Ch. 6, Post 6 – Contentment with Little Things

Contentment with Little Things

Reading that book with the peculiar orange cover that winter night was like talking with an old friend, one who knows you well enough to finish your sentences.  I felt like Helen Hoover had covered many miles by my side, if not physically at least emotionally.

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Fortunately, I had learned that books can provide friends when I was still a very young child, although I would not have phrased my appreciation of books quite that way.  As a shy young girl, I had found friends in books and had gratefully escaped into the pages of “Black Beauty”, virtually every book in the “Black Stallion” series, “White Fang”, “Call of the Wild”, “Beautiful Joe”, ”Little Women”, and dozens of others.

As an even shyer adolescent, books grew in importance in my life. While I did have some friends and did participate in some activities, my greatest pleasure was always the safe solitude of reading a good book.

Making Much of Little

This passion for reading helped, of course, with grades but most of all, it soothed the loneliness that accompanies painful shyness.  And it did, indeed, provide friends, especially as I began to identify favorite authors, topics, and genres.

As a newly divorced single parent, this love of reading led me to self-help books that started the healing of damaged emotions, a healing that began to be completed when I finally went to counseling.  But my favorite book of all, after I gave my heart to Jesus, was the Bible.  Here, I found true friendship, comfort and all the love I could absorb.

Yes, love of reading was a priceless gift that had served me well for all my life.  On that chilly Florida night, so long ago now, reading gave me as much pleasure as Cinderella must have felt at the ball.

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I walked the five steps to the kitchen, refilled my chipped brown bowl of crackers, and snuggled back under the scraggy blue blanket.

The winter wind whooshed between the long row of apartment buildings, paused, then whooshed again.  Each rushing gust tapered off to a low, eerie moan.  The top of the kitchen vent pipe clanked as it fell back in place after each onslaught abated.    Florida was rarely that cold, and the weather helped me identify even more with the Hoovers in their Minnesotta cabin.  I smiled and started another chapter, as content as I could possibly be.

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Chap 6, Post 5 – When hard times drag on. . . and on

When extreme thrift does not seem enough.

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That first winter, though, the Hoovers nearly starved.  (As they learned later, folks in that area helped each other out and would gladly have helped them that winter.  However, the Hoovers were city-folk and had no idea that potential friends, eager to help, were closeby.)

Helen and Ade had miscalculated how much food they’d need that first winter, a fact discovered after the only general store in driving distance had closed for the season. Because a blizzard kept all roads impassable for weeks longer than normal, the Hoovers faced true danger.

Miraculously, it was caring for the forest animals, who were also near starving that winter, that provided for the Hoovers.  True animal lovers, they shared their corn with the deer and squirrels, and Helen dipped into the flour bin each morning to bake two huge pancakes for the birds.  The squirrels stayed close to the cabin all day, and, gradually so did the deer.  The birds grew so accustomed to their breakfast provider they would land on Helen’s hand and gobble up the two pancakes she held, pancakes that would have given her and her husband extra nourishment they needed.

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However, such close contact provided Helen with keen insights about animal behavior for her stories and it let Ade observe the tiny details that made his line drawings so realistic.  Because of their love and care for their forest friends and the lessons they thus intentionally learned, Helen’s animal stories began selling, as did Ade’s drawings.

Effects of Poverty

Throughout their life in the big woods of Minnesota, the Hoovers faced many of the same dangers the Ingalls family did in “The Little House on the Prairie”.   http://amzn.to/1ZpVvQu  (Here is a link to purchase a that series of books.  I cannot recommend these encouraging stories highly enough, to read with your children as well as for your own pleasure!)

The Hoovers had to struggle to keep warm in below freezing weather and had to stretch  beyond reasonableness, a scanty food supply.    Helen ordered the food, that is, canned goods and staples for the entire winter, via mail order.

When the shipment arrived on day in late fall, they had to store it in the middle of what little floor space they had left in the little cabin.

I laughed out loud when I read that part.  I had only to look around me to know just how they felt.  I hadn’t finished putting away all the groceries from the monthly shopping trip Sharon and I had made that day for our own big grocery order for the month.

Over by the window stood that case of corn and another case of assorted canned goods as well as boxes and bags of cereal, pasta, oatmeal, cookies, and pop tarts.  Other boxes and bags stood on the floor by the door and even on top of the television.

