Speak your truth and let them choose…

This is a powerful message packed into a few short minutes. If you have kids who are approaching adulthood, please click and take the time.

The hardest things we encounter as parents are not the midnight feedings and constant demand of the newborn stage. It is not the toddler years when everything we own is either puked, pooped, or drawn on. It’s not even the puberty years when their hormones are going nuts and they don’t even know who they are or who they are becoming. It is this. The release.

Hands down. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Years ago, my oldest daughter and I were at incredible odds about some choices she was making in her life. I responded by controlling every move she made. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid of her harming herself and ruining this wonderful little life that I thought I set her up to have. And when her actions didn’t seem indicative that that wonderful little life was actually going to happen, it terrified me. It kept me awake. It gave me anxiety. It brought me to tears of both sadness and anger many times.

During those sad months, our relationship crumbled. I have so many regrets about those times. If I could go back and do that whole year differently, the amount of things I would change could probably fill a book.

One day, I found myself in a session alone with her therapist. And she told me these powerful things… “Heather, there are things you get to decide for your children. You get to decide if they get a cellphone or not and at what age. You get to decide if they’ll participate in sports and have a high family standard of academic expectation. You get to decide if they eat healthy or if they eat crap. You get to decide if they’re allowed to have a messy room or a clean room. But here is what you don’t get to decide. Their inner parts. You cannot choose who they love. You cannot choose what they believe. You cannot force your inner parts upon their inner parts. You must let go of that. You see, the stronger you force that, the more they will resist. And in the end, you will lose them altogether. So, breathe. Let go. Release. Parent in the things that are yours to parent, but for those inner parts… let them go. They don’t belong to you. The sooner you get your head wrapped around that, the sooner your relationship with your daughter will heal and the sooner her choices will stop being risky and scary. Speak your truth to her. Oh yes, speak your truth. But then let her decide her path.”

For six horrible months, I did this. And it was grueling. It was hard to see choices being made whose implications seemed vast and with a bad trajectory. But I spoke my truth and let her choose. I told her everything I believed was true and all the dreams I had for her, but when it came time for the choice to be made of who she was going to love and what she was going to believe and what values she was going to espouse, I released. And I didn’t manipulate or punish her with the silent treatment or other forms of control when she decided to actually go off and do the thing I wanted so badly for her not to do.

It was rough. This mama had almost a whole year of sleepless nights.

But one day around six months in to our painful little experiment, she texted me and told me that she had a secret for me. She made me wait a whole painful month before she finally revealed the secret. She realized that some of the choices she was making wasn’t exactly what she really wanted for herself and she really needed help to figure out how to get out of those choices and make better ones.

Even in that moment, when she finally seemed to give in to good reason, I still had to restrain myself. I still had to pull back and “speak my truth and let her decide”. I even had to let her hurt through some of the consequences of the choices she’d made without interrupting it because I know that consequence is our most gentle and loving teacher.

In the end, we reached the end of our dreadful year as reunited friends. And more importantly, the healthy balance of mother and daughter had been reinstated. Without the presence of force from me, she was easily able to see the danger in bad choices. Without needing to counter-pull against me because I’d ceased pulling so hard on her, it became quickly evident to her that her choices were leading to pain and destruction. Without needing to fight me, she was able to embrace the values she’d been raised with because all of her energies were no longer spent fighting with me. She was able to focus those energies on evaluating the cause and effect of her choices.

Two months ago, my first child moved out. And here I am, repeating those lessons. Not because there are bad choices being made but because letting your child go is… well, terrifying. It’s like letting a gorgeous balloon that you’ve tended for 18 years float out of your grasp and seeing it float past a myriad of sharp edges and near misses while you stand there holding your breath. “Please don’t pop. Please don’t pop.”

It’s been a long road for me. Learning this. Learning that my child is his or her own person. That they might not grow up to be exactly how I’ve planned that they would. That they have not only the right, but also the responsibility to make their own choices. To back up and let them choose. To be patient and willing to speak truth that might be ignored. But in the end, I want my children to be thinkers. I want them to know how to evaluate their choices and weigh out their decisions. And I know for dang sure that they won’t be able to do that effectively if I’ve got my hands around their throats.

Speak your truth. Teach them. Instill your values into your children.

But in the end, when adulthood is upon you, you must release. Open up your hand. Let them choose.

 

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Stop.

Someone help me.

I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

There is no space for silence. For reflection.

I chase my tail from morning till night.

I’m hitting a wall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I can’t be sure what’s going on actually. For the past three or four weeks, I feel like I’m drowning. Suffocating, actually. I don’t really think it’s the school. I don’t think it’s work. It sure isn’t my family. So what is it?

There feels to be a set of hands growing around my throat gradually getting tighter without my even noticing. And by the time I do notice, it’s when as stressful event has happened and the restricted breathing room suddenly makes itself known.

It could be a panic attack. Or an anxiety attack. I guess I don’t know for sure. This hasn’t happened to me in years.

Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of it all. Too many early mornings. Too much school. Too much work. Falling behind on other important things. Relational stressors that percolate on the sidelines that I can’t do much about other than try to weather till it gets better. Not enough sleep. Too much caffeine. Not enough time for social interaction. Too many gloomy days.

Who knows really?

I’ve tried to get a hold on it on my own. I’ve focused my thoughts on positivity and uplifting things. I’ve let certain duties slide to give myself a break. I’ve tried to get out more. But it’s not really working.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So this is embarrassing. I’m on the bathroom floor with my clothes half off, a migraine tearing my face off, and suddenly, the inability to get in adequate air. Sure it was a stressful day, but this response seems way out of proportion. What the hell is going on?

My family is literally feet away on the other side of the door, but I don’t want to cause them alarm.

I feel like there should be some thingI could attribute this to. Some THING that happened. But I can’t really trace it.

It passes. All but the piercing headache. I wonder if my face will give me away. Are my eyes bloodshot now? I mean, it’s just a random Wednesday night, after all. I don’t really want it to turn into something more than that. I don’t want to need silence and darkness and a handful of Advil. I don’t want to wonder if I’m going nuts.

