Monday, August 15, 2011

Comparison Living

Today was one of those days.  It had its ups and its downs.  It started off with a down.  I slowly climbed back up.  Mid-morning I sat down in Starbucks with Broken-Down House and opened it up to start reading where I'd left off.  I didn't realize it, but I'd opened up the book to a different page.  I began reading and began here...

" we experience the reality of life in this house, sometimes it will leave us confused and overwhelmed.  Sometimes it will leave us hurt and angry.  Sometimes we will give way to envy because the house of someone living nearby seems far less broken.  Sometimes we will just get weary of the stress of it all and long for a house in perfect repair." from p. 85 of Broken-Down by Paul David Tripp

I was then comforted by this reminder farther down on the same page of this book...

"You have not been left alone...He knows who you are and he knows where you are living.  he knows how hard it is to live in this broken-down house because in the flesh he lived here himself." from p. 85 of Broken-Down House by Paul David Tripp

My strength began to return.  I returned to pick up my kids from their last day of VBS and head home to start  cooking as much as I could.  I had a long list of cooking tasks to accomplish during the afternoon before we headed over to a birthday party before the evening program at church to finish off VBS.

I began my cooking with cinnamon rolls, tomato salad, and bran muffins.  I also made chicken salad for my husband's dinner.  Amidst this 3 hour cooking session, a man came for our yearly termite inspection.  When he was done, we of course began to talk.  Our conversation was very interesting.

He reminded me of myself at 21 when I spoke with a young man who told me I worried him because I had all the right answers, but my heart was missing.  The way I'd put it now was that I was relying on me to fix me--not God.  I heard the same thing from this man this afternoon.  I encouraged him to seek fellowship and come back to church--any church.  I heard him say over and over that he is a lone wolf and that he relies on himself.  He separated from his wife 2 years ago and is now divorced.  He wants to be a great dad.  He's trying to fix himself.  I shared with him that he can't--only God can do that.  We're imperfect sinners.  Of course the conversation threw my cooking off track, but I know that needed to come second.  It was strange to hear someone say to me what I might have said to the young man who approached me 16 years ago to talk about what my relationship with Christ was really all about.

After I'd gotten as much cooking done as I was going to, we headed over to the birthday party.  I have lived next to a military post for six years and have never set foot on it--until Friday.  As I drove onto post, I was struck by how nice it was.  It was a different world from the one right outside the post gates.  As I drove onto the street where my daughter's friend lived, I thought "what a blessing to live here.  The homes are very nice, very little traffic, safe neighborhood...  I thought of all the things one would have to be thankful for if living there.  When I entered the house, I commented to another guest about the quarters.  The woman quickly replied to me how cramped the quarters were and blew my comment off.  In that moment, time froze for me.

I was struck immediately about how we all think the grass is greener on the other side.  I was struck by how easily we all fall into the trap that we need a bigger or smaller home, a newer or older home, a larger or smaller lot, more or less landscaping...  You get the drift.  We live in a world of comparisons.  What we have is so hard to be content with--thinking that if we had something else we'd be happier.  But, happiness doesn't depend on what we do or don't have.  It depends on how we see what we have--our attitudes towards what God has given us.

I heard this song several years ago and it has a powerful message.  One thing that I have missed since my husband got out of the military six years ago was the strong sense of community in the Army.  I had great friends and fellowship during his years in.  But, there was one thing that I often struggled with.  It was the dynamic between enlisted soldiers and officers.  My husband was enlisted in the army.  There is a separation between enlisted and officers.  There are reasons for this. But, there are also, unfortunately, some very crummy side effects.  One of them was that I had friends tell me they and their husbands couldn't be friends with my husband and me.  Most officers' wives would isolate it to their husbands and maintained that they could still be my friend.  But, it still affected how they related to me.  I still remember how one wife reacted to meeting to me and how little I felt.  I had my master's degree...I was a teacher...I knew I had worth in God's eyes and yet I felt so little in that moment.  

Unintentionally on Friday, the men at the party conveyed that they were officers.  I never mentioned that my husband was enlisted.  I could tell they assumed that he wasn't.  The wives assumed as well.  I didn't want to go through the process of explaining that my husband is a good, capable, and smart man.  I didn't want to explain that it was his "enlistment" that gave him the skills to do the job he has now.  I didn't want to feel like I had to defend my husband and myself-- and that we were as good as they were.  

It's amazing to me how quickly someone can make another feel inferior.  I grew up in Southern California.  What you wore determined how people saw you when you walked into a room.  Where you lived was the secondary determiner.  I grew up in a world where people were constantly compared to one another.  

Now, I live in a world that does the same thing, though not as overtly.  The difference is that I grew up on the "right side of the tracks" and now I'm on the "wrong side".  It's been humbling to live where I do.  A year ago, a gal I know said to me when we were thinking of moving that we could come look in her neighborhood but that we wouldn't be able to afford any of the houses where she lives.  Last week, I had an older woman tell me she would never go to the town where I live because it's a "bad area".  Honestly, comments like these make me feel like I'm 10 again and having someone criticize me for wearing the same pair of pants twice in a week. (I only had 1 pair since it was almost always warm in L.A.)  The reality is that people everywhere work to pay their bills and that you can't own a house (except on rare occasion) without working hard to pay your bills and take care of your family.  The stereotypes about where I live have been instilled in the minds of people who live in this county for years.  I wish they'd take a step back, push the reset button, and open their eyes.  Parents work hard to take care of their families and pay the bills no matter where they live.  Where someone lives makes them no less worthy of respect, value, or of friendship.

I don't want my kids to grow up like I did constantly being compared and learning to compare.  They just need to be themselves.  They are valuable because they are who God made them to be and because God loves them.  They aren't valuable because of their jobs or what they can do.  Autumn's value isn't determined by how well she does in school or how well she reads.  I want them to feel good about who they are and not have the insecurities I do that were planted so, so long ago when I was their ages.  

I was really shaken by my experience on Friday.  The interesting thing is that no one said anything overtly to me and not put me down.  But, it's my baggage.  So many memories came flooding back and feelings from the past were once again very real.  So, as I begin a new week, I find myself setting down those memories, closing the book, and getting back up.  I am trying to remind myself to let go and forgive those things people have said to me in the past.  It isn't who I am.  I am not "less of a person" and neither is my husband or my kids.  But, I'm also not painting pictures of Egypt this morning.  I don't long for the life of the Army anymore and my heart is filled with compassion for the wives of enlisted soldiers who still have to deal with the hierarchy.  


Kim said...

My friend...I wish I could give you a big hug right now. I want to sincerely apologize if I have ever said or done anything to make you feel like less. We have had many conversations about where we live and go to school. I think you are one of the strongest, most amazing women I have ever met, and it pains me to hear you so down. You are right, our worth is in Christ not in what we have. Please know that you and your family are a constant source or inspiration for me. I am glad the Lord brought you into my life.

Anne said...

Oh, my friend, you never have. :) It was interesting because the fellow on Friday looked at me and said you're one of those good Christian girls who takes care of their family and has it together and doesn't have any big faults. I told him point blank that wasn't true! We're all imperfect, including me! I have my insecurities--my "thorn in my side". God continues to use them and allow me to be reminded of them. I'm okay. Thank you for being such a good friend to me!