Thursday, February 28, 2013

Looking for Happiness and Finding Joy

I’m making pancakes way too early on a Saturday morning and I’m tripping over Legos on my floor. 

My niece and nephew spent the night. I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee yet and I’m dropping chocolate chips into pancake batter, hoping I don't set off the smoke detector like I usually do. 

If I were married, I’m sure this scenario would be a common occurrence. 

But not in my single-town-house-hold. 

I like things neat and tidy. It took all of my self-control to step over the Legos and go to bed without cleaning them up. 

Wearing his coonskin cap and bathrobe, my nephew says something that makes me think I burned the pancake. 

“Did you say your pancake is too hard?” I ask, thinking I’ll have to fluff up the batter and turn down the heat. 

“No,” he says. “I said it’s a heart. The pancake looks like a heart.” 

He stares at the pancake a minute and sings a little song he made up about breaking hearts as he takes a bite.

I think about how I could be busy with so many other things. 

Like if I were married. 

Or had my own kids to take care of. 

And I’m glad I’m not busy with those other things. 

Because then I’d miss this. 

The sleepovers. The chocolate chip pancakes. The silly songs. 

What if this is the life I was meant to live? 

What if there were no wrong turns, no missed paths, no detours? 

What if the so-called lost opportunities in my life are really not missing at all, but are what leads me to find the joy in my hours, days and years? 

What if I can see how God is using the chapters of my life to show me that I have a story that only I can tell? 

To realize that it's not about trying so hard for things to go the way I want them to so I can be happy, but to persevere through the hard things to experience growth in my relationship with God.

I have some vintage girl figurines that were made in Japan, probably sometime in the early to mid-1900s. 

One is a girl skier, another is playfully wearing a pleated yellow dress and hat as if she’s off to a party, one is all business as she stands seriously with her dog on a leash and a purse under arm. 

One of the figurines is actually a pincushion, with her red gingham dress still intact. 

But they all remind me of the pieces that adorn a life – family and home, recreation and sports, professions and work, and fun and friends. 

All the pieces of life that are supposed to make you happy. 

And without them, you're not supposed to be happy.

But if I spend too much time or energy wondering if I'm happy, then I miss the joy. 

Being happy is a feeling that comes and goes. 

I can be happy one minute and unhappy the next. 

I'm realizing that God's purpose for me isn't for me to be happy. 

He wants me to be joyful. 

In whatever circumstances I find myself in. 

Single or married. A life full of activities or empty days ahead. He beckons to me to step out to where the risks are. 

Far away from happy and comfortable and safe. 

To find joy in what I’m doing. 

Especially when I'm tripping over a mess of Legos on the floor and flipping chocolate chip pancakes that somehow look like hearts before I’ve even had my coffee.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The View From My Desk

I have a spot in my great room that serves as my little corner office with just enough space for my desk and chair. My desk is actually a lady’s vanity or dressing table. There are holes on top and toward the back of the desk that look like a mirror might have been connected there. A center drawer has a top that flips open to another small compartment hidden underneath. It has two narrow drawers on either side that don’t offer much room for papers. They force me to carefully consider what goes in the drawers and think about what I really need to keep. There’s just enough room on the desk for my laptop, a few notepads and a little stack of books.

My desk chair is a 1940s-era version that was originally covered with red velvet fabric. I hated to have it recovered but the velvet was shredded and far past being respectable so it now boasts a silky pink striped fabric. When I first moved into my house, I wasn’t sure where I wanted my office. I didn’t want to work on my computer tucked away in a spare bedroom. I wanted a spot where I could type a few words and check on what’s cooking in the kitchen. I wanted to flip open the computer and still keep track of the football game on TV in the living room. So I put a bookcase in the corner of my great room and situated the desk in front of it, facing the doors to my courtyard so I can see outside. My framed photos of Paris hang on the wall for some inspiration.

As I sit at my desk, I glance up and portraits of my niece and nephew look back at me. My collection of tiny wedding cake toppers solemnly stare at me as they stand beside photos of my sister’s wedding, my parents’ wedding and the wedding of an aunt I never knew. This is where I write and think about my family. I'm lost in thought about the stories I want to tell about them. The lives that were lived and the lives we’re living now. The long days and the short years. That are a part of who I am and what I’ve been and where I’m going. 

The truth that everyone’s life matters is obvious to me here in this space as I look at the little scene on my bookshelf. The truth that tells me that my life is connected to theirs. That I am here for the reason that my life touches other lives. And when I want to ask the questions, why am I not? How could I be here without? What of this isn’t enough? I contemplate the view in front of me. Because the whys and hows and whats aren’t mine to ask. God orders my life. He might not answer those questions now. Or later. Or ever. I have to trust his heart for me. In that I am very confident. So it’s quite a view from my desk. Where I get a glimpse of the lives that were lived before me. Where I catch sight of the dreams that have gone before me. And ponder this life that coaxes me onward.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day is for Everyone

Is it Valentine’s Day already? It seems to be the one holiday that rolls around with alarming frequency. I think I identify more with the group wearing green in honor of Singles Awareness Day in direct opposition to the rest of the red-heart-wearing population on Valentine's Day. I usually try to wear black on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately since black is one of my wardrobe’s staple colors, no one really notices my sign of protest. As a still-single-gal in the midst of candy, hearts and other signs of romance everywhere, it’s a holiday I could pretty much live without. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t really want to.

