Yesterday, my sister and I went to eat lunch at O’Charleys.   As I walked from my car to the front door,  I saw their  decorative road signage.  One of the “street names”  caught my attention:  “1/2 comfortable conversation”  it read.  I didn’t want to look like an idiot by standing at the bottom of this sign with my head tipped as I ruminated over all the sign’s possible meanings so I did the next best thing.  I took a picture of it, jotted a mental sticky note to explore later and walked on into the restaurant.

Then, sometime late last night,  as I was lying fitfully in bed, fighting insomnia,  I turned the phone on and pulled up the picture I’d taken earlier.  My brain started whirring.  One of the signs read  “1/2 Comfortable Conversation”,  another:  “Familiar Faces” and a third:  “15 Bold Flavors” while another:  “Spontaneous Celebrations.”   Hmm.  I laid and chewed on those for a few minutes, terribly annoyed that I could not make out what the last sign on my picture read.  O’Charley’s president,  David Head, and concept designer, Marc Buehler just might have hit on something more than a neat design.  Something like a recipe for contentment and a full life.

Let’s start with the “1/2 Comfortable Conversation” bit since it’s what grabbed my attention in the first place.  I LOVE conversation.  I thrive on it.  I’m happiest when in the midst of a conversation with someone I admire or care about, or even just like.  I could probably count the number of times I’ve had a truly “comfortable conversation” in the last year with someone, anyone, however, on one hand. I’m not really what you would label a relaxed person, and I don’t really have what you would call lazy conversations.  Actually, I’m rather intense, a fact that I have alternately mourned and celebrated but ultimately have come to just accept as part of my character make-up.  When I was in school, I used to be in awe of girls who could laugh over magazines or “waste” gosh-awful amounts of time talking about whether it was best for your legs to be straight or bent when you shaved them.  The discussions that took place in
the high school girls’ locker room made me wonder if maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a boy. I don’t understand talking about TV shows like the characters are real,  I don’t understand gossip.  Comfortable conversation isn’t really my thing, to be honest with you. I’m much better when it’s deep and meaningful.  That said…

I vividly recall those rare but special conversations in which there were no expectations,  no pressure,  no elephant in the room, no awkward silences—conversations whose only purpose was to prolong the time in another’s presence.  There was nothing earth shattering about them.  They were, indeed, merely comfortable conversations that left me convinced the person to whom I was talking wanted nothing from me.  And, in the long run, all sorts of good stuff comes from believing that the relaxed, comfortable, uninhibited  me can be enjoyed and appreciated.  There’s reassurance and hope that comes with the belief that nothing earth shattering has to take place or be said for someone to seek out my presence, or my opinions, or my erratic, often ridiculous thoughts on perfectly mundane, random things.  To this day, the only person who make me laugh uncontrollably, with no regard to another’s thoughts, is my sister and every time I walk away from a conversation with her,  I feel energized and refreshed—even when, in essence, absolutely nothing was said of real significance.  Some people have a tradition of going out to eat after church on Sundays, or of gathering around the TV with some pizza;  others  enjoy game night where they crowd around a board game, a Wii or a Kinect to laugh and be… comfortable, happy.  They talk about whatever interests them, anything from celebrities to politics to the Super Bowl commercials.  But they all walk away feeling confident, respected and energized  after spending time putting the world’s worries in a box, putting stress and fear and anger and sadness in the corners long enough to remember what it’s like to laugh out loud for no good  reason.  Comfortable conversation has infused their spirits with hope and magic.

But the signage at O’Charleys didn’t read “1 Comfortable Conversation”;  it read  “1/2 Comfortable Conversation.”  Interesting.  My previous blog was about balance.  It reminds me now that you can’t survive in a world with just comfortable conversation.  Some try.  There are some grown-ups who never really grew up.  Instead, they are children in grown bodies—instead of putting the stress and responsibilities in a corner for an hour or so, they sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s evaporated.  This is dangerous to the well-being of the family.  You can’t be a kid forever.  Childhood must come to a close.  Living a life of never ending parties, a life without responsibilities or cares eventually wears you down—-makes you feel a void because, ultimately, what we’re all seeking isn’t a good time:  it’s love and commitment and meaning.  These can only be found through intense, passionate, meaningful conversations, both privately and with others.  Engaging in a brutally honest conversation is rarely comfortable but if we don’t do it, we deny ourselves and those we love the opportunity to really know who we are.  Comfortable conversation without heart-felt communication is a glass half empty.

