My Compassion sponsor trip to Veracruz, Mexico in January* opened my eyes to something that I hadn’t ever given much thought to. You don’t need a Princess cruise, or an iPhone or iPad to be happy. You actually don’t even need a coffeemaker. Naturally, you do need coffee to know true happiness, but you can cook coffee in a pot over an open fire. I learned that people can have chickens meandering through their small house made of cardboard and plywood and they will treat you with the warmest smiles and most affable hospitality you’ve ever known. The coffee served won’t taste like the fresh brew you’re familiar with, but that’s okay. It’s prepared for you with more love and attention than any Starbucks barista could ever hope to offer.
It occurred to me that you can have nothing materially, but still have everything because you choose to be happy with what you have and not what you don’t have. You choose to share and give and love others.
The people I met in Mexico extended affection, graciousness, and gratitude. They hugged us, kissed us, tossed confetti on us, and sang praises to God in an atmosphere of joy quite unlike anything I’ve witnessed in America.
These warm and loving people don’t have insulation or heaters or air conditioners in their 10-foot by 10-foot homes. They don’t have indoor plumbing or beds with mattresses or floors with carpet or tile. Their floors consist of concrete or rocky dirt. Even so, they have each other and they have their abiding faith in God and they’re happy. They were, of course, thrilled with the gifts we brought them. However, not once did I get the feeling that if we hadn’t brought gifts they would sulk or pout or feel denied or neglected in any way.
Years ago, I suffered depression. It evolved from me overanalyzing my problems and “choosing” to let negative thoughts rule my life. I let the negative thoughts marinate in my brain so long that I began to have physical ailments. Anxiety, the cousin of depression, moved in when I let the “what-ifs” join the negative thoughts. Together, anxiety and depression helped me to feel sad and fearful. Misery loved me.
The thought came to me one day, (and only God could have given me this thought as I couldn’t come up with this on my own), “I can’t control the world, but I can control my thoughts.”
Yesterday, while browsing the booths of an art fair, my cousin Amy pointed to a handmade sign set among many other artistic signs for sale, and said, “I love that.” The sign she loved stated: “Today I will choose joy.”
I had no problem choosing joy yesterday. I spent it with my sister Jodee, our mom Darleen, and our cousin Amy, who I hadn’t seen in hundreds of years (or close to that). We ate a delicious breakfast on an outdoor patio beneath majestic, towering mesquite trees. We could hear birds singing “hallelujah” in the branches and brightly-colored flowers surrounded us in nearby gardens. I enjoyed every minute of our time together.
But what about the days when life isn’t as ideal as yesterday?
The air conditioner goes out in the middle of the summer. Or the washing machine breaks. A red and blue light flashes in your rear-view mirror. Maybe you splurge on blueberries and once you get them home, you accidentally drop them and the plastic container springs open as blueberries scatter in every direction under the dishwasher and refrigerator? They will fossilize as you have no desire to move appliances.
Or what about those stickers on fruit that won’t come off? Maybe you don’t remember them until you realize they’re in your fruit salad. And, oh no! Is your guest choking on your fruit salad? You slice a tomato and end up in Urgent Care because you also sliced your finger along with the tomato. The IRS has no record of the refund you are owed and you call to correct the error and wait on hold for a half hour, then another half hour explaining the situation to the agent who finally put her coffee cup down and finished her Sudoku to answer your call. The agent asks you a series of questions to make sure you aren’t an impostor. She then says, “You need to call another number to get this matter cleared up.”
Do you plead with the agent to transfer you to the new phone number? Do you throw your phone across the room? Well, I don’t recommend either. The agent won’t transfer you (“I’m sorry but we have no way of transferring”), and hurtling the phone across the room doesn’t bother the IRS agent one bit.
Today, I will choose joy.
But the IRS? That’s the true test. When you commit to choosing joy after an hour of your time wasted by the incompetence of our government—you are a person of high quality character. …I’m not there yet.
*Compassion Sponsor Tour-A group tour to the country of your sponsored child that allows sponsors to experience the country’s culture and attractions, get an in-depth look at how the Compassion ministry works, and spend a fun day with your sponsored child.