There was a time in my life that was less than wonderful. When I was pregnant with our oldest child (from a previous marriage) we purchased a house for $5,000.00. As you can imagine that house was not in a beautiful neighborhood and was not in good condition. It had suffered a fire several years before and was left to fall apart. When we moved in, there wasn’t a working toilet, there was a 5 gallon bucket or a 3AM trip to the Holiday gas station up the street. There was also no hot water. My kitchen was the equivalent of a stove, a refrigerator and two cupboards that we had hung on the wall, which was exposed lathe. I had to boil water to wash the dishes in a Rubbermaid tote in the shower stall, boil water to take a sponge bath in that same Rubbermaid tote in the shower stall. During the winter months the cost of heating a house in such condition took almost all of my meager $19,500 yearly wage. The insulation of the house was so poorly that even with the heat running at 75F the house was bitter cold, so cold in fact that the upstairs was uninhabitable for 6 months out of the year. Instead we sleep on a sofa that just appeared in our house one day (I’m pretty sure it was found abandoned, I didn’t really want to know where it came from) and a van seat for another sofa. We were poor.
I was so ashamed of our living conditions that I wouldn’t allow my family or friends to visit, I shut myself off from the outside world. The only people in my life where now my (ex) husband, his immediate family and his best friend. My co-workers had no idea the condition of my house. Everyday I put on my best clothes from a discount rack in Sears, put on a fake smile and went to work at a local lab. It was a lonely and miserable existence.
When a young woman thinks about her first pregnancy, she has all these visions of people gathering around her to enjoy the arrival of her first-born. Our daughter was also the first grandchild in my family, so you would think the excitement would be doubled. Not so. Our daughter was born on Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year. I cringed to think of the house that I would be taking her home to. We went home on Christmas Eve. There was no large crowd or parade of guest to welcome home the baby. There was no flowers or decorations to honor her arrival. It was just her father, myself and this tiny person I now had the honor of protecting and raising. That Christmas Eve was a bitterly cold night. I wrapped my newborn baby as warmly as possible and placed her in a small crib next to the sofa. We went to sleep. I awoke a few hours later, not to a baby crying, but to the freezing temperature in our house. I jumped up and grabbed my sleeping baby and clenched her to my chest. I then quickly ran over the thermostat and to my horror I read 40F. Forty degrees! I have a newborn baby, what am I going to do!?! I tried desperately to wake my sleeping (ex) husband. He yelled at me and went back to sleep. Now, hysterically crying, I begged him to get up and fix the furnace. Our baby, I yelled, she’ll freeze! No response. My mind was racing, how could I keep her warm, how could I fix this situation? I considered taking her out to our van and sleeping in there with the heat running. No, not enough gas. I couldn’t take her down into the dirt floor basement, it would have to be 20-30F down there. I was stuck. Luckily, my (ex) sister-in-law had just given us a new comforter for Christmas. I quickly unbuttoned my shirt and placed my 3-day-old daughter on my chest, then I wrapped us up in the comforter and sat rocking my newborn in the chair for hours, tears streaming down my face, until my (ex) husband finally awoke.
Unable to fix our furnace, we moved into my (ex) in-laws unfinished basement the next day and stayed there until it was warm enough to move back into our house. That house never did see the repairs it needed. Upon our divorce four years later it was in slightly better condition but in no way what most people would consider livable. It was purchased by the city and tore down. A half-way house now sits where it use to be.
Every year when the weather gets cold, I am reminded of that night. Eleven years later I am thankful to live in a beautiful house, with a wonderful husband and our five beautiful children. I am careful to think twice before complaining about something being broken or the house being a little chilly. I choose to focus on the joys of life and to remember that good and bad run parallel in life. I hope that as you read this you are giving thanks for what you do have this year and not focusing on what you do not.
It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness. ~ Charles Spurgeon