Here to Stay

It begins: toasting our first house together, June 26, 2012.

I've just entered undiscovered country.

On the day I was born in San Jose, California, I was already getting ready to move: my father, then an American Baptist minister, was candidating for a new position up the coast in Fort Bragg. Five weeks later, we moved there, and the die was cast: for the next fifty-five years, the longest I would keep an address would be the four years I was in high school. I can't pin it all on my father's profession (although switching to Methodist, as he did in 1964, locked him into their peculiar practice of itinerant ministry); from college until Amy and I moved into our current home, the longest I kept an address was three years.

Note the word "until" in the last sentence, because as of today, I've set a new personal record.

We moved into this house four years and a day ago. For the first two years, we were renters, but then our property manager informed us the owner wanted to sell. We looked around the neighborhood for another rental, then hit on a crazy idea: what if we were to buy the house ourselves? And with that, the thin roots I'd put down in this house put on girth and dug themselves far deeper.

It helped that we had just gotten married in a simple ceremony deep in the heart of Forest Park, a place just up the road that we'd been exploring since our second date in 2009. It helped, too, that Amy's daughter Sarah was just starting high school, heralding a four-year commitment to the neighborhood. And finally, I was becoming more secure financial than I'd ever been, as I settled into my second year of full-time teaching across town in the Reynolds School District.

So here we are, and here I am, keeping an address longer than I ever have before. And here I will stay for the foreseeable future: the nasty cross-town commute to Reynolds will be replaced in September with the somewhat-less-nasty cross-suburb commute to Tualatin, and a position I intend to keep for the remainder of my career. The biggest reason for moving into Portland (a goal I've had since moving out here!) has evaporated: it won't put me any closer to work, and might actually increase my drive time.

All matters of convenience aside, I'm feeling an excitement that's very new to me. Over the course of my life, and the dozens of times I've moved, I've almost always felt some eagerness about moving, which has often felt like a cleaning of my personal slate. A new house! New neighborhood! New running routes! New restaurants! New new new! Usually there's been a new job to go with the new home, sometimes a new relationship as well. And in some places, there's been a sense of release attached to my departure. I've been well rid of some of my addresses, the most I've driven away from with at least a pang of regret.

The new frontier for me now is staying. What's it like to live in a neighborhood long enough to see it evolve? There's already some sense of that happening here: when we moved in four years ago, we were on the very northern edge of the unincorporated suburb of Bethany. Four years later, that edge has receded from us, as the farms to the north have been sold, subdivided, and built up into all new neighborhoods. The brand new school where Sarah went to fifth grade is now full to bursting, and another school is being built to accommodate the children moving into these developments. Meanwhile, the disconnected trails I've been running on since 2009 are being expanded, paved, and connected into a regional network. It's like living inside Sim City: I'm fascinated by the development process, wondering at one point our main intersection will be upgraded to have a stop light (rush hour traffic is already backing up for several blocks on Kaiser Road), when Springville Road will be widened and improved to encompass bike lanes and sidewalks, when the trails will finally climb the hill from Bethany to Skyline.

The greater frontier, though, is the house itself. From the outside, it's a house like any other in the neighborhood: at the time of its construction, in 1999, it was common to line streets with nearly identical homes. The only difference visible from outside is the size of the garage (ours is a 2-car, though we never park inside it). Our back patio is distinctive, but one actually has to see it to realize that. We've put our own stamp on that patio, filling the planter with roses, adding a Japanese maple, and furnishing it with seating for eight, as well as a small fire pit. During the summer, we spend plenty of time out there, eating, relaxing, and enjoying the roses.

Inside, we've been gradually upgrading since the purchase went through. We're putting the stamp of our personality on the house as we wouldn't have before we realized we'd be staying more than a few years: bold choices for the kitchen counters, non-neutral colors as we have the interior repainted. It's becoming a home that feels very much like our place, a place I'm always happy to come back to after a day at school or a week on vacation.

Most important, this is our house. This is something I've never really had before. As a college, grad school, and seminary student, I always lived in dorms. As a pastor, I lived in whatever house came with the church I served, and could make very few alterations to that home other than to request new carpet or curtains. As a single man during my post-ministry and early teaching years, I passed through a series of situations, from my room in the Peace House through two different apartments in Sherwood to a rental house in northeast Portland, two more apartments, and finally moving into Amy's apartment. At no point in that decade did I have any say in how those living spaces were put together, other than where my furniture and wall hangings were located.

Sharing this house with Amy, though, and having it be our house, is a whole new adventure for me. Anything we decide to do to the inside of this house is our decision to make, and for the most part, we make those decisions together. (There are some decisions where we authorize each other to make a choice of what plants or which audiovisual component to purchase, but the initial decision to make the purchase is still made together.) It's a heady thing to be making such decisions, to not simply have to accept and tolerate the limitations of a place because it doesn't belong to me and I'll be moving on to another one eventually, anyway.

But there's a much bigger adventure involved in this longer-than-usual address maintenance: planning ahead for the next stage in our lives. I'm 55 years old. Three weeks ago, I tripped and fell hard on a sidewalk while I was running. My knees are still recovering. I don't heal as fast as I used to, and for at least the first week, the stairs were a challenge. Barring any worse injuries (for my part, I am done with running on sidewalks), that won't be a major issue for us at least until I retire--but that's not as far off as I'd like it to be. At some point, we'll need a home without stairs. So as deeply as I'm settling into this house, and as happy as I am continuing to alter and upgrade it to better suit our lifestyle, the time will come when we have to find another.

All of this is new territory for me. I know many of my cohorts have been here far longer than I, owning their own homes, playing the long game that extends well into retirement. I've not been blessed with that kind of stability. In fact, achieving it now, living with it, soaking in it, extending it into the future, may just be the greatest adventure I've had thus far.

And as anyone who knows Amy and me can tell you, "Adventure!" is our middle name.

So here I go, setting a new record every day I wake up in this house, breaking that record every time I turn off the lamp and lay my head down on the pillow, and loving every minute of it.


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