Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.
Photo by Bryn Wied; the first "home" Matt and I bought.
The first time I felt the famed home buyer’s remorse was as I was signing the closing documents.
I was actually sitting on top of a ski hill. I had just got off the chair lift and plopped myself down at the top of the run, snowboard strapped on and ready to go. I pulled out my smart phone and signed the documents online. Buying a house while snowboarding was possibly the most Tahoe thing I had done up to that point. And while Matt and I exchanged fist bumps on the way down in celebration of our accomplishment, I also felt a paralyzing fear creep over my heart.
We’re just coming up on our 1st year mark of home ownership, and while I wish I could say I’ve conquered that fear, the truth is that same remorse constantly threatens to reappear on a nearly weekly basis.
I have spent a lot of time and energy belittling our house. If only we hadn’t bought it, if only we lived somewhere else, then I would be more able to focus on what matters. We’d have more financial freedom. We’d be better off. We’d be a better family. And maybe we shouldn’t have bought this house. It certainly is more space than we need, a larger mortgage payment than we know we should afford, and we had nowhere near large enough of a down payment (hello, PMI payment).
I justify my own discontent by rationalizing. I spend a lot of verbal energy convincing myself and anyone who will listen that if circumstances were different, I would be more able to accomplish (fill in the distraction, I mean, goal, of the week).
We probably made a mistake buying this house. Like many decisions Matt and I have made in life, and probably will continue to make, God never ceases to take our broken feeble attempts and use them to further his glory. I’ll never really know if we should or shouldn't have bought this house, and I don’t think that’s how God works. He doesn’t deal with what could have been, but meets us right where we are. Sometimes I wish we got to know the what if, and other times I am terribly glad that we don't; I think that knowledge would haunt us and fill us with regret, much like when Lucy eavesdrops on her friend's conversation in the Narnia series.
"Oh dear,'" said Lucy. "Have I spoiled everything? Do you mean we would have gone on being friends if it hadn’t been for this—and been really great friends—all our lives perhaps—and now we never shall."
"Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”
-C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
We might not get to know what might have been, but we always know that in whatever situation you are in, in whatever mistake or choice you’ve made, God can use you, and you can actively seek to serve God right in the middle of your brokenness. You will never put yourself out of his reach. If we did make a mistake, he’s turned it into an amazing source of blessing and a tool we’ve been able to utilize for him time and time again.
We’ve housed family and friends who needed transitional housing. We’ve fostered kiddos who needed a family, and according to the state of California, a certain amount of square footage and beds, dressers, etc, none of which would have been possible in our tiny rental. We’ve gathered together friends from church, and welcomed new people into our circle. We’ve helped another couple find their own soon to be home, and helped inspire others in their own home renovation projects.
Even in our own marriage we’ve been blessed through the trouble owning a home has cost us. A tighter budget from a larger house payment than our rent means we have to come together every single month to budget together, rather than being able to throw caution, and cash, to the wind and live comfortably with little thought. Every home repair project, from repainting the siding to last night’s 10 hour faux beam disaster, is a chance for us to actively prioritize our marriage and each other over our feelings of frustration or certainty in our own choices. Both Matt and I grew up fixing up houses and living in constant states of repair (or disrepair, depending on your point of view), which means we both know just enough to be convinced we know the best way to do it, and that the other person is dead wrong. We also approach things very differently; I’m all about the first 85% effort and then my enthusiasm is greatly diminished, whereas Matt lives and breathes and drags out that last 10% of finishing touches for what seems like an ETERNITY.
Pros: we compliment each other very well, and in the end the whole project is completed.
Cons: we often want to choke the other person for stretching us in our weak spots.
House or not, we all have problems we deal with. It’s so easy for me to justify my weaknesses based on my surroundings, and think that if anything were different, I would be better. But the truth is whatever situation we are in, whatever challenges we face, there is no quick fix.
Even more importantly, it is in these difficult situations and challenges that God is proved greatest.
"We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we are facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.
The temptation is to see these challenges as preventing us from carrying out the ministry God has given us. In actual fact, dealing with the problems IS our ministry."
-Nicky Gumbel, BiOY
Life's not the destination, it's the journey. As much as I want to skip to the happy resolution, this beautiful everyday struggle is our calling and testimony of God's nature.
The bible is full of examples and true stories of God using people right in their choices, their fallen nature, and their challenges. You don’t have to look further than the 12 that Jesus chose as his disciples.
“I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today...
There’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love...
Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collectors were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did….
Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.
To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the grand wizard of the KKK. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.”
If these are the 12 that Jesus chose, if Moses was picked as a public speaker, if David was chosen to beat Goliath, God can and will use you in the midst of your mistakes, bad choices, or weaknesses.
Matt and I spent nearly 2 years living in a 400 square foot fifth wheel with a toddler. Our 4 bedroom house now seems like a monstrosity of waste after that. We spend money filling up rooms with things we don’t really need and that do not really satisfy our souls.
It was also some of the happiest times of our marriage. We rarely worried about finances. We spent our money on experiences rather than things, simply because we didn’t have room for anything but the bare minimum. Ironically the less we owned, the happier we were. This “Paradox of Possessions” that took scientists 20 years at Cornell to discover, took about 12 months for Matt and I to figure out when we actually lived out the principles of less is more.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation...We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
But even when we lived the carefree hippie life of tiny homes in Southern California, I remember discontent trying to enter my heart. Life in tiny home wasn’t perfect. It is much easier now to host people, have family visit, and babysit friends in our house than in our trailer.
The truth is no matter where we live, in 400 square feet or in 2000 square feet, in the ghetto of San Diego or the mountains of Tahoe, it is the attitude of our hearts and minds that allows us the truest happiness and contentedness. This attitude of gratefulness and contentment found in Christ is the only freedom from the slavery of our own desires.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
In every situation, I need to be content. Content to know that God can and will use me, and content in what I have. I need daily to remind myself and discover that my “problems” will not go away depending on if onlys, and to celebrate and uncover the ways that these problems and challenges can point me straight back to Jesus.
I’m glad for the decisions I’ve made, mistakes and wise choices alike. Looking back I can start to see already how God has consistently used them to pull me closer to him and make me more dependent on him. Every time I begin to be paralyzed by the fear of making a bad choice or the wrong decision, I “relearn” to pray and ask God for his will to become my own, to put his desires in my heart and make me want what he wants.
I wish I could learn complete submission once and just perform it perfectly for the rest of my life, but it’s amazing how it seems I need to relearn this lesson every few months. Oh yeah, that’s right God- I don’t have to freak out about this decision or make it myself. Hey, I need to focus on what you want, because your will and desires have always blown my own ideas right out of the water.
Seriously, I have this conversation/personal revelation with God almost every week. Every time Matt gets a job offer, every time I become bored with where I am, every time a challenge arises and I think fleeing or changing anything in my surroundings will fix the problem.
Every. Single. Time.
Praise Jesus for his patience with me. That Old Testament phrase of “Once again, the Israelite nation did evil in the eyes of the Lord…” that refrains over and over again throughout their journey is so painfully relevant in my own life. Once again, I tried to take control over my own circumstances, make decisions, and worked myself to a point of fear until I remembered to submit it all to God….I don’t know if I’ll ever learn this one last time, but until then I serve a God who is faithful to me, who takes my feeble and fickle mind, my self deceiving spirit and uses it to point back to him.
I’m slowly trying to practice this contentment in small ways in my life. I’ve made the goal not to buy any clothes for the entire year of 2017, but instead make do with whatever is in my closet right now. There have been a few moments of temptation, but 4 months in and I haven’t bought anything new. I’ve realized that indulging in new clothes just hides my own discomfort and insecurity in my body, and that if I want to change that, I need to eat healthier and work out more rather than distracting myself with new coverings. The contentment in what I have has made me more self aware as to what my real problems and insecurities are. In this case, my clothes aren’t the problem, my self worth is.
4 months in and I haven’t even begun to wear everything I own, or run out of outfit combinations. I’m eating healthier and working out more. I am more content in my own skin, and less dependent on distraction for happiness. It may seem a small and pitiful first step, but that’s where I am, right now in my brokenness. And I have complete faith that God will use me here and where I am truly am to grow me in maturity to completeness in him.
This is where Matt and I are now, today. We have been entrusted with a big house, a big broken down Yukon, our Tahoe community. Tomorrow might be different, but today- what can I do for God with what I’ve been given today? How can I use these gifts (for that's what all these circumstantial extras really are), for others today? When I feel discontent, what am I actually afraid of? How can I find contentment and purpose in where I am at in this moment?
These are the questions I've started to ask myself, and the moment I do the house I live in, the job I have, the car I drive all become tools to be used for Christ. They are put in their proper place, and are no longer the problem.
No matter our circumstances or where we live, we will be used.
Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never, never fail you nor forsake you.”