Sunday, September 30, 2007

Living Large...or Not

Normally I use my blog as a place to post newsy stuff about our family. This is not that kind of post. If you are looking for Silly Melanie, go away and come back another day. I need to write today for cathartic reasons and I’m hoping the power of the pen can override the equally powerful pull of the birthday cake sitting 10-feet away from me in my kitchen. I rue on a daily basis that prayer alone does not inspire serotonin release because it seems that all involved would benefit from that particular equation.

I am married to a guy who would have been a fabulous a real estate agent. This to say, he spends a ridiculous amount of time keeping up with housing trends several neighborhoods of interest (DC, Charlotte & Southern California mainly). Periodically we toy with the idea of moving back to DC or Long Beach, both of which pull at our hearts in different ways. More often we consider upgrading to a larger home right here in Charlotte. Recently, the house hunt has taken on a rather frenzied pace. It started about 2-weeks ago when Jeff found a large, extremely undervalued house on a ½ acre in Concord, NC. There are two very appealing things about living in Cabarrus County; their property taxes are lower, and their schools are significantly better than ours here in Mecklenburg Country. This worries me since Carter will be starting kindergarten in less than a year and my hopes and dreams for him do not include educating him in the worst public school system in the state. Also, living in Concord would not increase Jeff’s commute into town. That’s important to our family. We like having him around. So Peyton and I drove by said house a couple of times and decided that although the subdivision wasn’t a real improvement over ours, perhaps the sheer size and layout of the house would over compensate for it. Alas, when Jeff called the agent, he discovered that there was already a contract on the house.

An opportunity lost? I’m not even sure, but what it started was a frantic search for a bigger and better home.

As an aside, I should say here that there is nothing desperately wrong with the home we are living in right now…except that we are growing out of it. Our playroom is great for Peyton, but for 3 kids it is way too small. And currently, we have bodies in every bedroom which means that guests are difficult to accommodate. Prior to moving Peyton into the nursery, Griffin into Carter’s room, and Carter into the guest room, we had a guest room/office. But in order to get Peyton out of our room so that we could get some sleep, and put the boys in separate rooms so that they could sleep, we had to move the office to the living room making us a candidate for HGTV’s Designed to Sell. I can just see Donna Freeman standing in my living room asking, “Is this a living room? Is it a home office? Is it a music room? Is it a playroom?” It’s functional, it’s not ideal. But it’s a lot better than keeping the office in the guest room because I was beginning to dread having anyone stay over. In a perfect world, I’d have Carter and Griffin share a room, but we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for us. Even if we put them down at 7:30pm, they don’t go to sleep until 11:00pm, which means they are cranky, irritable, and belligerent the next day(s). And afternoon naps, which they both still need, are a complete no-go. We’ll probably try again when they are older, but right now since we have 4 bedrooms, we’re using them all every night.

It’s a buyers market here in Charlotte and Jeff has finely honed his house hunting skills, so he had no trouble finding several other 5 bedroom, 3 bath homes that might work. We even went to see a couple of model homes that we could have built - which would have given us time to finish renovating our current home and sell it before it having to move in. We didn’t like those. But we found one we did like almost immediately. And no need to covet because in my own mind I ALREADY OWN IT and AM LIVING THERE RIGHT NOW.

It has everything Jeff and I have ever talked about wanting in our next home and more; a transitional floor plan with great flow and lots of natural light, the requisite number of bedrooms and bathrooms, beautiful landscaping in the front yard, a side load garage, and a huge lush, flat, fully fenced yard with an irrigation system. No one is lugging sprinklers around this community, that’s for sure. Best of all, it has an enormous basement that is unfinished, but is already framed, plumbed, and the current owner spent $8,000 installing an HVAC system down there in anticipation of a build-out. It lacks only drywall a few doors, fixtures and some paint. I see a huge playroom, a private bedroom and bath for our guests, a spacious storage room, and a shop for Jeff down there. So really, it’s a 6 bedroom, 4.5 bath house, with a bonus room. That is a lot of house. If feels exhilarating just to be in its presence.

