“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Psalm 127:1
Blessings to you and yours! I am so happy to be writing the third and final entry of my fire journal, here in our new home, one year after I awoke to find the old one in flames! 2020 was surely one of the craziest years of my life. It is the year our home of 24 years burned to the ground (read here), and it was also the year we rebuilt on that same property. Please indulge me while I tell you about it and show a ton of pictures.
My dad was a builder/contractor when I was a young child. He is one of those men who can literally do anything he decides to do. My two brothers are very much like him in that respect. Dad is an engineer, carpenter, mechanic and farmer. My brother Jeff is a talented builder/contractor, and he trained our son Cole as well. Cole went to work with him nearly six years ago. They both still live and work one state west of us.
On the day of the fire, I was on the phone with Cole (25) for probably the 3rd time that morning around 10:30. It had been about five and a half hours since we awoke to find our house burning. He said, “Mom, I realize it might be a little too soon… but if you want to rebuild, I’ll come home and help.” I laughed at the “little too soon” part! I had no idea how many of the kids didn’t have a pair of shoes at that time, let alone what we were going to do.
But after much prayer, looking at the housing market, and discussion, William and I felt like God was telling us to build. Believe it or not, it was going to be the most affordable option. Most houses aren’t designed to accommodate families of our size, which was a mere 13 at the time of the fire, (6 of our 17 children being grown and on their own.) Any home we could afford would need work and adding on. A new home on land we already owned, designed exactly as we needed it, would be the best way to spend those dollars. With the skills and pro bono labor of our loved ones, rebuilding was the absolute best way to go. William, my dad, and our boys at home would begin the process, and Cole would come and stay indefinitely.
After the mess was picked through and cleaned up, read Cleaning Up the Mess and Moving Forward, the work on the new house began. William, Dad, and I spent countless hours at the kitchen table drawing up plans. Our initial design was nothing more than a sketch on a piece of notebook paper. I found an app called Room Sketcher that we used to fine tune the floor plan. I can’t even tell you how many hours I spent on my laptop working on that floorplan. Moving walls, windows, doors, enlarging a room here and shrinking it there until I was content with how it would work, and my Dad and Jeff gave it a thumbs up.
It wasn’t fancy. I am not an architect, folks. But I do not, and never have, needed fancy. I wanted functional. I wanted usable space. I wanted room for our large, and ever growing family to live and gather. (We have been fruitful, now comes the multiplying! Adding sons and daughters-in-law, and more grandchildren, God willing.) There were a few key things that were important in pursuit of that goal:
- An open concept on the main floor, with kitchen, dining, and living being in one large space.
- A laundry room with space for two washers and dryers, and a freezer.
- More bathrooms! We had two in the old house, and the new one would have three and and a half.
- Functional bathrooms! I split the upstairs baths into three rooms. A center room with sinks and vanities, and separate sections with a private toilet room, and a private shower room. One bathroom on the girl’s side, and one on the boy’s side. Jack and Jill style, between the bedrooms. The hope being, that each bathroom could be used by 3 people at the same time, without compromising privacy. (Our house has 5 large bedrooms, the same number as before. So no, the kids do not each have their own rooms. People ask me that sometimes.)
- Functional kitchen! Which includes two refrigerators, two dishwashers, and plenty of counterspace. It is not unusual for me to have four, five, or more pairs of hands in the kitchen helping, and we need room for that!
My brother Jeff was a huge help with the planning as well. He and my dad passionately “discussed” different ideas, my dad’s old school methods versus my brother’s new school methods. Both of them came to the table with our best interests at heart, trying to find the balance between keeping costs down and building a structure that would last.
The first concrete pour was April 9th. Our sons Will and Jayce, and our daughter Amanda came to help, as they would do again and again over the coming months. Amanda was not working, due to the Covid lockdowns, and Jayce was recovering from shoulder surgery. So for a while his help was limited to what he could do one handed. At least it was supposed to be. At least that’s what he kept telling me. “I’m being careful, Mom. It’s fine.” Sigh…
Cole’s apartment lease would be up the end of April. So we worked like mad to have it ready to frame when he arrived. Cole’s boss was very generous, allowing him to go and remain gone for months with the promise of a job waiting for him when he returned. I can’t express to you how grateful William and I are that he put his whole life on hold for 7 months to come home and build his parents a house.
By the time Cole arrived, we were ready to build. My brother Jeff arrived soon after, with his trailer full of tools and equipment. He stayed for one week, and by the end of that week the structure was framed!
For months on end, Cole (25), Tadan (16), Lex (14), and Koby (13) got up early in the morning and went to work on our house. Every one of our 17 children helped in various ways. Our son Adam, who lives out of state, was able to come and help for a couple weeks. Even my 2, 4, and 6 year olds helped paint! Lianna (19) and Janaya (17) were a tremendous help keeping everyone fed. Lianna had a part time job and college classes, but helped as much as she could. Janaya cooked every single day, lunch and supper, many times without my help, and cared for the younger children. My husband, William kept going to work at his job, which was deemed “essential” during the covid lockdowns, but he helped evenings and weekends where possible. He made it his personal mission to treat the workers with donuts and juice every Saturday morning, and to keep a cooler stocked for them with Gatorade and soda during the week. The kids joke that they built a house for wages of donuts and pop.
Amanda is a hair stylist in town, and she turned into a construction worker, quite nicely I must say. Jayce’s wife, Miana (also a hair stylist),came to help us so often as well! Miana is truly my daughter-in-love, and she worked along side those men like a champ. Dakota and her husband Shane made the 1.5 hour drive to come help whenever they could. Seeing my grown daughters with nail guns in hand is a memory that chokes me up even now! I am also impressed that they never shot any brothers with those nail guns for “mansplaining.” (Mansplaining: (gerund of the verb mansplain) the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.)
