Once Upon a Life…

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis

I have always loved pretend stories. Fairy tales, tall tales, folklore, mythology, fables; they have enchanted me since I was little. As I have aged, like many others who share this love of fairy stories, I have seen grains of truth and life lessons inside these tales. Many, like Aesop’s Fables, have morals and lessons woven into their fabric. Other tales are presumably told for the love of storytelling. As we go through life, however, we learn that every story has a moral. Sometimes we see actions to emulate; and other times we might witness perils to avoid.

Our own lives are filled at times with goblins, enchanted forests, vile sorcerers, shining heroes, and the rest. What we can take away from this is that, unlike a pre-written tale where the actors have no say about its many twists and turns, our stories are peopled with those we happen upon as well as those we choose. Our actions have much to do with our ultimate conclusion, so much more than our initial story’s setting. We can all be working toward our “happily everafter”. The farther you have to go to reach this end, the greater the accomplishment, the more inspiring and harrowing your life’s tale will be. Who wants to read a story that goes from “once upon a time” to “happily everafter” with nothing in between or after? (Happily everafter takes some work.)

Many of the most popular stories have a great opening.  “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” – C.S. Lewis, The Hobbit.   “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath  “Call me Ishmael.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick. The very best tales, however, have a good ending.

Does not wisdom call out?

Does not understanding raise her voice?

At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.”  Proverbs 8:1-11



K.I.S.S. (Finding Happiness in the Ordinary)

Sometimes, our lives can be confused, hectic, and complicated. We’re stressed, grumpy, and irritated at everyone and everything that expects one more thing out of us. Trying to be perfect sure can wear you out! It doesn’t have to be that way. We can practice a very valuable habit. It can be done anywhere. It can be done by anyone, regardless of age, weight, height, gender, yadda-yadda… It’s called Simplicity.

Today was a little cooler than yesterday, which was waaay too warm for me. It was the kind of day where you turn your house into a dark, claustrophobic cave just to stay cool. I don’t like being shut up in a dark house. I like fresh air and natural light; but I DON’T like to feel like I’m living in the steam room down at the YMCA. So, we closed all the windows and blinds, Ba-da-bing. TODAY, however, was much milder. I’ve had my window open all day, and it occurred to me how much I find plain, old-fashioned, vanilla-flavored delight in simple things. As I sit by the window, I can feel a little bit of a warm, spring breeze. I hear the nearby traffic sigh like the ebb and flow of the sea, the chirping of birds, and the occasional bursts of joy from the neighbor behind the back fence as he gardens and sings in Japanese.

This neighbor, who inspired my blog post for today, has adopted an unclaimed lot which sits directly in the middle of the backyards on the block, with no street access mind you, and belongs to no one. He mows the weeds, has several raised and cordoned-off beds, and uses it as an extension of his own garden, which I think is wonderful. Not only does he spend a lot of time and trouble making this weedy, abandoned lot useable and enjoyable; but his joy and enthusiasm overflows at times and I get to hear his heart sing!

What we may be surprised to know is that we find the most joy in, something besides a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Bermuda, or winning the lottery or finally landing that promotion or corner office. Those things are nice for what they are, but they usually come with a price tag that includes more than money, and they are the exception to life instead of the rule. (For the majority of us.) What if, we could find our happiness in things we didn’t have to buy or maintain? What if we could find happiness wherever we were, no matter what?  What if we let our guard down and just enjoyed our lives once in awhile?

When was the last time that you watched a sunset (or sunrise), or colored a picture in a coloring book (going outside the lines is OK), or sang a song, or had a picnic, or walked in the woods, or baked a cake(or pie, or cookies), or drew a picture, or wrote a story, or went to a ballgame, or watched cartoons, or dug your toes into mud, or got up to dance, or told a corny joke, or played in the sand at the beach? Have you forgotten why children see life so differently? Kids are silly, and they see a reason to laugh way more often than you do. Why is that? In life, it seems like true joy has to follow the same rules as nudity: It’s understandable ONLY if you’re a small child or insane!

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” C.S. Lewis (British Scholar and Novelist. 1898-1963)

Joy and Love are very similar. They both come from the inside. Real joy, like real love, is something inside of us that compels us to do things, not get things.

