These days my life is really pretty good. Probably the easiest it's been in a long time. We still don't have any money, but I just don't feel the press of needing a lot of money anymore, which feels as freeing to me as a bigger paycheck. I don't have any babies or toddlers, which seems crazy, but at the same time... really nice. No nap times to juggle my days around. No diapers to mess with. No frantically digging small objects out of a crawling baby's mouth. No leaking breasts, no leaking infants... heck, we don't even use a stroller anymore. My life is a breeze.
One thing I do tend to struggle with from time to time, though, is the old social media comparison game, specifically when it comes to magical locations. It can seem--based on social media--that everyone and his brother are homesteading merrily these days, keeping a small flock of chickens and some livestock, romping in the fresh air and luscious grass, soaking in all the beautiful and extraordinary benefits of Country Life. And I'm not here to underrate the fabulousness of living in the country. After all, at one time this was the view out my bedroom window:
And then we moved to a different homestead and this was my view:
Want to know what my yard view is these days? This:
No one has ever said to me, "Oh, what idyllic scenery you have!" while we've lived in this house. So surprising. Hm.
When we lived in the country, I really thought I had everything I could want or need. I had animals--I love animals!-- I had space to dream and plant and let my kids run wild. I had sunsets, and fresh picked wildflowers, and walks to the creek, and as much time to myself as I would need in three lifetimes. I've never jumped aboard the Introvert/Extrovert bandwagon and have never strongly associated with either term. Sometimes I feel very Introverty and don't want to be around people for long stretches of time. Sometimes I feel very Extroverty and need people around me in order to feel charged. It just depends on the day. But one thing I noticed after three years of living such an isolated life was that I felt like I was missing something. I had everything I wanted and it was all so beautiful and I had no one to share it with. One of the happiest little stretches of time for us was a few weeks when my teenaged nephew was routinely coming over in the evenings to lift weights with my husband. Afterward he'd come back to the cabin and we'd all have dinner (usually I saved him back some leftovers, but in any case, he came back to the house to eat and visit.) It was so delightful and I really felt like we were sharing what we had with someone, something I didn't quite realize was so important to me. You know in Little Women when Marmee says about Aunt March, "her blessings became a burden because she had no one to share them with"? Looking back, I realize that was a big part of my feeling so isolated. Having all of that perfection and idyllic space was great for my family and me, but we weren't sharing it with anyone. Looking back at that time from where I am now, I can see that while we were living for God in many ways, something else was lacking.
Because I'm Catholic I have such a viewpoint, but non-Christians might just think of this as "being the best person you can be." I felt we were doing a good job of being stewards of the earth, but there's more necessary on our path: We are called to Be Christ and to See Christ through all the works of mercy. We can be Christ to someone in the way we treat them and we can see Christ in everyone we meet, especially those in need. When I lived with just my family so far from town, our world seemed very small. We could be Christ and see Christ among ourselves, but beyond that there were few opportunities. Fast forward to us returning to life in our downtown house, and, oh my! The opportunity for charity abounds. I'm not by any means saying this is the only way, or even that I'm such a good person--I'm saying that here I am confronted with the Christs of the world rather than being able to hide from them. Because I'm not very naturally motivated to go looking for ways to practice the works of mercy, it's necessary that I live in a place where the works of mercy just come--literally--knocking at my door. (This is because I'm not really a good person--I'm lazy and my two best talents are procrastination and avoidance.) In the country God might have said, "drive into town and see if you meet Me along the way," and I could respond easily with, "No thanks! I'm pretty comfy here at home." But in our current location God says, "HERE'S A HOMELESS PERSON, DO WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO." It's a much more direct way.
A year ago we traded in all prospects of a country lifestyle for this urban life. And almost immediately upon our return, we were given opportunity to practice being a face of charity. Some ways are only pleasant--people drop in for visits constantly, especially on the weekends. If friends have a window of wait time between obligations, instead of sitting in their cars, they can come here for a cup of coffee and a chat. We are able to talk to strangers on the street and be a voice of pleasantness to them, almost every day. We have this huge dog who inevitably makes people smile, which is nice. We have close neighbors, and are friends with the librarians--last weekend the girls picked little bouquets of wildflowers from the yard, wrapped them with yarn and a tag on each that said, "Here's a bouquet to brighten your day!" and delivered them to the couple next door and to all the librarians working in the children's room that afternoon. These are the easy, pleasant things. The less easy, but just as important things are when people approach us for money. Or when someone stops by at a moment when I'm feeling more Introverty. Or when someone needs a place to stay for awhile and we have an empty guest room. Those are opportunities that are only presented because of our downtown location. And sometimes it's hard, but it can feel less hard when I think of how we are being Christ and/or seeing Christ.
And of course, in the end, it's all about the example I'm setting for my children. There are so many different flavors of childhood that one can have, and we dabbled in giving ours one of the rural variety. But how much of our independence was laced with a little bit of hiding from the rest of the world? It's important to note that even though we had *plans* of making our homesteads into something that wasn't just for ourselves, we never made it that far, so the reality was that we were only living for ourselves. We were not producing anything for anyone else. We were not helping other homesteaders. We weren't helping anyone! We were just living for ourselves, by ourselves, because even though we wanted to grow into something shareable, we didn't have the means to do that. If the message I want to send my children is how to live for others, we were not succeeding at that in our rural life. It was a lot of, "let's just stay home and pick flowers today... and tomorrow... and forever!!..." In our current spot, the door is open for us to be good people in a circle much broader than just our own little family. And even though it's different, and even though it's sometimes hard, and even though I miss my goats, there's a good feeling that comes with this urban, shareable sort of life.
And when I'm feeling super-duper Introverty and it's especially hard to take on all the peopley-ness of this life, I remind myself of how fortunate I am to have a home where people feel welcome. Together, my family and I have made a space where people seem to feel comfortable dropping in unannounced, where people know they can come if they have a need, even if that need is just someone to talk to for awhile. When I see that people know they can come here for whatever reason, I am filled with gratitude and joy. And I am repaid tremendously! By welcoming people into our life I have received so many great stories, advice, knowledge, and memories. Even though the view out my bedroom window is a scuzzy alleyway, this life is its own kind of beautiful. And I hope we never lose sight of that beauty and the joy that comes with opening our downtown door.