Turning Comparison into Inspiration

 

Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Human nature may compel us to compare ourselves to others, but I believe it’s our response to the comparison that matters.

There were two large piles of logs by the stairs leading to our boat dock. The wood was likely cut from many trees over many years and haphazardly thrown on the unsightly heaps. From the day we moved in, I envisioned the logs neatly stacked near the fire pit two-hundred feet up the hill.

When I realized neither Mike nor magical forest sprites were going to do the job, I decided to tackle it myself. Depending on their size, I could put four to six logs in the wheelbarrow, push them up the hill, and unload them between two trees.

It took me two days to move roughly 500 pieces of wood. I battled bugs, frogs, and several irate chipmunks who squawked at me for ruining their playground. (A snake would have ended my mission.) When I ceremoniously placed the last log on the new woodpile, the clouds parted, and the angels sang. I was filthy, sweaty, and bone tired, but I was also pretty darn proud of myself.

That evening we took a boat ride around the lake. For the first time, I noticed other people’s woodpiles. Some were a mess and made me feel a little smug. But a few stood out as the best woodpiles on the lake. They were neater, sleeker, and more artfully arranged. They were so much better than my woodpile!

I quickly recognized my foolishness and had a good laugh at myself. As human beings, I think it’s perfectly natural to compare ourselves to others. We may compare our work, possessions, appearance, achievements, or character. When I find myself in comparison mode, I run it through a little test I’ve devised.

I ask myself this question: Do I admire this thing enough to do everything it would take to have it in my own life? If the answer is no, then my response is to simply admire it, appreciate it, and compliment it, if possible. The conscious decision not to have this thing part of my life, whatever it may be, releases any envy, jealousy, or fear that I don’t measure up.

If the answer is yes, then I ask myself a few more questions. Am I willing to invest the necessary time and resources? Would this honor my gifts, interests, and values? Does it fit my lifestyle? Is it the right time? If the answer is still yes, then it’s reasonable to let the comparison turn into inspiration.

So what was my response to the woodpile issue? The next time I saw my neighbor, I said, “Hey, Glenn, that’s one beautiful woodpile you’ve got there.” He told me he burns wood all winter to heat his cabin, explaining his need for a spectacular firewood system. I’m convinced our woodpile is perfectly adequate for occasional campfires and s’mores.

Want a simple example when comparison turned into inspiration? We were disappointed the bright orange birds that flocked our neighbor’s feeders didn’t visit ours. I stopped Bill one day and asked him his secret. He told me orioles like a certain type of feeder which has to be filled with grape jelly up to two times a day. Mike and I agreed the effort would be worth the thrill of seeing the beautiful birds outside our own window.

Bill generously gave us an extra oriole feeder. I regularly buy huge jars of grape jelly, and Mike fills the feeder daily. Now we don’t have to creepily stand on our deck with binoculars admiring the orioles at our neighbor’s house.

That seems like a win-win situation for everyone, including the well-fed birds who live in our neck of the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

Deer Dad

 

Fluttering my eyes, it took a moment to remember I was waking up in our home in the woods. I stepped into the bathroom and raised the blinds. In the morning light, something seemed strange. I shut my eyes tightly and opened them again.

A big deer with three-pointed antlers stared at me from the other side of the window. After my initial gasp, I laughed quietly and whispered, “Well, good morning.”

I knew the magical moment would be fleeting. Looking hard into the deer’s eyes with appreciation for its strength and majesty, I felt a mysterious connection with another sentient being. The deer swiftly turned away and leapt across our yard into the trees.

A couple of months later, I had the task of staining a deck Mike had built. I started early, before the summer sun got too hot. As I fell into the focused flow of moving my brush back and forth, board after board, I became lost in my thoughts.

Dad would have loved this place. He’d be so proud of the improvements we’ve been making. We sure could use his help. I bet if he visited, he’d buy a cabin here. Imagine if he and mom lived on the lake, too. He’d discover all the best fishing holes. I wonder if he can see us from heaven…

I stopped to chug some water and wipe my sweaty face with my shirt. I was back to work when I heard a startling rustle and heavy footsteps charging through the woods towards me. My heart pounded, not sure what had come to an abrupt stop between the tree line and the deck.

It was the big deer with three-pointed antlers.

It stood motionless less than five feet away and gazed at me with a gentle intensity. Without thinking, I whispered, “Dad?” In the quiet of the woods, I could hear the deer’s breath begin to match my own. “I know it’s you,” I said with certainty. “I’ve missed you so much.”

I was aware of the significance of such an enchanted scene, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. A sense of serenity washed over me like a cool breeze. Sitting comfortably, I talked to my dad for several minutes. He bent down to eat a little while I chatted, looking up at me while he chewed. When I had said all I needed to say, he slowly turned and disappeared into the woods.

I sat spellbound on our deck for a long time. My processing turned into prayer that lasted until I felt the sun burning my skin. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and settled in the shade.

“Hi Mom. It’s me. I have to tell you what just happened.”

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Things

 

Last spring, my husband and I moved from our home on a cul-de-sac in suburban Indianapolis to a lake house in the boonies of southern Indiana.

Nature invited us to move to Sweetwater Lake on a snowy February day. As we drove the hilly, winding roads, a captivating mist rose over the frozen water, a deer’s marble brown eyes stared into our own, and the first bluebird we’d ever seen sang us a cheerful song. It was nature that brought us here, and it is nature that offers us daily inspiration and revelation.

About The Nature of Things~ 

Seasons come and go, and no amount of wishing will speed them up or slow them down. As much as we longed for spring to arrive, the bare trees took an extra long time this year to fill with tiny, promising buds. Day after day, we dipped our toes in chilly lake water, anxious for it to be warm enough to jump in. Now, as we bob around on rafts in the hot summer sun, it’s difficult to imagine the lake covered in ice, or the trees without their vast green canopy. Much the same, it’s hard to fathom we’ve reached the season of having adult children and retirement plans.

Houses are built with a certain nature that should be honored. When I pictured my dream home on a lake, it was a quaint cottage much like the one Snow White stumbled upon. It took me a little while to accept that our home is a funky, contemporary design with straight lines and sharp angles. This house isn’t cute and charming. It’s bold and earthy, and I love it.

Like houses, people are built with a certain nature that should be honored. Nature reminds us that a rose doesn’t try to be a daisy, an oak tree doesn’t try to be an evergreen, and a woodpecker doesn’t try to be a hummingbird. Why do we so often try to be something we’re not? I own that I’m a friendly introvert who wears my heart on my sleeve, and I’m fully aware I do quirky and annoying things in search of peace, beauty, and simplicity. As we learn to accept and honor our own nature, we have an easier time doing the same for others.

Nature can be messy, wild, and unpredictable. When Mike sees me picking up sticks or pulling weeds on our property, he shakes his head and teases, “It’s the woods!” I’m slowly learning that trying to control mother nature is futile. As cute as forest animals are, they can present problems. Cold, heat, sun, rain, and wind can ruin our possessions and our plans. That’s just the way it is. Nature can bring magnificent beauty one minute and utter chaos the next. Isn’t that just like life?

We live closer to nature here in our house in the woods. Cohabitating with trees, water, and wildlife has convinced me that everything in life expresses a certain undeniable nature. I’m grateful to be reminded of the wisdom in accepting, appreciating, and honoring the nature of things.