I come out to make dinner and am met by a set of eyes that immediately notice the pain in mine. I’m quickly taken to my bedroom and tucked in. He rubs my feet and asks what happened and tries to make it better. He makes the dinner so I can sleep. He tells the kids to be quiet because my head hurts. And all of this is like being wrapped in a warm bandage except for the fact that I’m still embarrassed. I don’t even know what happened to make me lose my shit on the bathroom floor and even require this sort of assistance. But here I am… tucked in to warmth and safety. Resting in silence. Contemplating and seeking. Feeling thankful for the dearest man I’ve ever met. Pillow damp from unwelcomed tears. But calm. Finally.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Within a week, it’s ramped up even more. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what. I don’t know how to make it stop.

All the self-medication in the world isn’t keeping it at bay.

All of my best tricks aren’t working.

And then the sleepless nights start.

Memories of years of severe insomnia bring me quickly to a state of panic. There’s a reason this sort of thing is used to torture a person, to break them. Because it’s so dang effective.

I feel like I’m standing in a pool that is filled to just over my nose. Death and drowning need not happen if I stand on my very tippy toes or bob up and down for air. And so, I dutifully do just that. I know how to manage the beast called insomnia. I know how to see morning light without having arrived at sleep for even a moment. But it’s hard. It’s work. And it does require constant effort to not slip into The Scary Place. If I drop off my tip-toes or stop this continual effort of reaching up for air each second, the first domino will fall. And when it falls, it will begin the falling of a thousand more that I cannot stop.

Some nights I make it. Others, I don’t.

All I know is that I’m hitting a wall faster than I have ever hit a wall before.

And I need to make this stop. Fast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Months ago, I planned a weekend getaway with some of my favorite girls. When the time finally arrived for us to go, it happened to be after three solid weeks of this stuff. To say that I no longer wanted to go is a massive understatement.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire host of hell seemed bent on me not going. Every single catastrophe that could have happened in the days preceding my supposed departure indeed happened. Even the morning that I left was filled with frivolous little challenges that I would normally have had no trouble working through. But in my somewhat disabled state of constant headaches, chronic pain, sudden onset anxiety, and desperate sleep deficit, I wasn’t managing well.

But I went anyway. Mostly because I was driving and people were riding with me.

We arrived to find the world’s sweetest farmhouse. The food was wonderful. The talk was deep. The beds were cozy. And the laughter came straight from the belly.

The next morning, we agreed to spend some individual time in solitude. And so, off we went in our own directions.

After I’d walked about a half mile down the dirt road, I realized that my brain was still in 5thgear, revved up and working hard.

Be quiet.
Be still.
Be silent.

Willing away the thoughts crowding in, I could feel the familiar control begin to take form.

Slowing my feet from breakneck speed to a slow and gentle meander, my blood pulsed slower.

I smelled some purple flowers that grew on the side of the road. I kicked a rock and then walked a few more paces to do it again.

I looked up at the great expanse above my head. Limitless and infinite. Sometimes even hard to look at without squinting.

Wind rustled through the corn and a sharp cold wind penetrated my thin pants. But I welcomed the sting.

By now, my mind was slow. Controlled. Empty. Tiny white puffs were sent forth from my nose with each breath.

I assess my current state of affairs briefly. Not enough to become enveloped in it, but an acknowledgement just the same.

Why am I feeling so… overwhelmed? So overloaded?
Is it really that I can’t bear this much burden or is it something else?
I feel like I’m drowning and nothing in my circumstantial world merits that sort of distress.

Memories of recent moments of panic flood over me. Emotions swirl in the air. My breathing falls shallow, and I can feel the sting in my eyes and the lump in my throat.

I really can’t keep doing this. It’s not that it’s been three bad weeks, it’s that I’ve done this before. Done this thing where something physiological takes over and holds me under. I know how bad it gets. I have spent the year on bedrest and have taken the endless pills. I’ve already walked this road and my entire being groans at the idea of walking it again. But I don’t really know what’s causing it. I don’t know what’s bringing me to my knees like this.

A bird swoops past me and stops on the ground just a few feet away. I stop. I come low to the ground. I stare.

Such intricate patterns on her feathers.
She looks me in the eye – or so it seems.
So empty of care. She just is.

The words flash through my brain like a lightning bolt.

Consider the birds of the air. They do not sow. They do not reap and gather. Your heavenly Father knows their need. And are you not of much greater value than they?

The weeds bend in the wind. Already brown from the early cold. I pull my clasped fingers across the length of one and gather the seeds like a small shrub in the tops of my fingers.

All around me is beautiful. A picture worthy of a postcard. A foggy fall morning. Distant barns hide under the enormity of oak trees. The wind whistles past my ears, but other than that, the world is quiet and peaceful. So much unlike the one I live in with its loud noises and heavy demands. All there is for me here is fresh air, contemplation, and zero agenda.

I start to walk again. In the beauty of the moment, I can still feel the emotion within pressing hard against my skin. Asking to be acknowledged. Aching to be relieved.

What would you have me do?
I need to hear from you.
Sometimes I wish it were easier – that I could just look up and get a word from you.
It’s not that I’m unwilling. This time, it’s that I really don’t know.
What is off? What needs changing? What is causing this strangulation?

I work hard even still to keep my mind quiet and present. I practice the art of solitude. The forceful pressing out of frivolous thought and the disciplined stillness of being in that empty space. The intentional listening while silencing the pseudo voices created within my own head in a seeming response. A self-inspired answer. Not really the kind I want right now.

Around the time I was beginning to wonder if this time in solitude would prove different than the other times, I decided it was time to turn around and return back to the farm so I didn’t end up lost. I looked around me to see if I could still spot the tiny white house and the neighboring log cabin. Not five feet in front of me was one word. One word. In all of the earth that was presently available to my eyes, only one word was available.

Stop.

It sat neatly in an octagon of red.

I stared at it for a while. For several minutes actually.

It’s always a difficult thing to decide if perception or imagination are at work.

Stop.

Stop?
Is that for me?
Is that what I’m doing wrong? Going so hard?
Or am I chasing something I’m maybe not meant to chase?
Stop?

Stop.

And just like that, I was back at the farm drinking tea with the girls and wondering quietly what on earth I might need to stop.

Later that day, I lay on my bed and let my fingers expel the contents of my brain onto a recipe card found in the kitchen.

