Monday, January 14, 2008

On Being a Building

When we moved to the Metroplex a few years ago, we four lived in a little apartment for two years. We lived there so long partly because we didn't know Frisco from Flower Mound from the back of our hand, and partly because as we approached the end of our first year and a lease renewal, a job transfer opportunity became available that would have sent us to Atlanta. After pondering and praying until we felt peace in declining that opportunity, there was no longer enough time to find a house, buy a house, give notice to the apartment complex, and move, all before the lease renewal deadline and the imposition of very lofty penalties. And there you have a second year.

From the middle of the first year in the apartment, we'd been casually looking at model homes in various neighborhoods throughout the Metroplex and had a favorite floor plan with a highly regarded local builder. Midway through that second year, we began discussing in earnest buying a house. We had our bearings, we knew we were settled in the area, and we both felt it was time to put down some roots. Not long after, we found out we were expecting, so we really knew it was time. (James briefly pondered how to turn the apartment dining room into a baby nursery, but when I reminded him that we were contractually limited to no more than four people in that particular dwelling, he was ready to move forward. See, it wasn't about necessary space for James -- it was about contractual obligations.)

Though we had the time constraint of an impending birth, we had been house hunting sort of half-heartedly when James flew to visit with a client in Minneapolis. I couldn't sleep while he was gone, so late into the night, I browsed around I found a listing for a house that I wanted to see, but we had no buyer's agent officially. Plus, it was three in the morning. I couldn't see anything or call anyone about anything, and I was pretty frustrated.

The next morning, I was up very early to call the listing agent. The house, it turned out, was in foreclosure. At that time, the home market was pretty good and was more of a seller's market, but for some reason, this house had been for sale for something like 177 days with no offers. The price had just been reduced, the house was in a great neighborhood, it was just the right size -- everything seemed perfect. I called a church friend who was a realtor, telling her that I was not signing a contract today, but that I need to get into this house. She met me that day, no strings attached.

When I saw the house, it was indeed the perfect size, a nice layout, and in a great neighborhood. There were some obvious problems -- it was very dirty, all the flooring needed to be replaced immediately, and the entire interior of the house needed to be repainted. All of the issues were cosmetic, much of which we could do ourselves, so I called James (who was still in Minneapolis) to urge him to let me put an offer on the house. I promised him I could do all the work myself, despite the fact that I was fourteen weeks along in a high-risk pregnancy. Fortunately, James is wise and not as impulsive as I am, so he insisted that we wait to submit anything until he returned from Minneapolis the next day. From Minneapolis, though, he secured our financing and hired our friend to represent us, and the next afternoon, we toured the house again.

James is more of a left-brained guy -- "Just the facts, ma'am" -- whereas, I am more right-brained, having to describe every little detail in as detailed a way as detailed could possibly be. (Which you've probably guessed because I've not even made my point here yet, not even close.) Because of his left-brainedness, I was very worried that all James would see would be the time and cost involved with a renovation instead of all of the amazing potential this house had to offer. I was worried he wouldn't see the assets for all the faults. But, to my great surprise, for once in our lives together, James could see things just as I described them. He saw the perfect layout, the great price, the awesome location, the fact that all of the changes were cosmetic, and he didn't once complain or comment that I was crazy. He agreed with me (gasp!), and told the agent to submit the paperwork. Fortunately, our agent is wise and not as impulsive as we are, so she insisted that we wait to submit anything until we pray specifically for this house and this opportunity.

And so we did. In the middle of that empty living room, we took hands and asked God to open wide the doors of opportunity associated with his will, and to close doors to opportunities that weren't in line with his will. Our realtor friend prayed for some specific things that stemmed from her years of home-selling experience, which was invaluable, and something we continue to appreciate. I prayed earnestly with her, trusting that God cared about where we lived and how we committed our resources, but inside I thought, "How could this not be God's will? It's such a great deal!"

We submitted our offer and went home again, confident we would be hearing good news very soon. The next day, the realtor called to say that on that 178th day of listing, on the day we prayed and trusted God to hear us, on the day we submitted our offer, two other offers came in and the bank opted to take one of the others. (We fell in the middle of the three, though we had submitted a full asking-price offer.) Door closed.

