The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
When people say, “I’m living the good life!” What do they mean? The good life is different things to many people. Some would say it’s having enough money to live comfortably, others a nice home, being debt-free, good health, and a good relationship with their family.
Let me introduce you to someone who never received an award, did not attend college, was probably never the president of an organization – yet influenced everyone she came in contact with. I’m speaking of my paternal grandmother – Fannie Adams Ross Milner. Yes, Grandmother lived the good life.
Miss Fannie, as she was affectingly called by her many friends, lived to be 99 years and 6 months of age. When she was in her 90s I visited her on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Curlers were in her hair, because she was expected to attend the “New Year’s Party at church that night. Grandmother and God shared a secret – she planted pecan trees at age 93. Once I asked, “Grandmother, to what do you owe your long life?” Instantly she said, “To love God, to love people, to work hard, and stay happy.” This was her code; this was her recipe for living the good life.
Item #1: The good life means we love God.
God gives unconditional love.
We honor a God who loves us with all our flaws, our imperfections. Have you ever played the childhood game “The Perfect Leaf?” Arthur Caliandro, pastor of Marble Colliagate Church in New York City, tells the story of two children who searched for a leaf that had no blemishes. After an hour or so, they gave up. Regardless of the first impression, all the leaves had some minor flaw. However, the children learned a lesson that we need to discover. That beauty and ugliness, perfection and imperfection can exist in the same body. Jesus said, “Come to me and I will lighten your load.” God gives unconditional love.
If we love God, we have Faith in him.
If we have the faith of a mustard seed, all things are possible. You know how small a mustard seed is? Yet, the mighty oak tree grows from this minute seed. Hebrews 11 speaks of those who kept the faith. Noah, who built the ark when God spoke. Abraham and Sara, who in old age gave birth to a son, Issac. Moses, whose mother placed her baby in a small basket and put him on the Nile River to avoid Pharoah’s plan to kill all males under two-years of age. Moses, who later refused to stay in Pharaoh’s house and instead chose to lead his people into the Promise land.
Know that He Created the Universe
Look around you. Use your senses to understand the world God created. Spring is a wonderful time of the year. Use your eyes to gaze upon the beauty of the earth. Jonquils are blooming. Your sense of hearing tells you that birds are building nests. Fragrance fills the air as fruit trees send their springtime scent. Vine-ripe strawberries will be ready for tasting. Thank God for creating this world.
There is a story of a cave man that was out hunting one day and found a modern-day watch. On the ground he noticed a strange looking object that was making a ticking sound. Looking at the face, he saw the hands go around. Opening the inside, he saw a system with order. At that time, he didn’t know what it was but said, “If this is a watch, there must be a watchmaker.” If there is a world – there must be a God who created this place.
Item #2: The good life means we love others.
1 John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
Grandmother must have been about 75 when she heard of a family of five children in a nearby community whose parents had died. Who would stay with them? Could they continue to live by themselves and stay at their own home? Well, you guessed it. Grandmother packed a small suitcase, locked up her own home, moved into their house and became a foster mother to the children ages 4-16 for several years.
People are unique – Like a garden of flowers. Remember the nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary quite contrary. How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row.” Different? Yes.
Children know something about love adults may have forgotten. Have you ever watched a group of children playing? For example, if they want the same toy, they can pull and tug until one of them possesses the object. Yet, in a few minutes they have forgotten their disagreement and are playing as friends again. Why can’t adults treat each other that way? Listen to the following story of how friendship made a difference.
In the early 1970s I developed a pilot kindergarten program for a small rural town in the South. Most of my students came from Caucasian families who had lived in this same county for generations. No one came in – no one left. Then one day the unexpected happen. An exchange family from Columbia, South America moved to our town to teach high school Spanish. Within this family group was Eban, a five-year-old. I remember that first day when his father brought him to my room. Holding his father’s hand very tightly, he looked at me. He looked at all the strange faces. As silent tears dripped from his son’s eyes, the father left. I was alone with a child who didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak English, and the students or myself couldn’t converse in Spanish. It was not a good day. The following day, the father returned to my room again. This time he said, “I think – what Eban needs – is a friend.”
So often I’ve thought about this family. They were in our school system for two years and Eban made many friends and mastered the curriculum as he gradually developed an understanding of the English language. And what was the turning point in Eban liking school? I seated him next to another child that was kind and compassionate to this South American boy.
Friendship is a gift from God. And we need others to share our friendship. Alex Haley, author of Roots said, “The next time you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he had some help getting up there.”
Item #3: The good life means that work has value.
