Week Fourteen: "Feeling Lucky"

Welcome to week fourteen.  I realize now that when we crafted our rules for the Year Without A Purchase, we failed to clarify one key element.  What do we do about luck? Because I win stuff.  Lots of stuff. Feel free to punch me in the throat.

As long as I can remember, I have been winning random name drawings.  Not raffles where you get a ticket with a number.  No.  It has to be a raffle where you hastily write your actual name on a slip of paper.  And you must be present to win.

Image* If only lotto tickets made you write your name...

When I was a kid, I would get called out of the crowd to be the “special helper” on stage, even when I didn’t want to be.  I distinctly remember being called up to assist a clown at a grade school event.  It didn’t go well.  To this day I’m still scared of anyone wearing heavy face makeup.  Bozo.  Homey.  Tammy Faye Baker.  They all give me the heebies.

At my high school graduation, I won a $600 mall shopping spree.  In college, it was free pizza.  Last summer, it was a front row seat to see Book of Mormon on Broadway.  I declined the ticket because Gabby was with me, and I didn’t want to ditch her.

She doesn’t win stuff.

In the past few weeks, I have won two such drawings. The first was at a presentation on how to plan for your own funeral.  I figured that I have such a propensity for having my name called, I was covering all my bases in case the I win the Big Raffle In The Sky earlier than anticipated.

Instead, I won a gift certificate to the Cracker Barrel.

Just last week, I entered another contest.  There were tons of booths set up for Opening Day at Jake’s little league ballpark.  Gabby entered a drawing.  You had to be present to win.  They went through lots of raffle numbers for folks who weren’t there.  Number after number.  Faster and faster as they kept having no-shows.

Then they called Gabby’s number.  “Woo hoo!” she screamed with delight.  Only to see a little three-year-old slowly making her way to the pitcher’s mound to claim her prize.  They called the toddler’s number just before Gabby’s.

Remember, she doesn’t win stuff.

But the grand prize?   The Nashville Sounds (the local AAA professional baseball team) was raffling off the chance to have your entire little league team take the field during the National Anthem at a home game this summer.  You had to write your name on this ticket.

Scott Dannemiller will be escorting ten 7-year-olds to home plate.  Thank you very much.

In week twelve of our challenge, I mentioned that I was going to do an “Appreciation Audit” – taking time out each day to list five things I appreciate about my life. Things that make me feel lucky.  I wanted to see what the exercise would do for my general well-being.

Frankly, it was very easy to create the list.  I did it at the start of each day.  Five things.  They rattled off my fingertips and onto the screen.  On Monday, it included “I win stuff,” and “I get to do work I love and make money doing it.”  On Tuesday, I created my list as Gabby did some quick morning housework after a trip to the gym.  That list included “I have a wife who likes to vacuum.”  I know.  Strange.  Something about easily seeing progress by looking back at the pattern you left in the carpet.

But I appreciate it.

I wish I could say that every morning I was left with a warm sense of contentment that stayed with me throughout the day.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.  The contentment was fleeting, quickly giving way to the hustle of life.  Things to do.  Problems to solve.  Kids to yell at.

But I learned a tremendous amount from the exercise.  At the end of the week, I looked back through my list, and two things came to mind.

First, creating each day’s list was meaningful, but reading all twenty-five at the end of the week brings about a flood of gratitude.  Like opening a box of ice cream sandwiches and knowing you can eat every single one.  It was an overwhelmingly beautiful sensation.  Drowning in thankfulness for the blessings of life.  I highly recommend it.

But the bigger learning came later.

I returned to Nashville around midnight after a long few days working out of town.  Instead of driving home, I took a taxi.  Our car was having trouble, so Gabby had taken it in for repairs, and I wasn’t about to have her revive the kids at midnight to drag them to the airport to pick me up.

My cab driver’s name was Alex.  He was from Somalia.  As he drove me toward my own home, we talked about where he had come from.  I asked him where he had lived.  How did he get here?  What was it like growing up in his country?

Alex told me that life was a mixed bag for him.  He has fond memories of growing up in a small village.  Playing soccer with friends.  Hanging out with family.

But then civil war erupted.

Simplicity gave way to danger.  Alex’s father wanted no part of it.  He took the family on a journey to safety.  They eventually made their way to a U.N. refugee camp in Kenya.  There, they spent a year living in a tent with a dirt floor. Temperatures frequently eclipsed 100 degrees.  They received food rations once per week.  There was very little to go around.  And there was no work.  Just living.

But he had hope.

Because Alex could read and write English, he got a job making $30 per month working for the Red Cross.  His job was to help people fill out forms at the hospital and translate their needs into English so the doctors could understand.

He smiled in the rear-view mirror as he said, “Like my dad says.  It was a S#*! life, but I knew there was something better.”

Slowly but surely the family moved out of the tent and into a room with four walls.  Then into a very small house.  And eventually they found a program through the Catholic church that allowed them to leave Kenya and come to the United States.

I asked Alex how he kept going.  He answered in his labored English.

“I had faith.  I still have faith.  I still go to the Catholic church.  They took my faith and made it real.”

I got home and looked back through my list.  Twenty-five things to be thankful for.  While some were “stuff” (my comfortable bed, warm water, a roof over my head), many were not.  My list included immeasurably important things like my health, happy kids, and a wife who loves me.  And that’s when I realized.

Even these things can be taken away.

I know it’s a morbid thought, but stick with me here.

We don’t know what the future holds for us.  We all know that “stuff” is fleeting.  It can vanish in an instant.  But so can those things that are most important to us.  I looked at my list and thought two things.

One:  Any of these things could be gone one day.  Not a single one of the twenty five was guaranteed.

Two:  What am I grateful for that can never be taken away?

And that’s when it hit me.  We all have a choice no matter the situation.  We can choose to be victims of circumstance.  We can choose to be passive.  We can choose a mentality of scarcity and fear, where we hoarde and worry and stress our lives away.  Here, we are choosing despair.

Or we can choose abundance.  We can choose gratitude.  We can choose hope.  Because faith and hope are possessions that can never be taken away.  Like the love of God.  Ever-present, no matter the circumstance.  We can choose to see the beauty in the mess.  Because the truth is that we may have entered five hundred drawings and won only five.  But focusing on those five gives us far more hope than focusing on the 495.

So choose hope.  Choose faith.

Because luck is realizing your name has already been drawn.