Seriously?

Ok. So we bought this house, and it has no flooring in the attic, and weird a/c ductwork. But it’s fine, we can work with that. Anyway, I’m upstairs, moving insulation around so I can see the boards I want to lay rough flooring on. And there is a random wire that keeps popping up. Like Indiana Jones, I carefully dust off the wire to see where it goes.

Where it goes is everywhere. it comes up from the outer wall, wraps over the main strut of the recessed ceiling, then dives through the insulation to wrap under the air duct and around the HVAC fan. it looks like somebody literally braided the wiring through the attic structures.

Apparently, when they built the house, they blew in the insulation first. Then they laid the electrical, telephone, and cable wires. And finally, they put in the ductwork. Who does that?

Incidentally, the phone line in question is the only one we use in the entire house.

Need Career Advice

God’s purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower!

The house fell through. That’s the first thing you need to know. The second thing is that we’re going to have another baby.

When Gideon was confronted by an angel with the task of throwing out the Midianites, he asked for a turn of Providence to make his path clear: He’d throw out a lamb fleece with a challenge: one night, make the the dew fall on the fleece, but leave the ground dry. The second night, make the ground all dewy, and the fleece dry. There’s been a lot said lately against the use of “fleeces” in determining the will of God, but I find that, understood correctly, a fleece can be a very useful thing. In Gideon’s case, attacking the Midianites would have been a very, very foolish thing – apart from a miracle of God. So asking for a little token miracle in advance seems quite reasonable. Of course, most of us aren’t putting our necks on the line for a miracle, so asking for a sign on the same order of the miraculous would be a little presumptuous.

But what’s wrong with taking a few hints from Providence? For instance, if God makes a path clear for you to buy a house, it seems reasonable to conclude that you ought to live there for a year or two. In fact, only sheer bullheadedness would make you even consider taking up a chance to move. On the other hand, not buying a house… makes mobility more of an option. So it is clearly possible by a house to be fleeced. Continue reading “Need Career Advice”

No Other Fish

Okay. So I should have been blogging on the house all along. Apparently, buying a house is way more interesting than joining the army, because the response on the last post has been off the charts. (It probably also has to do with the fact that I specifically asked for advice – for which I am very grateful.)

But I wanted to address a line of thinking I’m having a hard time with, but which seems to be very popular. It’s the “lots of good fish in the sea” argument.

Skipping over for the moment the fact that I’m not sure I want to compare buying a house to finding a wife, and the fact that the “plenty of fish” model didn’t really help my romance life in the first place, the truth is there aren’t all that many good fish in our part of the ocean. There are lots of bad fish, and a few really rotten ones, and only one or two fish that are passably acceptable. “Good fish” are out of our range.

Whenever we talked about eventually buying a house Valerie and I have always imagined that we would get something in the average to fair condition range, something of a fixer-upper in need of a few modest repairs that could be done over time while we lived in the house. We’ve never been interested in “flipping,” or in new houses with springy carpets and crown molding.

We also have a limited purchase range, because of our school loan constraints. The money we have available for a mortgage payment is essentially the same as the market rate for a 2-bedroom apartment. Any more than that, and we don’t have anything extra for repairs or for paying down debt at an accelerated rate.

Within those limitations, it shouldn’t be a surprise that every house we’ve looked at has been a foreclosure, and all foreclosure homes have difficulties. It just so happens that this particular house is the best on the market for our price range at this time. There are no other fish. If we don’t buy this house, we rest for a few months, and then we rent. We save up, and try again the next year.

We do want to make sure we get the best possible deal in the process of buying the house, and there are legitimate concerns that absolutely must be corrected if we are to buy. If we really do come to the conclusion that the problems are not worth the risk, we are absolutely willing to just walk away. I can do that. Really.

But to return to the dating model, there’s a difference between amicably ending a relationship that is clearly not going to result in a happy marriage, and dumping a girl at the first sign of trouble. There are steps to go through, even in a buyer’s market, and I want to go through them.

Need House Advice

Hi folks. I need some advise on this house we’re looking at buying.

When we first decided to make an offer on the house, we had an inspector come and inspect the house. Essentially the original house is in fine condition, apart from cosmetic needs like carpet and paint, but the addition, which is two floors and includes the entire kitchen, was in the words of the appraiser “all wrong.” There was wiring and plumbing funkiness, the wrong kind of insulation, wrong kind of studs, etc. But most importantly, we were told that 1/4 of the foundation under the addition was essentially nothing: cinder blocks on card board.

Our realtor advised us that a house with these kinds of problems would not pass FHA appraisal, so we got a contractor at our church to give us an estimate of what it would cost to brink the addition up to code. Estimate in hand, we proceeded with the FHA appraisal, with the expectation that the seller (a bank) would make whatever repairs necessary to pass FHA standards and sell the house.

Sunday we heard back from the appraiser that the house would need two things to qualify for our FHA loan: new flooring and new paint. No mention of any of our concerns about the addition. No mention of the foundation (or lack thereof). I don’t know if that means the appraiser just didn’t notice, if he considered it none of his concern, or if he thought the foundation was actually fine.

So my question: obviously, I’m not buying a house with no foundation. I think there’s a verse in the Bible about that. But I would like to buy this house. So how do I go about ensuring that the addition is in fact safe? Do I simply lay down at the seller that we’ll buy the house if they fix the foundation? Should we get the addition re-evaluated? I’m not sure what the proper way to proceed is, and I’m open to any suggestions.

