Just too used to it

Just another Mandevilla flower, blooming in our Alexandria kitchen. October 2015

Just another mandevilla flower, blooming in our Alexandria kitchen. October 2015

“I think life is staggering and we’re just too used to it.  We are all like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.”  — Donald Miller

Do you ever read the obituaries of people you don’t know?  I do, on those increasingly rare occasions when I give myself a few minutes to spend with a newspaper.  It’s sobering and staggering to realize how many people are born and how many die each day.  How rich and full, how sad and happy, how triumphant and tragic those lives will be!

Life is totally amazing, when you think about it at all, in any context.  Biologically, psychologically, socially, spiritually…it’s all profound. But we don’t stop to think deeply about it very often.  We’re too busy with car maintenance and dental appointments and updating the software on our gadgets; with eating and sleeping and talking and (hopefully) listening.

I agree with Miller that we are surrounded by gifts– immersed in them, really– and we are just too used to it most of the time.  How many marvelous things do we rush past every single day, too busy to notice?  Even the air we breathe, and the ability to draw that breath, is something most of us take for granted.

Today, I invite you to focus on just one gift that you tend to overlook.  It can be a flower, or a sunset, or an animal.  It can be a person, place or thing.  It can be anything at all that brings you joy, or solace, or serenity, as long as it’s something you scarcely notice most of the time.

Is there anything you might delight in seeing today, except that you’re just too used to it?  Tell us about something in your everyday life that is wonderful or beautiful or even staggering, and let’s remember what it means to be impressed with the gifts we are given.


  1. Ann

    Fresh, clean water, how often we take that for granted!

    Here in South Carolina, we’re still recovering from unprecedented rain and floods. We had no water for a few days then had to boil water for almost two weeks. Yesterday the boil water advisory was lifted! What a relief.

    Clean water – what a blessing.

    • Ann, great point! There is an interesting article in this month’s Reader’s Digest (there I go referring to RD again) that originally appeared at the Slate website. It’s called “Why aren’t you dead yet?” — it talks about why people live so much longer now than they did 150 years ago. The number one reason is: CLEAN WATER. Yes, we take it for granted until we are without it OR until we hear people working overseas on clean water projects talk about how many people in this world are still without it. I hope you didn’t have too many other areas of damage and/or inconvenience after the flooding. I’m glad our water advisory is lifted! May the coming weeks bring more normalcy to all in your lovely state.

  2. Lani

    Julia, I so agree with you and Donald Miller! So well said – that we are so surrounded by God’s gifts that we do not even acknowledge them, but as A. Voskamp said also in her book, 1000 Gifts, learning to find joy in the everyday and the ordinary is really the secret to life and joy in our journey. It was so simple and so profound. Appreciate the sunshine, the rain, the clouds, freedom, etc. When we learn to do that we have found lasting joy and peace and it is all based in gratefulness. Thank you for your daily dose of inspiration.

    • Thank you, Lani. I first had my eyes opened to such joys during a time when Matt was very ill in the summer of 2000. I had to literally pray my way through ten minutes at a time on some days. I learned to find great solace in the astounding beauty of so many things that we tend to stop seeing or thinking about. It was the greatest blessing to come out of what was one of the hardest times of our lives. I have that Voskamp book and started it but got interrupted; I hope to finish it soon. Its message is ever-important. I appreciate your encouraging words about the blog and I am so, so happy to have one of my favorite childhood friends here with us!

  3. Nature — at this time of year, especially the changing colors of the leaves. Having returned to the Northeast earlier this year after 40++ years living elsewhere, I am newly awestruck by the colors of autumn.

    • I am so excited for you to be back where fall is splendid! When we returned to the east coast in 2004, after living far west of here for the previous 24 years, I too was enchanted by experiencing autumn again. It’s not quite as beautiful in Virginia as it is in the Northeast, but it was still amazing after having lived in California, Hawaii, Texas and California (in that order) where there are no real autumns that bore any resemblance to what I experienced growing up in Georgia. In 2004 I was moping around in mourning for having had to leave the NorCal Republic, and it was fall that first began to heal my homesickness for the west coast. Reading about your experiences brought that joy back to me. Thanks for being here, and for sharing!