Cast your cares on me for I care for you.
Be anxious for nothing.
I see the sparrows and clothe the lilies; do not fear. I see you.
Stop.
Seek less.
Be quiet.
Trust.
Search for simplicity.
Do not compare your troubles. Comparison is the thief of happiness. All have burdens to bear. Look inward.
Let go of the things that wrap their fingers around your throat. That strangle you.
I see you. I know you. I have always known you.
Guard against negativity. Think on things that are pure and lovely and good. Do not ruminate on your anxious thoughts and give no home to fear.
Actively trust me.
Help me to stop. Overloading. Comparing. Resenting. Fearing. Being an empty well. Fixating.
Help me to simplify. Focus on now. Forgive and trust. Fill and be filled. Let go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s Saturday morning now. A week since my encounter with the stop sign and endless skies. I’ve taken a lot of drastic action to provide some relief for myself. I dropped my hardest class – the one that was literally giving me ulcers. I pulled back on my hours at work. I am forcing myself to bed an hour earlier. I reduced my coffee intake drastically replaced it with a special blend of herbal tea meant to relieve stress and boost immune function. I’ve also greatly tightened the reins of my mind. No longer is it allowed to run to negative thoughts or my present stressors and stay there in unhealthy rumination. No longer do I feel caught by the throat or the water rising above my nose. It’s only one bad decision away, but it is at bay.

I find that two of the very best remedies for most of what life has to offer is 1) active, deliberate changing of circumstances, and 2) active, deliberate changing of thought.

As a man thinketh, so he is.

I can’t be sure about the stop sign, to be honest. On the one hand, I do believe that God interacts with me and that hearing from him in the form of one lone word spelled out in front of my face in the midst of an otherwise wordless horizon is definitely within the range of possible. But I also know the endless creativity of the white blob in my head and how it seeks and searches constantly for meaning and for words to wrap meaning around and for happy story lines. So, yeah. I can’t be sure. But I chose to heed it’s advice, just the same.

Bill pointed out to me that stop signs don’t necessarily mean a permanent stop either. They are there so that a person applies the brakes when necessary and for long enough to assess and before proceeding.

Within my deepest being, for at least two decades, I’ve felt the pressure to write. To use this little knack that God gave me for something more than Facebook posts and a blog that is largely dead. But, for reasons that would be understood easily by most people who have a form of art to share, I just haven’t. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. It’s tiring. And yet, I feel the pressure of twenty five books swirling around in my brain. Getting it from brain to paper is, as is most art, relatively awful. As they say, everyone likes to “have written”, but no one likes to write. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to face the music and put fingers to keys and just do the dang thing.

The first thing that occurs to me as I try to dissect the real tangible fact that I just experienced something of a mini breakdown and the fact that I do still very much want to go into this field of helping people navigate their traumas and griefs is to: Stop. Pause. Assess. Take a break. And then, when all signs are green, proceed with caution.

And in the meantime, let the dang book out. One of them at least.

Who knows what I’ll do with it or if it will be worth anything at all. But it’s time to listen to the voice that says “Don’t bury your talent.” Maybe later there will be time for seeking Heather’s ambitions, but right now, I think I need to seek this important task. Staying on the path I chose rather than the one that was clearly marked for me feels a little like heading for Tarshish when the message was clearly Nineveh. And no one likes being in the belly of a whale.

Please spit me out now so I can get back to the right path.

For now, my nerves are calm, and my heart is settled. I will do this thing. I will stop talking about doing it, and I’ll just make it happen. I’ll finish what’s in front of me first – this semester. But then I will take a break from the course I plodded for myself to do something long overdue.

And as I do it, I will be mindful of the moving pieces of my life. I will not be owned by anxious thoughts and all the bad things that come from them. I will not overload myself. I will not crowd out peace and tranquility in efforts of productivity. I will order my life right and make strong decisive action choices to remedy what’s wrong. I will pause at the red octagon. Look around me. Decide where I am and where I am meant to go. And then proceed with caution.

 

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coming to Minnesota…

Ten years ago today. And yet it feels like a full lifetime ago. I can still see him standing there on the porch crying. Begging us not to leave. But in the same breath, refusing to get help. Refusing to be rehabilitated out of a life of raging alcoholism.

I can still feel Cody’s tiny hand in mine as we drove away. Away from our home. Away from our friends and family. Away from our town and his school and our whole life. He was 8. He didn’t understand. He was old enough to know something was very wrong but not old enough to be burdened with the truth.

On this day ten years ago, I imagined I was nearing the end of this decade long battle of watching my husband slip further and further away from us and deeper and deeper into addiction. I imagined that this move was the final thing he needed to hit bottom and reach up. I imagined we would make it and he would find sobriety.

But I was wrong.

All the dreams and all the hopes and all the prayers and all the tears… they came crashing down in a violent end just six months later. It was like a death without the funeral. No casket to weep over but he was gone just the same.

There was no Bill yet. No hope of a happy new life. No ideas of a future loaded with promise and health. Just emptiness and sadness.

When I think back to the events of this day ten years ago, I realize how epically important it was in the entire story of my life. And I realize the important role that was played by the people who came along and acted like stepping stones. Helping me find footing just one step at a time.

Lately I’ve encountered a handful of situations wherein I observe someone who is in desperate need of help and change and full life rehabilitation and yet they cower in the last second and choose instead to stay in their prison. It puzzles me when people writhe in the agony of their actions when help IS available. They seem to prefer the familiarity of their chains rather than the open door ahead of them that would lead to something new and wholesome and life giving.

But then I remember. I remember how hard it was. How terrifying it was, actually.

No good or amazing transformation has ever come about without high stakes. Without high risk. Without high fear.

But when the fear is stared down and brave, decisive action is taken, it’s as thought Heaven reaches down to help.

What mountain sits in front of you? What great obstacle must you overcome in order to find peace and wholeness? What demon waits to wrestle with you?

Fight it! Face it! Be brave and put one foot in front of the other. Even if the very.next.step is straight off the face of the cliff of your deepest fears.

Yes, blood will be shed and loss will be sustained. No great adventure has cost less. But the prize is worth it.

Don’t wait another day.

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of missing cats and persons…

 

We lost our cat last week.

I was at work and noticed that I’d missed several calls from home. With teen drivers and lots of afternoon movement – rides from school and to dance, etc. – I’m always nervous about them. I like to hear that they made it where they needed to make it, and I never ever like discovering that I missed phone call after phone call from them because I’m always afraid it might have been “the call”. You know, the one when I find out they didn’t make it where they needed to go and something bad has happened.

