Real Mental Toughness
Over the previous year and a half, I’ve lost both my mother and grandfather to cancer. I’m not sure yet what kind of mental toughness it takes to climb Kilimanjaro, but I know what it feels like to lose someone you love. Angela’s and my season of loss has thankfully come to an end, and I believe we’ve entered a season of blessing, or put another way, our hearts have been changed significantly enough to see the blessings inside the pain.
For a number of reasons, we decided this was the right time in the real estate market cycle to take a risk. Like many others over the last several years, we’d put off major purchases like buying a new home in order to be more financially conservative after the 2008 crash and subsequent “great recession” that’s still going 3½ years later. We had a plan to put our home for the past decade on the market the first weekend of May, let it sell and then find a new house. Sounded like a good sensible plan, but that’s not the way things happened.
After having our hardwood floors refinished and hand scraped as the first major step of our make-ready, we had planned to be out of the house at our kids’ soccer games all day on a Saturday in mid-March. Unfortunately my son’s afternoon game was rained out, and the smell of the” water-based” floor sealant was far too overpowering to be at home. So we decided to drive around looking at neighborhoods and stumbled upon an open house sign in a yard.
The previous day, Angela had made a list of her top three homes she wanted to take a look at, and this particular home was on her list. Most real estate agents will tell you everyone makes a decision to buy a home within the first few seconds of opening the front door. I’d always thought of myself as unique and as the exception to the rule, but not in this case – Angela and I fell in love with it the moment we walked in from the rain. The agent conducting the open house informed us that the house had just fallen out of contract the previous day, and because it was a foreclosure wasn’t expected to last long on the market again. While the house was exactly what we were looking for, Angela’s and my biggest concern with purchasing a foreclosure was what happened to the family that used to live there. Emotionally, we didn’t want to benefit at the expense of someone else, but logically understood someone would buy the home and there was nothing we could do about the past. We put in an offer the following Monday (March 26), and after a highest and best bidding process, had a closing date of no later than May 4. We could no longer wait until May to put our house on the market. Our 5-6 week timetable needed to be shortened – considerably.
Over the next two weeks, we painted the inside, outside, doors, windows and baseboards, had the roof inspected, flowers and landscaping sculpted, countless small repairs (that by themselves wouldn’t have been a big deal, but combined had us on overload), and de-cluttered the house into one of those drop off storage pods. All while we were still working full/over time (I survived another of my company’s layoffs on March 29) with the kids soccer seasons (and coaching responsibilities) in full-swing, Angela had to travel on a 3-day business trip, we planned two kids’ birthday parties and celebrated my own. The Kilimanjaro workout schedule we’d established had been blown away.
So on Easter weekend, our friend Chris Mickle listed our house for sale on the MLS. Over the next week, Angela had another 4-day trip, leaving me to manage both of the kids and keep the house spotless for showings. It turns out that it’s easier to keep the house clean if you aren’t home because your house is constantly being shown; we had sixteen showings in this first week, producing two written offers (including one that wanted the hand scraping “repaired.” Say what?!). We accepted a cash offer from a retired couple who wanted to move closer to their grown children and grandchildren, with a hard and fast closing date of May 7.
The good news is our house wasn’t likely to be shown anymore, and the stressful news was that we had 3 weeks to find a moving company, pack a family of 4, close on the new home loan, move and clean up the old house. During the “hello” call with the mortgage company, I addressed the timing differential between the closing dates, and was told it wouldn’t be a problem to underwrite me owning two homes for a weekend (May 4 to May 7). With the new government lending regulations that have been put in place since we bought our last house, the underwriting process for home loans has become five times as complicated with ten times the paperwork. Despite this, the loan tracked smoothly for the first week and a half. Then, after a week of radio silence from my lender, I called the mortgage company to find out if we had final underwriting approval only to be informed that they weren’t able to close with me owning two houses for a weekend. A company that I’d had a relationship with for more than 20 years, had pre-approved me for the loan, and had already accepted the timing of the structure of the home sales was going back on their word only 10 days before my closing date and didn’t even have the courtesy to call to inform me there was a problem. I was angry; very angry.
Angela arrived home that evening with a story to tell. She and one of her follow-up clients had been discussing our move, and it turns out her client was best friends with the former owners of the house. Angela held her breath, unsure of the news that would be delivered. Angela’s client let her know the previous occupants were doing better financially than even before they purchased this house, and had reached a sense of peace and understanding about having to move (apparently less than a mile away). With good news on the previous occupants, our emotional concern was gone, but we no longer had a loan. However, somehow I felt an immediate sense of encouragement. On the same day we lost our loan, we found out that the previous owners of our new potential home were doing very well. I don’t believe in coincidences.
I told Chris what was going on with the mortgage, and he recommended the mortgage broker Rodney Anderson as someone he thought could get the deal done within the next 9 days (before May 4). I have to say I was concerned with using a broker who advertised all over the radio, but his office delivered in impressive fashion and in only 8 days we closed on the new home!
All along, it was obvious to Angela and I that a lot was going on behind the scenes. Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned how much we need to give our burdens to God every single day, and how much He enjoys being with us through the ups and downs of everyday life. As anyone who’s been through this process knows, the daily stress and anxiety can quickly get overwhelming. Throughout this time, we prayed that God would lead us through the make-ready process, that he would help us find the right home, to keep those who were working on our house safe and inspired; we prayed many times for the family who was foreclosed, and for the new occupants of our former house. And in the height of anxiety – I prayed that a retired couple wanting to move closer to their family would come up with a cash offer and a quick close. God never promises us an easy road, even when He’s pouring out blessings. We’ve continued to stay faithful to Him, to give freely to our local church and to others, and He continues to change our lives in ways that keep us comfortably uncomfortable so we rely on Him. The mental strength we’ve gained has sharpened Angela in ways that can only come through faith, and it’s a faith that takes exactly the right amount of weight off your shoulders.
Interestingly enough. Angela and I were frustrated, anxious, and completely mentally and physically depleted throughout this whole time of buying and selling of homes that we couldn’t keep up with our physical training for Kilimanjaro. But now we realize, these last couple months of testing of faith and mental toughness was the exact type of training we needed. Ask any mountaineer. That is perhaps the core component of any climb.