Wednesday, December 28, 2011

There is Always More



What is it that brings fulfillment?  What is it that brings inner joy and peace?  Is it the stuff we own, the things we accumulate?  Is it the people we love and the people that love us?  Is it God?  What really matters in life?

Here was someone in his 30’s who had accomplished all of his dreams.  Dreams that should have taken much longer to achieve, and he sat before us sharing how he had realized that this wasn’t the ingredient to lasting happiness. 

“We lost our sight of our goal and purpose,” Ryan’s wife, Barb said.

“I am a slave to all of these things, my land, my businesses, my debt, everything I own,” Ryan began, “In the end, it all really just ends up owning you,” he said as he sighed.  An 18 hour work day will do that to you.  A wine store, a nonprofit, several internet businesses, an apparel company, 2½ acres of property with landscaping and a vineyard that required 10-14 hours of maintenance every weekend.  A dream that now owned him, controlled him, and demanded his constant attention.

“People spend so much of their time looking forward and planning for the future.  The irony of it all is that you spend all of your life attaining this American dream and in while doing so you miss out on the most important years of your life.” 





My mind began to drift to my own life.   

If I could only do this… If I could only have that….busy, busy, busy, working, working, working….we gotta get ahead.   Spend a little time squeezed in here and there with the children, but how much time with them have I already missed?  They grow and grow whether we are there or not.  And why are we absent, mentally, and physically?  For what?  This dream of owning things that end up owning us?  What have we been tricked into believing?  Like a hamster running on a wheel, he runs and runs, looking forward to something, but never really satisfied by what he has accomplished.  Running, always running for more.

More.

The problem is,

there’s always more. 

“We are so overwhelmed by what we own that we lose time.  Time together.  Time with God.  Time to just be.  We want to simplify,” said Ryan. 

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“We are going to sell the house, the vineyard, and the wine shop,” Ryan answered.




He may as well just have taken out a match from his back pocket and said he was going to torch it all.

Both mine and my husband’s jaws dropped. 


Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Brings Happiness?

Here we were 15 years later, sitting alongside Ryan and Barbie in their living room of their million dollar home.  Ryan ended up a successful entrepreneur.  It must have been my pep talk.    

A beautiful home in lovely rural California in a little city right outside of San Luis Obispo.  Here it sat atop a green rolling hill with a gorgeous view of the neighboring sloping hills.  Talk about building his nest.  That guy went above and beyond. 

Ryan became successful, very successful.  A small side business expanding, growing bigger until it gave birth to other successful business endeavors.

I looked out the window of their home, and there right outside their window lay his very own vineyard. 




It had been Ryan’s dream, and he was living it.  Whose dream was it not?  Oh, to have land!  I looked at Dan.  I knew this was what he always wanted.  “A vineyard, Janna, let’s grow a vineyard,” I recall him saying to me when we still were in our Long Beach home.  The backyard was smaller than a two car garage.  The only place we could even plant our vineyard would be in our little dirt plot measuring 3 feet x7 feet.  “A vineyard, Dan?  Do you mean a vine?”  We would harvest two tiny grapes the size of two shriveled peas. 

It was clear that Ryan had been blessed, so blessed.

“So what is it like to accomplish so much, Ryan?  This is amazing!” I inquired.

“It’s too much,” he said as he breathed a heavy breath. 

“Whatever do you mean?”  I sounded like Mary Poppins.

“We lost sight of what is most important,” he said.  “This was my dream, to own land, to have a vineyard.  This romantic idea that I would have spent my whole life trying to achieve, and now that I have it, I realize I have become a slave to it.”

This was deep.  I wanted to know more.  I wanted desperately to hear the wisdom he had attained.  We all have dreams and goals, and as I have heard before, that many, once they reach these dreams, become disappointed. 

“Please go on,” I was all ears. 

“My businesses were being blessed, and I wanted to do something big for God in response to how grateful I was to Him.  Well, this rural area in which we live is so big on vineyards, so I decided to open a wine shop featuring local wines.  All of the profits from the shop would be dedicated to a nonprofit I wanted to start.  Water wells in Africa.  A nonprofit organization to bring clean drinking water to the people of Africa.”

