Before coming to Billings, Montana, I had never once in my life considered that I would be a construction worker. And after I had considered it and agreed, with much trepidation, to do it for nine months, I never once considered that I would love it. This has been one of the many things that have surprised me in the three months since arriving in Montana.
Three months ago, I wanted “the good life.” I wanted a big, beautiful brick house with ivy on the sides, a cobblestone driveway with a fountain in the middle of it, a four car garage, a sprawling kitchen, a huge television, an expansive back yard, four kids, three dogs, and a job that could pay for all this and leave enough left over for plenty of vacation time and a nice savings account.
The South Side of Billings has shattered those desires. The South Side is a poor neighborhood, and Amanda and I have been uprooted from the suburban dream in which we have both lived our entire lives into the middle of a neighborhood where the average child will not graduate high school, let alone thrive at a prestigious university. But it is here that, for the first time, I feel alive. I feel like real life is happening everywhere, all the time. And, all those desires that were put in my head by the “American Dream” are fading away. Three months later, and I would be embarrassedto live in the house I described above. Three months later and I am asking myself if it would be better to adopt children rather than to have our own, a prospect that would have left me very disgruntled not very long ago. Three months later and I am friends with recovering addicts and reforming sex offenders. Three months later and I understand, finally, that Jesus has a heart for these people, and that it is not the rich and well-put-together that will be saved, but the faithful and the obedient and the repentant. Three months later I understand that as long as I want to try to be self-sufficient and do what I want, life will continue to be meaningless and boring and loathsome and leave me feeling empty, alone, and unlovable.
I’ve realized that the American Dream is not what we’ve been told it is: to have everything you want, to be financially secure, to be physically safe, to have “acceptable” friends, and to have plenty of leisure.
The American Dream is to not need anyone. The American Dream is to isolate oneself from community, and therefore true relationship and personal accountability.
The truth is that I need the people around me. I need diversity of circumstances, origins, attitudes, and philosophies all around me, or I become increasingly self-referential, decreasingly aware of the needs of the surrounding world, and [not] mysteriously, less and less satisfied with the life I am living.
God is in this city, and God loves the relationships that, in aggregate, are called community. The scaffolding that my life was built on as recently as three months ago is falling down all around me in the light of the Face that desires the best life for me far more than I do for myself.
“The good life” is not my best life.
My best life lies in the dirt and the stink and the frustration of living in a heterogeneous community where we all need each other. This is the will of God, whose name is Love.
The scaffolding of my life has been torn down and is now being rebuilt, and in this new construction Christ is the cornerstone.
– Dave (CLDI/Fellowship House Intern)