  4. I’ve been trapped mostly indoors for the last couple of weeks by those nasty beetles know as stink bugs. As soon as it gets a bit warm, they swarm. But I managed to get out an paint very early one morning and noticed a formation of geese heading south. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all summer. The sign that autumn is really here. Yay. I wish they would have some bugs for dinner on their way but even the birds or foul won’t eat them. :((

    • Marlene, I find this stink bug business so interesting (though I hate you have to experience it). I have never really had much exposure to them, and can’t really imagine them in huge numbers. I don’t care too much for beetles of any kind, though, except for ladybugs (but I guess they aren’t beetles…or are they?) Those geese must have been beautiful. I love to see them flying and love to hear their sounds as they go by. I haven’t seen any recently other than the land-loving pond-dwelling kind who like to block up the roadways in a nearby neighborhood and who have Attitude with a capital A. I think the wild airborne variety are much more breathtaking!

      • The whole state has been invade and this year has been the worst. It’s affected many states. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere! And the white flies are thick enough to choke the entire neighborhood. We need a good cold winter. I have only seen one gaggle of geese flying by . More would make me really happy. Bring on the cold. We get geese everywhere and they flock on the freeway on and off ramps. Everyone here stops for them. I love this state. I just wish they ate stink bugs. 😦

        • Marlene, I’m just now getting back here after a few days away, but since you wrote this, it has turned very cold here (actually a frost warning the past couple of nights) so I’m hoping this means you are getting some cooler weather too. WOW, it sounds as if you have more of a “geese blocking the roads” problem than we do! It is too bad they don’t eat stink bugs, but that might make their droppings even worse than they already are. Jeff and I looked at a pretty home that was situated on a lake, but the down side was that you couldn’t walk through the lawn because it was literally infested with signs that the geese considered it their restroom. Ah, nature — just as with people, the tremendous rewards come along with some things we have to grin and bear.

          • Everything in life has a flip side. Nothing is just all good. You’d think we’d get that by now. :))

            • Marlene, one of my Daddy’s favorite sayings was “Nothing is ever as good or bad as you think it is.” 😀

  5. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Yesterday I had a visitor from upper Minnesota who had never been to Pennsylvania before. As we walked around my yard and she marveled at the kinds of bushes that grow in our climate but not in hers, she stopped at a huge rhododendron at the side of the house and asked about its large flower buds. Were the buds there because they were going to bloom again before winter set in? I explained that they that would wait through the winter and would unfold in a grand display of large pink flowers next spring. Amazingly, winter doesn’t freeze them out each year.

    Julia, until she asked that question, I hadn’t even thought about it before. I have just always walked past that magnificent bush and never given a thought about the wonder of it all. The wonder of the way it spends the entire summer forming large new flower buds, trusting that they will be able to endure the coming winter’s harsh ice and snow. The rhododendron knows how to trust, endure difficult times, and then once again majestically bloom.

    It seems to me that those buds are an amazing example about what it is to have faith.

    • Judy, thanks so much for this very inspiring observation! We have two large rhododendron shrubs and I love them, but I had never thought about the flowers’ blooming patterns or the cold-hardiness of the buds. Now I will look at them with new eyes and enjoy them even more. I will remember them as an example of faith. This is what I love best about this blog. I have learned so many things from the comments here. Isn’t it amazing how many gifts surround us just waiting to be “opened” by our awakened consciousness? It’s almost like having the best of childhood living on in us perpetually, as long as we have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand.

  6. Very much true. Nice post.
    Nothing particular to delight to-day except too much used to it.

    • Thank you, lvsrao! I am so happy to hear from you. I hope you have been well. May your days be filled with everyday delights that shine with the newness born of focused attention.

  7. I try to remind myself to practice mindfulness. To taste, slowly, to see with new eyes. I love taking in the outdoors, that ever-changing view of life.

    Great post, Julia.

    • Thank you Alys. I never thought about it until you mentioned it, but that is what enchants me so about being outdoors walking; it’s always a bit new, no matter how well-worn the path. One of the things I first loved about your blog was the attention you gave to the life all around you. It helps me to be more mindful, to spend time with mindful people! 🙂 ❤

      • That’s lovely of you to say, Julia. Thank you. xox

        • It’s from the heart!! 🙂

  8. blseibel

    Oh the beautiful little ones that we babysit. I am reminded how precious today when the littlest fell over and bumped her face. I do need to take the time to enjoy those wonderful things in life like children and sunsets and aspects of nature.

    • Kids are so endearing and fun when we take the time to notice them. We are blessed to have some adorable little ones in our neighborhood, and they add such joy to my day. Children are definitely too easy to take for granted. I’m glad you thought to mention them here.

  9. Just another spectacular mandevilla flower, Julia….
    I went to visit my parents when they were doing a six-month mission trip in Kenya. Every day, my mother would say, “ho, hum, another perfect day in paradise …” and send me a sly sideways look, like the cat that just ate the canary.
    There’s an interesting bit of theology in the Switchfoot song “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine.” Maybe it’s why I haven’t moved to California?

