Lost wedding bands. Fortune cookie fortunes. Schools. House hunting. Personal destinies. Faith. Contentment. These were what occupied my mind all yesterday morning.
Summer’s over and our eldest is starting his last year of elementary school. This year will be a big one for Son, and for DH and me too. It marks the end of a significant stage of Son’s life, and of ours.
While we’ve loved our home of ten years (the first of our own and the only one our three kids have ever known), the neighborhood, the kids’ elementary school, the weather, and the friends we’ve made and life we’ve built here, it’s time to move on. With three kids, our townhouse is bursting at the seams. Plus, our local public middle and high schools aren’t good, private schools aren’t on the table, and we can’t rely on the upcoming scramble for a chance to get into reputable magnet, charter or gifted schools.
So. We’re on the hunt for a bigger house, good schools, and a commute that’s doable for DH. Since our next home will be long-term (we’re not big movers), I’m hoping our next home will be bright and spacious, with an open layout and good location, big kitchen and closets, a good-sized yard, and nearby familiar ties (family, friends, anyone I know and preferably, like) and solid churches. Is that so much to ask? Don’t answer that.
I looked at many houses this past week. After months of research, DH honed in on a suburban city with good schools and affordable homes that’s a stretch for him commute-wise, but doable, and fairly close to some family and friends. Neither of us had visited or knew anything about this city so I met with a well-recommended, savvy realtor for three days to check out the area and available listings.
Man. House hunting is hard. Exciting and depressing all at once. No house within our budget and criteria is perfect. There were a few with “potential” but mostly, I just wasn’t thrilled about the idea of moving across town and county to this inland city. I’m ashamed to admit it, but part of the reason is it’s a small, no-name city sort of in the middle of nowhere. It’s seen as “the least nice” in the area, a city that serves many as a stepping stone before “moving up” to the “nicer” suburbs in neighboring cities. (Gotta keep up with the Joneses, right?) But for us, it would not be a stepping stone. Our next home will be it until the kids are grown and off to college. Again, we aren’t big movers and DH, ever wise and practical, couldn’t care less whether we live in a “nice” or prestigious neighborhood so long as the house meets our space needs, has good neighborhood schools, falls within our budget, and is within a 45-minute driving distance to his work.
The thing is. I know DH is right. If we’re wise and practical, this may be a good move. But if we’re talking human nature, or my human nature, this is where the internal conflict, the big “put your money (or your actions) where your mouth is” comes in.
You see, I’ve been asking a lot of God this summer. Of the Father, “Make me a daughter after Your own heart. Let me know and want what You want, God, and give me the courage and trust to obey.” Of the Son, “Let me see Your face. Jesus, let me be focused on You so I don’t keep getting distracted by the things and lures of this world.” And of the Holy Spirit, “Fill me. Let me live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, pray in the Spirit. Empower and embolden me to glorify God.”
Yet, as DH and I drove home Saturday night after viewing homes, I felt sad and discontent and before I could stop myself, hot tears silently welled up in my eyes. I thought of the Korean word “pahl-jah.” The closest English translation may be “personal destiny.” I started doing what human nature is so prone to do. I started comparing pahl-jah’s in my head, comparing myself with my neighbors, those darn Joneses again — what they have and I don’t, and wondering why. Why can’t we live in whatever city we want? Why can’t we have a big house in X neighborhood? Why can’t we afford this or that? Meanwhile, the truth that I hypocritically tell my kids is, “There’ll always be someone who has more than you and there’ll always be someone with less. There’ll always be someone who’s smarter, stronger, better-looking, more skilled, more this or that, than you and there’ll always be someone who’s less. There’s no point in comparing or complaining and there’s always something to be grateful for.”
Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain
If my prayers are earnest, why do I still struggle with what ultimately amounts to stubborn pride and materialism? I was disappointed in myself for still hanging onto a dream that is not of God but of this world. I was sad that I was sad about moving to a “lesser” or “stepping stone” city, when everything that truly matters is well and good and intact in my life. Why can’t I be a better person? more meek, more faithful, more content?
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).
As we drove home and I confessed to DH the conflict and shame in my heart, he shared, in stark contrast, how rich he felt. That living through the trials, fears and insecurities stemming from his father’s premature death, he’d never imagined someday being able to afford and live where we live now and be looking at the kinds of houses we’re looking at now. I choked down a huge slice of humble pie.
The next morning, our pastor preached a sermon entitled “Christ My Merit.” In every culture, industry or arena, even the church sometimes, we focus on what people have achieved. Under the world’s standards, some of us might be considered “high achievers.” Some are highly educated, successful, wealthy or come from distinguished families. Some “do” a lot for others, for the community, for the school, for the church… But God is relational. He is not task-oriented and the love He freely gives us is not merit-based. We can not “earn” a single thing from Him. His love is a gift and His Son, the price already paid. God loves us far more than we could ever deserve and far more than we could ever give back. So the only word on a “resume” that would impress God at all is Jesus. He’s the One who paid our one-way ticket to Heaven; we just have to take hold of it.
And why did I mention lost wedding bands and fortune cookie fortunes earlier?
Tired and hungry after house hunting on Saturday, we stopped at Panda Express for a quick bite on our long drive home. To fuel my greed, this was my fortune:
Maybe this silly little strip of paper is what precipitated my pity party on the drive home and all those unhelpful thoughts about pahl-jah’s. But Sunday morning, before church and that timely sermon, I found the kids’ fortunes in the laundry and was encouraged.
Late that same Saturday night, I realized my wedding bands were gone, lost at some point during that busy week of house hunting. I fretted over them the rest of the weekend, texting and calling my parents, realtor, friends and various lost-and-found desks.
But then I realized something needed my attention even more. While the wedding bands are precious to me, they are also only sentimental adornments, mere symbols. Symbols of our love, our marriage, our commitment to one another. Just like a house. A house is merely an outward symbol of the home we make within it.
I don’t need to focus on pretty, presentable, perfect symbols. I need to focus on the underlying substance, the contents, the reality – our marriage, sticking together, being supportive and understanding – and being a loving, godly family in the home we build together. So forget the Joneses, forget stepping stones, forget wedding bands, and forget fortune cookies. God has a plan, and it’s gonna be GOOD. It always is.