catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 14 :: 2009.07.02 — 2009.07.16


Dreams for sale

Memories of our first apartment echo newlywed idealism and eager anticipation. My husband, Barry, made next to nothing teaching at a Christian school. Yet we saved what we could, always asking ourselves, “Do we want this or a house?” A few years later, our family size doubled with two little girls — and evenings found us remodeling our first home on a postage-stamp-size lot in the city. We stayed five years. Two days after we laid the last tiles for the kitchen floor, the house sold.

A job transition brought us to our present location — a modest home in the suburbs. I could accompany Barry only once in our quest to find housing. We quickly realized the scarcity of dwellings with even a smidgen of potential in our price range. After Barry’s last interview, with contract in hand, he bumped into a retiring professor selling his home “By Owner.” When he called that evening, his tone of voice almost begged me. “It’s the best we’ve seen, Sar. It needs work, but the location is perfect.” They accepted our offer. I pestered Barry to help me picture each room, which he patiently described the best he could. But I had to wait to see our new home until our appointment with the local banker weeks later.

We borrowed $3,000 more than we needed and, six months later, paid it down on the principle. This cut eight years off the mortgage term and $40,000 in interest. Our habit of saving made it possible to pay off the house by the time Barry turned 36.

What drove us to pursue a home, debt-free? In the early 1980s, to invest in real estate made good financial sense. Both sets of parents owned their homes through frugality and hard work. Their mindset influenced Barry, who paid his way through college by mowing lawns. After our college graduations, he drove home with paid-off BS and MS degrees and $40 in his back pocket. We started our marriage with wedding gifts and donated furniture from family members (some antiques). Somehow, with God’s help, we thrived on the challenge of making our meager budget work.

We wanted freedom: freedom from mortgage payments, freedom to make choices about ministry, investments and our children’s education. When an opportunity came our way to purchase four acres of land in the country, Barry began to dream. The land breathed potential and boasted a coveted view of rolling hills and orchards.  A path through the picturesque woods toward the back of the property led to “the ledge,” a rock shelf jutting out halfway up a mountainside, revealing a breathtaking view of the valley far below.

We purchased the acreage with cash. Then Barry built a red barn in the midst of the waving grasses. We envisioned the type of home to someday grace the property, where we would have a garden, and even anticipated our grandchildren’s visits “to the country.”

Five years after “the land” became ours, another little girl popped into our family. Her big sisters were 11 and 14. Although we welcomed her with abandon, managing teenagers and a preschooler left little time to function beyond the necessary. “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Our vision of building a home away from the hustle and bustle of town became distant and obscure.

Although we kept the property, it was Barry who all but sacrificed his dreams and shifted our focus back to the suburbs. Knowing my stay-at-home status was to be extended, he drew up plans to tear down our tiny garage and build a two-car garage with a guest room tucked behind it. He understood my desire to serve via hospitality. This would make it possible for me to minister from home. How could we have ever known how God would present numerous opportunities to open our door to missionaries, teachers, students and friends from all over the world?

In the spring before our “baby” began kindergarten, the Lord further redirected our steps, this time through trauma. Because of a car accident, Barry and I sustained horrific injuries including a coma and traumatic brain injury, broken neck and back vertebrae, collapsed lungs and broken ribs. Surgeries, months of therapy and lingering limitations brought us face to face with the brevity and frailty of life. We counted it a remarkable blessing to be alive, but began to see life very differently. God graciously spared our lives. How could we best serve Him with our remaining years? After prayerful consideration, we chose to sell our land in the country. One property was enough.

Were our dreams for nothing? Was the red barn a waste of time? Were we wrong to pursue a property “for later?” We just about broke even, so didn’t even have a great investment story to tell. Perhaps we had to have our land and a plan within reach to make an intentional choice to relinquish it. Could we better discern God’s will for our journey here, in this place, when faced with more than one option?

And what about our drivenness to scrimp and save all those years? I suspect God’s hand prodded us in that direction with strong intent. He knew of our future disabilities, unemployment, limited income and loss of employer-paid benefits. We know how to live “lean and mean,” as Barry says. And to this point, we still have some freedom: freedom from mortgage payments, freedom to make choices about ministry, investments and our youngest daughter’s education. I’m unspeakably grateful we adopted those financial habits early on. 

Twenty-two years of memories have etched their way into the rooms and hallways of our home. It’s by no means a perfect place, but I’d rather be here than anywhere. It represents my hub, my venue to serve God through hospitality, writing and caring for my family. At times, it’s an oasis for those who carry heavy burdens. Or sometimes, it’s a gathering place to experiment with quilt designs, window treatment options or new recipes. Local writers huddle around the dining room table to critique chapters, articles and query letters. Our daughter’s small group meets here each week. Kids and adults alike enjoy summer picnics or a cozy fire when snowflakes glaze the hills like frosting on a cupcake. This weekend, a couple from India will grace our guest room. Barry’s vision to encourage me to serve from home has been repeatedly realized. I see it now as a gift which God has multiplied like a little boy’s lunch to feed 5,000.

This month marks our 30th wedding anniversary. We find ourselves much more realistic. But our memories echo God’s faithfulness in every place we’ve lived, in unforgettable ways.

My favorite place? There’s no question. Home. Please come in…the kettle’s on!

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