My boomerang generation is smarter than their parents but far less experienced than they were at our age. And to try to cover the whys and hows is far too complex for a lowly blogger such as myself, but what I’m trying to get at here, though I digress, is that children need to hear the truth. My peers were raised in classrooms where everyone was special and got a trophy for existing and got everything they wanted, and then we graduated college into a recession caused by the two wars of our childhoods and by the overspending of our nation to give us a good and safe suburban upbringing because the world before us was terrible and full of strife and animosity and by spending more to amass things so our children will be comfortable will surely prevent such terrors from returning.

But if we had the truth . . . that life is messy and bad things happen to pretty people and there is little more valuable than lessons that are only gained through hard work and that guess what, mom and dad can’t protect you from everything, I wonder if it would be any different for us.

There is no way to know, of course, and there is far more playing into our generation’s woes than just that, far more that include things beyond anyone’s control, ours or our parents.

But I’ve just always believed in the truth.

When JK Rowling discussed the death of her mother, she says her regret is that she didn’t fight her father when he requested that no one see her dead. “I, mistakenly, as I look back, I agreed not to, and I really, deeply regret that. I really, really, really wish I’d seen her. It didn’t matter what she’d looked like, it would have made it easier. Because I do believe that the truth, which is another theme in the books, and certainly stems from my own past, I think that the truth is always easier than a lie or an evasion.”

And this is why J.K. Rowling wins.

Many have said her books are too dark for children. Too much evil, too much death, too much horror. But the art of storytelling is to reveal the real world through words. There is no such thing as true fiction, as every story, every piece, reflects the life of the creator, reflects the world of the creator. Harry’s world is full of violence and sorrow and pain, but so is ours. I don’t want to protect my children from the world, I want to show them the world for what it is, guiding them by my hand and leaving it open for when they wish to grasp it again. I can’t protect you from the world, but I can be here when you want a break from it. That’s all I can do. But I want to offer the truth. I want my girls to know that, yes, it is a possibility you will get attacked or raped because of your gender, but I want to teach my boys that all human life is precious and should be treated with care and dignity. I want to teach my kids that because human bodies are precious, romance should be delicately approached, but I want them to know I will help them out regardless of their life choices for the sake of their well-being. The truth is what our children need, and then maybe the rude awareness of the real world – that we are all bound to encounter as we leave adolescence – will be slightly less traumatizing if we weren’t led to believe that only bright horizons awaited us.

Anne was orphaned, wanted by no one, and when she was finally taken in by those who would love her most, she lost dear Matthew, in the first book that was written for those who were Anne’s age, 11, 12, 13. Three books later, she loses one of her childhood friends. Two books after that, she loses her first child. And in the last installment of the series, she loses her second son to war and her oldest returns injured. But Lucy Maud Montgomery exposes us to these sharp events with a beauty that is unparalleled in anything else I’ve read before. Why, we may ask, could she just not write a pleasant life story for our little girls to read? Because there are too many little girls who don’t get the pleasant life stories. But like Anne, they stubbornly look ahead for only the best things and expect nothing less. And because of such hard work and no assumptions for entitlement, they learn the strength to create a world better than the one they found.

Harry and Anne both find themselves at the end of their narratives in secure families with their wars behind them but forever maimed by what has been lost. There are some things you can never come back from, and perhaps what children need to know is that that’s okay. There are some wounds that will scar for life, but there is a way to move on beyond that and to honor those scars with your living. And this is why I can approve of children’s literature even if it included the truth of a world that can be so grotesque at times.