I decided to answer a reader’s question as a series of blog posts. This is part one, sharing the history leading up to our change to living a “Simple Life.”
“You wrote in your ‘About Me’ column on the side of your blog that you started living a Simple Life- What does that mean exactly?”
What a wonderful question! In forming my answer, I realized that I should probably share our history leading up to our current “simple living” lifestyle. As soon as we got married, we determined to live simply; to “buy a house and have lots of babies (whether through birth or adoption) as soon as possible.” These dreams, though in and of themselves are not wrong, were not necessarily established within the pursuit of fulfilling God’s desires for our life. Looking back, I can see the hand of God blessing us throughout our stumbling steps of early marriage, anyway. (I’ll expound on that later.)
We started out living very simply out of necessity. Calvin was a student, and working for an on-call staffing agency. I was a stay-at-home wife. (I now know that this is not only a “valid” role; it is a blessing!) A few months after our wedding, Calvin was blessed with a full-time job, and continued taking college classes. I loved staying home, and caring for our household of two.
I took frequent walks to the library (we had one working car at the time), to check out cookbooks. This was my first introduction to truly learning how to live frugally (unfortunately “nutrition” wasn’t part of my education at this point). I learned to soak and cook beans, to hang pictures and curtains, keep a tidy home, sew baby gifts, help friends with new babies, and take soup to ill neighbors. We began a basic budgeting system, but did not yet understand how to afford balanced meals every day.
Soon, an insurance payment arrived, and we were able to have our second car repaired. Thus, I began going out of the home more. I visited friends to help with their new babies, and to take them meals. Meanwhile, we were longing to have our own baby, and couldn’t understand why we hadn’t “automatically” gotten pregnant.
We had stumbled upon this book, about a week before our wedding, but didn’t spend much time contemplating the spiritual concepts it introduced to us. We initially hoped to have “a house full of kids” but did not completely grasp the depth of the “quiverfull” idea of giving our fertility to God. (It is not about just “having as many children as possible!”)
As the months went by, we were becoming unsatisfied with our life, since we weren’t living the dream of a happy marriage in a house full of kids. Marriage was hard work! The idea that things or people could make us happy was gradually sifting itself into our life. Several months after our wedding, we found out about a full-time job opportunity in a church office, and I was quickly hired. We justified it by saying that since we didn’t have kids, I didn’t need to stay home; plus, it would allow us to move into a safer, warmer place, and to help pay for Calvin’s college education.
Thus began our life as the “typical” newlywed American couple: two incomes, two cars, and lots of stress. With my income, we suddenly were able to afford more entertainment, gifts, expensive groceries, etc. We were able to move into a new apartment, which was full of blessings: it was a closer commute to work for both of us, a washer and dryer was provided, and it was more weather-tight and comfortable. God also blessed us with growing friendships with others during this time.
However, as a dual-income family, I suddenly carried a burden of serving both my husband and a boss. (And my boss sent me home with a paycheck every month!) I did not focus on learning to submit to and honor my husband, and work gradually increased its demands upon my life. We saw each other less and less, as Calvin went to classes during the day, and worked late at night, while I worked 9-5. We periodically met for lunch dates, and tried to strengthen our weakening marriage with Family Life materials (even attending a conference!). We began pursuing infertility testing, which only further taxed our relationship. Doctors told us we would never get pregnant without medical assistance.
Over the months, we had been “penny pinching” and eventually saved up enough for a small down payment on an older home. Six months after our first anniversary, we moved into a 1400-sq ft, 3 bedroom 1950’s home of our own! Now, we had the obligation of mortgage payments every month. Changes were going on a my job, but with our new debt, I had to stay employed. I began to be bitter about being required to leave my home everyday, with a now long-commute, to sit at a desk. I longed to be home, planting a garden, sewing quilts, and having babies.
Then, when I had a breast lump tested (benign!), and Calvin was hospitalized for appendicitis, it became very clear how dependent we were upon every paycheck (and how tied I was to my job!). Even though I was needed at home to care for Calvin during his recovery, my employer demanded that I be in the office. I was being put in the position of having to submit to my employer, rather than honor my husband, in order to maintain our lifestyle. (Plus, now we had hospital bills to pay!) Unfortunately, the employer won. By then, the “simple life” dreams were nearly forgotten.
A couple months later (weeks after we attended an adoption seminar!), we discovered the thrilling news: I was pregnant! We began dreaming of cloth diapering, a Bradley birth, little homemade clothes, and organic baby food. The dreams of a simple life began to reappear.
