Happy with Your Lot in Life?

Every spring, people get an itch for something new, something different. Many people move to new homes in this season, looking for a different situation or a change of view. They are imagining a better lot in life.

This spring, I have an itch for updating, remodeling, and just cleaning out the house I have. Yet, I am starting to look around, too. I’m noticing all the for sale signs and wondering, “is there something out there that could be better than what I have?”

Turn-Arounders

As a kid, I lived in several rented and temporary homes. No matter how many times we moved, Mom always kept my sister and brother and me in the same school district. But I didn’t like the impermanence of the shifting address, the change of neighbors. I wanted to settle in and stay for awhile.

These days, I live in a house of my own at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small suburban neighborhood. Cul-de-sac literally means “bottom of a sack.” The name says it all. In a cul-de-sac you can’t just drive through. It’s a dead end of sorts for those who don’t live there. My family and I call them the turn-arounders, the cars that come in to find they must follow the circle around to get back out to where they meant to go.

Not me. I belong here and I like being at the bottom of the bag where I can see who is coming and who is going, where I can watch the kids play and the neighbors can have an eye out too.

Permanent People

There are nine homes gathered around our little circle of macadam. Almost half of these have had the same families in them for as long as my family has lived in ours. Scott and I and our three children moved to this house in December of 1995. That same week, a Christmas card from some neighbors in the same circle appeared in our mailbox. Robert and Linda live three doors down and around. Amazingly, they had been in the cul-de-sac for many years before welcoming us and they still call it home these 24 years later.

Also, Joe and Amy to our left and Austin and Diane next to them have been here longer than we have. These four families, including ours, have grown up together. We watched each other’s daughters and sons grow up and go on to adulthood. We didn’t pick each other as neighbors, but we’re happy with the lot we got.

Camels and Change

When we moved to Nashville in 1988, Scott and I decided to live in the suburbs. Having both grown up in suburbia, he in River Vale, New Jersey and I in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we imagined that living downtown would be expensive or unsafe and that living rurally would be inconvenient. Thus, when we were ready to leave our suburban apartment and buy a home, we settled on a nearby little neighborhood still under construction. We loved the lot we got and the area was spacious and safe.

At the time, the neighborhood was perched on the edges of development. It bordered farms and woods in an unincorporated little town. Not surprisingly, in the 20+ years since then, new towns and houses have sprouted up around us. Now, the traffic growls along the main road for most of the day. It rumbles in the background of our backyard into the evening.

 It wasn’t always that way. The birds and bugs used to be the loudest performers in our backyard haven beneath the trees. These days, I sometimes strain to hear them above a muffler’s roar or a siren’s wail. With city growth comes the inevitable sprawl. We are certainly part of the problem as our neighborhood was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Convenient and Clean

Nevertheless, our subdivision is still a splendid place to live. Our kids say it was a great place to grow up. Friends were a sidewalk skip away and the nearby neighborhood pool was uncrowded and clean. Community in the front yard and privacy in the back. Grocery stores just a quick drive down the road and a homeowner’s association to keep our property values up to snuff.

Scott and I also found our Nashville suburbia to be the perfect place for making our music. We did all of our recording in local studios. Our first two records came to life in a nearby strip mall studio and the next several emerged from the Art House studio which was only a 5-minute drive from home. Nowadays, our own home studio is as convenient as it gets.

Back in the 1990’s, when we were touring a lot, we would board our tour buses in nearby grocery store parking lots. Our record label was only a town away. Managers and booking agents were close by, too. The airport is a quick 25 minutes on a light traffic day. What more could we want?

Country Cousins

My sister, her husband, and their seven children started out on the outskirts of Nashville near us. Now, they live far out in the country, closer to the border of Alabama than to Nashville. They asserted their aversion to homeowners’ associations and close neighbors early on after their move from Pennsylvania to our neck of the woods. Twenty years later, they have a home on a lovely hill surrounded by their twenty-nine acres. Although their church and community are quite close, their nearest neighbors are tucked out of sight and their closest grocery store requires a twenty-five minute drive.

They certainly have their freedom from associations. What Scott and I sometimes get are nosey board-member neighbors reporting  that our moldy siding and paint-peeled eaves aren’t up to neighborhood covenants. Or we get letters threatening fines for unruly lawns and other debatable infractions. At its worst, our homeowners association has been a small cabal of localized tyranny.

