Opting Out

A side trip on the way home from the coast the other day proved to be an eye-opener for me. I found myself on a winding back road you’d probably never find on a map, further proven by the blank display on the navigation package in my truck. I like taking those forgotten paths on occasion; it helps remind me that it is not imperative for me to always be in a hurry as I travel through life.

It was a newly minted subdivision that caught my eye, replete with a fancy stone gate featuring intricate artwork. I couldn’t resist a sudden urge to drive through that beckoning gate and witness the high dollar houses sure to be viewable just beyond the ornate opening. Homes starting in the low 200’s, the strategically placed billboard advertised. Now, first off, I have a problem with that. A ‘home’ is so valuable, at least a good one is, that you cannot place a dollar amount on it. A house is just a building and that’s simply all it can ever be. But a home, ah, that takes a lot of love and work coupled with massive infusions of patience and respect. To call a nice, brand new, unoccupied house a home is one of my pet peeves—the story of that inauspicious building has yet to be told.

I’ll confess I had heard of this subdivision beforehand, but my trip had serendipitously brought me in close enough proximity to witness it for myself as to whether the rumors I’d heard were true or not. Turns out they were—to the letter to be exact. I passed several McMansions (that’s what I call them), very large cookie-cutter houses of close architectural design fading off into the distance like monoliths pining for clarity and reason. All of them were found in forgotten states of incompletion. Weeds and brush grew around piles of dormant brickwork; projects abandoned or better, aborted, before the builders were completed. They were mortal victims of a fluctuating economy and a housing crisis that reached epidemic proportions before the final tally was certified, and their fallen condition much akin to castles in the sand waiting for the tide to close their story.

I caught myself pondering on one of them in particular; the builder had meticulously worked around a century oak, taking pains to create the house without disturbing the ancient tree. It sat on the side of a hill, and although the vacant lots on both sides had faded For Sale signs rooted in the dirt, as it sat it would have been the perfect place to raise a family. Children could play in the low hanging branches of the Disney-esque tree, and her fronds would provide much needed shade for backyard bar-b-cues in a future that obviously was not meant to be—at least not in the present economic conditions. I began to wonder what I could give for the house myself; to complete it and move in with my own family. Other than the remoteness from my job and Wal-Mart, why it was perfect!

As I drove away from the interrupted subdivision, my thoughts returned again and again, stabilized over the what-held-promise-to-be-beautiful-house-on-the-hill as I made my way back to McNeill. Along the way reason returned and I began to take stock in what I have. My house is small. I have no carport. I have an in-ground pool but sometimes not enough floor space when the kids and grandchildren are around. But my mortgage is meek, manageable, and doesn’t create a lot of pain when the monthly bill is due. It is conceivable that I will pay it off one day despite the economy—possibly. And I’m a lot closer to Wal-Mart as well as civilization in general.

Of course if I wanted to, I could add a concrete slab in the front or back and build an additional room or two to impress my neighbors and friends. How about a matching carport to cover my beloved Z-71 or Kim’s SUV? Maybe an additional barn with a boat in it for lazy weekend days spendable on the lake or river of my choice?

Instead I’ve opted-out. I’ll keep my smallish dwelling just the way it is, thank you very much. Boats are too much trouble and the rain makes my aging truck glisten when I remember to wax it. Family in a small room makes for a close family, and a close family in a small room goes a long way toward making that house a home. To be comfortable, on an even keel with my wife as we share that special love we began so long ago with our children and grandchildren, is worth far more than additional floor-space or marble counter tops. Two floppy-eared dogs that never do what they are told add an exclamation point to complete the picture—at least until they get into my rose bushes. Walking with G_d in the way He would have me go, knowing that a personal relationship with His Son will be all that matters on that Great Day which is to come gives me peace and a blessed hope for a future that has yet to be written.

Jesus makes an amazing offer in Matthew: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I think I have enough these days. I’ve opted out of a broken system that only leaves me wanting more, and fills me with an emptiness that can never be fully satisfied. That system will always leave me high and dry, proverbially stuck on a desolate sand bar. Material wealth—those big houses, cars, and boats—are sad trade-offs when compared to the rest that only He can provide.

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