Guest Blog by Rolando Mireles
Our family lives in deep South Texas, about four hours south of San Antonio right along the Mexican-U.S. border. Besides being close to Mexico we are also only minutes away from South Padre Island, a great beach shoreline in South Texas. During the many times we have visited the beach I am always amazed at how the longshore currents in the ocean lead to what is known as “beach drift.” Beach drift is defined as the progressive movement of sand and sediment along the beach. It is what causes your volleyball or wakeboard to drift down the beach on their own. For us, many times it was our kids who drifted, and it led us to constantly remind them to periodically take stock of their location on the beach in order to walk back against the current to the original spot where they began. My wife Laura and I have found that this same phenomena of drifting takes place in our own lives. We set out to live our lives shaped by Christ’s call to ‘live lightly,’ to be content and not tied down to the things of this world. But soon enough, the cares of this world had us drifting down the shore, far off from where we started or desired to go.
After seminary in Fresno, our family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where we served on a church planting team. After two and a half years in Mexico we returned to the States and started working in education as we sought God’s direction for our lives. We returned from Mexico with no debt and few possessions. In time, however, the grip of even modest consumerism set us on a path of drifting. Whatever we choose to call it, it is deceptive how quickly we can live our lives and consciously or unconsciously, planned or unplanned, end up flowing in the current that leads to some kind of American dream. Inevitably the current leads us to a place where our lives are characterized by consumerism, comfort-seeking, and the ever increasing noise and hunger that come from a busy, unthought-of, unplanned, and unintentional life. I am not pointing fingers; I am just offering ourselves up as an example of just how powerful that current can be.
New jobs, new salaries, new distractions, and before you know it we were miles away from where we began. We purchased a new car because we needed to build credit, we purchased a 3,000 square foot home and convinced ourselves that if this is where God had led us God would continue to provide for the mortgage and reveal a reason to live in such a large home. But with this big home investment came many related and unforeseen expenditures. (But isn’t the majority of consumption that way?) Now I am not saying our home was like the comedic portrayal with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in the 1986 comedy The Money Pit, but at times it sure felt that way. In time, we found ourselves in a cycle of working just to maintain our home, and worst of all if we truly analyzed our family’s use of our house, we spent the majority of our time in 20% of our home. Within a few years not only were we up to our necks in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, but worst of all we felt helpless, trapped; we needed a wake-up call. That call came in my decision to downsize from my school administrator role. We were not planning on a radical downsizing, I simply wanted to secure a job in education that would give me more time to invest in my family. But as a Good Father, God was gracious and began to lead us back against the current to a place of peace through some months and years of instability.
When I could not find work and I had to substitute, God was graciously leading us to put our house on the market and reminding us that our house was not our home. When we could not sell our house and had to start selling its contents to make ends meet, God was lovingly showing us how to rely on his provision. We began to experience God’s love for us through difficulty. And oh the depths of his love! As a dad of teenagers I sit up many times now into the late of night waiting for my son to drive home from work. My role as an earthly father gives me just a small glimpse of what my Heavenly Father has done and continues to do for me through Jesus. I love my kids very imperfectly, but that doesn’t keep me from constantly attempting to love them even more. In the same way I believe that God’s desire for us is to all live lives that are intentional about how we relate to Him and how we trust Him as he shapes and leads us to relate to the world we live in right now.
I don’t know what that looks like for you, but for Laura and I it meant trusting him as we were without a home but desired to live closer to our kid’s school, my teaching job, our church, and oh yes all while remaining debt free, which was a positive byproduct of selling our large home. Psalms 37 verse 5 reminds us to “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.” For us his amazing action was on display as we were able to rent a 3-bedroom apartment located 2 minutes from my job, our kids’ school and our church family! Along the journey of downsizing, I found that our home had become, at least for me, a source of pride. I not only drove into a nicer gated community, but I always found myself using our geography and community status as a point of reference for people to place me. Now, when I tell people about where we live, I cannot help but turn our story of downsizing into a gospel story. For it is God who provided this place. Our apartment is 1/3 the size of our former home, but I would not trade it for the world! Downsizing improved our lives. Financially we pay less than half of what we paid before, and not having all the related costs and time-consuming responsibilities that come with home ownership has allowed us to be present in the lives of our high school-aged kids. We even had a year where God allowed Laura to experience staying at home as a mom in order to bless our kids and their Christian school, and that is a memory that she will cherish forever. Recently I was reminded that many people think about making such changes but few actually follow through. And yes, I do believe that our thoughts must be followed by actions, or else we are just posturing words like minimalism, simplicity, down-sizing, tiny living, etc. But our actions must follow the heart of our Father. Romans 12 verse 2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Now I will not lie, every day that we live in this newfound freedom we are tempted to wade in the waters and be carried away by the consuming current of the American dream. Sometimes it comes in a wave that says “you deserve a new car," at other times the waves sound like “you should stop throwing your money away in rent and buy a new place.” Whatever the wave and however strong the current, God is faithful to keep our eyes on him and on the freedom that comes in trusting him! May we all learn to trust God and act on his calling to live our lives in an intentionally simple way!