• The big news in our family this week is that my brother Jim was released from the Terre Haute Correctional Prison on Wednesday.  He is now able to stay with my parents, under house confinement, until the remainder of his sentence is fulfilled (next January).  In addition to those individuals incarcerated, families and loved ones pay their own heavy price in the current way our prison system works. We are all especially grateful for this early release program that has allowed my parents to be with him...and him to be there to help them as they continue to live in the aftermath of a stroke and a heart attack. We invite your prayers for him as he faces a world... and relationships... and challenges that will be very different from the world he left three and a half years ago.  He is starting over with nothing except prayers and the goodwill of people who care about him.  Jim is a hard worker and kind-hearted, and I believe has learned a great deal these past years.  He will now have  to demonstrate that his mind and soul have changed enough... enough to earn a new and revised trust from people.  All who believe in God believe in God's power to change anybody.  Thanks to all of you who have kept him... his victims... and our family in your prayers.
  • Reading Rick Atkinson's excellent history of the American Revolutionary War, The British Are Coming:  The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Volume One of the Revolution Trilogy.  It is rich in detail and narrative and an excellent example of good historical writing.

February  16, 2020
Fixen to Buy a House
I haven't been feeling so well the past couple days.  It's not the coronavirus.  It is, rather, the feeling some people get when they are trying to buy a house, their first house.  
Jie and I started looking in December, right after I announced my upcoming retirement.  Shortly after the first of June, we will be required to vacate the church-owned house that has been our home for the last four years.  We wanted to give ourselves six months of leeway in order to find just the right place for the first phase of our retirement.  
This will be my first time to be a homeowner.  (Jie has owned homes before, including one in Urbana that she currently rents out; but I'm a novice.) It's not that I don't know anything about living in a house-I've resided in 23 different abodes in my life.  I therefore have lots of opinions about what I want and what I don't want.
What I never imagined, however, was that Jie's opinions about a house would be so different from mine.  We'll be married 15 years this fall, and I thought we had quarreled about everything an introverted American husband and an extroverted Chinese wife could possibly dispute. We navigated children and step-children and grandchildren and in-laws... and language barriers and cultural offenses and political polarization...  And we've tolerated religious differences and immigration stress...  And we've barely survived differences over food and money...and contrary cultural expectations for husbands and wives.  We've wrestled through a LOT OF STUFF.  As the old hymn goes, "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come..."
And then we decided to buy this house together.  I'm wondering if real estate agents shouldn't be required to take a course in marriage counseling before they are granted a license to help people buy and sell homes.  
Jie wants lots of windows opening to the south side of the home.  She wants enough rooms in the house so that she can have a "sitting room," which is basically a room where she can keep me out.  Due to sleep disorders, we sleep in separate rooms, and she wanted a bedroom far enough away from my bedroom so that she will not hear me snore.  (Two things here:  I do not snore...that much.  And...we do share one of the bedrooms for those tender moments that are best savored when one of us is not trying to sleep.)  Jie wanted a place to put her beautiful art...that she has carefully collected through the years.  
But Jie wasn't the only one who entered this house hunt with a list of personal peccadillos. I want windows that lift open, not crank open.  (arthritis)  I don't want the yard walled in.  I don't want a "regular" house, whatever that is...I want one with weirdness, oddities, character, originality.  I want to live in the country.  (Jie prefers to live in a city--with no fewer than ten million people.)  I want to live in the north.  She wants to live in the south.  
I want a house equipped for an old man (or woman) ...wide doorways and hallways, high toilet seats, levers on doors and faucets, lighted switches, non-slippery floors, limited stairs, grab-bars in bathrooms, hand-held shower-heads, and places to put things down while one is fumbling with keys.  Those things don't quite register yet with my younger wife.
Because I'm an old geezer, I also want a front porch, a fireplace, lots of trees, and a sunny spot for a garden.  And because I plan to do lots of writing and reading, I want a place where I can write in private and keep my book collections.  I want a big kitchen, with enough room to contain all the foods and utensils for the many varieties of cuisine we will prepare in my retirement.  

A place where we can provide hospitality is essential to both of us.
We looked at lots of places.  We had lots of disagreements.  We had ten different opinions on every place we toured...even though there were only two of us.  We scared our real estate agent, who mostly wanted us to make a deal...on something... anything... just so she could spend the rest of her career with more stable clients.
And then... last week we found a place.  And we both liked it.  It only requires each of us to make two or three compromises.  And we made an offer.  And the sellers made a counter-offer.  And we made another counter-offer.  And the sellers agreed.  And we put down the earnest money.
Now we are 60 days away from closing, with a dozen plausible obstacles still to come... mostly in the area of financing and inspections.  If it all works out, we'll be able to move into this house on Marc Trail in Urbana about the time the district superintendent kicks us out of the parsonage here in Mattoon. 
Now, it's on to getting the financing.  I was thinking about a 30 year fixed loan.  The payments are within my retirement budget.  

She was pretty adamant.  So, we'll go with the 15 year loan.  It's about $600 more than I had in my retirement budget, but... the Urbana Walmart isn't that far away... (anyone know how much a greeter makes?)  This way, I'll only have to live until I'm 81.  But if I should pass away early, please don't send flowers...just give Jie the cash directly so she won't be so mad at me for leaving her with a partial mortgage.  
Through whatever stress I feel in this process, I know I am fortunate.  We found a house that is indeed unique.  It will shape how we live and how we relate to each other... for the better I believe.  And it will be a wonderful place for us to share our hospitality with all our friends and family... and even strangers who will bless our lives in the years to come.
This past week I helped a woman and her two children move from the homeless shelter into their new home.  And I am very conscious of how much Jie and I have... and pray that it will all be used to increase our capacity to love and share with others.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I used to write it when I first woke up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation. Now I write it on a Saturday, revise it, and send all of them out by email.This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than pontificating.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


Quick Links