When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize a lot. It involved my dad sweeping in out of nowhere one day to proclaim his love and take us to his castle. He would explain that the only reason he had been absent was because the kingdom had been unsafe and he needed to slay all the dragons before bringing his beloveds to reside with him.
For my birthday, he would give me a paint horse that would race me breathlessly across finish lines to victory.
We would have picnics by a brook every day. We would bake cookies when we were supposed to be sleeping.
The 3 of us would live happily ever after. Preferably at the Fairmont Resort in Banff, Alberta, which is paramount to a castle in my mind.
I don’t know where this came from. I was not exposed to a lot of Disney movies. I didn’t have a speck of pink or glitter in my bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to have barbies, save one – and she was an awesome African-American veterinarian.
Yet there it was.
I think I unconsciously must have taken on the philosophy of Sara Crewe from The Little Princess, about every girl being deserving of royalty. I think it lasted until I was about 9 or 10. After that, poverty became the road to saint-hood.
Don’t read me wrong – I didn’t ever go hungry or without clothes. Mom took good care of me, despite being an unemployed singer-songwriter retired-therapist living off of a family inheritance. We had enough, more than a lot of people. But somewhere along the way, I heard her say these phrases more than once, and it stuck with me.
Don’t impose on anyone.
Don’t be a burden.
How much snack did she eat while playing with your daughter today? Can I pay you back for that?
Underneath that, I internalized this:
Stop needing people, it just makes their life harder. You don’t deserve to be just GIVEN something, you must earn it.
So I grew tall and strong, on my own, cringing on the inside if I ever needed help or money or a ride somewhere or something to eat, from someone else. I survived on $5 an hour babysitting, wearing holey clothing that I’d had for so long, I didn’t even remember getting it. I vowed that I would pay them all back, someday, when I could afford it. In the meantime, my poverty of possession and of spirit would please God and make him happy with me.
No one would ever be able to say, “Gosh, that Carly sure is a mooch, isn’t she? Thinks she owns the world, taking advantage of everyone. Horrible.” No one.
As you can imagine, this made the concept of grace pretty hard to grasp. Even though I was being raised in a home that was teaching me about Jesus and his love, I always felt detached. Yes, yes, he died and rose again and forgave everyone freely, but not me. I must work. I must earn. I must deserve. And nope, I’m not Catholic. Might’ve made a good one though.
Throughout my journey, I have learned to lean on Him and on others, to accept help when I need it, to be tearfully grateful because that was my only currency of reciprocating. I have learned the beauty of paying it forward instead of paying it backward. Through more reading of Scripture, it’s starting to sink in that actually? Grace is all I have. Grace is all I get, and without it, I’m pretty screwed.
Fast forward to today.
Our 1st wedding anniversary is on Sunday, as I’ve said before. We have been planning a Honeymoon 2.0 to recover and redeem our first honeymoon that was nothing but camping with a side of food poisoning and a heaping spoonful of kidney infections. In fact, to be honest, this whole first year of marriage has been really hard and tiring…having this 2nd chance has been a big deal to me. I prayed it would be perfect, but I wasn’t letting my hopes get the best of me. I didn’t yet believe that I deserved a time of rest and relaxation and love and laughter with my ever-amazing husband.
Earlier this summer, we were planning a little road trip to Alberta that got abruptly postponed when all of the heavens decided to rain down on our proposed routes. But now is the time, we decided. We wanted to spend a couple of nights around Lake Louise area, to enjoy the beauty and spend a little extra on a nice place to stay, finishing by staying in Calgary with friends for a days.
Being the wing-it planners that we are, we didn’t seriously start contemplating where we were going to stay on the way. Some friends made us aware of groupons and special deals at various beautiful resorts, but we sat on the info. I don’t really know why? Anyway, today, the day before we leave, snuck up on us and said, “Hey. You better make some phone calls.”
Booked. Everything. Either that, or you had to sell your first born to be able to afford the available rooms.
I scanned back through my messages from friends and found a possibility: the sister of a friend is a manager at the Fairmont and would be able to get us a special deal. Was it still available?
It was. One night only, OUR ANNIVERSARY DAY.
And did you notice anything else? Scroll back to the top of my story.
Yep. I am staying, for 24 beautiful hours, at the castle of my childhood dreams.
I should have been excited beyond belief, right? Well, instead of that, I nearly had a panic attack. Sure, it was a special deal but that was still a lot of money, right? Plus gas and food and who knows what else…disregard the fact that Steve and I – mostly Steve – had been blessedly able to work many days all summer. While he was relieved to have our plans finally in place, I was not okay. When we went halfsies on a beautiful new camera tonight — another amazing deal that we’ll never find again — I was not okay. I was 10 again, believing that this past 12 months of struggle had been what I deserved, had been what I needed to be seen as worthy. Taking this time to be together was excess. Opulence and waste. Wasn’t it?
And then quietly, words came to my heart
The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; Then My people will never be put to shame.…
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…
Suddenly, all of the panic left me. The anxiety, yes, the shame of needing something good fled my thoughts.
I’ve long stopped believing that my dad will show up and place a crown on my head. But I have something better than that. I have a Father who has had a crown with my name on it since the beginning of time, and he gave me a prince to share this life.
Just because we had a hard start doesn’t mean that we don’t belong together.
Just because we have enough doesn’t make us elitist ingrates; God is not displeased with our lack of poverty.
Some people have taken this too far, believing that God is obligated to give us mansions and expensive cars and everything we want because we deserve to have it all. I don’t think God said that, ever. He is good, He is giving, He does bless abundantly, but it’s not for us. It’s so that we pour out and give it back out to everyone else. It means we don’t forget where we came from when we see someone in need. It means we can still love him whether we are rich or poor, we can still praise him even if we have nothing left. It means we learn how to accept a gift with grace, knowing that it’s not because we’re more special than anyone else.
Starting tomorrow, I want to learn what that really means. With this cutie by my side.
“When grace is joined with old age, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.” — Victor Hugo