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United States


On Being A Leader

alec vanderboom

We got an offer on our house. Crazy! Our house has been on the market for six months. On Saturday morning, I packed off my older kids with my husband to attend their first Swim Meet of the Winter Season. They got to wear their new team suits for the first time. They were so cute! Olympians could not have been happier modeling their team colors.

Then I took care of a newborn, a toddler and a four year while preparing for a house showing. This was only our second house showing since I took a long break because of my bed rest and a new baby. My husband was so kind. He completely cleaned our house until 1 AM that morning. My to do list was so ridiculously small. I had to make the beds, clean our bedroom and pick up a few things. Yet it was so hard to accomplish. I lost all my helpers.  My toddler was crying hysterically because she was left behind from the Swim Team crew and my newborn was crying because he now likes to nurse every hour. Madness! The realtor had an appointment at 11 AM and I left the house at 10:58 AM.

I was so out of it, I forget to check to make sure that I had a house key before I left. So then I got locked out of my house! The realtor had conscientiously made sure that every single door was locked after the showing. So now I have three small kids in my car and a dog. My husband is 75 miles away from me. I started problem solving with him on the phone. "Please don't make me drive 3 hours in the car with a newborn to pick up a house key from you. What can I do?"

My husband told me how to jimmy up the one window in our place that didn't have a screen. I'm looking through my open window into my living room and thinking "What happens now?" I've recently had a c-section. There is no way I'm risking ripping up all my carefully sewn abdominal muscles to climb into my house. It's better to just stay out of my house for 6 hours than to risk going back to the hospital again.

Then I came up with a flash of insight. I got my four year old out of the car. I told her, "Tess you've got to go be a hero for Mom. I'm going to carrying you to the window. Then you go open up the side door for us!" Together we accomplished the task easily. She was so proud of herself. "I'm a hero!" she said. "I rescued the day!"

A hour after this entire mess, I get a call from my realtor. It was good that I did the house showing that morning. This was our first repeat showing and now someone wants to put an offer on our house!

It felt amazing to get our first offer. It also felt scary. In a buyers market, even a reasonable offer, doesn't cover our mortgage. We'd gathered together a savings account to cover all the expected fees and commissions connected with a house sale. Because we'd lower the price so much, I didn't have money anymore to cover closing costs. When the buyer asked for thousands of dollars to pay for her loan, it was a hard scary decision. At one point, I felt like I was metaphorically flipping our sofa cushions in our couch in an attempt to find extra cash so we could close the deal.

After 48 hours of ups and downs, we signed the contract on Monday night. The deal could still not work out for various reasons on the buyers side, but basically I'll get told on December 5 if I need to move my family out of our house by December 12. So my reward for all of this stress and hard work over the weekend was to discover that if everything works out well, my family will have to leave our house within five weeks.

Five weeks!

My realtor is so calm about this transition. She's like "Just pack a box a day until we know for sure. I'll give you at least a weeks notice before everything needs to be out of the house before the final walk through."

This is why people hire moving companies, right? I should call someone to come in and box up all stuff, while I happily sit in my arm chair nursing my newborn baby. Only the deal, when I have six kids, is that I am the moving company.

Thankfully, we have my parents and my brother. My parents are coming up this weekend to help us entertain six kids while we declutter and pack. My Mom has kindly offered to take in my large family over Christmas this year while we move. My brother is giving my husband shelter on days he needs to work in Washington DC. Even with this help, our family is going to be five hours apart. It's really hard for me to imagine not seeing my husband every day.

So the pressure is on to find a new house! We got the pre-qualification letter from a lender! That is a gift!

(A special shout out to anyone who is reading this as a renter. Three years ago, I could never have imagined owning a house.  My husband and I rented our first 10 years of marriage. We had four kids. I thought home ownership was never in the cards for us. Then one day when we really needed to move out of our 2 bedroom City apartment, we found out about a special USDA program for mortgages in rural areas that was perfect us!)

For imperfect Artists like us, this financial stuff is amazing. We now have an approval for a home loan. We have good credit. Time to go showing for a new home! Fun, right?

Except when you live in the DC Metro Area. If I want to cut my husband's daily commute from 1 1/2 hours one way, to 45 minutes one way, I have nothing to buy in my price-range. NOTHING! Monday night, after we signed the contract, my husband and I picked out 5 good potential houses in the community where we want to move. Tuesday morning, I'm on the phone with the realtor. He crosses two off our list. I crossed two more off our list because they are next door a cemetery. We were left with one house.

