The Last Time I Said I Was Happy

It was about twenty years ago. I’d recently been married, and I was home alone in our apartment. I don’t think I was happy about anything in particular, it was just one of those moods that come along through no act of our own or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s just a gift. I think the gift of that mood is a little more rare for me than for many people.

“I’m happy!”

I said it aloud to myself. It felt strange. Maybe it was even the first time I’d done that. I don’t remember if I was cleaning or puttering around, if I’d just come home or if I’d been lounging.

At any rate, as soon as I’d said it, the phone rang. My grandpa had passed away.

This is where my ridiculous human brain works its magic. It’s crazy, but it’s not uncommon. I never said those words out loud again—not to myself, not to anyone else. I may have said “I’m so happy for you,” or “I’m so happy about [whatever]” but never a general statement about my whole self just feeling happy.

Year after year I told myself that the timing was, of course, mere coincidence. Grandpa was old and in poor health, and even if he hadn’t been, his death would have only been coincidence. Fate, God, Satan, Whoever, wasn’t waiting for me to say those words in order to smash my spirit.

I don’t think I’m a superstitious person. I have a black cat. My birthday is on a 13th, and it’s never been unlucky, even when it falls on a Friday. I sometimes open my umbrella in the house. I believe God is all powerful.* So what is this? What is this lingering suspicion?

Once, in the car, my teenage daughter was in a random good mood and said to me, “I’m happy.” It wasn’t very long ago—years after Grandpa’s death—but I thought of Grandpa nonetheless. “Me too,” I said. Even that felt a little dangerous. But I didn’t want my kid to have a parent who couldn’t say they were happy. I am used to pretending I’m happy when I’m not. In general, I don’t believe in having to hide your feelings, but I don’t want my kid to have to be around someone who seems unhappy all the time, so sometimes I fake it. But I never say those two particular words. With her proclamation of “I’m happy,” and my “Me too,” we continued on and had a perfectly fine day. Why was I half wondering if we wouldn’t?

The other day, I had a thought that I can’t believe I’d never had before. Maybe that phone call wasn’t mere coincidence but also wasn’t a purposeful crushing of my spirit. I don’t know what Grandpa’s religious beliefs were, but maybe my happiness was a reaction to his release from pain. Maybe my spirit knew something before I got that phone call.

Or maybe I just think too much. Wishing YOU the gift of happiness today.

*Some people consider belief in God a superstition. I looked up the etymology of the word superstition while I was writing this paragraph and was quite surprised.

 

Vacuuming Saves America

I’m getting resistance fatigue. After Trump spent our Meals on Wheels money on a purposely ineffective bombing in Syria, I remembered my blog series about what is saving America for me. First it was a hug from a stranger, then it was a stranger in a Starfleet Academy shirt paying for my groceries, and last it was young musicians putting on a beautiful concert.

So today I thought, “What’s saving America for me today? What is making the place I live still a place of hope and kindness?” Is it my recent trips to the beach and the redwoods? Maybe, but they also bring up somber thoughts about the current administration’s attack on the environment. Is it the baseball season starting? Almost, but Buster Posey, the best player in baseball, left the game today after taking a fastball to the head.

The thought that came to me made me feel a little silly. My bedroom really needed vacuuming, and gosh darnit, I was going to get that done. Clean up my little space. I felt silly about vacuuming saving America for me today, but there’s good news hidden in that thought.

It was something I could do for myself.

If you suffer from depression, you know that all the things people tell you to do to make yourself feel better don’t necessarily work. “Help someone!” Either you feel incapable, or you do it and don’t feel better. “Take a vacation!” You might not have the opportunity, or your spirits crash as soon as you get back.

I have never been able to lift myself out of depression. I have always looked for the kindness of others or the promises of God to keep me afloat. But today, I wanted to have a vacuumed room, and I got out my vacuum cleaner. Will the floor be covered with dog hair and nail clippings (come on, family, find the freaking garbage can!) in two days? Probably, but for today it’s clean.