    • Susan, it’s late and I’m so far behind that I can’t look up the words to that song right now, but I certainly plan to do it. Thanks for telling me about it. Wow, I’m envious that you were able to visit Kenya! It must have been quite an adventure. I hope to be able to go to Africa someday. Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana novels are the closest I’ve gotten so far.

  10. Sheila

    Good Sunday morning, Julia. This beautiful Fall morning finds us in Asheville, NC. Yesterday we road on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed the beginning spectacular foliage. Today, we’re doing the grounds of the Biltmore House. Yesterday, as we were out enjoying the day, (Bill and I have spoken of you several times here with family), and I realized you have enriched my life so much over these years at Defeat Despair. I’ll take it the beauty of this God-given day and know you’re with me! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I’m flattered to know I’ve been mentioned. As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. 😀 Would you believe that we have NEVER toured the Biltmore home? As many times as we’ve driven past it, we always seem to be en route to someplace else and never have time to stop. It will be on our “things to do after Jeff retires” list. We did see the Hearst Castle several times while we lived on the Central Coast of CA. It’s smaller than the Biltmore House (as ridiculous as it is to use the word “smaller” in connection with that fabulous spread) but it certainly as a view unlike any other — miles of deep green hills and valleys against the backdrop of the gorgeous blue Pacific. The Biltmore is still privately owned, I think. The Hearst Castle had to be taken over by the State of CA because the heirs couldn’t afford the upkeep! When we toured it, we were told that the state initially refused to take it on until it figured out that it could break even through tourist fees. I imagine the Biltmore is pricey to tour, too, but it would be worth it. Thanks for taking me along with you for free! ❤

      • Good morning, my friend. I came back to comment, remembering you had mentioned the Hearst Castle. We are taking another “Vann -clan” trip with Bill’s two brothers and their wives. The six of us are flying to Santa Barbara and while there for a week we’ll go to Hearst Castle and Paso Robles for one day. We are dedicated to these trips together and enjoying each other, as we know Dr. Vann would be delighted. Having never been to Southern California we are quite excited. I know you mention the beauty often. I think there may be a different Verandah waiting for us there. 🌄 Love, Sheila

        • I love that phrase, “Vann-clan” — good company for road trips too! Plus — you said the magic words: Santa Barbara! I used to say that if I was a billionaire, I would have a hard time choosing whether to live in Santa Barbara or Carmel. The climate is very Verandah-friendly, too. You will love the drive up the central coast, and with your timing, you might even catch the Monarch butterflies on your way up in Pismo Beach. If you have time, I also recommend a quick jaunt south to the Reagan Library — it’s beautiful and so fascinating. You can tour inside the actual presidents’ plane that was used by five presidents (not all at the same time, of course 😀 ). I had always wondered what those planes must look like inside. Have a blast, my friend — the central coast is magical, and Santa Barbara is a dream.

  11. bobmielke

    I am totally blessed with all that is happening in my life. I’ve just started an exciting new chapter in my New England home with Marilyn & Garry. Their knowledge of the Blackstone River area makes exploring so much fun.

    I live on Social Security and a small pension yet I feel rich with what I have, a new home, good friends here and back in Portland and even older friends in South Carolina. I don’t make friends easily and I take my responsibilities as a friend seriously. I have the time to keep in touch with each of them, not neglecting friends who soon fade away in our lives. Friends keep us grounded, connected to our past and important to our present.

    • Bob, it’s great to hear from you. I had wondered how you were doing in New England. What a perfect time to be there! You are so right that friendship is a tremendous responsibility, but the rewards are more than worth the effort and time it sometimes takes. Sadly, I think many of us are too busy to nurture these vital connections as much as we should. Going all the way back to childhood, friends have been a source of stability and comfort to me that I can’t imagine living without. Have you ever read the C. S. Lewis book The Four Loves? His discussion of friendship, one of the four loves he explores in that book, is among the best I’ve ever read.

      • bobmielke

        Thanks for the tip. If I can get my head out of my science fiction addiction I may purchase it from Amazon.com.

        • Speaking of which, I really enjoyed C. S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy. It’s somewhat dated (with some of it taking place on Mars) but some of the concepts and philosophy were fascinating. The first one is called Out of the Silent Planet. Can you tell Lewis is my favorite author? 😀

  12. Everyone’s life is precious and valuable because to someone their being has meaning.

    • That’s so true. Thank you, Alan.

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