And so in his pure attempt to give to others in need, he decided to start a business that could be used to give to others. 

This passion and love for the hurt and dying took root in his heart ever since he was in high school and went on a trip to India.  Seeing the devastating conditions people were living in tore at his heart; Ryan’s eyes were opened to something bigger than himself.  He was only a young man at the time, but he knew, deep within his heart, he would do something to help when he could.  He felt it a calling. 

And oh, it was.

However, all did not go as planned, as many times it does not.

A month before opening the wine shop, the economy crashed, leaving Ryan and his family to carry the financial weight of this wine shop plus a nonprofit, plus many other financial responsibilities. 

Here was Ryan, living his goals and dreams…

that heavily weighed him down.

Dreams that hadn’t fulfilled what they silently promised.

Gold that turned out to be fool’s gold.

If happiness was not the result of dreams accomplished, then where was the source of true happiness to be found?  The kind that doesn't fade away.
 


Dan and I both leaned forward on the couch, eager to hear the secrets of life’s true satisfaction revealed.....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Third Trip

Our next destination?  San Luis Obispo, California, a beautiful city alongside the ocean.

I had never been here before, but my brother, who was once a model and had traveled all over the world, recommended that we visit this place.  "Janna, the city is beautiful, hip.  You will love it."  He had seen the world, so if he said this place was wonderful, it would be amazing.  We would be staying with an old friend of mine from high school, Ryan and his wife, Barbie.

We had not seen these dear friends of ours for 15 years, but it seemed not a moment had passed between us.  So much had changed, and yet nothing had changed.  A few grey hairs here and there, not on my head, of course.  And a few creases alongside the eyes, hiding the youth that once was.

We caught up on times passed.  Marriage, children, businesses. 

I met Ryan when we were in our teenage years.  We went to the same high school together and began our early college years together.  In college, Dan and I had a government class that we took together, and Ryan was in the course with us.  We sat in the back of the classroom, mostly to hide me from the teacher.  It's difficult for me not to whisper and pass notes in class.

“Turn around, Janna,” Dan whispered to me, attempting to redirect my attentions to the front of the room.  Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, the professor’s voice was so monotone, so uninteresting, and his topic made me want to shoot myself right then and there.  What was I doing in a government class anyway?  It must have been a prerequisite, or maybe I just wanted to take a class with Dan, my boyfriend.

“If you play with my hair, I will be quiet,” I looked at Dan with a sweet smile.  Ryan was beside us in the next row; he smiled and shook his head.  He was familiar with my attention deficit difficulties. 

“Ryan, what are your plans for the future?”  I asked him as we exited the class.  “I am not sure.” he answered. 

He doesn’t even know!, I gasped to myself.  I was busy putting my ducks in a row.  I had big plans of finishing school, becoming a teacher, and getting married.  What was he planning to do?  Maybe I needed to help him.  After all, he was single, and I had this crazy ability at matchmaking.  But before matching him up, I needed to interview him as well as offer him a pep talk. 

“Ryan, you have got to have focus,” I said as I hit the back of my hand to the palm of my other hand to add emphasis to what I was saying.  “Build your nest and they will come.” 

I noticed that his attention was drawn away from me to a young lady walking past.   Ahhh, an interest, I thought to myself.  My matchmaking skills automatically kicked in.  I couldn’t even stop them if I wanted to.  Forget the interview.  There was love in the air.




“Ask her out,” I said. 

He didn’t respond. 

“Don’t ignore me when I am talking to you, Ryan.  You heard me.  You are only two feet away from me and my voice is loud.  Ryan, ask her out right now!” 

He had no choice.

He walked over to the girl.  Dan and I stood back at a distance, but not too far.  We wanted to be sure to see, to hear what was taking place.  A few words were exchanged.  I couldn’t hear them, and I couldn’t read their lips.  It was so frustrating.  I should have attached some kind of listening device to him. 

Ryan began walking back to us, and I could tell that her answer was not yes.  “She has a boyfriend,” Ryan said as he flushed red with embarrassment. 

