Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lessons in Patience and Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude


Thanksgiving is at the top of my list of favorite holidays.  I love the time with family, the food, the warmth, and the focus on thankfulness. I love the way the house smells with all the delicious things in preparation for all the festivities.  This time of year, our family reflects on all that God has done in our lives.  It is humbling for me to think about how little I truly deserve, and yet how richly I am blessed--beyond measure!  Recently, however, I have had a slight discontent brewing in my heart which has caused me to want to reflect more on what the Lord has done in my life.  We moved to our wonderful property over 7 years ago, into the structure that was going to be our garage.  The plan was that we would live here for around 1 year, while we built our "dream home."  Then we got the idea that it would be prudent for us to be debt free, so we worked to pay off the small mortgage we had on our land, and finally reached that goal a couple of years ago. This whole process has been a hugely humbling experience for me, and I have learned much about cultivating a heart of gratitude through it all.  As I reflect on this holiday when we come together with family and friends to thank God for all He has done in our lives, I have been thinking back on everything I have learned so far and how I think it has affected our children as well.

First off, though I might have described myself several years ago as being somewhat patient person, my patience has been tested and tried so much during these years of waiting to see my "dreams" for my home and the property come to fruition.  Our previous home, which was large, and finished, and on a really nice property of 1 3/4 acres, took us 14 months to sell!  Talk about trying my patience!  I thought we would never sell that place!  The funny thing is that at the time, I couldn't wait to get out of that house and over to where we are living now.  Looking back, I see that I was living in a beautiful home that many people would have loved to have as home.  I was so focused on getting to the next place, that I could only see what was "wrong" with my really nice, beautiful home.  Now, I'm not saying that I regret our choice to move, but now I see my attitude at that time in a different light.  We still have pictures of that house on our computer and sometimes I see them scroll by when the computer is on "sleep" mode.  It was truly a beautiful place, and we really loved our neighbors there, an older couple who became like another set of grandparents to our young children.  Sometimes, we miss the beauty and blessing of where we are right now because we are so busy trying to get to the next great thing.

Finally, after the 14 months of trying to sell the house, we sold it and had to be out in 3 weeks! The garage-house on our 20-acre property wasn't quite finished yet, but we had to get out of the house we had sold.  The kids and I went to stay with my dad in Florida for 2 weeks while Todd and his dad finished some things here that needed to be done before the house could be considered "livable, i.e., put in at least 1 working toilet, air conditioning (September in Texas is hot hot hot!), and a bath tub (no shower yet) in one of the bathrooms.  When the kids and I returned from Florida, we moved into our little place, which really wasn't finished yet, and the real adventure began.  Our former house was over 3500 square feet, and this house is under 2000 square feet, with very little storage space.  Here, also, began the real lessons in thankfulness, patience, and cultivating a heart of contentment in my own life and the lives of our children.

At first, we had no kitchen, adding a microwave shortly after we moved in, and putting in the fridge and oven/stove as well.  The cabinets and counter tops were not in yet, either, which meant we had no sink in the kitchen.  We washed our dishes outside in a large plastic tub I purchased at Walmart. I decided to start teaching the children from the Prairie Primer, which focuses on lessons around the Little House on the Prairie books!  I felt like I was a pioneer woman.  The funny thing is, as difficult as this was, especially with 6 young children, I began to see the benefits, at least in my own heart, to living this way.  I was learning valuable lessons about what is truly necessary to live and even thrive.  I learned that having to wait on things, even the things that we in America consider "necessary" or "standard" in a home, was helping me to appreciate every little luxury as they were added to our home.  It was 2 months before we finally got our kitchen sink installed, mostly because the counter tops kept being broken by the workers as they tried to install them.  Once we got our counters, sink and dishwasher in the kitchen, I felt like a QUEEN!  What an impression that made on me!  These are "basics" to us here, but honestly we did fine without them for such a short time, and when I did finally get them "back" in my life, I was humbled and grateful for such a simple, common comfort.  Even now, 7 years later, I often thank God for my kitchen, sink, and of course, especially the dishwasher!  We didn't get around to installing the tiles in the downstairs bathroom, which was the only working tub for a while, until several months after we moved into the house.  There were always other pressing matters, and it just didn't top the list.  Baths were fine, though, similar to my feeling when I finally had a dishwasher again, I was thrilled to take my first shower in our little house!  I can think of many other things like this that have been slowly added and for which I am so much more thankful than if I had not had to live without them for a while.

Besides these kinds of basic luxuries, we had moved into a place that was totally unfinished inside. The walls were not primed or painted, there was no trim or baseboards, no carpet anywhere, and the floor in the downstairs rooms was basic concrete, polished a little so it wasn't quite as rough as a driveway, but still pretty rough.  These little things bothered me a lot.  I was living in a house that was definitely not "nice" or "pretty" like my old house was.  I knew these little things would eventually get done, but we had to move along slowly because Todd was doing all the work to save money, and of course, he does have a paying job!  The house was built cash, so we felt every little expense.  Over time, we have added trim, door frames, baseboards in most places (though there are still places that don't have baseboards!), etc.  I have come to realize that though it can be a little humbling to not have everything finished perfectly, these things aren't necessary.  There is an appearance we feel we need to put on, mostly for others, and it can become such that we feel we "need" it for ourselves as well.  For me, I have had to think often about why this would be important to me, why it's ok to not have everything instantly, and to learn to wait.  When we painted, I felt so happy.  Every little "appearance" thing we add does make me really appreciative, but I know for me deep inside that these are little vanities.  There is nothing wrong with wanting them or having them, but they certainly aren't necessary, and definitely aren't important.  I have struggled with the idea that as a wife I am to create a "haven" for my family, especially for my husband.  Sometimes, I have felt that is hard to do in this little garage-house.  I am still learning that the "haven" is in the atmosphere I create, not in how outwardly beautiful (or sometimes, neat and organized) things are, but mostly in how I set the tone.  How do I treat my children?  How am I relating to my husband?  I create the "haven" in the heart of the home, the love and warmth from within, the life that radiates from my heart to the heart of those for whom I am trying to create that "haven."

