Saturday, January 19, 2013

Doing What I Can

I was talking to a friend recently, explaining how we got to where we are (and just what where we are means now – in particular, being married for nine years and having no house deposit). Her comment? “So I guess you’re back at zero really.” Yup. That’s about it.

Several factors combined to create this position in our lives. Lack of financial sense (our fault for being cocky and silly), getting caught out by recession (both in selling a house and in finding work – still issues with the work front nearly four years on), and even before all those that I had fatigue for four years (didn’t earn a full-time wage, spent a heck of a lot on getting/keeping well, and didn’t even consider having kids till we’d been married six years and even then it was a bit of a shock to discover we were expecting Munchkin!).

But my friend’s next comment was just as interesting. Something along the lines of, “That’s not so bad.” Yup again. She’s so right, and sometimes I really need to be reminded. Zero is WAY better than in the red. We did not go bankrupt. We are not trying to pay off nasty creditors. We are not eating baked beans every night (or eating nothing at all which at least one in six people around the world are faced with on a regular basis!). Zero really isn’t that bad. And it’s a wiser zero than the one we had nine years ago when we first got married. We will do things differently the second time round. And hopefully be nicer people to be around for all our mistakes, have a bit more understanding of others, and be more determined to enjoy and make the best of whatever situation we are in.
So all this leads me to the thought that:
Sometimes, we can’t do what we really want to.
I’d love to live on a few acres with an orchard and a few dozen chickens.
But I can’t.
At least not right now.
But my parents do let me keep chooks at their place. It improves their garden soil, and I get eggs. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth the effort when it is sweltering hot and we have to walk up to feed them, or one of my girls goes clucky (again!) and has to go into solitary confinement. But overall, it’s a good deal. I get chooks. From this I gather to myself a layer of contentment, wrapping it snugly around me. I remind myself that many people only ever dream of owning their own chickens or growing their own food. It’s not exactly my ideal. But it’s still a good second choice and I can live with that.
It’s a bit like that renting. We’d much rather own. But right now, renting has its purposes. We didn’t pay for the new kitchen tap, for instance. Our landlords did. I can’t really choose what plants go in the garden, because it doesn’t belong to me. But I can choose to pick what is there, and display it on my dining table. So I do.
I’m doing what I can.
Are you doing what you can?
It’s very easy to get caught up in a, “when I get to such and such” mentality. You know, where you’re waiting for that magical moment. The one where your kids leave home, you get a good job, or buy that house you want. We all have them, those points of critical mass where our lives will be forever transformed. Well, we hope so at any rate!
But real life isn’t usually that clear cut. And I’m finding that often we simply can’t have what we want. Or at least not all of it, not now. Being a major planner I can find it incredibly frustrating when it feels like day after day, month after month, year after year, we are not really making any progress (particularly in our finances, that one really bugs me).
I’m trying to change my focus. Instead of worrying over whether we will get to the owning house, owning land, etc point, I am instead trying to focus on what I can do NOW. On being grateful for what we have now. Because it could be a lot worse. A lot, lot worse, and sometimes I forget that. I’m trying to do what I can with what we have. The skills I possess, the resources at our disposal. I really don’t want to get to the end of my life and discover I’ve wasted it in wishing for a different one when I could have been enjoying the one I’ve been given. So I’m focusing on what I CAN do something about, rather than what I cannot.

I can’t do anything about the dark brown lino in our toilet room. But I can put flowers on the windowsill.

I can’t plant fruit trees (a major reason I want a home of our own!). But I can gratefully accept the plums from my neighbour’s amazing tree.

