Picket Fences

As little girls we often have a picture in our minds of what our lives will be like as grown women. Many of us want to be wives and moms and live in cute little houses with white picket fences. As a kid this is what I had envisioned for my life as an adult, and for some reason I saw much of my happiness tied to the house I would live in. When my husband and I bought our third house, I felt like we’d finally arrived, finally achieved the American dream, finally gotten what we deserved and what it seemed like everyone else had.

Up to this point we’d lived in little fixer-uppers. Cute though they were, they were starter homes, and we wanted more. It never occurred to us that maybe we should remain in these small AFFORDABLE homes. Oh no. We had to have more. So we bought a house that was more than we had ever dreamed we’d own. Instead of three bedrooms it had four. Instead of one small bathroom, it had 2 1/2 good-sized ones. Not only did it have a garage, but it was big enough for two cars and attached to the house. This house sported amenities like a large fenced-in backyard, a pool, first-floor laundry room, and it was in an actual subdivision!

I’ll never forget the day we moved in. Friends who’d helped us move before couldn’t believe this was our house. By the time I’d heard the word “impressive” I was feeling like a “normal” person for the first time in my adult life. This is what it was all about, and the Nielsons had finally gotten it right.

 It wasn’t just the physical structure of the house that appealed to us. The space and location fed the emotional plans we had for it as well. In our minds this was the “forever” house; the house the kids would leave for college from, bring future mates to and where I would babysit grandkids while their parents went away for the weekend.

Like all decisions made by greed, the honeymoon quickly ended and so began our American nightmare. We hadn’t considered the taxes in the area or the cost of commuting into town with rising gas prices. Unexpected costly renovation and trouble with neighbors all contributed to the shadow that was quickly cast over our dreams. What had we gotten ourselves into? Worse yet, the stress of it all started taking a toll on our family. Watching my husband and I deal with this bred a level of insecurity in our kids that I hadn’t seen. We soon realized that all of us had been better off in a less-desirable neighborhood with less stuff and less stress. The key word being less.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of my favorite attributes of God is His redemption. It wasn’t until we bought the American dream and then realized the gravity of our mistake that we finally started taking our faith seriously. Though we would continue to make financial mistakes even after selling that house, the seed had been planted, and God had plans for us.

At the time, we mostly wanted to get out of a house we couldn’t afford and move back into the city. Within six days, our house sold, and not long after we found a more affordable option, much like the others we had lived in. For a while, things were good. We were paying our bills and saving on gas. We started to relax. I’m all for relaxation but not at the cost of being spiritually comatose.

Here we were resting on our laurels, letting down our guard, and the old sins of greed and materialism came creeping back in in the form of overspending and bigger debt than before. It’s not that the house was bad nor were the clothes in our closets. I will never believe that having nice things is wrong or makes a person less holy than one who has little. However, for us, we were in a war that we had no idea the magnitude of. The desire to have, to be comfortable, the idea of entitlement, fitting in, all of it was wreaking havoc on our spiritual lives. The Bible is very clear about the fight that we are in.

 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12, NIV).

 Every single one of us fights sin of some kind. We will never be free of it until we reach heaven. However, we can do something about it. We can fight like we’ve never fought before releasing our iron grip on whatever we are bowing to and hand it over to the Great Redeemer. Once my husband and I finally did this, we turned a corner. God’s redemption bought back our mistakes and made us into people that now attempt to swim against the stream in the area of money and material possessions.

 I try not to think of all of the years wasted chasing after things that didn’t matter. Where would our family be spiritually and financially had we done the right thing from the beginning? Here’s where God’s redemption comes in. The glorious thing about Him is that He turns it around, and it’s never too late to do what’s right. He will always be able to take the tattered shreds of our lives and turn them into something whole and beautiful. For us that meant a desire to live with less, spend less and do more for Him. It’s miraculous to say the least; God took two of the most “spend-happy” people and turned them into two frugal, intentional spenders. In the words of Jeremiah 29:11, He really does have plans to prosper us and give us a future. For me, a prosperous future means a future filled with handing everything over to Him and in return, gaining a life of peace.

What areas of your life has God redeemed and turned completely around?

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