We live in a climate where the seasons are sharp. There is no mistaking them. Winter freezes everything including our senses; but they waken again with the shifting south wind, in slight rises in temps, in clouds changing from steel gray to white muslin, when it is still well below freezing, we sniff the air and say, “I smell spring!” Chickadees add whistles to their dee-dee-deeing. Did you know that in spring woodpeckers tap mating calls on hollow trees? They do. We heard them drumming today. Calling little feathered lovers. Our eaves drip; and long swords of ice hang from the roof. Trickles have turned into brooks running down alleys and sidewalks. Beneath the street a river rushes through the storm sewer on its way to the Mississippi. Winter has driven frost deep into the ground, so deep that city water lines are freezing. (By regulation they are buried between six and seven feet.) As I began this issue, last night another ten inches of new snow fell.
More than normal this year, I want spring. I want hope to waken me hard and strong. Please come. Please bring sunshine and an easy green path to walk on. Not that I’ve earned it. I know that. Despite our failures we are invited to bring all prayers to God, even the begging kind. There is one proviso: do it with thanksgiving. (Phil. 4:6) I need a house.
Denis and I sat down for a little chat. His reasoning skills are sharper than mine, but my emotional quotient is so above average. As long as we stay on the same side we make a pretty good team. When it comes to selling our home and finding a new one, we must be rational of all things. Realistic. At the same time we agree to reserve some optimism for a place of quietness and beauty with space for breathing and looking at the sky and being in the city. That would be prime.
He says, “It’s like this: our present home, with two floors is 2400 square feet minus Mole’s End, the little studio where Anita lives. The basement that is finished and houses my library and the laundry room add more square feet. Now. It looks as if the sale of our home, after real estate expenses and what not, will leave us with enough to purchase a home a little less than half that size in the Twin Cities area. So we need to think about how to reduce our belongings so they fit in about 1000 square feet of space.” What is he saying?!
With all my heart I want to do this well, but as he speaks I have a mounting sense of panic, I see truckloads of furniture being pitched over a cliff. I have the urge to stop my ears and run away, hugging my oak cabinets and pottery bowls to my chest. Why is it that little ramblers with wall to wall carpet in 80s deco make me want to weep? But this must be faced. We need, for one thing, most rooms on the main floor. Denis brings a glass of wine and sits beside me on the couch. “We can do this,” he asserts. It will be hard. Painful. But it is what people must do at our stage of life. We have always believed that there are ways of living creatively, of being hospitable. Space does not limit these things.” True. True. All true. But what about the view I’ve longed for? Should I be willing to give it up? Perhaps. I go to the public library and find books with beautiful pictures on how to live in small spaces, it helps a little.
The following week Anita and I get our house “staged” for photos. Carol, the real estate agent’s wife, walks through telling us what to put away. That chair, the chopping block, everything off the refrigerator, no throw rugs, that footstool, your living room blankies, the list goes on. Luckily, we have an attic with lots of room and Anita is small but strong. Everyday Denis looks a little more shocked. “It’s so barren,” he moans. But I’m starting to like it. Clean surfaces, no clutter. Even the radiators are dusted. Wow. It’s never looked this unlived in. Gradually, he becomes more used to it, and I’m more receptive to the idea that when we move less could be more. Perhaps.
The young man who does real estate pics arrives. He says our house is easy to shoot, and he loves the feel of it. It’s inviting. Lots of light. Warm colors. As he leaves, he spontaneously bursts out that he would buy it if he could. I’m absurdly pleased. A complete stranger likes Toad Hall? Perhaps it will sell.
Later the same day
It’s Friday and the listing goes online that night. We pray about things beyond our control. We pray for the right buyer, the timing, perhaps for a family that would love the house as we have. Saturday is quiet all day and feels like waiting for a glacier to calve. The “For Sale” sign on the front lawn looks so wrong. What were we thinking? On Sunday we are gone all day. But that’s when calls to show start coming in. For the next three days lookers pour in. We imagine people jumping on our beds and opening the medicine cabinet to examine our prescriptions – normal paranoia.
We haven’t done a lick of work because we must rush about every other second putting away ratty towels, smoothing lumps on beds, grabbing laptops and leaving in a flurry. (This is the downside of having your offices at home when trying to sell your home.) It’s only been on the market three days, but that afternoon we receive four offers and must decide on one of them by evening. Our agent is awesomely efficient and professional – another answer to our prayers for finding an honest, trustworthy person. One offer is from a family who is offering more than our asking price and a good closing date. They love the house and want their mother to live with them! Anita’s apartment will be perfect for her. We accept and the “SOLD” sign goes up.
