Thursday, December 05, 2013

tidings of comfort

Last week was one of those weeks that I will probably always remember.
In part because we are on a grand family vacation. I saw the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and Julia Child's kitchen all in one day.
I will also remember it in part because it is Thanksgiving week and that means the beginning of another Advent, another Christmastide and I always remember those.
Last week will also be known as "that time I got hives from traveling with three kids in a stuffed car for 3 days," that "vacation where Ikea was our cheapest meal," and "when I fell in love with Thomas Jefferson for good." 

But it will also be a week to remember because of what I learned about the true meaning of comfort.

During our trip we were blessed enough to stay with friends on the way to and from Virginia, and then at a timeshare, generously donated to us by a good friend, who offered it to us so that our boys (big history nerds that they are) could experience Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg first hand.  We knew going in that we would most likely be contacted by the Timeshare operators to endure a sales pitch, and sure enough, as soon as we checked in the calls began.

Finally, on very cold and wet Wednesday morning,  Sweet Man and I ate a free breakfast of powdered eggs, dry biscuits and questionable sausage, and then listened the most amazing sales pitch to buy into the  Timeshare. From the moment we walked into the building - admittedly lured by the promise of deeply discounted tickets to our main destinations - we were forthright and honest. We had no interest in buying into the program, but we were happy to listen to the pitch in exchange for the deeply discounted tickets.

Over the course of our breakfast, we were visited by three pre-sales persons, who each asked repeatedly what sort of vacationing we did.
The first time they asked, we just stared at them blankly. The second time, we managed something like "um, camping?" By the time they sent the third per soul to us, I was ready.
"We camp!" I said confidently.  "We like State Parks!"

It was following this last statement that the game changed.

After cleaning up our sad paper plate breakfast, and sending the kids to a holding cell playroom, we were escorted around the corner  to see a salesman that I will heretofore refer to only as The Closer.

The Closer was brilliant. He was charming, but not slimy. He was genuine, and smart, and I guarantee you he was their best. I could tell this by the way his cubicle was separate from all the others, and by the "doors" fashioned out diving screens.  No other cubicle came close to this level of exclusivity.

From the beginning it was obvious that The Closer enjoys a tough sells like us and  my "State Park" statement was like waving a red flag in front of a prize bull. He was ready. And he pulled out all the stops. He sold us vacations like a preacher sells heaven, talking and nudging and prying until he found a way in. Till he found that little bit of hesitation in our answers.  And by the end of our hour an half in his presence, he had us believing in the benefits of his product. We could see the why this was a good, solid plan. We were confident in all the advantages it would afford us, and all the opportunities it would provide for our family.

But still, we checked the "decline" boxes on both of his very nice offers.

You see, each and every time he talked about having a plan for our lives, about providing opportunities to our kids, to opening their eyes to all the world has to offer, about raising them to be successful, I had to fight the urge to get right up on his desk, look him nose to nose and shout
"You don't understand. I don't want to go to the Bahamas. I don't want to go to Vegas. Sure I would like to go to Paris, but that's not what I daydream about spending my money on. I like State Parks. They suit us. What I daydream about is buying a big farmhouse that I can fill to overflowing with kids who need a home. I want to build a table twice as long as the one I have and fill it with anyone I meet who is hungry. I want land wide enough for my children to wander and get lost, learning the rhythm of creation until it becomes as much a part of them as their heartbeat.  And until the time comes that I can afford all of that, I want to be grateful and content where I am, filling my table up as it is, not waiting for how it will be.  And as far as our kids go, well the truth is I don't want kids who are spoiled by the best, I want kids who consider themselves the least. Our idea of success for our kids is that they live to give, that they work hard, that they love well, and that they are grateful for this wild and beautiful and boring and average and exceptional life they get to lead. Not going to Disney every year." 

But I didn't say any of that, as tempted as I was. Instead I sat and listened and  threw The Closer a bone by telling him I wanted to go Scotland (true story) but I didn't bother to mention that if I did go I would prefer to sleep on my friend Alison's floor so that we could stay up late into the night talking about books and ideas and kids and faith. 

Going on nice vacations isn't inherently bad, or wrong. It can actually be a whole lot of fun.  Spending money thoughtfully and wisely on a timeshare if ones budge allows also isn't wrong in and of itself. And there isn't anything immoral about enjoying nice things. Trust me, no one loves it when housekeeping turns down the sheets more than me, and don't even get me started on fancy restaurants. Food that has a funny hat just makes me happy.

But these things are not monetary priorities to us.  Instead they are little bonus treats that come every so often. They are the sorts of little treats that we work hard to save for and then take great joy in splurging on, reveling in the specialness of the experience, never sure when and if they may come again. 