I don’t have time to get to Tiny Boppers (movement for preschoolers and carers) any more each week or help out with their dancing (something I LOVE< LOVE
I can’t do much about earning extra income this year. I need to study. We all need to survive me studying! But I have a few scholarships to apply for. And I’ll do what I can around the study…growing food, buying specials, avoiding the shops! But only what I can. Sometimes I have to remember that I can’t do everything. So some weeks, we WILL buy hot chips for dinner. And I will try not to berate myself over how unhealthy they are for both our bodies and our budget. Munchkin already knows exactly how to eat hot chips, he thinks they are great, so you can tell this is our quick and easy meal of choice. I will try to remember that sometimes ‘doing what I can’ involves looking after other priorities – such as finishing an assignment or having a rest instead of making something homemade and fabulous for dinner!

I’d really like to live in a three bedroom house so we could have visitors stay overnight. But our two bedroom unit is actually just right for us. We couldn’t afford to pay more rent than we do, we live in an amazing location, and this place suits us so well. I’m learning to lower my expectations, to discover what I really need or really want to live and what is actually surplus to that. We can’t have people stay over. But we do still have my in-laws visit for the day and I’ve had a wonderful friend spend a few nights living in our garage so she could visit with us! It isn’t worth the financial pressure for us to live anywhere else. And even if we had a house deposit and could raise a mortgage right now, it’s not the right thing for our circumstances. And really, despite what the media tells me every day, there’s nothing wrong with waiting. As long as you’re not sitting on your hands. I plan on waiting with expectation, preparing, doing what I can with where we are at now so that when the next opportunity comes, we will be ready for it.

I can’t do anything while we are students about not having a house deposit. But I can keep chugging away with our finances, saving a little bit here and there (after all, little bits do eventually add up to bigger bits and I imagine that often it is our small habits that direct our big financial achievements in the end!).

Often we can’t do anything about the big stuff. But we can do something about the small. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll find looking back that the smaller things actually count for a whole lot more than we realise. My parents read to me every night as a child. That probably seemed like a small (and frequently boring for them!) routine to follow, but that formed the foundation for my high literacy level and interest in the written word. It had big results. They also prayed with me every night. I still do every single night before bed. Even when I’m almost falling asleep over the words. I always have my little conversation with God. It usually starts, “Thank you for today…” Now I’m teaching Munchkin the same. I’m hoping that this small routine thing we do will provide him with a safe haven and strong foundation as he grows, a place to pin his hopes and aspirations, release his day, and prepare for sleep.

We save $5 or $10 a month on our washing powder. That’s not much when you have goals requiring $200,000-300,000 in capital (I want to own an Early Childhood Centre one day and that’s about the deposit we’ll need!!!). But over ten years, we will save $600-1,200 just by doing that one small thing. Combine it with other small things and we might be surprised at how big a deposit we actually can save. If we can be bothered. If we realise how significant the small things can be and don’t discount them as trivial or insignificant.

Sometimes, doing what we can takes every ounce of will power we possess. When we’re tired and really don’t want to be bothered, when it doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference, when really we just want to be magically whisked a million miles to reach our dream in one gigantic leap, painlessly and quickly. That’s when doing what you can is hardest. But what if that really happened? What if the big stuff we wanted just happened without our having to do anything about it? Would we really appreciate it? Would we value it? Just wondering. I think that doing what we can is easiest when it’s routine, when it’s a whole bunch of little things simply built into our daily lives. That’s how I find it, at any rate. You don’t have to think about it. You just do it. That $10 a week automatically gets transferred into your (untouchable!) savings. You use a smaller scoop for your laundry powder. You automatically go to choose the bedtime story on your way to the bedroom. That’s when doing what you can becomes easier. Not always easy, but easier. And worth it. Surely, it will be worth it, helping us reach these big dreams we have. Or even if it doesn’t, helping us enjoy the life we now live regardless of where we end up.



Elizabeth said...

You are SO good for my soul... it has been a few weeks of frustrations here, and I needed to hear this!

We are doing okay just as we are... and we have LOADS to be thankful for!

MaxineD said...

Yup - dreams and goals are great, but we need to remember to enjoy the journey too, treasuring the moments as we go. An attitude of gratitude lightens the load and helps build our character to how God wants it.