This is the part of America where I spend most of my time, and for now, it’s all I have control over. And for now, it’s vacuumed.

Now, about that closet.

 

Young Musicians Save America

Tonight I went to the Northern California Honor Choir and Band concert at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.* My daughter sat on my left and a woman I didn’t know and who was alone sat on my right. The choir came out first. About 170 strong, it was directed by Joshua Habermann, conductor of the Dallas Symphony Chorus.

Habermann didn’t introduce the first songs. Along with his understated conducting style, this left the attention on the high school vocalists, who sang in tune and with passion. My favorite combination! A review would tell you about the Vivaldi, the Whitacre, the beautiful Flight Song, by Kim Andre Arnesen, but this isn’t a review. This is about what’s going to save America.

The other day I wrote about the man in the Starfleet Academy shirt who paid for my groceries. I said that it’s people like this, moments like this, that are going to save America for me. I appreciate that Attorneys General Sally Yates and Bob Ferguson have stood up against the current administration, and I appreciate everything the ACLU is doing, but I’m not sure it will be enough to overcome within the next couple of years. Enough to lift my spirits—to save America for me. My blog was titled “Starfleet Academy Saves America.” I also wrote about a hug from a stranger named Margie. I started to look for moments, for people who were saving America for me.

After the first few songs, Habermann came to the microphone. He called performing music the ultimate team sport. There’s no division between young and old, different religions, socioeconomic levels, he said.

We in the music world don’t have to say the words out loud. We all know what we’re thinking. We’re about to lose funding for the arts. We’re about to have our second trumpet player deported. We are going to need the beauty of music more than ever.

One of my pet peeves is people complaining about the younger generations. I would like to challenge any one of the complainers to attend their region’s honor band or choir concert. You don’t hear 50 teenage boys singing baroque music without having hope for the future. You don’t hear a teenage girl singing a a solo in one of the finest music halls without getting a little chill.

At the intermission I asked the woman sitting next to me where she was from. She only lived about 30 miles away, and her son was going to be in the band. “He’s a freshman,” she told me. That’s REALLY impressive for Nor Cal. “He practices all the time,” she said. The percussionists came on stage before everyone else in order to set up their equipment. The woman told me her son was the one with the long hair. “He won’t let me cut it,” she said almost apologetically.

“I wouldn’t care about that,” I replied. “Are you doing drugs? Did you punch anyone today? No? Then it’s all good.”

She agreed.

The M.C. came out to announce the 5 winners of scholarships to a local music camp. One of the boys was announced as a percussionist, and the boy with the long hair looked proud, so I turned to ask the woman next to me “Was that your son?” I felt silly saying the words, because her eyes were full of tears. A freshman! That kid is going places. And not just music camp.

I looked at the band portion of the program and noticed that the second song, “the echo never fades,” was one of those pieces commissioned when a high school band student died. I pointed it out to my daughter. “I hate those,” I said. “They all sound the same.” We knew we were going to have to leave after the second song so that my daughter could get to a rehearsal, and she was bummed that we’d have to leave after a sad song. I joked that I’d want something silly written for me. My daughter duly noted it.

But when the director, Andy Collinsworth, announced that song, he said it wasn’t the typical piece commemorating a student. And in fact, Gillingham’s alto sax feature was simply beautiful. My daughter didn’t mind leaving after it. The sax soloist reminded me again that there is hope.

Young musicians saved America for me tonight, you guys. Many ethnicities, and I’m sure many religions and socioeconomic statuses on the same team and bringing art and beauty to life. They saved America for me, and I dare you to go to a concert of young people and see if they don’t do the same for you.

*If you ever visit Sonoma County, it’s worth it to see who’s performing at this gorgeous venue. Itzhak Perlman, one of the best nights of my life. Steve Martin, not too shabby.

