Up and down our windows go as rusty buses, ramshackle pickups, and other old weather-beaten cars approach and pass, mile after mile. We finally come to a little town. We stop, turn off the engine, step out, stretch, and, as the red dust settles and the noise of the road fades, we hear a new sound off to the right, down through some scraggly trees, pass a few bony, wide-horned brown cows standing in the shadows chewing their cud.
Beyond the cows and just outside a few strands of barbed wire, there’s a stream and a little swimming hole sparking in the full sunlight. In its brown waters a dozen children are splashing and wrestling. Their laughter rises like music, a cloud of joy as real as the cloud of red dust stirred by another car passing on the road behind us. I think, “I’ve seldom heard this much pure happiness in my life.” We watch for a few minutes, smiles irrepressibly arising on our faces, and then decide to take a break and explore the town before continuing our journey.
As I turn off to be on my own for a few minutes, I see the homes these children come from. They’re small in size and modest in construction, but often painted the most dazzling colors, this one coral pink, the next aquamarine, the next tangerine orange, the one over there a light purple, peeling off in places, showing a royal blue underneath.
There are some dads sitting in the shadows of a few trees, cigarettes dangling under the bills of well-worn baseball caps, sharing stories, playing cards, nodding and smiling as we walk by. There are some moms squatting on front porches, peeling potatoes, washing dishes in plastic basins, nursing babies, shooing flies. I smell coffee roasting, mixed with the scent of a farm not far away. I hear a muted accordion and a flatulent trumpet from a broken radio speaker. I hear the sound of someone sawing a plank, a rooster crowing in the afternoon heat, a dog bark twice off in the distance, and everywhere the buzz of insects mixed with jingling music of children’s laughter in the background.
Maybe someday there will be televisions in every house, I imagine. Maybe someday there will be video games and DVD players. Maybe the hum of air conditioners and the roar of many cars. But I don’t think there will ever be more happiness in the air than there is today.
What is this extraordinary happiness? Where does it come from?
Walking through that town in Guatemala, I remind myself of something we all know but don’t take seriously enough. It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Again, it’s not the amount of stuff you have that counts; it’s the amount of appreciation you have that matters, and appreciation means “gratefully holding” rather than simply “having without gratitude.”
We are encouraged by our Creator to slow down and appreciate the gift of life, to employ our liberty in service for others, and to gratefully cherish the happiness we already have. Gratitude may be the greatest secret to happiness there is.
Excerpt taken from Naked Spirituality by Brian D. McLaren
**On this day of thanks, we give praise to God who is the giver of all and remember those with less; both materially and immaterially seeking discernment in the ways God is calling us and you to share the gifts we have been given.
**And just an FYI, Kevin and I (and a couple of friends) ran our traditional Thanksgiving Day 5K this morning. We missed running it in the brisk and chilly downtown of Minneapolis with friends and family, but we did it! Now onto the eating…