Grandma Martha (my husband’s maternal grandmother) is usually talked of by her family as a woman of abundance. At Thanksgiving and other holidays, it is said she stuffed this house to bursting with good things to eat, because she loved to feed her family. Be that as it may, I find more and more dangerous and subtle indications that her heart was malnourished.
I have learned from reading my mother-in-law’s memoir that Martha was a woman with a deeply bitter spirit. She seems to have craved physical abundance, without ever attaining it. I know her life was brimming with disappointments, with her farmer husband barely surviving in his lifestyle, and scarcely providing for his family. We all think now Otto and Martha should have taken their remarkably talented children and concentrated on playing music for dances, forgetting farming and all its regrets. But they didn’t. Instead, they farmed by day, and played for dances by night, with their drummer son sometimes falling asleep in mid-beat…though he seldom missed a beat.
After she was old, and her first husband had died, Martha married a miser. Harry did not provide nice things for her, but he was her committed companion. They fished together, went places, and, according to the family stories, seem to have been content with each other.
Still, I wonder. I have found evidences of angry curses hurled from her lips, apparently at Harry. These curses, when left to roam, darkened various corners of my home, where cobwebs incessantly collected, and they choked the thinking and the air like smoke – especially above the kitchen sink, and in parts of the basement.
I have found thoughts of fear, and deep dissatisfaction, all over my basement. Martha seems to have been disgruntled at having to use clothes lines strung from beam to beam in the stove room (I have since rearranged them, which helped to cure the problem). She seems to have poured malcontent into the scribbles on the old canning shelves, which indicated so many quarts of carrots. Perhaps she was upset at having to do this work – at not being able to run out and buy just what she needed when she pleased…at having to use her hands so much in daily tasks. I am not sure. All I do know is that my downstairs has long been in need of some appreciation.
I began exploring this concept of appreciating objects, verbally, a couple of years ago. I had a chest freezer that visibly brightened when I told it it was classy (it didn’t want to be strictly utilitarian). I had placed it in our living room, because it fit there…and it felt the injustice of being thrown into a public setting after being relegated to obscure corners for so long. Today, it is happy to be of service, though it occasionally needs reminders not to allow…stuff, to collect on it needlessly. (More on encouraging appliances later. 🙂 )
The Nature of the Problem
This house has surely been overfull for most of its existence. It is all of 1,100 square feet, including the half-basement, which is divided into three little rooms. We have never established a date of construction, but assume the original structure (740 sq. ft.) was put up in the 1920’s, for workers at the local sugar beet factory, or perhaps the railroad. It may have been built to house more than one family at a time, and there are many similar houses in the community. After Martha and Otto gave up farming and moved into this house in town, they added on a proper kitchen, and a master bedroom. (The original kitchen was a tiny lean-to, which is now the laundry room.) Their five children divided up the downstairs rooms, and an unconnected shed that has since been many things. My son’s room, on the ground floor, was primarily a music room.
Martha’s and Otto’s abundance included not only children, but produce from a large garden, and tools and equipment to support themselves and their family.
Yet, in spite of this fullness, I find drifting attitudes of want. The house has mostly held an attitude of, “I have to be this full”…not, “What joyous abundance! I am serving my purpose by providing shelter and necessities to a family that is glad of me.” It has regularly attempted to reject fresh produce, whether purchased or homegrown. Bananas turn black within hours instead of days, and while wild yeasts multiply abundantly, making producing sourdough a breeze, trying to make a decent loaf of yeast bread has been nearly impossible. (I used to slap them out in record time, while growing up a half hour from here, and they always rose well and cut cleanly, even with 90% whole wheat flour.) I have not yet been successful in keeping house plants or in establishing an herb windowsill, with the exception of one Aloe Vera plant. (I know I am not the problem, as I can grow things elsewhere without abnormal struggle.)
Furthermore, neglect has tried to rain omnipotent. Incompleted jobs pop out all over, and while in places (the kitchen hardwood floor, for instance) Otto’s craftsmanship proves exquisite, it is obvious he felt compelled to cut corners. If you look carefully in the picture of the completed counter extension, you will see that this corner of the floor has never been finished. It has nearly always been covered by some piece of furniture or other, and so hidden. Some of the boards have paint on them, indicating they were taken from other projects, but it is a prime example of “making do” and living with secret regrets.
The finished product, which may not be fancy, but it suits my purposes, and leaves room underneath to stack firewood for the cookstove.
I doubt Martha and Otto ever learned to be truly content. For certain, Harry never did. Complaints bubbled from him like water from a powerful spring. Who knows what the original tenants or owners of this house thought, or how they behaved?
But my husband and I refuse to throw our hands up in surrender, and get mired under by the mistakes of generations past. Dissatisfaction and unthankfulness can go packing, thank you. Slowly, we are both proving victorious. We have gotten to a point where we are thankful for what we have, and have learned to turn many things to advantage. I am beginning to understand how Christ multiplied the fish and the loaves, at that great picnic in the wilderness long ago. It began with thanks for what He had. My husband and I can picture having more, and owning it free and clear. We can picture not only surviving, but thriving, because we have the God of order and provision on our side. We are learning to go after exactly what we know is best, and not just settle for what we can get quickest or most conveniently.
Most importantly, we have learned that when we are absolutely thankful for the opportunities and belongings that we have now, the more God is pleased to give us…and the more likely He is to pay attention to trivial details – like paint color and differences in design. Sometimes, He chooses to give us cash to go directly toward something, and sometimes He provides the object through someone else. Sometimes He surprises us with something we didn’t know we needed, or something that is different than what we were after, but that suits our purposes better. (My cookstove is an example of this – for me, at least. My husband recognized its subjective value immediately.)
So, we go armed while making changes to our home and our spirits. We remember constantly what God has given us already, in offering Himself as the absorber of God’s wrath, that we might be redeemed and find peace in Him. We remember what He has provided us with from His great store which reaches into all eternity, and the promises He has given us as His children and as co-heirs with Christ.
Neither do we forget to give back. When He provides us with one of His cattle from off His thousand-and-one hills, we do not neglect to share the wealth, with friends, family, and those less fortunate. It is the least we can do.
Read Full Post »