Last weeks trip was the hardest vacation we have ever gone on so far. Not that we didn't have fun. Because we did.
But I don't know if it is the distance, the long car rides, the fact that there was 5 of us instead of 4, or if it is just how the stars aligned,  but for the first three days of our trip I desperately wanted to turn the ship around and head back home.
The lack of gratefulness, patience, kindness, and generosity of spirit was  rampant. I felt as if I  spent the majority of my time reminding all the short people in the car to say thank you, to not kick anyone else, to share their pretzels, to take turns sitting in the very back, to not make that face when I told them "no." Again.
And frankly it wore me out.
By Wednesday I was by far the most wore out.
It was at this junction that the The Closer tried to sell me on my children's happiness.
And it was here that he made his greatest mistake.  
He presumed that their happiness is my greatest goal.
But the truth is this -  I am not so much concerned with their happiness as I am with their character.
And based on the way things had been going on the trip up until that day, more expensive vacations was NOT the answer.
Over the course of the trip there were many times when it seemed to me that their wants were bottomless, and their gratefulness shallow, but because they are children I did not - do not - fault them for this bad thinking. 
But because they are children, specially our children, I feel it is our job to teach them otherwise. And to do that, we ourselves must live what we believe, what we teach.

We want to slow down and spread out as Sweet Man said. We want to dig in to our community, we want our kids to grow hearts in gratefulness, not entitlement. We want them to embrace their lives, filled with both beauty and mess, and be rooted in the amazing gift of grace right in the midst of it all. We want them to jump in with both feet to places where people are hurting and lonely and dying and to work to use whatever is their great joy to meet the worlds deep need. 
We want these to be the things they learn from us.
We want these to be things they remember and take into adulthood.
And so we must live this ourselves.

The Closer tried to sell us comfort that day. He did his very best to convince us that investing in comfort was the right choice for our family.
That our children and our marriage would be better because of it. And, he was right. 
Only, it's not our comfort that we will be investing in.
Perhaps I have become a bit of a bleeding heart for Jesus, but I am no longer okay with defining comfort by what I take. 
Instead I want to define comfort by what I give. 

And what better time to give then at Christmas?  
And what better gift to give than that of comfort and joy?
Christ birth came in the messiest, strangest place - a stable. And it was announced to the only people up in the middle of the night -those average working fellas, the shepherds. The greatest gift of comfort and joy came, in the middle of the night, birthed of blood and water, causing  pain and fear and a whole lot of inconvenience. And I cannot help but wonder - If I am called to live a life fashioned after Christ, then why should my gifts cost me anything less than his?

This Christmas I want to give
Comfort to the lonely, sick, the homeless, motherless.
Comfort to my friends when they are hurting, to my family when they are in need.
Comfort to my boss by doing my job without complaint or need for constant correction
Comfort to my readers by being an honest, transparent writer.
Comfort to my children by raising them the best I can - by being honest, gentle and firm, consistent and loving.
Comfort to my husband by being a good partner, a good peer, friend, lover, co-parent, advocate.
Comfort to my church family by doing my part to help keep things running, by being part of community.
Comfort to my neighbors by being a good steward of my property. By opening my doors, by sharing my bounty.

Few of these things are easy to give, fewer are convenient. Some of them are annoying, and hard, and strange and  many of them will mean that I will have to keep on stretching and growing and bending in ways that are uncomfortable. And most of these gifts are a lot more time consuming than I would like, and are generally most needed when I have the least amount of time.
Unlike so many Christmas gifts, I cannot order Comfort online,  have it wrapped and shipped with a few easy clicks. I cannot make monthly payments and accumulate enough points to ensure that it is in full supply when needed.
Instead, giving comfort to others more often than not, means sacrificing my own. Which I suspect, makes this the very best, and most meaningful kind of gift to give. The kind of gift that can change the world, or at the very least our hearts.

And this is what I want my children to learn. This is the experience I want to give them. This is the kind of life I want them to have.
The kind of life where tidings pf Comfort and Joy are the first gifts they give.
No matter the cost.

peace, peace


  1. I adore you an dyour whole crew. Remember, the kids will look back and remember the AMAZING trip, not the pretzel fights. And, I for one, am glad that you love our state parks. Now, come visit this one!

  2. I adore you friend! Can't wait to visit you after your new digs are ready for guest! XOXO

  3. Sweet Jerusalem, this was such a joy and a comfort to read. It is an encouragement to see other hearts striving to find the spot that the Lord calls us to in this world in the face of so many other options named "comfort". Sometimes I feel like we believe we are "sacrificing" things to live a more holy, intentional existence, but I'm realizing more and more that it is a joy to take steps in that direction. The sacrifice would be to choose the world. Blessing to your sweet family today :) May the Lord bless and keep you today!

  4. {applause, applause, applause!!}

  5. Thank you Sally!! It is always nice to find fellow travelers ;)

  6. I love this post but I also want to say that three little people constantly being ungrateful and fighting and just uh - my life right now. It is not doing me any favors either. Sigh.

  7. (I tried to post this from my phone over the weekend, but it wouldn't cooperate - hope it doesn't go through twice!) Sweet heavens, this is what I needed to read right now. I'm in a stage of life where my closest (unmarried, childless) friends are doing amazing traveling all over the world, and I'm doing laundry. You know, it's just not the same. :) While I do feel like we're called to be where we are living like we are, it doesn't mean I'm content with it all the time. Your words resonated right where I needed them. Thank you.

  8. Love it. We met The Closer on our honeymoon, while we were in seminary. It was dang funny. :) And yes, come sleep on my couch sometime very soon. You are always welcome. (There might be pretzel fights here too.)


ok, really. tell me the truth... do these comments make me look fat?

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