Sunday, April 01, 2012

Leap of Faith ... Net

by Zinta Aistars

Guinnez watching, listening, scenting a Sunday dawn at Z Acres
I had been circling this property since December 2011, ten acres in southwest Michigan with a century-old red farmhouse, a pond, and several outbuildings. March 26, 2012, at long last, the day to close on the property had arrived. I had already named it: Z Acres. A play on the old sitcom of a city girl moved to the country, called "Green Acres." I wasn't quite a city girl, but I was moving from suburbia, a world of manicured lawns and sidewalks and street lights and neighbors close enough to hear you sneeze.

I had been counting the months, the weeks, the days, and finally, the hours. Through a half dozen addendums marking points of negotiations, the previous owner and I had circled and danced until we had come to a place of agreement. I would never meet her. The property was a summer retreat for her from her home in Chicago, but for me, it would be a year-long Home, with a capital H, and the last one where I would ever live, if I had anything to say about it.

I was in love with the place from the moment I'd set foot on it, back when it was deep in snow. Now, the pine woods surrounding the farmhouse dotted with daffodils and narcissus and snow drops, I had a few final pings of anxiety. After all, I had chosen not to sell my previous home, the one back in suburbia. I was keeping it as rental property. Not only was I going to be a farm woman for the first time in my life, I was also about to become a landlord for the first time.

Big move. Could I handle it? The responsibility of two mortgages, two households, one big dream? I had been whispering and muttering a long prayer all the way up from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, where the closing on the new property would take place. Leap of faith. Sixty miles of thumping heart.

I've heard it said that moving from one home to another is considered one of life's major stressors. I had moved more than 30 times in my life. The last time had been about 16 years ago, and that was the longest I had ever stayed in one place. Kalamazoo was not my birthplace, but it was a community I had grown to love. My network there was solid and strong. I was pleased not to be moving too far away. If I had thought about moving to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for many years, one of my previous homes I loved, too, then I had finally decided to remain in southwest Michigan. I didn't want to be 600 miles away from family ...

This all made good sense. But it was not without risk, and I kept whispering that prayer as I pulled into the parking lot of the title company, where a pile of papers nearly an inch high awaited my signature. I looked at the clock on my dashboard. Ten minutes to closing. It was just then that my cell phone blinked with a new message coming in.

I reached for the phone, reaching between and across boxes stacked roof-high in my little Honda Civic. Two chairs were stacked in back with the legs sticking up into the front. Originally, closing had been scheduled for the previous Friday, and I had had seven very good people, family and friends, lined up to help me move ... but a final glitch in negotiations, the seller still needing time to move out some of her belongings, had pushed the closing out to this Monday. I had no one to help me move on Monday. I was on my own.

I scrolled through the messages on my cell phone, even while watching the clock on my dash. I didn't recognize the name. I did recognize the company alongside her signature. She was the communications director from one of Kalamazoo's most prestigious companies. Headquartered in Kalamazoo, but with global reach, and a Fortune 500 company.

"You come HIGHLY recommended ... " the message began, and my eyes widened as I read. A friend had forwarded my resume (thank you, R.C.). She had a position to fill, and would have preferred to fill it, oh, yesterday, deadlines running up on her heels, but my resume had hit her just right, and would I be available for an interview today?


I blinked. My whispered prayer. The timing of this message. A Fortune 500 company, with a reputation of being one of the best places to work, well, just about anywhere. Was Somebody answering my prayer? With the help of a kind friend?

I quickly messaged back. I wasn't available for an in-person interview, I wrote, as I was a few minutes from closing 60 miles north of Kalamazoo, but perhaps a phone interview after closing?

A message quickly came back on my cell. Yes. I was given a phone number to call at noon.

No time to think, although this was a dazzling new twist in events. I  headed toward the building, where my mortgage broker and my real estate agent were already waiting for me. Along with that inch-thick stack of documents to sign.

Maybe this would all turn out just fine. No need for nerves, I thought as I signed, and signed, and signed. I didn't dawdle on any of the documents, impossible to read them all, and now I was watching the clock for noon, phone interview time.

