Do you get so used to having blessings at your disposal that you forget how blessed you are?
I love to explore historical places and imagine what life was like for those who came before us. I am especially into George Washington these past few years. After a long hot bike ride one day, as I was enjoying a well-earned hot shower, I got to thinking: "George Washington probably never got to enjoy a hot shower." They had tubs; the water would be hauled up from a creek or well, and heated on a fire. And it was the slaves who did that; I doubt he handled that himself. And for all the work they did to prepare his bath, they likely never had that benefit for themselves.
All those days and nights on dirt roads, on a horse, during the war, imagine how many of those soldiers rarely got to change clothes (if they had anything other than what was on their bodies). There are accounts from Valley Forge and elsewhere of blood in the snow, because soldiers marched without shoes. Some lacked shirts, blankets, socks. Do you have all those things? I do; and more than a few sets.
I notice things like running water, a thermostat for heat or air conditioning, as needed. Imagine those folks back then, and in many places around the world today, where people don't have shelter from the elements, let alone climate control mechanisms.
The summer when I biked around Cambridge, Maryland, and rode through Snow Hill, I thought of the African slaves working those fields in the heat. In Snow Hill, there was a flourishing slave market at one time. Imagine having your child taken and sold away to some plantation in the Carolinas, never to be seen again. And no one consoled you at your loss or listened to your pleas, or the pleas of the child who begged their momma or daddy to stop what was happening. I imagine what that would be like for a helpless child, standing on a block to be sold into a life sentence of hard labor until it killed him or her.
I anticipated how uncomfortable that bike trip was going to be, because I would be visualizing these things and discovering the stories of the horrors that went on in our own home state. I sometimes am in awe of God's grace and mercy on our young country in those early decades. Some terrible cruelties were practiced against women and children and families who, because they were African slaves, were not considered human. Many of the perpetrators of this trade and practice were church-going Christians. And they treated their slaves worst than a farmer's mule or a cow.
President Lincoln believed that the blood shed of our Civil War was God's punishment on our nation for the sin of enslaving other human beings. Read his second inaugural address. I suppose God held out hope for us as a nation, that we would strive to live up to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence. I dwell on this a lot, as I consider the blessings that I enjoy as "standard equipment" of the American life. Studying history takes me back to real people, many nameless and forgotten, who lived real lives in desperately harsh conditions.
I think of them coming back to their dirt floor shack, with cold wind blowing through cracks in the log and stick walls. Bugs and mice, and no clean water to bath in, or a comfortable bed on which to lay. They gave birth in these conditions. There was no Urgent Care, or CVS, or a hospital for them if they were sick or injured. This filthy shack and the bare minimum of clothes and comforts was all these people had or were allowed. And even that, they didn't own. They didn't even own themselves or had rights to their own children. Even the ancient laws about treatment of slaves in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus were more humane than how some of these Christian land owners were to their slaves. When I stop and really look at my house, my furnishings, the water pouring from a faucet, the car in the driveway, as well as the schools my kids attend, I think of these things.
What do you think about? Do you express your complaints more than your gratitude?
When I ride my bike and feel my legs propelling me along, I remember that so many will never enjoy this experience, for their legs don't carry them. I feel the handle bars and brakes, and gears that I shift with my fingers so easily; and how blessed I am that I can. I now ride a very swift "steed" on wheels; riding upon roads that were at one time dirt and mud, traversed by horses and wagons.
It's all so good. We are all so blessed in many ways. It helps me to remember all those who didn't have all of this back then and do not have it now. I have to be intentional about looking at the blessings I easily see everyday, yet so often miss because they have become, to me, entitlements. Yet when I really pay attention to what I have and what I can do, I must admit with deep humility and gratitude, that I am entitled to none of it.
No one is entitled to blessings. That's why they are called blessings.