What are you most thankful for this year? I'd love if you'd send me a message and let me know!
I am thankful to be part of a Living Church. One that was built by sacrifice and still gives power in these modern, complicated times. One that has crossed borders, cultures, and languages and given me the family I have today.
Being part of this lovely church meant that I had to write an essay for the CE Program last Sunday night. Since I haven't posted anything on here for awhile I'm going to share that with you. And then get back to making Thanksgiving food. You all know I love food. Mom in law is doing the turkey this year and I've never tried Haitian-prepared turkey. She needed a needle late last night to sew him up so the filling didn't fall out which definitely intrigued me. I'm so excited!
Thankfulness in the Mundane Things of Life
Being thankful is a command for us as Christians and most people all over the world agree that gratitude improves mental health. But if you were ever told as a child, “Clean out your plate because there are starving children in Africa,” you know that you can’t really shame yourself into actually FEELING thankful. So can we arrange our lives so that we just naturally feel more grateful and content?
Isn’t the first step making sure we are living out God’s true purpose for our life and not trying to make excuses or hide in our comfort zone because God’s way seems scary? Another hard step that a lot of us would probably benefit from would be some serious life decluttering to get things back down to a bit of a simpler, slower pace where we feel like we can control the chaos again. Maybe it’s actually possible to off load a substantial amount of the worry and stress we carry without our circumstances becoming perfect. Then we could live with true gratitude in our hearts and have time and energy to share with others.
I’ve been thinking about scarcity and abundance lately. It’s interesting to me how defining whether we are living in scarcity or abundance seems to be very personal and very situational. When I was a single girl at the orphanage in Haiti, we used to make a monthly trip along with several children to a big grocery store and fast food restaurant in Port au Prince. The kids got hamburgers or crepes and always saved a few of the French fries in a napkin to take back to their friends. After lunch, we went downstairs to the grocery store and got them all little tubs of probably the worst quality ice cream I have ever tasted. We girls had a very small allowance to spend and lots of times we would buy a pound of hamburger, a head of lettuce, and a snack bag of Doritos. Back home, we’d buy avocado, tomato, and cokes from down the street. We’d dig out a packet of ranch dressing mix and some clumpy taco seasoning from the ice chest where we kept it safe from the rats. We felt like we were living the good life as we enjoyed taco salad for supper on our little porch lit with Christmas lights. Back at the orphanage, the kids were also having a moment of abundance as they carefully divided soggy French fries that had spent the better part of the day in someone’s pocket.
After we got married, we lived right down the road from Delimart, the same grocery store where we took the orphanage kids. It remained somewhat of a symbol of abundance for me. I would stop there after fighting the port au prince traffic all the way home from teaching school and go in to the freezing, brightly lit store clutching my mil gourde bill, which by that time was only worth about 10 USD. I’d come out with things like pretty heads of lettuce not wilted in the market sun, zucchini, oatmeal to make granola, little bottles of molasses, and sometimes… snack bags of Dorito chips.
One Sunday evening after an intense week that ended with us driving past a half burned body on the way to church, Zèzè zipped over to Delimart on the moto. He came back with cat food, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and the same tub of strawberry ice cream we always bought for the orphanage kids. I will never forget our cozy supper of egg sandwiches and floats made with coca cola and questionable pink ice cream. The skinny black and white cat crunched happily in the corner because he probably hadn’t had anything but small chunks of salami and the occasional lizard he could catch for awhile.
Times of scarcity make even small moments of abundance more special. I would love to tell you that when I pull a package of ground beef from my freezer, grab a large bag of Doritos from dollar general, and make taco salad that it tastes just as special and abundant as it did on the porch of our little rooftop apartment, but that feeling simply cannot be recreated. The scarcity is necessary to really feel the abundance.
So it’s probably good that, in every season of life, there are things that seem a bit scarce. Right now my time is a lot less abundant than it was living on island time. So now I treasure different things, like coffee and blessed quietness during naptime and my weekly bit of time alone after dropping dad in law off at therapy.