Of dwellings and duty

Hello all. Valerie has commissioned me to write a little review of what’s coming up in the next few months, because interesting times are on us, apparently all at once. Usually, I’m not allowed to write up the family news because I get stuck in the theory of it. It’s not my habit to say anything important without explaining it from the foundation up. I don’t intend to start that kind of thing now, so you’ll have to forgive me for long-windedness. However, even though it’s messy, in order to be kind, I’ll give you the scoop before the cone:

The bad news is that I am not announcing any new babies coming into our home. The good news is that we are laying a foundation for a life that is more condusive to baby-bringing. Two things are about to happen: We’re buying a house, and I’m joining the Army (reserves).

Believe me, they’re connected. The house part, I think, is easy to see as a universal good. How can owning a home be bad? Unfortunately, a universal good is not always uniformly good. For us, buying a house means that our total debt levels rise to the neighborhood of $255,000 – more than a quarter million – which is to say: a lot. And it’s not that we’re buying a mansion somewhere. About 2/3 of that will be school debt, which has been hanging like an anvil from my neck since we quit schooling. As best I can tell, there has been almost no direct financial benefit from all that educatin’. Valerie might have gotten her job as a result of her education, but the return has not been in proportion to the investment.

And this (partially) is where the Army thing comes in. I get a $20K bonus for joining. There is another potential $20K school debt waiver. That money could immediately reduce our payments in the neighborhood of $350 a month. Plus there is the pay during training, which will be greater than what I’m making at my job, and again in the event of active duty. And this is reserves, which means that, while I may be an absent father for a little while, my family stays rooted, which is important to us, particularly in the light of the house we’re about to buy.

For those who worry, my official enlistment in the Army looks to be this Friday, but basic training is likely not to begin before November, so there will be plenty of time to transition into a home before I have to leave for a time.

Now that was the bare bones report. Next comes my dreary reasoning. If all you needed was the facts, read no further; what follows is philosophy.


When Valerie and I first began to pursue a life together, from all appearances, she was the dedicated career woman, and I the hopeless drifter. Her unceasing ambition from childhood had been to become a doctor. She was enrolled in biology, pre-med. I was getting a degree in English, with the nascent idea of becoming a poet, or maybe a fantasy author. I had a memory of a desire to become a minister of some kind, if ever I got the theology figured out. Sappy romanticism was in my blood.

In fact, so romantic was I that the idea of a wife who was permanently chained to her career was ugly to me. So as we started talking about getting married, I started insisting that, if Valerie ever took it into her head to become a stay-at-home mom instead, I’d find a way to make it happen. Though I didn’t know what it meant, I meant it just the same.

Rush forward a few years. We have incurred a mountain of debt and Valerie has made a discovery: At least during the early years, raising children is the most demanding, rewarding, and absolutely vital role a woman could ever fill. (I say “during the early years” because, as children grow older, that responsibility shifts from the mother to the father. As they come into this world, the mother raises them, and the father helps. As they approach adulthood, it shifts to the father doing the raising and the mother who helps.) I ask a question: granted that it’s sometimes financially necessary and can’t be helped, is child-rearing the sort of thing that can be outsourced? Outsourcing is the process of taking relatively low-skilled work and assigning it to a secondary party that can perform it at a reduced cost, thereby freeing up time and resources that can be applied to more vital work. Is it appropriate to give over child-rearing for the greater part of the day to a secondary party so that a mother has the time and resources to pursue a career? Valerie’s answer is that child-rearing is more important for a mother to do than to pursue a career. The only time it’s right for a mom to put her kids in day care is if she has to in order to put food on the table.

That’s the sound of the gauntlet being thrown to the ground. The food on the table bit is my job. In my book, a wife should have the liberty to work because she wants to, not because she has to. Unfortunately, we have a quarter million dollars worth of ‘want to’ that have become ‘have to’ on the sly. And for the last year at least, the elimination of that impediment has been my highest, most consuming goal (save one – the reformation of my soul according to the image of Jesus Christ, the recovery of a deep devotional life. But in my mind, the two are linked considerably.)

I have got to find a way to make more money. But my options for doing so are limited. Now I need a career, and nothings coming to me. Poetry and theology aren’t exactly the big money makers. An MBA or accounting degree involve moving first in exactly the wrong direction. And lo, here is the military siting out with a solution: immediate debt reduction, supplemental pay, and the ability to acquire the sort of experience that can transition into a well-paying civilian career.

Still, joining the Army strikes a lot of people as a sort of drastic decision, especially if you drop it on them all at once. It demands long hours, takes you away from your family for extended periods of time, and then there’s the risk of physical harm. People in the Army can get shot!

It does, and they do, but Valerie and I have discussed these things for some time, and decided that the cause is worth the risk. It’s that important for her not to have to work until the kids are grown. The benefits of joining the military are high, but the diminish with time. The costs of joining are also high and they increase with time. Ten years ago, without a family, I could have joined as active duty with no constraints. Today, I may be to old to become an officer. Another ten years, and I would be too old to join at all.

Joining the army also isn’t only about income. There’s also the issue of patriotism, which I mention quietly, because it’s out of favor lately. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have joined any branch for any amount of money. I loved my country, but not like that. I thought I could love the people and have no respect for their government. I’ve reversed that position now. I had a similar problem theologically: I thought you could love the church without loving churches.

But as I’ve been growing in my theology, I’ve come to the conclusion that God believes in government, because he desires order. He intended man to be the superintendent over all creation, to create networks and systems and economies. God established authority from the beginning, and expects us to submit to it and participate in it’s administration, rather than sliding out from under it through some anabaptist clause. Therefore I have a duty, not just to government in the idea, but to my government. This government to which I have a duty is the same government that is willing to give out generous gifts I really need, in order to fill its ranks with quality men. So it seems that the cause is doubly worth the risk.

I told Valerie that, in light of this line of thinking, I needed to either join the military or serve some time in local politics. Even though I understand politicking is more lucrative, she said she’d rather I joined army.