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DEFINING CONTENTMENT

seabrook2I pedaled my rented bike through the gated ocean side community of Seabrook, South Carolina where homes are more than magnificent and unpretentiously shout wealth. There are pricey cars parked in driveways and the pets on leashes are purebred only.

Association members assumed I was a member of their private community; they smiled and nodded to me as if my bike and me belonged in their inner circle. But I didn’t belong to this million dollar community and never will.

A twinge of envy surfaced as I rode past homes with manicured landscapes, breathtaking ocean views, hired services, not to mention, money. These homes, along with the purchased amenities, require enormous wealth. As an onlooker, I can only imagine what it would be like to walk through the front door of these homes. The exterior beauty must certainly represent what lies inside.

My bike ride destination was a planked wooden path that led to the ocean. It was low tide so I was able to ride along the hard-packed sand on the beach. There were occasional stops to look at jelly fish washed ashore or to scout out special shells for the grand kids. Just off the shoreline dolphins would occasionally display their stealth beauty while sea gulls skimmed the water’s surface in search of their next meal.

The ocean and everything within it seemed content with their assigned purpose in the cycle of life.

As I left the beach and cycled back to the resort, the bike pedals rhythmically rotated to the word contentment. I considered what makes me long for things I don’t have, and certainly don’t need in an effort to have a contented life.

Contentment is a state of mind; an acceptance that some things can’t be changed. A dolphin will never be a jelly fish; and unless I win the lottery, I will never belong to a million dollar community by the sea.

A grateful heart brings contentment.

The exterior of someone’s life doesn’t necessarily display what’s inside. Inside those beautiful homes by the sea there may be addictions, poor health, debt, loneliness and discontentment. Possessions don’t buy contentment. It is only when we are truly grateful for what we have and accept those things we cannot change that contentment is birthed.

Wealth does not bring contentment or peace within. Should you have both, consider yourself blessed.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things (and be content) through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

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BASIC GIVING 101

heartThatGives“It’s time to get up for school girls.” As my mom walked out of the bedroom I threw back the covers of my warm bed and jumped down onto the cold wooden floor. I couldn’t have been more than age five or six, but I knew what a cold floor meant; we had no heat.  The oven door would be open so my sister and I could warm ourselves before eating breakfast.

I don’t know about you, but my family struggled financially when I was kid. I would watch my daddy leave the house in the bitter cold of winter with lunch pail in hand. We had no car so he would walk five miles to work and back, often in the dark.

When the propane tank was empty, the oven provided temporary heat and school clothes were hand-me-downs from cousins and friends. Shoes were purchased too big because mom knew they couldn’t afford a new pair anytime soon; so ‘room to grow’ was the rule of thumb.

Imagination was my childhood toy chest.

There were Christmases where gifts were not wrapped because there was no money for paper and tape. Times our family would return from church and find bags of groceries left by an anonymous donor. I shared a room with my sister as well as a bed; we had few toys so our imagination was our toy chest.

It was over a cup of coffee that mom recently shared stories of the many hard times she and daddy faced in their early years of marriage. She spoke of the times daddy couldn’t find work, when the cupboards were bare and there was no money for propane or school clothes. Even now, at age 83, my mom’s eyes watered with tears as she opened her heart about those difficult times. When she finished talking, I gently clasped her hand and said, “Mom, that’s not how I remember it.”

Children remember things so differently.

My childhood memories included the Thumbalina doll my parents bought but couldn’t afford. It was every little girl’s dream doll and it never occurred to me mine was the ‘look-a-like’ version. There were the Friday night trips to the Flint Public library where we would stay until close, or the rare trips to McDonald’s golden arches for a burger and fries. I watched Flintstones, Felix the Cat and Casper cartoons while mom cooked dinner; the smell of fried potatoes with onions still evokes wonderful childhood memories.

We were poor, but content.

We were poor but I lacked nothing. I had love, shelter and family; nothing else mattered. Unlike today, there were no TV shows, commercials, internet or smart phones to persuade us we should be unhappy and discontent because of what we didn’t have.

The front porch was my dance stage, playhouses and spaceships were made of cardboard boxes found in the trash bin behind the local grocery store. My second-hand bike had only one gear; it was the ‘pedal me hard if you want to go fast’ gear and a trip to the zoo or drive-in movies was considered a vacation.

So what is my point?

Life changes dramatically over the course of time. My mom eventually completed a degree in education in her early 40s and my dad completed an electrical apprenticeship program. The sacrifices my parents made to reach those goals provided my sister and me with many comforts, privileges and opportunities in our teen years.

By the grace of God my parents were able to break free from their poverty and sense of hopelessness. For many individuals there is no window of opportunity; that’s my point. When God helps us to rise above our own life circumstances we have a responsibility to help others do the same.

You can gift a bag of groceries, send a check to help with a tuition payment, offer a job, loan a car, gift a tank of gas or simply send a card with heartfelt words of encouragement. When you reach out to others in need, God has promised this,

“Give and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”  Luke 6:38

Giving isn’t just for the holidays.

If you profess to be a Christian, helping others is a year-round ministry. Is there a young family that needs financial help with diapers and formula for their baby, or an elderly person who can’t afford the cost of a prescription?  Each of us has something to give to someone less fortunate than ourselves. It could be time, money, a shared meal, a ride to work or just listening.

“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.” Deuteronomy 16:17

God does NOT expect us to be an ongoing welfare program for those in need. What God DOES expect is our willingness to provide to those in need as He speaks to our heart. I challenge you to discover the rewards of generosity. You won’t be disappointed.