Last weekend, my husband and I experienced a house-hunting fiasco. Thank heavens, God has granted us the protective shield of poverty!
Just in time for Holy Week this year, we received notice that the rent for our two bedroom apartment will increase by 10% in June. We prayed about it for days. We finally decided to renew our lease for another year. (We're expecting baby number four in August and it seemed like a good idea to keep things on an even kneel next year.) We called the rental office and told them to send over a new lease for us to sign.
Last Wednesday, for no clear reason, my husband and I started shopping for houses online. We found a townhouse that seemed perfect; three bedrooms, on three floors, next door to a twenty-six acre State Park. Since we're city people, finding a home for sale were you could actually hunt deer in the backyard while still remaining less than four miles from a Subway Station seemed incredible.
The next day, my husband spoke to the bank and found out that we qualify for a conventional mortgage with a decent interest rate. For two poor Carmelites with massive student loans and a spotty credit rating, qualifying for a mortgage in this economy seemed like a miracle. We had no doubt that God wanted us to buy this house in time for the new baby! We emailed all of our Catholic friends and asked them to start praying to St. Joseph to help us find a new house.
On Thursday night, my husband and I couldn't sleep. We added up all the housing costs associated with the "perfect house." The difference between renting our apartment and owning this house was $1,000 a month! My husband and I were giddy with excitement. All the things we could do with that money! We go to the dentist. We could get haircuts. We could buy a real dining room table. We could pay off those pesky student loans. We could finally buy a car!
Yet, I still had a nagging feeling. A new house meant attending a new Catholic Church that wasn't accessible by public transportation. Until we saved enough money to buy ourselves a car, our family couldn't attend Daily Mass. It didn't seem right that after a year of patiently attending 7 AM Mass with her Daddy on the bus, my daughter suddenly couldn't go to Daily Mass days after her First Communion.
In addition, my husband's 10 minute bike commute to work would suddenly turn into a 2 hour commute on the bus. Every time, I got excited about the new house, I'd get an image of holding a fussy newborn in my arms while anxiously waiting for my husband to walk through our new front door at 7:35 PM.
I shared these problems with my husband. Jon solved them quickly. We'd take our immediate tax refund from the new house and buy him a moped. He could be home from work in 20 minutes. He'd get a child's helmet for Hannah and on weekday mornings Daddy and daughter could keep up their Daily Mass routine.
The moped. The $8,000 April Tax Break. Our surprising mortgage. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I pridefully told a girlfiend "See, God takes care of all of our needs! This is how Carmelites shop for houses!"
On Saturday, Jon voted to send me and Hannah to look at the new house first with our real estate agent. "You go pick out the house. You're the one who has to live in it all day. I'm totally comfortable with your decision," my husband said, supremely confident of our online research.
My house shopping trip was supposed to be a one stop, straight up or down vote. Either we'd put an offer on this perfect house that comfortably fit our budget or we'd sign our lease for another year. There was no sense shopping for prettier, more expensive homes nearby. Or budget didn't leave room for a "slightly more expensive" home. Besides, we didn't need to look around. We were doing process easily with God's help!
Armed with a digital camera, a notebook, and a booster seat, Hannah and happily jumped into our real estate agent's car at 10:45 AM on Saturday morning.
When we got to our destination, I had a shock. The "perfect house" was a newly renovated townhouse in a rough neighborhood. The neighbors had torn sheets in their windows. There was loud music with raunchy lyrics blasting through the yard. Broken glass and beer bottles were scattered over the parking lot. A mangy, angry dog paced the sidewalk nearby without a leash or an owner in sight.
I opened the car door and hesitated. It was 11 AM on a Saturday morning and I was afraid to get out of the car.
Inside, the "perfect" townhouse was better than advertised. There were granite counter tops in the kitchen and freshly laid carpet on the floor. Upstairs, I couldn't hear the thumping, suggestive music of the neighbor next door. I stood in the sunny master bedroom with the perfect sized nursery next door and had a crazy thought:
"We could do this! We can buy this house. I'll simply never go outside unless Jon is with me!"
Thankfully, God gave me a husband to keep me grounded in reality. Once I got home and described the house, Jon made a firm decision. "Don't even tell me anymore about the home's good points. We're NOT going to buy a house where you'll be scared to sit on our front patio at 11 AM on a Saturday Morning!"
So we didn't put an offer on the "perfect house". We didn't try to bid on the house nearby in a nicer neighborhood that cost $30,000 more. Instead, we stayed still. We ate humble pie. We licked our wounds.
Many days later, I told my husband that our hysterical excitement over the "perfect" house smelled a little like an evil. "There are only two things that are going to keep me sane and centered when our new baby arrives in August," I said, "Jesus and Jon."
That "perfect" new house would have taken away both supports in one move.
Last week, I was ready to trade off easy access to Jesus in the Eucharist at Daily Mass and four hours of extra time with Jon a day in order to have a cheap three bedroom house filled with lots of pretty things from Target.
This week I'm thankful that God sometimes protects me from myself.
Poverty is a great blessing. It's a shield that keeps us from harm. It's like a thick rut that keeps us firmly planted inside God's Will for our lives. I don't have the money to run out and buy a more expensive house in a better neighborhood this week. Instead, I've got to stay put and keep trusting that God will bring us a new home at the right time and the right price.
Meanwhile, I'll spend next year with luxury of many extra hours with Jesus and Jon. My two pearls of great price. Even as a poor Carmelite, I'm a rich and pampered girl, after all.
St. Theresa of Avila, pray for us materialistic Americans to better appreciate the virtue of poverty.