It was a cool fall day ten years ago when Dan, my husband, pulled our banged-up Volvo station wagon to the side of a country road and waved his hand toward the nearby woods.
“This is it!” he beamed.
I looked. I saw trees.
“Here?” I questioned him. “Right here?”
He pointed to a “For Sale” sign stapled to a tree and nodded.
I pulled my rather pregnant self out of the front seat, unbuckled the seat belts of four-year-old Kateri, three-year-old Eamon, and baby Ambrose in the backseat, and the five of us marched boldly into the woods.
There was no path. A gold and crimson carpet of fallen leaves crunched underfoot. Dan went ahead, pointing out uneven spots and holding branches out of the way for his lumbering wife and toddling preschoolers behind him.
After a short while, he stopped and we stood beside him. I looked back but could no longer see the road. Trees and heavy branches were thick in all directions.
Dan knelt on the rocky ground before us and brushed aside some leaves, revealing a patch of bare soil. It was only then that I noticed he had brought along a shovel. Its metal blade cut into the earth as Dan turned over the soil. He pushed the shovel into the earth again and Eamon squatted beside him, watching.
As he dug, I squinted through the treetops above to see a clear blue spot of sky, framed by leafy branches. Dappled sunlight filtered through the autumn leaves and danced on the baby’s face as he slept in my arms.
After several more shovelfuls, Dan knelt to scoop soil from the hole and filled a small plastic cup from a soil test kit. He tightened its lid and looked around with satisfaction.
I saw trees. But he saw something more.
The soil test was just the beginning. In the following weeks and months, trees were cleared, a well was dug, and a frame was put in place for a foundation. The day we were scheduled for a concrete delivery, Dan gathered medals of our favorite saints — Mary, Joseph, Michael, Kateri, and Anne. These he placed in the corners before the concrete was poured. Our house would be built upon tangible bits of our faith. Our heavenly friends were here for good. And so were we.
When I was a girl and thought of being married and having a house one day, I imagined it would be the kind of house I grew up in — a split entry ranch in the suburbs with a manicured yard and a swing set. I loved my house growing up. I still do.
I never imagined that when I had a home of my own it would be because we cut through a thick patch of wilderness to build it. I never thought that I’d live in a house where every square inch was planned and put into place by my husband’s own calloused hands. I couldn’t have known that I would watch Dan spend years cutting wood, framing walls, and sanding floors to shape this small patch of earth into the vision he saw that day in the woods.
Late last night, after the kids had fallen asleep in their beds, Dan and I were awake in our room. Cool night air rushed in through screened windows as we lay in the dark, talking, laughing, and at last falling silent, waiting for sleep.
Outside, bright stars twinkled against a black velvet sky. Darkness hung thick in the woods around us as our children lay silently sleeping inside. As I do each night, I thought of each child asleep in his bed and asked God to watch over them and fill them with His grace. I thought too of the spot in the woods where Dan cut into the earth on that autumn afternoon long ago.
I know now that Dan’s vision in the woods was only a little bit about the house. Here inside these walls is something more precious than that. These small souls we are raising and this family we are building are a bigger dream still. A house is just a house. But home is wherever we are. Together.