And Then Our Cat Died

by Elizabeth

I’m not even sure how to write about this. Four months ago we bought a cat for our children. He was a beautiful stray who had been rescued by the Humane Society, and we fell in love with him. He was our little Lion King. He filled our yard with life and light. And we thought he’d be a part of our family for a long time.

But it wasn’t to be.

Gryff was a wanderer. He was constantly trying to get into other people’s houses. Sometimes he succeeded. He left us often, and most of the time he came back on his own. But nearly as frequently, we received calls from people as far as 3 streets away to come pick him up at their house.

Still, we were ridiculously in love with this cat. The kids liked to study outside with him. They liked to draw pictures of him. They liked to snuggle him. People often commented on how sweet of a cat he was.

He had started staying out at night and not coming back till the next morning. We were expecting this; he was supposed to be an outside cat. But then he didn’t come back, and we also didn’t receive a call from anyone. Eventually a neighbor stopped by to tell us what had happened — another neighbor had seen the accident and told her.

A car hit him on the road near our house. We weren’t at home when it happened. But when we found out, Jonathan went looking for the body and helped us bury him. We cried and even wailed over Gryff’s death. It was a deep pain and a deep loss. He was our first pet. We didn’t know how sad it would be to lose a pet.

Now we know.

A mom doesn’t want her kids to suffer, but she can’t stop the suffering. I wish my kids didn’t have to lose Cambodia. I wish they didn’t have to lose their cat. But as much as I wish to prevent them from experiencing pain, I have no power to do so. It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a parent. All I can do is walk through the pain with them.

So we held a funeral for him. We talked about the silly things he did. We talked about the annoying things he did. We talked about how much we loved him. We honored his place in our lives for just a short time. He helped us settle our hearts in America, and for that I will be forever grateful.

It’s been a week since we buried him, and there’s still an empty spot in our hearts. In the beginning we couldn’t bring ourselves to spend time in the yard without him. It was too sad and lonely. The first few days without him were especially rough. We watched with our own eyes as my husband shoveled dirt onto his body. Still, we kept expecting him to show up at the back door, begging for food. Other times we thought we could hear him meowing.

For days we couldn’t bring ourselves to clean up his water bowl and food bowl. I still haven’t put away the blanket he slept on. And at first I didn’t think I could ever buy my family another cat. I could not give my heart to another creature, only to lose it again so soon after. But after visiting some friends whose cats are just as loveable as ours was and learning how many cats they’ve lost over the years, I’m beginning to think I could possibly welcome another cat some day. But not yet.

So we are slowly adjusting to life without our beloved kitty. After all, there are still birds to feed and plants to water. God’s good, green earth still grows even in the midst of death. Through the pain — and maybe because of the pain — our hearts and souls grow along with it.

Of House and Home

by Elizabeth

It takes nine months to birth a baby. Nine months, a lot of frustration and discomfort, too many emotional ups and downs, far more waiting than we’d prefer, and a lastly, a good birth attendant. This is not unlike our nine-month-long search for Home last year.

The two photos above were taken on Closing Day, the day we signed on the (many) dotted lines and became homeowners for the first time. We love this house. Love it. After four months, I still wake up most mornings and think to myself, “How did I end up with the coolest house?!” Many evenings I think some iteration of the same.

We knew this house was a good fit for our family when we moved in; we just didn’t know how good of a fit it would be. There’s something special for all six of us at this house. The kids have an in-ground trampoline and a basketball court. There’s a campfire pit, a bunch of trees, and plenty of outdoor space to read and relax. And it’s all enclosed in a privacy fence so that I never worry about the kids while they’re playing outside.

There’s enough room for all four kids to study quietly and privately. I have my own office – something I never thought I’d have. Jonathan set up his office in a detached building that has heating and cooling, which means he’ll be able to meet with people in person while also preserving their privacy. We have a space for exercise. And I can’t believe it’s ours. Often as I’m making dinner, I think to myself, “This is my kitchen! I don’t have to leave here and start cooking somewhere else.”

I didn’t expect to feel so settled after moving into a house of our own. After living as a global nomad for so long, I wrongly assumed that permanent dwelling places were superficial, unnecessary things. I didn’t know a long-term home could make such a difference in how I feel. I know I promised earlier that I’d tell the story of how we got this incredible house, so here’s the long version. . . .

Nine months passed from the time we landed in the U.S. to the time we moved into this house. And it was somewhat like a surprise pregnancy: when we first arrived, we didn’t know we would be staying. We lived a few ignorant weeks between conception and that positive pregnancy test. Then the realization hit, and as I’ve explained before, I woke up miserable every morning. Perhaps it was repatriation’s version of morning sickness.

