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Death of the American Dream

We’ve always viewed living in Morrisville as kind of a temporary stop. When we bought the house, we got a mortgage that was fixed for 7 years and then switched to an ARM because we figured we’d be gone by then. Whenever people would ask us where we live, we’ve been careful to add “for now” on the end, as though to communicate to people that we’re not REALLY Morrisvillians. After all, as I’ve said before, Morrisville is closely tied with Bristol for the title of the Ugly Stepchild of Bucks County. No one chooses to be from Morrisville. People live here because they can’t afford to live anywhere else.

Isn’t that what the American Dream is all about? Not being content with what we have, but always striving for something better? Don’t we all deserve 3,000 square feet of house and award winning school districts (whatever that means) and the “right” kind of neighbors? If you put it that way, most people will catch the tone and say, “no, of course not. It’s about being happy.” But they’re not being honest with themselves. If we really look into our hearts and attitudes, we will realize that we all fall victim to this American ideal. We’re supposed to want these things - and a plasma screen TV and maybe even a boat, or a multi media room. And when we have these, we still have other things we can aspire to.

We have no idea how rich we are.

My house is a twin, which means that it’s like a house connected to another house. This is what it looks like:

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Pretty humble. It’s a far cry from the 500,000+ tract housing that so many people I know live in. Heck, it’s a far cry from just a normal single detached home. I’ve never wanted one of those McMansion tract houses. I don’t think they have much personality, and have always rather snobbishly looked down on them. But I’ve had my own form of covetousness.

My ideal is a stone - or even stucco - farm house, nestled somewhere in a field, with maybe a stream nearby. Barring that, I’d settle with any 100 or so year old house with a bit of charm and history. The problem is that those kinds of houses in Bucks County are mucho expensivo. You’re talking at least $400,000. A “normal” detatched house with at least 1,800 square feet in good shape is about $300,000. We found this out when we decided that this was the summer to move. Nothing was affordable for us unless we downgraded to a townhouse or condo. An even then we’d be paying at the least $250,000 and straining our income to the limit.

This is why when the opportunity came for Tim to get the Director of Technology position for Hempfield School District, it seemed like an answer to our prayers. Not only was Lancaster County the home of our alma mater of Millersville Uni., it was also incredibly cheaper to live there. I looked online and found farmhouses with an acre of land for $250,000. So Tim would be making more money and the houses were cheaper...the perfect combination. I was drooling and fantasizing and already moving in in my mind.

He got the interview, of course. He’s incredibly qualified. He has a masters in IT Leadership and has done managerial duties for Bensalem School District’s tech department for 6 years. There were 12 other people being interviewed, and I confess we kind of felt he had it in the bag.

He went to the interview, and we waited. We knew we’d hear by Friday, and on Thursday night we prayed about it. It went something like this: “Please please please please God let this happen! Please please please please God we want this!” That lasted for some time, but curiously, there was no power behind the prayer. It felt empty, like it echoed around in the room around us. Then towards the end we shifted, finally, and our words turned to, “But...we do trust you. And we really do want what you have for us, because we know we’d be miserable with anything else. So...if the answer is no, please let us be content, and let us not be too upset. Amen.”

And we found we actually meant it. It wasn’t until then that our prayers seemed to connect with something bigger than ourselves and we had that sense of communion with God that is supposed to happen with prayer. We went to sleep, and waited.

Friday, nothing. Saturday morning we went to see WALL-E with the kids and stopped on the way home for water ice at the Yardley Ice House. We got home and got the mail, and there was a letter. It was a thin one - not good. Tim opened it and read it. It said that he was highly qualified but that he was not one of the three people chosen to continue on to the second round of interviews. We stood in the living room and stared at the letter for about 2 minutes. And then Tim said, “Well, that’s that.” The walls of my lovely farmhouse started to crumble down around me in my thoughts as I slowly resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t be moving. After dreaming of farmhouses with land, I couldn’t reconcile myself to straining our budget for a townhome with a postage stamp yard. So, I knew that meant we were staying. We were stuck in Morrisville.

Prayer is an interesting thing. The longer I’m a Christian the more convinced I am that prayer isn’t so much about asking God for help in our lives, as much as it is a lining up of our spirits with God’s. It’s being like Jesus in the Garden saying “not my will, but thine.” I think this is why our initial prayer of “please please please please” felt so powerless: we were too much in the way to feel God’s presence. We were too focused on what we wanted to be able to accept the presence of a bigger picture. I think God wants us to share our hearts and concerns and desires with Him...but in the end, we need to get past that and to the point of trust.

And so we were at a crossroads: did we really mean it when we said “we trust you”? If we did...then we had nothing to complain about. If we trusted God, then we knew that anything else - even if it was what we thought we wanted - would have not been good for us. Things can seem perfect in our minds that turn out not to be in reality. Did we truly believe that God knew what was best for us in the long run, or did we think privately that we knew better and that we would have really been happy in a Lancaster County farmhouse? Now...there’s nothing wrong with Lancaster County farmhouses...unless that’s not where you’re supposed to be.