I returned the call and was answered by a breathless and crying Emma who couldn’t form words yet. Of course, adrenaline shot straight through my heart as I wondered if my babes were on the side of the road right now in the very accident I try not to let myself envision. As she gasped and tried to tell me what happened, I admit that I forecasted the worst possible scenario.

Finally, the story came out. The cat escaped. Our baby cat. The silly one that is such a snuggle-bug and has so much personality that we call him our “puppy cat”.

Her tears poured, and the sobbing continued. I admit that I felt a pang in my heart about it immediately as this is how I lost my sweet Ella several years ago. She left for a walk and never returned; whether she was eaten, hit by a car, or taken by a well-meaning person who found her, we will never know. But upon realizing that my actual children – not my furry children – were safe and well, I felt incredible relief.

Honey, don’t chase him into the woods. That’s a bad idea. He is a cat. He will probably come back, and I don’t want you girls disappearing into the woods trying to catch a cat and putting yourself at risk. When we get home, we will work together and search for him.

And search we did. All week. It’s amazing how – when you’re on the search for something small and white – just how many small, white things are littered in the neighboring fields and along nearby roads and highways. I assume it’s because our snow just finally melted last week and all the trash that was accumulated under a half year of snow is finally exposed.

Time and again, I would be searching and see something that could  have been him and feel an instant of hope in my heart, all to feel the hope be dashed when the thing that could have been him ended up being a white plastic grocery bag instead.

One more, the little white thing I saw ended up being an actual white cat. Not even a mile from home. I stopped to check if it was our Finn and ended up getting attacked by a crazy German shepherd who bit me and has now put a fear of dogs in my heart where it would have never ever occurred to me to be scared. Hashtag: thankyouverymuch.

We did the posters and the phone calls and the in-person visit to all the neighboring farms. We joined the FB pages for lost animals and filed reports at city hall and all the local vets and humane societies. Still nothing.

I admit we were all feeling a little broken hearted about it. When I say we love our cats, I mean we l.o.v.e. our cats. They are like the small children that Bill and I never had together. We have biological children that we have blended and that’s been a rough journey – to get everyone to love each other and accept each other and be ok with the fact that we’ve created a new life out of the ashes that once were. But the cats are different. They’re easy and fun, and they make us loving and gentle and kind. They’ve taught all the kids to think through what a small creature who is unable to express himself in words is feeling and needing. I’ve often commented that the kitties have taught us all so much.

I know that might be a little over analytical, but hey, I’m Heather. If you don’t know that I do this about ev.ery.thing, then you don’t really know me. Ha!

Anyway, on Thursday night, Bill and Emma were on the road behind our house and who would you guess would be laying in the dark in the ditch? Little naughty Finnegan. Not even a hundred yards from home. Here we’ve all been crying all week and he apparently just went to the neighbor’s farm and had a little vacation. A vacation he seemed intent on continuing because that little rascal did NOT want to be caught.

In the freezing dark early night, there we were. Flashlights and pajamas and frozen fingers. We spread out and called and hunted and shook the kitty treats and nearly begged and pleaded with the open air that he would hear us and recognize us and come to one of us so we could take him home where he would be warm and fed and safe from predators and surrounded again by love and comfort.

He darted around us for an hour before we gave up. If a little cat does not want to be caught, heaven help you for trying. They are just so dang fast.

The next day, I watched at my window. I waited to catch just the fainted glimpse of something white moving around so I could resume my search in the daylight. I even put on my boots and walked through the woods – which was not fun after having been attacked by a dog for the first time in my life earlier that week.

Nothing.

Then in the evening, when Bill got home, he handed out head lamps and suggested we go find our Finn. As he was in our bedroom changing clothes, he glanced out the window and saw the very thing we were all looking for all week. The little stinker was sitting on a pile of rocks about 150 yards from our bedroom window.

In a flash, we were out the door.

We ran and ran till we could not run anymore. In and out of barns. Under combines. Up rock hills and into wood piles. Over fences and through the tiniest cracks under the old milking barn. Through the field. Running at top speed and hoping not to roll our ankles on the hardened stalks of last year’s harvest, we ran and ran and ran.

Finally, we cornered him in the old milking barn. I think that our fat indoor cat was really just too exhausted to continue his sprint. He sandwiched himself between an old piece of Styrofoam and the wall. With a blanket on each end blocking escape, we pulled the Styrofoam away from the wall and reached down and picked him up.

What happened next was completely unexpected.

This little critter that had us all panting for breath and covered in dirt and hay from his seeming desire to not be caught, suddenly knew who was holding him. He immediately stopped fighting, laid down his head, and started to purr.

It’s a funny thing when you realize that your beloved pet is really not human at all. If that makes sense to you, then you’re a real pet owner. The kind who sort of thinks of your pet as a human child who can’t talk and who does weird things like sniffing butts and eating poop from its litter box. Gross, but still human. Even though the fact that they aren’t human at all is wildly evident. What I really mean is that we think that they are wired even somewhat similarly to us humans. That when they are loved and given soft affection and a warm home and high quality food and clean water, that they will become attached to us the way we are to them and they will not wander. They won’t even wantto wander.

But when you’ve spent a week searching and an hour chasing a little animal that did.not.want.to.be.caught and then find it surrendering in the most infant-like way to the actual act of being caught, it occurs to you that what you’re dealing with is not human at all. There is nothing human about that interaction. That’s all 100% animal instinct. In fact, later in the evening, it occurred to me that wantmight not even be a thing to our little Finn. That he might just be controlled by instinctive things placed into him by his Creator that he neither could nor want to be in control of. Things like smells and hunger and the utter inability to allow himself to be caught by the very thing he so desperately needed to return to in order to be afforded the comforts and safety he has always known. And even weirder was how those instincts shifted in a split second to other instincts of trust and stillness once daddy had him in his arms.

I guess maybe that’s not so un-human after all, right?

I mean, in a weird way, I spend my days doing the same thing. Not on purpose, not because I  wantto. But because my original nature tells me to do so.