And then it was done. I had signed the entire inch. My mortgage broker and my real estate agent both hugged me, laughing and congratulating. Wow. Z Acres was mine! It was really mine, at last, and I was now the proud owner of a beautiful piece of land, a tiny corner of the earth, mine.

But there was no time to get daydreamy. I had a job interview waiting ...

I sprinted to my overloaded car and slipped between the upended chair legs behind the steering wheel. It was nearly noon. I pulled into a quieter corner of the parking lot, cleared my throat, took a breath, and made the call.

We talked for a good half hour, maybe longer. I liked her. Apparently, she liked me, too, because she said as much and said she would really like to meet me in person. Today.


"I can't," I sighed. "It's moving day, and I am in Grand Rapids now, not in Kalamazoo, and I have surely a hundred boxes waiting ... but I do have tomorrow off from work. Would Tuesday do?"

"I'll buy you lunch," she said. "Bring your portfolio."

 Oh dear. Which box did I pack that in?

No time to ponder, I agreed to be in Kalamazoo on Tuesday at noon, at corporate headquarters and with my portfolio in hand. But now? Now I wanted more than anything to be on the farm ...

When I turned into the golden gates of Z Acres, first time as the owner, I smiled at the beauty. Each time I came here, there was something new I hadn't seen before. This time, these golden sentinels at either side of the driveway, forsythia bushes in full blossom. They were my first welcome Home.

I slipped the key in the door and sprang inside. "I'm home!" I called out, and my own echoes chuckled at me. How right it all felt. Just the right size, just the right setup of rooms, even the vintage stove from circa 1930 an invitation.

First, I had a thank you to say and a blessing to request. I went through the kitchen, a bright room of red and white, out to the deck that looked out over the back acres. I stood out on that deck, raising my face to the sky, and said my thank yous. And I asked for this new home to be blessed and all who pass through it, visitors, friends, family, my own animals, the good soil and the bounty it would grow, present and future. The sun came out from behind the clouds at that very moment and kissed my face, and I felt tears stream down my cheeks.

"I'm happy, " I said to the sky. "I am happy. I am home. At last, after a life of looking, I am home."

I wiped the wet from my face, and turned back to the house and then up to the drive, climbing the stairs up the hill that wound between trees, bordered by spring flowers. No time to waste. I had a lot of work to do, alone with all my boxes.

Up and down, up and down those stairs I skipped, one box after another in my hands. Soon as my car was emptied, I headed back to Kalamazoo for the next load. I would not be able to move the larger pieces of my furniture, but the seller had left quite a few pieces behind. Too much bother to move, perhaps, as she lived in Chicago and perhaps had no use for them. Two beds, a sofa, a kitchen table, a small desk, all were there for my use.

I called my parents on my way to my other home. Might they have time for a drive? I didn't want them to do any lifting, forbade them, in fact, but I sure could use the space in their mini van. They could sit on the deck and enjoy the view while I unpacked.

A couple trips later, the sun dipping low, I had moved more boxes than I could count anymore from one location to the other. And, I had my old chow pup, Guinnez, and my tortoiseshell cat, Jig, at the farmhouse with me. Enough for one day.

My nails broken, my arms bruised, my legs aching, exhausted, but brimming with joy, I finally joined my folks out back of the farmhouse. My father had put together a little deck table with two chairs, and my mother was already out in the garden weeding. She couldn't resist. She had the heart of a gardener. They both looked happy, too. If they'd had a few doubts and wonderings about my undertaking this property, they seemed at peace with it now. How could anyone not love this place ...

My old pup, on a long rope that was tied to a tree, was lying in the lush green grass chewing on a twig, as if he'd been here all along, instantly at home. My old cat had curled up on the couch inside for a nap. It was as if they knew. And approved.

I waved as my parents drove away, and I got to work inside, unpacking boxes. Most of them were unpacked by the time the night had grown dark. A crescent moon had appeared in the starry sky, and the night was filled with the sounds of unseen life, insect and creature. Three deer walked serenely across the dirt road, and I remembered how I had asked for a sign of three deer when I had to make a decision to make an offer on the property. I saw them then, I saw them again now. I would see many more in the coming days.

My first night Home. I fell into deep, sound sleep, never woke once, and in the morning arose refreshed. The moment I opened my eyes, I knew right away where I was, and I was glad.

I found my portfolio, brushed wrinkles from a pair of pants and a shirt and jacket, doing my best to put together an acceptable outfit from the clothes for an interview I had brought over. I couldn't help laughing when I drove into the parking lot outside of corporate headquarters, where my interview would take place. This was less than two miles from my previous home. After five years of commuting 110 miles a day to work, might I find a new career unfolding so close to home I might have walked? Except, of course, that I had now moved quite a long distance north of town ... the irony did not escape me.

And there it was: the job offer. We talked over lunch for more than an hour. I looked at the project underway that I would be managing, and she paged through my portfolio, making satisfyingly enthused comments about various pieces of my writing. She didn't usually make job offers this quickly, she finally said, but this just felt right. She didn't have to wait to decide.

Neither did I.

Deal. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, and on the next day I would go back to my old office and let my superiors know. I had found a new place to work, and I couldn't help but feel this was exactly the way it was all supposed to be. My new home, a new job, a new life. With no time to waste, I would start working here a week from the next day.

Interview done, deal reached, I zipped back to my old house to pack another load of boxes and dishes and clothes. I had another day of packing and unpacking ahead of me.

There was another moment for me out on the back deck. It was quickly turning into my place to go when I felt my heart brimming with gratitude or a request for help. I was astounded by these puzzle pieces falling together so seamlessly. It felt like nothing short of divine intervention. If I had felt anxiety about all that I was taking on with Z Acres, I could lay that all aside now. A new home, a new job, it really was a new life. Close one door, open another.

I was exhausted from this non-stop activity, change, transformation, development, but I was also brimming with joy. Looking back on my life, I wasn't sure I could use such descriptives as happy, fortunate, blessed, but I felt all of those things now. I felt them as I glimpsed the future.

I felt the power of place flow into me, and my energy surged.

Back to work. A couple more runs from one house to the other, packing as much as I could on each run. So that they wouldn't accumulate, I unpacked each box as soon as I carried it in. Then I went back for more.

Three days later, I said a fond farewell to my colleagues at my old job. I was floating on air, and I very nearly skipped from one office to another to touch base with everyone I had worked alongside for the past five years. Not that there wasn't a taint of sadness ... there was. This had been my daily routine for so long. I had learned much at this place. I had written some wonderful stories about wonderful people. I had learned to be a better editor. I had made friends, some of which I was sure to keep even after dropping off the key to my office.

More packing, as I cleaned out my desk, my files, notified clients, signed various papers that go with the conclusion of one career before starting another. It was pouring a cold rain as I sprinted to my car one last time from my old office, a lamp under one arm, a box of personal items under the other. I had to make it home by 4 p.m. because my new supervisor had requested me to call in for a phone conference with four new colleagues to discuss a report, nearly 200 pages long, that I would have to read over the weekend.

So it went. One seam sewed into the next, no space between. I ran through the rain at Z Acres to get to my new little desk, where the report awaited me, dialing in to the phone conference as I ran, letting my rain-drenched coat drop off one shoulder as I sat down. I heard introductions over the phone line and I acknowledged them, yes, here I am, all yours now.

Life is going to slow down at some point, isn't it? It is. I think. But this threshold crossed has been one of the most remarkable I've ever experienced. I encountered no resistance. The path unfolded before me, a red carpet unrolling as fast as I could run.

Crawling under the covers in my new bedroom, my dog curled at my feet, my cat curled at my head, flames twinkling in the fireplace, a book balanced on my stomach to read until sleep, I wondered at the sweetness flowing through me. This is joy. This is life well lived, risks taken, nets appearing as I leapt, and a network of good people surrounding me like a protective shield. Yes, of course, more trials and no doubt more tribulations await. There is much about farming I don't understand. There are bound to be challenges in this new job. There will be bruises, there will be moments of sadness.

But I'm Home now. And I have learned how to trust in the process, even when it gets scary. This place is my source of strength. This land, and the power up there, overhead, will hold me when I make my next leap.

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