Archive for Calling

Staying on the Rollercoaster

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2019 by timtrue

Delivered at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcipal Church and School in Temecula, California on May 5, 2019, the Third Sunday of Easter.

John 21:1-19

1.

One of the cardinal sins of preaching is to tell a story about a family member. But I can get away with it today because I have four daughters, none of whom is here; and I won’t tell you which one this story is about.

So, it’s the story of her first real rollercoaster ride: not the kiddie ride at putt putt golf but the real deal, the Steel Eel.

She was eight years old. And she’d always shown a little, shall we say, hesitancy when it came to uncertainty and risk. So, as I anticipated, she did not want to ride this rollercoaster, even though she was now tall enough.

But—probably poor judgment on my part—I coaxed and encouraged and otherwise persuaded until finally, either resolved or resigned—I couldn’t tell which—she said, “I’ll do it, Dad, but only because I love you.”

So, a few minutes later there we were, seated in the front car, strapped in, when the clicking began. You know those clicks: clackety clackety clackety all the way up that first, long, tall slope to the very apex where suddenly the clicking stops and gravity takes over and it’s up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth until the ride is over.

We were climbing up and up, clackety clackety; the anticipation building. Smiling, reassuring, I looked at my daughter and gave her a hug.

Her eyes were saucers.

Finally we reached the top, the apex, maybe thirty stories above the theme park sprawled out below us. And we were in the first car, as I said.

Well, what I hadn’t thought about was that this meant we couldn’t really see anything in front of us, on top of that apex.

It also meant that gravity didn’t take over right away; for, first, the remainder of the cars, which were attached behind us, had to be released from the clicking mechanism, meaning we just hung there for a bit, suspended, thirty stories up, theme park sprawled below, with seemingly nothing in front of us.

Then and only then did the clicking mechanism release; then and only then did gravity take over!

And just then I had a horrible moment of clarity, seeing what could only be understood as utter chaos through the eyes of my hesitant eight year-old.

So I looked over at her again. And now it was her mouth open wide, taking in a voluminous breath; her eyes were slammed shut! She clutched my arm, dug in her fingernails, and began screaming and sobbing at the same time—scrobbing, I like to say.

And she buried her face into my arm and stayed there, miserable and scrobbing, until at long last, an eternity of 38 seconds later, the ride came to its most welcome end.

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day.

But, there is a happy ending: this same daughter, a dozen or so years later, last summer, went to 6FMM and rode every nauseating rollercoaster there! And loved it!

Anyway, I tell this story because life can be an emotional rollercoaster. Up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

It’s fun . . . until it’s not; and then we just want it to stop.

2.

I’m experiencing something of that rollercoaster sensation in my life right now. So is the St. Thomas community. Transition—change—has a way of doing that.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re beyond the sensation of fun. Instead, we’re all asking, “When’s this ride ever gonna stop?”

For what it’s worth, though, it’s not just us. This feeling of wanting the rollercoaster ride to stop already is increasingly characterizing our society—or at least economics professor Tyler Cowen thinks so.

In his recent book (2017) The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Cowen argues that Americans are becoming increasingly risk averse. We are less inclined to relocate than we were even a few years ago. The cultural desire to innovate is decreasing.

He writes,

Americans are in fact working much harder than before to postpone change, or to avoid it altogether, and that is true whether we are talking about corporate competition, changing residences or jobs, or building things. In an age when it is easier than ever before to dig in, the psychological resistance to change has become progressively stronger.

As a society, we want this rollercoaster ride to end. We want to have more control over the journey we are taking; and when we find some modicum of control, we don’t want to let go of it. We don’t want to change.

3.

Now, do you think Peter and the other disciples felt this way? Were they hoping for their emotional rollercoaster ride to stop already? Is that what’s happening in today’s Gospel?

Over the past few weeks they’d been up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

They’d witnessed Jesus enter Jerusalem to shouts of acclamation, “Hosanna in the highest!”