Last week, every now and then, when I’d stand at my window, scanning the horizon for this one small flash of white that I so desperately hoped to see, my mind connected the experience to a Sunday-school story of a boy who ran away and broke his father’s heart. Taking for granted all the love and safety and protection and provision of the Father’s house, he went in search of something. Something different. Something that he thought was more. And he wasn’t really driven by good sense. He was driven by something much more base. Much more animal.

And so the story goes that the father would stand and scan the horizon every day, looking for just the faintest glimmer of the boy cresting a faraway hill. He would long and long for that boy to return. The same naughty one who bolted the second he could.

The story is, of course, a parable about God’s love for us. About how much he longs for us to be near him and to live in union with him and to partake in all the good things he has for us.

When the boy finally recognizes his bad state, he returns to the father. He expects to be allowed to be a slave, but he is reinstated as beloved son and heir.

My favorite part of the whole Bible is one little verse tucked away in this story. I can feel a lump forming in my throat just now as I prepare to write the words…

“And while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and had compassion and ran to him.”

No lengthy apologies or ardent appeals for mercy were needed. The love of the father was more than enough to overcome the bad choices of the son. All the father wanted was for his son to return to him. He was not driven by the neurotic ego’s need for the ill to be atoned and repented from. He was driven only by love.

If I could feel such emotions for a cat that is more of a creature of instinct than of real true reciprocated love for me, how much more does my heavenly father love me?

If I could stand at the window for seven days and breathe a million longing prayers for the return of a little cat that I adore, how much more does the God who made me long for my presence? How much more does he desire to see me whole and happy and safe and home?

Why do I get this backward so often? Why are the tapes in my head so thoroughly screwed up that it takes a cat running away and the real, true pain of his loss to strike my heart, and then this funny, crazy, wild chase of getting him back for the same old truth to click once again?

God loves me.

He wants me.
His plans for me are good.
His provision for me is real. Tangible.

I think so often of a childhood hymn that has been a favorite my whole life through…

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love.
Take my heart Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.

Every time I find myself somehow running – doing that thing where I leave the safety of my place in his presence, and I get lost on a trail bad brain synapses, like the trail of falling dominoes that is unstoppable once the first is set off – I find it almost impossible to stop. I run and I run and I work and I work. I labor to make sense of it all, and I hide to conceal my confusion. I forget all the times of previous faithfulness and wonder what sort of silly story I heard when I was a child about an unseen force that supposedly loves me and hung the stars in space and formed my heart with his breath and think the whole thing foolish. I forget how much sense it makes. I climb over rusty fences and crawl through dirt holes trying not to be found. I exhaust myself both mentally and emotionally trying to convince myself that this love-affair story of a man who hung on a cross to bring Nearness close is the cockamamie invention of lunatics, and run like mad finding ways that this simply does.not.make.sense.

And while I run, there stands my father, afar off. Scanning the horizons for… me.

Faithfully longing for my return.

To him.
To safety.
To nourishment and comfort.

And the entire time I’m running, I can feel the sense that I’m being hunted. I can reject the entire thing and yet, at the very same time, I can know like I know the blood pounding through my own veins that, even in the moment of my denial and confusion, in that very second, I am being pursued. Sought after.

And when I am finally caught, I breathe hard and pant and drip sweat out my pores and simultaneously recognize this place as the place of peace and safety. The Really Real. The elusive reality that is so shockingly accurate that I can scarcely remember why I thought it foolish while I was running.

And it has happened again. This returning-to. This lost-being-found-being-lost-being-found.

I recognize the arms that hold me; the arms that caught me. The arms of my father. His scent is upon me, his voice reverberates in my heart, and all my instincts recognize him. And I stop. I finally surrender. I breathe, lay my head on his chest, and I can’t help but purr.

 

 

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a box full of darkness…

This quote always gets me whenever it comes back through my Memories.
Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 11.32.19 AM
 
Bill and I were talking recently about the bad things that happen to us along the way and how, without those moments of black, our story would be lacking. It’s a funny thing how that works, ya know. That our worst pain can be the very thing that adds so much depth and meaning to our lives. None of us really enjoy them while they’re happening – in fact, when it was me, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the good things that might come from it. I just wanted to be out of the fire.
 
And yet, the fact remains, who we are and who we become primarily exists because of the hardships we face and how we handle those hardships.
 
It’s not enough to simply experience bad things. You don’t automatically get a membership into the Absolved-Into-The-Greater-Good club by having merely survived. There is a superseding of those agonies and a rising above that is required for the lemons-to-lemonade thing to happen.
 
The hardships we face also define us. We read lots of trendy memes about not being defined by our bad things, but who here has faced something really bad and not been left with a permanent mark? It’s almost like being given an extra middle name. Who we were before it happened stays and remains, but a thing – a dark thing – is added. And it remains. Always.
 
My friend Jonathan’s wife died way too early. Insert extra middle name.
My friend Courtney and my friend Jess and my friend Lora all buried their young sons. Insert extra middle names.
My friend Kris was abused badly as a child. Insert extra middle name.
My friend Rachel was battered by her ex husband. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s husband committed suicide. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s son committed suicide. Insert extra middle name.
My sister’s best friend in high school died in a car crash. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s daughter is in an abusive marriage, and she won’t get out. Insert extra middle name.
 
I have a handful of extra middle names as well. Most of the people who really know me already know those names. And yet, I often feel some sort of misplaced shame that I somehow just can’t seem to get over those things. Those dark things. I hate how they linger and how every thing in life that I learn and want to share and get lemonade-from-lemons somehow always seems to have to come back to those same sad storylines.
 
A few years ago, I was a youth mentor at the local YFC for an art/creative writing gig. As is YFC tradition, during each session, each person is required to give their Life Story in five minutes. I kept trying to concoct something different than the same storylines that have always been present in my life. I tried to come up with something new. I wanted to add in new middle names and leave out the old ones. Not because I was ashamed or something, but because truly, in the deep recesses of me – in the place that feels and knows things without really having thought them through – it seems as though I really should be over them all by now. It seems as though every bit of negative emotional charge should have drained out of those stories, and that I should have something new and fresh to give.
 
As I began putting together my five minute speech, I realized, as I did with Bill just the other day, that those stories ARE me. They were not simply things that happened to me. They were trajectories. They were paths. They were directions I was sent on. So, I could no more give an accurate assessment of my life in the absence of those stories than a good book could bring you to the present place of the main character by foregoing the hardships that brought him there.
 
