Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Alli’s new book, Breaking Busy
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I met my husband Mark on a blind date in a Cajun restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee. From the moment I saw him, I knew he was the one for me. But never, and I mean never, did I imagine that we would end up on an adventure that would include five boys, eight moves, and losing everything we owned and building it all back again. I mean, when we dream of getting married, we think of holding hands and skipping through a meadow whispering sweet nothings, right? Oh, how the scenes in romantic comedies spoil our perspective on what real romance is like.
Getting Busy and Striving Hard
I threw myself into marriage to Mark and devoted myself to being the “perfect” wife and stepmom to his daughter, Jessica. I had my white-picket-fence life all planned out. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my desire for a June Cleaver-esque life and a big, happy family was born out of my own painful past. My father died suddenly in a car accident when I was two and a half years old, and my mother married a man who wasn’t exactly ready to be a good dad. So I was set on creating the family I had always wanted. While Mark worked outside of our home, I spent the next ten years busy with pregnancies, breastfeeding, and toddler chaos.
As a hospital administrator who specialized in turning failing laboratories around, Mark’s job required us to move to new cities (or states) every two years. In fact, all five of our boys were born in different cities. We were busy in the craziest kind of way. Babies, moves, cardboard boxes, toddlers, and road maps all filled my twenties.
Finally, after spending ten years hop-scotching from Florida to Rhode Island, New York, Ohio, and Maryland, I was overjoyed when Mark got a job in my beloved home state of Tennessee. My feet were planted in soil I knew and loved, and Mark and I both felt we finally could put down some roots. We were living the dream. Our two-story brick house had fancy granite countertops and bathrooms with dual sinks. Gone were my childhood days of oversized hand-me-downs when I was ashamed to have friends over, too embarrassed for them to see where I lived. We had arrived.
But without warning, six months after we settled in, Mark’s job ended. It just ended. The news was a sucker punch to us both. We were left dizzy and confused, wondering what was next for our family. Because our fifth son, Jeremiah, was on the way, I begged Mark not to move us to a new part of the country. The thought of packing up and unpacking again was just too overwhelming. More than that, I loved my house. It’s not easy to admit this, but I realize now that I wanted to stay put because, by the world’s standards, we had made it. My massive pride was planted on the mantel of the home Mark and I had built. And let me tell you, when your pride is as big as mine was, there’s pretty much only one direction to go.
I was not only ungrateful to God for our home, I all but ignored Him in my daily life. I was too busy for Him, and He was about to let my choices break me.
Of course, like so many people, our version of “made it” involved lots of debt and a house and cars with crazy high payments. There was no cushion of savings for emergencies. We lived way beyond our means because we knew there would always be another paycheck. But when Mark lost his job, we had to put our dream house up for sale. And with very little time to sell our house and very few buyers in the market, we found ourselves in the midst of foreclosure and then bankruptcy.
We lost everything at the very beginning of the financial crisis. I can laughingly say now, “We lost everything before losing everything was cool,” but at the time it wasn’t so funny. Five weeks after our youngest was born, we had to face reality. It was time to stop pretending that everything would be okay.
We rented two storage pods and kept only what would fit in them. Everything else went to friends, Goodwill, or was thrown away. It’s funny what possessions you realize have meaning in those moments. The clothes I spent so much money on were given away, but I kept the box of toys that would make the boys feel more secure whenever and wherever we finally unpacked them. The expensive appliances were donated and the photo albums stayed. The crystal wine glasses were given away, and the glider rocker that I rocked and nursed my babies in over the last decade remained.
We had placed our hopes and trust in possessions and worldly pursuits, and now everything we trusted in was gone. Too late I learned the lesson that Jesus taught:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal [and where banks giveth, and banks taketh away]. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal [and where banks can’t call a debt and foreclose]. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:19-21, words in brackets added, obviously
My heart had definitely been in the wrong place.
Love > Possessions
We lost our possessions, our treasures, things we had strived for and placed so much value in, only to discover they had no value at all.
In His loving mercy, God showed me the beauty in the ashes of my life. He allowed me to see it was not the things I strived for (home, appearance of success) that gave me real peace, purpose, and happiness, but the relationships I had with those I loved.
If we are going to start breaking busy, we start with focusing in on the relationships that fill our soul.
Breaking busy means breaking the idea that keeping up with the Joneses will ever bring us any peace in this world.
The relentless desire to acquire worldly security or position can sometimes be the thing that brings us down. That’s why Jesus told us to have a different mindset:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?.. So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. — Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:31-33
Over the years we rebuilt our finances, and now we live in a beautiful home again. But we learned to live and work with our priorities firmly rooted in our faith, with our focus on God. We’ve tried to seek God’s will first, obeying Him, and thanking Him for the blessings He gives us.
What I ultimately learned in losing everything is that my relationship with God is the most important thing in my life, and my relationships with my spouse and others are the key to a successful, happy life. Instead of running after “all these things,” I’ve learned to walk with God, loving Him and others along the way.
Watch the Breaking Busy Video
Excerpted with permission from Breaking Busy: How To Find Peace And Purpose In A World Of Crazy by Alli Worthington (Zondervan), copyright Alli Worthington.
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Some of us nodded our heads through Alli sharing her experience because we’ve been there, done that, had it all, lost it all, and learned that when push comes to shove (and, hoooboy! does it ever! — My kids and I found ourselves with zero possessions except some clothing a few years back.) the “stuff” of life doesn’t matter. Our relationships with God and our loved ones is what really counts. Some of us, though, may not have had that kind of life shock of everything turning to ashes. Or maybe you’re there right now and it seems like there’s no way that God can bring beauty out of these ashes. Maybe He’s calling you to walk closer with Him and lean in to your Beloved in a brand new way and focus on loving Him and those around you in a more profound and fulfilling way. Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you about finding Jesus while breaking busy! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full