The more skeptical among us might wonder how I know that God had directed this path and that it wasn’t just something that happened. Maybe we’re just being fatalistic and rationalizing disappointing events? I can see how it would seem that way. And unfortunately the only defense I can give is that I knew. I knew in the way you know your children, in your bones. It’s an answer that is completely unsatisfying to someone without faith. It sounds like a cop out. Like a crutch. But to those familiar with the Holy Spirit, you know what I’m talking about. There was an air, a feeling, of God’s hand in all this that spoke in our hearts. It moved our minds in a way that we couldn’t move them ourselves. As Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.” Sorry I can’t give you more than that, but there you have it.

So, by Sunday morning, when everyone was coming to us with words of encouragement and sympathy, we were completely and totally content with the course of events. Just two days earlier I felt like I would crumble with despair if we had to stay in Morrisville, and here I was suddenly completely and utterly at peace.

That’s when things got interesting.

A few days after receiving the letter, I had taken my kids for water ice on our way back from the park. I was sitting there feeling very happy about living so close to Yardley Ice House (which makes the best water ice in the world) eating my banana berry ice, when Emily exclaimed, “Look, a deer!” Over next to the fence munching on vegetation was a doe and at her feet were two small faun. They were exquisite. We held our breath as we watched them, so close we could count their spots. Right there, in the middle of Yardley. I heard God saying to me, “My Creation is in my hand, even here. You don’t need to move to Lancaster...look around you and I will show you the things your heart desires.” I had been mourning the loss of my dream of living closer to nature, and here God had sent these exquisite creatures to brighten my day while I ate water ice.

That was just the beginning. God started to show me all that I had here where I live. I always wanted to move to a place where I could have a true sense of community, more like the small town where I grew up. Somewhere people knew my name and I knew theirs and I wasn’t just an anonymous member of the crowd. Well, Morrisville was just that. In an area that is incredibly congested with people, Morrisville is a tiny place unto itself. The fact that it has a separate school district is both a hinderance and a blessing, it seems. The small tax base means the school is always having budget problems, but it also keeps the community sort of separate and close knit. There is a family hardware store in town where I am always recognized and the owner remembers the projects I’ve done and is always ready to answer my questions. The teachers and office staff at Emily’s school recognize me and have known my son by name since she started. At the grocery store, I recognize the workers and they recognize me and we chat. I always meet neighbors or school parents at the store and stop to talk in the aisle. On my street, the neighbors actually come out and talk to each other. The parade route goes right by our house and everyone visits during parades. The kids go out in the street to play with each other - no manufactured “play dates” necessary here. From what I understand, that doesn’t happen very much anymore. There is very little crime (contrary to popular opinion that lumps us in with Trenton across the river). There was the memorable occurrence of the dead body found in our neighbors trunk (see the archives!) but it was memorable exactly because of the novelty of it. Nothing like that ever happens here.

As for the school...it has a negative reputation because it’s small and doesn’t have the opportunities that the larger ones do. But, that has actually been a positive. My children receive individual, one on one help in academics as well as their personal lives that no one at the larger schools receive. Any problems that arise are quickly noted and the school counselor is immediately available, for everything from separation anxiety to bullying, no matter how small. No one gets lost in the crowd at their school. Any morality problems in the high school are more obvious because of the small size of the student population, making it harder to hide in the crowd. If you’re doing something you shouldn’t everyone knows about it. It’s harder to get away with things, if your parents care. There’s always the kids whose parents don’t care, and so get worse and worse...but that’s more a problem of home environment than school environment.

Then there’s my humble house. It’s no farmhouse, but it is 100 years old. It has 6 inch baseboards and carved newell posts and plaster walls and all the quaint little things that go along with an old house (which you either love or hate. I happen to love it.) So I even have the older home that I always wanted...just not exactly the way I imagined it would be.

It’s like my eyes were suddenly opened to all these things, and I heard God say to me, “I’ve given you everything you have wanted. Why do you fight it?”

I was so busy believing what I’m “supposed” to believe about where I live that I had totally missed all the blessings of my community. And I realized that nothing - NOTHING - in my personal experience of living here has made me want to move. Only what I hear from others and what I’m supposed to think because no one is supposed to want to live in Morrisville. The more I thought about it the more it seemed to be a class issue - Morrisville is largely blue collar and is made up of people from all sorts of economic and racial backgrounds, not just upper middle class whites or the “right kind” of ethnic people. It has people with masters degrees living next to factory workers, whites next to blacks next to hispanics next to mixed race families.

In other words...it’s perfect.

Do I really want my children growing up in an area where they are with people who are just like them? Or worse, with kids who only spur them on to envy and discontent because they all have more than we do? If living here in a community where we rub elbows with people who are less fortunate - and rougher around the edges - than we are teaches my children compassion and lessens their sense of entitlement, then I can really ask for nothing more.

So, now I say, yes, I am from Morrisville. And I’m proud of it. This is the place to which, I’m convinced, God has called me to be a member of the community, to minister to those around me. And it’s also a place of many blessings that I almost missed in my reaching and striving for something “more.” I am thankful that God doesn’t give me what I think I need, but instead gives me a joy and purpose that comes from Him. It is my prayer that I may please him by being light and salt in my community, showing Christ’s love here not because I have to be here, but because I choose to be. This is my home.
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