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On being content

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Christmas is not usually a season of practicing contentment. Advertisers do their job well in making their wares look enticing, like I just can’t live without it.

It’s very likely children and adults are making lists and checking them twice to make sure everything is there. We will leave the list in an obvious place so the powers that be will find it.

When our son was young, we had the Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog. It was a special day when it arrived in the mail. He would sit and look through the colorful pages for hours it seemed. I later found page corners turned down and big bold circles drawn around the item he wanted on each dog-eared page.

We didn’t get everything he requested, but we tried to quench his hungry, child heart with what we hoped would make him happy.

The thing is, it’s not the stuff that makes us happy.

At Christmas I find it challenging to think of gifts for friends my age. We have lived years gathering, and our homes are full, running over even. In a day when off-site storage units are popular, obviously, in our United States, we are a people who have much and want more.

The young people I know are much the same, well-dressed with lots of tech gadgets and plenty to occupy them in the way of books and games. One mom confided that toys scattered on the floor of their modest home for their only child can be overwhelming.

We live in a land of plenty. Why aren’t we content?

Thus, The Marvelous Mud House was a book I wanted to read.   Image result for images the marvelous mud house

Written in a child’s format by April Graney, the book is beautifully illustrated in bright colors by Alida Massari.  The author tells how the story came to be here.

The Marvelous Mud House first takes us to Kenya where we meet George and his mother. They live in a mud house and work daily for their sustenance. Mama George sings a song of thanksgiving during their daily trek up and down the mountain to sell corn and mangos at the market.

On the other side of the world lives an affluent American family who have a home for all seven of them, a big car, lots of toys and a dog. Yet the children bicker and whine, despite the plenty in which they live.

All George wants is to be able to go to school. But his mother doesn’t have the necessary fees. She tells him with profound faith, “Let’s keep working, George. God will provide.”

The Smith family in America decides to travel to Kenya where they meet George and his mother. They are affected by the simple lifestyle and the joy within the hearts of two who have so little in comparison to the Smiths.

When the Smith family return to America, they are changed for the better. The rest of the book tells how their heart change is put into action.

Toward the back of the book is a Parent Connection page with Scriptures to read and questions to encourage conversation between parent and child.

We may need to consider our true riches in Christ and to be joyful for what we have.

Contentment is something we can learn. We begin to acquire it when, in our bounty and in our scarcity, we realize we hunger for what truly satisfies. We discover we can trust the Provider who gives exactly what we need.

I want to pursue contentment in my present circumstances, and like Mama George, to say with a profound faith, “Let’s keep working. God will provide.”

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NOTE:   I received a copy of The Marvelous Mud House provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

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A day at the fair

The Kentucky State Fair holds lots of memories for me. Yesterday morning Sweet William and I made our way there.

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Though we arrived in the morning hours, “Lot Full” signs appeared again and again as we kept driving to find parking. Lot 23 was on the back side of the ball field. But we were here and I was excited.

Sweet William, in his mobile scooter, and me, in my most comfortable shoes, headed for an open door and air conditioning. It was warm already. August, the state fair, hot temperatures. It’s a given.

We came upon the outside mule exhibit first and I love the mules. They were washed, brushed and looking beautiful, strong and muscular. Several leaned their heads for me to rub their faces and talk gently to them. And those ears – long and velvety. Who wouldn’t love the mules?

I recall my dad telling about working with mules on the farm when he was a boy. He had a different way of describing them, but then he had a completely different view of them from behind a plow.

I felt the cool air as we neared the livestock building. First in sight were the chickens in their colorful and exotic feathers. In my younger years, I would have owned chickens and gone for fresh eggs each morning for breakfast. These days I have friends who share their bounty, the colorful shells intriguing me. Blessed are those who share.

We looked at the variety of pigeons and rabbits, winding our way toward the goats. The goats are so sweet. I would have had goats too, milk goats that would give me delicious milk each day.

Next were the cows. Their big brown eyes win me over. I’m told my grandmother always had a jersey cow, a smaller breed that gives rich milk. The thick cream would rise to the top of the bottle. I can only imagine how that would taste in my coffee.

Yes, in my younger years, I think I could have been a gentle-woman farmer.

We came to the items entered for judging. I scanned the antiques, sure that I have things that old at home.

Sweet William and I searched the handmade quilts isles until we found my cousin’s entry, a beautiful gold and purple creation. Though she didn’t get a ribbon this year, her entry hung there for all to enjoy, and I am proud of her accomplishments.

I roamed through the artwork and admired the creativity and time it takes to bring forth a work of art, whether on canvas, with cloth or wood, cooked on the stove or in the oven, or planted in the earth. God, the master creator, has imprinted His image in us, giving people the opportunity to build, design, plant, craft and make something beautiful with our hands.

Food was next on our agenda, and we were looking for the Pork Producers. Bar-B-Que sandwiches and french fries only taste this good at the fair. We found a table near the end where another couple sat. We chatted and discovered they were from Bowling Green. Conversations wound around to children and grandchildren. Theirs live within two hours of driving time. I’m thankful when I hear families living near one another. I can’t help but wish my own were close enough for me to drive there for the day and come home.

