When I was younger I used to imagine things.
I made my siblings play secret member’s club with me where we entered the ‘doors’ of the hidden location (behind the water tank) using our Cabbage Patch trading cards. I also directed the scenes of the Barbies we played with and came up with ideas for role play — constantly. And, even at the mere age of six, I began imagining my future.
The way I imagined it was never particularly fixed or defined, I just knew that I would either be a rich banker (because it rhymed with my name) or a rich doctor (because I was one of the smartest in my class and that is what smart people do — also that’s how you make loads of money, enough to have a pool in your house). Because of this inheritance of money that would result inevitably from the fruit of my natural talents, I planned for a flashy future where I would repay my parents by buying them BMW convertibles and taking them on exotic holidays.
In addition to that, the expectations of those around me were phenomenal. Daily, people would predict my future for me — amazing job, full scholarship, gorgeous husband and family, etc. Of course this gave me more ideas and supplemented my imagination, painting a very lush picture of my future indeed.
Yet none of those things came true.
Instead I spend much time coming to terms with the indelible fact, that life just isn’t what I imagined it to be when I was younger.
Just yesterday this was brought suddenly and brashly to my attention as my father, who is visiting London from Trinidad, said to me: ‘I feel sorry for you that you have to live in such squalor’.
To my younger self, to those who know my younger self, to those who meet me and see a glimpse of my younger self, and to many others, I am lacking in many things that I should have but have never managed to get.
To my older self though — I am the richest person in the world. How could that be? Here’s why:
When I look at my room, creaky-floored, thin-walled and aging, in a flat above a smelly Korean restaurant, with a bed that is lopsided and a wardrobe that can collapse any minute because it is stuffed to capacity with my clothes, many from bargain shops, others from charity shops, only one or two things costing over £50, when I look at my room I see a palace. I see a place to rest my head, electricity that fuels my computer that I use to write in my room’s corners, and to play Radio 4 on my ancient stereo. I see space enough to do a small dance if I was having a fantastic day or to do some abs and push ups if I was feeling utterly motivated to be fit. I see a precious bookcase that holds my scores of books, the gems of my existence, holding stories that got me through train-rides, a bookcase gifted to me by a man whose house I cleaned for a year to earn extra money. I see a place where I am able to relax after a long day of work and getting involved in every single thing interesting to me in this the best city in the world.
I see a palace that has everything I need but nothing more, a place that reminds me everyday that I am limited and not invincible, that I am not immortal or powerful, that I am not better than anyone. It humbles me beyond measure, and I am so very grateful for that.
I look at the fact that I had to clean someone’s toilet for a year to supplement my low salary and I see a scenario in opposition to my imagined future. Here and there I have sat crying, ashamed of my financial situation, egged on by the luxuries displayed on other people’s Facebook and the way my friends spend money like water on nights out. But most of the time I am celebrating the fact that every time I ran out of money and risked not being able to eat or enjoy life for a while, God has provided for me through the kindness of others or through pure miracles. Not being well off, not always having enough money to afford more than basics, has thrust me into the cool, refreshing and unending waters of God’s kindness and grace — a place where I would rather be any day over a private member’s club or even a top 10 exotic beach.
And cleaning someone’s (very) dirty toilet has actually been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Because it has provided me with the opportunity to care for someone else in a way which does not glamorise me but causes the most instant and genuine smile to climb upon the face of the owner of that toilet. This is because, I believe, when you humble yourself to serve another, stepping down from the pedestal society has fashioned for you which ranks you lower than some but higher than most, you find a sort of joy that is so pure your heart is utterly sensitive to it. A joy worth having more than any cocktail, dress, holiday or amenity I would be able to purchase with a higher salary.
I look at my week: some nights in my room working on projects that I do for free for various charities — often having to socialise less to finish them, Mondays at my beloved writer’s group, Thursday and Sundays at football and Tuesdays and Sundays at church, I sometimes wish I could just sit back on my leather couch and watch TV on my 58 inch TV, neither of which I have. But mostly I am grateful that I have a life full of opportunities to serve others, learn and grow, stay fit and competitive, and share my passions with others. It is only a cherry on top that I am often so blessed to be invited to some of the best (in my overly grateful mind) cultural, social and gastronomic events in London. By no means do these events compare to some of the events my Facebook compadres go to, but they take me to places I’ve never been before, introduce me to terrifically interesting new people and give me additional reasons to dance and sing and hug. Looking ahead and into my wallet, I never suspect or plan for any big events, but always they crop up, thus I am never left without entertainment. For this I am thankful to God who has promised to always give me reasons to laugh out loud.
And finally, when I look at the man on my arm, the non-existent one that is, I am brought most often to sorrows as of all the things I imagined of my future, my husband and children were the most important. Yet I have neither and some days it looks like I may never have them. But I know in my heart of hearts that I have made certain decisions in life — like highly valuing my independence and freedom to explore, move, learn and mature — that have brought me to this point of singleness. I do not regret the single life that I have led that allowed me to be available to anyone who needed a friend or company, that allowed me to get up and move to London and Paris without the pull of the taut strings of a committed relationship, that allowed me to meet so many interesting men who have taught me a lot about what it means to be female and what I truly, truly desire in a man — even the meanies and baddies taught me valuable lessons. And most of all, as I look back, I am so grateful that I am single now, because only in the last few years have I really come to know and love myself and to know, intimately and personally, my Lord Jesus, who, when I got baptised a few years ago, really entered my heart and my spirit and fills me with a true sense of joy and purpose. It is the very presence of Jesus abiding in me that makes me desire to wait for the man He has prepared for me and not to rush into anything with anyone who falls short. Despite my ever-increasing desire to be married, I know that I’d rather have an eternity with Jesus abiding in me than 50 years with the wrong man abiding in my house.
My reply to my father was what Jesus said many years ago: ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’ (Matthew 16:25)
I have lost my life, the life I imagined, my place on the pedestal. My life is not worthy of praise or admiration. My life deserves no awards or accolades. Yet I have gained far, far, far, far, far, far, far more. I don’t need to prove my point because it is written on my heart.
How I imagine my future now is as one who lives out the Beatitudes, one who experiences first-hand the true meaning of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
That, right there, is my pride and joy.
What is your pride and joy?