The dream house has just one teeny tiny drawback and that is the cost. But we decided we could swing it if we were willing to do one of two things:

1. Liquidate each and every asset we have and reallocate it toward the down payment. I know people do it, but we moved to Charlotte because of its affordability. We don’t want to be house poor. But for the right house, apparently, we’ll consider all options. Even bad ones.

2. Stop tithing and giving charitably. I was horrified when Jeff first suggested it, but he was right. The difference between our monthly mortgage now and what the mortgage would be on the perfect house was almost exactly what we are giving each month. Coincidence, I think not?

To our credit, no matter how small, we considered the first option longer and more seriously than the second. The second option was so disturbing that it effectively shut down the new house idea entirely. Even when the agent called with some pretty attractive incentives. But the whole experience gave me cause to contemplate the value of our giving. I have heard more sermons on tithing where it is preached from the pulpit that God doesn’t need your money, He needs your obedience. Blah, blah, blah. I get that, but I prefer to believe that the missionaries we support actually do depend on our willingness to prioritize them in our budget. That lives are changed at WOW JAM because we gave. That the children’s ministry at our church runs a little more smoothly with our financial support. That it really will matter to not just 8 lives, but an entire community, if we don’t get around to building the orphanage in Kenya because the Freshours were otherwise consumed with building out their basement so they could have a 4,000 square foot house. And no, they hadn’t had any more children. They just wanted it. Thought they’d be more comfortable if they didn’t have to drag sprinkler hoses around their yard anymore. That it would be nice to have an actual laundry room, an expansive kitchen, and a family room with built-ins.

I hate to turn this into something more spiritual than it is, because I prefer not to even acknowledge the forces of evil (so easy to ignore in America), but I really feel on some level that I was set-up. The transition was just too effortlessly made from the big house we could readily afford (in Concord) to the dream house we could not. I was fully and completely seduced by the possibility of owning it and making it our home. The dead giveaway was when our tithing came into play and I felt internally asked if I was willing to give up the Embu orphanage for a new house. In the grocery store, no less. Such a casual environment for such a loaded question. It was more disturbing than I even have words to express.

So now I’m just angry that I was so easily drawn in. That I allowed myself to be put in a place to even entertain the question of our tithe. That I was such EASY PREY. Especially now. We’re really in the ditches with our African Children’s Project at the moment. It is an arduous task to try to set up a non-profit in the US and an NGO in Kenya and then try to coordinate them. Filing for tax exempt status in the US alone has been incredibly time-consuming because you have to predict your budget 3 years out. It’s a valuable exercise, but sometimes I come away from working on it feeling like I have just counted out 3,000,000 individual grains of rice in order to predict our annual rice expenditure - I’m not even the one who has costed it all out. But this I know without a shadow of a doubt. As grueling and frustrating as our African Children’s Project becomes sometimes, I am not selling out for a new house. Nor am I selling out our missionaries or the other organizations and people who depend on our "obedience".

Okay, I’m done now. What took you 15 minutes to read, took me 6-hours to write. And I do, indeed, feel more organized and sorted mentally. So I guess this worked. I’m not necessarily looking for dialogue here. Prayer, however, I could use. There are at least 8 kids out there counting on our ability to stay focused with our eyes fixed on the prize. Clearly, I am weak and easily distracted, both of which I find deeply humiliating and an awful testimony to my faith. Hence the reason I have no desire to dialogue about it. If what I am writing resonates with you and you simply can’t keep yourself from commenting, write a note and mail it to me. Alternately, you could send us a big, fat check for our orphanage project. We have to raise $10,000 this year in order to file everywhere we need to file in the U.S. and get the logistics worked out in Kenya. We need to raise $60,000 by this time next year in order to start building. These are just the facts. I, in the meantime, will be fighting off my purely imagined claustrophobia…confidently believing that by this time next year, I’ll be wholly celebrating the sacrifice of my dream home. I'm claiming that in advance.

I’ll be back later this week with my usual mundane drivel. I know you'll all be looking forward to it.

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