Three years ago, my family of four pulled up roots and moved across the country from Northern Kentucky to Salt Lake City, Utah. In hindsight, it was the worst possible time to have been in the market for a house. We sold our house in a relatively depressed market and had to turn around and purchase a house in an exploding market. We ended up buying practically the same house for twice the mortgage.
The experience was bewildering. We are a one income family but my husband's employment as an engineer should have put us firmly in the upper middle class. We found ourselves in a modest home scrambling to make ends meet. I gave up my role as a stay at home mom so I could work and make up our financial shortcomings.
Meanwhile, the people around us seemed to be flush with cash. Houses were enormous and the prices were astronomical. It seemed everyone was outfitted with a new SUV. Our summer camping outings were dwarfed by our peers vacations to Hawaii and Europe. I have to admit we spent a lot of time wondering what they had that we didn't. What were we missing? What were we doing wrong?
This current economic meltdown has in some ways brought some sense into the world for us. No wonder, we exclaim! The stories of unethical lending are atrocious. We even heard of a young couple on a salary of $40K purchasing a mortgage of $600K! Things are not always as they appear on the surface. The danger of making personal decisions based upon popular culture, fads, and peer pressure has become glaringly obvious for us. We have found a new sense of contentment with our small simple house and camp-out vacations.
The melt down has brought the sins of the past decade into the light. As frightening and unsettling as the current economic downturn is, it is also liberating. People's financial lives are suddenly out on the table. Where as before it was a race to see who could accumulate the most wealth, now people seem to be placing more value on living with less. Suddenly it is hip to be frugal! Living in a modest house isn't the "shameful" experience it was just a few years ago. And I am not exaggerating when I say that living modestly during the past few years brought a certain amount of shame. We weren't keeping up with the Jones's and it showed.
You hear older generations state that they grew up very poor but they never realized how poor they were. Now, we feel poor when we actually have more material and financial wealth than ever before! Perception is everything and one of the fruits of the current crisis is a giant perception shift. We are gifted beyond our wildest dreams and finally our culture is putting the spotlight on those gifts we have overlooked for so long. My Mother used to say that if you take your blessings for granted you might as well not have them at all. I believe the financial boom brought a certain dehumanizing poverty to the United States.
Personally, this economic crisis has caused me to focus on what really matters to me. I have a new appreciation for my family and a new motivation to be present in every moment and to relish the people in my life. As a Christian, I seek to see God in every person and every situation I encounter. I yearn to find the gifts that are hidden in the challenges of our time.
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