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What To Do When You’ve Wasted Precious Time

Window Buntings

Long after I’m gone, this old house on 20th Street will still be standing. We moved here right after I got pregnant with my son Sullivan who is nine now. Dear Lord, where does the time go?

When we first moved in everything had a fresh coat of paint and the hardwood floors were pristine. But, 10 years of babies and toddlers and teenagers will wear stain and varnish clean away.

I started keeping the blinds drawn three years in so I wouldn’t have to see the growing imperfections illuminated in the light of day. That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of time to go without sunshine on your walls. A long time to not sit on the couch and watch the leaves fall in autumn. The birds nesting in spring. The snow drifting in winter.

I saw all these things coming and going. It’s not like I haven’t spent time outside. But, what might I have seen during years of taking my morning coffee? Or the quiet moments before dusk when spaghetti boiled on the stove and the kids played outside?

Refinishing Window Buntings on Historic Home

Repainting old windows

Sanding Window Buntings

We started painting the walls and sanding down the buntings two weeks ago. These things take so much time. The care and proper painting of old houses. 

Our place is a prairie-style bungalow that was built in 1919. That was just 12 years after Oklahoma became a state. I often think about the people who lived here before us. Those who celebrated the Roaring 20s and survived the Dust Bowl of the 30s. The people who, against all odds, stayed during Urban Renewal and the obscenity of white flight. I appreciate all they did to keep this house going. Other homes have not been so lucky.

World War II Romance

There are no ghosts here. None that I’ve met anyway. But, sometimes, I feel the sweetness of ages passed. During World War II, a young housekeeper lived in the maid quarters adjacent to the garage. In 2002, the homeowner before us discovered old letters stashed in the ceiling. They were from a soldier who was fighting in the war, and he just so happened to be the son of the homeowner.

Quiet Time

Sitting On Couch Staring Out Window

I hate to admit it, but I’ve fretted about things around here not being perfect for so long. I’ve wasted so much precious time. I can’t get back those days I was hiding from the chipped paint on the walls, the scuffs on the floor, the white paints that didn’t match. I missed so much. What, specifically, I’m not sure. Just stuff. Like neighbors taking walks and children riding bikes up and down the street. Maybe birds building nests. Life. The blinds have been drawn for so very, very long.

I wonder if the housekeeper and soldier ever felt like they wasted time, too? Sending secret love letters across the ocean. Even in war, hiding their love. I don’t know what happened to them. Whether the soldier made it home after the war and got married or if he died at Normandy like Billy Tucker and Hubert Fields and so many other Oklahoma boys. So many didn’t come home. And now, that generation, the G.I. Generation, is all but gone. Life goes very fast.

From the Book of Isaiah
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Leg to old pew with chipped paint

Old Pew Painted White Crackling

Old White Pew with Clover Cut Outs

Clover Design on Old Pew

About 10 years ago, I bought an old church pew that somebody painted white. Having grown up in rural parsonages it only seemed fitting that I would own a seat most familiar to me. I brought it home and put it on my porch and there it’s  stayed for nearly a decade.

I wonder how many people heard hell, fire and brimstone while sitting on this wood? How many verses of Just As I Am? How many cold Sunday mornings and sweltering Wednesday nights? How many desperate prayers and daydreams during sermons, forgettable?

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
–Charlotte Elliott, 1840

What are we to do about the time we’ve wasted?

There are so many days we can’t get back. Days we fretted over things that weren’t perfect. The seasons of grief that lingered long after the casserole dishes were returned and far beyond the self-help books you intended to read. They gathered dust and eventually you carted them off to Goodwill.

The truth is, you’re still grieving — the husband who walked out when you were 30. The assailant who walked in when you were seven. The child who grew up before you could get it all together. The baby — that precious, precious baby who nobody in your life now even knows existed. It’s been so long you ask yourself, was she even real?

She was. You know it.

