Three houses we’ve bought together, three mortgages, three front doors to hang a wreath, three ovens to bake birthday cakes (sixty four cakes in fifteen years, oh my), three streets to call home, lots of crazy neighbors. (Crazy Darryl and The Crazy Carpet Lady take the cake. Put those two in a room together and you’ve got a whole cuckoo’s nest.)
Each time we’ve moved so far was necessary for work; we’ve never moved just to upgrade the house. But each time our criteria was slightly different: we want to live in the inner city, we want a big backyard where the dog won’t get shot (again), we need to downsize to live in a more expensive city, we can upsize for a cheaper town.
Then, last year. Last year we were hoping to move again, just across town, just to find a better spot. Just – such an under-qualified word. How it misses all the push and pull of conflicting priorities, the nail-biting, the big dreams and big fears. We just want a little more room, we just want to be more hospitable, we just want to fall asleep without gunshots down the way. This one decision is a microcosm of our whole worldview. It prizes out our thoughts on debt and wealth and simplicity, beauty and freedom and neighborliness, incarnation, restoration, faith and risk, nature-loving introversion and urban hospitality. It forces us to consider the perspectives of others and decide whether others’ perceptions have any bearing on our decision-making. We have seen houses that cost more but seem less pretentious and bargain houses in opulent neighborhoods; houses closer to our field of ministry but too fancy pants, houses spare and simple but too far away.
Then there are questions more ethereal and hard to pin down (because all those other questions are easy.) Like, what does God really care about? Is He happy when our kids are safe and carefree? Is He happy when His gifts make us smile? Is He pleased when we make sacrifices to serve? Is He offering liberty and choice when we cling to duty and resignation? Where can we make the most impact? Where can we find the most joy?
Did God make me a country girl at heart and stick me in the city to refine and challenge me, or is staying square-pegged in my round hole missing out on what He made me for? How can I bloom where I’m planted?
Moving or staying isn’t clear cut. Maybe it never is, whether the moving is literal, with boxes and bags, or relational, moving ahead with a commitment or moving on from a friendship. Maybe the answer isn’t likely to be, “Yes, definitely, take a new job, remodel the kitchen, go back to school, buy a dog.” Maybe the answer is more often found in the waiting. “Be joyful now. Give generously today. Make the world a better place at this moment.”
Two of our closest friend-families are moving this month. One literally sold all but their clothes and a few bins of odds and ends — had a yard sale and everything — and moved halfway around the world to follow Christ into spiritually desolate lands. Their agonizing/liberating/invigorating/joyful decision process weighed happiness, sacrifice, safety, cost, and calling. They concluded that the intersection of their gifts and the world’s great need required the big and bold step they took. We waved them off at the airport with equal parts laughter and tears.
If I thought they were forsaking joy to leave, I’d have thrown myself at their feet and wrestled them out of the check-in line. But I don’t believe they have abandoned joy, they’ve followed it deep to the source.
Our other friends, no less godly, are driving an RV across the country and moving to rural Wisconsin. They, too, weighed their options: happiness, sacrifice, safety, cost, calling. They too, followed the urging of Spirit. Funny enough, these guys are our urban friends. I can as easily imagine them in Manhattan or San Fransisco, yet they are heading to humble farm country to serve in a homespun church. It’s an amazing thing about the Christian life — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Evidently it takes all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people in all kinds of places. And apparently God is endlessly creative in sanctifying us, burning off the dross, making us shine.
But how do we figure it all out? Go here, stay there… Martin Luther, you know, was asked what he would do if he knew Christ were returning tomorrow. “Plant a tree,” said he. Do the best you can every moment. Maybe we overthink things sometimes.
We aren’t moving any time soon. The market in Colorado has conspired against us. But the house-hunting process, super-frustrating, was also fascinating. It gave us a mirror to see our own hearts.
More and more I am persuaded: every turning point, every event, every choice, and every landscape thrusts all of these questions at us if we have ears to hear. It’s all an opportunity to evaluate our hearts, to draw a step nearer to God. Who is this God, we can ask. What has He made me for?
God, giver of all good gifts — author of freedom — sacrificial lamb. God who both delights in blessing and has no qualms about asking us to give everything, take up our cross, and follow. How can we know this paradoxical God if not through the prism of all our thousand desires and our wildest, misguided, dreams?