Dreams Fulfilled & Contested

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10 ESV).

Six-and-half years into our marriage, Joshua and I realized one of our greatest dreams: we bought a house. Exactly seven years into our marriage (after 48 months of trying), The Lord answered another deep longing: we got pregnant. For some people, these things come so easily. But it’s never been that way for us. We cried and prayed and budgeted and saw doctors, and after much turmoil and heartache and trusting God to be who He says He is–the ultimate Provider–He gave us our hearts’ desires. And yet, even as we’re ready to grab ahold of the dream, there’s still conflict to overcome.

The house we bought is a fixer-upper. After we closed on the property in October 2013, Joshua and I went right to work tearing down old sheetrock, exposing beadboard, and ripping up carpet and linoleum to reveal beautiful, original hardwoods. The house was built in 1900, before indoor plumbing and electric heat, so the bathroom is awkwardly combined with a circa-1970s laundry room addition off to the side of one bedroom. The original wood-burning stoves were vented into the attic instead of the outdoors and have coated the rafters in a thick layer of 100-year-old soot. We’re never short on vision, and it was exciting to dive into transforming this mill house into our modern haven. Our plan was to do a basic overhaul, move in, figure out how we live in the space, decide on the final plans, move out, and THEN do the final renovation.

Joshua grew up doing construction with his dad–a fact I am daily grateful for–but we had no intention of doing all the renovation work ourselves. Instead we hired a team to put up new sheetrock after we finished demolition. But once the January weather turned bitterly cold, the crew couldn’t work. The old oil heater was completely out of juice, and we weren’t about to spend money on new oil. Cue the HVAC installation. My kitchen dreams often center around a gas stove, so it made financial and practical sense to have a gas heater to go along with the air-conditioning unit. The HVAC crew got pretty far into their work before they discovered we don’t have a gas line on our street. This was a shock since Joshua called Piedmont Natural Gas back in December to make sure our area had their service. The Piedmont rep assured us we were good-to-go. WRONG. The gas line ends on Pendleton Street, 300 feet from our new house. The drywall guys couldn’t finish their work until we had heat, and now it turned out Piedmont wouldn’t put a line on the street just for us. They needed at least 3 customers. And none of our residential neighbors were interested.

Our house is right next to the now defunct Brandon Mill (Shoeless Joe Jackson’s first job and baseball gig), so there’s an interesting conglomeration of commercial buildings nearby. The denture office next door was very excited to switch to natural gas in order to lower their monthly bill, and it turns out the Baptist church across the street wanted to switch too. Bingo! Except the church couldn’t approve the change without the deacons agreeing together first. This is a comically difficult thing to achieve. The Piedmont gas representative assured us he was on the case and would inform us of progress ASAP. That was in March.

If you’ve ever seen the Tom Hanks movie The Money Pit or read any home renovation article in Domino Magazine or Dwell you might be having visions of hubby falling through the roof or shady-looking contractors. But none of our home problems were standard issue. After numerous inspections by Joshua, his general-contractor father, and a hired inspector, we knew exactly what we were getting into when we bought this little mill house structure. No, our difficulties were caused by things completely out of our control: the weather, poor utility services common to low-income neighborhoods, and Baptist church politics.

By this time the weather was warm again, so the drywall crew came back to finish their work after the HVAC guys completed their install without hooking the heat up to any source (we’d only need air-conditioning in the summer anyways). We confidently hoped that by autumn 2014 Piedmont would have won the battle with the neighborhood church and gotten the deacons to sign a contract.

In April I was excited to plant the vegetable and herb garden I’d been dreaming of for a few years. So I pulled out all my seeds, tilled the soil, added compost, and got to work. In the months of waiting on drywall, HVAC, etc. Joshua and I thought we’d make ourselves useful and clean up the severely overgrown yard. We spent the time trimming trees, training wisteria, moving cactus, and now it was finally time to add something to the landscape. After an afternoon hunched over seed packets and my meticulously companion planted schematic, I reached for the hose and turned on the faucet. Nothing. No water. I called hubby to relay the situation, and he informed me that the winter freeze had given us a huge leak under the kitchen. He kept the water turned off at the street unless we needed to use the bathroom on a work day. Damn.

Joshua called a plumber to get a thorough diagnosis, and sure enough, the leak under the house wasn’t our only issue. All the pipes from the house to the street are old cast iron and are rotting from the inside and out. Everything needed to be replaced. Something we definitely hadn’t budgeted for. We needed a new plan.

But first, we needed a vacation. At the end of May, we headed off to Palm Springs for our seventh anniversary. It was lovely and relaxing and exactly what the doctor ordered. After we got home to Greenville, we decided to contact an architect friend to help us go a more “traditional” route with this renovation: instead of our renovate-move in-move out-renovate again plan, we’d have the architect give us scale drawings first, then get contractor bids, and finally go to the bank for a loan. Renovate, move in, never move out. Maybe what we should’ve done from the beginning.

Here’s where we got another surprise, a happy one. After four years of trying to start a family, we were finally pregnant! As if we didn’t want to be in our house enough already, the prospect of adding a new human to the mix upped the ante even more.

