The Honeymoon Cottage

December 19, 2014

Conventional wisdom–in early 2004 when we first went looking for a home–said that buying was better than renting. And so we dutifully obeyed and bought what we could afford: a 1950’s small brick ranch fixer-upper in suburban Detroit. But in mid-2007 when the “R” word (recession) was being bandied about and we were most eager to sell that starter home for our move to suburban Chicago, we began to loathe the conventional wisdom that had strapped us with this house. 

More than once the house had disappointed. Like when we eagerly pulled up the old carpet and several layers of stapled on linoleum, expecting to find beautiful hardwood floors underneath. Instead, we found this: wood-yes, but badly ambered and damaged. 

image

image

The house again disappointed when winter settled in and we realized just how drafty those old windows were. The curtains would flutter with each gust of wind. And the original furnace did little to compensate.

Disappointment struck again when one year after our move, our reassessment came and the taxable value drastically increased (from 1950 values to 2004–peak of the market values) and our mortgage went up by over $200 a month.

And when we so desperately needed to sell–recession hit. We moved believing that God intended Jared to study at TEDS. We secured an on-campus apartment, moved and then waited. After just a couple weeks and one ridiculously low ball offer on our house, we found renters who agreed to cover most of our mortgage payment. More house-loathing. And more bitterness over that conventional wisdom! 

We tightened our belts as the apt expression goes, and did what we could to lower monthly expenses. But still the numbers would never add up on paper. God faithfully (and inexplicably) met our needs. In those years, we never had one of those drop by your PO box and find an enormous monetary gift from an anonymous donor moments, but help came in the form of a family friend who routinely sent us all her quarters to do our laundry. It came from both sets of parents who would cover some unexpected expenses, offer to pay a grocery bills, give us money and childcare for a date night, or fill our car up with gas. Help came from good friends who would buy clothes for my children and send me care packages in the mail. Defying all the rules of logic and probability, we had enough to live on and enough to share with other poor grad school families around us.Those were the years I learned to serve breakfast dinners and pepperoni rolls without apologizing to my friends. Those were the years that no one ever showed up empty-handed to another person’s home. Hospitality costs and we all knew it, so we eagerly shared in the expense.  I remember my mother-in-law saying that their poorest years were in doctoral school and those years drove the materialism out of her heart. Looking back, I think it did the same to us. But it was easy not to covet or be greedy when everyone around you is as poor as you. 

image

These pictures are from our annual Good Friday lunch during our TEDS days. We crammed 4 families (6 babies at that time) in our little dining room. And we feasted–this was not the usual fare. 

image

But back to the house or “the honeymoon cottage” as my mother dubbed it. After Jared completed his coursework and comps for his PhD, we settled on a date to move back to Detroit where he would begin teaching. We had one full year for Jared to devote exclusively to his dissertation. We decided to move off-campus into the Kenosha, WI area where we would be closer to our church. We scoured the area for rental properties. Some were kind of scary, others far too pricey. Finally, we signed on a deal to rent a newer 3 bedroom apartment not far from church. After we signed the paperwork, we received a call from man at church who was offering us a rental home in the little country town of Somers. It was tiny, tiny, tiny, but so was the rent. So, we took advantage of the buyer’s right to cancel and instead started packing up for a year in the country. That was a funny Fall. In theory it was supposed to be a year devoted to dissertation and digging deeper at church. But as it turned out our one year stint in the country turned into a brief three month sojourn with many complications. For instance, I broke my foot (on a toy mine set by the boys), Jude broke his wrist, Jared’s computer crashed and died, delaying his efforts to focus on his dissertation. I was pregnant and sicker than ever. We had a mouse problem. And I sort of freaked out after I read one too many articles about the deadly diseases mice carry. Joel and Shelley made their international move during that time. And then we got word that our renters had lost their jobs and needed to move. We were unable to find replacement enters and so 3 ½ months after moving into that little house, we re-packed our stuff and moved out. More house loathing. If we had just been able to sell that Detroit house, we could have finished out our year in that country house, devoted precious time to dissertation writing and enjoyed a few more months in that church we had grown to love.

