Monday, September 26, 2011

On Tradeoffs, Sacrifices and Gifts

One of the biggest lessons that I've learned in life is that everything is a tradeoff, a sacrifice, or a gift.  We spend the majority of our time in the tradeoff realm, we're acutely aware when we are in sacrifice mode, and most of the time we are either blissfully unaware or awed by the gifts we are given every day.  Where we get messed up is when we start taking any of it for granted, or stubbornly refuse to understand how the whole tradeoff thing works. 

When I was little, I remember entering Sing Food Store after pedaling my bike what must have been a mile or two from my house.  There were sidewalks most of the way, and there were only a few places where traffic was a concern.  I'm sure that there were crazy people out there back in the day, but it was still possible for a kid to actually make that trek and have a reasonable expectation of getting back home. 

At Sing's, they had penny candy and the best coke Icees on the planet.  I realize that to a lot of people, a coke Icee is a coke Icee, but from Sing's, it just tasted better.  Still does.  (I know that my mother will not pass by there without stopping to get one...and some lottery tickets...but that's another discussion entirely.)  This was back when you could get a full sized 3 Musketeers candy bar, a bag of Funyuns, some Super Bubble bubble gum (the nasty green apple was a personal favorite), some Now & Laters (which should have just been named "NOW" which is when I insisted on eating them), and an Icee for under a dollar. 

In fact, I remember when when the candy bar went up from a fifteen to twenty cents.  And no, I didn't have to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow and I don't yell at kids to get off my lawn...yet.

I never really thought about what a blessing this freedom was.  I know that for my mother, it meant that she didn't have to entertain me or be annoyed by constant pleas for attention of some kind.  She just assumed I'd be alright.  I'd leave the house for hours and arrive home for dinner having played "war" (I was always relegated to the nurse role...and we nurses didn't actually do anything but sit in the treehouse), roller bat, football, or maybe I'd been riding someone's go-cart or mini bike with them.  A couple of times, I'd end up somewhere playing Barbies, but that usually ended with someone's mother being mortified that the room that she'd just demanded be cleaned on a Saturday morning was trashed beyond she'd make us put it all away and join her in the kitchen for some Oreos and a glass of milk.

Good times. 

It was just time to be a kid.  I remember time stretching out forever, and when Halloween, Christmas, and Easter were eagerly awaited. 

Sadly, that really doesn't exist anymore. 

The crazy people, overwhelming schedules, lack of knowledge of who are neighbors are, and technology have pretty much taken care of all of that.  In place of it we have stressed out families, fear, obesity, and anxiety to replace it.  Not exactly the tradeoff we'd planned for, is it?

I think there are a lot of things that I've traded off that in return I've received a raw deal.  It was the little decisions primarily.  The "oh, it will be fine...I'll make that up..." things.  The letting something go so that I could rest or entertain myself.  The eating something that was homemade and scrumptuous when it was clear that I'm on the brink of poor health.  The not forcing myself to be disciplined years ago so I could be less concerned about today.  I'm obviously not a very good horse trader.

But that's okay.  While I was busy out making other happened.  (Thanks, John Lennon for that bit of inspiration.)

The other day while I was standing in my closet, I had an epiphany of what the sum total of bad choices can be.  Granted, I've made a lot of good choices, but in a couple areas of my life, I've been as out of control as some of these sad little "starlets" that insist on creating drama because apparently the life of celebrity is so dang difficult to bear. (My advice?  Sweethearts...get thyself out of the spotlight if you have to take 27 pills to endure one day of your life.  There are at least a thousand girls waiting in the wings...some of whom will actually be able to handle Carrie Underwood, Emma Stone, and Taylor Swift...just to name a few.) 

One of these areas has been with what I eat.  It is my thorn in the flesh.  I have a few other splinters, but this is a real and tangible issue for me.  I know what to do, and I often do it...but not often enough.  Many, but not all, of the regrets I have in this life revolve around what this one issue. 

I've traded off being able to wear most items of clothing, feeling free to see people (because I worry about their reaction when they see me), exercise (because I worry about hurting my knees), and just feeling good about myself.

I've traded this all for the freedom to eat what I want when I want. 

I told you I wasn't a good horse trader.

The only antidote to this is discipline.  But who likes that?  Answer: People who are disciplined.

Discipline is freedom and often involves sacrifice.  For some of us, it is hard to sacrifice for ourselves...because we keep thinking that someday we will.  Oh, we'll sacrifice for our kids...and we are awed by those who sacrifice for us every day (such as our brave armed services personnel, police, firefighters, and their families).  But sacrifice to us is something that seems scary and amazing and unworthy of us on most days.  We know all about the ultimate sacrifice and we are grateful for the lives we'll be born into once our mission is done here on earth. 

There are martyrs, and there are quiet heroes in this life, and we usually bump up on one or another somewhere along the line.  Most of us admired Mother Teresa's selfless life and all of the good and dignity she brought wherever she was. 

Most of us aren't even close to Mother Teresa on every best day we have in our entire lives all strung together compared to one of her worst.  But that doesn't stop us from trying.

And then there are the gifts. 

Those brilliant, wonderful, awe-inspiring times that we feel like the universe has parted just to say hello to us.  The rainbow that we see out of our car window as we are driving home from another exhausting day.  The kindness someone does for us that we certainly don't feel that we deserve and know we'll never be able to repay.  The note that arrives in the mail, the hug when we are feeling defeated, or the prayer for us that is lifted when we are unaware. 

The joy that we feel from doing something that God has given us to do that makes us happy to give and makes others happy to receive.  The uniqueness that He has crafted into every one of us that may take time to tap into but which makes us feel His pleasure.  The times we know that we are in the right place at the right time...or that someone else certainly is.  The love that we have in our hearts that we give to others that only multiplies as it goes along.  The light that starts as a small beacon...but is intended to light the whole world.

I don't know if you are making decisions now that you wish you could reverse, feel that you are in the middle of the coliseum and they've just released the lions, or are living your dream.  Perhaps you're doing all of these simultaneously.  Just remember that if you are reading this...and you are have a purpose. 

Sometimes I forget that when I am in the middle of a pity party because I have fewer choices than I'd like or that the prayers I lift appear to be sitting stale on the walls of heaven.  When minutes seem like days and the days seem gray and drab.  Maybe it is at these times that I need to sacrifice my wants to meet someone else's needs, or I need to use the gifts I've been blessed with to make someone else's day.  Maybe making better choices would become a discipline...and the freedom would follow more effortlessly.

In the meantime...I'm going to give it a whirl.  You never know where it might lead.


  1. Thanks, Karen! I needed this this morning!

  2. Thank you! Truth very well spoken (written).