I smiled.  Lack of space, buying in bulk to save money and counting every penny twice were all things I understood.   I also understood the struggle the Hoovers had to remain hopeful, despite the odds, that their dreams of making Helen’s writing and Ade’s drawing profitable provide an income so they could stay in their beloved forest cabin. . . and keep on writing and sketching.

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Chap 6, Post 4 – Hard times teach gratitude for the basics

Frugal Luxuries

That evening, with Sharon all tucked into bed for the night, I poured some of the taco-flavored cheese crackers we had just bought into an old cracked ceramic bowl.  Then I wrapped myself up in our old blue blanket, and curled up on the good end of the loveseat with The Gift of the Deer.  (Available at Amazon at http://amzn.to/1JEa23V

 During that year I typed at home, reading any book for pleasure was a true luxury. With so much transcribing to be done I dared not strain my eyes during non-typing hours.  This book, though, turned out to be a special treasure.  It provided inspiration and strength for many years to come, just as The Little House series had already done.  Somehow, I knew all that while reading those first ten pages in the library.

Another Thrifty Family

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Helen Hoover’s clear recounting of the same type of problems I’d faced clarified my own thoughts about living in difficult circumstances, things like making do and doing without, stretching each nickle, and inconveniences like small living space.  Also, Helen and her husband had made deliberate decisions to shape their lives around the things they valued, no matter the cost to other conveniences or luxuries.

The story was of a couple, Helen and Ade Hoover, and their decision to leave the Chicago suburbs and live in a log cabin in the Minnesota woods.   They both were kept busy just trying to survive and had only a few precious hours each day on their writing and drawing, hobbies they hoped to make profitable.  The long, severe Minnesota winters were themselves challenging as was getting supplies like food and heating oil.

Every little task required great effort and planning.  For Ade to make the trek to the general store to mail Helen’s stories and his drawings required careful planning ahead so that, for example, he could chop enough wood for the entire day the trip would take while Helen would be alone in the cabin all day.

Paring life to the bone, though, gave them keen appreciation of the blessings  they typically had taken for granted back in the city— food, shelter, warmth, and companionship.  Their simple life and their struggle with the elements taught them to cherish nature and the wild creatures they discovered who lived in the same ten acres of wooded forest they owned.   Chipmunks, birds of all kinds, otters, beavers,  badgers, and bobcats and were common sights.  And of course, the deer.

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Chap 6, Post 3 – Thrift sometimes takes a bit of work

 

1stacks of groceries second

Thrift sometimes takes a bit of work. 

Getting our month’s worth of groceries, and Sharon and me, wedged into the old silver Mustang was a challenge, especially since much of the food was in those cardboard boxes with the fronts cut out.   Things just wouldn’t stay inside or stack very well.  We managed, though, with much repacking, rearranging, and as always, much laughter and mutual teasing.

 “Why didn’t you tell me that box wouldn’t fit in the trunk?”

“You know if we eat three bags of cookies and two boxes of cereal, right now, everything would fit in the back seat just fine.”

Finally, everything in those two buggies was in the car, and so were we.  In the front seat, Sharon rested her feet on that case of corn and held the thermos of Kool-aid between her knees.  She bit into a chocolate chip cookie.

“Mmmmmm…”

I leaned back against the headrest and closed my eyes. The car, parked in the shade while we were shopping, was cool and a light breeze dried the sweat on my forehead.  I bit into a cookie. Sharon was right.  The cookies were good.  But even better was my anticipation of a month’s worth of plenty of everything Sharon could possibly want, or need, to eat.

Twenty minutes later, we were turning into the library parking lot.

“Don’t we have to go home and put the groceries up first?”

“No, baby.  Remember, Jewel-T doesn’t sell food that has to be refrigerated.”

The library – a priceless gift for our little family.    1library

Sharon spent the next half hour or so in the middle reader section, in a delicious state of indecision.  Should she pick one of the few Beverly Cleary books on the shelf we hadn’t read or save some for the next time?  And which book in the Bunnicula series did she want next?

Meanwhile, I had found two more books, one on philosophy and another on creative thinking, and had copied the Encyclopedia Britannica’s 15-page article on aesthetics.  How I loved studying whatever interested me!

I was about to meander over to Middle Readers to select my own books to be reading with Sharon when the incongruity of a bright orange binding among all the black, gray, and dull green, stopped me.   The title of the volume, “The Gift of the Deer”, and the author, Helen Hoover, both were unfamiliar.  Being a library edition, the book, of course, had no jacket to describe its contents.  Per force of habit, I flipped it open about one-quarter of the way from the front, intending to sample a few paragraphs here and there every few pages or so, my usual method of getting a feel for a strange author.  This time, it took only two samples before I sat down on the nearest footstool and just read.  That’s where I was, five minutes and ten pages later.

