Do His Gifts Get Our Gratitude?

“Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘How shall we be clothed?’ …your heavenly Father knows you have need of these things. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be given to you. ” –Matthew 6

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I did the bravest, most insane thing we have ever done: we moved to Alaska.

Sure, my husband had a job and his salary was nearly double the one in Virginia. Which would have been great, if everything else in Alaska didn’t cost double, too.  In a few years, his salary will rise dramatically, which is why we’re willing to put up with these first few lean years. But in the meantime, I’ve witnessed God use something uniquely Alaskan to help me grow in faith.

Most Alaskan towns have large, public refuse areas. Our town’s area consists of about 30 giant green dumpsters, along with one covered platform. You dump your trash there, then leave any still-useful household goods under the covered area for other people to take home. Residents can stop by the “reuse center” and take home anything they want for free.

People leave the most incredible things on these platforms: appliances, clothing, beds, toys, exercise equipment, pianos. The leavings are so impressive because Alaska is so far from the Lower 48 that it’s too expensive to take anything out of it except what’s absolutely necessary. I’ve never seen this level of recycling in other states, but it’s certainly in line with Alaskans’ desire to be good stewards of their pristine environment.

As I prepared to move here, no one could tell me how to calculate 15,000 pounds of household goods, which is what the moving company allowed. And since anything over that had to be paid for by us, not my husband’s employer, I got rid of household items faster than Obama eliminates Constitutional rights. (You can read about the actual process of purging and its unexpected spiritual benefits here.) For instance, I limited our family’s clothing to what we could carry in suitcases on the plane, which meant only winter clothing since we moved in December.

Then, as the earth is wont to do, it turned and changed seasons. I had no idea how we were going to outfit four kids for summer on an Alaskan budget. But within a few weeks, I had culled enough t-shirts and shorts from the reuse center for all the kids several times over.

The first sign that our finds were more than just lucky breaks was the bikes. Our Virginia house had a very steep driveway that sloped straight down from a dangerous road to the garage, making bikes pointless. Our new neighborhood, however, is paved, flat, and has only one exit, making it ideal for biking. As soon as breakup hit (what we Alaskans call spring), our bikeless children had to mournfully watch other kids flying past the yard on mountain bikes and cruisers.

One day in mid-April, I called a friend on my way to the reuse area. I asked her to watch for used bikes for us at garage sales and I’d reimburse her if she found any cheap ones for us. I got off the phone as we pulled up to the reuse platform…just as a man was unloading several bikes from the back of his truck. My kids flew screaming to the bikes. We were ecstatic to find two that would work for our daughters.

On the way home, I got a phone call. It was my friend, saying she had just found a bike for our son for $13. Within 10 minutes, I had scored three bikes—two girls’ and a boy’s, exactly what we needed. Less than a week later, I found a bag with three kids’ bike helmets in it–again, two girls’ and one boy’s.

A few weeks later, I went to get out my beloved black Crocs and found I’d lost one during the move. With some unexpected medical bills from the past winter, I knew new ones would just have to wait. Then I remembered a friend from Virginia, a mother of 7, who told me she point-blank asks God for what she needs very specifically. She’d say, “God, you know my husband is unemployed, but I still need $800 to pay the mortgage and I need it by Thursday.” Each and every time, the money–often, exactly $800–would turn up the day she’d asked for it. I’d always marveled at her childlike faith, so on my way to the reuse area one afternoon, I decided to emulate it. I prayed, “God, I know it’s a tall order, but if you could have a pair of Crocs waiting for me there, I’d be so grateful.” I knew the chances were slim, not just because of the specificity of the request, but because I have ginormous feet and wear a size 11.

Sitting on the platform that day was a pair of Crocs in my size. And not even Mario Batali blaze-orange Crocs, either (which I would happily have worn), but a nice, conservative navy blue.

Still not convinced He’s real, Mr. Dawkins?

Another time, I mentioned how nice it would be to have a few extra ice cube trays, since we no longer had our icemaker fridge and it was tedious constantly filling up the two ice trays we had. Three days later, I found two ice trays sitting on the platform.

We homeschool and I was drafting an interdisciplinary unit for our kids on inventions to start their school year off in September. Imagine my delight when I found a box of kids’ encyclopedias sitting there about inventions.

My cheap purse was so frayed I wondered how much longer it would last. But I held onto it because I needed another backpack purse, the only kind that would leave me hands free and able to carry a squirming toddler. So naturally, God left a gorgeous leather backpack purse sitting on the platform for me.

I gained some weight and couldn’t fit into most of my pants. God told me He loves me anyway by sending me a pair of perfectly fitting jeans. (That alone should convince any woman they were from God.) My son grew like a weed, so God prompted someone to leave him a boy’s Columbia winter coat in one size up. We sold one of our beautiful red microfiber couches to buy groceries, only to find a beautiful overstuffed chair–in the same shade of red microfiber–waiting for us.

I have many, many more examples, but you get the idea. If I’ve learned anything this year (other than how to bake my daily bread), it’s that God really and truly is a devoted, loving father. That he would provide not only the things we need, like clothing, but also little luxuries like bikes and a pair of Crocs, shows me just how much he delights in giving good gifts to his children.

I think, though, that too often we take our Father’s gifts for granted. Instead of being grateful we have a house that keeps us safe and warm, we lament that we don’t have a bigger or nicer one or that we have to clean it again. Instead of thanking Him that we have a car to visit our family and friends, we complain that it isn’t newer or bigger. We get irritated that we have to spend another day changing diapers and preparing meals, forgetting what a gift it is to have diapers in the first place and a healthy baby to put them on, as well as food to give our precious children.

And sometimes, it’s not that we forget, it’s that we don’t even realize we’ve been blessed. How many times have you gotten a little extra money…only to have the fridge or car break down? I’d get so frustrated by this in the past, thinking that  “every time we get ahead a little bit, something breaks!” Then one day I realized: the money was there precisely because God had anticipated our need. It was my heavenly Father, who knew the fridge or car was going to break down long before I did, sending us the means to fix it.

St. Therese once said, “Use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.” Take a moment right now and look around your life: What hidden blessing do you thank the Lord for today?

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