I’ve taken it on the chin alot during my adult life. Mostly as a result of the stupid mistakes I’ve made. But also as a result of no wrong doing on my part whatsoever. The stupid mistakes have, thankfully, waned in number as I’ve gotten older (although I have been known to make a doozie now and again later in my life…crude reminders that no matter how I try I remain flawed). Most recently I’ve come to learn that most of my hits the past few years have come as a result of what I believe to be an optical illusion: the illusion that a person of perceived means has it easy and, therefore, judged to have no reason to struggle with righteousness. It’s also my personal opinion that the more visible one becomes, such as a person in public or private leadership, or even celebrityhood, the greater the chance for the optical illusion to appear.
This optical illusion does not appear to discriminate to whom it would appear for these hits have not only come from some of my own family members but from those outside my family as well: people in my church and (gasp!) even my homeschool support community. Not by everyone but by enough that it’s terribly discouraging because the truth of the matter is that I struggle just as any other mom, whether she’s a working mom, or stay-at-home mom, or homeschooling mom, or single mom. I struggle, too. Means or no means.
The other day, a fellow homeschooling mom and I were discussing this dichotomy in the context of homeschooling with and without means and how the optical illusion of the former appears to the latter (although the optical illusion reaches well beyond the homeschool environment). We both happen to be of perceived means. I emphasize the word perceived because my husband and I don’t really have means. It just appears that we do with owning a construction business, 30 acres of farmland, a big charming farmhouse with an inground pool and playground, some investment properties (including a vacation home in Lake Tahoe), a Lexus parked in a five car garage, and until 6 months ago having a mom who watched my youngest for me and helped me with my household duties so I could focus on homeschooling my youngest during our first year of homeschooling. Looks and sounds like an easy life, all right, doesn’t it?
Except that it’s anything but an easy life. Our construction company, while looking okay on paper, completely drains us financially month after month. When all company credit cards are maxed (and we’re talking in the 6-figures) in order to make payroll week after week, we resort to using our savings and retirement accounts as well as our own personal credit cards until they, too, are shut down for non-payment. Because of the 16-hour days my husband dedicates to our livelihood, we have precious few minutes to share with one another (and most of the time we share the worst of ourselves). Our beautiful 30-acre farm doesn’t produce anything except weeds and mosquitos and we haven’t figured out yet how to generate an income off of either. In fact, the farm is it’s own black-hole of an expense center. Our big farmhouse? It’s 250-years old with a crumbling and mold-infested dungeon for a basement that causes me great physical affliction (as I have a high allergy to dust and mold). It doesn’t have central air and costs roughly $8,000 in fuel oil to heat it with our 30-year old furnace and boiler. There isn’t a door or window that shuts completely and every wallpapered corner of the house has giant tears through it. Why? Because sometime in the last century one of the owners removed a critical bearing wall on the 1st floor causing the 2nd floor to cave in on it. A few years ago, my 6’4″ tall, 70-some year old father-in-law, God bless him, a retired civil engineer, spent three weeks hunched over in our 5’6″ dungeon jacking the house up and installing an iron I-beam through the middle of the living room ceiling which, by the way, is still not boxed in. Our unmatching furniture is old, stained, and in disrepair and the carpets are in even worse shape. And let’s not even go into the leaky pipes, faucets and toilets.
Our large, refreshing pool is a drowning accident waiting to happen…which, during the wait, we constantly wage war against algae and pay hefty water bills for leaky pipes underneath the concrete deck.
Properties we have purchased for the purposes of financial gain are now unsellable in today’s market and are a financial drain. We will likely foreclose on some and flush what’s remaining of our credit down our leaky toilet in the process. We have overwhelmingly more combined debt than we have income. Donald Trump wrote in his book “How to Get Rich” that sometime in the late 80s/early 90s he remembers walking past a homeless person on the streets of NYC and reflecting that the homeless person was financially better off than he was because he was in debt to the banks to the tune of 90 billion dollars or some equally ridiculous figure and the homeless person had no debt. But by all appearances, Trump was a man who had it all…who had it easy when in reality he was a vagrant dressed in rich man’s clothing.
My mom, God bless her, up until she was diagnosed with cancer this past June did help me with my youngest and my household duties while I focused on homeschooling and attending to other responsibilities (farm, rentals, construction biz, etc.). But we paid her the same salary she was making at the customer service job she left in order to come work for us. As much as she might have wanted to do it for free, we valued her time and worth and were only too happy to pay someone we could trust so completely with our family and home. But I also had to suffer her critical commentary at every turn (don’t worry, Mom, my battered self esteem and I still love you!).
My Lexus is 7 years old, needs a jump every other week because the electronics drain the battery no matter how many times we replace the battery, and has just as many half-eaten lollipops, uneaten french fries and snot-filled tissues stuck to the seats or littered on the floor as the next mom’s car.
Regardless of whether a family of means is perceived or real, the notion that they are not without struggles is incorrect thinking. We don’t like to put our struggles on display anymore than the next person. And just like everyone else, we have marital problems, spiritual problems, family issues, health issues, psychological issues, social issues, academic issues, character and heart issues with our kids as well as with ourselves…and yes, even financial issues. We struggle to manage time, priorities, interruptions and various crisises with the rest of the them. These challenges do not discriminate according to income level nor are they resolved any easier.
I’ve accumulated callouses on my devastation tissue over the years so this is not so much devastating as it is disappointing and disheartening to be so harshly judged by certain persons in this way. If I stumble because of my humanness, in the “grandeur” of my lifestyle, are not I entitled to the same grace and forgiveness as the homeless person? Just because I am not homeless (yet), does that require that I am to be any more or any less righteous? Sometimes I don’t even stumble yet am unfairly judged on things that they think I should be doing: Do less! Do more! It changes with the hour. I recognize that despite our challenges we are incredibly blessed. I’m not looking for pity. Just compassion.
Both DH and I desire the very best for our family as most parents do. We share what we have, including our time and service, with others as much as we can. Do we make mistakes? Absolutely! Can we do better? Always! But to be cast down because of the misconception that material blessings equates to perfectionism and righteousness? I’d rather someone poke fun at my droopy nose (or droopy butt) instead. At least I know there’s truth in that.
Most people don’t recognize an optical illusion when they first see one. That’s not the real danger, however. The real danger with optical illusions is if you keep looking at one long and hard enough it can make you cross-eyed and prevent you from seeing the multiple layers in their entirety.
This is my final post for 2007. Have a blessed New Year, everyone!!! God willing, I’ll be back with more in 2008!
He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.
– Proverbs 17:15