Monday, January 10, 2011

Lessons of Gratitude in Colombia

  It is gratitude Monday.  As I was pondering why developing the habit of thankfulness has made such a big difference in my life, I thought about how each and every time we visit Colombia, I am struck with the incredible differences there are in our standards of living here in the USA.  Seeing others being content with far less than we have is a profound lesson in humility and gratefulness.

Some of the things I take for granted are:

lots of hot water, and lots of water pressure
clean streets
most everyone obeys the traffic laws-it's not chaos
 drinkable water from the faucet
I do not have to lock the doors on my house
there are a million things to choose from in the grocery store
if I couldn't afford to feed my kids, I would not have to beg on the street
if I couldn't afford medical care, I would not be turned away

In Colombia, I have seen mothers with babies or very small children begging, or worse: sleeping on the streets in cold weather with only a small blanket or coat over them.

I have seen the poorest of the poor, so many of them, digging through trash at night with their hands, finding whatever might be there to eat or use or resell.  In Colombia, they are called the Recyclers.

I have seen men who pull large carts themselves, full of fresh produce or other things for sale.  The men who have a little more money use an old, skinny horse to pull the cart. 

I have seen small children working, selling packets of gum and crackers or shoelaces at little stands on the side of the street.  

I have seen poverty to such a low level as I never imagined it could exist.  It almost seems that we do not even comprehend what that word means, here in America, where even the very poor have televisions and foodstamps and medical care for free.

Most of the Colombians I know are simply happy with less.
They have much smaller and plainer homes,  they walk or take public transportation most of the time, they do not have all the latest stuff from Best Buy, or much stuff of any sort, in general, and most of them drive tiny cars if they own a car at all.

I don't have to beg on the streets for food for my children.
My husband has a good job.
  I get to stay home with our baby and the ten year old whom I homeschool.  
Our older kids go to great schools.
We live in a quiet, lovely neighborhood with zero crime.
We have a spacious home and we can take long, hot showers whenever we want.

Reading Crazy Love and Radical really spun me around.
Visiting Colombia again spun me around some more.

I am learning to be grateful with less, in this time, in this place, with whatever He gives. 

I don't need different possessions, and I don't need different circumstances in order to be happy.

I need to know the Lord, and love Him, and trust Him.

For this lesson, I am SO grateful. 

  More gifts:

* Casting all my cares on Him, for He cares FOR ME!
* celebrating another's triumph
*courage to speak
*self-control to be silent
*all of us together - sharing life
*laughter over hazelnut hot chocolate and homemade cinnamon rolls
*watching a friend's quiet strength while her oldest son is stationed overseas in danger
*quiet, slow-falling snowflakes, that quiet my soul as well and take my breath away
*letting go of fear, yet again, and falling into the arms of God
*a friend's beautiful, beautiful birth

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thankfulness, finally!

I have been meaning to do this forever.  I started counting toward my 1000 Gifts, which I was inspired to do from Ann Voscamp's most awesome blog, A Holy Experience, a long time ago.  Privately.  In my journal.  Sort of embarrassed and amazed that I was at such a point in life that I had forgotten how to be thankful.  There are times when life can be so dark, so difficult, so stark and cold and battering, that yes, a daughter of the Holy God and Loving Father can almost, almost forget that she is loved.

But I started counting gifts.

And I have learned SO MUCH.

I started with the silliest things because I was a bit cynical and dark and thought nothing would shake that hold on me.  So I chose to be "thankful" for air to breathe, a comfortable bed, clothes and food, my husband and children.   And as I, wrapped in grief, let myself speak to ALMIGHTY GOD, I could not say these things flippantly.  I had to acknowledge that He has, truly, blessed me and given me these things and so much more.

Now I remembered what I had forgotten:  That God's hands are evident, all the time, everywhere, all around us.  His love is all-encompassing, and we owe Him our most heart-felt praise and gratitude.

We can see so much more than we see now, if we practice.  We need to use the eyes of our heart.  We look.  Then we see.  We hear.  Then we listen...and amazingly, we understand.  This is also a gift.

Somehow, as we start to just say Thank You, to the Lord, for whatever we have, (and all of it He has indeed given us), we learn that there is one more thing and one more thing and one more thing again, that we have been GIVEN, lovingly, preciously, from a Father that is full of grace and mercy,  and our hearts are moved.  We are changed.  We see that our lives can be an act of praise and we want to find even more ways to give Him adoration for what He has done and is doing, and will do!

My list so far is in a journal, and I try to jot them down five or ten at a time, but I don't think I am  going to recreate that list here - that would take forever and would probably not even be read. So here are current ones, fresh from my heart that is still learning to be grateful for all things, big and small.

*older brothers and sisters playing with the baby, of their own initiative
*warm homemade soup and bread on a cold night
*new books to read from Christmas
*blankets from the dryer to snuggle under
*cloudy, sleepy days
*encouraging, grace-filled sermons that seem preached right to me...and then the same simple message repeated by random friends, music, the book I am reading on an unrelated topic, and then echoed in prayers.  A. MAZ. ING!
*freshly washed diapers
*unexpected chances to touch someone's life
*knowing someone's struggle so I can pray - and care