On Thursday we signed the contract for the sale of our house in Denver and on Monday, God willing, the buyers will sign it. For many of you who had your houses on the market for years+, the relief we're feeling can sound hyperbolic, but I'm going to be uncomfortably honest about why we are relieved. (Uncomfortable for you, maybe, I have nothing left to protect here.)
The Denver housing market (particularly where we bought) was more than double the market in Texas where we'd come from. We knew that being near to the local church where I'd be working was a non-negotiable for us. We wanted to practice hospitality, to have a home that was convenient for others to stop by, and where we could be invested in the life of the city community.
From the day we moved in, our house was just that. Not a day went by that there weren't people at our house—sometimes three different people would stay in our guest room within a week. We welcomed a brand new baby and her parents home from the hospital for a week when their renovation project wasn't done yet. We had people spend every holiday with us. We had many late nights with people around our kitchen table and on our back porch. From the moment the house was ours until the moment we locked the doors behind us (accompanied by a few friends who came to say one last goodbye) we tried to be faithful with the gift of the home.
It was an expensive home (for us), and a quirky one. It was a farmhouse from the 1800s that had been added on to multiple times. When we bought it, our realtor said, "This house doesn't even have a place to put a TV, it's going to be hard to resell." We didn't care for two reasons: we didn't own a TV and didn't plan on selling. And then suddenly Nate's contract wasn't renewed, the Denver job market for his skill set wasn't as big as we thought it would be, and my paycheck (which we had planned on just squirreling away since his was enough for all our bills) wasn't enough to sustain us in that house. We had to sell.
Everyone who ever came through our doors loved our house and we loved our home so we didn't think selling would be hard. Our realtor set an amount that basically would have us walking away without losing money, but not making any. We were fine with that. We got a contract on it, but then they backed out. Then we got another one, and they backed out. One more, and they backed out. And then again, but they backed out. We were so confused—we weren't being given reasons for the repeated back outs, and we were more than willing to fix things or adjust our price, but weren't really being given a chance to talk it through with the buyers. Each time it just felt like a punch in the gut.
We were hemorrhaging money at this point: Nate had taken a major pay cut in this new job, we had moving costs for moving across the country again, to the fifth most expensive city in the U.S., even with a house as far out of the city as we could get commute-wise, our rent was the same as our mortgage in Denver. Plus we were fixing things along the way in the house in Denver, draining our bank account even more. There comes a point where you know the options in front of you are not only limited, they're humbling—even humiliating. We were talking about foreclosure.
We had put down more than 20% on the house and we kept asking the question: "How much can we walk away with?" We wanted to buy a house in DC at some point, even if it was half the house we had in Denver. To even think about things like foreclosure felt so defeating for both of us. Nate has always has not only stable jobs, but extremely well-paying jobs, and I have tried my best to stay out of any kind of debt. We were not the sort of people who foreclosed. Or were we?
God began painfully, painfully, painfully pruning any assumptions we had about provision. He started that process when Nate lost his job, dug the scalpel in deeper when months went by without a job offer, even deeper when we began to put groceries and home repairs on the credit card, and it seemed he was gouging out all our pride by the time we had to ask the question: is foreclosure our only option?
In the midst of that process, we began to ask a different question: "How little can we walk away with?" At first the answer was, "Enough to pay off our credit card debt and the taxes we owed on Nate's 2015 1099 salary." But slowly the answer became, "We can walk away with nothing. We can lose it all."
I've been in the church all my life and I've never heard anyone talk about this. I've heard people talk about it in a nuanced other people sort of way, or a testimony of how God restored all the locusts had eaten and all that, but I've never heard anyone process this in the midst of it. How painful it was. How humiliating and humbling. How there is absolutely nothing I could do to ease my husband's anxiety about it. How there was nothing he could do to ease my fear about it. There comes a point when you just stand there desperate and empty before God and you can't do anything and you feel utterly alone in the process. This whole year led us to that moment on the couch, with tears in our eyes, and the reality before us. We could do nothing on our own.
Losing a couple thousand dollars would be hard, but losing nearly 100K felt like a punch in the stomach we would never recover from.
In this process, we confessed all this to our community back home in Texas. We listed out the difficulties, we expressed we had needs only God could meet, and we asked for prayer. It felt humbling and hard. This wasn't how I envisioned the first year of our marriage to be. None of this was. It felt like God took every imaginably difficult scenario for one of his kids to walk through, and put them all in front of us this year, a row of dominos each one leaning into the other in succession.
At the end of April we got an offer. It was far below what we were asking and had some expensive contingencies included (we'd put a new roof on), but it would leave us with almost exactly the amount needed to pay the taxes and the credit card, not one cent more. We accepted the offer and started holding our breath for the next month and a half waiting for May 23rd to come, and praying we'd make it financially through this month of bills.
A week later one of our best friends came to visit bringing with her a stack of cards from our church family in Texas. Inside were letters of encouragement and love for us—and as we opened each one, out fell money. It added up to the exact amount we'd need for our mortgage in Denver for one more month.
This was not how I envisioned this happening either. Accepting those gifts from people who we love and who love us felt hard, but a good hard. We haven't felt the enveloping love of our church family in a long time and to feel it in such a gutting way was—I can't even explain it, it was hard. But good. But hard.
There's no pretty ending to this story, friends. I can't wrap this up for you. We wanted to tell you for a few reasons though: God gets the glory and He does it through His Church.
We moved to Denver for His glory and His Church, and we left feeling brokenness in both of those areas, but in the face of the brokenness, He still gets the glory and He still uses His Church.
But He also brings us to the point where we have to stop asking ourselves: "How much of myself can I keep?" and start asking ourselves, "How much can I give up?" Sometimes that's easy, and we're on the giving side of the equation, stuffing envelopes full of money to send to friends who need it more than we do. And sometimes it's unbelievably painful and we look to all the world like we're losing, losing, lost. But He empties us just the same and it's hurts so good.
If I have to boil down this season of my life to one BIG lesson it is this: The Church is called to bear one anothers' burdens. This means we enter into the mourning and rejoicing, confession and repentance process, discipline and discipleship, sharing all things in common—including but not limited to, finances, fears, joys, food, homes, cares, and prayers. If your politics, pride, personality, and proclivities don't like the sound of that for some reason, it doesn't change the precedence set forth in scripture.
If our politics of capitalism, of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, of each man for himself gets in the way of us admitting need, weakness, or inability to do something, this is what the Bible says: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4
If our pride in self-sufficiency, independence, and self-righteousness get in the way of admitting we cannot accomplish something, we feel weak, or we physically cannot make something materialize where it is not, this is what the Bible says: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
If our personality limits us from asking for help, for admitting we feel disappointed and disheartened, for confessing we cannot see a way through what life is throwing at us, this is what the Bible says: Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
If our proclivities lead to a stubborn or ungrateful demeanor to anyone who tries to help, this is what the Bible says: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
It's been hard to walk through this year in a way that holds both the hope of eternity and the hardness of life in tension with one another, to feel humiliated but also humbled, to recognize sin in my life and others', and to say at the end of it: it's beautiful and broken, but God's way is best.