Todd and I have always enjoyed entertaining, and having people in our home.  When we moved into our little "diamond in the rough" as we sometimes call our place, I found that more humbling to do.  Todd was really good at keeping the flow of people coming in and out of our home.  This wasn't always what I wanted, as I was humbled by the way things were/are in our home.  We live in a very unconventional way, and it was challenging for me to have people over to our home especially at first, when we didn't have the same things in terms of luxury or appearance that others we know possess. It sounds so awful to put it that way, when I look at those words on the page.  It's all in the thinking of what I have or don't have in comparison to what others have.  We have chosen to live here and we have a beautiful property, lots of space for the children to grow and play.  I can get wrapped in the vanity of still comparing this to what most of my friends have in their homes.  So ugly.

What I have learned about this over the years is that what truly matters are the people inside this house, and how we welcome and love those who set foot in this place.  We bought 20 acres, and have been building from the ground up, everything from the water, septic, driveway, etc.  We have dreamed mostly of blessing our family through this, and blessing all those who walk through our door.  Whether we have painted walls, trim, beautiful decorations, or unfinished, roughness in the home, with dirty little fingerprints everywhere that I just can't seem to keep up with, what truly matters is how we make people feel when they are here.  This includes our own children.  I don't want them remembering that all I cared about was how our house looked to others or how nice things were here.  I want them to have a happy place to live, where there is laughter and love and where the little messes that come with simply living are just ok sometimes.  I want them to feel that this house, big or small, furnished in luxury or furnished with items that are a little beat up from all the life here, is the place they really want to be.  I want people who come here to feel that this is a happy place, where they are loved and accepted, and where we care about them and not about impressing them.

We have reached the point where we are ready to build, the money is there to begin the addition to our home, and we have started the process.  This is where I have felt a heart of discontent creeping back up in me.  We started the foundation two months ago, and due mainly to the very, very wet weather we have had in Austin this fall, we have made pretty slow progress.  I find myself at times looking out that back door at what will someday be more living space for our family, complaining. Why aren't the workers here when it's dry and sunny?  How long is this going to take?  Wow, I thought it was messy here before, but now with all this dirt and new mud from the construction....! Grumble, grumble, gripe, gripe, gripe.  What is my problem?  I am looking at what will eventually be a really nice addition to an already wonderful place we have to live.  I have so much compared to so many, and I can't wait a couple more months to see even more blessing added to my life? So, again I am humbled, and again I learn.  This is the art of learning contentment.  The art of looking at the blessing already realized instead of focusing on what I may not have (yet or ever).  I have learned most importantly that this is an exercise, an ongoing discipline.  I may never arrive at the perfect place of contentment, but I must daily choose to cultivate a heart of thankfulness.

I think the final lesson I have learned is a simple one.  I know we as parents all should know this. Yet, I am reminded that Todd and I are the models of contentment and gratefulness in our children's lives.  If I am not content with the many, many blessings that I have in my life, I am modeling to my children to be dissatisfied and ungrateful for what they have.  In our home right now, 8 of our 9 children share a large room, kind of like a bunk house.  There is a girls' closet and boys' closet, and each child has his or her own bed and a place to keep their personal things.  I always laugh when people ask me if we have a big house and how many bedrooms we have (since we have 9 children, we must have a 10-bedroom house, right?).  Is this perfect or ideal?  Maybe not.  Is this what all their friends have?  Well, probably not.  Is this going to damage them for life? Most definitely not!  In fact, I think it is teaching them valuable lessons.  They are learning to live with others in harmony, respect others' things and space, be considerate of others, and so much more.  When they compare themselves to their friends, they are learning to focus on what they do have rather than on what they don't.  We share with our kids that we don't have to live this way, but that we have chosen it in order to be financially free, and also because the trappings of this world aren't really what's necessary in life to be happy.  We wanted the land and space, and we have chosen this lifestyle for ourselves.

I'm not writing this to make anyone feel that they need to live the way we have been living or choose what we have chosen in order to have a grateful heart.  What we are doing isn't "better" than what someone else is doing.  That's the point. We are all different.  I am reflecting on what I have learned, and I hope it blesses you wherever you are in your walk in life.  The universal truth in this post is that this world is fleeting and what really matters has nothing to do with all the material things in our lives such as our homes, the contents therein, the cars we drive, the gadgets we own, etc.  What matters in life is relationship, knowing our LORD and being satisfied in Him. When all the things of this world fade, what will remain is how we lived our lives, how we treated those with whom we came in contact, and how we reflected the Lord through it all.  I am so thankful today that I can say that I have learned so much from some difficult choices and some humbling experiences.

I love that today, we will make thankfulness the centerpiece of our day, as we gather, share the special meal, and remember what the LORD has done for us.

May your Thanksgiving be BLESSED!

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
Pslam 9:1

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with gladness.  Come into His presence with joyful singing!  Know that the LORD, He is God!  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!  Give thanks to Him; bless His name!  For the LORD is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100

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