Denis and I sat down for a little chat. His reasoning skills were sharper than mine, but my emotional quotient was above average. As long as we stayed on the same side, we made a pretty good team. When it came to selling our home and finding a new one, we had to be rational, of all things. Realistic. At the same time, we agreed to reserve some optimism for a place of quietness and beauty with space for breathing and looking at the sky and being in the city. That would be prime.
He said, “It’s like this. Our present home, with two floors, is 2,400 square feet minus Mole’s End, the little studio where Anita lives. The basement that is finished and houses my library and the laundry room add more square feet. Now. It looks as if the sale of our home, after real estate expenses and whatnot, will leave us with enough to purchase a home a little less than half that size in the Twin Cities area. So we need to think about how to reduce our belongings so they fit in about 1,000 square feet of space.” What? What was he saying?
With all my heart I wanted to do this move well, but as he spoke I had a mounting sense of panic. I saw truckloads of furniture being pitched over a cliff. I had the urge to stop my ears and run away, hugging my oak cabinets and pottery bowls to my chest. Why was it that little ramblers with wall-to-wall carpet in eighties deco made me want to weep? But this had to be faced. We needed, for one thing, most rooms on the main floor. Denis brought a glass of wine and sat beside me on the couch. “We can do this,” he asserted. “It will be hard. Painful. But it is what people must do at our stage of life. We have always believed there are ways of living creatively, of being hospitable. Space does not limit these things.”
True. True. All true. But what about the view I’d longed for? The beauty of nature surrounding me? Should I have given it up? Perhaps. I went to the public library and found books with beautiful pictures and tips for living in small spaces; it helped a little.
The following week, Anita and I got our house staged for photos. Carol, the real estate agent’s wife, walked through, telling us what to put away. That chair, the chopping block, everything off the refrigerator, no throw rugs, that footstool, your living room blankies, the list went on. Luckily, we had an attic with lots of room and Anita was small but strong. Every day Denis looked a little more shocked. “It’s so barren,” he moaned. But I started to like it. Clean surfaces, no clutter. Even the radiators were dusted. Wow. Toad Hall never looked this unlived in. Gradually, he became more used to it, and I was more receptive to the idea that, perhaps, when we’d move less could be more.
A few days later, the young man who did real estate pics arrived. He said our house was easy to shoot, and he loved the feel of it. It was inviting. Lots of light. Warm colors. As he left, he spontaneously burst out, “I would buy this if I could.” I was absurdly pleased. A complete stranger liked our house? Perhaps it would sell after all.
Suddenly Friday arrived and the listing went live that night. We prayed about the things beyond our control. We prayed for the right buyer, the timing, and perhaps for a family that would love the house as we have. Saturday was quiet all day and felt like we were waiting for a glacier to calve. The “For Sale” sign on the front lawn looked so wrong. I wondered, What were we thinking? Perhaps I should take the sign down. On Sunday we were gone all day. But that was when calls to show the house started coming in. For the next three days, lookers poured through. I imagined people jumping on our beds and opening the medicine cabinet to examine our prescriptions. Normal paranoia.
Tuesday. We hadn’t done a lick of work because we were rushing around every other second putting away ratty towels, smoothing lumps on beds, grabbing laptops, and leaving in a flurry. After only three days on the market, we’d received four offers and had to decide on one of them by evening. Our agent was awesomely efficient and professional—another answer to our prayers for finding an honest, trustworthy person. One offer came from a family offering more than our asking price and a good closing date. They loved the house and wanted their mother to live with them! Anita’s apartment in Mole’s End would be perfect for her. We accepted, and the “SOLD” sign went up.
We still couldn’t believe how fast it all happened. With our doubts dispelled and our trust in God buoyed, we relaxed our housekeeping and returned to our slovenly ways. Dirty socks on the floor and Honeysuckle hopping through the house, dropping little pellets here and there.
Next came the hard part. We had to find a new home. There was no turning back.
