The old house on Ontario Street

I still dream about the old house sometimes.

It was charming, despite previous owners’ weird preferences for paint colors and toilets in impossibly limiting closets. Original woodwork; drafty windows. We’d grill peaches on the deck in July, scrape ice from our windshields from November to April, and the sun would rise as I safely ran on the sidewalks all over that city all year. I remember the heartbreak of emptying it two Februaries ago to move to Michigan. I’d cried snotty tears on my mom’s shoulder for two cold minutes as she helped me pack.

I’m OK now.

But I saved half a gallon of the smokey-gray-green paint we’d used in our bedroom, on the off chance we’re ever home-owners again. I think about that paint more often than is normal.

I don’t, actually, let myself think about the house much. When we were in Oshkosh in July, I wouldn’t let Dave drive by the house with me in the car. The wound’s healed, but that’s no reason to poke it with a stick. The people from Oshkosh — the ones who showed us how holidays, dinners, tea dates, book clubs, running, mulching, and grocery shopping were just better with other people — I got to keep them; that community God’s given us is still there. I’m grateful, humbly grateful, for the way God’s gifted us friends and community here and back there.

No, this quiet longing is about that house: that 1910 structure with ugly blue siding, crooked door frames and sticky cabinets. Mice, one fat bat, a garage built for a horse and a tiny yard overlooking a neighbor’s house that needed painting — I mention this only to illustrate that my fondness for the house only probably came from it being ours.

Isn’t that a self-centered desire, to own? Isn’t it?

We’re about 17 years from affording another home; maybe 27. Maybe never. But as I start to process what’s behind my longings for owning, I wonder — While there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, I wonder what’s underneath that desire to have that when I already have what I need, and more.

Is it a remnant of the American dream I don’t want, or is it something else?

You know what I think it is?

I think we’ve lost the story this week. I think I’m nostalgic over a sense that then I had more money; then I had a place. I’m looking back and seeing how far we’ve come.

{Dear Lord, make me live where I am. I’m not praying for a house; I’m praying to be released from the thoughts about one.  Lord, help us feel as grounded as we need to be here; help us stay as flexible as You’d have us be, too. Help me remember renting is what you’d have us do now, and that there’s no such thing as an in-between time for You, because You’re always growing us, if we let You.}

 

I’m a dreamer. I’m happiest when I’m dreaming with a Narnian flavor; when I see us living in some upside way. But I’m a dreamer who buys groceries and pays for health insurance. Dreaming rams into real life sometimes. Remember the jolt of an adult interrupting pretend play? I hated it, and I forget this kind of dreaming isn’t the same. There is no separation between holy and everything else; God doesn’t have to interrupt; He’s all over that.

We can dream our new monastic dreams and pretend we can’t be bothered with money worries (or anything else). But it’s easier to live like the sparrows when my husband’s employer doesn’t talk about layoffs every four to six months. He’s not been laid off in the almost nine years there, but the threat, the implied “yet,” that sense that we should be panicking — it’s tiring. I don’t live well when people around me are giving me “panic” signals. I don’t parent well from panic.

Here’s my confession: Every time, like clockwork, layoffs become part of the week’s story, we begin to wonder about the wisdom of being a one-income family. All that joy I have over being here with the girls, gone. We make the job the thing, instead of God. Where does our security come from — the job, or God? Are we confusing the job with that blessing question? I prickle at the interpretation of the word “blessing” sometimes; it’s been hijacked. It was easier to feel blessed with a cushion in the bank account. That is a false interpretation.

Through selling that house at a loss to living juuuust over paycheck to paycheck, we’re being conditioned for something. For one, conditioned to crave home, but not a house. Two, to look for God blooming up all over the place — not in our bank account. We’re not there yet, but I’m trying. Three, conditioned to find other people who dream in the same way. {More on that soon.}

I want to grow into this, to be better at returning from the panic, or avoiding it altogether. Joy. Really, that’s all I want, is a return to joy.

 

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