Who I am IS those stories. They are my extra middle names.
 
But maybe it gets better.
 
Maybe my middle names WERE: Abused, Grew-Up-In-A-Cult, Married-An-Addict, Cheater/Cheated, Abandoned, Alone, Total-Health-Collapse, etc.
 
But, maybe BECAUSE of having visited those incredibly dark places, now I have other middle names as well.
 
Strong.
Determined.
Gentle.
Kind.
Empathetic.
Nothing-you-can-tell-me-about-yourself-will-shock-me.
 
Of all the dark boxes I’ve been given in my life, each and every time, with enough time and healing and dogged effort, a gift reveals itself to me. A gift I would never have had without having been held under water and tortured. A gift I would never have found if not for the blackness and Great Sadness.
 
_________________________
 
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary things.”
C.S. Lewis

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complicated grief…

I came searching for an old blog to share with a friend who is going through some really hard times. When I found it, it surprised me to realize that it was a solid decade old. I mean, I know that. But ten years is a long time, and it’s strange to me how that much time could have passed and yet, so much complicated grief still pulses through my life.
 
Could it be that severe loss and deep trauma just reshape us somehow? That, even after the actual loss has been recovered from, the cellular memory of it and it’s shocking lows and unexplainable pains can be so intensely painful that the trauma always feels near? I don’t know, really?
 
I do sometimes wonder why my recovery continues to not be complete.
 
I messaged with some of my friends this week. Friends who have lost children. The most egregious of all human experiences. The years have passed, but the pain continues. Grows even.
 
I was chatting with a Crossfit friend, and she reminded me of what she’d told me about herself when I met her over two years ago. I remembered but I guess I’d forgotten. She lost her husband. Unlike mine, hers was a real death with a funeral, but what she said was so incredibly spot-on with my own complicated grief process that, even for a moment, I gave myself some room and said, “Well, gosh, no wonder this has been a bad process.”
 
This thing called grief – it wakes us up to a life we never wanted. And even though happiness finds its way back to us and the sun eventually shines again, there is, deep within, the haunting agony of it all. The deep deep scars that com.plete.ly changed who we were. On good days, we’re good. But on bad days, we’re really really not.
 
As I read these decade-old words just now, eyes blurry from tears, I’m struck by a lot of things.
 
Probably first and foremost, I’m struck by my own faith and spirituality. The doctrine-laden paragraphs that oozed from my fingers without effort. The way I was so unabashedly…. Christian. My very deep and abiding ability to trust. I don’t think those things are necessarily gone, but I have, as a person, changed so very much since I wrote these words.
 
My faith went through a two year blackout. How I found my way out is still a mystery to me. And when I’m super technical about it, I don’t even think that *I* found my way out as much as it was a case of me being sought and pulled out. Verses about “leaving the 99 to find the 1” come to mind.
 
But even after all that, the words stutter to be formed. The knowledge – which is now experiential and not just mere head knowledge – is still all present but I am… I dunno… quieter. Not so quick to go on a holy rampage with 10,000 Jesus words and Bible quotes. In some ways, I feel guilty about this. In others, I feel that my faith has some real substance to it now. What was, before, the good hearted scrambling of a young girl/woman who was li.ter.all.y drowning in the pain of the life I was living, who could barely help but scream the words of the 23rd Psalm every time I was lucky enough for my head to break out of the surface of the water and afford me a breath, now, who I am as a child of God is a quiet and silent thing. There isn’t a lot of fanfare anymore and anything that even remotely resembles being “churchy” brings on my own gag reflex. Not because being a Christian is a bad thing but because people can be super shitty. And the shittiest people I’ve ever known also happen to be the type that speak the way I used to speak and who show up for little “c” church every Sunday. THAT is what almost did me in.
 
Almost.
 
But it didn’t.
 
The other thing that hits me hard is just how desperately unhealthy I was. I mean, I had all the proper reflexes that any good Christian girl should have about trusting God, but my deep and abiding need to control the circumstances of my ex-husband’s recovery (or not-recovery, actually) were as real as the blood that pulses through my veins with my every single heartbeat.
 
I am relieved to say that that girl is no more. She has been utterly healed, and she no longer thinks that way nor is she stuck in a word where she is surrounded by inhumane treatment at every turn.
 
As many of you know, I started Crossfitting a couple years ago. And as much as I try to not be an annoyingly stereotypical Crossfitter who can’t shut up about it, the staggering equability between Crossfit and the really hard shit that life throws at you sometimes is something that would be hard to miss… if indeed you’ve lived through tough shit. The thing I love about CF is the constant “I can do that now” that I get to experience. And maybe it’s only the addition of 2.5 lb plates on either side of my bar getting me closer and closer to a new PR, but it’s still an “I can do that now” moment.
 
As I read this old blog, the air is heavy with “I can do that now”. I can deadlift that now. And I can say no to abuse now. I can clean that weight now, and I can choose sanity now. I can climb ropes and do pull up’s and stand on my hands now. And I can also move fairly effortlessly through life with no need for constant crutches, emotional bandages, and continual assistance.
 
My life is insulated with caring, loving, trustworthy people who have healed me all the way down to my core. Well, except the part of me that just seems to be forever stuck in trauma, but I don’t think that will ever really end, so, there’s that.
 
Last week, I saw a picture on Facebook of 6 girls who had flown across the country to see each other. They do this every year. I know this because I was once one of them. The group of 6 was originally a group of 7. We bought cutesy things like keychains and t-shirts that said “the lucky seven”. We’d known each other since our odd and strange upbringing in the same cult and had been there for each other for many many years.
 
Seeing the picture brought an instant physical response of nausea in my stomach. I recalled with startling clarity how it all happened. How six friends flushed me down the toilet in the middle of my divorce, in the middle of my nervous breakdown, in the middle of the most intense agony I’ve ever felt. I remember how not even one of them called me. I remember reading their words of disgust in me – all for something I never did in the first place. One of them sent me a message letting me know she’d forgive me once I stopped lying and was wiling to be humble. Another one messaged me to tell me that she was now wondering if I’d just made up all the stories about my life with Brian – that maybe it was him who was the injured spouse.
 
