I have a picture here of a Mom and Dad and three kids who lived on practically nothing and yet had the time of their lives most of the time.
While pouring over old photos of our family recently, I came upon some pretty funny shots and precious memories of our family’s growing-up years. Sure, there were the hard spots, troubles, mistakes and burdens and heartaches. But from this old photo, I see a family with joy in their eyes and laughter on their lips.
It reminded me of the biggest blessing that God has given me.
Can you guess what it is? I’ve been thinking about the years we grew each other up (I think the kids taught Mom and Dad more than we taught them!), and the journeys we’ve taken.
I remember a time when I was making a batch of peanut brittle before Christmas. It was just about time for the kids to come home from school. They walked across about a mile of open country with our neighbor’s boy, Richard. Brian always had trouble with this one kid who would beat him up after school. So this one day, while I was in the midst of stirring the pot of candy (and you have to KEEP stirring it or it is ruined), Richard burst into the house with the words, “Mrs. Work! Come quick! They’re beating up Brian!”
Well, what would YOU do? What would any loving mother do? I kept stirring and said, “Okay. I’ll be there in a minute. Go back and tell him I’m praying for him!” I’ve never lived that one down, even though my whole family enjoyed the peanut brittle. I defended myself by saying that I didn’t want to waste the ingredients. By the way, Brian survived. Sherry (who was in kindergarten) rescued him by hitting the bully over the head with her lunch box!
There was the time in Lillooet when Brian went bike riding with his friends. I didn’t know it, but they rode over by the cliffs (it was all uphill or downhill in Lillooet) by the school. I was cooking dinner when he came into the house, wearing a shirt that was totally bloody. I thought at first he’d been shot in the chest and almost died. But then I saw blood leaking from his head. When I asked what happened, he rather shamefacedly told me that the other boys dared him to ride his bike down the steep cliffs, so he did. He didn’t reckon that those big rocks at the bottom of the trail might prove to be a problem, and when the bike hit them, he went into a cartwheel and landed on the ground, his head split open. He picked himself up and pushed his broken bike about two miles home! The gash in his head required ten stitches. Brian survived, but I almost didn’t!
We didn’t have a lot of money in those days, but we always had a good time.
We invented games. One of them was a glorified hide and seek through the woods. At a provincial park near Seton Lake, we split up into two teams. The first team would sneak off through the woods and leave signs of their passing for the second team who came behind, followed the signs. This provided endless enjoyment for our kids. Or we would go to one of the many streams in the area and wet our fishing lines, rarely catching any fish, but having a good time outdoors.
Hiking was free and there were plenty of mountains.
Brian would complain about having to climb for the first half of the way up, and then he would shoot ahead of us and get to the top before us. After we caught our breath for a half a second, Dad would say, “Hey, I wonder what’s on up there?” And he would point to another peak just above us. We would groan loudly, and he would have to put his plans to explore the rest of the mountain on hold for another day.
There were times when we lived in Portland while Dan was going to seminary that we would run out of food. By picking up bottles, we would go to the grocery store, get cash for the bottles, and buy something for dinner.
I remember feeling like the richest woman in town when I discovered I could buy two cans of tuna fish for a little over three dollars!
Tuna is one of the food items that my kids still refuse to eat! The grocery stores would have “food wars” and give-aways. One was free garlic bread. You could only get one with each purchase, so we divided up our purchases and sent the kids through separate lines, gaining several loaves of bread!
The King’s Closet story is another one I love to recall. The college had what they called the King’s Closet, a basement room where married students could get free food and supplies that had been donated. We had visited it several times, but there was never much food there. One day we were completely out of groceries and had nothing to eat for dinner. I suggested trying the pantry and Dan agreed. When we got there, we discovered the shelves had been filled to overflowing and we filled many sacks with delicious food!
We had little money, but God provided a hike up into the mountains to a glacier.
Family nights were sacrosanct.
During that evening, we put on skits, played table games, told stories around campfires, did crafts, read books, planted gardens, rode bikes, hiked, and played ball in the park.
Money and blessings are not the same. You know what my biggest blessing in life is? Not having a lot of money.
That’s right; you didn’t read it wrong. I’m surprised at myself for writing that line because I’ve belabored God’s ears for far many years with my request for money. If you were to look at my devotional journals in which I recorded my prayer requests, you would see that I asked God for money to pay off a bill or to help Brian get through college or to buy a better car. That huge million dollar check never arrived, even though I mustered up a enough faith and was (and still am) positive that God could provide it.
But He did not. He left us scrounging in the couch cushions for enough change to take the kids for an ice cream cone. As I look back on it, this is my biggest blessing, and these are the reasons:
1. It kept me on my knees, humbly pleading with God for our basic necessities.
It kept us focused on the fact that GOD, not ourselves, was the giver of all good gifts, and we lived each day by His grace. I remember looking at but never buying things like an answering machine, a pair of nice slacks, some shoes, a book. I remember prioritizing my grocery list and not getting half the things that were on there. I remember wanting to buy things like a good camera, or a computer, or a van. We only dreamed of those luxuries, and waited for God to provide. Eventually God did provide them, and I praise Him for all His good gifts.
2. It has kept our family close.
There never were, and never will be, any fights in our family about who gets what or who gets the money, possessions or stocks (which we don’t have!) when we die. We laughed when we took a Larry Burkett class on how to handle your money. The homework that week was to list all your assets and write down how to access them. We had a very short list. When we looked around at our meager possessions, we chuckled. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about that,” Dan said.
We have the sort of family that if one of us are in need, they will get a check in the mail from someone in the family who wants to help out. We have the sort of family who can get together and spend five days laughing, talking, remembering, telling stories, and enjoying one another without any conflicts. I’m not bragging. The love that we share in our family is the product of many years of struggling with finances. When we faced this problem with the Lord at the center of our lives, it drew us close together like nothing on this earth could.
3. It taught us the true meaning of satisfaction and happiness.
What makes a person truly content? It surely isn’t a fat bank account, the ownership of houses and land, or a huge financial portfolio. It is Jesus Christ and His love in our hearts. I’m not in the least bit sorry that we didn’t have a lot of money when the kids were growing up. God gave us peace of mind, a satisfied soul, the treasure of love shared, and the joy of knowing we were doing God’s will. What more could you ask?
My biggest trial turned into my biggest blessing. Praise God!
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where you treasure it, there you heart will be also.” Matt. 6:20