A guest post by Dorcas Smucker, blogger at Life in the Shoe:
This post is about piles of stuff. And it’s mostly for young people.
This is dangerous, I know, to classify myself not only as old, but also with wisdom to impart. On the few occasions that I write or speak to young people, my young-adult children often say, “DON’T sound like you’re talking down to us!”
Because I do that, sometimes.
Forgive me, ahead of time, would you?
Sometimes I look at my life now and feel so blessed I can hardly stand it. I have a front porch with a pretty round table. I have a husband and children whose company I enjoy. I’ve traveled overseas. I have the funds to see a doctor if I need to. I have the cutest silver egg cups shaped like chickens. I have been part of a nice church, with lots of nice people in it, who love Jesus, for over 20 years. I’ve written 5 books. I get to talk to people sometimes, up front, where I can say whatever I want and people actually listen, unless it’s at a retirement center, where 10% of them always fall asleep.
This is the sort of life I wanted when I was younger, although back then I claimed I didn’t want the six children, but whatever.
I certainly wanted the published books, and the good relationships, and the sense of purpose, and the travel.
But I had no idea how to get from there to here.
Our family had some good things going for it, like a good work ethic and sense of humor, but unfortunately we also had some very unhealthy patterns and choices and I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. So I had a sense of being on the outside looking in, with a vague sense of what I wanted, but not quite sure what healthy relationships really looked like, or how some people managed to not always be in debt, or how to live life feeling like you were ok instead of deeply flawed.
My dad, despite his giftings and education, always seemed to feel like the good things of life were not for us. “Sel iss net fuh uns Leit,” he would say in Pennsylvania Dutch. That is not for us people. Things like concerts. And camping. Scholarships. Travel. And showing affection.
We were not told we were loved. There isn’t even a good way to say “I love you” in Pennsylvania Dutch.
I remember, when I was about 19, being at a friend’s house when another friend’s husband dropped her off, and as he left she hollered, “I love you!” as casually as you would say, “See ya!” and to me it felt like raw, inner-heart, private words exposed and dangling in the air, and I couldn’t imagine myself saying such things.
That’s how weird I was.
And yet, I wanted something like that for myself.
I also wanted to be a writer, in a vague sense. I would hear of people who had actually published books, and it seemed a wonderful goal that I had no clue how to reach. Having multiple books to my name—well, that was only for very very lucky people.
If you’re a young person who isn’t blessed with good mentors, it can seem like the good things are for everyone else and not for you. And even if you might be eligible, you have no idea how to get from here to there.
I would like to say that the good things can be for you, too.
A penny isn’t very big or very much. But if you toss a penny into the back corner of your closet several times a day for a week, then a month, a year, another year, penny after penny, day by day, by the time you’re 40 you’ll have an astonishing pile of pennies, and it will be worth a lot.
Similarly, if you toss an apple core into the other corner of your closet every afternoon, day after day, it will eventually become a large, oozy, smelly, rotten pile.
This is what I’ve found. Your choices, at the time, seem as insignificant as a penny or an apple core. But they accumulate into a pile, and the pile is your life at 40 or 50.
Your little choices matter.
What sorts of things? Mostly stuff you already know, or at least suspect. Things like studying for tests, finishing homework on time, showing up for work, not texting while you’re on duty. Over and over.
Things like making your own coffee instead of buying the latte.
And like being kind to the annoying people and the bratty sister, over and over.
And apologizing instead of pretending it was nothing.
Reading your Bible every day.
Learning a little bit every day about a subject that intrigues you.
Putting the peanut butter back in the cupboard.
Observing, asking, listening.
Dumb little things. Really, what possible difference can it make? By itself, not that much. But as part of a big pile—a lot.
There’s an old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
You’ll find that if your heart is open to learning and being helped, that God will send people to guide and help you, just when you need them.
When did I get a good marriage, a healthy lifestyle, a house that makes me happy? When did I become an author?
Well. Goodness, they all sort of accumulated.
When the time and the man were right, I found that my mouth was capable of opening and saying,”I love you,” and now I can holler it over my shoulder as easily as that long-ago young friend.
But first I found people with the kind of marriage I wanted, and I saw that they just enjoyed each other, so I asked them a lot of questions and also had them evaluate That Guy.
Every year, after we moved into this house, I fought with my picky flowerbeds as they rejected plant after plant. Then, gradually some of the perenials took root and grew, and a few springs ago I looked at the mass of greenage in front of the porch and realized it had grown there that spring, all by itself, with no coaxing from me, at last.
I remember hoarding my meager stack of writings in a file folder. A few handwritten essays, a poem or two, a typed manuscript for an article. One was published, then another and another. Every success was enormous. I kept writing, little by little. I remember the day when I could list off the top of my head everything I’d ever published. And then the day came when it was too many to remember.
Little by little, word by word, accumulating into a pile.
For the last 15 years, I’ve wrestled with a deadline every month, threatened to quit, and then nearly collapsed with relief when I finished my newspaper column and sent it off.
One column doesn’t seem like much. It has its day in the paper and then gets recycled.
But the columns accumulated, to my surprise, and then there were enough to make a book. And then another and another. Those columns, typed in dark early mornings, the words reluctantly taking form, fighting me all the way—they took on a new life and traveled far and had effects I never could have dreamt.
And then I was that impossible thing, an author of multiple books, even though I had had no idea of how to get from there to here.
Some of you come from happy, smart, successful families, and the path before you seems clear. Some of you know you want something better than what you’ve had, but it all seems mystical and vague, and you have a sense that maybe the good things in life aren’t really for people like you.
Choose something right now that you know is wiser, smarter, better. And do it.
Getting to bed on time, for instance.
Not posting the selfie today.
Asking for help.
Eating the apple instead.
Sending Grandma a birthday card.
Making your bed.
Reading the devotional instead of clicking on “20 Celebrities Who Gained 50 Pounds!”
Little, insignificant things, as small as a penny.
One day you’ll find that you know how to handle that touchy situation at work. Or a Bible verse you need pops into your mind, just like that. Or you get appointed to a position of leadership, because you can be counted on. Or a good, funny person wants to be your friend. Or your car needs new tires and you don’t need to panic, because you’ve saved enough money.
Your path will become clear, choice by choice, and the pennies will quietly accumulate into a pile of such abundance, one day you’ll be 50 and you won’t believe how fabulously wealthy your life has become.
Dorcas Smucker is a mom of six, Mennonite minister’s wife, and author from Harrisburg, Oregon. She likes to read, listen, sew, shop at garage sales, and drink tea, preferably with friends or daughters. She wants most of all to pour big cupfuls of God’s grace to everyone she meets.
Order her latest book: Footprints in the Ceiling
Or find her at her blog, Life in the Shoe, at www.dorcassmucker.blogspot.com