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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Faith, Life, Relationships

“I’ve Got This”

Uplifting Hero by JD Hancock on flickr

There are pictures that continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the page or clicked away from them.  You can see them with your eyes shut.  And, somehow, these pictures work their way through your optic nerve straight into your heart.

Last week I saw one of those pictures.

At first, when the image popped up in my Facebook feed from a couple of friends’ status updates, I thought it was just a funny little boy doing what funny little toddlers do.  I thought he wanted to stay at the beach, so he was lying in the sand in protest.  What a shock, then, to realize that it was no joke. 

The little boy was dead.

He was three years old.  I have a three-year-old.

He had been in a boat fleeing, with his family, from the devastation of his homeland; the boat capsized, and he drowned.  His Mama died, too.  And his brother.  And there is nothing – nothing – that can make that whole story OK.  There’s nothing that can make it settle for me.

Later I saw a picture of his Dad – this grieving, broken man – and I read the comments on social media; sentiments ranging from ‘we all have to help, somehow’, to ‘why do we care about something that’s happening so far away when we’ve got enough problems in our own backyard?’, and even people questioning whether or not we’d even want to welcome those refugees into our country.  I was compelled to add a comment of my own:

At what point does it stop being about where people are from

and start being about the fact that they are fellow human beings?!

We’re living in such a broken world!  There’s so much division between people – barriers we’ve created based on race, language, beliefs, culture, status…  We have forgotten that we are all God’s children.

At times like these we could really use a hero, you know?  If we were in a movie, the action star would show up around now – all muscle and machine-guns – and declare (to our breathless relief), “I’ve got this.”*  He’d coolly sort out the bad guys and set the good guys back on their feet and everyone would live happily ever after.

We want a hero like that.

That’s what the Jews were looking for, as well.  A couple of thousand years ago, they were ready for a hero to walk in and sort things out.  The Jewish people had been living under Roman rule for a while (even if in the guise of a Jewish ruler – the Kings were appointed by Rome), and they longed for the promised Messiah.  They were pretty sure they knew what they wanted in this Messiah, too: he’d swoop in wearing battle dress and lay waste to their enemies, declaring the Jews the victors and heirs of this magnificent inheritance he had restored to them along with their Promised Land.  He’d be a great, charismatic, political leader of royal descent, and he’d ‘execute justice and righteousness on the earth’.  In short, the Messiah would step in and tell everyone, “I’ve got this.”

As it turned out, though, the Messiah was not what they’d expected.

They wanted a warriorhe was a lamb.

They wanted a judge – he submitted himself to judgement.

They wanted a redeemer for the Jewshe redeemed us all.

Jesus came in and turned everyone’s expectations upside-down.  They wanted revenge, but he preached ‘Love your enemies.’  They wanted him to fight – but he submitted himself to death, instead.  They wanted him to be the powerful, charismatic leader of the people – but he was the meek and humble servant of all.

So, Jesus wasn’t the type of hero who’d declare to an adoring crowd, “I’ve got this.”  Instead, he simply demonstrated – to his disciples, to his detractors, and to all those who just showed up out of curiosity – how to live in the understanding that God has ‘got this’.  He showed us how to have faith, how to have hope, and (perhaps most importantly) how to love.

God has got this.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

– Isaiah 41:13

The same God who said that to the Israelites almost three thousand years ago is saying that to us now, too. “I will help you.”  I’ve got this.

Emboldened by this belief, we need to act. What we need to do is what Jesus did: we need to demonstrate our faith – in God and in humanity – and our hope, and our love.  We need to do the little things that make a big difference.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world around us – doing God’s work, according to God’s good purposes.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

– Romans 8:28

We can be reassured as we trust in God, because we cannot see the big picture – but He can.  Imagine the infinite nature of space and time… but, we can’t.  Let’s just imagine, then, that we are but a particle on a stitch on an enormous tapestry… We have some vague idea of the array of colour and pattern in our tiny portion of that giant work of art but we cannot fathom what the whole thing looks like.  Ridiculously, we couldn’t even tell you whether we’re part of an ant’s foot or a flower’s petal or even a steaming divot; however, because we trust in the hope described for us in God’s Word, we know that we are a part of whatever it is ‘according to His purpose’.

