In 1999 my husband and I pitched an army surplus tent on ten acres and lived for two summers like pioneers; hauling water for cooking and cleaning and no electricity. We were twenty something year olds with two babies, a little wild, a little not grounded. I always wanted to live on a farm, making things from scratch and surrounding my kids in the wonder of God’s creation.
Having grown up in an ancient Vermont house with a rolling view of Lake Champlain and the distant mountains, my heart was conditioned for nature, was set to find comfort in water, grasses, flowers and trees. I always longed for my own meadow and sturdy house.
I am a big daydreamer and a Zillow junky, have been for years and before I discovered Zillow and it’s “hearts” it was real estate websites, magazines and newspapers. What was I searching for? A home that spoke to me, a place to dig into the earth, a house to re-create, a view, a meaning, a place that said, “This is your future”. My husband and I built our first house on the side of a mountain after we bought that 10 acres, site unseen. We built a sturdy home at the end of a road that was treacherous in the winter. My unsteady feet grew tired of the location after 6 years so we bought a fixer upper in the nearest ski town.
For years we lived in this ski town house never really feeling like this was the house we envisioned grandkids running through. We gutted and remodeled it, room by room. My heart was never settled there. I continued to search and daydream, creating memories in houses I never set foot in, imagining the site of my children playing in yards I never even drove by, most of my wild dreams took me back to my homeland of VT to houses that needed hammers, nails, sandpaper, paint and love. I imagined myself thick in clover, milking cows, and frolicking in meadows- somewhere. Realistically, we really had no means to buy a farm, without a job in Vermont, or the money for land in Montana. I escaped into real estate to run from our own housing dilemmas.
We had taken a gamble when we moved to our ski town. At the time of the move we owned three houses, one for sale (that we built with our own sweat on the side of that mountain), one rental home we remodeled and the fixer upper we lived in. The timing could not have been worse for diving into the real estate flipping market. We barely sold two of those houses but not before suffering the pain of paying more than one mortgage at a time and the construction industry (which is our bread and butter) simultaneously coming to a screeching halt. We slept for months with what felt like bricks on our chest. Our ridiculous mortgage that our naive selves signed was an ARM about to adjust and the chaos of listening to bad advice and supposedly helpful government programs mixed with a loan that was sold so many times that no one knew where or how to apply our payments, the threat of losing our fixer upper became very real. The reality of losing everything was literally taped to our front door.
It was a full time job trying to save our house from foreclosure; making phone calls, processing documents, research, tracking, and investigating a loan-our loan, that seemed to have vanished. I worked tirelessly. All our remodeling projects were put on hold and we lived with cracks and creaks waiting for something different to happen. Eventually, when it seemed like all was lost, we decided to move out and let what would be, be.
I had recently read an inspiring article in Guidepost about a family praying for a home and how God had answered their prayers down to the trees requested in the front yard. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and more begged than prayed to God for a home that would fit us (we were expecting our 7th baby) and threw in that a climbing tree would be great for the boys. God delivered and we were amazed to tears.
We found a divinely appointed farm on 100 acres with the cutest little house ever to live in. The man that rented it to us said he felt called to us, we had been on his waiting list, but our faith and the holy spirit planted us right where we needed to be. My heart felt fresh, we had a new beginning. We planted a huge garden and raised chickens and pigs. The house looked to the looming mountains that the moon adorned as it rose from behind.
We began to dream again, we prayed so intently to do God’s will in all things, to trust in His plan. We knew what life looked like to live outside of His will, to feel discontented.
We acknowledged that God was being very clear with us, stripping us of everything, our home and steady work. He knew that we couldn’t fill ourselves up with Him if we were too full with ourselves. To top off the slow work that year my husband was also laid up with two serious knee surgeries. All we had left was to trust God’s plan;that and wait for baby #7 to arrive!
Our fixer upper home did not leave the scene though. I still fought for it, however I could. I spent hours on the phone and sent many letters and emails to plea our case. After a year and a half of abandoning our home, an unexpected letter came to say that our loan was part of a class action lawsuit and we were not only awarded some cash but a new loan rewritten with an actual address to send payments to! We moved back in; we reduced our belongings to that of minimalists and then got busy remodeling and repairing. We were so grateful to be given the chance to finish the work we had started and create a home that could possibly see grandkids.
Once again I scoured the real estate market, I spent too much time searching Zillow for any piece of land in our area of Montana but they just never were right, too far away from town and mostly too expensive. The ridiculous expense of Montana land made it easy to look East to Vermont where agricultural land is affordable and the houses are adorable!
Cory’s work eventually picked up and he was amazingly busy. We learned to pray for that too, his work to increase and be steady. We learned any good idea was God’s and tried not to be disappointed when our ideas fell through.
We applied for a loan to finish up our house projects in order to sell it at a price that would give us a large profit. But the two local banks we went to said, “no.” Doing all the work ourselves is not only exhausting it is slow when the nooks and crannies of life are full of so many other time consuming things; like family and baseball.
So, it was back to our own cash, an offer of a $5000 loan from my dad, that we accepted, and many leftover and repurposed construction supplies. One of our biggest projects was removing a hot tub that was buried under a floor and could only be removed by taking out the exterior wall. The project was a can of worms, we lived with a plastic wall separating us from a construction zone for months and into the cold weather. We were grateful even if the wind blew in.
The following summer of 2015, the kids and I went home to Vermont, money was tight but my parents 50th was more important. While there, I found a great foreclosure fixer upper. When we returned to Montana, Cory and I decided that it was time to get the house ready to sell and take advantage of buying a house on the auction block. It was back to late nights, long hours of work and many blessings of divine providence. We prayed and God helped.