In the night, when the entire house is asleep, I’m wide awake staring up at the ceiling. I roll over and watch Robert breathing in and out. I run my fingers through his coarse black hair, filling with gray. I turn back over and look back up at the ceiling. I repeat to myself, “My father is dead.” I am trying to grasp that I, too, will one day die. I wait for the sound of the 4 a.m. train, a signal that soon — so very soon – I can get out of this bed and stop not falling asleep. I will not grieve while making lunches, doing laundry, or paying bills.

Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And He will teach us His ways.
Micah 4: 2

Where do you start when you’ve wasted so much precious time?

Perhaps realizing that it wasn’t wasted at all. Every meal you prepared, every prayer you prayed mattered. Didn’t you know? The wilderness was leading you to the gently rolling mesa, the tableland, and higher ground.

He maketh me like hinds’ feet.
He setteth me upon high places.
— Isaiah 58:14

Communion of Saints

This life isn’t all there is, but how much better it will be when we stop hiding our burdens. When we expose our suffering to the Communion of Saints, we are open to receive the suffering of others and experience a genuine Christian community. In this holy paradigm, we can be filled with joy.

When we can’t look out it means no one can see in. And, maybe, just maybe, there is someone more broken than you walking by and you have something to offer him. Like how your life – my life – is really kind of a mess or at least messy, but every night at 6 o’clock, we make a great effort. We gather around the table in our old dining room – where the housekeeper and the solider once exchanged glances and fell in love. We do the boarding house reach and eventually I bark, “You’re passing it the wrong way!” Or you ask someone to pass the salt and they pick up the shaker and shake-shake on their potatoes before passing it down.

So rude you say under your breath.

And, then son says he hates the dish you thought he’d love, and oh, by the way, your teenager is now a vegan. The one thing you always did right, the juicy pot roast, has been unceremoniously kicked to the curb. What do you have left to offer? And, omg, when did my entire self-worth hinge on a Sunday Dinner nobody wants to eat anymore?

But, from the street, oh from the street, the candle-glow amber of the old chandelier – the one you haven’t dusted in a decade – is winding through falling dusk. And the people driving by can see you’ve gathered around the table. Everyone else is just hungry, but a mother is shining all her hope to the world. Oh, the courage that takes.

All that we did for love’s sake,
Is not wasted and will never fade.
–Garrison Keillor

So, what do you when you’ve wasted precious time?

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I sit at my desk and Bridgy comes hovering around. I show her these words from Paul the Apostle and she says, “That’s a good saying.” I think so, too, Bridgy.

One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


POST SCRIPT: Noah Baumbach’s latest movie is WHILE WE’RE YOUNG starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. It’s a commentary on what’s happening to Gen-Xers during the Rise of the Millennials. I love this line: “For the first time in my life, I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.” Stiller has become a master at delivering the Generation X movie narrative whether it was in his 1990s Reality Bites performance or one of his more recent movies, Greenberg (also by Baumbach). Although a review in The Guardian calls the movie an ‘ugly cliché’ about generational conflict, I’m looking forward to seeing it. Here is the official trailer for While We’re Young.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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1 Comment

  1. Chloe Koffas

    The house we now live in, built in 1975, still weighs heavy with the story of the first family who lived here and I barely know anything about what that story is, other than the kids were Gen X, so that probably tells you where the heaviness is coming from. I have found little mementos from these kid’s lives and I want to return them and I don’t know if that will ever be possible. I’ve spent too much time worrying about all the imperfections too, Jen. The dishes in the sink, or the to-do list of the moment. There’s the grief of the space where we live and work, and all that grief of those who have gone before us that we carry, and there’s our own grief, and when you put it all together, it is a very heavy load. For whatever it is worth, I carry the load with you, sweet friend, especially in the hours when the spaghetti is boiling on the stove and when the train wails in the distance. I’m glad I’ll be with you soon. “I’ve seen for myself there is no end to grief, that’s how I know and why I need to know that there is no end to love…” -U2


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