Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Contentedness. And Peace.

" I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  Philippians 4:11-13

Sometimes a person wonders what other people think when they take a peek into our lives and see what its like.  Sometimes a person really does wonder what the Joneses think when they see a man in the driveway, pulling a car apart- yet again- trying to save money on car repairs.  A person wonders, as their family has emerged from the craziest and most uncertain three years of their lives, just what people on the outside think when the family just keeps going, undeterred and undefeated.

And then you discover what the Joneses really think, and you wish you didn't know what they were thinking, because it is far from the truth, and you realize that what they think is important is not at all what you think is important. 

Many, many years ago, my fine husband owned a business that he really had no business owning.  Oh, he has a very serious skill set that made a fine business idea in the first place, but the actual running of the business?  Oh my goodness, no.  When he shuttered that business and joined the regular workforce, it eliminated a lot of stress in our lives for a time.  And then the bills started coming in for the now-defunct business.  I am not exaggerating when I say that all told, the monetary amounts that he supposedly owed to various entities and organizations ran into six figures.  And, being in a community property state, since I'd married him, I was entitled to half of that bad business debt.  Fun times, no? 

At the exact same time as all this was rolling in, we were finding ourselves learning more about our relationship with God, and digging deeper.  We learned very early in our marriage that God had His hand in all things.  We had a rough road in front of us, but He was not going to let us travel that road alone.  We've spent so much of our lives together worried about finances.  It takes a long time to be rid of six figures of debt- all while raising children and trying to provide the best life for them we can.  For many, many years we've lived paycheck to paycheck, where the paycheck wasn't even enough to pay the bills- because these former entities felt they were entitled to 20% of my husbands paychecks off the top.  Do the math at any level- that's a lot of missing funds.  When we would do our taxes each year, we'd see how much Andy actually earned, compared with what he actually received was a very different thing.  On a real down-to-earth level, we were making a small enough income that we actually would have qualified for all kinds of helpful services- such as energy assistance, food stamps, health insurance, etc.  But no program takes into account that someone may be fishing in your income first, so the paper version of our life looked like we should have had enough.  There have been so many sleepless nights, and I can't even tell about the tears...

During all these years, we have always agreed that no matter what, our children would come first.  We only  have one shot at parenting these fine young people, we wanted to put our very best foot forward when it came to them.   Nothing else truly matters, as long as our children are happy, healthy and love the Lord with all their hearts.   And oh my, are they turning into amazing people.  When I watch my daughter, who is now 14, encourage a friend going through a rough time, my heart just swells with pride and love for her.  Every morning we pray together before we begin our school day, and it always makes my heart sing when the kids ask that we pray for someone they know going through something.   Not a day goes by when I am not thanking God for keeping me at home with my children- and for changing my heart regarding homeschooling them.  

Because I'll tell you, I have tried to get out of it.  Many times in the past I've found myself applying for small jobs, thinking that if only I could do SOMETHING to try and bring in a little income things would be less hectic with the finances.  I did try a couple when the kids were very young, and none of them lasted long, as they interfered too much with the kids or church or something that was more important.  The last time I applied for a job was just last fall.  A large retailer was advertising for holiday help, and they specifically were advertising a position that was early mornings Monday thru Saturday only.  Really early mornings- like I'd be home by ten and we could do our school day after that.  Saturdays were an issue as that's when I clean the church and Abigail has a ballet class early in the day, but I was sure I could clean later in the day and Andy wouldn't mind dropping the girl before he went about his business for the day.

I filled out that application online, and I have to tell you, I had such a sense of forboding about it.  Truly, for an extra job for myself that would work mostly with our family life, this was ideal.  I really didn't want a job, but at the time, this seemed like the most practical and best way to help our family get through Andy's lay-off time.   But I submitted the application, and boy, did I pray about it.  I asked a group of ladies online to help me pray about it as well.  I wasn't praying that I'd be called for an interview, but I was praying that above all, God's Will for my life, for my family, would be made abundantly clear above everything else.  And then the day came- a phone call from the hiring manager at this store asking me to come in for an interview.  I missed the call, and when I checked my voice mail it was quite a bit later in the day.  My heart sank when I heard the message.  Facts are facts, and I've never gone for an interview and not been offered a job on the spot.  I figured I would return the call the next day and start bolstering myself for a return to the workforce over the holiday season.

All along, of course, I should have recognized those checks in my spirit that this was not a course I should be seeking.  The forboding about even filling out an application, the dread when I heard that voice mail... Because wouldn't you know, that very evening the unthinkable happened.  Andy came home from work with a very real job offer from a local high school.  A part-time position within the school that has potential to turn into more.  That part-time job would easily pay double what I would have made had I gotten a job.  On top of that, this new job came with a new schedule, and I now needed to be available Saturday mornings.  I had to call and decline the interview, and that was such a sense of relief for me!