Oh, there was a lot of flapping around, but mostly there was just blood. Needless blood. One of the girls was friends with my Bill, and she clearly didn’t want me to date him. And so when I did anyway, she made up a story of abuse and took it to the rest of the girls – my lifelong closest friends – and without even a second thought, without even a freaking phone call to me to ask what really happened or what my point of view was, I was removed from the group. My access to our message board – the message board *I* had helped create – was terminated immediately. The girls that *I* had invited to this small fellowship were now disallowing me. During the absolute.worst.moments.of.my.life.
 
But what is most distressing is the fact that I held on for YEARS that they would one day call me and get the story straight and I could be allowed back into that group again. That nasty little group of nasty little women.
 
The me that I am now is appalled by that. Why in the actual hell would I want to be part of such a capricious arrangement?
 
Ugh. There you have it. Nasty little people who call themselves Christians doing nasty little things – and making it really hard for their victim to even want to remain inside the same faith.
 
I looked at the picture for a solid minute before I took the time to find every one of those girls’ profiles and block them. The faces that used to bring such comfort and pleasure to me have transformed into nothing more than ugly ogres. (Sorry for that, I am just realizing now that I still probably have some anger to deal with toward those gals.)
 
But guess what. That girl is gone. The girl from ten years ago who would tolerate such vile treatment from those she had never wronged and then WANT DESPERATELY (for years) to find my way back into their hearts.
 
So there you have it.
 
“I can do this now.”
 
I can say “no freaking thank you” to toxic people as well as ambivalent friends who love me to my face and hate me behind my back. I can see the difference between love for the sake of filling one’s own emptiness and for the sake of sharing one’s own abundance. I can attract goodness and honesty and integrity to myself because the stains of yesterday got washed away in that horrible flood that I lived through and now I’m a new person.
 
I wish the heather from today could have somehow spent some time with the girl I was a decade ago. I’d tell myself to hang in there. I’d tell myself that one day my life would be so bursting with happiness and health that I wouldn’t even be able to contain it. I’d tell myself that pain really can be productive.
 
I still sometimes wonder how I ended up here. I wonder if there was a quicker and less expensive path. I wonder if my introversion is really introversion or just the result of emotional wounds that leave a person permanently tired.
 
I still mean all of these words. The ones I wrote a decade ago while I spent 2 years with my head held under water. The years that I loooonged for death as a relief from life.
 
I still feel the same way as I did when I wrote it ten years ago. Life has muted me, I suppose. I am less vocal. Less able to be vocal. But I do still choose to Be Still before a living God who has known me all of my days. I am still aware of his grace toward me. His loving kindness that brought me out of my that shallow grave and stood me up and healed my wounds. Yes, some linger. Maybe to remind me always of my great need. But the other parts of my redemption suddenly seem so much more thorough and evident as I took this trip down memory lane.
 
This one has always been a favorite to me. I learned it when I was young and my life was filled with things that I needed to be rescued from. It was a quiet theme that played over and over during the dark night of my soul. And it plays still. When I am at work and my mind is not busy. When I’m driving in my car or folding laundry. Gentle reminders to be still – wherever life has me at this present moment. In joy or pain. In happy or sad.
 
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
 
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
 
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
 
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
 
Still a favorite.

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Can money buy happiness…

For my Analytical Writing class…

Can Money Buy Happiness?

While it’s true that happiness isn’t for sale, money is responsible for the acquisition of the things in life that make happiness possible. A warm bed, a full belly, a roof over one’s head, and a good education: these all account for the things in life that give a person a sense of wellbeing.

Money can’t buy happiness, so the saying goes. Or can it? After all, what is happiness anyway and can money – or the lack thereof – really influence its accessibility to us?

Wendy Griffin is a single mother of two boys living in Memphis, Tennessee. She has first-hand knowledge of what it’s like doing without. To her, having a little more money would certainly bring some happiness. She says, “A person who is constantly under the stress of trying to provide food, shelter, and adequate clothing, as well as basic physical security, for himself and anyone he’s responsible for, is not going to be ‘happy’ until he has the financial security to know that he can meet whatever storm may blow in (Anderson).” Insofar as money would allow her to fund the needs and wants for a good life with her boys, yes, money can buy happiness.

But in case that seemed like an easy answer to a complex situation, there’s more. She goes on to explain that there are underlying factors to whether money applied to just anyone will always result in happiness. Basic needs such as physiological and personal safety and security, social belonging and social esteem, as well as self-actualization, are not attainable by even a vast hoard of cash. And without them, inserting money into the void within will no sooner make the person happy than applying a bandage to a man with heart disease will make him well. The person must have a wholeness about them before money can even begin to bring true happiness. But when the wholeness is there, money can be the vehicle that brings about the opportunity for happiness. “Having those worries (basic needs) ‘solved’ would allow me to pursue things like booking a retreat to research and write my novel, funding some charitable endeavors that are dear to my heart, and doing some of the fun things that I’ve put off for decades because food, shelter, clothing, and transportation came first (Anderson).”

On the other side of the tracks, so to speak, is John Gerads of St. Cloud, Minnesota. John and his wife have chosen to live in a modest home well beneath their pay grade. John talks about their choice to live in contentment with “enough”. “Due to not being what we call ‘house poor’, we’ve been able to continue to build our savings, travel, and have the financial flexibility to offer our daughter experiences that we may not have been able to provide had our monthly housing obligation been larger without assuming more debt.” He says they have never regretted their choice, and, even now, they feel no desire to upgrade or upsize. “We are more than happy with our living situation. We have a small mortgage that gives us more financial flexibility with a variety of things. We’ve been able to make improvements to our home over the past few years and pay cash for all of it. No additional debt!” (Gerads)

And so, how can this be? One with too little admits that more would bring happiness, while one with more than enough can cast off the idea of excess with no regret. According to Belinda Luscombe of Time Magazine, having enough to pay the bills, plus room for a little luxury, meant that the quality of the person’s life was enhanced, not just by the addition of pleasant things, but mostly by the lack of the worry over meeting one’s needs. However, with incomes that surpassed taking care of the basics with room for a little more, the reports showed that there was no actual greater degree of happiness. “There’s your changeable, day-to-day mood: whether you’re stressed or blue or feeling emotionally sound. Then there’s the deeper satisfaction you feel about the way your life is going — the kind of thing Tony Robbins tries to teach you. While having an income above the magic $75,000 cutoff doesn’t seem to have an impact on the former (emotional well-being), it definitely improves people’s Robbins-like life satisfaction. In other words, the more people make above $75,000, the more they feel their life is working out on the whole. But it doesn’t make them any more jovial in the mornings.” (Luscombe)

Money ceases being the determination for wellbeing once the threshold of “enough” has been passed. When the bills are paid and the belly is full, happiness is something far more subjective than “Keeping up with the Joneses”. But when one sits beneath the line of what it takes to keep the eviction notice at bay and the electricity on, suddenly, it is for want of money that severe unhappiness can occur.

