Monday, October 22, 2012

COM Ch 13: Oh, Give Me a Home . . . Please

Chapter 13:  Oh, Give Me a Home . . . Please     

            Deep down, I am a country girl at heart.  Some people love the fast cities and meeting new people and big parties.  Not me!  I love the quiet country.  I love the idea of a small town where neighbors know each other, where they get together for block parties (whatever happened to those?) and visits at one another’s houses (whatever happened to those?).  For me, the epitome of homey and welcoming is a large front porch with a creaky swing on an old farm house where a small group of friends could chat over lemonade or apple pie.  (In so many ways, I am an eighty-year-old trapped in a . . . uh-hmm . . . “young” woman’s body.)

            I love the idea of letting my kids run over to the neighbor’s house to play till the lightning bugs come out, like I did when I was a child.  We would play kick-the-can and freeze-tag with the kids until well after dark, and we always felt safe.  It can’t be that way anymore in most cities nowadays.  And it’s such a shame!
            Basically, I wanted deep roots.  But life doesn’t always turn out the way we want.  We’d already moved three times by our fifth year of marriage.  And in my current neighborhood, there are no block parties.  In fact, there are hardly any friendly smiles or waves or chats on the sidewalks as people pass by.  I’ve been here years and I don’t know the names of any neighbors, except for a tiny few.  I’ve never even said “Hi” to those living in the houses on the other side of the street.  I’m not sure that there are people even living there.  We only catch a glimpse of them every now and then as they run from their cars to their houses.  I live in a neighborhood full of Bigfoots: elusive, mythical creatures that only a few people can ever claim they have caught sight of. 
            And one of the things that hurts the most is that the neighborhood kids don’t even get together to play.  No games of tag, no bike rides, or visits to friends’ houses.  The parents don’t know each other and so the kids don’t really know each other.  We all live in our own little bubbles, and the kids don’t run around the neighborhoods like they used to.   
            In fact, we don’t even feel safe letting the boys in the front yard unsupervised.  There’s the road to worry about (that becomes a drag strip when the high school kids get let out for the day) and there was a really creepy man that went by on a bike staring at my then-four -year-old way too long and intensely.  (I immediately got on-line looking for sexual offenders in my area.  And I found him.  And then in an odd coincidence, we saw him again later that same night at the city parade down the street.  It’s kinda hard to miss a 6’5” blond guy with a mullet hair-cut.) 
            Thank God that they have brothers to play with, though.  And they do have a swing set to play on in the backyard.  Not the big, exciting, wooden kind that I had hoped we would get when we bought a house.  Just a dinky, little metal one.  (I think that’s actually the name they sell it under, too: Dinky Little One.)  With one swing now.  And I’m beginning to fear that by the time we get a house, they’ll be too old to play with a swing set.  Would they be unfulfilled?  Would they feel cheated?  I know I did.
            Initially, I was very happy with this new rental.  When we moved in, I was twenty-nine years old and had two small children.  This two-bedroom house fit well, and we had more room than our last rental.  I loved the large yard that my kids could run in.  And the location was wonderful because we could walk to the library, the ice-cream store, the bike path, grocery store, two parks, the farmer’s market, and (our favorite) the train station to watch the trains come and go.  It was wonderful.  (The only complaints I had
were that there were no kids to play with and that my sinuses became congested within months of moving here.  I suspect because of mold/mildew problems.  The house is over a hundred years old.)                         
            I really felt that God led us here when we needed it the most, and that He did a wonderful job finding a place we would enjoy.  We had many things to be thankful for: a healthy family, Jason’s job, enough food, a roof over our heads.   But I still longed for a place to make our own.  And so I did the only thing I could do; I prayed about it. 
            In the beginning, I would pray, “Lord, Thank you so much for this place.  It is really a blessing.  We love it here so much.  If possible, please let them sell it to us.  It fits us so well and it breaks my heart to think about leaving it.  Please, let them sell it to us.”
            But the more that I thought about the day we would have to leave it, the more depressed I became and the more fervent my prayers became.  I was becoming too attached to this place and too depressed because we were just borrowing it.  I wanted it!  No . . . I coveted it!  I would look around the yard and plot out where I would put a garden and that big, wooden swing set.  It was (almost) all that I had ever wanted in a house.  (It’s odd how you can “have” what you want and still make yourself miserable.) 
            I didn’t like what I was feeling.  And I knew that our days here were numbered, especially after we had our third child and the owners never gave any indication of wanting to sell.  I literally expected that if it was the Lord’s Will, the owners would call us up and say, “Hey, we need to get rid of this place.  Would you like it for $100,000, despite the fact that it’s probably worth more than double that.”  But that never happened. 
            And I knew that I had to do something to change my attitude because it was not healthy.  My days were miserable, and I felt like I was waiting to live.  I didn’t want to feel this way.  I wanted to enjoy my life again and enjoy “Today” with my family.  I wanted to wake up feeling joyful, instead of feeling hopeless and stuck. 
            And then a thought hit me that helped, Whether or not we owned this place really had no impact on what was happening today, in the here-and-now.  Owning or renting didn’t make a difference when I was on a walk with my kids in the warm sun and listening to them laugh.  It didn’t change the fact that there were flowers to enjoy, hugs from my boys, delightful days spent watching them play.  When the kids wrestled with dad or climbed in my lap, it didn’t matter if it happened in a rented house or in an owned house.  It’s what was happening inside the house that mattered.  But I had let the notion of ownership hang like a dark storm cloud over all my days.  But no more! 
            It’s not too much different than my advice on raising kids - enjoy the little things.  There are so many wonderful moments, if I take the time to notice.  I had to be thankful for what we did have as long as we had it, or else I was going to drive myself crazy wanting what we didn’t have.  I decided that if our days here were numbered, then I was going to drink up every good thing about this place and enjoy it for all that it offered, before it was gone.  And suddenly, my days were more enjoyable, more blessed.  And I still had faith that God would bring us an even better place to own soon.  We’d only been here, what, three years or so by that point.  But time went on!

