Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the Basic Necessities

Recently my daughter and I were looking at the prices of things in 1957. Did you know the average rent was $90/month? The cost of a stamp was 3 cents! And a gallon of gas was....wait for it....24 cents! Fast forward 50 years and we're at $800, 46 cents and $3.79 (respectively.) Yikes!

Subsequent to this mortifying discovery, conversation ensued about why things were so cheap back then. And it really got me thinking. Inflation, in my opinion, is just an excuse for somebody to make more money. (You don't have to agree with me, this is just my opinion.) I mean, we are currently the most technologically-advanced society in history. We have automated just about everything. Shouldn't things be getting CHEAPER to produce?

I think, overall, they are. But we, as a society, have basically said we'll pay whatever is necessary to have the latest and greatest. And this snowballs back to the producer who, instead of finding an opportunity to pass on savings to the customer, sees this demand as a means to increase their profits.

At what point do we say, "enough is enough?" Certainly, inflation has to reach a point where it is no longer beneficial to raise the price of something (I'm sure there are statistics and data and research and studies with this kind of info but you're not here for that.) Why aren't we there yet?!?

Truthfully, all we really need in life is food, water, shelter, oxygen, and to love and be loved. People for thousands of years survived without laptops and iPads and video games and the DVR. Please don't misunderstand me. I don't say that to guilt you into thinking, "Oh, great. This crazy gal thinks I'm greedy and I should sell all my stuff." I don't mean to imply that's the solution. (Believe me, I've got STUFF! My house is busting at the seams with STUFF. Sometimes I can't see past all the STUFF!) I say that to simply point out that, at our core, we really were created to only need and desire the basic necessities. Everything else is a bonus.

What is it about us that our happiness is measured by such unnecessary things? Is all our extra stuff, and the desire for more of it, truly making us happy at our core? Or is it causing more trouble in our lives and relationships than we want to admit? Are we forgetting the true reason we were created?

People around the world thrive with just the basic needs of life. They have so much less than we have. Ultimately, deep within, I think they are happier. They have an unparalleled gratefulness that we should long to emulate. The smallest things in life bring them great joy. But what is our wellspring of life?

What would it look like if we threw out our desires for anything that doesn't fall into one of those basic-necessity categories? How happy might we be if we changed our paradigm to just being content with what we already have? What would happen if we put our focus on helping others meet their basic necessities rather than when the next next generation of a gadget is scheduled to be released and how we're going to get it?

I'm confident the more we have, the more we want. But the less we have, the happier we truly are.

What about you?

Go find your spring.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Listening to Bugs.

It's the year of the world's largest cicada brood here in NC (and 15 other states throughout the southeast) and I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that there are literally about one million of these inch-long buggers running around per ACRE! 

I had heard this was the year for them, this 13-year "Great Southern Brood" (or, more scientifically, Brood XIX) but had yet to actually hear them singing. Well, today was the day.

I was walking to my car in the parking lot of my old church in Chapel Hill, NC, where I had just attended a memorial service for a dear friend's mom. The church campus is surrounded by acres and acres of beautiful woods and, most of the time, peaceful serenity with just the songs of birds in the air. 

But there it was. The unmistakable buzz of the cicada. 

I smiled at my ability to recognize the sound without a second thought. Memories from my childhood came flooding back. Growing up in upstate NY, the cicadas came out much later due to the difference in ground temperatures. In fact, it usually wasn't until right around my sister's birthday in mid-August when we would spot our first empty cicada shell stuck to the big oak tree in the back yard.

As I opened the door to the car, though, something made me stop and listen again. The buzz was still there, but another sound caught my attention. 

My mind struggled to identify it. This one was not as easy to decipher as the first, more recognizable, buzz. After a moment, I gave up and hopped in the car. I figured I would come across whatever it was on my trip back home and the mystery would be solved. (I do not like unsolved mysteries.)

The route I took to get home took me through the woods along some really gorgeous back roads. I had the windows down to take in the fresh "country" air when I came to a red light and took note, once again, of that unfamiliar noise. It was almost siren-like; a sort of constant whirring. I must be getting close to it, I thought. And I drove on.

After a mile or so, it was still so prevalent that I thought for sure whatever it was would be just around the next bend in the road. Alas, I came upon no source.

After about another half-mile, cicadas starting hitting my windshield from all directions. It was like driving through the plague of locusts, 21st-century style. I wasn't surprised, really. I was surrounded by very thick, dense woods, a fishing pond or two just off the beaten path. Perfect conditions for these little insects, I'm sure.