That must have been a high high for them, an apex, a moment of affirmation beyond all others. “Yes!” they must’ve said; “Jesus is the Messiah, the savior of Israel. Yes, his mission is being accomplished!”

But, later that week, they stood by and watched helplessly as he was betrayed, arrested, and tried. They covered their ears as the crowd shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And they gazed on as he gave up his spirit.

That must have been the lowest of lows for them. “No,” they must’ve pondered; “does this mean it was all for nothing? Was Jesus and all he stood for just a flash in the pan, a moment of heat that amounted to nothing?”

And then, the stone was rolled away from the tomb.

And there was the head cloth, neatly folded by itself!

And Jesus himself appeared, first to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples in the upper room!

And. . . .

Up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth.

Can’t it just stop already?

So, today, sitting around with six other disciples, Peter announces, “I’m going fishing!”

He returns to what he knows, to what he is sure of, to what he can control.

No change. No innovation. No carrying on Jesus’ mission. Just something that feels productive to pass the time.

Maybe it’s Peter’s way of escaping the emotional rollercoaster ride brought on by the changes Jesus called for.

And maybe that’s our story too.

4.

Jesus pointed out a need for change in his day: the political and religious establishments dominated the people they were supposed to be serving.

What Jesus called his followers to do was to resist the social injustices before him; and through resistance to upend the domination.

But without a doubt this resistance would keep Peter and the other disciples on an emotional rollercoaster ride; a ride, frankly, they just didn’t want to be on anymore.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to escape Jesus’ call?

As for us, what do we see? Hardly a day passes without hearing about violent acts of hatred, or about a friend who can’t afford rising medical costs, or about how Global Warming is already destroying our coastlines, or about increasing socioeconomic disparities.

It would be ignorant and irresponsible to say that our nation has no need for change.

Rather, isn’t the Holy Spirit telling us loud and clear, change is needed!

But—according to Cowen anyway—our societal response is to avoid change; to do what we know instead, what we are sure of, what we can control.

No change. No innovation. Just something that feels productive to pass the time, to escape the chaotic rollercoaster of life all around us.

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

Maybe that’s what we’re all doing too.

5.

Fortunately, though, today Jesus is having none of it.

Fortunately, the resurrected Jesus appears now for the third time.

And, fortunately, when Peter recognizes him, it’s a no brainer.

Without giving himself a chance to think, Peter—that gloriously impulsive disciple—quits fishing faster than you can say holy mackerel and gets right back on that difficult, emotional rollercoaster ride.

Because—even with all the up and down, back and forth, up and down, back and forth—Peter knows that doing what Jesus asks us to do is worth it!

Jesus has left us with a mission that is large in scope. Bringing salvation to the ends of the earth requires no less than upending large-scale systems of domination, whether political or religious. This call can feel overwhelming.

Now, we all know, sometimes church is fun: when we experience strong fellowship; in our prayers; when we break bread together; at baptisms and weddings.

But, we also know, sometimes it’s not so fun, like getting out there and sharing Christ’s love tangibly with our marginalized neighbors, or like tackling local practices of injustice, or like navigating our way through change.

Sometimes, let’s face it, we just want this rollercoaster ride to stop already!

What then?

Well, what happened with Peter at the end of the Gospel?

Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”

And three times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

And Jesus re-commissioned him: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Continue to do the work I have commissioned you to do, Peter: the work of love.

Okay then. I’ll ride this rollercoaster, Jesus, because I love you.

Love—Jesus’ love for us and ours for him—is key. Love is what will keep us on this rollercoaster.

2015 Lent 20

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by timtrue
Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Jeremiah 10:11-24

All this stuff recently about human nature’s complexities and arguing with God–today we see it come to a head.  Today, Jeremiah argues with God through a prayer:

I know, O Lord, that the way of human beings is not in their control,
that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure;
not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing (vv. 23-24).

Human beings are a piece of work, Jeremiah acknowledges.  But, guess what, God: that includes me.  I, your precious prophet, am a piece of work too.  For I’m a human being.  I make stupid mistakes just like everyone else.  So, yes, correct me.  Show me the correct path to follow.  But don’t do it out of anger.  Just give me what I can handle, enough but not too much.