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            Five years!  It’s now over five years of renting this place!  Not to mention the other five years in other rentals.  And I am now in my mid-thirties with four children, and we are still in this tiny, two-bedroom rental with a moldy basement.  My dream of owning a house just isn’t happening. 
            And I have been pleading with God for a long time to show us where He wants us to go next.  But I am getting nothing.  No response!  Big stressor #5!  And I am still waiting for God to help us figure out the best way to deal with Ryder’s molar decay.  And it is getting to be more than I can bear.  Every day, I wear anxiousness like a two-ton boulder on my back, waiting for God to help shoulder the burden.  I feel like I am hovering around, just waiting to land, so that I can be at peace and my life can start.  But He just isn’t stepping in to help!  You know, I don’t really want just a house . . . I want a home! 
            I want to know that we will be able to stay somewhere for a long time.  I want to fill a house with memories over the years.  I want to be able to get a swing-set and a dog.  All kids should have a dog!  (I didn’t necessarily want a dog, but I want to be able to get a dog!)  I want the chance to pick wall colors and to buy furniture that we like.  (I used to love looking at the home and garden magazines, daydreaming about what I wanted.  But that has led to depression lately.  It’s all just pages and pages of what I can’t do.  So I banned myself from the magazines, refusing to open even one of them.  And that does help.)
            But here we are - unable to plant a garden, or built a fort or a tree house, or even get comfortable.  And time is slipping away fast and the kids are getting older.  And I don’t know what to do.
            Sure, the big yard is great, but I can’t garden in it.  I have all these fruit plants that I can’t do anything with, except keep in pots.  (Why someone would buy fruit plants when they didn’t even have a yard is as big of a mystery to me as it is to you!  Eternally hopeful, I guess.)  And I really, really want a large vegetable garden.  But that’s just not possible.  Do you know how few peppers and tomatoes you get from a potted plant compared to one in the ground.?  All this yard for nothing but running in.  What a waste! 
            The trains are losing their appeal after visiting them day after day after day.  How many times can you say, “Hey, look kids, another passenger train, just like the one we just saw?”  I don’t walk to the Farmer’s Market anymore because we don’t have the money in this recession for fresh vegetables.  So why go look at all the wonderful food I can’t buy?  Plus, there are still no kids for my boys to play with.  (Actually, I shouldn’t say that.  There is now one adorable, little girl next door with long, curly hair that we see sometimes.  I’d keep her if I could, she’s so cute.  And although pink terrifies my boys, she can keep up with the boys pretty well.  At least they’ve got someone!) 
            And I am so sick of hand-me-down furniture, but I refuse to buy new furniture until we own a place.  Seriously, you should see this place!  We have a black entertainment center with the glass doors removed - and I hate black furniture.  We have a broken reclining chair that someone graciously salvaged for us.  Our couch was passed down to us from my mom’s neighbor.  It really is a nice couch, but the cushions have seen better days because we never could stop the jungle monkeys from jumping all over them.  And everything else, except for my beautiful fish tank and a $60 bookshelf from Ikea, is a hand-me-down, too. 
            I have never had the joy of going to the store to pick out anything that fit us or our style.  I don’t even get to have a style.  I feel like a semi-adult.  Like a college kid that never grew up.  Like a joke!  Not quite a kid because I am on my own, but not quite an adult because we are still living in someone else’s house.  I’m sure whenever anyone comes to visit, they must think that I am the worst decorator ever, that I’m content looking like I live in a run-down thrift store. 
            This isn’t how I want the place to look!  I like to look classy and respectable.  I have a beautiful sense of style.  I love the look of cream walls and natural wood.  I want earthy-muted colors with open spaces, fresh air, and lots of light.  Not black and red and green and clutter and tired, worn trash that others have thrown out to make room for nicer things in their own homes. 
            But with no money to buy our own things and no final home to put them in, we graciously (reluctantly?) accept what others give us.  And we wait for the day that we can have our own home to fill with the things that we love and pick out ourselves.  But that day has not come yet.  It has been ten years of renting three different places and it still hasn’t come!
            And now, we are in this economic recession and my husband’s hours got cut back severely.  (Thank God that he still has a job!)  And so a more immediate concern has become just learning to live on a greatly-reduced income.  We have always managed before and we know how to live on a tight budget.  But this is getting tighter than ever.  It’s unfortunate that just when house prices dropped, so did his pay.  (Although, health insurance went up, of course.) 
            Apparently, it’s not the time to take on house payments and taxes.  So we have had to sign our lease again for another year.  And I have had to bring my concerns and my disappointment to God in prayer again.  But they are starting to come out differently.  Not like the praise and thanksgiving like when we first moved in.  It’s actually been more like griping; griping in the hopes that I could convince God to bring us what we wanted.  I didn’t mean for it to be this way.  It’s just the initial thoughts that popped into my head, sometimes unconscious and sometimes not.  This is kind of how they have progressed over time: 

