Saturday, October 6, 2012

unfinished spaces

So my husband and I live in this old church house and I know that sounds really hip and people love seeing the pictures of how it's turning out. The thing is that I don't put all the pictures out there. Sure, I put the ones from the days that we are really productive and stuff is getting done and rooms are changing colors. But the pictures that people don't see are the ones from the days when laundry has piled up for a week and a half, or the ones where my office is a cluttered mess in our living room next to Nathan's old arcade game and my elliptical machine. People don't usually get to see how our "closet" is one metal bar from the hardware store suspended from the exposed ceiling in our back room, which doesn't have any heat and kind of smells like cat pee, by the way. I try to hide the fact that about a third of our entire house is basically one giant garage filled with tools and junk that my husband has collected over the years, and that it's not even as good as a garage because you can't park a car inside of it. And you can't tell from my pictures that the first thing you see when you turn onto New Church Avenue is not necessarily our beautiful building with the stone mast, but it is our 80's model tanker truck up on blocks, piles of scrap metal or old commercial carpet and used oil tanks and barrels. What I'm trying to say is that living in an old church isn't always as sexy as it looks according to my pictures.

This week we had a visit from an appraiser. We are trying to refinance our loan in order to position ourselves better financially, in addition to putting some cash into fixing up the place. I warned our loan officer that we are remodeling and that the house is a little rough around the edges, to say the least. In fact, I think I actually told her that "its guts are hanging out." She was sure it would be fine. We do, after all, have a lot of square footage and the place has really good bones.

So this guy, Bob, came over and he was kind of taken aback. He walked around for a minute with his clipboard in hand and tape measure clipped to his belt. After a few minutes he said something to the effect of: maybe you don't want me to appraise you today. The thing is that we technically don't have any bedrooms. And all those spaces without any ceiling or walls or floors, the ones with electrical conduit hanging out and insulation showing, those don't even count as finished spaces. Because people, at least people in modern day America, don't actually live in those kind of spaces. They are technically uninhabitable. They are worth about 25% of the value of a garage.

I let my husband walk around for a while with Bob so I could escape to the bathroom and cry for a minute. We do have one-and-a-half bathrooms, at least.

So the final word is that we have a zero-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath 2000 (give-or-take) square-foot "dysfunctional" building. Oh, I knew that it was dysfunctional. Earlier in the morning, before Bob came over, I told my husband that most days I just walk around here with my eyes closed and some days, like the ones when people are coming over, I open my eyes. It makes me angry to see what is really going on and a lot of times I wonder how I can move out of my house without also making some kind of statement about our marriage, because our marriage is great and our house is not.

Nathan is learning a lot about living with a woman and how a cluttered environment makes a cluttered mind for me. He is figuring out that even though he would be happy living in a hole somewhere, I would not and that if having a functional and beautiful home is important to me, it must become a priority for him as well. And even though this week we got some tough news, I am so thankful for Bob because he was able to validate my feelings about living in this building in a way that also makes sense to my husband.

Apparently we are not the only people in the world who get into this kind of situation: we have all this vision and this beautiful blank canvas but then we start tearing down walls before we realize that we don't know how to put them back up again. When you find yourself in a big mess it is tempting to think that you are the only people who know what it is like, and you become ashamed of what it must look like to other people. You start to believe that the mess is probably what people see instead of who you are as a person and you fear their judgement, so you'd rather hide behind inspiring pictures of progress and colorful paint.

I am going to post some of the raw pictures but first I will say that after a lot of thinking and talking, Nathan and I have decided to take the next 25 days and really kick butt to create at least two bedrooms and clean up our mess before we call Bob to come back and actually appraise our house. We think we really can do something here and we are too close to turn back now. Plus, it is amazing what Nathan Thum can do when he is under pressure.

In modern Christianity you can hear a lot about living in the mess with people. It's this cliche that means you can throw out all your expectations about relationships being pretty or predictable all the time, because everybody's got baggage and everybody's a sinner. It also means that you can forget about fixing someone or their situation because you can't. All you can do is take a seat with someone inside their mess and just be there with them, and maybe start walking with them if they can eventually manage to get up. And sometimes you are the one who is stuck because, make no mistake, everybody gets a turn.

We, the Thums, are in a mess and I have the pictures to prove it. I don't blame you if you have to look away at some point; I do it all the time and I live here.

Curb appeal??

 Our "closet"

 No, this is not an episode of "Hoarders: Buried Alive."At least I hope not.

 Not so pretty ceilings

 our eclectic mix of building supplies, hobbies and unpacked boxes from the move two years ago. 

 Our loft has a little bit of sub-floor but still no railing. Not exactly "safe." 

 Still no ceiling or floor in the upstairs bedroom

 Nathan's Garage


  1. Oh, Ashley. I feel your pain! Our place isn't in the state that yours is, but we're struggling with living in a space that just doesn't fit us and that isn't worth enough to sell and cover our loan because of declining property values... and owning a second place we don't need or want, and are also unable to sell because of the state it's currently in. Paying two mortgages and trying to make ends meet. I know what you mean about needing a "home" to come to at the end of a day, not a project, and feeling ashamed of how your place looks. I know you guys will figure it out, glad your still chipping away at it... wish we could come help! :) Thanks for sharing - hang in there!

  2. Ashley, I read this post a few days ago when it went through my FB feed. It really stuck with me. What struck me was your church as an analogy or metaphor (I can't ever remember the difference) for the Church or the Christian life. Seems the whole Christian culture is built on sharing only the put-together photos. It's a cool irony that your church is still taking shape ... and that you're sharing the un-redeemed places.

    You're a great writer, btw. Good luck to you and Nate finishing the space. I like how you all are living. It beats the mundane alternative IMO.