Have you ever felt this way?  Have you ever prayed a prayer like Jeremiah’s?

It’s not just in morality though.  We mortals also have trouble directing our steps in other ways.

Take that question posed seemingly to all children: what do you want to be when you grow up?  I wanted to be a veterinarian, a concert pianist, a fighter pilot, a motorcycle journalist, an orchestral conductor, a composer, a writer, and a teacher–among other things–along the way.  In other words, I had no idea as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Yet I ended up here, somehow, a priest of the Episcopal Church.  So I closely empathize with Jeremiah’s words: “the way of human beings is not in their control”; and mortals “cannot direct their steps.”

Can you empathize too?

Now that I am a priest, I am feeling this lack of control again.  Keenly.

Earlier this week I announced to my congregation that I will be moving on from my present position as curate.  I’ve accepted a call to be the next rector of a church in Yuma, Arizona.

On the one hand, this move has been coming for more than twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve aspired to just such a position.  That’s how long I’ve been putting myself in the shoes of others I’ve known in this role.

But on the other hand, if you’d have told me twenty years ago that I’d end up in Yuma–or Texas, or Sewanee, or the Episcopal Church–I’d have said pshaw!  Yuma is hot!  The record temperature is 124 degrees.  The one-hundred-teens are typical in July and August.  Why would I ever want to go there?

To answer, I could say it’s close to my aging parents, a lot closer than where I live now at any rate.  I could say it’s the old west, just a little newer.  I could say it’s at the confluence of California, Arizona, and Mexico, an interesting place, which it is.  I could say how its economy of agriculture and military is strong, and has remained so through our country’s recent recession, which it has.  Or I could say how promising a place it feels to raise a family, which it does.

But above all this, it’s really more that I cannot very effectively direct my own steps; the path I follow is not fully under my control.

So, like Jeremiah, I have a prayer for today too.  Make it yours if you like:

Give me what I can handle, God; enough, but not too much.

2015 Lent 17

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2015 by timtrue

Sierra Madre

Jeremiah 7:1-15

Jeremiah’s calling was difficult.  He stood alone against the world.

The Temple in Jerusalem was run by the priests and scribes, leaders who proclaimed a message believed by everyone except Jeremiah.  “This is the Temple of the Lord,” they said.  And everyone answered, “Yea, and amen.”  Everyone, that is, except Jeremiah.

The people took a lot of pride in their Temple.  Rightly so, too, for it was a wonder.

But what if God himself had left the Temple some time ago?  What if God had become tired of the people who worshiped there, for their worship had turned away from God and onto each other?  What if managing the Temple had become such a business to the leaders that the almighty dollar trumped the actual Almighty in importance?  What if God looked around one day, saw that he was no longer needed, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I’m outa here”?  And what if no one noticed?

Well, someone noticed.  His name was Jeremiah.

But no one else did.

Jeremiah stood alone.

Nevertheless, Jeremiah did not split.  He did not say, “Fine!  God’s outa here; so I’m outa here too!”  As discussed in an earlier post, Jeremiah did not pack up his motorcycle and head off into the mountains of Mexico.

But that is just what so many people are doing today in the Episcopal Church.  They see something flawed.  Maybe the leaders are calloused to their real calling: spiritual leadership.  Maybe the almighty dollar has trumped the church’s purpose.  Maybe worship has become more a social event than a time to commune with Christ.

I don’t know: every naysayer has a reason.

But the naysayers are leaving, and have been in droves for the last four decades.  Surely, now the mountains of Mexico feel more like an organized township than a wilderness camp.

Especially, of late, there is this group that has taken the name Anglican for itself.  Subgroups you may have heard of are the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and the Anglican Province in America (APA).  The ironic thing here is that the people who are a part of this so-called Anglican group–many of whom have left the Episcopal Church in droves–are not recognized today by the global Anglican Communion, the organization spearheaded by the actual Anglican Church (the Church of England).  But the Episcopal Church is.  (Who are the real Anglicans here?)

