There are a few things with this whole "house-building" thing that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around.
I think the biggest and weirdest thing is that I feel embarrassed. Let me try to explain that.
The first year of our marriage, Jason and I lived in my dad's basement. Jason was going to college, and I was working ten-hour days as a courier in Red Deer. We were broker than broke. Every month we got a little farther behind, meaning we had to put a little more on the student line of credit just to survive. I don't know how we would
have survived without Dad's help.
After that year, Jason got a job working in the computer department of a company in Calgary. He worked down there for a month before we were able to move into a little 900-square-feet-including-the-two-flights-of-stairs-and-the-teeny-
tiny-veranda condo, during which time he lived with my uncle and aunt--what a blessing they are to us. We made the official move the day before our first anniversary. Our rent was almost $1 per square foot, over-and-above utilities, etc. (We thought prices in Calgary were stupid then!
HA! I bet that condo would rent for at least $1500 a month, now!)
One month later, Jason was let go from that job, due to what his ex-boss later admitted was simply a conflict of personalities.
Suddenly, we were in the situation of being saddled with a huge amount of debt (student-loan, plus some credit card debt I had accumulated through poor financial habits while single), and no income to speak of. My part-time job as a day-time supervisor at Roger's Video brought in barely enough money to pay for our groceries every month, let alone rent. As the months passed, and no job offers came in sight, we slid farther into the hole.
In Calgary, as in so many places, it's all who you know. And with the exception of my uncle and aunt, we knew very few people there--especially those that might have connections in the field Jason is trained in.
Well, that's not quite true. We knew a couple that Jason had become friends with during his years as the director's assistant at Sunnyside Camp in Sylvan Lake. As it so happens, they lived in the same neck of the woods as us, and happened to come into the video store one day and "let it slip" that the then-current director was planning on giving up his position soon, and we should maybe "get on that." While we were confident that Jason knew that camp inside out and backwards, he was also only 28 years old at the time--meaning that, if he got the job, he would be the youngest director that camp had ever had in its over-fifty years of existence.
The Lord saw fit to bless us with that job, obviously. THAT was a huge blessing. We got to move into a beautiful home, right on the camp property, that came as a "perk" of the job, meaning no rent, utilities, or upkeep out of our own pocket. The house was only 4 years old, as the previous director had finally replaced the original director's dwelling with a manufactured home while he was there. There was more room on one floor of that house than our entire condo in Calgary had sported!
And I was even a little embarrassed by that
. What had we done to deserve this blessing? We didn't squander the opportunity, though. We used those years at the camp to pay off huge, gi-normous chunks of our accumulated debt, as well as to give as generously as we were able to causes and charities we felt led to support. But I felt bad, in some ways, that we seemed to have done so little to "earn" this financial boost, while friends of ours were struggling along on extremely limited incomes, or had huge mortgages to go with their houses.
While at the camp, our family expanded from two to five. So when it came time to move to Peace River, we knew we had to find a house with room for our rambunctious boys, and to house a home office for our various home-based businesses. We had never purchased a home before, and because our focus had been mainly on paying off as much debt as possible to free us up to go overseas (a long story that still has not materialized), we had nothing to speak of in savings. The government has a program that will help first-time home buyers without the requisite 25% down, but the problem was we didn't even have the amount of money they
Our original plan was to rent, then buy later when we had a better idea of what the town was like. We spent one whirlwind December weekend in Peace River, just Jason and 2-week-old Jabin and I, looking at rental properties here and in nearby Grimshaw. There was really nothing that appealed to us--everything was either too old, too dumpy, or too small (700 sq. feet!) Last-minute, we decided to look at a house for sale. From the asking price, we did not think it would be in our budget, but we thought It never hurts to ask.
The house was huge--it was originally 2000 square feet over two floors, but ten years after the original building was put up, a 1000 sq. ft. addition was put on the back. The basement needed to be almost completely re-done. There were various renovation projects throughout the house that were only half-finished, or extremely poorly done. The last person to paint had been anything but careful. And the movers had come only the day before, leaving muddy footprints all over the carpet.
We took it. In three weeks, we negotiated the sale of the house to something within our budget, took possession on December 21, and moved on the 22nd. Even that would not have been possible without financial help from family, and I am sure some divine pushes in the process.
Funny how you can expand to fill up whatever container you are in. Your habitually-traced steps just find new paths to create. Your junk finds new corners to fill. You actually buy
more to fill up the space. (This is a materialistic habit which I abhor, but recognize it in myself, none-the-less.)
Little did we know that the dinosaur would be so hard to feed. Our first full month of utilities bills was January--the coldest month in our year. When I opened the envelope, it felt like I had been kicked in the gut by a horseshoe made of liquid nitrogen. I thought, at first, that it was because prices had simply gone up so much since the last time we had had to pay utilities. But upon comparing the bill to friends with similar properties, I realized that no, we had simply purchased Peace River's most energy-inefficient building.
We quickly realized that we would either have to make more money to live here, learn the fine art of living without eating, or move. Then, a miracle happened. Jason got a job offering 50% more than what he was making. The pressure was off. I began teaching piano a few months later. We could actually afford to do "fun" things again, once in a while.
And then winter came again. Despite not feeling the icy fingers of More Debt scratching out my eyes last year, we both recognized that there may never be a better time to move than now.
My mother's husband Mike, with his keen "spidey sense" for good deals on land, had us go check on the property we are now moving to sometime just before the new year. With his experience as a general contractor, and his willingness to take a summer and do so, he is going to be the major driving force behind our house being built. Because of that, we will be able to build a literal "dream house", for us, at least. No, it's not one of those bazillion-dollar homes that you see in magazines. But for the same or lesser mortgage, in a market where real estate prices have sky-rocketed in the last year, we will be able to get a nicer, much more efficient house on a sizable acreage that we would not have been able to afford for many more years to come without this help.
And I'm embarrassed. I catch myself trying to explain the situation, say too much, when people ask about our land, or the house we are building. Justifying what seems to me, in some ways, to be extravagant. The house is big, but not huge. Ironically, the cost of living there will be much less than here. We are hoping to have more money to invest in causes again--perhaps even save up for a real family vacation. And most definitely get our own cow! No more chlorinated water. (The well was drilled on Tuesday, and the water is fine.) I can grow my own vegetables. There are twenty-two acres of trees
for me--uh, I mean "my boys"--to run around in. And with all this, I think I am afraid that people will think we are either living beyond our means, or that our means are a lot more than they really are.
Why do I care so much about what people think? Is it my sense of fairness? It's not fair that we have these blessings, and have been blessed so much, when other people struggle and have to go through years of toil and tribulation to receive the same payback. It's not fair that we can conceive a child almost by merely thinking of it, while other people have to go through expensive and costly medical procedures, or never even be parents at all.
And then it occurs to me. I remember all the times (these and many more) that we have been blessed by other people in our lives. I remember all the times that we have given to help others, even if it meant going without a little ourselves. And I realize that soon it will be our turn to "pay it forward." We have been blessed, so that we can be a blessing. Almost daily, I pray that I and my family would be a blessing to someone today.
The easiest way to be a blessing is to have something to give away. God, through our family and friends, has blessed us in a huge way--not so we can horde and hold on to what we are given. No, in His economy, the more you give your blessings and your talents to others, the more you receive yourself. And He only ever gives you what your abilities can handle.Funny how that works.
Funny how easy it was for me to forget that. Time for me to stop being embarrassed, and to start pouring these blessings right back out again.
(I'm so glad we had this little talk.)