Margie

I was on the verge of tears all day today. Donald Trump combined with having that stupid, heartwrenching audition song from La La Land stuck in my head, I guess. I actually did shed a few tears at random times. I kept thinking about all the art and beauty that would disappear if the article I read about Gorbachev is right. He thinks the world is preparing for war.

I thought I was going to cry watching my daughter’s honor band rehearsal, where she was playing under the direction of my college band professor, but I didn’t. I watched them rehearse at the incomparable Weill Hall, brought my daughter home for her dinner break and dropped her back off for the evening rehearsal. I’d planned to stay and watch some more, but the car was on empty, so I left to get gas and for some reason didn’t feel like hurrying back. I hadn’t had much dinner, so I ran to the store.

I’ve been shopping at the same locally owned market for well over a decade. It’s one of my favorite places. The cashiers feel like friends. As I checked out I found myself wishing they were good enough friends to ask for a hug. They aren’t. I thought about it on my way out, but they aren’t. Several of them probably wanted a hug too, but it’s just too weird. What a strange world.

At home, I pulled into my parking spot, got out, and said hello to a woman I see out walking a lot. Long ago I chatted with her about her dog, but the dog wasn’t with her this time.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “I fell recently and it’s been tough getting out in this cold weather. Luckily I didn’t hurt the fusion.”

I guessed from her gesture that she was referring to back surgery, but it was cute the way she said it as if I knew all about her surgery. I figure she’s told a lot of people in our complex and she assumed she’d told me before. We had never said much more than “hello” before. Now I told her that I was upset about the state of the world, and we just kept chatting. She told me her name was Margie (with a hard “g.”)

We talked for a long time before she said something that began with “The Lord blessed me with…”

“I thought you might be a Christian,” I said. “I am too.”

She asked me if I knew any other Christians in our complex and asked where I went to church. When she was healthier, she’d attended a church that she liked except for its Calvinism. I had to have her explain that. I told her that I thought my church got Biblical principles right and explained the time that I did have one beef with them, whereupon she quoted Jude 3 (…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.)

What a hoot! How many people do you run into who can pull an appropriate Bible verse out of their mind? It was cold and dark, so finally I told her goodnight and walk carefully, and she gave me a hug! Suddenly I realized how strange it was for me to have wished for a hug at the grocery store. I’d never thought such a thing before, and here was Margie, out after dark which she said she doesn’t usually do.

I have often regretted not saying things like this, so I immediately told her, “When I was at the grocery store I wished I could ask someone for a hug! You’re an answer to prayer!”

She said, “Then you need another one,” and she hugged me again.

Thank you, neighbor. Thank you, God. Every day I need to be reminded that the beauty will NEVER be gone from this world. I seem to need to be reminded more than most, and God doesn’t seem to judge me for it. He simply reminds me one more time.

Day 30: Seeking First His Kingdom (61 days of worry-free devotions)

I have a recurring condition that makes my ear canals itchy. Very itchy. Nothing my doctor had me try worked. Once, after about 11 months of not being able to sleep or concentrate on anything but the itching, I told my doctor that I’d rather be dead.

He tried to set me up with psychiatry.

But, I told him, when you have read about heaven, it’s no wonder I’d rather be there! Here’s John’s revelation of it.

“And the material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it and its lamp is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean and no one who practices abominations and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.”

Revelation 21:18-27, 22:1-5

I could end the day right there! Amazing! But here’s one of my favorite verses, and they complement each other so nicely.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13

Today was our last of four days reading verses about the kingdom that don’t use the word “kingdom.” What will your kingdom statement be today? Use it to replace those worry thoughts!

M.L. Millard

P.S. If any of you are thinking “I have that same ear problem!” the answer was a dermatologist prescribing Elidel. She was hesitant, as it’s not usually for ear canals, but nothing else worked, and I’m very careful not to get it near my eardrums. I’m not a doctor. Don’t sue me if you try this and lose your hearing or something.

*New American Standard Bible verses used in the book version of this devotional with permission from The Lockman Foundation.