Seems simple enough, right? Not hardly!

Andrew Blackman of The Wall Street Journal takes this conundrum to a whole new level. He acknowledges that wealth does indeed bring about happiness, but his slant is that how it is spent is the real deal changer. Accumulating more “stuff” isn’t where it’s at. Using money to purchase experiences is what actually gives us that sensation of satisfaction that we call happiness. “What we find is that there’s this huge misforecast,” he says. “People think that experiences are only going to provide temporary happiness, but they actually provide both more happiness and more lasting value. And yet we still keep on buying material things because they’re tangible, and we think we can keep on using them.” (Blackman)

In the same article, Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich concludes the same: “People often make a rational calculation: I have a limited amount of money, and I can either go there, or I can have this,” he says. “If I go there, it’ll be great, but it’ll be done in no time. If I buy this thing, at least I’ll always have it. That is factually true, but not psychologically true. We adapt to our material goods.” (Gilovich)

The brief thrill associated with the purchase of tangible goods is, well, brief. It comes; it goes. Once it has passed, the happiness the thing supposedly provided is dimmed or is gone altogether. It’s when you wait and wait for the latest iPhone to hit the stands. You rush out to get it thinking it will bring the feeling we think is happiness, but before two weeks is over, you’re just over it. It’s not just another phone. The thrill is gone, and it is soon taken for granted as just another fixture of life. But with experiences, life as a whole is enhanced. Horizons are broadened, relationships cultivated, and culture deepened. Weeks and months later, the same sense of happiness derived from the experience lingers and brings a smile to your face. In a bold juxtaposition, it lasts.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s work The Hobbit, we are introduced to a dwarf named Thorin Oakenshield, the son of the mighty Thrain. When his father was killed and the family fortune stolen by a fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, Thorin made it his life’s mission to slay the dragon and return his father’s fortune to his family. After a perilous journey and a treacherous fight to the death with Smaug, he eventually saw his victory. But Thorin’s greed got the better of him. His “gold lust” set in him a burning fire that was never able to be quenched by more. He willingly parted with his friends and those who aided him in battle to unfairly withhold their portion of the treasure. Shortly thereafter, on his deathbed from battle wounds, he wishes a final farewell to his friend Bilbo whom he had betrayed in order that he would not need to share the spoil with him. “I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed. Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship with you, and I would take back my words and deeds at the Gate” (258, 259).

In an age-old story, we are reminded that things can never take the place of people and that wealth is not a thing to be equated with happiness. What Thorin’s bloodthirsty greed brought, in the end, was death. Death to his friendships and eventually death to his body. Had he been satisfied with “enough”, his life and relationships would have not only been prolonged, they would have thrived. Insatiable appetite only awakens even deeper hunger. To these people, money is not a blessing but a cancer, metastasizing sickness and death through their entire being and taking their nobility and potential for good and reducing it to raw sensationalism to excite and please their vulgar taste. It is not the thing – material wealth or what can be purchased with it – that is the trouble. It is when improper priority is given to it that it becomes a delivery service of sadness rather than happiness.

In Saint Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, he utters the often-quoted words, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” He goes on to say, “which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (King James Version, 1 Tim. 6.10). Excessive attachment to material wealth does not bring with it anything that remotely resembles happiness. While it is true that we come into this world with basic needs that, when met, bring happiness, beyond the point of those needs being met, the savage thirst for more cannot bring about anything good.

And so, with such a strong dichotomy existing, what can we say to this idea that money purchases our happiness?

I think we can best say that it affords peace where the lack would mean strain. It brings adventure where the lack would mean boredom. It offers room for expansion where the lack would mean stagnation. It affords opportunity where the lack would mean the possibility of loss.

Or maybe we’re just lost in translation of terms. Happiness, a word often confused for its similar counterpart, joy, simply speaks of general wellbeing and an absence of overwhelming stress, sadness, or anxiety. Of the meaning of happiness, Rubin Khoddam of the University of Southern California says this: “Research in the field of positive psychology and happiness often define a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, and anger. Happiness has also been said to relate to life satisfaction, appreciation of life, moments of pleasure, but overall, it has to do with the positive experience of emotions.” (2015)

And so, we see that happiness speaks of circumstantial contentment and pleasantness, where joy speaks of something much more consequential, far-reaching, and weighty.

Joy isn’t a thing we can put into our carts and ring up at the register. Not literally and not metaphorically. But happiness might be. The new furniture is not the same as experiencing the staunch loyalty of a good friend, and the diamond bracelet can’t compare with holding a newborn baby. But because the chemical exchange that takes place in our bodies during the onset of both the experience of joy and happiness feels similar, we can easily mistake one for the other. One – happiness – fades away, and the other – joy – lingers. Happiness is good for a moment. But then the sun casts down its heat upon it, and the thing shrivels and dies. And then we must return to the beginning again where we long for the next thrill to travel along the synapse in our brains telling us that, again, for this instant, we are happy. But joy nurtures our souls: the place where we feel supreme delight and peace. Joy is a thing that does not fade when the new technology has become obsolete and the new car has become outdated. However, happiness can indeed be fleeting.

So, can money buy happiness? Well, money buys freedom and choice. Money buys comfort. Money can relieve stress, and when used to give to others, it can provide even more happiness! But that’s not to say that it can buy joy. Like any other inanimate object, the hands that hold the money are the greatest telling factor. Thorin’s lesson reminds us to hold it loosely and generously, lest it overtake us, and we live our days longing for the next thrill; for higher and higher stacks of gold to accumulate behind our treasury walls. Have enough, but seek to be content, lest it invite unwanted dragons that attack unknowingly and lay waste the very happiness we so desperately seek.

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