That next week was full of viewings in four towns, but no matter what we saw, we kept thinking about the one that got away and about the floor plan that we loved that was built by the builder of high regard. The next weekend, we toured our favorite model home again and our realtor talked to the property agent about inventory homes. The market was still so good that even the inventory homes were still under construction with several months before completion. But we didn't have "several months" of time according to a builder's calendar. We had an ending lease and a baby on the way.

We knew about months in builder-speak. When we lived in Oklahoma, we had several friends who built homes and not one of them was completed on schedule. One home that should have taken six months to complete was still only at the foundation five months after ground breaking. All told, it took around a year to build the house from start to finish. (Permit issues and whatnot.) Every single build we witnessed was wrought with struggle and anguish, disappointment and frustration. We wanted no part of that, so we continued to look.

A couple of days later, again on, a house popped up that had not been there before. It was the floor plan of the model home we loved! It was two years old and cost several thousand dollars less than an inventory home or a new one we would put under contract. The first owners had to move to Houston and needed to unload their property in the Metroplex, hence the really good deal. The very next day, we came to tour it and found it clean, already painted, and with great flooring already in place. It was move-in ready and available for to purchase with a short contract term. Door previously unseen flung wide open.

We've lived here now for ten months. From time to time in those ten months, we've toured the parts of the neighborhood still under construction. We watched the inventory homes we considered come to completion and some new ones begin. When Zachary died and our lives changed so dramatically, we sort of forgot about the fact there was building still going on. (We live at the front of the neighborhood, and all of the new construction was going up in the back.) That is, until a couple of weeks ago.

For the last two-and-a-half years (the whole time we looked, plus the time we've lived here), there has been a big empty space along the main entry road into the neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, though, we saw a band of workers decend on the fields to begin clearing the land. Within a couple of days of their appearance, plumbing was laid, foundations were poured, and walls began to be erected. What was two weeks ago a field where our son mastered his bike, a neighborhood now comes to completion.

The street where we exit our part of the neighborhood goes between houses at various stages of completion. The houses to the left are just going up. Sheetrock still to be slung, windows still to be hung, framing and roofing to be completed. The parcels are plenteous with laborers, and the on-going job is evident even to the untrained eye.

To the right of the road, the houses are standing with Tyvek on the walls, sheetrock installed, doors and windows in place, and shingles on the roof. They look complete, save for the missing masonry. To look at them, though, they appear to be ignored. They certainly don't get as much attention as the houses not quite standing. It seems like nothing is going on with the building. Oh, but it is.

Deep inside the building, behind closed doors, that which is most important is happening. The detail work is underway. Bolts and nuts are being tightened. Organizational systems are being installed. Walls are being painted, surfaces scrubbed. This part of the process is slow, the labor requires skill, but without this tedious portion, the entire building would be nothing but a useless, empty structure -- an eyesore, a fire hazard, a haven for vandals. The house in this stage is being readied and transformed into its most beautiful and useful condition. As a result of this detail work, the building is being brought to it's full potential, completely fulfilling the plans the builder had in mind.

As I've watched these houses going up,
I've thought alot about my own spiritual transformation.

So often I feel frustrated because I should be complete. I look complete, save for the missing masonry. From one day to the next, it looks like very little in me has changed -- today's issue is the same as yesterday's issue, maybe only slightly improved. The structure is standing. Why am I not more useful? Why has no one moved in?

But I am like the houses on the right -- I'm in the process of the detail work. Though it may look like or feel like I'm being ignored, though it may be hard to see anything changing, the Master Builder is deep inside this building tightening all the bolts and nuts, organizing, beautifying, and cleaning up real good. Like the house, I am being readied and transformed into my most beautiful and useful condition. As a result of this detail work, I am like the building, being brought to my full potential, and as I yield to this laborious process, hopefully I will completely fulfill the plans the Builder had in mind.

"For we are God's fellow workers;
you are God's field, God's building."
I Corinthians 3:9

"I will show you what he is like
who comes to me and hears my words
and puts them into practice.
He is like a man building a house,
who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.
When a flood came, the torrent struck that house
but could not shake it,
because it was well built."
Luke 6:47-48

"The day for building your walls will come,
the day for extending your boundaries."
Micah 7:11

"Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain..."
Psalm 127:1a NIV


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