Another sign read  “Familiar Faces” while the third said  “15 Bold Flavors.”  I’m going to lump these two together.  I can’t tell you how often I fall into the habit of limiting the circle of people I allow into my real world to my family.  I hate change, and find peace and happiness through stability way more than I do risking pain and disappointment by inviting outsiders into my world.  I’m picky about who I request friendships with, even, on Facebook because I want to make sure that the people I allow access to my thoughts and every day behaviors are people I feel safe trusting.  When I went oversees to France, I was so excited, and happy.  It was a dream come true.  And I was so full of bright eyed optimism, I couldn’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower and all the other things the City of Light has to offer.  A couple of days into my trip, though, my group passed a McDonald’s on a Parisian street.  None of us were hungry but we all bursted out with hallelujahs—we were more excited about the sight of that American icon than we were about getting to see Notre Dame.  We weren’t hungry, but then, suddenly, we were.  We wanted a piece of home.   Likewise, when the plane touched down on American soil, I specifically remember feeling the need to touch with my bare hands the American ground I stood on.  I love France…. but America is home;  it’s what I craved.  I was bold because I left the United States and, to this day, I am so glad I did.  It taught me that I can be alone, it taught me that my little environment is very limited in its scope, it taught me about appreciating the American… I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort box, I’m glad I experienced beautiful things in person that I wouldn’t have otherwise…  but, in the end, I needed the familiar soil I loved.

If we lock ourselves in a gilded cage, then we become scared hermits, scared Thoreau who, I’d wager, missed the outside world more than he’d admit.  We serve a relational, personal God and we were created to be relational, personal creatures.  We need other people.  In order for that to happen, though, in order to feel the excitement, the hope and the beauty of love, of friendship, of adventure, first we have to be bold, we have to step outside ourselves and walk out on a limb.  We have to trust.  We have to put ourselves out there even though all logic says we’re going to be hurt.  We have to seize opportunities when they present themselves and chase, not just watch, our dreams.  Otherwise, the world we experience becomes monotonous, our shoulders become weighted with a sense of hopelessness and being overwhelmed.  We have to be bold.  But if we’re too bold, we become reckless and risk losing ourselves to that which is temporary because all that glitters is not gold.  We need the crazy family, we need the irrational friends, we need the comfort of home and security of familiarity– but it has to be balanced with an intelligent willingness to reach out and grasp a stranger’s hand or take the position we didn’t think we could do or marry the person we love.

And lastly…

“Spontaneous Celebrations” — this makes me conjure up images of falling, arms spread wide open, into a field of dandelions on a balmy Sunday afternoon.  It makes me think of turning around on a crowded street and kneeling because I just saw a flower that is miraculously growing in concrete.  It makes me think of tipping my head back and allowing the snow to fall on my tongue and dust my hair.  It makes me think of those days when I had no intention of buying a treat but passed a Baskin Robbins and swerved the car into the lot on the spur of the moment idea.  It makes me think of writing a note to someone I haven’t seen in a long time to tell them I miss them and thank them for the impression they made on me.  It makes me think of framing the first check I received from the sale of my first book.  It reminds me of having “victory dances” when my daughter went a full day without a diaper, or learned to write her name or counted to 100 or wrote her first song.  It makes me think of Fourth of July celebrations where we lie on the M’boro grass, watching dogs, listening to “Drift Away” or Springsteen. It makes me think of totally wasting half a day reading  Judith McNaught’s romantics “Whitney, My Love” or “Almost Heaven” for about the billionth time for no other reason than they make me feel like a girl.  It makes me think of buying a bouquet of flowers from Publix for my garden daughter Breathe or a new T-Rex for my spirited Alight for no reason other than I want to see them smile.   It makes me think of smiling at the rude cashier because I know a secret she doesn’t:   Life is not a race.  Life is not a competition.   The night will end, and the sky will be splattered with the miraculous colors of sunrise again.   If we choose to slow down a moment and look around us, we’ll come to see that LIFE is a celebration.  If we choose to stop fighting, stop  racing, stop chasing things that really don’t matter, then we can unwrap an idyllic life where running relays in the streets and playing Rummy on the front porch still means having fun;  where dinner is served at the table with a prayer, husbands and wives are friends instead of strangers and time is slow.

So…  Remember this recipe as you wake tomorrow morning.  It’s got a lot of potential to produce a life well spent.

1/2 Comfortable Conversation
15 Bold Flavors
Familiar Faces
Spontaneous Celebrations
and, finally, I’m going to add:
Heart of Faith

Combine these ingredients together until warm and rich,  cover with prayer and wait for happiness and peace to rise.