God knows things I can’t figure out. I continually remind myself to trust Him with the unanswered questions.

I wanted to go through the exhibits hall where sellers of all sorts of goods are set up. It’s fun to see what items are popular and drawing the crowd. The food equipment displays always seem to attract attention as the demonstrator tells how we simply cannot live without having this vegetable peeler or that pot.

We stopped long enough to inquire at a couple of booths, and wouldn’t you know it, we walked away with some purchases (not the pot or the peeler). I just hope each one lives up to the hype that sold me on the product.

We saw some friends while we rested for a bit. It’s always fun to chat on the spur of the moment.

I people watched and that was entertaining. Some of the outfits folks wear these days are interesting. I had to wonder if we all need to look in the mirror just one more time before we leave the house.

While Sweet William’s wheels were still rolling strong, my feet were getting tired. We paused for ice cream cones, and I was refreshed enough to begin the walk to Lot 23 and the truck.

It seemed longer this time. I was well worn and my legs were tired. I’m pretty sure I got all my steps in today, though I might have canceled them with that cookies and cream waffle cone I devoured.

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Loaded into the truck with the air conditioner at full blast, I settled in and let me feet relax. I needed a nap.

At home, Maisie was so glad to see us. I washed my face to cool down, drank more water, and was ready to put my feet up and drink a cup of coffee.

Our day at the state fair was a simple, fun adventure for us. Sweet William and I have altered our bucket lists as the years have changed us. We aim for what is less complicated, what will not create undue stress on bodies and minds. We’ve learned to adjust to what we can do and let go of what we can’t. It’s still a challenge some days to be grateful for the good things in our lives and not focus on what we don’t have or can’t do.

Life is like that for all of us, I guess. God provides all we need, though sometimes I want more. I remember that the apostle Paul learned contentment and I can learn too.

My grateful list includes this day full of blessings at the state fair.

 

Thursday’s Thoughts

School begins this month and supplies are in the store. I get excited and want to shop, even though I don’t go to school any more. But who couldn’t use a new notebook or some fun pencils? They are hard for me to resist.

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While in a favorite discount store this week, I saw the fall decorations had already filled several isles. Such lovely items were enticing, with a message to “buy me.” I resisted, at least for the moment, since I have plenty of autumn decorations. Besides it’s August and summer and I’m still looking at school supplies.

But I know before the month is over I’ll be saying, “I’m looking forward to fall.” I do it every year. It is a human habit, I guess, to want what I don’t have. In winter, I want spring. In summer I long for fall. When I see school supplies, I want more pencils.

Being content with what I have takes conscious effort. Otherwise I continually look for something else to satisfy me, something that will give me a happy boost that is fleeting at best.

Working toward goals is healthy. Moving forward to improve ourselves is a good thing. Creating a better world for myself and for others is honorable. But when wanting more consumes me so that I cannot relax and enjoy this very day and all I have been given, it becomes something of a god to me.

And I only want to give allegiance to the one true and living God who provides all I really need.

And those are my Thursday thoughts.

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Sunday grace

“Have I lived enough? Have I loved enough?
Have I considered right action enough, have I come to any conclusion?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?”
                           — Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Jesus warned us that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

So why do we spend our lives working feverishly to accumulate more stuff? So much stuff that we then have to clean out closets and have a yard sale or donate to Good Will. I preach to myself.

Love God. Love others.

Jesus’ teaching was that simple. Putting it into practice is not quite so simple because we are pulled away to other things. Distractions. Cares of life. Being too busy. Selfish interests  The craving for physical pleasure and for everything we see. Pride in our achievements and possessions.

These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

Having food and clothing, let me be content. But wait, that is contrary to the American way.

I seek to be content, learning what that looks like day after day. In this present circumstance. Where I am called to walk. In the place I am appointed to serve.

Have I genuinely lived my one precious life to the best of my ability?

Have I faithfully loved those God has given me to love?

Have I been truly grateful for His abundant blessings?

Have I looked for and recognized His grace in and through and over all the hard and easy places?

I’m still working on it. By His grace.

Sunday grace.

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Seeing God

“What if gratitude is more about seeing the face of God? Of locking our eyes on his and remembering where our help comes from? Perhaps gratitude is not only a discipline but also a gift, one we are given in special measure just before we pass through the door to suffering.”  — Roots & Sky, Christie Purifoy

Give thanks in all things for this is the will of God. I practice it regularly as a discipline. I am commanded to do it.

Perhaps at times I felt like I was doing God a favor by noticing the beauty around me and saying “thanks.” Maybe hoping to chalk up points for good behavior.

Spiritual disciplines are good. They are not rule-keeping or legalism. I understand that. But sometimes I wonder if I discipline myself for the right reasons.

We walk, exercise, push away from the table and eat less sugar and salt. It’s good for the body. We learn to do something new, work Sudoku and word puzzles, read good literature instead of consuming so much internet or television. It’s good for the mind. We practice prayer and Bible reading, attend church and participate in mission projects. It’s good for the soul.

So daily giving thanks is good for something, isn’t it?

