Gratitude can be found in unlikely places:
One can feel it while sitting in a chapel and listening to a fellow volunteer explain the Gospel parable to children, hoping to gain new insight, too.
One can experience it while watching bees hum around a honeysuckle bush that produced more reddish-orange blooms in a week than it has in a year.
One might find it in the simple yet challenging endeavor of winding pliable Eucalyptus branches around and through each other to form a wild wreath, however strange and ill-proportioned it may appear to visitors on your door.
Ironically, it can also be found in a change of circumstances that, on the surface, seems bad and unsettling.
And it can certainly be found, just like that classic Garth Brooks' song claims, in unanswered prayers.
Throughout this past summer and fall I thought the thing I really wanted was a new home for my family. I prayed diligently for God to guide us to the house that best suited us in the right location - not too far from work, church, schools and friends.
I walked into place after place and got discouraged. Often I didn't understand why I couldn't like a house. They were nice, but they elicited nothing from me save ambivalence. I kept praying, and - at last! - we encountered a house that felt immediately like home to me. I was so excited that I trembled as I texted my husband. It had the perfect rooms for our children, the ideal spaces to entertain friends and family. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the best location for schooling. We hesitated, and someone else made an offer while we were debating and sorting out the details.
Then another house, completely different from the first one we loved, came on the picture a few weeks later. It felt more like home than the first, seemed a better fit. As we quickly made our offer, however, other offers were coming in, and another family was blessed with that home.
So we toured more homes that made me feel uninspired, including one quirky one in a nice neighborhood in the right location that we didn't make an offer on because I was indifferent to its charms. Boy, was I being difficult!
Yet now I am grateful for the indecisiveness that resulted from my perplexing feelings.
Two days after Halloween we received some news that altered our circumstances; it could logically be perceived as an upsetting and unsettling change in our fortunes.
No longer could we continue to shop for houses. We needed to adjust.
My first emotions about this news were surprise and sadness at the conclusion of a long, important, and mostly fulfilling episode in our family's life. The news wasn't a complete shock, but it was of such a nature to make one take a step back to evaluate the future.
As for the house hunting? I was glad it was over! I was relieved!
It is always surprisingly refreshing to receive a slap in the face that reminds you of what's truly important to you in life. The larger, nicer home? Not so important to me it turns out. All that anxiety, all that discouragement for nothing. My faith is tried by silly things. Family, love, health and security - those really matter. Home is truly where the heart is. God didn't answer our persistent pleas, but now I understand why. Thank God for unanswered prayers. I cannot imagine the stress my family would feel at this juncture if we had gotten that big home we desired, that I desired for my family.
There was another feeling, too, that rushed in upon the heels of surprise, sorrow, and relief.
It was excitement. Perhaps a slightly inappropriate emotion to feel at the time, I definitely felt it. If the river suddenly changes course, one must anticipate adventure.
This change has come in Autumn, not the most auspicious time of year in which to face a drastic change in circumstances, but we have desired this kind of change for a while. It just came about in a more urgent way than expected, but I am resolutely - may God help me not to waiver - anticipating growth and opportunity to spring forth.
Lastly, though it is entirely secondary to more important considerations for my man and our kids, a most welcome opportunity for me followed the cease and desist of home shopping.
I got to write again.
I realized as I cried with joy the first day I earnestly played with words - not just spinning sentences in my head but actually putting paragraphs and ideas down - that no beautiful home could make me as happy as writing can, particularly writing on my book.
As I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, these are the things for which I am personally grateful: unanswered prayers; another Thanksgiving and Christmas spent in the only home my kids remember; brave, new horizons, diverse opportunities, and wide open possibilities; and a chance to renew the pursuit of my passion.
May we all be blessed with a well-timed slap in the face occasionally in order to realize what we really value! And may we learn to, not just embrace, but squeeze the life out of change.