The Vision: Move to Clarkston, live as a family among our refugee friends, and create a place where other families or groups can come visit and catch a vision for loving the refugee in friendship-style.
The Bungalow and The Subdivision
Once Doug and I agreed about being drawn to Clarkston as a family, we began to wonder where we’d move. Clarkston is a tiny town – only about one square mile. There are nearly 20 multi family housing units in that small space. That leaves some streets with homes and a few distinct neighborhoods, but not a vast variety. Looking at realtor.com for a home with four bedrooms (which we felt we needed due to the step sibling relationship and ages of our kids) yielded a short list of homes. Finding one with a place to host guests on a regular basis (our vision) was pretty much a no-go. We figured we’d need to get pretty creative!
“The Blue House”
As we drove around the town one afternoon in August 2011, we drove past an old blue house set back off of the street, next to the library and community center. It was very charming and very run down and very for sale. We pulled into the driveway and immediately noticed a detached building on the property that looked like a separate residence. Could it be? The house with the guest-house? We were hooked, and we became blue house fanatics. I think I drove over there 3 times a week for six weeks just to look at it and imagine. To top it off, the blue house was a foreclosure – making it affordable, even though we’d need to do renovations.
Our blue house adventure lasted about 6 weeks. Bottom line, it did not work out because the house was zoned commercial and someone (with commercial interests) got to it first and bought it.
However, the blue house adventure paved the way for a few things. First of all, it clarified and solidified the vision. Also, we came into relationship with a few city officials through our investigation, and it has been a gift to know these city leaders in the time since. Finally, the blue house allowed us to communicate our vision with a few friends in Clarkston, who began sharing the vision with us and intentionally helping us to plug in with the community.
After the blue house deal fell through, we entered a short period of waiting and tending to life as it came – in the form of the start of a new school year, the continuation of old obligations, and a job change for Doug. Thankfully, my husband has more faith than I do, so his online real estate search continued.
In one of his online forays into the 30021 zip code, he found the bungalow (we, apparently, nickname our homes.)
The bungalow was a cute little (two bedroom) 1950s-ish home right across from the community center. It was a short sale, and the bank had already approved a sales price that was akin to buying a new car. It was charming and needed love. But, the vision-booster that we encountered was the garage. The bungalow had a detached garage that was clearly some former owner’s creative outlet. It seemed to have been built carefully by that someone by their own two hands, complete with antique windows and doors and different kinds of bricks and blocks. Doug and I both immediately saw the possibility of hosting small gatherings in that garage and in offering the bungalow as a place of recharge for those in ministry and vision for those who desired to plug into refugee ministry. It could be the “guest house!”
As I looked out the back of the detached garage into the backyard of the bungalow, I glimpsed a roof down the overgrown hill. That roof represented a home that we’d looked at. It was a new, unfinished home (also in foreclosure…you are discovering by now that, when the 2008 real estate bubble burst, Clarkston ended up with bits and pieces of burst bubble plastered all over its beautiful landscape.) The home was part of a larger subdivision called Carroll Park. The whole thing (3 homes and 14 lots) was in foreclosure…like someone turned off the lights in November or December of 2008 and the door had been closed and locked since then. Homes with countertops but no carpeting; light fixtures but no appliances; bathtubs but no paint.
But – I digress. The big deal was that the bungalow shared a lot line with one of the homes in the subdivision! Would it work for us to purchase that home and just connect the two yards by tearing down the fence?
Oh, that it had been that easy!
I want to stop here and thank those of you who I know were praying over that subdivision before we ever laid eyes on it. I also want to thank those of you who’ve borne a sub-burden of the subdivision drama as you’ve walked this road with us. You guys are our real friends who I hardly even know…yet.
Long story longer, the bank would not sell just a house. They would only sell the whole subdivision – all of it. Really? Really.
This is where I think God began the process of pulling the rubber band, of stretching us into places that have been wildly uncomfortable but clearly His.
Before we could do anything crazy like BUY A SUBDIVISION, we needed friends to come alongside; we needed to know that those homes could be shared with other people who had a similar heart for the city. We needed to know that we would not have to bear the financial or emotional burden of subdivisioning alone. So, a few phone calls later, we had two brave friend-families to come alongside us and buy the subdivision. (Ok – seriously, this effort represents most of our life savings and, I’ll have you know that the price of a subdivision in Clarkston is quite a bit less than the price of our current home in North Atlanta. Sell a home, buy a subdivision. Something like that. Just know that we’re not rolling in cash, and I drive that 2003 minivan out of necessity as much as out of charm.)
So, friends, now we have a subdivision that backs up to a bungalow.
In the course of subdivisioning, we’ve learned:
– New vocabulary (being a land developer has its own lexicon)
– The value and the comedy and the tragedy of small town governance
– That deadlines are really just targets and that the domino effect is alive and well
– Not to count your chickens (or street lights, or signage, or pavement topping, or water meters…) before they hatch
– That friends can be very, Very, VERY patient
– That there are a ton of folks in love with Clarkston, and that our neighbors are people who love the city and its people, too
But, mostly, we’ve learned that God is gracious enough to not let us do this ALONE. When it was just me and the blue house, I dreamed of slipping into the city on the sly and being a covert, managed, quiet lover of people there (this is the middle child in me who both loves adventure and really shies away from taking the front position on anything.) I wanted to move to Clarkston, meet people there, and be able to say, “Oh…yes! We’ve lived here about six months…you know, that cute blue house up by the library? We just have been settling in, learning about the city. So nice to meet you!” Instead, I think God decided we needed to meet the entire 9,000 person population ahead of time and partner with seven or eight awesome families in a way that would plop us right down in the middle of town, with nowhere to hide since, “those are those crazy people who bought the subdivision…now what are they going to do with it???!!” Not exactly the way I had in mind, but it’s not my plan to start with, right?
So, that’s where we are now. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing the journey unfold!
(The above was written in the summer of 2012)
Summer of 2013…
This year has been a tremendous experience of transition for our family.
In short, we are now living in the “bungalow” house with no sign of ever moving out. We moved here in March of this year after a long road of thinking that we’d be building a home in the subdivision.
God pried us loose of that plan pretty handily over the course of several months.
As we poured over house plans and sought permitting to build our home, He closed each and every door. He continued to provide many echoes of the call to Clarkston but no opening to live in the subdivision. After praying over the options with our kids and each other, He began to open the doors to living in our little bungalow. 900 square feet upstairs. A basement that may or may not be renovate-able. A contractor who was willing to try. An amazing kitchen designer who found every square inch of space in the tiny house and turned it into useful!
We celebrate His wisdom.
Our little bungalow is just across from the community center. We are in view of every soccer game, pick up basketball game, and community center activity that goes on – and they are many.
Our little bungalow has taught our family that we are just fine with one living room, no dining room, an 18″ dishwasher, and no garage. In fact, we’re great! We’ve already grown so much from the adventure and the togetherness. Teenagers can be cranky, but they are really very flexible!!
As for the subdivision, it’s still inching forward. We have some new friends who are interested in building homes there. God is opening doors for them to do just that, via a fantastic architect, a great builder, and willing city officials. Lord willing, we will break ground on new homes on two of the fourteen remaining lots within a month. We are praying to that end. We’d love for you to pray with us!
Meanwhile, please come to Clarkston! We’re here so that you can come visit us. We’ll take you on a tour and show you this fun and deeply diverse city filled with hope and vulnerability on every corner. It would be our pleasure!