            “Lord, it’s been ten years of renting now, and You know that I don’t ask for much.  (Not true, I’ve asked for lots of things!)  All I ever really wanted was to have one house that I could make into a home.  You know I never really had a stable “home” as I grew up because we moved so much and I had three dads - and now four - by the time I was eight.  I’m not asking for much.  (But don’t You kind of owe me?  Is it that hard to find a small place for us somewhere?)  You know that I’m not picky!  (But please make sure that it has three bedrooms, wood floors, a paved driveway with a basketball hoop, and a LARGE yard because you know how much I want a large organic garden to feed my kids well.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  You know how much organic food costs in the store these days.  And it has to have a window over the kitchen sink so I can watch the kids in the back yard.  I hate staring at the wall.  And a big porch would be nice.  And please make sure there are good neighborhood kids and that it’s close enough to walk to town or to parks, but far enough away so that it’s country-like and I can have chickens.  We would like the farm fresh eggs.  Fresh, organic eggs would be such a delight.  And chickens would be fun!  But I’m really not that picky.) . . .”  

            “Lord, we have worked so long and hard, and tried to be content with what You’ve given us.  Surely You would reward our waiting with the house that fits us. But things are getting worse financially and we can’t do it ourselves and we are getting discouraged.  We have been waiting on You for a long time.  No matter how hard Jason works at his job and how hard I try to manage the money well, we can’t do more than living paycheck to paycheck, and even less sometimes.  Shouldn’t You reward all of Jason’s hard work in a really intense, stressful job?  (How much longer will You let him struggle with feeling like he is failing his family?  I used to encourage him with ‘Slow and steady wins the race’.   But I am beginning to lose hope.  Maybe slow and steady just means that you end up farther and farther behind the rest of the pack?)  . . .” 

            “Lord, You know that this is a sick house.  My sinuses have been congested for five years now and all I really want is to be able to take a deep breath through my nose.  And things have only gotten worse.  Now, my kids are being affected, too.  Kody has a chronically gunky throat and Ryder’s nose is always stuffy and, for some mysterious reason, both of my kids that were conceived in this house had abnormally thin umbilical cords.  That can’t be healthy!  And please, don’t let it have any permanent, long-term consequences.  Surely, Lord, You can’t keep us here when our health is at risk.  (Yes, Lord, I know that there are Christians around the world who are starving to death, dying as martyrs and being tortured, who have chronic terrible illnesses, or who are watching their kids battle deadly illnesses.  But You can’t let us stay in this sick house when it’s giving me congested sinuses.  I’ve been trying for so long to make us healthier.) . . .” 