“Mommy!”  Sharon’s stage whisper sounded slightly accusatorial.

“Where were you?  I’ve been looking all over for you!”

“I’m sorry, baby, but I started reading this book about this couple who both quit their jobs in Chicago and went to live in a log cabin, just like Little House, only this is in Minnesota instead of the midwest, and . . .

With difficulty, for the next hour, I turned my attention to the tasks of getting our books checked out and lugged to the car and of getting us, our books, and our groceries home and lugged into the house.

Chap 6, Post 2 – Making lemonade in hard times

Treasuring Our Family Time

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“Are we ready to go, Mommy?”

“No, not just yet, sweetie. I have to put some Kool-Aid in your lunchbox thermos for you and some water in last year’s thermos for me.  You know we’ll be thirsty by the time we get there and do all that shopping.  We’ll be hungry, too. But, you know what?  We’ll just eat some of whatever cookies we decide to buy. ”

“Or Little Ann oatmealcakes?”

“Sure, baby.  We can get some of them, too.  We’ll have a nice snack while we shop.  You know we are going to buy a lot of food today!”

Five minutes later, we were in the car and on the big road, as Sharon called the interstate.  I smiled as I looked at her.  She was obviously in an expansive, the-world-is-my-oyster mood.  The smile on her face was as big as Christmas.

The wind zipped through the open car windows (yes, even in Florida we had no air conditioning in the car) and swirled her strawberry blonde hair in semicircles around her face.  By hiking her right shoulder up, she managed to rest the entire length of one skinny little arm on the edge of the window, affectionately and possessively.  The gesture reminded me of young boys stretching to put a soon-to-be-manly arm around their mother’s shoulders at church and PTA meetings.

Always mindful that she would all too soon be a young adult, I used every outing to explain a bit about driving skills or to practice navigation.

“See if you can tell me whether to go left or right at this next fork in the road.”

“Look up ahead.  See that car pulled off to the side? When you see a car stopped like that, change lanes if you can, so you won’t go by them so close.  It’s safer that way.

            At the store, we each got a buggy and two or three of the empty cardboard boxes tossed in a wire cage at the front of the store. At this store, you “bagged” your groceries yourself, in those boxes, which was another way they kept prices low.

“You can be in charge of your own buggy, sweetie.  You decide where the heavy stuff has to go and where to put the bread and cookies so they won’t get smashed.

“Okay!  And I think I”ll put the big box of laundry soap on the bottom rack, with the toilet paper.”

            Grateful for food to eat.

Off we went, to load our buggies with canned corn, green beans, spinach, fruit cocktail, tuna, spaghetti sauce, cookies, crackers, flour, sugar, and rice.  Sharon’s eyebrows disappeared under her bangs when I put an entire case—24 cans-—of whole kernel corn in the bottom of her buggy.

“Mommy!  Are you sure we can afford that much?”

She smiled so big I thought surely it must hurt when I put three boxes of strawberry pop tarts and four packages of individually wrapped oatmeal cake snacks in her buggy.

“Wow!  That’s enough for lunch every day and for after school!”.

Jewel-T offered near wholesale prices by handling only generic brands and offering no frills, not even shelves. The fronts of boxes in which food was shipped cut out and the boxes were stacked, beside each other, making ersatz shelves similar to the shelves and aisles in typical grocery stores.

HEADS UP!! Unjealousheart website is now called “www.stopfeelingpoornow.com

During the Christmas holidays, I have been busy trying to improve on blogging.   Although I will continue blogging my book that explains how to stop you and your child from FEELING poor, even if you are, the unjealous heart website is changing to http://unjealousheart.com  – giving you and your child an UNJEALOUS heart.

Please help spread the word – and please, as always, pray!

Chap 1 Backstory: Part 2 of 2 – Facing the effects of our poverty

So, what events set the stage for this story to happen?

[A] Out of desperate unhappiness, I gave my heart to Jesus in April 1981. I had to hit bottom before I could look up. I was divorced in 1977, when my daughter was three; in 1981 she was seven. Her father faded out of her life in sync with fading child support. I would be the only parent Sharon had, so I set two goals that guided my life for the next 11 years.

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  • To mature as a Christian as fast as I could. Things did not get perfect overnight after April 1981, but the unhappiness and fear were replaced with a measure of peace and joy.  I did not want to mess up this relationship with God!
  • I resolved to take the very best care I possibly could of Sharon, no matter the cost to me.