His time was to come.

And this song would haunt me until…  “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.  Find me a find.  Catch me a catch...”  



And so I did.  I know you are not supposed to brag, but I was so good at matchmaking.  It was like a job for me, and the success rate of my business was astounding. 

So here was Ryan, a perfect man to marry.  Who did I have for him? 

Ahhh, her name was Barbie, and she looked just like one.

I remember pointing them out to one another.  Violins were playing in the background.  “There, you see her?  Sitting there across the way..." I said as he stared at her from across the room, "There is your future mate.”  And because they cooperated with love, fate, and me, here they were 15 years later, two mates perfectly made for one another, sitting before us on their living room couch.  I smiled as I looked at them and thought to myself,

I'm good. I should have started the first online dating service. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exhausted



“One event a week,” she said to me after she took a sip of her drink.  “We will only participate in one a week.”

“My word, Emily,” I responded.  “How could you limit yourself to only one activity a week?”

“And I always run it by my husband,” she added.

“Oooo, that must pump him up,” I said excited to add that to my list of “pumping up my husband” ideas.

I paused and breathed a heavy sigh.  “Gosh, Emily, sometimes I am gone three nights a week.”

“And how does that work out for you?” she asked me, raising one of her brows with that look that pressed a response from me, “Hmm?”

“I am so…  Overwhelmed.  Exhausted.  Overextended.  Frustrated.”




“I can’t keep my house clean.  I wake up to a sink filled with last night’s dishes.  I can’t keep up with laundry.  Sometimes I fall asleep on the couch and layer it on top of me like a blanket.  I lose patience with my children, my husband.  And I am balding on one side of my head from constantly pulling on my hair from stress.”

“Let me see your bald spot,” she leaned forward eager to witness my balding.

“Emily, I am kidding.  But I do have heart palpitations frequently.  Here put your hand against my chest.”

“No, that would look weird,” she laughed.

“Em, aren’t you afraid if you don’t respond to people and events that you will stop being invited?”

“Does that matter?  I want less.  I want simple.  So it weeds out those who aren’t as close to me.  Isn’t that a good thing?”

“I guess, but I hate disappointing people.  I want to be friends with everyone.”

“Janna, no one is friends with everyone.” 

It reminded me of something I read once in a magazine, “When everything is important, nothing is important.”
Could that apply to people as well?  When everyone is important, no one is important.

If I had less in my life, would I be able to focus better?  Would I be a better mom?  Friend?  Wife?  Daughter?  Sister?

Would I enjoy my life more?

Would it feel weird to swim against the norm of doing, doing, and more doing?

Would I be weird?

Lonely?

Bored?


To not have my plate totally and fully piled with activities, events, obligations, expectations, and all sorts of things?

Would I have time to breath?

Time to breathe.

An activity that was foreign to me at this time of my life.
But I wanted to.  I wanted to stop taking air for granted.

Ahhh, to take in oxygen like I take in a chocolate peppermint patty, sucking off the chocolate first and then pressing the white minty stuff upon the roof of my mouth, and then later when I am so inclined, my tongue takes a glide or two over that delicious mint filling.  I like to spend some time with the peppermint patty.

Maybe taking some time to breathe in oxygen could be just as fulfilling.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emily


I was enamored with her.  Not because of her beauty, height or bright blue eyes.  Not because she could make me laugh.  Not because she was a strong and independent woman.

I was enamored by Emily because….

she never answered her phone.




All around me telephones ring.  Mine.  Yours.  Hers.  His. 
Someone’s phone chimes and we are all digging into our purses.  “Is it mine?  Is it yours?”  




While I was on the phone with my mother, I suddenly heard a phone ring in the background.  “Oh, hold on.  Dad’s line is ringing.”  She came back to the phone.  “Oh, wait.  Now my cell phone is ringing.”

“My word, Mother.  You’re like a phone operator.” 

“Oh my, hold on,” she said while letting out a small awkward chuckle, “Call waiting on my other line.”


