The Best Things in Life

I don’t much care about fashion or gadgets (I just want to look like I fit somewhere in the current decade and have a device that works). I don’t much care about travel, beyond the occasional getaway. I don’t much care about the so-called social scene.

I’ve been married for 10 years and experimented in each of the above pursuits. I’ve found each of them to be at best, a disappointment; at worst, a trap. Clever distractions to divert attention away from what truly matters in life – faith and family.

Let’s face it: Fashion is not much more than a lovely racket. Cleverly arranged pieces that appeal to the eye and make one feel “I simply MUST have that!” And after you’ve worn your perfectly paired finery, you realize you’ve spent more than you should have – on something nonessential. And just give it a season – you will find that you rarely, if ever, use it again. (Unless, of course, you are the type to choose essential pieces in classic colors and styles. In that case, you may use those pieces season after season.) And the never-ending parade of smartphones, tablets, and other devices is clearly just another trap, if you MUST have the latest and greatest. There will always be a new one.

On to travel. Don’t get me wrong. This girl has heard (but never answered) the call of the Australian Outback, the siren song of Paris, the timeless calm of the English countryside. But simply put, these things cost money. Quite a bit of it. And after the headiness of the experience has faded, all you have left are some pricey souvenirs and way too many photos. And perhaps debt. I may be in the minority here, but that seems a very fleeting source of happiness for such a high price. I’d rather have something I can hold on to. Besides an overpriced miniature Eiffel Tower.

As for the social scene, if I have to impress someone with my experiences in the world of fashion and/or travel (or anything else, for that matter!) to be accepted into a particular circle, I don’t want to be a part of that circle anyway!

Realistically, the majority of our lives are not spent in any of the above pursuits (unless we actually work in an industry relating to any or all of them). The majority of our lives are spent in making a living and, well, living. Why can’t making the most of the life we are building be THE pursuit? Instead of the next outfit, trip, or party, why aren’t we focused on the people that make up our lives?

The best things in life are not free. They cost, not money, but time and effort. Any relationship will give only what you invest in it. Therefore, I’m not going to fritter away precious moments with those I love. I’m going to enjoy them and truly love them. I married my husband because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, not just my spare time. I’ve found my calling: it is being a dedicated wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. The latest fashion will be whatever I can afford. The latest smartphone will be the one I get at a discount. The dream vacation will be the one I spend with my family – anywhere. My social life is full of beautiful people who know how to have fun – with children and pets, in a casual atmosphere, where there is no pressure to impress. Because in my world, my husband’s laugh, a sincere “thank you” from a family member, hugs and smiles from the children, my dog’s wagging tail – are the beautiful, intangible things of true value. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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“The Non-Friend”

In the course of living life, we forge friendships. Some of these friendships last a lifetime, changing and maturing with us. Some follow a cyclical pattern of closeness and drifting apart. Some fade into mere acquaintanceship. Some sadly wither into a state we shall dub “the non-friend.”

“The non-friend” is someone with whom you once shared a close relationship, but for any number of reasons, the relationship has deteriorated into indifference, at best – at worst, an almost hostile state. Yet, both parties remain a part of the same social circle and therefore are often thrown together despite the dissolution of the relationship. Perhaps the break occurred because the relationship was all take and no give on one side. Perhaps both personalities changed drastically – or just one changed. Perhaps your patience ran out. Perhaps you discovered that your “friend” values possessions or popularity over the feelings of others, including yourself. Perhaps you found that your principles and those of your “friend” varied too widely to be reconcilable. Perhaps you found a cruel streak in their personality that you simply could not live with. Perhaps they simply stopped talking and/or caring and refused to explain why.

This state of affairs is quite painful and often embarrassing, as others who knew of your relationship ask why you aren’t close anymore. If you’ve invested much time and emotion in the relationship, you may experience a sense of loss. Maybe you took on what I call the “savior” role – being a problem-solver, therapist and life coach for your friend, only to find that they were using you. Losing the friendship may cause you to feel that you have failed.

When the dust settles, however, you may find that no longer expending your energies on a one-sided relationship is to your benefit. You may begin to seek and/or strengthen healthy relationships with more considerate people who truly value you for who you are and who exert a positive influence in your life. You may discover the meaning of a truly equal, give-and-take relationship. You may learn to value yourself more as a result.

But what about your “friend” – now “the non-friend?” As they follow their chosen path without you and you perhaps take the high road, your paths may cross. How these interactions flow may depend heavily on how you choose to behave toward your one-time friend – “the non-friend.” If you continue to take the high road, showing kindness regardless of the other person’s behavior, you will not only keep from deepening the rift, you will have something to be proud of – self-respect. If you choose to view the entire experience as a lesson, you will likely move on in your life with more wisdom and less angst.