God’s purpose is, ultimately, that we should live in relationship with Him – and share in His son Jesus’ inheritance of eternal life when our time on earth comes to an end.  Therefore, let us partner with Him in the world.  Let us ‘seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly’ amongst our fellow men.

I don’t want to ‘get over’ the shock of that devastating image I saw last week.  I want it to move me into action, trusting that ‘God’s got this’, and that He has called me ‘to this good purpose’.

John Wesley’s Rule:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

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*[I’ve got this – meaning, ‘I am going to handle this situation’]

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A Note from Trix:

If you have been moved by the refugee crisis, but you don’t know where to start, here are some ways of making a difference:

Be encouraged. God HAS got this.  Watch and listen for some inspiration: ‘Come to Me

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Life, Reflection

Fare Thee Well

Swirls by Renate Flynn on flickr

 

Today we’re a week from launch, and I am a finger-painting of emotions.  Not a whirlwind of emotions – that would imply a greater direction and force of feeling – and not a kaleidoscope, either, which would imply that each emotion was somehow pure and discrete and ordered… No, I think that a finger-painting is the best approximation of how I’m feeling – a hodgepodge of colours, all smearing together; over and under and around, with one thing oozing into the wet mess of the next.

For ages I’ve been able to speak with a philosophical detachment about the grieving process and stress that accompanies a move like this one.  I’ve acknowledged that leaving their grandparents here (to whom they are greatly attached) will feel, to my boys, a bit like a death (particularly for D, who’s only two years old, and who therefore cannot understand how people can be present although far from us).  But now, that veneer of logic is being peeled away and I am in the grips of what it actually means to leave.

I know – and it is becoming painfully clearer as our departure date nears – that there will be a rending of my boys’ tender little hearts in discovering this void in our daily lives that has hitherto been so wonderfully occupied by our extended family and beloved friends.  I know that we will all struggle with the growing pains of putting down new roots, finding a new groove, getting into a new ‘normal’.  There’s just so much that is unknown at this point – and questions that won’t be answered for months and months yet.  So it’s hard, and sad, and stressful.

I find myself crying over silly things, like running out of my muesli and having to buy another packet that I won’t be able to finish before I leave – or looking in the fridge and finding dairy products that are due to expire after we’re gone.  I will, have no doubt, be on a knife’s edge on Sunday morning when we share a final service with our church family – those who’ll be there, you have been warned.  Bring Kleenex – I will need lots.  There have already been lots of goodbyes, and they’re all hard, but I know from experience that there’s something particularly difficult about leaving that safe and sacred space and the cherished people therein.

There are so many friends I wanted to see just one more time, and so many places I hoped to get to again before we left – but now the countdown accelerates and I’m resigned to missing out.  Missing is something I’m familiar with – missing people and places and times past is a fact of my life.

It is an emotionally-charged time, but there is a beauty and a balance in the fact that, busy as we are with the physical preparations for moving, we are unable to give due attention to the emotional aspect of shifting countries.  Thoughts and feelings bubble up; we deal with them as they appear and then continue as before.  There is work to be done, and our focus is necessarily on that – and so we gradually receive some immunity against the waves of homesickness and the missing of friends and family that invariably follow a big move.  We’re grateful, too, for the period of travelling we have to look forward to; our excitement and anticipation for that also acts as a buffer from the harder, deeper feelings about our departure.

Our time in Europe will serve, we hope, as a bonding time for us as a smaller family unit.  It will give us all a bit of time to find new little rhythms as we adjust to different quarters and experience life with other languages, foods, adventures…  Because of this sojourn we won’t be so quick to compare this home life with our eventual new situation and routines – and that’s good, because this is a positive move and we’d hate to forget that in all of our sadness about leaving here.  We’re moving towards something else – our new life in New Zealand – more than we’re moving away from life here; that is to say, there’s nothing driving us from Canada but there is simply an impetus to shift back to our NZ friends and family and continue our lives there.  We are grateful for this.  We have been grateful for here and we will be grateful to be there.

And so, in spite of the myriad of emotions and the abundance of stresses as we’re farewelling, we are faring well.

We are faring well.

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