I stood in the kitchen talking with a friend.  Suddenly her phone rang.  In mid sentence, my mid sentence, “Hello?” she said as she walked out of the room, phone to ear.  I smiled, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “If I called her right now, would I move to the front of the line?  Would I get to finish what I was saying?  Would she think my effort to be funny?”


These incidents didn’t bother me; they have become the norm.








But they did make me wonder.  Who is it that has the rights to my attention?  Is it the person that sits before me?  or is it the person who calls me on my phone? 

I wondered. 

Until I met Emily.


We sat talking over tea and scones as our kids ran around the fountain outside of the coffee shop.  Emily’s phone rang and she reached into her purse.  I turned my head to preoccupy myself as she was about to take her call, reaching for my phone to check my email.  But I stopped, because rather than answering her phone, she did something peculiar.  She pulled out her iPhone, clicked the ringer over to silent, and put her phone back into her purse.

“Emily, why don’t you answer it?”  I asked, intrigued. 

“Because I am with you.”

“So?”  I said, not really understanding.

“Janna, I am spending time with you.  I will call back whoever it was when I get a chance.”

What in the world?  Who was this woman?  and what were these mysterious ways of hers?

I had been brought up seeing the phone as another extremity connected to a human’s body.





I resented it, sure, when my father was pulled away on a call, but years later I found myself just as dedicated to the phone as he. 

Most of the time I loved the phone ringing.  Made me feel important.  Even loved.  But every once in a while, I felt it a thorn in my side.  Controlled by it.  Even a slave to it at times.  Answering it out of obligation, for fear to disappoint the caller, whoever it may be.  I remember a good number of times carrying my half changed baby and their soiled bottom around the house trying to find the phone before the answering service picked it up. 

I finally decided that I need not answer it if it wasn’t conducive to my life at a particular moment.

“Janna, where were you?  Why didn’t you answer your phone?”  a friend asked me.

“Oh, I was busy.  I decided that I will answer the phone when I can and I won’t when I can’t,” I said.

“That’s rude, Janna.  It is selfish of you,” she replied.

And so I began chasing the phone around the house again at the most of inconvenient times.  Phone rings.  Grab baby out of bath.  Must find phone.  Must not be selfish. 

So here I was with Emily who just didn’t answer the phone.  And she seemed so at ease with the outcome.      

“Don’t people get upset with you?” I asked.

“Yep,” she replied.  “But my mother taught me a long time ago that I control my phone rather than it controlling me.” 

She then leaned very closely to me and whispered, “And sometimes I even leave it at home.”

I gasped.

Wild.

Living life on the edge.  This was the kind of life that really excited me.

Independent, confident, and sure about her decisions, this Emily.

I leaned forward, meeting her face to face, our noses separated by merely inches, “Tell me more of your wild ways,” I whispered back, breathing tea breath into her face.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Secrets of a Model




"Janna, why do you and your friends look like that in all of your photos together?" my mother asked me.  

"Well, Mom, that's because we all found our good side.  And when you find it, you gotta stick with it," I answered.


My brother was a model, actually the Gucci model for a year.  And how he got that gig, we could never figure out.  I mean, he was handsome enough, yes, but people spend years of their life trying to make it big, “get noticed,” if you will.  And here was my brother who walked into a modeling agency and said, “Hey, think I could make some money doing this so that I could go rock climbing whenever I want to?  Dude.”  Within one short year, he was the Gucci model!!!???  Come on, I say.  How unfair to all of the people who have tried for so long to make it in the spotlight.  He cut right to the front of the line. 


Well, it was pretty exciting to see my brother in some major magazines, to hear of all the people he was meeting, Owen and Luke Wilson, Heidi Klum, and so on.  I was intrigued and had many questions. 


“So how do the people who don’t look that pretty in real life look so good in pictures?  You gotta tell me your model secrets,” I said to him.  I was aware of the popular television program America’s Top Model, the show that inspired my new smileThere were many models on there that didn’t look like model material, but when you would see them in photos, low and behold, the model caged within would be released. 


“Find your good side,” he said in response to my questioning.  “Models know how they look best behind the camera.” 