There are more reasons to envy others’ rural isolation. If I lived at the end of a dirt road, I could go out to get my mail in my underwear — if I wanted to. Additionally, it would be nice to not have that middle-of-the-night barking of the next-door dog, consistent and persistent these many years. There was one early morning, around 3 AM, that I actually went from my bed to the dog owner’s door in my underwear, half-asleep as I was from the disruption.

“Please stop letting your dog run around and bark in the cul-de-sac every night at this time. We are trying to sleep here!” She was shocked—by the accusation or the underwear? Both, I suppose. The barking stopped but only for a short time.

City Friends

Those we know who live in cities have a more eclectic community experience. Their neighbors are much more diverse. Our New York City family brushes shoulders with people from an amazing array of cultures and countries. I have family and friends who live in East Nashville and South Nashville neighborhoods who experience a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. With some intentionality, they get to know people who look, think, and live differently than they do. They also hear the occasional gun shots and keep their kids inside at night.

In my song, “Cul-de-sac Cathy,” I sing that all of my neighbors are somewhat like me. For the most part it’s true: we stay within a certain income range and have a lot of the same choices of schools and provisions for our kids. I did have an Afghani friend in the neighborhood for a while before she and her family moved away. I enjoyed learning about her views of Islam and America and family life. Mostly, though, I interact with people I can relate to. Seems to be a human propensity. Something about birds of a feather….

American Dreams

What am I trying to get at in my song and in this article?

I am reminding myself to be happy with my lot in life!

Perhaps I imagine judgements from city and country friends alike. These projections drive me to ask myself:

“Who are you to choose convenience and safety? Do you recognize the privilege in your choices?”

  • Do I have a right to affluence and permanence?
  • Is this middle-class American guilt?
  • Would you call it white privilege?

It’s definitely underpinned with lots of gratitude: I like my lot in life!

However, I do not want to sleep-walk in an American dream. I want God’s design for me and my family above all. The questions, however, don’t always get answered. Guess I’ll have to live in the tension.

In deed, I know I’ve got a lot that isn’t just a house. No more rented and temporary for me, I get to settle in and stay awhile. Thanks to the circle, Scott and I see our neighbors and they see us. We belong here. To this day we are all sharing our lives and dreams. In defense of suburbs and close associations, I’ll just say something about if the shoe fits….

                                                 Cul-de-sac Cathy

Everybody’s got two cars in the drive

We’re all working hard to give our kids a life

Tell me then, who am I to criticize?

The shoe is mine

 

I’m Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are somewhat like me

Getting to work on American dreams

 

Why would I trade away my pretty little yard

Where the kids can play and life is not too hard

And it’s safe to stay outside even when it’s dark

It doesn’t get better than

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors look somewhat like me

Falling asleep with American dreams

 

Well the country cousins say the isolation gives them freedom from associations

And my city friends seem so progressive in their accommodations

I must admit I wonder what I’ve missed by playing it safe,

playing it safe, am I playing it safe?

 

Guess I’m gonna live in this middle ground

Cause I got a lot that isn’t just a house

Location of the heart they say is everything

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are someone like me

Living our lives and sharing our dreams

 

Check out the other songs on my 5-Song EP, Closer to Free.

More like this: I Wanted My DogDead

19 thoughts on “Happy with Your Lot in Life?”

  1. I appreciate your heart, Chris. Seems we are in similar stages of life. In January 1988 my daughter, Jessica, and I moved into the small ranch home I designed and had built. From the patio I look across one property to the home I grew up in from age 8 to 20. Just one block over is the first home our family built and lived in until I was 8. I lived on the other side of town the 5 years Jessica’s Mom and I were married. The other 52 years have been within 3 blocks. My home has been an empty nest since Jess left for college in 2002. There have been temptations to move to a bigger or newer home but no real purpose other than a desire for change. I remodeled a bit in those years but now debating a major remodel, purchase another home, or move to another part of the country. Your children are blessed that you and Scott have built a strong family. We are blessed that you have shared music and friendship through these many years. Grace and Peace. Tim McCrea

  2. Hi Christine, interesting you should write about this, as I was just struck by a verse I was reading this morning from 1 Kings 4, describing the beginning of Solomon’s reign: “Judah and Israel were as many as the sea. They ate and drank and were happy” (1 Kings 4:20). Such an unusual verse, because we almost never read about anyone being “happy” in the Old Testament, filled as those accounts were with anxiety, conflict, and struggle. Even for the relatively prosperous Solomon, the peacefulness of this chapter contrasted with what came before (conflict with his brother to establish his authority) and what came after (idolatry and military defeats). Elsewhere, Solomon wrote, “there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecc. 3:12-13). It seems that is essentially what you are getting at, and it’s a great reminder! I’d just add that the contentment of which you speak must come within the context of a righteous life to be truly satisfying. After all, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