Each winter I put up a bird feeder filled with a variety of seeds. As we have numerous trees in our yard, they have become a free hotel for the community squirrels. Now, I realize that squirrels have to eat. So I usually put food especially suited for these four-legged creatures. (Really, you know what a squirrel is? It’s a rat with a hairy tail.) Getting back to my story. So I finally located a bird feeder advertised as “squirrel proof.” After putting up the feeder, I went inside to watch – or check to see how long it would take for the squirrels to figure out how to get the food. One daring squirrel jumped along the branches like a trapeze artist. He came closer and closer, made a jump and missed by a few feet. Did he feel defeated? No. Would he work harder next time? Yes. He looked at me and seemed to say, “But you don’t know me. I will persist until I get it right.” He picked himself up, scampered up the branches, and jumped again. He turned his head one way – then the other. Suddenly I realized what he was doing. He was making a calculated guess as to how far he would have to jump to reach the feeder. After some scientific reasoning he climbed another route – and landed exactly where his calculation predicted – right on the middle of the bird feeder. At that I said, “You win.” Stay and enjoy your breakfast.
What happens when we try and fail? Do we try again? Are we like the squirrel when faced with a difficult task? Or, are we afraid of hard work? Often I reflect on how easy our lives are today compared to those of a generation ago. For example, on wash day, my grandparents hauled water to a large wash pot in the yard, built a fire to heat the water, and used a scrub board to rub the clothes. I recall when our first child was born, we didn’t own a clothes dryer. Many of times I’ve hung diapers outside in the winter, and brought them in later – only to stand the frozen clothes up in a corner.
And imagine the heat in a kitchen when building a fire in the cook stove during the summer months. Today in many third-world countries, parents spend all day trying to find enough food and firewood for the family. In our country our grocery stores are stocked full. Our cupboards are overflowing. However if you’re like us, when you were in college and money was very tight. You might go to the grocery and look at all the good things to buy – but you didn’t have the money. Today, you still look at all the good things to buy, you have the money, but your special diets won’t allow it. Life isn’t fair!
Our work today may be less physical and more mental. That doesn’t mean it is less difficult. Often when we work hard, we feel we haven’t accomplished what we expected. We don’t feel successful. Mother Theresa, the Catholic nun who gave her life to serve the poor said, “God has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful.”
Item #4: The good life means that there is joy in our life.
Laugh often. There is a story about Albert Einstein, the genius whose theories of relativity revolutionized the modern world, and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize. Einstein, who was known to be absent minded, was traveling by train. It seems that after he boarded the train, he couldn’t locate his ticket. He checked his coat pockets, the pockets in his pants – nothing. About that time the conductor came along and said, “Mr. Einstein, what is the problem? To which Einstein answered, “I can’t find my ticket.” The conductor replied, “Mr. Einstein, I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket! Within a few minutes the conductor noticed Mr. Einstein on his hands and knees looking under the seats. Mr. Einstein, I said ‘you don’t need a ticket, I know who you are.’ “Yes, I know who I am, too, but I don’t know where I’m going!”
Mark Twain, the great American writer said, “Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed.” My mother had her own version: “You can’t have everything!”
Find Laughter in ordinary things.
In my book, What I Wish It Hadn’t Taken Me So Long to Learn, (www.1st books.com) I look at the humorous events that happen in our homes and our schools. For example:
a. There are days when all mothers feel like they have walked in wet cement for hours.
b. Every town and community has a 5 PM bus for “runaway” mothers.
c. Sucking strands of spaghetti from a plate is just as nutritious as using a fork.
d. Schools – If a child misses the bus and you have to drive them home – get more information than “I live on a hill and there’s a big tree in the yard.
e. If a student brings you a box of Valentine candy with a few pieces missing, it’s okay to eat it. Avoid peanuts from which the chocolate has been sucked off.
Item #5: The good life means we take responsibility for our own wellness.
In addition to the other four, let me add the one of wellness. How do we help healing happen? When we think about it, we all need healing.
Norman Cousins, author and editor of the Saturday Review, wrote a book, The Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. His focus: how laughter affects healing.
Cousins said, “Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an igniter of great expectations. The more serious the illness, the more important it is for you to fight back, mobilizing all resources – spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical.”
When facing serious health problems, Cousins took responsibility for his own wellness – not his illness. He checked into a hotel, ordered videos of funny movies, including “The Three Stooges” and watched them over and over. He laughed long and hard. Then, he walked down to a corner grocery and purchased the most nutritious foods, including vegetables, fruits and grains. These, he ate three meals a day. Never a man to exercise, he started walking twice a day. He made it a habit of smiling at people he met on the street – and to his surprise – they smiled back. And he prayed. When he returned to his doctor for a checkup several months later, the doctor couldn’t believe the lab reports. Cousins had corrected the problem by focusing on his wellness.
Am I saying all illnesses can be corrected? No. Are there some physical problems that we change? Yes. Does prayer make a difference? Yes, definitely. Data shows that people who pray have a shorter hospital stay after major surgery, they heal faster, and are eager to return to a normal life.
Do you want to live the good life? If you answer in the affirmative, remember to follow these simple steps of loving God, loving people, working hard, staying happy and to take responsibility for your own wellness.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin is from Jackson, TN, and writes for numerous publications and leads conferences for Christian adults’ groups.