It’s my birthday today. {Yay for me!} And it has been a really wonderful day. Thirty-one years ago today, about five minutes down the road from where I sit typing these words out, I arrived as quick as a hiccough, before the doctor could get there to deliver me. And it’s funny, how these things come together, another arrival happened, just one year ago yesterday, the beginning of a lesson that was a long time coming.

It was a year ago yesterday when we arrived back in North Carolina, after (for me) six years of calling somewhere other than the USA home. And this past year has been a big part of the process for me, of putting together some thoughts about life, and coming to a place where I can start a blog post by telling you my age and not feeling insecure about it.

{Did I ever show you last year’s birthday cake? Wasn’t that epic?}

It’s taken me this whole year, re-settling back into the States, to get to a place where I’ve been able to really feel content with my life at the moment. I think we thought some things would be different once we got back. I think we thought that our move would mean we’d be leaving some of our struggles behind — and while maybe we did, I guess we picked up some new ones. Or just found the same old struggles, reborn.

You might remember me sharing that I did some hiding before admitting that.

The funny thing is, you would think someone moving back to the USA from a part of the world where poverty is a constant reality, visually reinforced on a regular basis, would not struggle with contentment. But the problem with contentment is it’s an elusive creature. And if you tend to give a listening ear to self-pity, contentment will remain elusive for you.

I commented to someone the other day that when I left the States, TV’s were “this big” {holding my hands just wider than shoulder-width apart} and when I returned, TVs were “this big” {holding my hands out about as far apart as they will go.} It seems like while I was gone, the unstoppable quest for the newest, latest, biggest and greatest suddenly escalated. Like how Apple recently announced the upcoming arrival of the iPhone5, and pre-orders reached 2 million within the first 24 hours.

We’ve never been big on chasing the dream of the latest and greatest — we generally welcome new technology because we know it means there will be a price-cut on the older version, and then we’ll consider that…after six months maybe if we really think we could use it.

But it’s hard to remember the unseen — the poverty that now seems half a world away — when what we see is the neighbours with the huge white house and the picket fence, the perfectly manicured lawn and the gorgeous car in the driveway.

In the Lord’s perfect timing, however, a strange combination of hope, a new season of Bible studies, a well-timed read of the book Kisses from Katie, and a nice wave of the nesting instinct recently combined to take me from a place of hopeless complacency with my present surroundings, to hopeful creativity and even hard work toward the improvement of the things that are in my power to change about my life, and more specifically, my home. It has also taken me to a place of getting a lot more comfortable with the things that aren’t in my control, more trusting about the God who actually is in control.

And here’s the honest truth I think I’ve learned about the whole gig: If you cannot be content with your life today, it is unlikely that you will be content with your life tomorrow.

Here’s an example. I’ve lived in some really beautiful places — neighbourhoods where the views made me stop and take a breath almost every day, mist coming in off of the sea outside my door, mountains in almost every direction, and people whose biggest concern was the decision about which boat to take out on the water for the weekend — but I always felt awkward about living there. Our tight finances hindered my joy, the loneliness of the season heavied my heart, the way we were handled by some of our co-labourers in the Gospel eclipsed the goodness of the labour. In some ways, I failed to receive the blessings that season held for me, because I was too focused on the shortcomings of it and my fears about how our circumstances were perceived by others.

What did I need to learn there? More than anything else, I think trust. Trust that the boundary lines had fallen to me in pleasant places, and that the highs and the lows were both inside God’s sovereignty. Trust that God would provide even when we weren’t sure how it was going to come together. More than anything else I need to learn thankfulness, because even when things were hard, I still had a thousand reasons each day to give glory to God for my life.

And that’s the secret that Paul talked about in that letter to the Philippians — he had learned how to be abased, and how to abound. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” {Phil. 4:12-13}

I was ridiculously blessed by my friends and church family at a baby shower this weekend. I was treated in a spectacular fashion by family near and far today. {And that included starting the day with bacon!} But in the glorious goodness of God — I think I might, by His help, be learning to find my way to a place where I could actually still be content if things had not been oh-so-spectacular. That isn’t to say that I’m not thankful for the many gifts, the words of kindness that poured in from around the world, and the love I received from the people I love the most. {I love love, and being loved. You too, right?}

But what if what the Lord wants to help us all learn is actually that He is all we need — and rather than finding contentment in the knowledge that our lives seem pretty good in comparison to some others and at least we are not here or there — it could come from this other place? What if this other place is a place where our contentment isn’t in what we have, but in Who we have, and Who we belong to?

If the firstborn over all creation chose me, reconciled me to God, and qualified me to inherit the goodness God had in mind for us from the beginning of creation… could this knowledge be enough to help me find contentment in every circumstance? Could that be the secret Paul learned? He wrote to the Colossians:

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. {Col. 1:9b – 14}

I’m thankful to close by saying I’ve had a very Happy Birthday — but it feels good to even consider the possibility that I could just be thankful that I was born with the privilege of getting to know Jesus in front of me, that morning when I arrived in a hurry thirty-one years ago. And maybe that could be enough of a thought for thankfulness to make every birthday a happy one, and every day in between, no matter my circumstances — for as many birthdays as I still have ahead of me.

Because He is just that good.