We arrived here almost three weeks ago. As you might imagine, life has been a little overwhelming. Not only are we moving to a new place (although, when it comes to shocking changes, Ohio doesn’t really rank up there with say, Turkey or Japan : ) but we are entering into a new culture. It’s starting to sink in that we are really in the Air Force now (although, frantically digging through my purse looking for my military ID while sitting at the base gate on more than one occasion has helped solidify the reality in my mind.)
Our house is mostly unpacked (the picture is from the day after our stuff arrived), our boys have finished their first two weeks of school, we’ve been warmly welcomed (with hugs too numerous to count) at our new church and Paul has finished his first full week as an Air Force Chaplain. Once or twice I’ve felt a little lonely and have had to resist the urge to sit at my window waiting for an errant neighbor to walk out of their house so I can race outside (ostensibly to “check the mail”) and say “hi hi hi hi hi! I’m your new neighbor, do you want to be my friend???” (Really trying to reign in the desperation.) Instead, we take lots of walks around the neighborhood in the evening and talk to everyone who crosses our path, so hopefully some friendships will develop soon.
So that’s been our life in a nutshell. I’ll probably write more about some of those things in a future post. But I wanted to take a moment this morning and tell you about one of the many small ways that I have seen the kindness of God being woven into my life (and I’m making it a priority to look for these kindnesses knowing that they will come to me over and over because that’s just how my savior operates! Eph 2:7)
During our weekend-long, house-hunting marathon four weeks ago, my Mom and I were able to walk through the type of base house that would be available for us to rent. My Mom described the house as, “big, bright, well-appointed, and convenient.” My description was the more romantic and literary declaration (said in a gloomy voice), “it just doesn’t have soul.” But putting the value of “house-soul” aside, I had to admit that the base housing was convenient, affordable and spacious. Indisputable facts that pretty much crushed my sad little wish for a house with “character.” And while I could paint the plain walls and artfully arrange furniture in the boring rooms, I knew that I couldn’t do anything about the thing I disliked the most, the flooring.
Though Paul may live in his head (the flooring in there must be something amazing : ), I live in a house and was…bummed out (a 90’s term that feels appropriate) when I first saw the hallway, kitchen and dining area of that home. It was covered with grey, vinyl, “church-gym from the 1980’s,” utilitarian squares. So…ugly. Still, with my artistic part screaming “nooooooo!!!” the practical part of my brain overcame my aesthetically based misgivings and I had to admit that base housing made the most sense. So out of the ones available, I choose the one with the best setting, an address right in front of the fully stocked, catch and release fishing pond. I loved the spot then and love it even more now that I live here. The sun rises right over the pond and a family of ducks waddles its way down to the water every morning to the delight of my daughter who stands at the window and shrieks “DUCK!!!!!!!!!”
But that flooring : (
During that trip I began some self-counseling over my poor response to the gym tiles. I reminded myself that compared to the rest of my life, a kitchen floor just doesn’t rank as anything even remotely important (food and clothing are gifts from God and since he comes with them I can be content (1 Tim 6:8; Heb 13:5). Still, there it was, in the back of my mind always teasing me with depressing visions of institutionalized living spaces.
Right before we left to drive back to PA, my mom and I peeked through the kitchen window of our (empty, we weren’t being creepers!) chosen house. To my surprise and unreasonable delight, my kitchen had a brown patterned linoleum in the kitchen! “I can handle linoleum,” I thought, and then prayed, “Please God, Don’t let them ‘update’ this flooring to gym tile. I’ll live in this house and will have a much better attitude if it doesn’t turn into that depressing gray tile.”
(Come on, don’t you ever pray prayers as silly as this one? I mean, he already knows that you’re thinking those silly thoughts…I just lay it all out there!)
Almost as soon as I saw it, I thought of the passage in Matthew 7 when Jesus calls his disciples to faith after they questioned God’s kindness. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
I asked for linoleum, and God had given me laminate.
It was kind of a humbling first moment for my adventure in Ohio.
As I’ve noticed before (most recently in this post) there is an unfortunate assumption among Christians that God is really only interested in making you spiritual through the means of trials and hardships. It’s a very American way of thinking. Hard work, sweat and tears will make you a strong person/Christian so suck it up and shoulder through. You hate that ugly floor? It tempts you to be discontent? Well then, God will probably give me a lifetime of houses with ugly floors so that I learn to be content in whatever circumstance I find myself. (Apparently, this works off of the bias that God will always allow your circumstances to be personally distasteful…just part of the exegetically failed circular reasoning to this argument!)
Again, it’s as if we assume that God only uses the “big stick” of hardship to mold us into the image of Christ. But clearly, as I stood in the hallway of my new home, I was standing on a beautiful, laminate “carrot” from God. It was a good gift. It was a kind and loving gesture from God my father to me, his daughter. In this case, God was helping me learn to be content in a situation where I had the best possible outcome (as it pertains to potential floor coverings). Paraphrasing the apostle Paul, I could say, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need [read: ugly gray tiles], and I know what it is to have plenty [beautiful laminate!]. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty [beautiful home that I love!] or in want [ugly home that I hate.] I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
See? Both good and bad things helped Paul learn contentment. We just tend to forget that those good gifts are from God and not just random positive occurrences! God is teaching us all the time! Do you see both sides? Can you see the big sticks (loving discipline, Heb 12:6–7) AND the carrots (fatherly gifts, Matt 7:7–11) in your life?
You might ask, “Well, did your new flooring make you a stronger Christian?” Wouldn’t the ugly “stick” of gray tiles have been a better tool? Well, I guess I’ll leave that decision up to my heavenly Father (and you should too:-). I imagine that that sanctification process would have included lots of gritted teeth while mopping and an overabundance of area rug purchasing. What I can tell you is that nearly every day over the last two weeks I have been reminded of God’s love for me whenever I take that first step into this house.
To me, that is Christian growth, with no gray tiles necessary : )