Here’s pathetic little Juju bean with a broken wrist:

image

We moved Halloween weekend. We knew that our Detroit home needed much more work than we had been able to put into it during those honeymoon years. So did my parents, who generously offered to pay to have those wood floors refinished–this time professionally. We seized the offer, scheduled the refinishing for the week we moved back, unpacked all of our belongings into the garage, and moved in with Jared’s parents while we waited one week for the floors to be finished. Well, that week turned into a month and a half after the company who refinished the floors accidentally started a fire in a garage, destroying all of our stuff. Here’s Jared picking through the burned, molded, smoky rubble.

 image

image

I’ve talked about that fire at length here and even here. Losing all our stuff–literally no beds to sleep in, clothes to wear (other than a weeks’ worth in our suitcases), toys to play with and no replacement money in sight (and for a time despaired of completely!)–was the biggest trial of our marriage so far. We did finally see insurance payouts and we decided that since we were hopelessly upside down in our mortgage (like everyone else in Detroit), that rather than replacing everything we had lost all at once, we’d replace the necessities and use a chunk of the money to pay down the principal on our house. Within a few months doing so began to pay off. It lowered our monthly payment significantly, saved us a bundle on interest, and freed up some of our money to replace more things and do some much needed work on our house as well as rebuild that hideous garage. We went from this:

image

To this: image

to this:

image

to this:

image

Fast forward a few years and we get a call from our old church asking Jared to consider coming on pastoral staff. After weeks of praying and soul-searching and after the normal candidating process, we decided to go for it. The housing market had started to rebound and we had paid down enough of our mortgage to actually be in a position to sell. We listed our house, and within two weeks sold that honeymoon cottage. And with that sale, all our loathing suddenly turned to nostalgia.

We had grown to love that 1950’s suburban ranch and had grown to love our neighbors. We’ve many memories of good friends and family members passing through that house. I brought both Asher and Haven home as babies here. Most of my kids’ little years were spent here. We planted that tree out front just after Asher was born and have watched it grow every year since. The tiny back yard, the small garden plot behind the garage, the clinker brick and even the little paved patio hold so much charm for me. I’ll miss summer bike rides through the neighborhood, walking to one of the many parks just blocks away, and picking up groceries at that little corner market. I’ll miss sweet little Noah’s voice calling out each afternoon for his Papa next door. I’ll miss Paul’s gorgeous maple in the Fall. We’ll even miss our mailman! I’ll miss crowding around our dining room table for a meal or game or coffee and tea with friends. I’ll miss fires on that patio, the summer day lilies out front and watching our little tree form tiny pink flowers in the spring before settling into beautiful deep burgundy leaves in the summer. I’ll miss the hours of afternoon sun we get in the back of the house. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the slap, slapping of a baby crawling down the wood floors in our hall or the pitter patter of little feet coming up the stairs into the kitchen. One of my favorite things about a small house was that even if I was occupied with work in the kitchen, the kids could have table time in the dining room and I could hear everything. I’m a shameless eavesdropper and I’ve been rewarded with some precious memories of sibling conversations. I have memories of huddling together on the couch for movie night, the buzz of excitement on Christmas tree decorating night, and entertaining ourselves on dark winter nights by playing hide and seek in the basement with all the lights off. This house has been good to us–despite it’s many disappointments. And it was bittersweet to sign it off to a new owner. 

But, it wasn’t enough to sell that home. We also needed to find a new one. But God had gone before us as he has always done, and a few days before we got the offer on our house, Jared received a call from our previous landlord back in Kenosha, offering us another country house at a reduced rate. A house that was in the school district for which I was hoping. A house that had the larger kitchen and dining room for which I was looking. A house that had space and room to roam which we were all craving. That irritating move to Kenosha that we likely would never have done had we known our renters had to suddenly move created a relationship with this landlord who was happy once again to give us a bargain on one of his homes.  This home:

image

image

We spent the week of Thanksgiving as a family working and cleaning in this new home. We’re already making memories here!

The kids worked for hours peeling off wall paper in this room:

image

Taking a brief lunch break in the pink room (which is no more):

image

God has clearly orchestrated all the events leading up to this move. He has gone before us and provided what we needed even before we knew how or what to ask. Seeing his hand in all this fills us with so much confidence and joy as we walk this road that has risen to meet us. Today, Jared and I celebrate 11 years of marriage. Today, we conclude our life and ministry in metro-Detroit and prepare for life and ministry in southern Wisconsin. Today I’m filled with excitement and anticipation but it’s tinged with some grief and loss as we leave behind memories and friends. As we say good bye to local grandparents and a school with dear teachers who have so generously invested in my boys’ lives. Jared leaves behind students who are better called brothers. And he turns away from a church which has faithfully invested in his life since childhood. And although our move is not an international one and we don’t say goodbye despairing of ever seeing our loved ones’ faces again, I think of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:28-30 and am comforted by this promise: “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

And so farewell little honeymoon cottage, dear friends and family, and sweet memories.

One final look back before we’re on our way:

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

You Might Also Like

  • Sierra Locksmith May 30, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    so very nice