We can’t believe how fast this has happened. We immediately relax our housekeeping and return to our slovenly ways. Dirty socks on the floor and Honeysuckle hopping through the house dropping little pellets here and there. (Yes. Well. They are hard little things that are barely discernable on the carpets. In fact, Anita accidentally ate one once. She was sitting on the couch eating raisins and watching TV when she dropped one and without looking down, she reached to the floor, felt around, picked it up, popped it in her mouth thinking…. But I digress.)
Next, the hard part
Now we need to find a new home. There is no turning back.
We feel God’s nearness to our almost homeless condition. We are in a stage of life that Mary Pipher, in her book, Another Country, calls the “young-old.” Whether we like it or not, when you are in your 60s you are no longer middle-aged. Sorry, Baby Boomers. We move from “young-old” to “old-old” when we face a crisis that moves us from the kingdom of the well to the kingdom of the sick. A mate dies; a fall breaks a hip; cancer claims a life. What stays the same is our Shepherd who loves us whether young or old, pregnant or barren, swift or slowly limping along. Somewhere in my bones, I know this beyond doubt.
Pipher writes, “My bias is that luxurious surroundings, entertainment options, natural beauty, and good weather are less important than people. As songwriter Greg Brown said, ‘You can’t have a cup of coffee with the landscape.’ At bottom, I think the search for the right place is a search for the right people. It’s a search for love and respect. What’s important is a community of friends and family.” (p. 32) Good advice.
As much as I would like a mountain cabin or cottage by the sea, our friends on Ransom’s Board helped us see that we cannot run away to the country – and believe me, that’s what last fall’s trip to Grand Marais, MN, was about. So, putting the isolated country home aside, we visited some churches in the Twin Cities exploring community and friends. Could we find a church home, and then locate a place to live? One Sunday we visited a church that was a healthy, joyful experience for both of us. There seemed real potential for community and friends. Another important piece falls into place.
We have talked endlessly about what Home could look like for us – what kind of hospitality will we offer there? What kind of quiet do we need for more serious writing hours? What constitutes an okay amount of solitude? I confess the outside of a house immediately draws me in or repels. Architect Sarah Susanka says “The house embodies in its exterior form much of what we long for today – a house that says Home before you ever step through the door.” – The Not So Big House. Most new-constructed houses – the giant three-car garage in front with house attached don’t say Home to me. I have thought and rethought non-negotiables. I also have a head full of angst and need to review again and again why it is not a crime to be an American and have a home with some degree of comfort when so many in the world suffer homelessness.
There are no possibilities for us right now. There are few homes on the market and good ones get snapped up immediately. Moving to rent while we find the right one ? Just kill us now. A friend jokes, buy an RV! Another adds, you can name it “Road Hall!” Denis is adamant. The right one will be there at the right time. We have until June. We are dividing search responsibilities. Mine being approximately nothing – I get too fixated on flower boxes and countertop colors to be of much use. Denis and Anita do the research and I vote up or down. We try not to hit the pits on the same day.
With our house sold and a church in view, we are now more prepared to find a house. I don’t want you to think we believe that if you do things right, speak the right words, pray the right prayers, then your house will sell, you’ll find a church you like and God will give you waffles for breakfast every morning. No. The Bible does not teach us that.
A reader wrote the following regarding our move and the stress that will be a part of it:
“From reading some other Christian writers, I get the feeling that they experience a crisis in faith for ‘one whole night’ while they throw up in the bathroom with the flu as a quadriplegic. But in the morning everything is bright and beautiful. I know that both of us can’t be right, but it seems that these people are not being honest with themselves (or anyone else). They make me feel like a failure, but I do know that David certainly had more ups and downs than they admit.” – Paul S.
This process may take longer than “one whole night” of vomiting on the floor. We may face temporary homelessness a lot longer than I want. I think about the three Old Testament men who were thrown into the furnace, who said if God chooses he can deliver us from death, but if he doesn’t he is still God and our faith is in him. On my end of the scale where mortal danger is embarrassingly low, it is still good to say the same thing. God can choose to give us more of the ideal home I have in my heart. Or not. And if not, God is still God, and I have faith that one day I will go to Home with a capital “H.” God has set us a direction and we’re walking the path.