Our first home-buying experience was nothing like I had expected it to be. When you’re young, you dream yourself into believing that every adult milestone in your life will be dusted with a bit of glamour, don’t you? I think plenty of girls will agree with me on this one. Take your first real, adult job for instance. You think that you’ll be wearing an Armani pencil skirt with black pumps that show off those toned calves you’ve been working on at the gym. You’ll walk in the office and heads will turn, eyeing your flawless, carefully hair-sprayed bun and thinking, “Wow, that girl is about to be the most kickass new hire.” I, of course, know that feeling now as an adult working at the front desk of our local community center. It’s especially glamorous on the days I get asked to clean up children’s pee in the play place. Just imagine trying to stay poised as you’re squishing yourself through two life-size cushioned rolling pins with kids behind you yelling, “she peed in the middle of the red slide!”
Buying our home involved less urine but just as much confusion. When I was younger, my parents showed me a video they took while touring the home they’ve lived in for the 25 years they’ve been married. They were all lovey-dovey, absolutely fawning over this charming home built in 1912. It was close to a river, had an in-ground pool and enough land for them to play baseball with the neighbors and their future kids. They deemed the house “perfect” and purchased it immediately. I grew up in that house and my parents are still living there. We were within walking distance from downtown, the schools, and several of my childhood friends. It was—and is—a great house. But I realize now an unconscious lesson that I learned from my parent’s home-buying experience: picking the right home for you and your husband means that it will feel perfect, like a dream, and you’ll never ever want to move because you made the absolute perfect decision. No, my parents never told me that. And I think if I told them that’s how I felt, they’d laugh and say the whole experience didn’t really feel like a dream and they just got lucky. But for me, an outsider, I couldn’t help but romanticize the whole thing. I loved the idea of “one and done,” too. As a kid, I thought moving was an act of giving up, thinking, “well, if they had bought the right house the first time, they wouldn’t have to move.”
So you can imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that buying a house was nowhere near a fairy tale. During our engagement, I planned the wedding and Brenin did the house hunting. He was in Minnesota and I was in Michigan. We never got to tour houses together. I would receive a few picture messages of bathrooms and bedrooms and then usually a follow up text saying, “too expensive.” We had neither time nor money on our side. We had planned on finding an apartment for the first couple years of marriage, but every effort we made in finding a place ended in frustration. After some fervent prayer, we felt a nudge from God to buy. Why would we buy? We seriously had, like, no money. It made no sense. That was the year I had just started learning how to budget and realized that really disciplined Christians thought debt was the devil and you should avoid it like the plague. Why, then, would God want us to buy? I worried that we would appear frivolous and immature, but trusted that God knew our desire to obey him, so we started looking for houses. This was only a few months before the wedding in August. Brenin was living in his boss’s house at the time, and as fun as it would’ve been for Greg to have his room next to a couple of newlyweds, we figured we didn’t want to use that as a plan-B. This meant we had no plan B. Or plan A. Just a shaky feeling that God wanted us to buy a house in a town that had 0 online listings for homes.
So while I was in Michigan ordering bowties and picking out food and flowers, Brenin was in Minnesota asking friends for prayer and any leads on potential homes. I can’t remember the exact month…May? June?…when Brenin connected with a young couple living in Detroit Lakes. They had bought their quaint, 3-bedroom home a year and a half ago from an older couple struggling to pay their medical bills. After a year of knocking down walls, painting rooms and staining floors, the husband was offered a career opportunity to transfer to a different branch closer his wife’s hometown. They were ecstatic and eager to sell fast, but they didn’t want to mess with a real estate agent, so they just spread the word through friends and family.
Brenin got word of this and swooped in. It all happened really fast and much too slow. We jumped on the opportunity to buy, and our decision was confirmed when the couple told us they had been praying for a young, Christian couple to buy this house and use it as an instrument for God’s Kingdom. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows as if to say, “That’s us! That’s what we want! Pick us!” This was the fast part. The slow part was…everything else. Getting approved for the special type of loan we would take out (I honestly still don’t even know what kind of loan it is), having the house appraised and deemed “livable,” figuring out a closing date, faxing and signing and initialing a whole lot of papers, and learning what “escrow” means (I’m still not really sure).
I’ll spare you the details in between because I fear you would start shaking your computer screen out of sympathetic frustration and just tell you: we got the house. Eventually, Brenin’s name was on all the paperwork and we could legally move into our new home. We were excited and exhausted. The morning we moved in came too early. We had just driven 20 hours in a U-Haul and we had been married (and homeless) for 7 days.
I remember stepping into the house that was now “our home” for the first time that day. I tried to take a second and forget about the 17 foot truck packed tightly with all our belongings and just focus on the bare wooden floors and the empty walls surrounding me. This was our new home, a clean slate. This place was where we would build a life together, inviting friends and family in to take part in the story we were writing. This was where we would learn how to sleep in the same bed, keep a bathroom clean, and cook meals we both enjoy.
That moment lasted about as long as it took you to read those sentences and was rudely interrupted by the smell of dust and curry. I remember it distinctly. I turned to Brenin, “I don’t remember it smelling this weird.” Then we remembered that when we toured the house, there were cinnamon sticks steaming on the stove and a gingerbread candle cracking on the counter.
Buyers beware of the old cinnamon stick trick.
As we began unloading boxes, looking under furniture and pushing chairs aside, it was confirmed: this house was going to need a deep clean. You could now cue anxiety, fear, and a gag reflex. If there was ever a time to doubt God’s purpose, it was then. “Lord, why would you give me a house that smells like rotten curry? You know I really don’t like curry!”
God’s reply? A group of angels, also known as Brenin’s coworkers, who came armed with rubber gloves, Lysol, rags and a Shop-Vac. Angel may actually be too soft of a term–warrior is probably more fitting. These people helped scrub our house, top to bottom. For hours, they braved dust bunnies, spider webs, old dried food, random dirty socks and unidentified wiggly orange piles, just to help us know that we were not alone and we had a community supporting us. That night, they bought us Chinese takeout and we sat around a small blue table that the previous owners left for us, praying that this house would be used for God’s purposes and would be a safe haven for our marriage to blossom. We laughed at the surprises we found in old cupboards and admired the powerful suction of John’s beloved Shop-Vac. These people, I began to realize, were going to be my family. This house, though nowhere near perfect or what I had expected, was going to be my home. It may not be where we live for the next 25 years of marriage, but I knew we didn’t make a mistake in buying it.
I’m learning that God really does allow seasons in our life, and although we would like to eventually end up in a country home with more land for kids and pets and gardens, right now, we are choosing to believe that what we need is a fixer-upper smack dab in the middle of town. So as we packed up the leftover egg rolls and waved goodbye to the warriors, Brenin put his arm around me and we stood in the entryway looking at the work we did that day. That’s when I knew: God hadn’t called us to a perfect space. He sent us to a seemingly dirty, lonely place only to show us that it’s in those places that families gather, prayers are spoken, and we are able to watch old life become new. It may not be our forever, but it’s our now, and we’re letting our roots sink in.