I spent many hours each week on the computer and the phone, making arrangements, filling out paperwork, searching for supplies, comparing prices, and ordering. I made daily trips for supplies, some in town and some an hour or more away. Janaya held down the fort while I was running around like a maniac. And my boys worked like grown men, forty plus hours a week for months.
During our down times, there was many a rowdy game of Dutch Blitz, Sets, and who knows what else. Cole is an avid rock climber, and the boys created a course of rock climbing holds at the job site. During their “breaks” they took turns practicing on them, and challenging each other to tests of strength and endurance. Sounds restful, right? (They really wanted me to let them leave it in permanently, right in the middle of the dining area. But somehow that didn’t seem conducive to peaceful dining.) Cole also loves jiu jitsu, and he brought out a mat for sparring. The mat was laid out in the shade at my parent’s place, and we spent many evenings out there, cheering on sparring matches! My nieces, nephews, and my littles got in on the fun too.
I remember one particular day, watching as several of my children were working on the house. I was overcome by emotion. Nine babies that I had nursed, diapered, cooked for, washed for, cleaned up after, read to, taught, disciplined… all the things… were literally building my house with their own hands. It was not lost on me that during those days of shaping my children, God always knew that they would one day shape this house for me.
There were friends and neighbors who helped when and where we needed them as well, and I am so grateful for all of it! On the day of the picture below, this crew carried hundreds of sheets of drywall upstairs.
Cole has a friend John from Colorado, whom we had never met, that came down for about a week to help finish drywall. Before we even began building, John told Cole that he would come, and come he did. We intended to make arrangements for him at a hotel, since we were already pretty packed in, but he refused. He camped in the topper on his pickup, which he apparently likes to do. Then he joined in the fun of sharing one shower with the rest of us, (John brought our number to a cozy 17 people.) God bless that sweet young man. I really hope he survived our craziness without the need for therapy.
And my mother…. Tell me, who opens their home to 14 extra people for 9 long months? My mom, that’s who. Though she surely wanted to throw us out many times, to her credit she never did! My parent’s home has 1 shower, 1 tub, 2 toilets, and 1 washer and dryer. My brother Michael loaned us his camper, so 4 of the kids slept in there. 5 boys slept in the basement. And William and I shared a bedroom with our 3 youngest girls. To say we were on top of one another would be an understatement. Mom works full time as an ICU nurse, and life for her was exhausting both at home and at work. It was hard for all of us, but an incredible blessing! In the beginning, we never intended to stay there the whole time, but life happened and we did. After our house was finished, she cried and said, “It was worth it! It was all worth it!”
Throughout the whole process, the Lord answered prayer after prayer. Every time a need or concern appeared, William and I would set it up before God in prayer, and then wait while He knocked it down like a bowling pin! Pin after pin He sent flying. That may seem like a strange illustration, but that image was clear in my mind as I brought our needs to Him in prayer, and watched as He delivered. And I don’t even bowl. Ha!
There were so many quality things that I found at ridiculously low prices. Here’s an example: I found granite vanity tops with attached undermount sink on closeout for $50 each. I could go on and on with that list, but you get the idea. God is so good.
One of the most awesome blessings came by way of our cousin Paul Flora. Paul has been in the central heat and air business for many years. Very early in the process, Paul began to keep a look out for scratch and dent units for us. And he found some! New, fully functional, slightly banged up units that we were able to buy at a fraction of the price. Then he and his brother Dan came and installed them for us. What a tremendous blessing that was, and still continues to be!
Other friends blessed us too. Kessler Construction ordered steel, plumbing, and other supplies for us at their cost. Pyles Construction helped us get plumbing and electrical supplies at his cost as well. Bill Perry donated loads of sand from his property. Other friends offered expertise and the use of equipment.
On November 25th, 9 months and 1 day after the fire, we moved in!
My friends Rachel and Angie came to help clean and fill cupboards, then Rachel’s husband Brendan brought pizza for supper! My cousin Deborah brought us a car load of paper goods and groceries to get us started! Previously she, her sisters in law, and my Aunt Rita had an “operation cozy home” shower for us, which was such a blessing! I can’t thank our Sawyer community enough for their generosity.
We awoke the morning of Thanksgiving in our new home, for the very first time. I absolutely love this house! Most of all, I love that it was built by God’s provision, and by all the people that I love!
Two days later, we celebrated a late Thanksgiving. Cole would return to Colorado the following day, after months of work on our house. I couldn’t even speak when I hugged him goodbye. “Thank you” is such a feeble word in these circumstances.
Recently, I was considering some of the trials I have been through in my life, which are so very small compared to some. It occurred to me, unless we face the hard times, we cannot know the power of God to bring us through.
2020 was a difficult year for everyone, not just us. And I’m afraid for most of us, 2021 isn’t shaping up to be all sunshine and roses. Already we have faced some tragic blows, including the unexpected loss of my sister-in-law Sarah. But even through this, we see God working, weaving a beautiful masterpiece. I look for His handiwork, and pray that I won’t miss the victories and the blessings in the midst!
Whatever you may be facing now, set your needs up in prayer like bowling pins and hand God the ball. Many times, it has been years before the the Lord has chosen to answer a prayer in my life, and some times answers come quicker than I expect. However, His timing is always perfect. And when the time is right, nothing can stop Him!
Everything can change in a moment. That can be frightening, but also so very encouraging! Love your people! And keep looking up!