Thanks to my mother's influence, I rarely dwell on the negative aspects of life. Even now, with my extended family facing some daunting challenges, I cope by mentally listing the things I am grateful for. I do this daily. I've always thought its nice on Thanksgiving to focus on the things you are thankful for, but there is just no need to leave this for a once-a-year occurrence. Ongoing happiness, at least in my mind, comes from the daily acknowledgment of one's blessings.
This past year has been vastly different from what I envisioned back in early January. I started the year pregnant with our second child, and instead we faced a second-trimester stillbirth and a subsequent first trimester miscarriage within the first seven months of the year. I dealt with these incredible, seemingly insurmountable, setbacks by focusing on that which I could actually control. This isn't always as easy as it looks. Shortly after I lost Bailey, my Sunday School teacher, I woman I have admired since I was a child, emailed me to say that when she had suffered a similar situation, she got over it when she CHOSE to get over it. At the time, I was a little perturbed over the advice. It seemed almost heartless. But she was right. I got better and moved on when I DECIDED it was time to do so.
You can't always control what happens to you, but you CAN control your response. And your attitude. When its all said and done, happiness and contentment come down to attitude. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to control my attitude, but a good challenge never hurt anyone. Our pastor preached a rousing sermon on contentment a couple of months ago, and that particular sermon has stuck with me better than most. He said the usual stuff you might expect: that contentment doesn't come from material things, that God must be at the source of your focus, etc. I've heard most of it before; after all, my own mother preaches that sermon daily. I didn't even think I NEEDED to hear that sermon. But apparently I did.
Material possessions have never been my driving force, but of course I enjoy having nice things. And after our long financial drought of the last few years, we were kind of looking forward to spending the money that was finally coming in. I had even seriously entertained the thought of buying a nicer car. I drive an Isuzu, for pity's sake. We did all the research, weighed all our options, compared prices, picked a reasonably-priced, two-year-old vehicle that I have liked for a while, worked out the financing in our heads to make sure we could pay it off within three years (my hard-and-fast rule of auto financing), and were poised to take the plunge.
And the very next day, the pastor preached a sermon on contentment. Ten minutes into the sermon, I leaned over to The Carnivore and whispered, "There goes my new car." Neither The Carnivore nor my mother (who I had said the same thing to when I talked to her after church) at first understood how I got that advice from the sermon. But I heard it loud and clear, like that deep voice you hope to hear from Heaven, "This is The Lord speaking..."
The thing was, I suddenly couldn't think of a good enough reason to spend the money on a new car. My current POS still runs fine, and its plenty big enough for my family. And, most importantly, it will be completely paid for in only a couple of months from now. Was I thinking of getting a nicer car just because everyone else has nice cars? Was it so people would know I could afford it? Was it to justify my own need for nice things?
Not good enough reasons. I didn't know for sure if any of those self-serving thoughts were at the core of my desire for a new car. Who really knows their own motivations all the time? Regardless, my motivation seemed suspect to myself, so I scrapped the idea immediately. And I was more than content with it (thank you, pastor).
So instead of spending money on a depreciable asset, I went back to my roots (thank you, mom) and decided to re-focus our financial goals on long-term investments. Expanding my empire, if you will. Since we acquired the land our house sits on now, I have stared with narrowed eyes over the driveway at the field across from my front porch, and have wanted it. And I mean capital letters, WANTED IT. Truth be told, I wanted it because I want my son (and our future child) to build a house on family land like I did. Obviously, I can't control whether or not they will do just that, but I hope I can show them how much it means to me to live on family land, in walking distance from my own mother.
And so the decision was made. Instead of buying that car I've had my eye on for the past year, we more than doubled our original acreage. Contentment for me comes from my faith, my love for my family, and from living in my dream house on more land than I ever thought I would own.
This can still be a daily challenge, being content. And it takes practice. But when I find myself bemoaning the loss of the last two pregnancies, I concentrate on Odd Toddler, appreciating how handsome he is and how fascinating it is to see life through his eyes. When I get cranky that we don't have the time to take a vacation, I look around myself at our house and our land, and remind myself that there is no place I would rather be than right here. And when issues come up that I cannot control, like the current ones facing my extended family, then I think of The Serenity Prayer. I used to think it was just cheesy (I'm not big on platitudes), but hey, if its good enough for millions of alcoholics to recite every day, then its certainly good enough for me.
The sheer force of my own will cannot give me an immediate healthy pregnancy, it cannot immediately emotionally heal my mother's children, and it cannot virtually erase our current concerns. But I can find contentment and even true happiness in not dwelling on these things today. I will not focus on the worries of the future, and I will not dwell on the awful things I hear on the nightly news. Today, I will hang out with my adoring husband, I will play with my quirky son, I will clean my house and set up my new (used) Potter's House bookshelf, and I will cook. You knew that was coming, right? Of course I will cook. Despite, or maybe because of, everything that is out of my realm of influence, I will try to make my own little world a more beautiful place for a couple of hours with a batch of fresh salsa, a few platters of stuffed mushrooms, and a couple of pizzas alla margherita.