Monday, June 1, 2009

More than Plain Vanilla

Nearly every summer during my childhood years, my parents would haul my sister and I up to Virginia to stay at my grandparent's house for the week. Though we loved our Nana and Papa Jim, after a couple of days in their home, we were usually ready to pull our hair out.

Nana's house was a tidy home nestled on a quiet street in Richmond. She had a garden out back where she grew the tomatoes that ended up in pots of her famous stewed tomatoes, a dish that still gives my sister and I nightmares. Everything was proper at Nana's house. No chips and sandwiches for lunch. Everything served on pink depression glass and good china. Days were quiet and peaceful. Evenings were set aside for card games like "crazy eights" that we played while eating bowls of vanilla ice cream or munching on popcorn.

A few days of this and we were ready to lose our minds. All we could think about was what was waiting for us across town, at my Aunt Anne and Uncle Graham's house. Anne and Graham and their four kids lived in a home that was nothing short of amazing for two kids from flat-as-a-pancake Florida. Their house sat at the top of a hill. A steep driveway curved around back. A creek ran behind their house and best of all, their home had (get this) ..a basement! Whoa! This was a room that was actually buried in the ground, something we never heard of or saw in Florida. And in that basement was a roomful of everything a kid could want: a closet full of boardgames, a pool table, a drumset and a big TV. But the door leading out to the garage opened up to the greatest find of all: not one, but two motorcycles.

We sat at Nana's house trying to look amused and well-behaved. But all we could think about was getting over to Anne and Graham's house. Sometimes, while sitting at our grandparent's house, my sister and I would call our cousins, just to find out what was happening at the fun house. One time, my sister practically begged my Aunt and Uncle to come and rescue us from the grandparent prison.

Sometimes, I think the way we think about "good" or "being good" or "living a good life" is sort of like how I perceived life as a child at my grandparent's house: it was a place to be nice, polite, respectful. A place to enjoy a few well-mannered amusements and perhaps be rewarded for good behavior with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. A place to be good, moral, and nice.


What if "good" is more like life at my Aunt and Uncle's house: a bold, risky place of adventure, excitement, new experiences, noise, games, relationships, fun, laughter, and new sights and sounds? What if "the good life" is a flourishing life full of abundance instead of a flat two-dimensional life of moral duty? What if it's a life rich with adventure, purpose, and intimacy?

It's easy to portray evil in popular culture. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in the last Batman movie was dark, sinister, and amazing. It's harder to portray good in a way that doesn't come up flat. Evil is often portrayed as sexy, alive, and pulsing with energy. Good comes across as flat, ordinary, and dull.

Maybe the richer portrayals of good are found not in popular culture, but in the rich tapestry of men and women that surround us. I think about the bold risky lives of a group of my friends who want to make a difference in the lives of orphans. Tonight, the Redhead and I listened with excitement to these friends as they told us about their work in funding an orphanage in Uganda and their plans to take supplies over next week with a group of people from our church. Another couple talked enthusiastically and tearfully about the unsolicited generousity of friends who were funding their adoption of a blind infant girl from Ethiopia. Still anther couple suprised us all with the news that their family was about to grow as they announced their plans to adopt two more children from Kazakhstan.

These men and women are my heroes. Unselfish ordinary people living extraordinary lives rich with goodness in the fullest sense.

When Jesus promised an abundant life for those who would give up everything they had to become his disciples, I think this was the kind of life he was talking about.

It beats a bowl of vanilla ice cream any day.


Kim said...

I love this post!

Sharon said...

Love your philosophy here. And I agree with it completely. I think we mistake good for legalism. Ordinary people really aren't.

Anonymous said...


Keeping up with you from afar and enjoying your post. Praying for you and your Princess in the adoption process...

In July we go to meet our newest niece from Russia, adopted at Christmas. She is the third and final sibling of a family of three Russian children, a Canadian mother, and an American father. God is GREAT!

And I'm sure that good is NEVER flat, dull, and ordinary. The enemy's counterfiets pale in comparison to the Master's blessings.

--Living an "extraordinary life rich with goodness in the fullest sense",

Your old friend in Dallas, GA

Ana L said...

Hey Brian, I couldn't help think about my grandmother and how much she loved having us over...sure it wasn't always fun and exciting, but she loved having us over and now that she is gone I would love to be able to have a vanilla kind of day with her...I am not knocking your point, but just maybe looking at it from the other side.

I am all for a "bold, risky place of adventure, excitement, new experiences, noise, games, relationships, fun, laughter, and new sights and sounds" and yes I think Christianity should have lots more of that...but sometimes life calls us to take a step back and think of others feelings and hey, vanilla ice cream is not so you could always add sprinkles!!

keep up the great work!

Brian said...

Good point Ana.

And note that I did love my Nana and enjoyed spending time with her.

I think I'd prefer some hot fudge to sprinkles...and while we're at it, maybe some cookie dough, whip cream, nuts...etc.