As I look around my house today, it is fairly tidy for a family with small children, although in every room there are hints of the little people who have truly made this place their own. I am shocked how Cheerios and cornflakes can manage to be found just about everywhere and minutes after I have cleaned the windows, little grubby hand prints have formed again. My vase on the dining table doesn’t hold elegant flowers, but rather it has large tree branches collected from one of our local parks and they are adorned by brightly painted salt dough leaf-shaped ornaments which the kids and I made. And a small Luke Skywalker figurine has made its way to the breakfast table ready to fight all of my son’s leftover muffin crumbs!
It isn’t quite the perfectly organised home that I would ideally love, but I have to smile because it is a well-loved and well-used house. The kids, Charlie, and I are comfortable and enjoy the space that we have been blessed with. It wasn’t always like this but after nearly eight years of living here, I can reflect on the journey to being in this house and making it our home.
While we were pregnant with our daughter, Anna and living in our flat, Charlie and I began to explore houses to buy in our area and were eager to have more space for our growing family. We kept an eye on properties around our immediate surrounding areas but soon realised that it was unrealistic we would be able to afford a house locally. We explored areas further out but still close enough for commuting back to Charlie’s work. We got really excited at a few properties, but by the time we contacted the estate agents, we were quickly disappointed as they already had potential buyers ready, with their current properties on the market. In order to play the housing market game, we were going to have to list our flat for sale soon. All things seem to come at once and we found ourselves preparing our flat for viewings, while I was nine months pregnant and huge. We were fortunate to secure a buyer quite quickly and prayed in faith that God would find us a house.
Meanwhile, we had started to attend a more local church and through conversation with the children’s pastor one evening, we told him that we were looking to find a home. He mentioned that the house next door to him was owned by the church and that it was being sold. It sounded a little too good to be true but we were curious. The trustees showed us the property and instantly we were intrigued as it had been used as two flats and would need to be put back into a single-family dwelling. Charlie, who loves a good project, was very enthusiastic and he could see the property’s potential despite its desperate need for restoration. Thankfully our offer was accepted, despite there being plenty of other people keen to have this property and having to jump over mortgage hurdles. So thus began a rollercoaster journey for us, as we would juggle having and raising a new baby, selling and packing up our flat, moving back into Charlie’s parents’ home, and maintaining Charlie’s work while project managing our house renovations. Maybe it was a good thing we didn’t realise, at the time, that it would take eleven months to actually move into our new home!
We knew we wanted to extend at the back of the house and that significant work would need to be done as there were so many things that needed to be updated or just simply torn out. But we had no idea, every room would need to be worked on. Literally every floor would be ripped out and replaced, walls would all need to be freshly plastered, new doors with handles and fixtures, new architrave, skirting, and oh my, how much painting would need to be done! Anna and I had long days without seeing Charlie in those months, with him working and then daily going to the house to review the building plans and coordinate with our builder.
At times, it felt so hard to cope with everything. It was a struggle for Charlie and me hardly having any time together, but especially to live with Charlie’s parents and raising our first baby without our own space. I escaped the chaos twice to California during the building days to have some help from my parents. I was desperate to feel like I had my own space again and the house works just couldn’t go quickly enough.
Looking back, it was hard on Charlie’s parents to host us for so long too! I don’t think it was ideal for them being invaded, but they did graciously put up with us in order to allow our money to go towards fixing the house, instead of paying a steep rent at another property. I can also see how my own attitude really didn’t help the situation, as I selfishly was upset over being displaced from our flat, having to raise a baby on my own a lot of the time, and use my mother-in-law’s kitchen while all of my things were packed away. Deep down, it also hurt that my parents were so far away and though there was relief at moments from my in-laws, it felt sad not having my own parents assist. On the surface, Charlie and I were fine, but it felt like a rocky and bumpy year of our marriage with lots of arguments, frustrations, lack of time and sleep.
Most of the work and big decisions were made by Charlie and our builder, however I did enjoy getting involved with picking a new modern kitchen, two Victorian fireplaces, our vintage wooden front door and choosing a beautiful, ‘higgledy piggledy’ quilt-like stained glass pattern for the front entrance. I still remember bringing Anna’s travel cot over to the house for her to play in while I repainted the front door a beautiful, rich red colour. The garden was very green but overgrown so I did the smallest bit I could of hedge trimming and tidying up, meanwhile it was still being treated as a building site.
There were moments along the way that made me think, “Is this really worth it?” Sometimes and also quite often, our life routines can be so chaotic and exhaustive that we miss the progress being made. But as we choose to persevere and carry on with faithfully trusting God through life, beautiful change happens within us.
We were overjoyed and exhausted by the time we finally moved in! I can still recall our first night with boxes everywhere, yet happily eating an Indian takeaway and watching the movie Notting Hill with our TV on a makeshift stand. And there have been lots of ‘finishing off’ jobs which have been done over the last nearly eight years. However, I’m beginning to realise that houses are just never finished. And even when most of the jobs have been completed, then something will inevitably break and need fixing, continuing the circular process of house works. Similarly, we as people are always in the ‘works-in-progress’ status and need to be positively changed by our Maker. Are we willing to live through the mess of change, time investment, growth, and development to become the people God has intended us to be?
So to answer my question, “Yes, this house project was worth it!” It nearly crushed us at times, and some days, it took a mental decision to daily make the right choice to keep going, not only on our house works but raising our child and also on our marriage. I learned so tangibly that a healthy marriage is not always a happy carefree relationship, but one where both spouses choose to put each other first and love anyway, through life’s challenges and storms. I’m so glad that God acted like the glue in our marriage and that Charlie and I were held together through an exciting but very difficult season for us as a couple.
Every now and then, we’ll be reminded of the raw house project that once existed and how much work needed to be done, and Charlie and I just smile at each other. We both have little wrinkly lines around our eyes now and feel tired most of the time with raising our daughter and son. And life in general is busy in this season, but we have grateful hearts when we remember that it once seemed impossible to find a house locally. Yet God proved to us that He works out the impossible and the things we cannot understand or fathom.
The legacy of this home is that it was always lived in by church workers since its existence in 1903 and Charlie I have hoped even from the initial purchase of this place that its legacy would carry on. I felt God say that if He were to provide this house, we were to use it as a blessing to others. From birthday and dinner parties, family get togethers, prayer showers, hotel for family/friends, play dates and coffee mornings, it has indeed fulfilled what it was designed for and will continue to do so. This is God’s house, and we are so glad to enjoy and share it for however long or short of a time we are in it.
“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11