What have I really expected from it as I list my three or more gifts of the day? I’m not sure. I read the words by Christie Purifoy and ponder them. Seeing the face of God and locking my eyes on His? Does gratitude do that for me? Not always.

I want to see the face of God instead of the petty things I focus on too often. I want to lock eyes on my Savior and behold His beauty instead of allowing the things of this world to shadow and cloud my vision.

It happens easily to me. I can’t seem to get over myself. It’s something someone says or doesn’t say. It’s an expectation I have that fizzles like a wet match. My plans, the way I wanted things to turn out just didn’t. And before I know it, I’m less than grateful and my eyes began to look downward. I didn’t get the attention I thought I deserved or the reward for my labors. The world will simply not revolve around me.

My vision darkens as I look inwardly at myself. I am blind to the gifts and the Giver.

Being thankful for every good and perfect gift can bring my heart back to the center if I do it consciously, intentionally and for the right reason. The discipline of it lifts my eyes upward. Even when trials and trouble appear and it is not perfect at all, this is a gift if it turns me back to the face of God. Once again I know He is enough for me.

I have sought for and fought for contentment. It is an on-going struggle. I have prayed for Him to be all I need. My mind knows He is. I want it planted deep in my soul also. I want to be consumed with His utter completeness. I want to be filled with the Spirit. I want to know Emmanuel – God with us – so sufficiently that other things have no room to dilute my satisfaction with Christ and Christ alone.

I’m not there yet. I will continue to lift my eyes unto the hills and beyond the horizon, past the moon, sun and stars, to the heavens where His throne is. And I will remember He has come to me, to make His home with me, to be with me and in me.

Perhaps I will glimpse His face and it will be enough.

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Photo by Elena Walls

And a simpler time

Sweet William and I went on a little jaunt the first sunny day of our week.  We needed to get out of the house and on the road.

Our destination was a small historic town about an hour away, an easy drive on the interstate or a nice wander on the back roads less traveled.  Today we choose the interstate.  We will save the back roads for spring when yard sales will pop up along the way.

One of our favorite stops is the store run by the Amish community there.  It is organized, clean and neat as a pin.  Today it’s a flurry of activity with a variety of customers and the Amish women workers, dressed in typical plain dress.

They converse easily with one another in their own Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, but speak to the “Englishers” in English. Of course.

One of the best things about this store is the bakery all the way in the back.  The fresh backed smells greet us before we get to the busy area where donuts, bread, cookies, and other delicacies are on display.  The women are busy preparing the goods as we peruse the choices.

I pick a caramel topped cream-filled donut and Sweet William chooses a chocolate one.  Bar none, these are the best donuts in the world as far as I am concerned.  And yes, I’ve been to New Orleans and sampled their beignets.

There’s a carafe of coffee, free for the taking, so we each get a cup, find a bench close by and sit to enjoy the taste and texture of these wonderful confections.  Shopping in the store will come later.  Right now it’s all about the donuts.

As we leave the store with the trunk of the little black Honda full of deli meat and cheese, fresh farm eggs, herbs at ridiculously low prices, plus a myriad of other things, we see two young Amish women walking home.

Amish country

{Photo from The Amish, PBS documentary}

And we wonder what their lives are like in the simplicity in which they live.  They are not encumbered with multiple digital devices beeping and pinging.  No hundreds of cable channels to choose from with programs and advertisements that intend to influence and persuade.

Their lives are regimented with work and worship, family and fun, learning and honing skills that sometimes seem almost forsaken.

Our world has become complicated.  We have made it so.  We are not self sustaining any longer.  We depend on so many others for our daily needs.  If we should loose electrical service or, heaven forbid, the entire computer network should crash, life would cease as we know it.

But on the Amish farm, their lives would proceed as usual.

I’m not saying I want to be Amish or go back to a life like that.  Personally I like indoor pluming and hot water at the turn of the faucet.  I’m glad to flip the switch and suddenly there is light.  I enjoy the convenience of the internet and quick messaging.

But sometimes I feel this life style has controlled us.

There is something appealing about the simple way in which the Amish conduct their lives. “Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free.

There is a freedom in a less encumbered life.  And perhaps there is a way to simplify my own.

In my Season of Lent this year, of living in the moment, being present and trying to really experience this one wonderful life I’ve been given, leaning into simplicity beckons me.

Maybe I need to examine the many commitments I make so quickly without much thought and decide if all of them are really necessary, really for my best.

Do I need more clothes, more shoes, more books, more canned goods, more stuff?  Can I regard what I already have and discover it again?

I could pursue the simple pleasures found where I am rather than lust after what is out of my reach and be dissatisfied.

There is a place where I can be at rest, be at peace in the simplicity of the life I have today, this very minute.

And I think it is here that will I learn a little more of contentment.

Christmas beauty

I read the following words from Rhonda Quaney and just had to share them with you.

“. . . everything is simplified by the beauty of a woman in love with Jesus.”

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That’s the kind of woman I want to be, the kind of beauty I want to have, the life I really want to live.

deeper waters

Go with me to Deeper Waters, and let your soul breathe deeply.  You will be glad you took the time to read.