We were happy renters in Arlington when we decided to start looking for our first home. It was a time when the housing market was flooded with foreclosures and short sales, ideal for a young couple with limited funds and a willingness to put in some serious sweat equity to achieve the “American Dream” of home ownership. Our budget and wish list took us to West Falls Church (not to be confused with Falls Church City), and after multiple offers and rejections on various houses, God cut us a break and plopped a vacant, foreclosed, deteriorating house in our hands. Our first time seeing the house, we explored the interior with mild trepidation and uncertainty, wondering if perhaps trying to purchase this home would entail biting off more than we could chew, and then we walked into the backyard and we were hooked. Something about it was magical. Our uncertainty was now matched with a small glimpse of hope, a vision of children playing, friends gathering, savory meals on the patio, and happy occasions being marked and celebrated here.
So we ignored the advice of our realtor, potentially the most anxious one of the three of us but perhaps the most sane, and bought the place. We moved in with my mother-in-law that summer, during what was supposed to be a three-month renovation process. We also found out that summer our family would be expanding by one come March.
Christian worked tirelessly at nights and on weekends for months, making steady but slow progress as a one-man show and finally, after much prodding and not-so-subtle ultimatums from me, he posted an ad on Craigslist and hired the first guy he contacted. I am still convinced this man is an angel sent from God. He proved to be the very fairy dust we needed to move our house project forward, lifting an immense weight off Christian’s shoulders, and allowing us to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Six years later, this man, Sergio, is an invaluable part of Christian’s company- his character and work ethic never fail to amaze us.
With the help of Sergio and enlisted friends and family, we knocked down walls, moved stairways, ripped up carpet, and painted walls. I will forever have the memory of being eight months pregnant, wearing knee pads and painting the base boards in the house. It wasn’t the first time I found myself wondering whether all of “this” was worth it. Keep in mind, up until this point in my life, the only manual labor I had been involved in was a Habitat for Humanity trip in college. I remember “talking” about our experience with the group every day more than I actually recall throwing a hammer around. It’s possible I sweated a bit.
So six months later, in January, we moved in. We moved in without doors on the doorways, a railing on the stairway, and a portion of the floor still showing concrete slab. In fact, my parents never fail to remind me that our oven and dishwasher were in the middle of the living room for longer than I care to admit. I was eight weeks shy of expecting our first baby. To say it was an exciting and exhausting time is an understatement.
Five years later, it’s amazing to think of where that small glimpse of hope has led us, of how we were able to take a neglected compilation of walls and floors and make it a home. There have been a lot of firsts in this house. First time parents pulling into the driveway with a newborn in the backseat, wondering, Are we sure we were allowed to leave the hospital with this thing? First, of many, sleepless nights. First steps, first words, first birthdays, first injuries resulting in a trip to the emergency room. First visit from the tooth fairy. First loss of a loved one. Our backyard has proven magical with wheelbarrow rides, patio bike “races”, summer BBQs, tree swings and sandboxes. The boys have tended to their first garden and ridden their first two-wheeler bike in this yard. We’ve navigated these “firsts” through the walls and outside confines of our home, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not so much. We’ve embraced the quirks of a renovated but old home, in the same way we embrace the quirks of our family unit, forever imperfect and constantly humbled by these imperfections. And this is where the real blessing lies.
No place, no home, no person is perfect. Striving for perfection is a fruitless quest. We can only strive for growth and a little bit of grace when we fall short, which we will- always, forever and ever, as will the homes we live in. The real blessing is found in these imperfections, because it is in these imperfections we come to lean on others, where we remember that we don’t live on islands, nor are we meant to. Our homes are meant to be places of nurturing and laughter, to be open to the outside world, to old friends and new friends, family and neighbors. Our little “fixer upper” has been that for us, sometimes more than others, depending on what life demands from us at the moment. Our plans, our vision for the future exceeded our expectations in this home, not because we made it through the renovation process and are happy with the results, but because of the family we have grown here and the people who have gathered here over the years. A bunch of imperfect people in an imperfect house.
It’s been nothing short of beautiful.