Sheesh!  They ought to call themselves–a spade!–what they really are: Disaffected Evangelicals Formerly on the Episcopal Church’s Team (DEFECT).

But I suppose that doesn’t have quite the attractive ring to it.  And they need to be attractive to people, after all.  For they need to draw in as many seekers as they can in order to get as much money as they can to start and maintain the best programs they can and run the business side of their churches the best they can, after all.

Which, by the way, brings us full circle.

Which, in turn, has led to yet more splits.

(Which leads me to wonder, should the split-offs of the split-offs call themselves Anglicaners, since according to their definition they’re even more Anglican than the group from which they split?)

But, I remind all you naysayers and splitters and splitters from splitters out there, Jeremiah never went to Mexico on his motorcycle.

2015 Lent 16

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2015 by timtrue

alone

Jeremiah 5:20-31

An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes? (vv. 30-31)

The Israel of Jeremiah’s day was a theocracy.  That is, it was governed politically by God.  God’s prophets and priests functioned doubly as political leaders.

What if we were to change the words up a little?  What if instead of an ancient theocracy we were talking about a modern democracy, such as our own country?  What words would we use then?  Pundits and politicians?

Okay.  But, still, one more word-change is needed.  For prophets prophesy; but what do pundits do?  Speculate?

Fine.  So we have this:

An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the pundits speculate falsely,
and the politicians rule as the pundits direct;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?

It’s surprising how modern the Old Testament can be!

Frankly, this sounds like statements I’ve heard from both poles of the American political spectrum.  Of course, they each say it about the other side.  Which makes me wonder, do they cancel each other out?

At any rate, I’m glad for separation of church and state today.  Especially as a priest!

Let the pundits speculate and the politicians politick, I say.  As for me, I’ll do what I’ve been called to do, even if, like Jeremiah, I have to stand alone.

2015 Lent 11

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by timtrue

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Jeremiah 1

What would it be like to be called as a prophet?

Today we meet Jeremiah.  We’ve left Moses and the Israelites on the threshold of the Promised Land.  Now, enter this lone figure, called to be God’s prophet, to proclaim to the Israelites that they have in fact forsaken their God.  Jeremiah’s task is to confront the nation, to remind them of Moses’ words, to point out that they’ve broken their promises to God, and to proclaim that sure and certain destruction will come upon them from the north, like a vast stockpot of boiling water poured out to flood and scald them all.

Not a great job description!

I don’t know about you, but if it became clear to me that I’d have to stand tall against the powers that be AND the angry mob known throughout history as the people–myself against the world, literally (and I don’t use this word lightly like so many others seem to today)–I’d start looking for a way out.  I’d outfit my motorcycle with a tankbag, a windscreen, saddlebags, and a Dryspec stackable luggage system; and maybe a GPS unit; certainly a few good books; pack a tent, sleeping bag, pots and pans, a cooking stove, and whatever else I needed, and I’d ride into the wildernesses of Mexico and hide out until the storm will have passed.  Or at least I imagine that’s what I’d do.

Actually, that’s probably what I would have done if I’d received such a challenging call in my early twenties, back when I was single and my biggest obligation was making it to class on time and meeting a few deadlines here and there for papers and tests.  But today’s different.  Today my responsibilities are much more significant and profound.

So, on second thought, if I were to find myself suddenly confronted by seemingly impossible obstacles, as Jeremiah found himself, I’d have no choice but to face these obstacles, to endure them no matter the hardship.  People I love dearly are depending on me, just as I depend on those who love me.  Much as I may daydream about a lengthy motorcycle hermitage, then (which is really no more than to daydream of escape), the path of love–the path to which Jesus has called me–puts others before myself; puts God before all.  The path of love does not seek to escape but to endure.

Maybe this is how Jeremiah saw it.

Whatever the case, Jeremiah did not do as Jonah did, who ran away from God’s call.  Instead, he did what God commanded.  He faced his opponents, stood tall, and endured.  In the end he came through it, honored by God and remembered by us today.

