Coming to terms with what we want and what we really need as children of God
By George Valadie
I suppose this train of thought left the station while I was at a recent meeting of school principals.
Our superintendent, a Sister of Mercy, had invited the 10 of us to have our late-summer meeting at her order’s newly constructed convent. It’s an attractive, well-deserved setting near the cathedral.
We gathered there to plan the year ahead, to pray, to reconnect with colleagues, welcome new ones, but mostly to see the new digs.
As a special part of the day, Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, had arranged for us to enjoy an unusually nice lunch, far exceeding the norm for our typical such gatherings. And among the many tasty menu offerings that day was an overflowing bowl of fresh cherries (Sister said she got a great deal on them).
I love cherries, you know those deep, dark, red ones. Yes, they have stems and seeds and I guess you might die while choking on one, but I love them. And I ate more than my share.
Later that same evening, while we were rehashing our respective days, I casually mentioned to my wife my love of cherries and suggested that maybe we could get some for our house.
“Are you kidding me,” Nancy retorted, “do you know how much those things cost? We’ll have to wait until payday if we do. Besides, don’t forget, you’ve been wanting me to try to pay off the house note early. Getting those will probably slow that down. You know, you’re gonna have to go to the store more often, you don’t have a clue, do you?”
Head bowed in defeat, I had to admit I didn’t, but darn, I didn’t get that sort of reaction when I talked about getting golf lessons that never seem to help. But she was right, I had no idea; cherries must really be some kind of expensive.
Here’s where I must acknowledge that she is the financier of our household. I tackle the school where I work; she handles the homefront.
In all honesty, I know we get paid, but I couldn’t tell you when. I know we owe for the house but can’t tell you how much. We have a little retirement stashed away, too, but I wouldn’t know how much or where to go to get it.
If she passes on, I might as well.
So if the woman says cherries will have to wait, I’ve got to respect that. That took us to the next morning.
Have you ever used a hammer to brush your teeth, to get that last squidgen of toothpaste out of the tube? You know those days, when you had long ago used the final remnant but you kept rolling up the tube anyway.
You’ve been there – staring at your last six salty fries with no more ketchup; squeezing every last millimeter of that little red packet, hoping for a hint of a taste. Six tastes would be better.
Well, I had done all that, too, but my efforts to get even one last sighting of our cavity-fighting Crest had been fruitless. If there was any in there, it was fighting back, holed up like a turtle.
So there I was, hammer in hand, pounding on the tube, counting on the physics of force to win out over what was apparently no longer there.
“Honey, can you add toothpaste to the grocery list?”
Uh-oh, I did it again! “I just knew you’d say that,” she rebutted. “When I used it this morning, I thought to myself, I bet George comes in here and asks for some more toothpaste. You always do that. There’s at least a week’s worth in there if there’s a drop. Maybe when we get paid. Do you remember we’re trying to pay this house off early?”
That brings us to the next stop on this train ride. We were getting ready for work just two mornings later when I turned the corner from the bathroom to see what looked an awful lot like a suspicious new box of shoes on our bed. Just not mine.
Hmmm … (note to self: be smart, tread lightly).
Granted, some ladies do store every pair in their original box so they’ll continually look shiny and new. But in our house, if we have a shoe box anywhere, it’s being saved in the laundry room for some future gift-wrap emergency.
But this shoe box – this one was definitely new. I could tell. It had that new shoe box sorta smell, the sort only husbands can sense.
She stood up from the bed and casually asked, “What do you think about my new shoes? How do you like them? Be honest.” Bingo! Got her!
“Well, I think they look a lot like the reason my cherries and toothpaste are on hold. Did we get paid?”
“No, but …, ” spotting the quizzical look on my face, “no, but I really needed some new shoes. You know how hard it is for me to find shoes that don’t rub my feet the wrong way.”
“Did they come with a free tube of toothpaste?”
“No, but I had a $10 coupon. You can’t find shoes like this for that price. I had to get them; I saved us $10. Do you want me to pay off this house or not?”
It’s all so trivial and silly, isn’t it? “First-world problems” are what they’re called. And we both know it. Hassles for the people who have. We laugh at each other’s insanity knowing we are blessed beyond measure to get to shop at all, much less be picky about what we buy.
And forget buying for the house, how lucky are we to even have a house!
I’m hoping our Creator doesn’t want us to feel guilty for what we have. I’d rather not. But I know I do, and I think I should whenever I fail to be mindful of all those who don’t or can’t; when I fail to offer help; when I fail to give thanks; when I fail the least of our brothers.
And the worst part? He leaves it up to me to decide if my guilt and my sin are the same thing? I hate that part.
Sensing my borderline frustration and utter confusion, Nancy continued, “You know, I think we just need to sit down tonight and have a serious discussion about our finances. I need to know what you really want me to do about this house.”
Honestly, I just wanted a few cherries in it.
Dear God – We know we have days when our lives couldn’t get us through the needle’s eye. Help us stay ever thin. Amen. ■
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.