In July we announced the pregnancy and started meeting with the midwife. In the first few weeks everything seemed to be going beautifully. Then I had some spotting. I went in for a sonogram at 6 weeks, and it showed a strong heartbeat! The midwife assured us this was a great sign; that something would have to go seriously wrong for this pregnancy to end in miscarriage. The spotting seemed to stop, so we had nothing to worry about. Then at 9 weeks, I felt a gush of blood while standing in the kitchen. I was really nervous, but prayed and talked to myself and the baby, saying over and over, “It’s ok. It’s ok. We’re ok.” I made another appointment with the midwife for the next day.

At 9 weeks and 5 days Joshua and I went to the doctor to have an ultrasound. Greenville Midwifery partners with some obstetricians across the street at the hospital, so the second sonogram was in their office. We saw our sweet little niño/a with a strong heartbeat, squirming around in black and white on the screen. The appointment seemed to be going well when the nurse casually said she saw some space between the baby’s spine and skin. We didn’t know what that meant, except she suggested I get some blood work done before we left the office.

An OBGYN met us in the next room and talked us through the benefits of getting a chromosome test for the baby. I knew a bit about chromosome tests and had decided I didn’t want one. Legally doctors and midwives have to offer these tests, which highlight genetic abnormalities that would indicate Down Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, and other issues. If anything strange shows up in the results, it gives mothers the option to have a first trimester abortion. We wanted this baby no matter what, so I wasn’t interested in having lab work done that would cost us out of pocket and ostensibly just make me worry. But here we were, almost 10 weeks into our first pregnancy, and the doctor is telling us it won’t cost us anything since the sonogram showed we need it. So Joshua and I thought, ok why not? More information is better, right? Not to mention we could find out the sex of our baby early! It seemed like the right decision.

At 12 weeks I got a call from the OBGYN with the test results. Sitting in the kitchen, I listened as the she explained our baby has a strong risk for something called Monosomy X. Every person gets 23 chromosomes from each parent, and the 23rd pair decides a person’s sex. XX is a girl, and XY is a boy. The test indicated our baby has only one X, meaning it’s a girl who might have Turner syndrome. Girls with Turner syndrome can have some physical deformities, heart trouble, difficulty with math, and are likely to be infertile. We scheduled a diagnostic sonogram for the next day.

At 12 weeks and 3 days we saw our baby again, in black and white, squirming and cute. The doctor looked for specifics in the structure of baby’s heart, but it was still too early to see any problems there. We were thrilled to hear they DIDN’T see evidence of a cystic hygroma this time (the space between the spine and skin that indicated a possible chromosomal abnormality). I asked if the test results I’d gotten were 100% positive the baby is a girl, or just likely it’s a girl. The nurse explained it was likely, but not 100% certain. Finally Joshua and I met with a genetic counselor. She wrote down our ethnicities, any genetic issues with us or our parents, heart trouble, blood pressure, etc. The counselor told us our next step, should we want further testing, was an amniocentesis or CVS test, both of which are very invasive. We didn’t want either. We want this baby to have every chance of developing normally in this pregnancy, and taking amniotic fluid or tissue samples compromises that chance too much. We decided that after the baby is born, we’ll have some blood drawn from the umbilical cord to confirm whether or not our child has Monosomy X and Turner Syndrome.

I am no stranger to supernatural medical intervention from the Lord. In 1995 I was in a massive car accident, hit by an SUV on a highway, thrown over and 8-foot median, underwent numerous surgeries, and left in a coma for 5 days. At the end of which I awoke knowing who I was, and after months of rehab, I could think, talk, walk, and run like any normal 15-year-old. My mother has had more surgeries than I have, including a spinal fusion and gallbladder removal, not to mention repeated ovarian cysts that always miraculously disappeared. Joshua’s mother, it turns out, has an abnormality with chromosome 13 that indicates she’d never be able to have children. She and my father-in-law were given this diagnosis a few years ago, after both their children were in their 30s and happily married. Our God is a God of miracles, loving and faithful no matter the circumstance, always working to accomplish greater than we can ask or imagine.

Now it is late-September 2014. Almost a year after Joshua and I bought our home. 17 weeks into our pregnancy and 3 weeks from finding out the sex of our baby. We finally have drawings of the house from the architect, and we’ve met with two contractors to get bids on the job. Soon we’ll visit with lenders to see if anyone is willing to give us money to do the renovation. Joshua and I are praying some big prayers, and we’d be so grateful if you’d pray with us. God healed me and made me new after the accident, and He can give our baby another sex chromosome. We’re praying for another X, or a Y if the Lord wants this little one to be a boy. We’re praying for a completely healthy child, with no issues or deformities, a person who will grow in grace and beauty, in favor with God and man. And we’re praying for a home to raise our family in, the home we bought at 15 Calder Street. For amazing contractors to give an estimate within our hopeful budget, and for a bank or lender who will be excited to give us the money to do it. We’ve been paying for two places to live for 10 months, and we’re still trying to get out of debt with student loans and credit cards. We need a miracle. And that’s what our God does.