Joy is not in things; it is in us.” Richard Wagner (German dramatic Composer and theorist, 1813-1883)

Our sources of joy can be as unique as we are. For example, I can name all of the U.S. Presidents, in order, from George Washington to Barack Obama. I love to recite them if given the chance. I’m not a big U.S. history buff, or over-the-top patriotic, either, although I AM thankful I live here. I love the car commercials that show the shining reflection of things in the paint as the car drives by. I love TV theme songs. I used to watch some shows SOLELY for the opening theme, and then change the channel or turn off the TV altogether. I love commercials and previews and jingles. I love playing games on my PC, and my favorite is World of Warcraft. I LOVE birdsong. I love to cook and garden. I am unique, and these are a few of my unique, make-myself-happy things. Each of us has things that make us happy. Each of us deserves to be happy, and make other people happy. If not now, then when? We only get this one life, after all.

“Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.” Rose Tremain (b. 1943), British author. Sunday Correspondent (London, Dec. 24, 1989)

“With New RADIANT Action!”

Many people will recognize the title of today’s blog as a quote from E.B. White’s book, Charlotte’s Web, where Templeton the rat, brings Charlotte the spider, a side panel from a box of detergent with some writing on it. The panel says; “With new Radiant action!” The animals go on to discuss what radiant means and whether the term can be applied to Wilbur the pig. Of course the makers of the detergent were only talking about getting your clothes really clean. 🙂

Let me tell you a story of my own… So, my husband had a job where he got dirty, GRIMY dirty. His coat, which is a beige-y Carhart thing, is pretty tough. It can withstand a lot of punishment while he works but it was impossible to get clean….Until (and this is not a commercial), my mother-in-law told me a story about being a young bride and trying to get some old camping sleeping bags clean. They were washed and washed and washed (insert Bugs Bunny loop), but the grime stayed. Then, a little old lady (God bless them they are a national treasure!) saw her dilemma and took pity on my mother-in-law…..pity or something….and promptly told my mother-in-law to get her (the little old lady) a Coke from the vending machine. When my mother-in-law brought it to her, she opened it and promptly poured the entire thing into the washer with the sleeping bag. The cycle ran and the sleeping bag came out and went into the dryer and lo and behold it was clean!

Now, I am certainly a smart Alec and naturally skeptical about washing anything with a soda; but I also love my husband and didn’t want him to have a gross ruined jacket that wasn’t good for anything BUT nasty, grimy work. So, I gave the whole washing-the-coat-with-a-soda-added-to-the-regular-wash-cycle-along-with-the-detergent thing (deep breath) a try. Mind you, I wasn’t planning on holding my breath, ironically, or anything else cliched by overuse which is remotely similar to holding my breath. The coat was seriously dirty.

The whole situation reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I’m talking about the book here, not the movie. The boy Eustace is desperately trying to be free of his enchanted dragon flesh, as well as be relieved of a rather painful arm ring which doesn’t fit him now that he has become an enormous dragon. He finds a delightful pool in the forest and thinks it would be a wonderful relief to be able to get into the water. A fearful and glorious Lion appears at the water’s edge and tells him he must first be rid of his dragon flesh before he can enter the water. Eustace tries and tries, but no matter how he scratches at it, all he manages to do it to shed a couple layers of dragon skin, like a snake. At the end of all his efforts, he remains a gnarled, lonely, and wretched dragon. This is when the Lion steps in, strips off his enchantment rather dramatically, lobs him into the pool, and Eustace the boy is once again whole and clean and better than ever he was in all his life.

This scene in the book is a perfect picture of the story of Redemption. I know it’s not popular to talk about sin as sin. We like to rename it and call it our “shortcoming” or our “bad habit” or our “struggle” or our “weakness”. But as many of us have already realized, we are gnarled, lonely and wretched. We aren’t just quirky, we are deformed and fetid; and as far as we ourselves are concerned, there is no remedy. Then the Lion appears in our life, and if we allow Him to, He transforms us utterly and our life is never the same.

Psalm 34: 4-5 “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

Still wondering whether or not that silly soda actually worked to clean that nasty jacket? It did. 🙂