“What?  Tell me what you mean.  Explain yourself,” I urged him to go on.


“They know their best angles and best poses and they stick to these poses,” he explained.


Ahhhh, there was a trick to this modeling thing.


A Pose.


Do you know your pose? 






So I had my own photo shoot to find my own model look.  I angled my face slightly to the left, and then angled it to the right, and then one front on, looking up, looking down, smiling, serious, sexy.  Click.  Click.   The camera and I were one.  The lioness in me was beginning to roar.  Work it.  Work it.  You know you look good.  Flash.  Flash.  Then the photo shoot came to completion.  I took the camera back from my five year old son.


I looked at my pictures.  Now which one was Gucci material? 


Ahhhh!  There it was.  A little turn to the left, a slight angle downward, oh, not too much, so to avoid any doubling of the chin.  Oooo, lovely.  My look.   


My pose.


The camera will never see me without it.


So, see this picture, Mom?  Don't we all look absolutely great?  That's because we are models too.


Here we are in Paris.




And here we are in New York.



Fabulous.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Friendship. One of my favorite things about life.


“How long have we known each other?” I asked her feeling like it was the first time we noticed each other.

“Five years,” she replied.

“How did we not notice each other before now?”  

“I was here,” she responded with a slight grin, as if she knew all along we would be close friends.  

Like a beam of light passing through the darkness of night, people come into our lives.  They  brighten up what has been dimmed by trouble, hardship, circumstances.  It is seldom that these beams last a lifetime, but the ones that are brief can make an impact as great as the ones that last a little longer.

I had been so busy rowing my boat one particular way that I didn’t notice there was a boat rowing right up against me; its bow gently tap-tapping at mine.

I have heard it said that when God closes a door, He always opens another.  I would have to admit that most of the time I am so busy struggling to pry open a particular door or fight desperately to keep a certain door ajar that I forget to look around and notice the doors that He has, in His wisdom, strategically opened.

What if people are purposefully placed in our path for a specific reason?  What if there is a bigger purpose for our crossing lives? 

Are relationships orchestrated?  Arranged?

What if we are to embrace and invest into those He has chosen to drop into our lives?  Not to neglect or let go of old friends, oh no, but to embrace those who happen to be crossing our path in the present time.  To spend enough time to bond deeply so that there will be a lasting impact.  How many times have I been so caught up in my ideas for my life, that I miss out on the gifts He has placed before me?  Sometimes those gifts are people.

Friendship.  One of my favorite things about life.



When I look back over the years, I see the many gifts of friendship He has given me. 

Friend upon friend has crossed my way.   So many faces, so many names.  Each friend has been a blessing to me.  Though seasons of friendship change, their impact upon our life remains.  I think back at all the people who have been a part of my life, and I am grateful for each and every dear friend. 
 

"Five years, Emily???  It feels like we just met,” I said in all sincerity with a little bit of sadness for not having partnered up with her sooner.

“Emily, you truly are a blessing to me.”

She smiled. 

She knew she was. 

It was about time I noticed.



Emily.  One of my favorite things about life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seasons






“Do you think there is a season to friendships?” I asked.  “Could our season be ending?”

“Only if one of us lets it,” she answered.

It was a time of shifting in our relationship, change.  So many things pulling us apart, increasing the gaping hole that seemed to be devouring our closeness.  Could it be in our lot to grow apart for a time?  To prepare my heart, her heart for an upcoming departure that would have the ability to tear us both apart if we didn’t distance a little? 

We began to have topics of taboo, topics that caused tension to rise to the surface.  Wouldn’t it be so nice if we were able to just skim it off?  Skim off the unnecessary fat. 

Did we have the control or power to stop the drifting?

I thought so.  She thought so.

“We just have to make decisions that will keep us together,” she had said right before purchasing their first house around the corner from us. 

Life is change.  You have to fight it to keep close. 

So we thought.


But I wonder…

What is the secret to lasting friendship?   One that lasts for a lifetime?  Why can some relationships sustain while others seem to have only distance as their lot? 

What is it that preserves the friendship bond?  A continual crossing of life’s path?  A combination of certain personalities?  Availability?  Circumstances?  Commonalities?  All of the above? 