And I like to think (though the Bible nowhere says this) that he enjoyed a lengthy wilderness motorcycle hermitage during retirement.

Rekindled Friendships, Connections, and a Regret

Posted in Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2014 by timtrue

In recent weeks my Facebook account has seen a surge in childhood friendships rekindled.  Friends I haven’t seen or heard from in more than thirty years are now people with whom I am enjoying daily conversations, usually over an old photo like this one:

ad ang 2

There’s a lot of catching up to be had.  Significant amounts of water pass under the bridge over the course of three decades.  Marriages have been started and ended; families have been raised; life has been enjoyed and endured.  Through it all I’m really wishing I could track each of these old friends down and enjoy an evening of dinner and good ol’ face-to-face conversation.  And maybe it will happen in time.  But for now the virtual world will have to suffice.

My favorite thread so far is now more than a hundred comments long, picking up something like seventeen of us childhood pals along the way.  After lots of stories told and commented upon, a friend altogether out of the blue except for some comment I made forty or so posts ago writes, simply, “I’m still tripping out that Tim’s a priest.”

Ha!  Well, me too.  In many respects anyway.  But in other ways not so much.

I’ve written elsewhere about the idyllic setting in which I grew up (see “Background” tab).  Many a day I can remember just sitting out on the lawn, my back against an avocado tree, soaking in the southern California sun and contemplating.  It doesn’t really matter what: the way the sun played on the mellow green leaves rustling in the wind; a jet trail in the sky; how the hens shuffled their feet and simultaneously jerked their necks as they foraged for food; whatever–I was contemplating the world, God’s world, and my place in it, much as the ancient poet Vergil contemplated his world beneath his bucolic beech.  Only (unlike Vergil) I wrote nothing down.  These contemplations were only for my own memories, to reflect upon as I grew older, like I’m doing now.

I was always a bit more esoteric and pensive than the rest of the group.  I asked questions they didn’t care or think to ask; questions about pain and sorrow and happiness and joy and the differences between them; questions about good and evil and purpose and value; questions epistemological and ontological; questions most nine year-olds didn’t consider.

I was also a bit more in my own world.  Sure we had our alphas.  I wasn’t one of them.  But I was much more of an omega than a beta (or delta or gamma or . . .); for to their chagrin I never really followed the alphas like my brother did.  I did my own thing.

Like figuring out that grapes made perfect ammo for pvc blowguns.  It was especially fun when I showed one of the alphas what I had come up with–by shooting him in the belly from about fifty feet away–and he led us into all-out neighborhood boy warfare.  The original paint-pellet guns, only with grapes instead of pellets; and pvc pipe instead of guns.  Anyway, I felt affirmed in my creativity and innovativeness when an alpha took my idea and ran with it–effectively so!

Not that an alpha can’t make a good priest.  I believe that one can–in theory anyway; don’t know that I’ve ever seen it in actual practice.

Okay, to be fair, I have seen it.  I even know a few.  But it’s a hard balance to maintain.

A bit of a tangent here: but the church today seems to value priests who are successful and effective leaders.  Those who can develop programs and lure in the numbers, or (especially) those who can secure great big pledges, and lots of them at that, are the valuable priests to the Church.  But really!  Shouldn’t the priests, the spiritual leaders of communities, be more about things like spiritual disciplines, prayer, and formation (i. e., knowledge, wisdom, contemplation, introspection, etc.)?  It’s hard enough to be one or the other; a true rarity is the priest who is both.

As for me, I fit into the second category.  Leave the first in the hands of the vestry, I say.  Anyway, I was that way as a kid; and I’m still that way now.

One more.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my great grandmother.  She lived a quarter-mile down the street.  I mowed her lawn every other week or so throughout my childhood, pulled weeds in her garden, and enjoyed lots of home-baked goodies from her kitchen.  I have my mom to thank for this Granny time, by the way; though at the time I didn’t think anything of it: it was just part of the routine.

