When I Get to Have the Good Thing

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We moved last month. I’ve spent the past few weeks sorting through things, packing some and donating or dumping others. I tried to stay focused and not get pulled into the little whirlpools of nostalgia lurking at the backs of drawers and cupboards. Of all the things I sorted, the one that turned out to be the hardest, emotionally, was the stack of papers.

I have a tendency to try to push away unpleasant papers. I deal with them, but I don’t want to see them. It turns out I stuffed quite a few of them deep into the drawers of my desk. Much of the stack was from the years I spent as a freelancer. Going through them and finding the overdue notices, the credit card bills and the small pay stubs, I started to re-experience the fear and stress of that time.

Money was thin, and the bills came right on schedule. I remember trying to balance the due dates. Which one could wait a few more days? Which one needed to be paid today? Financial insecurity get like walking a tightrope. I felt like I was always just a step or two ahead of disaster.

I read an article a while ago where the author asked people what their definition of wealth was. Essentially she wanted to know: How much is enough? One of the answers really stayed with me: Wealth is being able to pay all your bills in the same month. I remember what that felt like. I remember running the numbers. What if I did this? Then that leaves me with … oh. Trying to make things fit was the worst game of Tetris ever.

The financial mess created a thick layer of guilt spread right on top of all of my feelings of inadequacy for not finding a full-time job faster. Going through the bills today, I felt that frisson of fear deep in the pit of my stomach, but only for a moment. I’m working full-time now. I made some good decisions with a financial planner a few months back and I know where the money for my bills is coming from. The fear is still there, lurking in the background, but it’s small now. Or maybe I’m stronger now. Maybe it’s both.

I’m learning to step into my own agency. But the transition out of chaos is not as smooth as I thought it would be. I thought the issue was lack of finances and when the lack went away, the other issues would disappear too. But, of course, brains and hearts don’t work that way. It’s taking me a bit longer to make the leap.

When it came time to look for a new apartment, my roommate and I had a grown up discussion about what we could afford. We talked about what we were willing to bend on (a second bathroom) and what was non-negotiable (in suite laundry.) We found an apartment that fit the bill and made an appointment with the landlord to go and take a look.

She was confident; I was scared.

I remember walking up to the building thinking, “This is nice. I’d like to live here.”

That was quickly followed by, “But they probably won’t let us.”

I tried not to get attached as we walked down the hallways.

We met the landlord, saw the apartment and it was even nicer than I thought. When she offered it to us on the spot, I nearly fell over. Not long afterward, she ran the credit checks, we passed and found ourselves sitting in her office, signing the paperwork. Right up until the moment she handed us the keys, I was half convinced it was all a mistake and she was going to tell us we did not qualify. I did not expect to get to have the good thing.

There is a big part of my brain, and my heart, that keeps forgetting that I’ve been liberated from the Long Years of Waiting. I’m not living in that barrenness anymore. I have work I absolutely love, and a steady income. I can make plans. I get to choose. It’s an unfamiliar feeling. Being liberated is only half of the work. I have to inhabit my own freedom in order to reap its benefits.

If you’ve ever done any gardening you’ve probably seen what happens when a plant outgrows its pot. It becomes root bound, with roots so tightly twisted together that the plant cannot grow. If left long enough, the roots will conform completely to the shape of the container. Simply replanting a root bound flower in a larger pot isn’t enough. You have to disturb the roots, physically pull them apart, to get them to reach out into the new space. If you skip that step, weeks, even months later, you can pull up the plant and the roots will be just as restricted as they were before.

I’m starting to see that my heart has been root bound for the past few years. I’ve been in a time of chaos. The chaos has passed, but bringing the same old thinking into my new new reality isn’t going to be enough. I need to disturb my own roots, shake things out and find the courage to stretch out into this new season. Without courage I’ll keep living as if nothing had changed.

It’s hard work.

The truth is: I loved the home we just moved out of. I remember so clearly the day we got the keys. It felt like the answer to a prayer I only dared to whisper out loud. It felt like the hand of God; like a miracle. I stood by the front door with the view of Mount Baker and the lion’s head door knocker and the verses in the Bible about God giving us more than we could ask or imagine ran through my head.

As we walked away from our old home a month ago, I could still see the miracle. It didn’t look the way I thought it would, but I could still see it. I believe in my heart God lead us to that place and I believe God took us by the hand and lead us away from it when the time came. That’s where the strength to be brave comes from. God was in the chaos and God is in the peace, too.

It’s so easy to stay in fear, small living and hurt, telling ourselves it’s safer not to try again. But there’s less life when we stay tightly wound. The disturbance of our roots can be for our good, if we’re willing to trust and reach out again.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the house on the mountain with its sweeping views and neighborhood deer. It was a miracle then. It’s no less wonderful just because it didn’t last forever. Now we’re here, in a new part of the same city, in a place where I can still see Mount Baker out of one of the windows.

I can see the miracle here, too.

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin