Selling Out by Settling Down?

Like Belle, I never planned to live a provincial life. I, too, wanted “adventure in the great, wide somewhere.” I wanted it more than I could tell.

But today we bought a house.

An ordinary, provincial house with a two-car garage and a Whirlpool dishwasher. As we walked out of the title office, giant trees with fresh green leaves waved gently against the cobalt blue sky. The walk-through had unearthed no new knowledge and was the same sturdy 1977 four bedroom split-level home on 0.20 acres in a mid-sized town in Colorado we saw when we put our offer in. Far from exotic, we will now be six minutes from Target, seven minutes from a grocery store and eight minutes from locally roasted pour-over coffee (a must for my coffee snob husband).

We were so sure this was the right house for us that we made an offer the first time we saw it, standing in the living room with the light slanting across the wood floor, the baby fidgeting against my chest in the baby carrier. We wrote a letter, pleading our case to a family who, based on the Brennan Manning books, Bibles, and Christian bookstore plaques on the walls, were also people of faith. We wanted to raise our children here, open our doors to friends and family, and would respect that sacred, holy life had already been lived here. We acknowledged the grief they must be feeling in parting with their home.

There were nine offers. Three were more than ours and four were cash. But they chose us.

At 38 years old, I have never owned a home, nor did I think I was ever likely to, since my biggest fear has always been living the White Picket Fence Life. Perhaps that is why as an eighth grader, my favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast (the “nerdy princess,” as a friend of mine pointed out). I had no intention of becoming a stay-at-home mom in the suburbs like my mom had been. I was destined for greater things.

Lately my four-year-old has been asking me what I want to be when I grow up. The first time he asked this, I chuckled, “I already grew up,” I said. “I’m doing it—I’m a wife and your mommy. I’m also a writer. And I was a teacher and lived in China before that.”

He nodded, crunching his Cheerios and raisins from the blue plastic bowl. I don’t think he understood. Just like I didn’t understand that my mom was never “just” a stay-at-home mom. That we are never “just” anything. Life is not static. Our identity can never be reduced, only expanded by time and experience. Life breathes into us like a balloon. Yes, I am a wife and mom—in addition to all I was before that. And—God willing—more life will be breathed in even when my children leave home.

In their retirement, my parents moved from sticky, tropical Tampa, Florida to 9,000 feet elevation in the Rockies. Snowshoeing with my mom on their twenty-two acres on a clear winter day, I asked her how she begins new friendships now that she has lived so much life. Doesn’t she want her friends to know her history? How does she feel truly known without them knowing her past? “Where do you start?” I asked.

“I start from now,” she answered. My mom has learned what I am still beginning to grasp. We are not a chapter or a single experience or identity. We are a composite. All our past experiences intertwine into one exquisite design the longer we live. We begin from now.

We bought a house.

As I prayed on a run that turned into a walk through the dry field recovering from being attacked by winter, I prayed our home would be a “sanctuary.” The word surprised me because it is not how I would describe our home right now. With three kids, four and under, “chaotic,” “loud,” and “messy” would be better descriptors. But the word “sanctuary” came to mind. A haven for the lost, lonely, afraid, or alone.  A safe, holy space. A place to breathe in and out and invite others to do the same.

Now I know owning a home doesn’t anchor us to this place permanently like I once feared, but simply offers some stability in a shaky world. It is a place to land for a potentially long season. And perhaps our stability can be someone else’s sanctuary. Maybe settling down doesn’t mean “settling for less” or selling out like I once thought. I’m not squandering my dreams, but giving life a landing place to flourish.  

I’m excited to finally weave my little nest as I like. I can paint, knock down walls and bury seeds in the dirt I will see again next year. My children will swing on the play set, play hide-and-seek in the oversized spruce tree canopy and go to school with the same kids more than one year in a row.

It is not the adventure I had planned, but it is still an adventure. A modest, provincial one. One where I am experimenting with getting dirt under my fingernails and paying attention to sacred, whimsical moments watching my children play naked in the plastic pool in the backyard.

But I also hope to live dangerously through writing and teaching my children to love when loving doesn’t make sense. I want to dig deep and see what it feels like to have roots.

We bought a house.

Another puff of breath into this life balloon we cradle and let dance on the wind as it pulls against the ribbon between our fingers. It is a new adventure in the great, wide somewhere of right here and now.

Even Belle eventually settled down and made her home where she hadn’t planned. The story ends with a kiss and a dance, but doesn’t show that several years later, she, too, sat sipping tea in the backyard as her children turned cartwheels in the grass.

Leslie Verner
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