These two goals still anchor my life, although they now include my son-in-law and two grandsons.  I have never regretted one thing I did for Sharon or what I am still doing for her and her family.  It is a priceless privilege and joy, a t rue gift from God!

[B] In pursuit of those two goals, we went to a Friday night Bible study at the Wexel’s house. I never once hired a sitter so I could “go out.”  I cherished each moment of each evening with Sharon.  By going to the home Bible study with me, Sharon got to play with the two Wexel girls, and I did Bible study and made friends in a relaxed setting.  At that time, painful shyness still crippled my life.  I needed all the help I could get in making friends. I needed Christian friends to encourage me and help me grow, which was a two-way street.

[C] I “gave all of me to all I understood of God.” And I have done that ever since. I sincerely hope you will not see this as bragging.  It is simply the truth. I was VERY grateful that our lives were better and so I clung hard to Jesus and wanted to do what I knew He had said to do. So, I studied the Bible, prayed, attended church, tithed and gave offerings, and made friends with other believers.

My life verse

Many Christ followers have what they call a life verse– a verse in the Bible that they try to live by and that has shown to be true in their lives over and over.

My life verses are Proverbs 3, verses 5 through 6:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (New International Version)

[D] Through living out Proverbs 3:5-6, Sharon and I met the Wexels. As Chapter One shows, that friendship eventually nudged me to face and change my horrible attitude about our finances. By God’s grace, I began making changes so I could give my daughter the gift of an unjealous heart.

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Chap 6, Post 1 – Finding contentment in hard times

Chapter Six

Feeling Content

The rhythm of family life           1music notes

When I think of our life together in the years of Sharon’s childhood, when the series of thunderstorms that was adolescence was a barely perceptible and muffled rumbling a great distance away, I often see us together in the car.

It is the repeated and regular comings and goings, to school, to work, or the home of a friend that establish the rhythm of family life.  That rhythm is the framework within which special events and especially memorable adventures occur, much as rhythm is the framework within which grace notes flutter and syncopation charms.  For some families, it is the coming and going to and from work and school that establishes this rhythm.  For others, it is the presence or absence of a father whose work frequently takes him away from home.  The rhythm of life for Sharon and me consisted of being home together, being away from home, or being in the car together.

Gratitude for little (really big) things

A trip in the car together meant we were leaving our precious little home and setting forth, together, into the big, wide world. The physical proximity of being in the car together enhanced the camaraderie and our sense of adventure.  So did the fact that Sharon was a fully-informed, and involved participant. She was my partner, in every outing.  It had been so since the divorce, when she was three.Then, her skinny little legs were so short they had to stick straight out in front of her as she sat on the front seat beside me and held the eggs when we bought groceries.  I called her “the best egg holder in Florida” every time.    Now, when she sat beside me, her feet rested on the floor and she often had a pad and pencil in her lap, making a list of our errands in endearing irregular and large childish print as I spelled slowly.

“L – i – b – r – a – r – y, g – a – s,…”

“Wait a minute, Mommy.”

“Sorry.  I’ll go slower.  Are you ready?  S—–t—–a—–m—-p—–s…”

Making Much of Little

Thursday was our grocery shopping and errand running day, and, as with other things, I worked hard to make the little I had to give her seem much.  During the week, I asked her to add items to the list we kept on the fridge

“Please add ketchup to the list, baby.  K – e – t – c – h – u – p.

I also purposely involved her in decision making.

“What flavor of jelly do you prefer, sweetie, and what kind of snack cake do you want for after school this week?”

And, of course, I talked about our weekly shopping trip both before and after it happened.  When I took her to school on Thursday morning it was, “Don’t forget, we get to get groceries tonight!” and on Saturday morning, “I’m glad you wanted to try a different kind of jelly this week. You picked out a good one. This sure tastes good! ”

Our monthly adventure into true thrift

Our monthly trek to the u-pack-it bulk grocery, however, truly was an adventure.  I didn’t have to work at making it seem so.

Jewel-T was on the other side of town and any trip beyond the sphere of our little suburb was unusual enough to feel special with a capital S by virtue of that fact alone.  But not only that, for our monthly grocery stock-up trip we left early on Saturday afternoon with an empty car and we returned home with our car interior as well as the trunk stuffed with enough canned and boxed imperishables to feed us both for the next month.

