“Nice swimming pool,” our guest said with a dry smirk. A friend of our builder’s had dropped by to say hello and to check in our renovation progress. Curiously, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone say those words.
The first time our future home was dubbed a swimming pool was three years ago. Wanting to accommodate our growing family, we had sold our apartment on the outskirts of Tallinn and moved into a wooden apartment closer to the city. After completely gutting the apartment and digging out the basement, a good friend peered in the door and issued his conclusion. Thankfully, that project turned into something much more than a swimming pool.But when the congregation in Rapla asked me to be their pastor this April, we decided that this time we’d be on the lookout for something that was a bit more ready-to-go. After canvassing Rapla’s neighborhoods and visiting a handful of houses, we returned to the first place we’d seen, a 50 year old house across the street from a park and just down the block from the church. The house needed new windows and a new roof but otherwise looked ready to go. In the early summer we invited friends and family over to grill in the backyard and got to work mowing and manicuring. But we were in for some surprises.
I knew there were a couple of spots in the floor that needed investigation so I got to work lifting boards. What I discovered rearranged our summer and our budget completely. Floor joists in roughly 60% of the first floor were rotten and needed replacing. In order to change those out, we had to pull up the floor in its entirety. In order to pull up the floor, we needed to pull down a couple of interior walls. In pulling down walls, we discovered that in virtually every place where a dormer was situated upstairs, we had rot issues in the downstairs walls. So by the time our builder’s guest peered into the house in early August, our new “ready-to-go house” in Rapla was yet again more swimming pool than home.
We had planned a summer of few commitments, time to reflect and plan ahead, freedom to relax together and worship in other people’s churches, and we were looking forward a visit from my parents and two youngest brothers. While we certainly could have used a summer like that to transition, all of these arrangements enabled us to refocus the summer on a demanding and time-sensitive building project. Friends and family came to help out and we hired a builder from the Viimsi congregation. One Monday, after having mentioned our project in a sermon the day before, a contingent from the Rapla congregation showed up to pull nails, stack firewood (read “floorboards”) and clear the yard of debris. Even my family, upon arrival for their vacation in Estonia, dutifully went to work on the house and building a woodshed and mammoth sandbox for the kids.
After my folks left, we kept on plugging away at the house hoping to move in by our deadline on the 17th of August. But unfortunately our builder was taken out by health problems in the final week. While he was recovering, I kept pushing on by myself and made some meager progress in the bathroom, but we lost some significant ground. We were pretty depressed. The worst of it was the night that Lea and I stayed up late to grout the kitchen tiles by flashlight. The kids were upstairs (or rather, up-ladder) trying to play in the dark. We had no warm water or electricity and Matilda had left a trail of diarrhea through the bedrooms after going through two previous pairs of clothes. Lea was on her hands and knees weeping as she scrubbed tiles and there was no way to console her but to finish the job. That was a pretty dark and dreary night.
When our builder was able to return we hired on an additional hand and got back to work. A day or two before the move, friends showed up to help us pound out wiring and plumbing and all of a sudden things started falling into place. Later that day the stairs went in and all of a sudden the house was usable: upstairs safely accessible, lights in the rooms we needed, tile in the kitchen and bath, and hot running water. Predictably, that was the dam break that allowed us to begin making order. Clothes could finally be put away upstairs. Kitchen cupboards and appliances moved out of storage and into place in the kitchen. Boxes were emptied and burned. Lea could even buy and hang curtains. Rooms started to reappear from beneath piles of plastic and Styrofoam packaging. When the living room emerged, the guys quickly laid down subfloor and – wallah – usable space!
We are still far from done, but we are able to live and function and can keep our renovation somewhat segregated from living space. Along the way, we have had some downright amazing signs that God is looking out for us, in spite of the fact that very few people outside of Estonia actually knew the state of things. Our guest room still needs a floor, half of the house still has un-insulated walls and our new windows will arrive in October. If we can make it happen, we may try to put in ground heat for our radiant floor heating system. There is presently no escape from the maddening dust storm, but sources of debris are slowly drying up and the end of this stage is in site.
Now there is in fact more to our life than building! Beyond our fence lies the delightful town of Rapla. Within a few hundred meters we can access the park, our schools, grocery shopping, a handful of diners and the main Rapla drag. The kids have all now settled in to their various schools and are making the transition nicely. Matilda is so independent that she had an easier transition into kindergarten than I had letting her go. Kevin is really enjoying the freedom and familiarity of small town life. His desk-mate lives just down the street and he’s been making friends quickly. Miriam adores (that’s the right word for Miriam) her school and her teachers and her friends and her dog and her life. Despite the unfinished house, it’s the most space we’ve ever had and they seem to really love it.
Lea has also been pleasantly surprised by her new work environs. She says the staff is much more friendly (if a little nosy). The kids are not as driven as Tallinn kids were. But I suppose that’s to be expected when you’re not constantly competing with the faceless masses. Her schedule is pretty full at the moment because she has some new courses (teaching Finnish!), some new methods, and her classes are really full. But she has Fridays free to accommodate her degree studies twice a month.In August I preached a series on 1 John as a run-up to the Fall season. On September 2nd, I was installed as Rapla’s pastor in a service that was really meaningful and encouraging. My first act in my new capacity was to baptize five young people from the youth group. The baptism took place in an elder’s swimming pool on a rainy afternoon making moot any debate of dunking versus sprinkling.
In a word, our new reality in Rapla has rushed right up into view and we’re moving into it as best we can. Please keep our family in your prayers as we push to finish our renovation before the onset of winter and as we continue to grow into our new life in Rapla.