Haven’t we all had a number of BFFs in our lifetime?  Wedding photos are a perfect example of life’s constant altering.  As you flip through the printed reminders of that special day, you come across one particular picture, a lineup of the girls, our bridesmaids.  How many of us still see these people with whom we once could never imagine living life without? 





People who you have tried with all efforts to stay close to, but by some unexplainable reason, life just took you down different courses.     

The friend who lived next door to me all the way from preschool to high school graduation.  “We will be best friends forever,” she said.  “Of course we will,” I agreed.

The friend in high school I was in choir class with.  I couldn’t sing or dance so instead of participating with the rest of the choir, we would just talk with each other about the audience.  “Do you see my boyfriend out there?” I asked.  “No, all I can see is beaming lights in my eyes.” she answered.  “So if we can’t see anyone then I am sure they can’t see us.  Let’s keep talking.” 

The friend  I lived with and traveled to Europe with. 

The friend who could make me laugh so hard my sides felt like they were going to split.

The friend I took a college singing class with.  I really wanted to learn how to sing. My voice was so bad my friend and I couldn’t stop laughing during my solo performance.  “Janna,” the teacher said, “go stand in the corner for the rest of the class.”  I stood facing the corner, shoulders shaking violently from the uncontrollable silent laughter that almost possessed my body.  There I was standing in the corner, in college. 

People I would never grow apart from. 

But time and circumstance prove to have the power to slowly errode the bond between two souls.  Sure you can try to hold it together.  But with many, with most, they experience…

Shifting.

Shifting.

Change.

Even the best of friends.

Nothing in life is safe from the ever present reality of change. 

Sure there are certain individuals, whom you would never be willing to let go of.  Two parties willing to give what it takes to hold on, the ones that leave off where you once left off.  Those friendships are priceless.

Would our relationship be that sort?  The one to last a lifetime?

I could have worried.  I could have fretted and fussed over something I really had no control over.  We could have turned on each other.  It is only a natural response to the growing tension that so commonly originates from growing apart as friends.  And in all truth we had tried that before only to find it to more destructive than restorative.       

Instead we both realized that our relationship would develop into something else.  Into what it was to become. 

For this season it would be our lot to drift away from one other.  But the drifting, we would find, would not be without purpose. 

God uses us to touch each other’s lives.  And like the closing of a book, there comes a time when He closes this chapter and begins to write a new one, sending our ray of light somewhere else, to someone else…






Sunday, October 16, 2011

Drifting


Two boats drifted down a river, side by side.  The wind pushed them together and forward, shoulder to shoulder, flowing through the streams of life.  

The currents were in our favor, schooling, working, our husbands best friends, all of our pregnancies and births of babies.  Closer.  The closest you could be to a friend.  


 

We sat swaying on my white wooden porch swing in front of my old house.  Both of us, our first born babies in hand.  At this time, she lived around the corner from me. 

Creek.

Creek.

Back and forth. 

Swinging through life.

Together.
 
Life was just better that way.


“You know how to harmonize?” I smiled, knowing very well the answer.

“How hard can it be?” she grinned.

And so we sat side by side beneath the shade of an overhanging porch.

She took soprano, piercing the air with a high pitched shrill.  I took baritone, penetrating her awful sound with a low pitched transvestite tone. 

Singing.

No.  Croaking.  Like two toads.

“We sound horrible,” I laughed.

“Yeah, but for one moment, did you hear?  We sounded good together.  It was just for a moment,” she said.

A moment.

Life is really just a collection of them.  Bottled up in our memories.  Caught on little pieces of prints.  Stuck in files on our computers.  Time captured.  Moments frozen.

Friendships have their moments.  Their seasons. 

And when those seasons begin to change, when the leaves of life’s trees begin to change color, drop one by one, uncertainty suddenly sneaks in.

What will become of us?

And in uncertainty comes the birth of tension.

Why are we growing apart?

Who is to blame?

And can it be stopped?  Can it be prevented?

Anita and I began to grow apart by anything but desire.