Let’s just be honest. I would NOT be perfectly happy living in a double-wide trailer, trying to decipher smudged expiration dates on ground beef packages in a Wal-mart somewhere in Oklahoma. Not in the land of opportunity. Not in a country filled with air conditioning and sugar soda and live musicals. I don’t need much. I can take or leave Neiman’s. But I’d work two jobs and struggle and save and find a way to move into an apartment with fake granite countertops and at least wear fancy dresses from Target. This might mean I’m a horrible example to humanity. Perhaps I treasure material goods over all else. Well at 6 am, people, the only thing on my mind is a grande pike roast coffee with two raw sugars. It’s just human nature, for goodness sakes.
Someone asked me recently how I professed to be a follower of Christ’s teachings when I am so ambitious and competitive. “Those are goals of the world,” this person said, “as opposed to the teachings of Christ, which is to serve others over self.” I was caught off guard. I never really thought of the two as mutually exclusive, like to follow Christ you should just chill on the bottom rung of the ladder, eating peanut brittle and snickering, watching those other poor saps climb to the top. If I had only known, I’d have never graduated college or gone to law school, clawing and scratching my way to wonderful, fulfilling jobs. I could have gone to work at Wendy’s and saved me all that trouble.
I think there is a fine line between living the life God called you to live – using the talents and strengths you were born with to their fullest potential – and crossing the line toward an unyielding race for power and wealth. As painful as it can be, I think it’s good for folks to question your faith and call you out in public once in a while. It makes you actually wonder if you are living out the life God wants you to live. And maybe, you’re not.
I like to be reminded of what’s most important in a way that’s real and honest. A devotional for the screw-ups. I want a mirror to constantly reflect my own life back in my face to make sure I’m using my talents for God’s glory and not my own. But for goodness sakes people, don’t reflect life directly into your eyes. You’ll see a long history of acid-washed jeans and huge bangs and pants that were intentionally baggy at the hips and tight at the ankles. This might cause permanent blindness and defeat the whole point of the exercise. Aim it at your cheek or something.
I walked into a Christian bookstore to find such a book. Daily devotions for “real women.” I thought I’d just know it when I saw it, like there would be a woman on the cover with a red wine stain on her shirt and her hair pulled back in a greasy pony tail, attempting to make Chicken-with-40-Cloves-of-Garlic while her kids are in the background drawing on each other with markers. But as I would unfold the stories, day by day, I would unearth a person who was genuinely happy with her life. Who had found her true calling. I’d be drawn to her and feel we were kindred spirits, reading with interest how she found time to worship when she needed to make peanut butter sandwiches. She would remind me in daily increments that I’ll totally make it, even if I did slip up and say a creative slew of curse words to my boss in a fit of anger about a budget report. She would gently remind me that such behavior is not becoming to the person God calls me to be, and I’d agree, realizing that such words defame God and are icky and crass like the shoes that I refuse to give up to Goodwill. Do it! she’d say. Put them in a paper sack in your garage and haul them off!
Most of all, she would tell me that it will be okay. That I didn’t have a choice to be ambitious. After all, we all must answer to the call God gives us the best way we know how. And just maybe, she’ll tell me about her own momma, sweet thing, who scrapped and saved in their double wide outside Tulsa to buy everyone Taco Bell. Just to make sure I’m really getting the point. Jesus spoke in parables too, but he used classy stuff like wine and wheat stalks instead of double cheese burritos.
So I looked for this book to tell me I was okay, most of the time. But all I saw staring back at me on the shelves were pictures of teacups, fake steam gently rising to the top, all calm and pink and reflective, sitting in pretty little displays. Women with great teeth and well-combed hair reflected in great detail how busy they are vacuuming and praying at soccer games. They are probably kind and lovely women, I’m absolutely and/or possibly sure of it, but where were the milk stains and reading glasses? Where were the unmade beds and dirty dishes? What about the burritos? They didn’t chastise me for not praying every morning and tell me there is no valid excuse (none!) unless I’m in the hospital undergoing surgery for an abdominal infection. Then, maybe I get a pass. They just kept being nice and respectful. They keep flashing that unrelenting, pasty smile. I need honestly, people. I need that gut-wrenching kick in the pants.
So I sighed and kept walking through the store. Past the school supplies with “I Heart Jesus” scrolled in bubbly letters. I strolled past the scripture mints and the bible covers and the ceramic plates that proclaimed the goodness of all things biblical. They had complimentary coffee, but the house blend was empty. Figures. I pondered for a moment whether my life would be exponentially better if I just owned a tea kettle emblazed with a quote from Psalms.
As it turns out, there isn’t a book geared for overworked moms who are intimidated by all those perfect teeth. Maybe I’ll write it. I’ll encourage these women to keep going, despite the fact that they drank one glass of wine too many and let their kids watch cartoons the following morning for three solid hours. Despite the sippy cup that used to contain milk but somehow got stuck in-between the minivan seats and turned into curds and whey. Despite missed life lessons and botched biblical opportunities and tangled tongues. We can remind each other that tomorrow’s a new day. There are more battles to overcome and morals to teach. Keep praying! Keep trying! Refrain from insulting Oklahoma!
There goes that ambition again, wild and out of control. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to sit through a tornado on the high plains, scared and shaking, wearing a cheap Wal-mart dress and hugging my knees. I’ll hear God’s voice as clear as an arrow and realize that this world is but a wind that will pass. That his love is forever.
It’s possible I might hear God where I am, through the limestone rock that encases my house, amidst the hum of the air conditioner, beneath the sound of my surround-sound stereo, over the laughter of my children, and despite the jangling of my Tiffany bracelet. But I really have to listen. That’s what a devotional should really be about, anyway. To drown out the nonsense and keep your ear to the ground.
Keep listening. It’s easy in Oklahoma. Not so much everywhere else.