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Have you had an experience like this? Please share your thoughts!

The Gracie Chronicles – Prologue

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BEEP BEEP BEEP!

The alarm clock is blaring. The sky is still mostly dark. I can see pretty well in the dark. I watch Dad roll out of bed in the dark room and stumble into the bathroom. He never turns on the bedroom light in the morning, however dark it may be. He’s always very considerate of Mom. She rolls over into the warm spot in the bed that he’s just left. I see my chance, from my cozy orthopedic bed on the floor. I jump up onto their bed. She stirs. I snuggle up against her and sigh. This is the life.

After Dad’s usual morning ritual, he kisses Mom and leaves. Some mornings, she and I stay in bed for hours after this. Other mornings she gets up a short while later and begins her morning ritual. Either way, as soon as she’s changed her clothing, she calls me to the front door, clips on my leash, and we go take a walk.

Some mornings, she really enjoys the walk and talks cheerfully to me about what she’s going to do that day. Other mornings, she grumbles to me about things I usually don’t understand, like “work,” “stupid people,” “being sick.” I’m not sure why we take these walks, but they’re very convenient for me, because they afford me my necessary, um, “potty” time.

We return from our walk, and usually she spends the next half hour going back and forth between the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. I wish she could just choose a spot and stay there awhile; it gets tedious for me as I move from rug to rug in an effort to stay close to her.

Then, if it’s a Special day, she turns on the TV, gives me my breakfast and settles down to eat her breakfast. I’ll admit, I do beg. A little. But I can take a hint, and I don’t push too hard.

Sometimes, if it’s a REALLY Special day, Dad stays home too and the 3 of us spend the day together. Those days are the best days.

If it’s not a Special day, Mom changes her clothes and eventually leaves me with the radio on, a kiss on the head, food and my favorite toy. I eat, then take a series of naps in different comfy spots and sit on the couch to watch the squirrels outside the window.

Eventually, Dad or Mom get home, clip on my leash and take me outside. When Dad takes me out, we have a good brief run. Then back inside, where I get comfy or toss a toy around while they do various human things before dinner time.

I get my dinner and then snooze until Mom wakes me and takes me for another walk.

Then it’s bedtime. I stretch out on my soft bed with my quilt and wait for them to go to bed too. I sigh. This is a typical day in my life. But it wasn’t always this way for me – or for them, either.

True Love

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“Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. … Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13

A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
Dictionary

The above definitions of love – both the Biblical and the secular – are both accurate, though the Biblical definition is more descriptive and poetic.

Love is, without a doubt, the most important thing in life. I’m not speaking of just romantic love, but love on a grander scale, love that truly endures and never fails.

Love can mean different things to different people, but true love differs from passion, lust, or strong enthusiasm. True love makes a better person of us, gives us strength, and brings us joy.

In the Bible passage above, in the original Greek, the word translated “love” is just one of four ancient Greek words for love. Αγάπη (agape) is the word used. It differs from φιλία (philia), love between family members and close friends, έρως (eros), romantic love, and οτοργή (storge), affection or fondness. This agape is a principled love – selfless, altruistic, committed, and perhaps the highest level of love known to humanity.

It is possible to love one person with all four loves, most likely a spouse. But when troubles come, which of those loves will keep the marriage strong and intact? Not romance or affection, but the selfless, committed love. In a serious marital crisis, only a deeply committed, principled love will save the marriage from failure. What moves you to make sacrifices for the sake of the relationship? True love. As Shakespeare aptly put it in his 116th sonnet:

“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”

True love is enduring. It is not flighty or unreliable, but constant, faithful, and steadfast. Sadly, it is also becoming rarer.

There are too many news stories of marriages breaking up, parents dumping or otherwise abusing and endangering their children, of “friends” backstabbing each other, of grown children abusing elderly parents, and the like. It’s downright depressing. What is happening to love?

Can you think of someone hurting an elderly person and not cringe in pain? Could you look into a hungry or endangered child’s eyes and not be moved to help in some way? Is there someone in your life that means more to you than life itself? Is there a person you know who can make any trial worthwhile? Is there a human being that you would die for, if it came to that? It doesn’t have to be someone you’re romantically involved with. You don’t have to be a parent to feel this love. But have you simply opened yourself up to the possibilities that this kind of love could bring?

The extraordinary thing about real love is that it always begets more love. It multiplies exponentially. You could find one love in your life, and through that love be connected to more love. It could be a spouse, a friend, a relative, a child. Before you know it, you’ve built up a network of love. But you must be willing to open up to it. People need people. Human connections are vital to our well-being, and we are all connected more than we realize. Make it count. Open your heart. Let love in, let it move you. Watch your life change because of it. Love never fails.

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