The thing is,  really, while I was dreading the experience, I WAS willing to do what I needed to do to help my family.  I always have been- every year I've assessed the options of putting the kids in the local school and getting a job outside the home, and the answer every year is a resounding no.  We are doing exactly what God means for us to be doing.  Sometimes that surely makes me wonder.  This time of year, so many of our friends are traveling to exotic places- visiting beaches around the world, Disney, or snowy resorts in the Colorado mountains while we sit at home and make do with our own forms of entertainment.  We know kids who have been all over Europe, and we barely can get out of Wisconsin sometimes.

But do you know what?  Oh my gosh, when I look back over these 15 years and I see how much we've grown- I don't even recognize those kids at the altar.  We have learned SO much, and even better, our kids have learned along with us.  On the very practical side, we've learned how to do a lot of things ourselves.  Andy has drastically (very drastically) enhanced his skill set with car repair, plumbing repair, and many other home improvement skills.  He learned most of those things because someone asked if he could do them, because they'd pay him to figure it out in their home.  I've tackled a very significant amount of computer repair, of all things, as well as greatly enhanced my sewing skills by doing alterations for other people who don't even know how to thread a needle.  For years I did costume alterations for our studio in exchange for tuition for my kids.  Most recently, I decided to take that skill set to a whole new level and have designed and created costumes from scratch.  A costume that saved me hundreds (literally) of dollars by doing myself.

Gardening!  I really and truly started vegetable gardening as a way to help feed my family, more than anything else.  The vegetable gardening has certainly done that, but on top of that, it's something I've truly become passionate about. I love to work in the garden.  I love preparing healthful food for my family from that garden and preserving the harvest for later in the year.  All skills that I never would have developed if I hadn't needed to get clever about making that grocery dollar stretch further.    

All these things that we've learned and dealt with over these years have changed us for the better.  Our whole family is no longer enamored with the latest and greatest things.  We have spent so many years being content without that we simply are that- content.  We are content staying at home while our friends hike through the Alaskan wilderness.  We are content sitting around the kitchen table playing a board game together instead of heading out to the movie theater or local gaming complex.  We are so much more content to create delicious meals at home for a fraction of the cost, rather than go out to eat.  I daresay, we are so much more than content.  Is it possible that a family could go through what we've gone through and be... Happy? 

Because we certainly are.  We have no complaints, as we have nothing to complain about!  Every year that my van continues to run with just a few repairs is another great thing to celebrate!  We rejoice over the little things, and we rejoice over the great things!  A few weeks ago I did a sewing alteration, and then took that twenty bucks and went and bought a DVD of a movie we enjoyed seeing.  You would have thought I brought home something truly magnanimous.  It was just a movie, but it gave my kids such joy to know we had it in the house, and we sure enjoyed watching that movie together when the temperatures dropped to twenty below zero yet again.

The thing is, we have not traveled these long roads alone.  We purposed to do it as a family, all four of us.  Everything that we've gone through, the kids have gone through, and I can see how this is only going to benefit them in the future, because they've literally seen the Hand of God on our lives.  They've prayed prayers that have been answered in such amazing ways.  They are grateful for everything we have, and know how much we sacrifice for them.  They know that as parents, we will love them forever unconditionally, and that we could be 110 years old, and if they still need us, we will do everything in our power that we can to help them. 

Because that, my friends, is truly what this journey has been about.  It has been about a Father's love for His children.  Sure, God could have taken away all this toil with just one word, but He didn't, because He saw how much we would benefit from such a difficult journey.  He saw how our faith would grow exponentially, and how our testimony would bolster the faith of those around us.  He saw our children grown to adults, looking back on the lessons they learned as children and being so grateful for the grace of God in their lives. 

For the outsiders looking in, to the Joneses next door, we sure look like we're lacking.  We're living in a tiny little home with little charm that looks really beat up from the outside, but gosh, do I love it here. (I truly wish there was a way to expand our living space, because I would totally consider buying this place from our landlords if there was a way to add on some storage and expand so we could have company and not feel like we're sitting on each other.)  There is a great peace here, and the location is almost as good as twenty acres of tillable earth in the country.   It's a great gift from a Father to his daughter to have a home that is full of peace for the first time in years.  My children are also a great gift, and the fact that God has made a way for us to spend each and every day together is overwhelming to me.  

A Father gives good gifts to His children, and I am overwhelmed by the daily joy and happiness that this life is for me.  We lack nothing and know that we are cared for in the palm of His Hands every step of the way.  

" If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  Luke 11:13

The Joneses have nothing on us, and I feel great sorrow for them that their eyes are focused on our bank accounts and material possessions.  We are rich in every way that matters.