“Contentment,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 42
Our family moved to Colorado when I was five years old. At one o’clock in the morning, the overpacked station wagon sputtered and knocked as it pulled into the driveway of the old, drooping rental home that was to be our new residence.
I remember my mother groping for the light switch. “They promised the power would be on. They promised,” she said in tired resignation when she flipped the switch to no avail.
Dad pulled the car onto the scant lawn so that the headlights would shine over the sagging front porch and past the soiled, limp curtains of the hazy front window. There was nothing else to do but bed down on the floor and wait for the warm light of morning.
That night I slept fitfully, tossing and fussing along with my four siblings, all of us crying out at times. Not till dawn could we see the reason for our discomfort. A wasp nest hung high in the corner of the room, snug against the yellowing wallpaper. Each of us had red, puffy welts on our arms, legs, and faces. Not a very nice welcome, I thought as I stared at my mother’s eyes, swollen and red, but not from the sting of wasps.
I decided that someday when I had my own house, things would be different. I would live in a fine new place. It would be a large, beautiful home with straight, clean lines, polished windows, and a bathroom door that locked. Most important, everything would be new and everything would match. The paint would be fresh, and the color would coordinate perfectly with the furniture and curtains and thick, new-smelling carpet. The bath towels would be soft and fluffy, with a matching bath mat and my own pretty robe in the same color. And in the kitchen, everything would be new, and come in matching sets. New. All new.
Some 30 years have passed, and hardly a day has gone by without a recollection of that dream. The vision from my youth, once comforting in its sunny warmth, has faded into a quiet, shadowy sting of discontent. As I walk on my worn blue linoleum and hoist the Thanksgiving turkey from the tilted shelf of my harvest-gold refrigerator, then place it in the chipped avocado-green sink, I say again the words I have repeated hundreds of times, “Count your many blessings” (Hymns, 1985, no. 241). Do these words ease the longing, soften the sting of a childhood dream unfulfilled? At times they have.
But, for the most part, I’ve become an expert at ignoring my mismatched everything: silverware, dishes, furniture—except when guests are about to arrive and I feel a measure of discontent.
Yet today seems different somehow. My recent scripture “finds” have illuminated my mind. One line from Alma persists: “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). My acceptance of this truth has been slow in coming. Yet now, with the intense morning light streaming through the kitchen window, I stand, my eyes closed, letting it warm me to the marrow, and for a singular moment I feel … new.
Holding the rolling pin with both hands, I slam it into the soft white dough, then push firmly as I roll, stretching it larger, flatter, again and again until its elasticity finally eases. My rolls will be the highlight of the meal. I smile. The feeling of renewal washes through me again.
My boys finish shoveling a path through the snow for the soon-to-arrive guests, and their voices draw nearer. I begin moving pies to an out-of-sight spot. Too late. The door opens. They stampede into the kitchen, clumsily slipping in their snowy boots, loudly announcing their work complete and, seeing pies, begging for a reward.
“Just a sliver, Mom. Come on. Just a teeny sliver.” Their fingers demonstrate the minute size that will satisfy them.
No is my mind’s response, but it orally translates into a mother’s “Yes, just a sliver.” They gobble up the skinny triangles, laughing at each other’s teenage awkwardness; and as I watch them leave, the new sensation comes again.
Time to spread the cloth and set the table for company. I place a centerpiece over the worn spot hoping it will go unnoticed. Another scripture tugs at my consciousness: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt” (3 Ne. 13:19). No danger of that today.
I stare for a moment at the finished table. Not perfect, but attractive. I sense my husband behind me, then feel his familiar touch as he pulls my hair away and kisses my neck.
“Hi, honey. Need any help?”
From behind, his arms wrap snugly around my waist, and I secure them with my own as I close my eyes. My visual surroundings melt, fade, wash away to the newness, the spiritual richness. For a moment, all is in place and perfectly matched.
“The folding chairs from the basement. You mind?”
“Back in a flash,” he says, smiling.
While pouring ice water, I begin to hum. What is that tune? I whisper the words, “For health and strength and daily food we praise thy name, O Lord” (“For Health and Strength,” Children’s Songbook, 21). Yes, a childhood favorite.
My husband returns, carrying chairs. Unbidden, words from the scriptures come again to mind: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (3 Ne. 13:20).
Grateful for the gift received, I smile at my husband, feeling perfectly … content.