Then, at 3-months pregnant, we discovered our baby’s heart had stopped beating. I was admitted for an emergency D&C, and sent home to complete the miscarriage. Our reading on the Bradley method was incredibly valuable, as we suffered through this process alone at home. Regrettably, we allowed our grief to push us even farther apart, as we didn’t know how to survive at our jobs (and act “socially appropriate” in public), and to go through the grief we undeniably felt. (Although, people around us were telling us all the nonsensical things such as “It was for the best.” “You weren’t really parents, yet, anyway.” etc.) The “simple living” dreams were boxed up again.
This unbearable grief, along with our surrounding pressures, continued to discourage us from a life wholly devoted to God. We sought relief and avoidance from our pain; immersing ourselves in individual hobbies and ministries, and chose to use birth control. We started working opposite shifts, and hardly saw each other. However, looking back now, we recognize that this time of grief was a precious growth period, as God refined us, and gave us the empathy for grieving friends. He deepened our souls that year. God also used our home as a haven for hurting friends and family that year, as they sat around our table, and used our guest room.
We jumped into pursuing adoption, and life was brightening up again. (Although, we still harbored unforgiveness against God for our loss.) We spent the 18 months of the adoption journey entirely focusing our life on studying how to raise an adopted child, and working lots of overtime. Halfway through, we discovered I was pregnant again. (Yes, we were still using birth control!) God was pursing us, but we didn’t recognize Him. There was no rejoicing or acknowledgment of this pregnancy. We took a stoic, fatalistic approach.
So, over the next several weeks, when the doctor began puzzling over test results, knowing something was wrong- but unable to identify it- we calmly went through a second miscarriage. This time, there was no D&C, and I discovered (ironically) the joys of natural childbirth. I felt empowered and, finally, “whole” as I delivered without medical assistance of any kind. I felt God’s healing upon my soul, allowing me to recognize that this process of birth was what I was created to do. I peacefully murmured through the contractions, “My body is doing what it is supposed to do.” There was no longer feelings of shame, guilt, incapability, or fear of the worst. God was present, I was forgiven, and I had forgiven Him. The dreams of a “simple life” were re-awakened.
Just weeks before the miscarriage, I had finally started a new job, that we felt would allow me to eventually be home more, according to promises by my new boss. However, as I began encouraging her to allow me to develop procedures and plans for working from home, she became surprisingly resistant. Once, again, I was pressured into submitting to a boss, rather than my husband.
Calvin chose to work away from home that summer, on a wildland firefighting crew. Since we had very few chances to talk on the phone (limited cell-phone reception in the desert!), we never discussed the miscarriage during those months. But absence did make our love stronger. We began to realize what was really important. I poured over The Simple Living Guide on weekends, and dreamed. Once he returned home, we focused on rebuilding our marriage.
After an intense few months of regaining oneness, we splurged on a date, and attended a showing of Facing the Giants. We felt God’s love and affirmation wash over us, and He encouraged us to continue in our pursuit of adoption, preparing in faith for His blessing. A few weeks later, our daughter was born, the same month as our 4th anniversary!
It took us a few months to adjust to being new parents, but then the “Simple Living” dream hit in full force. We decided to do whatever drastic measures God requested of us, in order to follow the dream. Calvin graduated from EMT school in the spring, and started applying for jobs. In the evenings, we crunched numbers on the calculator, figuring how much debt we had to pay off, and the minimum amount we would need to live off of, in order for me to stay home.
We decided to put our home on the market in order to allow us to move if a new job came up, as well as eliminating the mortgage payment, and paying off debt (including adoption expenses). Even in the slowing housing market, God brought Christian buyers within a month of it being on the market! (We planned on renting an apartment in town.)
The week we were to put a deposit on the new apartment, Calvin was called for an interview out of town. We held the check, awaiting the outcome of the new job. Meanwhile, the closing date on the house was drawing near. The job looked promising, so we started looking for an apartment near the new job site. Unfortunately, the out-of-town apartment manager accidentally contacted our employers, so our current jobs were now in jeopardy. (As soon as I arrived at work, my boss sternly demanded why I was moving out of town without telling her!)
We chose to turn in two-week notices of resignation to our employers, and waited for God to work. We knew that technically, there was the potential for being unemployed and homeless, but we were determined to let God lead us in the initial steps of “living simply.”
We boxed up everything, in preparation to move, and donated/sold most of our furniture. We planned on downsizing from our “large” home to a one-bedroom apartment, so that we could afford for me to stay home. (Meanwhile, my boss basically told me on a daily basis that we were “nuts” for doing things without knowing anything “for sure.”)
Finally, an hour after we signed the escrow papers for the sale of our home, Calvin received the phone call that he had a new job! The apartment management, in the meantime, mixed up the paperwork, and delayed our move-in for weeks, so we moved things to a storage unit, spent time living with friends, and traveling with much of our belongings in the car. We had “jumped into the deep end” of learning to live simply!
To be continued…