I worked on landscaping a neglected area near our front door, gravel, weeds and a wood pile- not attractive. I prepped the area for the coming spring. I raked, leveled, outlined and calculated how much sod we would need.
This wouldn’t be the first or last time we were gifted with divine providence. That same week the baseball fields across from our house were expanding and asked for help removing sod. Our sons and Cory volunteered and in a weekend we had exactly the right amount of sod to fill in the area and not a square foot extra.
We worked and kept a close eye on the foreclosure in VT. When this house on 7 acres on an island went up for auction starting at $10,000, we spontaneously put our house for sale on Craigslist and quickly had a showing. We then committed to Zillow FSBO. Quickly after uploading pictures, a friend of ours let us know she thought she knew someone who may be interested, a pastor with 5 kids and a knack for house projects. Within days they were walking through our home.
We placed a statue of St Joseph in our windowsill flower box and started a nine day novena to sell our house. My dad joined us in prayer. On the ninth day of the novena, my dad called to get an update. At the very same moment, the family that had looked at our house called and left a message that they would like to make an offer! We could see and feel the Saint’s hand in our home sale and knew that whatever was to come, God was good and would always get the glory.
We had a little plan (yes our plan), to use our profits to buy a cheap fixer upper on more than 3 acres in Montana and to buy the VT foreclosure as well. We found a very small house on 5 acres with a large work shop about 20 minutes from town and were beginning to day dream about an inexpensive mortgage in Montana, the money leftover for renovations, and the income potential of a summer business on Lake Champlain in Vermont. It all felt and seemed like that was what we were supposed to do and it felt like we were following God’s plan.
All until Cory went with me to check out the small homestead (I had already done 2, okay maybe 3 drive-bys ) Without hesitation he said, “No Way!” The road was muddy, the house too close to the road and it was in the wrong direction from work and school. Later that day, in addition to the Montana house idea fizzling out the Vermont house disappeared from the auction site. And to add to that I received a Facebook message from my best friend’s mom in Vermont. She wrote, “Dear Maggie, DO NOT buy that house, it has chickens living in it, rats too, it’s a disaster, not to mention the trailer court next door is in disarray and storage units are being built on the adjoining acreage. You can do better.”
That’s God’s timing, our “plan” was shot yet we had already accepted an offer on our home. Where were we going to go? We went to bed feeling a bit lost, a little worried, where would we live? I just kept repeating to myself, “Give it to God” and Proverbs 3:5-6.
The next morning, Cory had a fresh attitude and left the house saying, “I’m going to find our home”. No joke. He called within an hour and asked if I would call my cousin, a realtor, and check out a piece of land for sale. Before noon that same day we were both checking out more than what Cory thought was some land, but also a small house, a cabin, a pole barn, fields and the river! Of course, we both loved it, it was what we were looking for; farm land, water, income potential. The house was small but would work if we remodeled. Even so, it was out of our price range, we would never qualify. Cory asked if I would just call our mortgage lender, I agreed, what did we have to lose?
We crunched numbers for days. We were approved for a loan contingent on the sale of our house and were put in the #2 spot to purchase. There was a previous offer, so we went back to our knees. We continued to pray for our house to sale to close, choosing to go the FSBO route saved us money but was a bit challenging to negotiate and get things in order in a timely manner. We prayed that if this was all meant to be it would happen and, if not, so be it.
The timing was all wrong though, we were leaving for ten days to visit our oldest daughter who was volunteering in Peru. Everything started to happen so fast and then it just stopped. Our buyers withdrew their offer.
Oh, were we bummed, disappointed, a little angry but we went back to the drawing board and back to more repairs and renovations on our house.
I wondered if the buyers would reconsider and called and asked them. They came back with an offer $50,000 less than the original, it would not be enough to make our farm purchase. However, with more negotiating and more renovations on our side we agreed to an absolute bottom dollar that would work for both of us. We would have just enough for the farm. God loves us to live by the skin of our teeth or rather with just enough to get by. Everything started rolling again, we never stopped praying.
Then our past crept in and knocked us off our feet. We had a lien on our property that we didn’t know about and in order to satisfy it we needed $11,000! Where would that come from? We were off to the slums of Peru where we would be without phone or internet. I called a lawyer and asked for advice. Then we left, hoping and praying.
Our time in Villa el Salvador, Peru among children with nothing, and a community that lives on Divine Providence gave us time to reflect, pray, spend time in adoration, read and pray some more. We did our due diligence, did what was asked of us and left the rest to God. We came home grateful and more in love with our faith, our Church and God’s goodness.
Everything was proceeding as needed yet it looked like we were going to have to use the money to repair our soon to be purchased farm house on satisfying the lien, we resolved to the reality of paying it after many attempts to get it cleared. I hounded the lawyer who seemed to be elusive maybe even asleep at his desk.
We signed our names to purchase, we signed to sell. It was a done deal; God had set aside a farm for us. The next few days had many hiccups, money from the sale not getting to the title company to release for purchase etc. etc. and another weekend went by. On Monday the lawyer finally called me back and said he thought the company with the lien would take an offer, “Yes, offer them anything!” He offered them $2000 and they accepted.
The timing again seemed as if it couldn’t have been worse! The title company had already received all funds and were fed -exing the $11,000 to satisfy the lien that morning and it was already past noon. I hung up the phone, bowed my head, folded my hands and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet while the lawyer called the title company. An agonizing hour passed before I heard that the envelope signed, sealed and almost delivered was saved and the $11,000 check was replaced with one for $2000. Praise the Lord, miracles of miracles!
We are remodeling the house day by day, not a home with a banister, crown molding, fat baseboards, and tall ceilings, or a view of rolling maples but it’s ours, it is here, we are where God set this land aside for us, here we will raise generations. We give God all the glory.