Modern technology and money make many things easier. You can let the roomba vacuum your floors, order pizza to your door and eat it off of paper plates you got from Amazon prime so there’s no dirty dishes. But for Christians, the things that matter most will always take a good amount of effort. It takes a lot of faith in God during youth years to really believe he will take care of your future with decisions about getting married or choosing a long-term job. It takes self denial and perseverance to build a strong marriage in our current world, where it’s so easy to be in the same room as your spouse yet totally disconnected because you’re both on your phone. Babies and children test your patience, sticking chubby hands in your cookie dough, asking you to read the same book and sing the same song a thousand times, and whining for something until you just want to give in to stop the commotion. It takes special wisdom to navigate the stage where your children become adults, and courage to face times of loneliness and the aches and pains of old age. All of these stages have challenges and blessings, scarcity and abundance all wrapped up together. If we can realize that maybe God designed some things to be hard because he knows that we treasure what we work for, maybe it can give us more courage for the mundane daily grind.
And why does a mundane life so often sound repulsive to us? We’ve all been in crisis situations where we wish with all our hearts that life could be normal again. If your biggest complaint is that your life is boring, you are probably in reasonably good health and not too worried about your daily needs, which means that you are among the privileged few. I believe that we, and especially our children, thrive on rhythms and routines, with just enough change to keep life interesting. God designed nature that way, with its never-ending cycle of changing seasons. Long, happy days of sunlight invite is to pack every moment of full of activity, and the shorter days of winter tend to make our time feel just slightly more abundant.
Shouldn’t we all strive for a mundane but beautiful life? Like a long string of pearls, we thread one experience after the other… a few are big and shiny, like the day we said I do, or the incredible feeling of snuggling a newborn baby. Some are painful and bittersweet, like the last conversation you had with a loved one before they died. Most are small, happy moments that seemed unremarkable at the time… riding bike to school and playing Indians in the woods as a child, riding horse bareback down the road on many a Sunday afternoon, songs sung by memory around a campfire, checking out a fun hole in the wall restaurant, wagon rides with a toddler to feed the ducks down the road, and floats made with coca cola and bright pink strawberry ice cream after a week of constant gunfire as background noise.
Like a patchwork quilt made from tiny rainbow colored scraps, our mundane lives can be extraordinarily beautiful. We are sewing together experiences, day by day. We can choose a mindset of scarcity or abundance. We can be stingy with our money and time, holding tightly to each moment and every dollar, believing we have nothing to give because there is only barely enough. Or we can freely give what we have freely received, opening our hearts to abundance in mundane, everyday life. We can invite our children in and teach them about life instead of shooing them away or pacifying them with more stuff. We can talk to strangers about deeper things than the weather. We can build campfires on random Tuesday nights, have people from a different generation over for a meal, stop at the park after grocery shopping, roll down the window and sing a song while driving. We can choose to put our phone away and spend real time with our spouse. It is choosing to stay present and taking time to enjoy the little moments that make our mundane lives feel colorful and abundant.
Here are some verses that have helped me find gratitude during different times in my life…
1 Thessalonians 5:18: In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. This verse commands us to have thankful attitudes, and tells us that God expects us to find something to be thankful for, no matter what our situation is.
Psalm 37:4: Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. I have struggled at times with not believing God had my best in mind. I thought if I wanted something too much that he would take it away to “teach me a lesson” or “make me stronger through trials.” It is hard to be grateful to someone who you don’t really trust, so it’s important that we understand that God is truly a giver at heart.
Ecclesiastes 11:1: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. This verse speaks of getting away from the scarcity mindset, of being generous with our whole living, our daily bread, of giving ourselves even when we wonder if we’re actually making a difference. Generosity and thankfulness go hand in hand in my life. And the bread that you freely toss out will return. I know it for a fact.
Philippians 4:6: Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. The first part of this verse in another translation says, do not worry about anything. Worrying about the future kills gratitude, and there is a way we can all live thankful lives even during periods of waiting for answers. It’s OK to speak to God about your needs and desires. But your supplication should always be mixed with Thanksgiving.
All of our situations are different. Your abundance may be my scarcity, or the other way around. My prayer is that we can all be mindful as we stitch the days together, uneventful tho they be. Our quilts may be a bit mismatched and have some imperfections, but they are all beautiful. May we thank God from our hearts for all the pieces that make up our colorful, mundane lives.