We felt God’s nearness in our almost homeless condition. We were in a stage of life Mary Pipher calls the “young-old.” Whether we liked it or not, when you are in your sixties, you are no longer middle-aged. Sorry, Baby Boomers. We’ve moved from “young-old” to “old-old” when we face a crisis that moves us from the kingdom of the well to the kingdom of the sick. A mate dies; a fall breaks a hip; cancer claims a life. What stays the same is our Good Shepherd who loves us whether young or old, pregnant or barren, swift or slowly limping along. Somewhere in my bones, I knew this beyond a doubt.
Pipher wrote, “My bias is that luxurious surroundings, entertainment options, natural beauty, and good weather are less important than people. As songwriter Greg Brown said, ‘You can’t have a cup of coffee with the landscape.’ At bottom, I think the search for the right place is a search for the right people. It’s a search for love and respect. What’s important is a community of friends and family.”
As much as I would have liked a mountain cabin or cottage by the sea, I remembered the encouragement from people who knew us well to consider community—what we were moving to, not just where we were moving.
Putting the isolated country home dream aside, we visited a few churches in the Twin Cities exploring possibilities. Could we find a church home, and then locate a place to live? One Sunday, we visited a church that was a joyful experience for both of us. The place seemed God-ordained for us; I wept through the entire service. There seemed real potential for community and friends. Another important piece fell into place.
With our house sold and a church in view, we were now more focused on finding the right location for our new house. I don’t want you to think we believed that if you do things right, speak the right words, pray the right prayers, then your house will sell, you’ll find a church you like, and God will give you waffles for breakfast every morning. No. The Bible does not teach us that.
We had talked endlessly about what home could look like—what kind of hospitality would we offer there? What kind of quiet would we need for more serious writing days? What constituted an okay amount of solitude? As we searched, I had to confess the outside of a house immediately drew me in or repelled me. Architect Sarah Susanka wrote, “The house embodies in its exterior form much of what we long for today—a house that says home before you ever step through the door.” Most newly constructed houses with a giant three-car garage in front didn’t call “home” to me. I had thought and rethought our list of non-negotiables. Perhaps we should have begun crossing them off. I also had a head full of angst and needed to review again and again why it was not a crime to be an American and have a home with some degree of comfort when so many in the world suffer homelessness.
There are no possibilities right now. Very few homes are on the market in the Twin Cities, and good ones get snapped up immediately. Moving to rent while we find the right one? Just kill me now. A friend jokes, buy an RV! Another adds, you can name it “Road Hall!” Denis is adamant. The right one will be there at the right time. We have until June. We are dividing search responsibilities. Mine being approximately nothing—I get too fixated on flower boxes and countertop colors to be of much use. Denis and Anita do the research and I vote up or down. We try not to hit the pits on the same day.
A reader wrote regarding our move and the stress that will be a part of it:
“From reading some other Christian writers, I get the feeling that they experience a crisis in faith for ‘one whole night’ while they throw up in the bathroom with the flu as a quadriplegic. But in the morning everything is bright and beautiful. I know that both of us can’t be right, but it seems that these people are not being honest with themselves (or anyone else). They make me feel like a failure, but I do know that King David certainly had more ups and downs than they admit.” –Paul S.
This process may take us longer than “one whole night” of vomiting on the floor. We may face temporary homelessness longer than I want. I think about the three Old Testament men who were thrown into the furnace, who said if God chooses, he can deliver us from death, but if he doesn’t, he is still God and our faith is in him.
At my end of the scale where mortal danger is embarrassingly low, it’s still good to say the same thing. God can choose to give us more of the ideal home I have in my heart. Or not. And if not, God is still God, and I have faith that one day I will go home with a capital “H.” God has set us in a direction, and we’re walking the path.
 Another Country by Mary Pipher, P.H.D. (Riverhead Books; 1999).
 Ibid. page 32.
 The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka (Taunton Press; 1998).
Cover image by Dhruv Mehra.
Modified excerpt from This Place by Margie Haack (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2021) 141–145.