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It is truly hard to say who enjoyed the whole process more, Sharon or me. In childhood innocence, her smiling face and the twinkle in her eyes told me she felt we were rich to be buying so much food.  As for me, having that much food stored up comforted me in a way so fundamental that I nearly cried each and every time, simply out of gratitude.

Chap 1 Backstory: Facing Poverty – Part 1 of 2

Major Benefit of This Blogged Book

One benefit of this blogged book is that it gives you proof.  I have lived out these principles, or guidelines, for overcoming the effects of poverty for the last 33 years.  My simple story shows they work!

Timeline

As the foundation for the backstory, here is a timeline of how this book came to be:

  • 1982 – As a new Christ follower, a mature Christian couple took my daughter and me under their wing. (This is the “Wexel” family in the book–not their real name). That was the first time ever  I was befriended by someone I considered wealthy.
  • 1985 – I began writing this book (originally entitled “The Happy Have-Not”.) During three years of close friendship with the Wexels, God helped me change my attitude toward having and having not.  This in spite of the fact that we still were, most definitely, living through hard times.
  • 1999 – A Christian movie producer, who saw an article I had written that summarized “The Happy Have-Not”, called to express interest. Needless to say, this was a HUGE pat on the head from God for me.   The producer said things were better for authors to get the book written first.  So nothing happened – except I tried to finish writing it ASAP although I was working full time and going to school half-time.
  • 2001 – I finished the manuscript and a proposal the same year I entered graduate school. I mailed it to a publisher but then stopped trying after two rejections.  School consumed the next four years, then I worked full-time from 2005 through 2012.  In 2012, I relocated to Texas to be with my daughter and her family.
  • 2015 –After three years of delightedly devoting most of my time to helping with my two grandsons, I began this website and my other one http://fredafarmer.net

And here we are, you and I, on this journey together.  I’m having fun and being so blessed in the process – hope you are, too!

Comparing. . . Grasping a Grenade

Comparison and gratitude cannot coexist.

Last October, I attended a class reunion and saw some childhood friends I I had not seen for over 30 years.  Mingling has never been easy for me, but I did mingle (at least some!) because I wanted to know how people were doing.

As I looked around me and saw faces from high school, I began the habit of thought I had had way back then – comparing.   As a teenager, I had felt inferior in just about every way, though in fact me and my family were not. Painful shyness had accentuated that feeling.

As I stood among my former classmates, I began thinking.   What would they think of my 325 square foot apartment, my thrift store decor, and my meager annual income?  Never mind that  I was blessed to have retired early so I could relocate near my daughter and her family.  Never mind that my current economic status was my choice, that I had resigned from a well-paying job on purpose.  Never mind that I had overcome the habit of comparing ages ago and was even blogging a book about it.  That old habit just reached up and grabbed me!

Trusting God stops comparisons

Then, thanks be to God for a truly  changed heart, common sense surfaced.  The gratitude and joy of this life God has led me to bubbled up from within as I recalled that true riches are intangible.

True riches are available, even in poverty.

True riches are the peace God gives when you are living in right relationship with Him.  True riches are the fulfillment of loving and serving those in your life and beyond, for His purposes.  True riches are the unseen things, which God says are eternal.  Love is among those things that will never die, and God sends that daily from His own tender heart,  and from family, friends and often strangers to whom I reach out.

We CAN develop gratitude

Researching for this blog helps prevent most comparisons.  I find a lot of good ideas. Author and blogger Kay Wills Wyma wrote an excellent book on this topic  – “I’m Happy for You (Sorta. . . Not Really:  Finding Contentment in a Culture of Comparison)” .   The title says it all, right?  You can purchase this life-changing book and others by Kay at http://amzn.to/1YPC7GY.   You can also follow Kay’s insightful, and hilarious, blog posts about parenting FIVE kids at http://www.themoatblog.com/

Reach out for contentment – and you will find it!

Would you reach out to grasp a venomous snake, the blade of a butcher knife or a grenade? Comparisons will  not do as much physical damage, but they will:

  • poison your perception of the good in your life,
  • pierce your heart and leave a wound that must be healed, and
  • worst of all – destroy your happiness as well as the happiness of those dearest to you.

Dear Father in heaven,

In this “culture of comparison”, please empower me to grow closer to You and to set my heart on  unseen, eternal things.  Show me how to be a good and godly influence to those You place in my path.   Thank You for your countless blessings, Lord!  Help me see them and remember to thank You, for I know all good things come from You.   I love You Jesus!

Amen.