Finances, Reflection

Dwelling Places

red-brick-house-by-thomas-au-on-flickr

If I was asked to describe my house, it’d be pretty easy:  one level, three bedrooms, tiny office, open-plan living/dining, kitchen, etc… Oh, and it’s a rental.  But the funny thing about that last point is that it doesn’t actually describe my house – what it describes, I’ve come to realise, is my dwelling place.

For a long time I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of buying our own house.  In some ways it feels like it should be a given – we’re both university-educated, West works full-time, we spend as lightly as we can while providing for our family’s needs (swimming lessons are a necessity when you’re surrounded by water, and we don’t sign them up for much else), so what’s the hitch?  Well, there are lots of reasons why we haven’t been able to buy a house – and none of them, I’m quite sure, could be fairly labelled as ‘our own fault’.  We haven’t got unpaid debts, we always pay rent/bills on time, we don’t gamble or smoke and we drink very moderately…  Nevertheless, here we are, just managing and with next to no hope of owning a place of our own.

But here’s the thing:  I may not own this house, but I do live here.  I live in this house with my loving hubby and my beloved children (and even, now, with two quite adorable kitties!); we have great landlords, we live by the beach and we’re close to good schools.   Why should ‘it’s a rental’ be what I dwell on, when I’ve got all those other positive things to focus on??!  And yet that is my focus.

I realise that I’m not alone in this.  It’s all too easy to find ourselves dwelling on the things that aren’t living up to our expectations; the hurts, the heartaches, and the difficulties.

Maybe you wanted another child, and it just hasn’t happened.  You might live in a mansion with a devoted husband and three healthy children, take wonderful overseas holidays, go to lavish parties and enjoy countless opportunities but be completely blind to the joy and wonder of your life because you couldn’t have a fourth child.  And you can’t fathom the situation you find yourself in, because it just seems so easy for others and for you it has been loss after loss after loss, and your heart is raw and bleeding and you feel like you’ve lost who you were before all the sadness.

Maybe you’ve been passed up for all the promotions and you feel like your career’s at a dead end.  You may earn plenty to live on and enjoy your work when you’re not thinking about that corner office on the fifth floor that should have been yours, and maybe it’s nice being able to leave your work at work and get home to your family but you’d never admit it…  You’re tired and you’re bitter and when you think about it you’d never have believed that at this age you’d still be in this position, at this company, working for these fools who don’t even appreciate you…

Maybe you’ve trained for something and just as you were about to go out and prove yourself you sustained a devastating injury.  All the blood, sweat, and tears – down the drain.  No medal.  No accolades or lucrative endorsement deals.  No acknowledgement or reward for those thousands of hours – those years – of slogging away to be the best, only to have it all end in defeat.  And now you’re a hollow shell of what you once were, because all that potential was never realised in the end.  You feel like a ‘has been’ who never was.

We all have broken dreams.

We’ve all suffered loss.  We’ve all grieved for the person we were before we experienced this disappointment – for the naïve hope that we held for what has not come to pass.  And maybe some of us even feel a bit foolish – I know I do.  Foolish that we ever thought it possible; foolish to have dared dream, or foolish that we haven’t somehow made those dreams a reality.  Foolish for still hoping that somehow, someday…

And there are always those who seek to minimise our losses – to brush away our despair with a breezy, “Well, why should you care so much about having another baby/getting promoted/winning that medal/buying a house?  After all, there are plenty of people who aren’t even able to have kids/work/run or swim or dance/keep any kind of roof over their heads!”  And it just doesn’t help, does it, to hear that?

Truly, when we hope for something, work for something, or strive for something, and those dreams don’t come to fruition, we need space to grieve.  We really do need to give ourselves the freedom to feel that disappointment and process what it means for us.

In processing my own disappointment, I realise that for me it’s not just about owning our own home – it’s partly about that; about how I don’t quite feel like a grown-up, and how when my friends start chatting about renovating or landscaping or whatever, I feel utterly unqualified to contribute to the discussion.  It feels like everyone else our age is at the stage now where they’re secure enough financially to start looking at holiday homes or building up or taking overseas vacations, building up their retirement savings, and making plans for the future, while we’re really just barely hanging on by our fingernails.  And in the bigger picture, not owning a home raises questions for me about how we’re providing for our children and how we’re going to provide for ourselves and not burden them with supporting us in our old age…  To think that once upon a time I dreamed of having a home with a granny flat just so that my folks could stay close by.  How far we are from that dream of being able to provide for them!