Because Valentine’s Day is my dad’s holiday. Since his mother died when he was very young, he didn’t grow up with anyone making a big hoopla out of birthdays and Christmas, but on Valentine’s Day he never forgets his girls  -- my mother, my sister and me. Some years, there’s a bouquet of flowers. Some years there’s a plant. Some years, there’s chocolate. There’s no fanfare. He usually just picks up his little presents for us at the grocery store. Some years the flowers are carnations, sometimes they’re sweetheart roses. He’ll pull the bouquets out of the car and hand them to us. Or sometimes he drives them over to our houses and drops them off. But he never forgets. Last year, he added my five-year-old niece Devon to his list, bringing her a bouquet of flowers, too. She beamed when she realized she was one of the big girls getting flowers. She put them in a vase in her room and proudly told everyone who walked in, “Those flowers are from my Grandpa.”

I’m not sure when my dad started his Valentine’s Day tradition, but a few years ago my mother gave my sister and me our baby books, filled with mementos, cards and photos. Inside my book was a card from my dad on my first Valentine’s Day. I was five months old. Maybe it started then. But I’m glad my Valentine’s Day memories are of how special my dad thinks I am. Sometimes they say that daughters look for men who are in some ways like their dads. Maybe that’s why I’m still single. Because I’m quite sure that no one will ever think I’m as special as my dad thinks I am. 

This year, I do have plans on Valentine’s Day. I have a friend whose birthday is on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure the holiday makes it a little difficult for her friends to help her celebrate her special day when they’re busy with their own Valentine’s Day plans. So since I don’t have to wonder if someone will surprise me with a romantic dinner and I won’t be watching the clock to see if flowers or chocolates will be delivered to my desk by five o’clock, I’m making my own plans. For a night of pizza, girl-talk and birthday cake with the birthday girl. And when I get home, the bouquet of flowers from my dad will be sitting on the counter. I'm thinking it could just be the perfect kind of Valentine's Day to celebrate year after year. I might even think about breaking out the red sweater to wear next February 14. Along with a black skirt, of course. In honor of my fellow bachelorettes on Singles Awareness Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Am I Looking for What I Already Have?

Whenever I’m in a vintage shop, I find myself drawn to metal baskets.

Sometimes they're rusty or covered with chipped paint, in blue or green or red. 

Sometimes the baskets have linens neatly folded in them or hold office supplies or kitchen utensils. It seems the rustier they are, the higher the price. 

But I’ve also noticed that Marshall’s and TJ Maxx sell similar baskets. Same rusty look but a lot less expensive. I’ve carried baskets around the store, thinking about how I’d use them, but I never actually bought one.

Then I remembered. I have one. 

A rusty, vintage metal basket. 

I hardly notice it because it sits in a spare room holding magazines. 

On a weekend family trip to Cape Cod 25 years ago, my mother made us drive through a random neighborhood and stop at a garage sale. I’m sure it didn’t cost more than a few dollars, since my mother never spends much on garage sale items. 

The person who sold it to her said it was a crab basket. But it looks more like an egg basket to me. It has a tag on it that says “The Farm Bureau, Waltham, Mass.” 

I took the basket downstairs, set it in front of my mantel and wondered why I was looking for something I already had. 

Why was I going to buy a cheap reproduction when I had the rusty real thing? 

I got caught up in thinking how I could use the replica baskets for something clever and useful while the truly vintage basket stayed stashed in a corner.

Hidden. Unusued. Overlooked. Underappreciated.

Then I wondered why am I looking for purpose and ways for my life to matter when I already have them? 

Why am I looking for ways to find bliss and joy when they're right in front of me? 

Why am I waiting for an epoch-making event when my life is already full of meaningful experiences? 

But sometimes it's hard to remember when the days seem hum-drum and tiresome. When the routine gets a little boring. When the hours are full of tedious tasks. 

That's when I miss what's right in front of me. Those little things that I like to think of as love-notes from God. Just for me. 

When I came across a fabulous black coat so similar to one I admired on my co-worker, even though she'd gotten hers a year ago. 

When an email with the acceptance of an article I'd written arrived the very night a friend had unknowingly hurt my feelings. 

When a single man I barely know said that he thought I looked like a princess. (Finally, someone recognizes my true identity!) 

I could overlook them or pass them off as lucky happenstances, but I choose to think of them as something especially meant for me. Right in front of me. 

That’s what makes this faith-walk so intriguing and captivating. To see how God uses my ordinary days, my distressing episodes, my exceptional experiences in ways I’ve never dreamed or imagined.

So last weekend, I put some taper candles in my vintage basket. I stuck a stone planter with dried roses and beads inside the basket. It seems to have a lot of decorating possibilities, but I'm not sure exactly what I'll like in it. 

I might look for some petite French burlap pillows. Or maybe a few vintage books with pretty covers. Glass balls at Christmas would look great. Maybe some flowers or fruit for the summer. 

I haven’t found the perfect item just yet to bring out its rustic-ness. But maybe staying empty would be just as nice, too. 

Either way, it’s an honest-to-goodness rusty metal basket. Sitting front and center in my living room. Where I can appreciate its artful image. Along with all the other things I already have.