Now, though, as a priest I regularly visit shut-ins: those who are either too old or too frail to make it to church regularly.  I find this work very enjoyable.  And I’m a natural at it (thanks to Mom).

A few days ago, for instance, I visited an elderly woman suffering from the ravages of dementia.  After several minutes of barely intelligible conversation and feeling as if this was going nowhere, I moved to the piano I’d noticed in her living room.  There, on top, I grabbed a book at random from a stack and opened it and began to play.  Smiles, exclamations of happiness, applause, and even laughter followed.

I’d made a connection!  And the idea harked from childhood, when I used to do the same for my granny.

But a regret surfaced too from these rekindled-friendship conversations.  A friend’s younger sister died a year ago, I learned (very) recently, after a lifelong battle with cancer.

I remember her clearly, vividly even.  She was only a couple years younger than I.  But at nine she had no hair.  That seemed strange to me at the time, 1979 or so.  But rather than make easy conversation or simply be present, I didn’t know how to act around her and therefore avoided her most of the time.

Oh how I regret this now!  Now, when I spend hours of my week in close contact with people like her–beautiful souls–who love the presence of a smile and the joy of a story just as much as anyone else!  Oh, why wasn’t I more of a friend to her then?  And now she’s gone!

If only I could turn the clock back thirty-five years and do it again!

May her soul rest in peace.

Background: From Then Till Now . . . For Now

Posted in Background with tags , on August 4, 2013 by timtrue

The following is an article I wrote for my church’s newsletter this month.  It finishes off my blog’s background story in brief.  In time, I’ll fill in more detail of my back story, I’m sure.  But this one brings you up to the present day in a fun way and thus fills out the picture.

 

Once upon a time, a long time ago, after a certain choir rehearsal, a young superhero named Captain Uriah (a. k. a. Tim) told Holly (his wife-to-be) that he sensed a nudging from the Holy Spirit towards the Gospel ministry.  Would she marry him anyway?  Yes, she said, misty eyed, though not from the adventure she knew a life of ministry promised but from the high concentration of pollens in the air that day: this was Davis, CA, after all, second only in allergen parts per million to south Texas, or so I’ve been told.  They were married a few months later and their adventure together began in earnest.

Tim accepted a call as Youth Director with a Baptist church in southern California.  Things cruised along well enough for a time, including the births of Tim and Holly’s first two daughters, till Tim realized he wasn’t really a Baptist after all, but maybe a Presbyterian.  “Whoa,” he told Holly one morning over coffee, “maybe I should figure some things out.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, adding a little Splenda to her mug, “maybe.”

So he changed lanes on what was really the same freeway and taught for some years, middle and high school students mostly, incredibly important things like passive periphrastics and gerundives and when to use the locative case and what it looks like and who Aeneas was and why this even matters–or not.  Somewhere along the lines two more daughters were born and Tim looked at Holly one day over lunch and said, “Don’t you think it’s about time, dear?”

And she said, sprinkling Parmesan cheese over her spaghetti ever so delicately, “Yes, yes it is.”

So, thinking they might really be more Episcopal than Presbyterian, on a certain Maundy Thursday this former superhero and his family donned the red door of an Episcopal church.  “Finally,” they all said together over Communion, “we’re home.”  And they knew they were right where they should be.

“How would you feel about going to seminary?” the bishop soon asked.

“What?” gulped Tim, “with five kids?  Pshaw!”

For, you see, now a fifth child, a son, had been born to Tim and Holly.  It happened in the mean time, when they were simply going about their business trying to live their lives, teaching, parenting, eking.  But that was beside the point.  The Holy Spirit said, “Time to man up!  Time to make good!”

And so the family left the Hill Country and sojourned in the Southern Wilderness of Sewanee for a thousand days, a land flowing with coffee and pasta lunches.

“I manned up,” Tim prayed at the end of this time; “I made good.”

“Indeed!” the Holy Spirit declared.

English: Texas Hill Country, on Route 187 head...

Texas Hill Country, on Route 187 heading North, just north of Garner State Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And now they are back in the Hill Country living happily ever after.