  3. The conclusion of the matter is as you stated- to be happy with our lot. Among those “trials” of a barking dog or “nosey” neighbors is the absence of what occurs in the cities. I contently live on a cul-de-sac- like end of the street where we could complain about barking dogs, or our rental being located where the sun’s ray don’t reach the property until later in the day, or when the snow gets pushed at the end of our street and there’s no place close to the driveway to park. We don’ t let these little irritants govern our thoughts. God instructs us to be content in all things. And most certainly the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side– unless we’re talking about Heaven. Home is also where the heart is! Blessings!

    Mitchell

  4. Christine:

    As a child, my parents never owned a home. We moved many times throughout my childhood. I was born in Key West, Florida on a Naval base and lived there my 1st year of life. The rest of the time, I spent most of my growing up years in Alabama, Georgia, and California. I call Alabama home because both of my parents are from Bessemer. Next door is a little town called “Lipscomb” named after my ancestors just west of Birmingham.

    Finally, my parents landed us in Gulf Shores, Alabama where to this day, I call home. However, my fondest and saddest memories from childhood are still present. I lost my father to suicide and alcoholism in April 1977 when my Mom asked for a divorce.

    As an adult, I spent my twenties and thirties in AL, CA, and GA in the suburbs or a rural setting where I have now called home since 2000. Both my sons, have grown up in the same school district and have lived in the same area since birth. We have lived in a rural setting up until this past year when they built 17 homes directly across from our property where 250-300 head of cattle use to eat. Recently, we subdivided our agricultural property and sold 2 acres while we build a home nestled in the woods for privacy.

    Regardless of where I call home, I know I have an eternal forever home with Jesus. God has used music to speak to my heart since I was a young lad. I use to love hearing my Dad sing and play the guitar as a young boy. I sure do miss him and all of his precious creative gifts.

    Since then, God has used music to touch, heal, and replenish my soul daily. Thanks to artists like Out of the Grey and others, music will continue to speak to me until God calls me home. May God continue to bless you, Scott, and your family.

    Take care,

    Jeff

  5. Christine, my house, too, is in a cul-de-sac. In addition to your song regarding such a dwelling, there are certain peculiarities:

    – narrow front yard, easy to mow
    – wide back yard, zillion leaves to bag
    – short cut for people to get to next street
    – compact court for 4th of July fireworks
    – strategic parking so postal workers can navigate their trucks between mail boxes
    – snow mountains after snow plows come through- kids play ball in court
    – trucks back and forth to get out
    – above all, as your article attests, a pleasant sense of comfort being enmeshed within the neighborhood.

  6. Thank you for this article…I have been a restless spirit most of my life…I moved 3 times during a 3 1/2 year marriage that busted up…then I moved again several times after the divorce…I never feel very settled or like I belong anywhere…The only place I feel truly safe is when I am in my room where I live now…I realize even if my room is my only lot in life where I feel like I am okay…I am all right…

  7. Interesting ruminations, Chris. Not judgments of good or bad choices, just lots of preferences we all have.

    We hear road sounds in our neighborhood, to some extent (especially during the Nascar races). But the one thing we experience is light pollution. At some point, I’d like to visit a place that is really, really dark, to see the stars & the galaxies the way they are meant to be seen.

    And funny… I never took the time to figure out what cul-de-sac meant! #learnsomethingneweveryday

  8. I live in a small studio apartment and have lived in it for a little over 10 years here in Nashville TN. I was just thinking this morning on being thankful for the place I live and God’s provision even though it is a very small place. It’s gotten so expensive to live in Nashville since I moved here 12 years ago but God is my provider who keeps me safe as a single woman. Praise God from all blessings flow whatever your lot in life

  9. Cul-de-sac Cathy. Love that song. It’s honest and gets to the heart of things, i.e. the paradox of place. Where we live is unimportant while at the same time being crucially important for how we show up in that space. Him in Whom we live is the difference maker. The imagery and poetry of your lyrics have often been able to say things like this, well beyond the words themselves. So nice, thank you. (not to mention the lovely music)

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