May 9, 2011

The Good Life

Since when did we stop being impressed with sunsets? I live in the foothills; from my house, on a good day, I can almost see the ocean. When the sun sets, it does a pretty good job around here. Most days, I pass it by, give it a polite nod as I head home, but the other day, I had to stop. And just stare. Because it literally choked the breath out of me. No words could have done it justice; to call it a painting of vibrant colors would have been an insult. It was literally...astounding. As I found my breath at last, I wondered how many others I had missed, my head hung as I absentminedly changed the radio station and grumbled at the guy in front of me. So I have to ask, when did we stop being impressed? "Oh yeah, another sunset. Been there, seen that." How about babies? When did we stop marveling at them, the tiny miracle, in a mother's womb one minute and taking a first gulp of life the next? "Yeah, they're pretty cute." That's what we say as we send off a congrats card and go back to checking our e mail. And then I have to wonder, when did we stop living life? The pulse is still there, but the heartbeat is fading as we give up our souls to the mundane. John Eldredge discusses this dilemma in his moving book "Desire." While visiting the Grand Tetons, God decided to put on a show for him and his family one night. Out of nowhere, elk, coyotes and moose crept out to say hello as his family watched under the star streaked sky. He describes it as a "living work of art" and adds, "We were all caught up in something bigger and more beautiful than we had ever known, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art." He then goes on to say this: "While talking with some friends about summer vacations, I recommended they visit the Tetons. 'Oh yeah, we've been there. Nice place', they said. Dismissal.....Then we try to get on with life. We feed the cat, pay the bills, watch the news, and head off to bed, so we can do it all again tomorrow." So again I have to ask, when did we stop living life?
In his great book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell talks about being 16 and being at a U2 concert on the Joshua Tree tour. "When they started with the song, "Where the Streets Have No Name" I thought I was going to spontaneously combust with joy," he says. " This was real. This mattered. Whatever it was, I wanted more. " I've had those moments. Two weeks ago, while skiing in Utah (I say this as if I ski all the time, when really, I hadn't been in ten years and fell off the chair lift my first run up!) I had a moment. It had begun to snow and hail, and the resort closed down the lifts for an hour. Bummed, we retreated inside and grabbed a cup of coffee. When at last they re- opened, we jumped back on the lift and made our way up. My friends took one route, while I detoured off to another. As I came around a corner, I had to suck in my breath. I was skiing on fresh snow, never been touched before by another human being. Sacred, just born ground. Sounds silly, maybe, but it was just so beautiful and profound to me that as I weaved my way back and forth I almost cried. I had another moment yesterday. I came upon a new song while flipping through the radio stations, and I had to crank it up because it was just that good. I had chills. Later that day, I went home, Youtubed it and listened to it a dozen more times. Literally. I went to bed with it in my head and woke up with it in my head. It was just that good. My daughter came to me last night with her own version of chills. "Have you ever heard a song and you just could not stop thinking about it and you wanted to listen to it forever and ever?" she asked breathlessly. I told her that I did, that I'd had my own moment just hours before. She was caught up in her own, lost in a Disney song about girls who feel beautiful just as they are. For both of us, the pulse was just a little bit stronger. Have you had your moment lately?
What if those moments weren't just moments, but the way we lived our entire day, our entire life? I'm talking more than just "stop to smell the roses" but really living, breathing and taking everything in with awe and wonder? I believe in God, in a creator of everything good, but I know lots of people who don't believe in God. I must say, some of them are living life better than me. And by that, I don't mean fancier cars, more vacations, bigger houses. I mean, they know how to live a full 24 hours. They laugh more, they rave about a good wave when they surf, they sing the loudest at rock concerts, they get impressed by sushi . Their heartbeat is strong. But sometimes mine's not. I'm just limping along, barely breathing it in, hardly glancing up as my kids shout out "Look Mom! I did it all by myself for the first time!" And I have a hunch God is pretty bummed, because everything that is good is everywhere and I've deemed it just another ol day.
I have a friend who decided to take a picture of her kids every day for a year. Every day, no matter what, she carries her Nikon with her and snaps photos of random moments. A sleeping kid in a car seat with a half eaten ice cream cone stuck on his chest. Kids laughing in a bubble bath. A game of Frisbee out back. These aren't the big Kodak moments, the birthday parties, the weddings, the baby showers. This is life. And it's a good life. A great life.
So when did we stop whipping out the camera? When did we decide, "Nah, this isn't really worth capturing? Same ol, same ol here." I have a hunch. It was somewhere between our last college final and our last promotion at work. Somewhere between that last dirty diaper we changed and that last bill we paid. Lost along the road between soccer games and ballet class. That's when the camera got tucked away. That's when sunsets became predictable, fresh snow became a pain in the butt, babies became a dime a dozen. Even the well meaning stuff ate us up. We sat in church and someone told us, in so many words, that in order to love God more we had to enjoy life less. Quite the contrary, I would venture to argue.
I don't know much, but I do know God gave us taste buds. And two eyes and two ears. And a zillion different kinds of flowers to enjoy, when they could have all been tulips. He gave us the cocoa bean and the coffee bean, for crying out loud. (Hallelujah!) And music. We can't forget music. So I ask again, when did we stop living the good life and settle?
Rob Bell ends Velvet Elvis by sharing about a party he recently held. He called it "An Epic Celebration of All that is Good." There was no special occasion, but they got a DJ anyways and danced the night away, ate good food, hung out with the neighbors til the wee hours of the night. Sounds like a pretty good party. No presents, just lots of celebration. The good life.
Life doesnt always feel like the good life. Sometimes it stings. Sometimes it just plain sucks; it hurts. I know, because I know. Telling someone to enjoy a sunset when they've just lost a loved one doesnt feel right. But even then, something beautiful is near. A good cry. A suffocating hug from a dear friend. A home made lasagna created by someone who got on their knees for you last night. A God who cried along with you. It is there, it's always there.
And so somewhere, between the 405 and the 605, the third aisle of the grocery store and the stream of cars at the gas pump, we've got to find it again. Get out that camera. It's time to snap a picture of the good life.

2 comments:

Rebekah Martin said...

I read an article a while back about a study that was done where a world renowned violinist dressed in casual clothes and performed in a subway in some major city. All the adults quickly walked by and ignored the man while every child was captivated and tried to stop and listen while their parents hurried them along. This same violinist played the same week in that city where people payed lots of money to hear him play in a concert hall. The story was so thought provoking to me.
I recently went up to a man playing some lute type instrument on a sidewalk and thanked him for his music because it was hautingly beautiful - beautiful enough to pay to listen to in a concert hall!
Life is beautiful in spite of all it's pain and we miss out on so much when we do not have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Fibromommyx3 said...

Wow Karen...you have done it again. Your words always capture my thoughts exactly. You have such wisdom and a way with your words. More people need to read your words. Thank you once again for sharing. Please share more often. I am totally making Jim read this too, he really needs to hear this.
Beckey