But then we had to get to work figuring out what to do and where to go. We made many plans; most of them fell through. We thought we would live in one city but instead landed in another. We were grateful to be given temporary housing on a college campus. Shortly after moving in, we contacted a local realtor.

Jonathan told her how he dreamed of land. After living in a concrete jungle for eight years, he wanted his kids to experience some of what he had experienced growing up in rural Missouri. (His Kansas City suburb truly had a rural feel at that time.) I didn’t care about land, but I did care about his happiness, so we started out by looking for land.

There weren’t a lot of houses with land in our price range, but we found something we thought might work. The house was super cute and had some really great land. It was older and needed a few repairs, and honestly it was too small for us, but we were confident we could restore the house’s former beauty and somehow adjust to its small size. Looking back, I see that it really was too small for our large family, but we were somewhat in denial because of our desire for open spaces.

Then we received the septic system inspection, which basically indicated a system in need of total replacement — an upgrade we could not afford. I’m thankful now that the first house didn’t work out, but at the time it was pretty disappointing.

Next, we looked for smaller lots. There still wasn’t much to be found, but we saw four or five houses on Zillow that might work. By the time our realtor called to arrange tours, all but one already had contracts on them. That’s how fast the housing market was moving last fall, even in the small town of Joplin.

We walked into the one available house and fell in love. It had enough room for all of us to work and study, it was a split level just like I’d always dreamed of, and it had both a covered porch and an expansive deck for entertaining. It had a spacious yard with older trees. The color of paint on the walls even fit our family’s style.

We made an offer based on our realtor’s estimation of its value. The owners would not lower the price, but they were still willing to sell it to us for the original listing price. Seeing as how there weren’t many houses on the market — and none at all that fit our large family — we decided to accept their terms. We’d read that throughout the country, home prices had soared during the pandemic, so we figured we had no choice. We needed a house by the end of December, we adored this one, and though it was priced higher than we preferred, it was still in our price range.

The inspection went well, and we were excited. Then the appraisal came in, and it wasn’t good news. This house didn’t appraise anywhere near its listing price. (Apparently our realtor knew what she was talking about – the house independently appraised right at her prediction.) This new information suddenly made the financing untenable. With the requirement of a greater down payment and/or PMI, this fantastic house wasn’t in our price range anymore.

We tried to re-negotiate, but negotiations fell through. I was heartbroken. I had been in love with this house. (I had not been in love with the first house.) What were we going to tell our children?? They had been through so much loss already last year. And more importantly, how were we going to find a house in time? We only had a couple weeks to secure a contract if we were going to have a place to live when we had to move out of our temporary housing (which was a hard deadline).

Time was running out, and I was nervous. There were a few houses on the market that could fit our family; our realtor hastily set up a couple tours. Jonathan was out of town, so I had to go alone. It felt strange because we always do big things together — but time dictated otherwise. The first house didn’t look like it would work for us, but the second house did. It had enough inside space to homeschool, the yard was big, and there was a separate building where Jonathan could work.

And two other potential buyers had looked at it that day.

I sent Jonathan photos and a description, and he replied, “Let’s go for it.” He hadn’t even seen it in person, but we knew we had to move fast. Our realtor advocated for us, and these owners worked with us on both pricing and repairs. They were all a true delight to work with. We were excited but still nervous – would anything interrupt the buying process on our third attempt?

But nothing did. It proceeded smoothly, and in December we moved into a house we knew we would love. We’ve grown to love it even more now than we did then. And I now understand why my husband wanted land — having a large yard has been such a joy for all six of us.

I remember when I was giving birth to my babies, I had certain feelings for my birth attendants. I felt like they had truly made the birth experience special. I felt like they had tried to honor my birth plan to the best of their ability. It’s not that birth isn’t painful – it is. But a good birth attendant will make it as comfortable and safe as he or she possibly can. And when the birth is over, you feel a sense of indebtedness to them.

I don’t know if birth attendants feel a special connection to you – they deliver so many babies after all. But I know a birthing parent feels a special connection to their attendant. And it’s the same way with a realtor. Helping people buy and sell houses is their day job – they do it all the time. But a family doesn’t buy a house just every day. It’s a momentous occasion. You remember the person who helped you through it. Both giving birth and buying a house are things you do only a finite number of times in life. If your helpers were good, you remember them with fondness.

So nine months after accidentally leaving Cambodia forever, we settled into a house that seems like it was built just for us and our family’s needs — and hopes and dreams. For we dream of this home becoming a launching pad for ministry. That’s already true in the sense that Jonathan does his ministry from this place, but in the coming years we also hope to host lots of people in our home and in our yard.

Maybe even you.