“I’m running a bit behind schedule. Should be there in 5 minutes,” says the text from our realtor. Another Friday night of virtual house tours. It’s practically a family night tradition for the kids and I now. I try to check my rising nervousness, which has also become a custom during this long distance house hunting endeavour. While I wait for the video call to begin, I mirror my iPhone to our TV and remind myself not to get excited, not to get attached, not to start visualizing the house on the screen as a home. After losing multiple, high tension bidding wars, it’s not just my nerves that have taken a beating. So has my hope.
This isn’t my first realty rodeo. My husband and I have bought three previous homes together. But none of those deals were done in an out of control market like this. The stress of such rapidly rising prices and exorbitant demand is new to me, and it’s taking its toll. Plus, I am doing it all sight unseen (unless you count the “seeing” I am about to do from 300 kilometres away). And there is one other anomaly in this house hunt — I am doing it alone.
My husband, who has just made the leap to military chaplaincy after being a church pastor for more than two decades, is twelve hundred kilometres away. Currently, he is confined in a concrete tower full of recruits, enduring the rigours of basic training. Tied with another padre for the position of oldest person in his platoon, chaplaincy is not even a guaranteed gig until he passes this gruelling thirteen week course. Will he make it through? Will he even have a job in the city where I’m trying to buy us a house? Will he have a home to come home to? Our current house has been sold for months already. Soon we will reach our closing date, hand over the keys, and move elsewhere. But, where?
My phone rings. Our realtor has arrived at the first home on tonight’s list. I wait as he unlocks the door, getting nothing but a view of his colourful socks and expensive leather shoes. Even after he’s in the foyer, he forgets to raise his smartphone — my only “eyes” on this place. It’s frustrating not being in control of my own powers of observation, but despite my limited vision, I begin noticing things that seem to escape his attention. Again and again, I catch a glimpse of something that begs a question.
“You are one of the most observant people I have ever met,” he says. I can tell he is sincerely impressed. “You have an amazing attention to detail,” he continues. “If you don’t mind me asking, what is it that you do for a living?”
“I’m a homeschool mom,” I reply. I can sense he doesn’t really know what to say next. “But I’m pretty sure I missed my calling to be a police detective.” I crack a joke, sensing that my answer is a disappointment to his curiosity. Perhaps he had been expecting that I had a successful career collecting intelligence as a secret agent. But deep down, below the humour and the embarrassing tension of that moment, I can’t help but wonder if my mundane role as mother and home educator has somehow honed my powers of attention, nudging me to notice the subtler blessings of my everyday life.
The video tour continues, and I can tell pretty quickly that the required upgrades, combined with the list price of this house (not to mention the extra hundred thousand or so above the asking price that one would have to be willing to bid if they had any hope of being its successful new owner) means that this is not the house for us.
My fruitless solo search for our next family home continued. Each time I was outbid on a property that seemed so promising, a pessimistic voice would hiss in my ear – “See? You’ll never find a house you can afford in a big city market like this. There’s nothing special out there for you!” I had been so convinced that God would provide. Hadn’t I seen Him work a thousand miracles in the preceding months? Wasn’t I now standing strong on the other side of a deep, dark valley God had brought me through? Yet within minutes I could be brought to the brink of despair. In my thoughts, the phrase “There’s nothing special out there for you!” had a noisy next door neighbour that liked to shout, “You’re nothing special!” That emotional plunge from “no house” to “no worth” ambushed me in my discouragement.
“I never realized buying a house could be such a ‘spiritual’ experience,” I texted a friend and mentor. “Oh, it’s always a spiritual experience for me,” she assured me.
I just wanted the search to be over. I was exhausted from months of single parenting, all the while worried about my husband’s health and well-being, not to mention the hardship of missing him. After twenty one years of matrimony, we had only recently begun building the marriage we had always wanted. We were only a matter of months into this miraculous marriage reboot when he flew off to boot camp. This was hard. And I was tired.
In the midst of my exhaustion, I read one day: “He gives sleep to the one he loves” (Psalm 127:2b). The phrase leapt off the page at me, and I determined to claim this promise. Its alternate possible translation also spoke deeply to my faint heart: “He gives such things to his loved ones while they sleep.” What sort of “such things”? Well, the verse right before this one says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labour over it in vain” (Psalm 127:1). I surmised it couldn’t be much different with buying than with building. My fretting was in no way helping this process along. God was at work, and I could trust Him to cover the night shift instead of worrying myself sick.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
I brought my doubts and disappointment to God. I reminded Him of everything my husband and I had walked through, all the twists and turns on that rough road of healing that we had followed Him down. I began to realize that there was indeed a “special” house out there for us. And special didn’t mean it would have everything on our wish list. This house would be special in a much more significant way. It would be the first house my husband and I would share without any unshared secrets. We were beginning a brand new chapter of our lives, leaving the hurt and shadows of the past behind, and allowing God to rebuild us from the ground up. One thing was sure. No matter what it looked like, this house would be very special.
Today, I sit here in that house – a house our family has called home for just over a year now. I raise my head to look around, and it’s all I can do to convince myself I’m not dreaming. This house – its five bedrooms (exactly the number we needed for each of our children to have their own space), its dedicated schoolroom (I am not kidding – that’s what the previous owners built this funky octagonal room for, with its big windows and built in desk, cupboards, and storage benches), its beautiful home office with wrap around desk (the perfect place to write a sermon, a blog post, maybe even someday a book). And speaking of books, there are built in bookshelves galore, space for our ever-expanding home library. There’s a massive kitchen with more cupboards than I need and a rather continental sized island, (a perfect place to gather friends and family).
The most special space of all though to me is where I’m sitting right now and where I spend most of my free time – the sunroom, with its wall of windows overlooking the lake at the bottom edge of our backyard. I drink in that water view everyday. And somehow it helps to quench my thirst for the ocean, a kind of homesickness only an Island girl knows. “Special” really isn’t a good enough word to describe this place. Its divine details stun me. I see my Father’s fingerprints and hear His heartbeat in every room.
The reality of military life is that this house is probably not going to be home for long. But I will cherish every day that I get to call it that. Not because of any luxury or its lakefront location. But because it is unmistakably God’s house, provided in His time, in His way. It astounds me that in a move that seemed so impossible, when I felt so alone and unable, God was able to do more than I imagined possible. He attended to every single item on a wish list my husband and I had only jokingly dreamed about. I am awed by His attention to detail. To me, this home stands as a daily illustration of the very definition of miracle – something only God could do. And if you knew my whole story, you’d know that the life my family lives together within its walls is also nothing short of miraculous. This spacious, bright, and beautiful home is a tangible reflection of God’s transforming work in our hearts. And everyday this miracle house reminds me of His extraordinary care, His unending love, and His unlikely grace.