Chad and I attended my cousin’s wedding last weekend. It was about an hour’s drive northwest through New Jersey and across the border to Pennsylvania. From where we live, we had to drive through Sussex County, where I grew up, the prettiest part of New Jersey, if I do say so. It’s very rural, contrary to most people’s impressions of New Jersey, with lots of woods and winding roads. You always have to be on the lookout for animals, especially in the evenings and mornings. We ended up taking a different route than normal, a different route than the one my parents took to the same wedding, because our GPS said it would be faster (turns out it probably wasn’t– also the GPS had the location about two miles off from where it actually was). But taking this route, we passed the Jam Lady.
I don’t know how long the Jam Lady has been setting up her folding table on the side of that road, but it feels like it couldn’t be more than a couple years. I don’t remember ever visiting her make-shift shop or hearing about her from my parents until relatively recently, but maybe we just hadn’t discovered her yet. As I said, this isn’t a road we normally take to get many places. But the Jam Lady sets up a folding table on the side of the road, a very rural road. The location isn’t really near any landmarks or even any buildings, so it seems like a strange spot to choose, but there she is anyway, on Saturday afternoons with her jams set up: blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, and my dad’s favorite, elderberry. She sells them for something like $6 a jar, which seems expensive for jam until you taste it.
I think one of my dad’s greatest qualities is how he finds happiness in the little things, how he builds relationships out of the little things. And maybe that comes from not having a lot of “success” as the world and our culture would define it. I mean, I think he’s successful. He’s a great dad who raised his kids to be hard-working. He’s well-respected in the community. He spent years of his life volunteering for our fire department, and through that and the ambulance company he used to own, he has saved lives and helped people when they were hurt. But he’s not rich and the job that he is retiring from is not glamorous. He hasn’t necessarily had a lot of luck in life, and his health isn’t great, so maybe he focuses on the little things because the bigger things in life haven’t always gone his way. But I think it’s just who he is, too. He finds joy in the smallest, often most unexpected things, like the Jam Lady.
As I said, Chad and I took this alternate route to the wedding and my parents didn’t, so they didn’t pass the Jam Lady on their way there. So as we were waiting for the wedding to begin, I mentioned to my dad that we saw her out there with her table and jams and he perked up with excitement. My mom wasn’t sitting with us at that moment, so my dad immediately started looking around for her because he was eager to tell her that the Jam Lady was out today. And then he mentioned the elderberry jam… I love that he was happy to know the Jam Lady was out. I love that he looked around to find my mom, because that also speaks to their marriage, and how they appreciate these small things and get anxious to share them with each other.
It reminded me of our Easter brunch this past spring, when my dad found corned-beef hash at the buffet, but my mom had missed it. My dad isn’t necessarily romantic in the traditional ways– no candlelit dinners or long weekends away– but he likes corned-beef hash and he knows my mom does too, so he scooped some from his plate and put it on hers so they could enjoy it together. My dad loves these small joys, and he loves sharing them. He’s not a man of words– he doesn’t talk about he feels. But he’ll give you a wink over something small that you have in common or show his love by cooking fried potatoes on Christmas morning or laugh about the kind of questions that a kindergarten asks you when you’re passing them in the hallway at school.
I’m a person who always wants to feel like I’m making an impact, making a difference and moving forward. I have high expectations and I want big results. But Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) And I think this verse speaks to having a child-like outlook on life, being humble and eager to learn. It’s about seeing simplicity in life, not comparing yourself to others, but rather being anxious to share and love and forgive and find joy in little things. I forget to have this perspective. I look ahead to the future and worry about not accomplishing enough, not getting to the next step in life– whatever that is. But my dad reminds me to be grateful and content with the small joys of everyday, whether an interesting article in the local newspaper, a warm fire on a cold winter day, or some homemade jam bought from the side of the road. There’s a lot in life to appreciate if we stop trying so hard and just be content with where we are.