            “Lord, You know so-and-so and that they are not nearly as decent or as hard-working or as long-suffering as we are.  Why have You blessed them with that house and we can’t even afford a new chair?  (Forgive me, Lord, for my pride and for feeling envy towards that person and for thinking degrading thoughts about another one of Your children.) . . . “

            “How much more can we do?  We have struggled for years just to get nowhere.  When is it our turn?  I am in my thirties now with four children.  How long do I have to wait?  Is it even worth it to finally get a home when I am, say, in my forties and the kids are older and it’s too late to make lasting memories in a new place, when the kids are too old to enjoy that wooden swing set?  It’s humiliating.  It really is! 
            Others have had their homes since their mid-twenties.  Do I not have enough faith?  Is that it?  Or is it that I don’t have boldness to get out there and make it happen and just hope that You bless it?  Which is right?  Waiting until You guide us or getting out there and trying to make it happen until You slam the door?  Do You even care if I find “the right place?”  Do You even have a “right place” for us or is any old place fine with You, as long as we find it ourselves? . . .”          

            “Lord, now I’m getting worried that I’m going to humiliate You.  It’s been so long and we have been so careful and patient.  We have built up so much anticipation and expectation in ourselves and in the family members who have been trying to help us find a place.  I’m afraid that no matter what, though, we still won’t be able to afford a home that meets our needs, or any of our wants. 
            And then our families and friends - who have been anxious for us and who thought we were being foolish to wait (and especially those who are not believers and wouldn’t understand why we are waiting for Your guidance) - will see that we didn’t get anything worthwhile, and they will think, “That is what you have been waiting for?  That is all your God is capable of?”  Please bring us something wonderful for Your glory.  I don’t want to be an embarrassment to You.”    

            I felt like – and still feel like - less than an adult.  Like a fool for not just running out there and getting something.  Like a wimp for not being brave enough to make it happen.  Like a failure for trying and trying to do the “right” thing by waiting on God and yet still having nothing to show for it.  Like a complainer for whining about it again.  And like a burden for going to graduate school and now having to pay money on the loans which could have gone to a house.  And I am terrified of having to admit defeat and to face the possibility that it might never happen as we had hoped. 
            What if we can’t make it work and we have to ask for help from one of our parents or end up (God help us!) living with them?  In this economic recession, it doesn’t seem like too far-fetched of an idea.  Others are having to do that.  And that thought terrifies me to no end.  In fact, I thought my fate was sealed when my mom told me that they bought a camper.  And all I could think was, Oh, dear God, NO!  You’re going to make us live in their backyard in a camper, aren’t You?  It would be the biggest blow to my self-esteem.  (And that makes me afraid that it’s destined to happen, just to test me and to work out that “pride” issue.  Please, Lord . . . Please, no!)  But I know that we are just a few paychecks away from that possibility.      
            I used to shake my head when I heard of adults going back home.  Slackers went back home.  Irresponsible over-grown children went back home.  Couch potatoes went back home.  But we work hard and always try to be responsible with our money and for ourselves and our family.  And I pride myself on my independence.  But this kind of thing is happening to more and more responsible, independent people as the recession wears on.  The possibility of “failure” in providing for the basic needs of our family has never seemed so possible.
             I feel immensely blessed for all that God has given me . . . a husband I love dearly, wonderful children, health, a roof over our heads, and enough food.  And so I feel bad dwelling on this one area.  I hate it that I let it get me so down when He has been so good in so many other areas.  I feel ungrateful asking for more.  I mean, I don’t really want a lot . . . I just want a home. 
            I’m sure many of you are snickering right now, thinking, “Why don’t you just go out and find a one?  What are you waiting for?”  It would probably be easy for most people to shop for a house.  Most have done it at least a couple of times.  And it isn’t so much the process of finding a home that scares me.  I mean, yes, it does; but that isn’t the hard part.   
            For me, the hard part is turning out to be praying for - and waiting for - God’s guidance.  It is extremely important to me that we get His direction about this huge decision.  I strongly believe that He knows where He wants us and that He will point the way when it is time.  I absolutely believe in the very core of my being that He has an opinion about where we live - a perfect opinion.  And I have been asking Him to lead us for years.  But for years, He has been silent.  No direction, no guidance.  Just silence!  Heartbreaking silence!

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