Home. I’ve wrestled with this word over the years. I’ve defined “home” as the haven where I felt safest, the circle in which my siblings and I received our first years of schooling, the nest I made with my husband after our wedding, the sacred cradle that my babies entered a few days post-birth…and on it goes.
Living in Seattle and yearning for a larger home has been one of my life’s most difficult and grueling challenges. Raising children is definitely harder but, seriously y’all, house-hunting is insane! Entering the forays of the real estate market in this day and age is truly my next level of “adulting” and it was not such a fun one. Three months into my pregnancy with our second baby, my husband and I sat down in a coffee shop with a real estate agent and set sail on our ship of dreams.
I fantasized about a sunlit kitchen with big windows, a sprawling yard for romping kids, an open living space to host my writer’s group, a comfortable dining room for family dinners and small musical performances.
We got an account set up to send us house listings. Gorgeous color photographs of homes that we could (in theory) afford. And we tried them on, mentally slipping our family inside the rooms. We were picky, snobby even, passing over many homes as insufficient without ever stepping inside.
Then the realization sank in. We were not giving those “less than perfect” houses enough of a chance. This hit us about the same time we realized the sale price of a house in Seattle was dramatically different from its list price. Those places we’d thought were “in our price range” were selling at numbers well beyond our reach.
Depression. I launched a new ship of dreams, this time over murky waters. Dark fantasies plagued me, whispering that I’d have to take my family far beyond Seattle’s city limits if we were to afford anything appropriate for us. I desperately wanted to stay in Seattle, to be near our parents and give them a close relationship to their grandkids. To be near the church community I have grown to love dearly.
I renewed my stubborn, fierce vow that I’d rather live in a little house in Seattle that needed some TLC than in a glittering, spacious house in the suburbs. My husband and I dug in our heels, sent a few panicked emails to our realtors (thanks for being gracious with, Casey and Tyler!) and accepted that we would likely purchase a fixer-upper. We strove to become smarter and tougher. We began imagining remodels. We considered moving walls and cutting out windows. We were determined to not let this crazy housing game be the one to beat us.
Life moved right along. My body swelled as my baby girl grew inside me. A month before her due date, we pulled the plug on our home search. It was time to wait and rest and welcome Little One. The stop of our search felt like another defeat. We’d missed our deadline.
But then our sweet girl arrived healthy, happy, and perfectly thrilled to be the fourth occupant of our townhouse. Our mailman hand wrote “welcome, new resident!” on the outer envelope of her social security card. And, after all, the little princess only needed about as much space as a shoe box.
A few months later and we re-entered the real estate game with our three-year-old running all over the houses, turning on the bathroom taps to watch the water run, and our baby strapped to one of our chests or her car seat. We visited multiple listings a night. We reviewed new listings within minutes of receiving the emails.
The hardest part was the ones that got away. Five homes touched our hearts and we moved to make an offer. Then we watched with sick stomachs and dark minds as they were snatched away from us. After each loss, we drew a deep breath and began again.
I don’t know what made the house on 136th St different, but I will say this: The first time I walked through that house’s rooms, I felt something say to me “This house has loved people,” and I instantly answered with “And I want to continue loving people with this house.”
We placed our offer and I prayed hard. I remember pausing on the stairs in my parent’s basement, kneeling down and begging Jesus to fight on our behalf if he wanted that home for our family. And then, after dinner, James and I were standing in our little dining room and the phone rang. “I have good news!” Casey told us. “It’s yours!” I cheered. It must have been a youthful cheer because Casey thought I was our three-year-old. After we hung up the phone, I started crying. I get all the feels. That should not surprise you by now.
The “what ifs” merged suddenly into “this is yours.”
Let’s rewind time for a sec. My first few years living in our townhouse were ones in which I felt happy to hole-up. It was just me and my husband. It was solitude and space for my work and creative projects. I hosted a handful of gatherings with friends. (A memory flashes up of a Twilight party in which a dear friend arrived dressed as from Rosalie Cullen, a vampire jilted-bride in a white gown, wielding a cleaver. You are amazing, Michelle!) A few years later, my son arrived and commandeered the second bedroom. Soon, we were full. of life and toys and child-gear. Hosting dinner for more than one or two people caused an upward surge in my blood pressure.
I dreamed, in a way I never had before, of dinner with friends and their gaggle of kids, of gathering that thrived with life and rang with joyful laughter. My heart was changing, but my home could not accommodate its wishes.
Back to the present. The house on 136th St sat nestled on a little cul-de-sac. It’s front was not flashy, but it’s interior showed a hundred touches of someone who loved natural light just as much as I did. Two pictures windows, one in the dining room and one in the living room, looked out onto lovingly tended garden. Two skylights were cut into the ceilings. A covered patio stretched beyond the family room, where children could play and families could eat.
This home is a gift to us. A chance to start anew. We’re currently painting, unpacking boxes, learning to cook in the new kitchen, installing closet shelves, making a to-do list to fix the slow leak in the kitchen sink, put insulation in the crawl space, and stopping every now and then go look around and really see this home of ours with grateful, swelling hearts.
I’ve been musing over my friends and community as I’ve navigated the choppy waters of house-hunting. Some of my house-hunting friends have yet to buy their home. Some have moved out of Seattle. Some have found their home and are settling. Some are content to rent for now. Some have beautiful established homes of their own. Some are still living with family. I know that sharing my own family’s story will likely bring joy to some and a twinge of frustration to others.
All of that said, this is what I can offer. Friends, those of you still dreaming, hoping, praying for your next home, I wish you grace, endurance, and strength in the process. Those of you who are settled, may your home be ever a place of life and love and incredible memories. And this is what I can offer to those of you who know me:
My home is getting ready for you. We’re preparing a place to relax, a shelter for sleep, a zone for your kids to play, a table to gather around. We’re getting ready to welcome you in every sense of the word.
This isn’t just the story of how the Stephens family got a house. It’s the story of how we are getting ready to love more people.