For you, too, who want a child or who want more than you can have – it’s about more than just that.  It’s about passing on your wisdom and experience, nurturing, being held close and having your young ones depend on you – it’s about your vision for a big family and what that would feel like…  I know that your disappointment is bigger than what the rest can see when they look at the checks and balances of your life.

And for you, who’ve found that the rungs on the ladder to what you deemed to be success were greased or missing, making that climb to the realisation of your dreams an impossibility.  It’s not just the title on your name plate or the medal or the corner office you’d have liked – it’s about much more than that.  Recognition.  An affirmation that your choices have been the right ones.  And so much more.

I don’t for a moment want to negate the impact those disappointments – big and small – have had on us.  But I believe we need more than that, too.  I believe that we also need to be encouraged to look beyond the hurt to the wholeness.

How is it that I’ve found myself living here – in the boulevard of broken dreams (as Green Day so aptly put it)?  I’ve built a dwelling-place for myself here, brick by brick.  Every pang of jealousy, every flush of envy, every bitter remark about how it’s all so unfair… each one a brick in this house that I’ve built on the boulevard of broken dreams.

The thing about this boulevard is that we don’t actually have to dwell here.  We ALL have to walk it – whether it be for a short phase in our life or even for the majority of our days here on earth – but we don’t all lay down a foundation and add bricks and mortar and put up a picket fence and plant trees here…

Now that I’ve realised that I’ve put down some roots in this dead-end street (yeah, turns out it’s not a boulevard at all), it’s time to do some demolition.

When you start to pull those bricks down and chip away at the mortar you realise that the walls you’ve built as you’ve been dwelling in the boulevard of broken dreams have been obscuring a view.  All this time, there’s been an AMAZING VIEW that you’ve been missing:

There are vineyards on the landscape that you’d thought barren; they’re heavy with ripe fruit, ready for the picking.  The sun, for so long hidden from view, beams down benevolently from blue skies – and there you’d been, imagining that the night you’d fled when you’d retreated was a perpetual one…  People who love you have been knocking on that impenetrable door you’d erected, clamouring to break into the silence into which you’d been muttering the lies you believed were going to drive them away.

Suddenly you realise that this place you’ve built has blinded you to what you really should have been seeing on all along.  By focusing on what you lack, you’ve obscured what you possess.

I’m sure I will always have pangs of grief – when I pass a realtor’s office, page through a real estate magazine, or see a ‘For Sale’ sign on my street, I know I’ll feel a fleeting stab of regret.  It’s inevitable that news of someone buying a house will make me wonder what that would be like, and if I’ll ever experience it.  But I can change how much that affects me, and how long I’m affected, by focusing on three things:

Do I have sufficient?  Maybe there’s no surplus.  Maybe I don’t have exactly what I hoped for; but I have enough.  Enough food, enough to buy medicine when necessary, enough to clothe and shelter us.

Am I grateful?  Am I mindful of how little so many others have in comparison?  Am I looking to fill the needs of those around me instead of holding tightly to what I have?  Am I being generous of spirit, showing that generosity towards those who have more as well as those who have less?

Am I content?  Do I practice intentional contentment?  Have I learned to trust enough in God’s provision to let go of my need to stockpile and control?  Am I striving to do more for others instead of more for myself?  Am I exemplary in my practice of grace in the midst of struggle?

I’ve come to realise that, for me, these three things give me a victory.  If I have sufficient, then I’m not needy – and I shouldn’t have a mentality of being a ‘have not’.  If I’m grateful, then I’m not allowing my lack to obscure my blessings.  If I’m content, then whatever life throws at me, I will have such grace and joy that those around me won’t feel guilty for having something that I lack.  Those who witness my life will understand that God is my sufficiency; that He sees to the provision of my needs; and that I am content to wait for His perfect timing for that provision.

I can see that there is such freedom in this kind of homelessness – the kind you get when you demolish the house you’ve built on the boulevard of broken dreams.  Freedom from bitterness and resentment; freedom from being dragged over and over again into the depths of disappointment and mired in the muck of defeat.  Long may we be free; may we never let our disappointments define us.

If you want me, I’ll be here, walking the road but not dwelling in it – reflecting, instead, on all the blessings that are no longer obscured – and removing these old walls we’ve built, brick by brick.

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