Actual outhouse. Taken from my sister’s house! Photo credit: Stephanie Raquel.
I’m in the middle of a new online bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries and Melissa Taylor. We are going through the book, Stressed-Less Living by Tracie Miles. We’re only on week one, but already I am loving this study! It reminds me of some powerful lessons I have learned about blessings in the past seven years.
In the spring of 2006, I learned I had thyroid cancer. That fall came another surgery and again — another cancerous tumor. The thyroid was so enlarged that my surgeon was convinced she’d carved into my vocal chords and I would not have any voice — it would be gone. Permanently. My husband e-mailed prayer-warrior friends around the globe who began praying that my voice would be spared. Indeed, it was … severely, severely damaged, but it gradually returned to full strength, by God’s grace.
The next few months were very critical toward determining if my cancer would be successfully removed through surgery and medication alone, or might require radioactive iodine. My surgeon was reluctant to recommend the iodine though, because it can lead to a different type of cancer in 20 to 30 years. She said she really preferred not to use it, unless you were age 55+. However, I was only in my mid 30s. So we hoped and prayed that medication would work as its own form of chemotherapy, and surgery would be successful. The initial post-op bloodwork didn’t look favorable, but we were told it would be four months before we’d know if it worked or not. The critical numbers she was watching — total thyroblogulin levels — would need to be below 10.0 to be successful … though ideally, it would be below 2.0. We hoped and prayed and finally, in February, 2007, we got the word that the surgery had proven successful. The numbers were below 2.0
Cancer-free. At last!! And … I had a voice! Thank you, God. So incredibly blessed.
The very next day, however, would prove to test our understanding of patience and suffering. My husband was laid off from his job with an advertising agency. Really, Lord? Did you really just do THAT? You take away my cancer, and the very next day give us another job layoff? (He’d also been let go following a post- 9/11 corporate restructuring.) How can this be?
Eventually, my husband took a new position with a start-up that involved a whole lot of faith, and very little income. We lived on that faith for a year before some money started trickling in — half of his budgeted salary, thanks to a generous investor. But in the end, half of something certainly trumps nothing of something, so we were grateful for God’s provision. We truly didn’t have a lot, but we had a lot of love, and we were thankful. We were the epitome of Proverbs 15:17, which says: “Better a small serving of vegetables with love, than a fattened calf with hatred.”
And so it began. We started asking each other each night at dinner, “How did God bless you today?” My girls were 2, 4 and 7 years old at the time and quite honestly, some days were so hard that all I could think to be grateful for was indoor plumbing. At least I had that.
Because my sister lived in a national forest in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, in a converted summer home, and had to buy her water for every winter by guesstimating the family usage in October. The only problem was, they had no idea when the weather would cooperate and their usual pipes would be turned on again for spring & summer — it was all dependent on when the aquifer wasn’t going to freeze. Sometimes, it was mid-April. Other years, mid-May. And so despite having granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances and breathtaking views and world-class skiing practically in her backyard, they also had an outhouse. An outhouse which might come in handy for a few days, or even up to a few weeks.
Yet, in every home I’ve lived in, I have had indoor plumbing. Year ’round. If nothing else, for that alone I could be grateful. So, we began sharing these stories each day at the dinner table, or sometimes right before bed. After a couple years of focusing on God’s blessings each day, we added another question: “How did you bless God today?” And incredibly, we began to see how oftentimes God blessed us while we were in the midst of blessing others. My young daughters would sometimes paraphrase for young friends joining us at the dinner table, “What did you do today to make God smile?”
Tracie Miles reminds us that one of the ways we reduce stress is to recognize that stress “typically does not come from the situations in our lives, but rather from the ways we can handle those situations.” Stress is bound to happen, but we need to respond with the Lord’s goodness in mind. In other words, we are to focus on what God has already done for us, and how we are blessed. She encourages us to make a list of blessings that we’ve maybe taken for granted, and spend time in prayer thanking Him for difficulties of life that He can somehow use one day for His greater purposes.
So, here is my list. Among several things, I know God has blessed me with: a great marriage, three fantastic daughters, and one guinea pig. Sunny days. Rainy days. Friendships that sharpen me. Siblings who check in with me and make me laugh. Prayer partners. Wonderful neighbors. A king-size bed that I love! The chance to travel and see family and friends. A great church. A cute umbrella. Hot tea. Hot coffee. Iced tea. Iced coffee … we could go on down the whole coffee shop menu! But … you get the idea.
And yes, indoor plumbing. Such a gift! I am blessed.
Oh, so very, very blessed. Thank you, Lord! What about YOU? How has God blessed YOU today?? I’d love to hear it!
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By the way, for those who are wondering … no, my sister does not live in that house any longer. She, too, now has fully functioning indoor plumbing every day of the year!