I only saw her for a moment. I was leaving the grocery store one recent afternoon as a small, white-haired lady was heading in. I steered my loaded cart past her on the sidewalk, our eyes met, and we nodded politely at one another. As we did, I caught a glimpse of something that she held in her hands. I looked again and saw that it was a small stack of plastic shopping bags — pressed flat and neatly folded. They were bags from the very store she was entering, I realized, and she was planning to reuse them.
I considered this fact as I shoved my loaded cart through a puddle and toward my Ford 12-passenger van. And it was then that I coveted.
I coveted that dear little lady’s umbrella, sensibly brought along to protect her styled hair from the afternoon drizzle. I coveted her purse, which matched her shoes, and which I am reasonably certain contained a proper wallet that no one had relieved of its credit cards, a clean tube of lipstick that no one had partially ingested or used as toenail polish, and a meticulous shopping list. I coveted the 1/4 pound of Swiss cheese — thinly sliced, please — that she would purchase at the deli counter, the miniature jar of jam she would carefully select from the store shelves, and the $38.42 she would spend on a week’s worth of groceries. I even coveted her grocery bags, neatly pressed and ready.
Though some might fail to see the attraction of these everyday things, to me they represented the very thing that I sometimes find myself aching for: a trim and tidy life. The kind of life in which a person actually finds herself capable of saving, folding, and then even remembering to bring her own shopping bags to the supermarket in order to realize a grand-total savings of 35 cents on her grocery bill.
I am usually a rather content person. Usually, I know that I am blessed to live the life I do, and I manage to keep in mind my blessings and ward off longings for other people’s lives, circumstances, and possessions.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Perhaps I was particularly tired and vulnerable on that recent drizzly day, but I have to admit that I was feeling anything but content. On that day, I might readily have traded in my tired purse where bank cards swim loose because that’s the way my toddler son arranges it. I might have gladly given up my hair drooping in the rain with wisps of it falling free from the hot pink hair band I was wearing because it was the only accessory I could find in the bathroom before leaving the house. I might have freely turned over my industrial-sized jar of peanut butter, my six loaves of bread, and my 4 gallons of milk in exchange for the promise of a more orderly life.
Funny thing, though. If I had suggested a trade, that little old lady I saw heading into the store might just have taken me up on it. She might well miss holding a dimpled baby body and being the world to someone small. She might gladly turn in her aging body for a younger, healthier, more energetic version. She might yearn for company and excitement in her later years.
It can be tempting sometimes to believe that the grass really is greener in other people’s pastures. The trouble with this kind of longing, though, is that it robs us of the joy that is found in embracing our own real lives, right here and right now. I sometimes need a kick in the pants to remind me that my circumstances are not an accident. That my life is where God put me, and it’s not a mistake.
Sometimes that kick in the pants comes in surprising forms. Like my own gang of kids who rush to the van to help me haul in groceries when I arrive home. Like the baby who makes a tower of canned goods while the older children help me fill the fridge, the pantry, and the cabinets. And like the smaller kids who gather the empty shopping bags, push their feet through the bottoms of them, and pull up on the handles to make impromptu plastic pants. They march out of the kitchen, holding up their silly suspenders and screeching with delight at their own wild wackiness.
I won’t be reusing a single one of these grocery bags for a five-cent credit next shopping trip. And yet, somehow, I am okay with that.