At 5 PM on Tuesday afternoon, I went house shopping with my family for one house. The house that I want to buy is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath 1988 ranch in a safe suburb of a cute small town that is within 45 minutes of the job that my husband has held down for 8 years. It looks horrible inside. Everything is structurally safe and sound. Cosmetically it looks awful. The living room/dining room/kitchen layout is weird. The bedrooms are small. The basement is large and finished, however, all the carpet flooring has been removed. There is ugly depressing wallpaper and fake wood paneling everywhere.

My 11 and 10 year old kids, who have been so cheerful during this entire 6 month selling process, walked into the house and said "We don't want to live here!" I got to experience a true pre-teen sulk fit for 45 minutes last night. Beautiful!

It's hard as a parent to say "This is what we can afford to give you." In this house, you can bike to the library. You can bike to the bakery. We are five minutes from the Appalachian Trail. You can now play basketball in a drive way. Your little sisters, and soon your tiny brother, can ride their trikes in a safe cul-de-sac. Your young sister can have her first lemonade stand that she's always dreamed about. Most of all, you get your Dad home at 5 PM.

I'm a little scared to buy this house. I like living in a nice, cheerful place too. Every single corner of this house needs work. I've got my hands full with a baby. I'm scared I don't have the time or energy to tackle a design project like this quickly. If we moved into a more turn-key ready house, we could go more slowly. We'd gradually make our home cozy and warm. This 1988 rancher needs TLC immediately.

This morning I got up with my husband at 4:30 AM. (Damn his super commute!) I got the baby to go back to sleep. So I had a rare moment of peaceful coffee sipping alone in my kitchen.

I thought about Leadership.

I thought about how I thought leadership was defined in college. I thought Leadership meant that I would one day run a company, or chair a task force. I thought Leadership only happened in the workplace.

I realized that God was calling me to be a leader with in own family this winter.  I'm at a weak point. I've been through so much this past fall. I'm feeling tired. I'd like to just coast. I'd like for us to move into a nearly perfect house in a new cute town where my biggest stress of the day would be to which flavor of Latte to order at our new coffee place.

Instead, God was handing me a new project. There is likely going to be a new house that needs to be completely rehabbed. There are going to be grumpy kids that need to be emotionally supported during this transition. I have a small kid that needs to be nursed frequently. I need to do all of that, while keeping myself calm and centered, because I don't deal well with transition either.

It's a project. It needs a leader.

There are thousands and thousands of awful homes like this in good neighborhoods that need to get fixed up in America. The recession has left this ugly chain. In this house, the seller took out the washer, dryer and refrigerator. Do you know how hard it is going to be add going to a laundry mat for a family of 8 immediately after a move? The house is a great price. We're not going to pass on a house just because it doesn't have a washing machine. But my life is going to be harder until we save our money and get a new machine delivered. That gap might be a week, or it might be a couple of months. When we saw a laundry mat after looking at the potential new house, I prayed "God give me patience while I feed quarters into those machines." Doing laundry at a laundrymat is going to feel like a time suck, during a time when all our daily routines are already disrupted.

I learned at college how to be a leader while wearing Anne Taylor Suits, and rustling papers, and taking notes on legal pads, and saying pithy quotes while narrating slide shows.

God has called me to be a leader in a different way. I'm a leader in my attitude. I'm a leader in my focus, and my beauty, and my organizational skills, and my emotional nurturing abilities. I'm a leader who plants flowers, and reads design blogs. I'm a leader with my "Ninja like" negotiation skills with realtors and bankers. I'm a leader when I pray.

I started out this day, coughing with a cold and telling God "I cannot do this! Find someone else!"

He gently remind me of all the gifts, talents, and experiences he gave me before handing me this task. God has given me everything, except for money. Sometimes I feel like God is teasing me during our prayer time. Today I felt him saying "Seriously? The girl who was 1 of 20 from the Smith College Leadership Program of 1994 isn't up to the challenge of calling a few people, reading a few articles, and making a few cost-projection spreadsheets. Moving into a house that needs immediate work is really beyond you?"

St. Teresa of Avila, founder of dozens of new convents, pray for us!

(I've got to tell you. In the middle of my worse stress about the financial part of the house selling process, someone at Mass handed me a stone from Avila, Spain. She had attended the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa's Birth and this was the memento she chose to bring me back--a rock from the first foundation of St. Teresa's Reformed Carmelite Order. I held this dirty, scratchy rock in my palm and felt like I was getting a warm kiss from the saint herself!)