I couldn't take the mystery noise anymore. I pulled over at a greenway crossing, turned off the car, and just watched and listened for a while. Cicadas flew past me. One landed in the road just beyond my car (he later met with an unfortunate death by tire.) A family on bicycles crossed the road from the greenway. The dad was listening to his iPod as his wife and kids rode on ahead and I wondered if they were all completely missing this mystery sound.

My detective hat on, I started reviewing the facts. I was almost half-way home at this point and yet the sound was exactly the same as it had been 10 minutes prior in Chapel Hill. No fading. No change in pitch. No Doppler effect as I got closer or further away. Simply...constant.

Then it hit me.

The buzzing we hear so prevalently and so recognizably are the cicadas in the foreground. The ones that are relatively close to wherever we are standing at that moment. And that's the noise most people hear and have come to know as the sound of the cicada.

But the sound I was hearing in the background was so much more than that. It is actually the collective whirring of all those cicadas that are in the distance, covering acre after acre, throughout the surrounding woods. The sound didn't change as I traveled because it wasn't just one small group making that sound. It was the sound of billions of them, singing together, in one voice, spanning two entire counties.


Video doesn't capture it nearly as well as listening to it in person. If you are in the southeastern US right now, I highly recommend you get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and find your own place to listen to them, but you can listen to a few seconds of my video of them here. (And you may have to listen more than once to truly hear what I'm taking about. That's ok.)

So why was it that I never heard them like this before? I mean, I've been listening to cicadas sing since I was a little girl. Why this new sound? Why now?

Perhaps I heard what was familiar and instantly, without realizing it, blocked out whatever else was different in an effort to go on with my day. 

Perhaps it's because I like a good challenge (and, remember, hate an unsolved mystery) and so I was diligent in trying to figure out what in the world this noise was. 

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I had just come from an atmosphere of retrospection and celebration of someone's amazing life and so I was sensitive to the things around me. 

Or, perhaps it's because I was in the right frame of mind and in a place conducive to listening.

When we listen for God, whether we're listening for an answer to a prayer or listening for his direction on what our purpose is for being here, are we just listening for what's familiar and blocking out the rest? Do we focus only on hearing what we want to hear him to say and then instinctively pick up where we left off and go on with our day? 

Or, are we intentional about putting ourselves in a frame of mind and atmosphere that is conducive to truly listening for him and to him? And are we diligent about actually hearing not only what he's speaking to us loud and clear, but also what he might be whispering from the background?

May you not only listen to what he may be saying to you right now, but may you hear it with an open mind and an open heart regardless of the message.

Then go listen to the bugs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Finishing What You Start

I'm not very good at finishing things. My list of "unfinished business"is fairly long and, to my husband's dismay, my attic (and our closets, and bedroom, and bonus room...) show that fact very clearly. I start a project with gusto and fizzle out faster than the soda I was drinking.

I'm the same way with books. Well, mainly self-help books. I can't ever read one without a highlighter, two different colored pens, and a new journal for all my notes. I can't wait to dive in and be changed! By chapter two I'm usually telling everyone I know they have to read this book.

Then life happens.

To my credit, I have walked away more changed and more convicted by reading half of a book than I would have been had I not started it in the first place. So it's never a waste of time. I just realize how much I'm missing out on! Most books build up to something and though the first half may seem like more than I ever hoped for, I realize the second half is probably even better and I'm missing it because I let life get in the way.

Case in point: Several months ago a friend suggested Crazy Love by Frances Chan. ( I ran out to get it, got TWO colors of highlighters, my pens and a journal and dug right in. I was more convicted by the end of the foreword and preface than any book before it. As usual, the first chapter alone was worth my $14.99 (less my educator discount.) I read (with gusto) and took the book with me everywhere. My way of thinking was completely turned upside down by the third paragraph of Chapter 1! guessed happened. At chapter two.

But this time, I'm glad.

And I think God had a hand in it.

This morning, kids still asleep, birds chirping in the crisp morning air, puppy soaking up the sun on the back deck, I sat down with my coffee and bible and highlighters and...what else...Crazy Love. I haven't picked it up since I started this blog. I started over from the very beginning, first by reviewing everything I had highlighted or made a note of, then re-reading the foreword, preface, and chapter 1. And you know what I found? I missed a whole lot the first time around!

Well, maybe not missed it. I'm just taking away a different message this time around. And it's all because of this blog.

Perhaps it's because my paradigm has changed...or, rather, been refined....since the last time I read it. This time, with fresh eyes and a fresh interpretation, I realize that much of what he writes about in the first 5% of the book can be directly related to what I want this blog to be about.

But had I finished what I started three months ago, I may never have realized it.

I am committed to finishing this book! It is so good, and so life-changing, I am GOING to get to the end this time! And, through this blog, I'm going to bring you all along.

So thank you, God, for allowing life to get in the way. This time, I think it's the best thing that could have happened.