Like the moments between buying a lottery ticket and learning you’d lost

Our story so far: We decided to give up the nomadic life, and an old Methodist church appears in the real estate listings. Chapter 1 continues …

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I had wanted to buy and renovate an old church for ages. Not as long as I had been playing office as a little girl, but for at least a couple of decades. The cathedral ceilings, wide-open loft-like layout and character details like stained glass appealed to me.

In fact, my husband Tyler and I had looked seriously at a church only a year ago. It was on tree-lined street in Pecatonica, Illinois. At the time, we had been serious enough about buying the 125-year-old structure and converting it to our home that we’d met with an electrician, a plumber, a plasterer and a window installer getting guesstimates on renovation costs; it was a zoo that day with contractors crawling around inside and outside the building. We were what they call in the trade, “serious buyers.” I wanted that church so bad then. I thought it would be the perfect answer to a wish I’d made 10 years before.

I was living a tumultuous year then. One so ridiculous and unbelievable, I wrote a book about it. But to summarize, it was the year I moved out of the house I shared with my husband of 16 years; eventually, we divorced.

Among the entries in a diary I’d kept during that time was a page where I described in list form (of course) how I envisioned the rest of my life. What is important to know is that I made this list when I was no longer coupled and before I met Tyler, the man to whom I am now married, so theoretically, this list reflected my true wishes, unaffected by anyone else with whom I might be living.

Near the top of the list, I wrote that I wanted to live in a loft in the city.

Well, that didn’t happen.

When we were considering the church in Pecatonica, we lived in a big box of a house in the suburbs. It had 9-foot ceilings and what some might consider an open floor plan, but no one would consider it loft-like.

The church in Pecatonica was a smokin’ deal, and by hot I mean it would have cost less than most cars. Let’s just say, it needed a lot of work, otherwise known as a blank canvas to take on every Pinterest dream associated with “loft,” “barn,” “converted church” and “open floor plan.” And the church was located in the center of, well, I think technically Pecatonica was a village, so “city” is a stretch, but to be fair, it was within walking distance of the post office, hardware store and local watering hole. And I thought it was destiny that I might be Monica from Pecatonica.

messy filesI kept everything about the church in a neatly labeled accordion file with folders for “flooring,” “taxes,” “real estate” and “budgets.” As we made our offer, contingent on an inspection, we also salvaged a chunk of the flooring to get it tested for asbestos. Asbestos, as you may or may not know, was commonly used in building materials in the mid-20th century. And it causes cancer.

The church flooring was full of the stuff.

So we rescinded our offer.

I was disappointed, no denying it. But for about three weeks, it was like the time between buying a lottery ticket and learning you’d lost. Those 48 hours when you might win $400 million dollars is filled with extravagant fantasies, and fantasizing is fun. So I was like, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” you know the drill.

Back then, a year ago, we decided that instead of buying a church, we would sell our home and travel the country in our RV. So I threw my disappointed energy into cleaning out the house in anticipation of selling it. I dumped literally a ton of paperwork and went to the Goodwill at least seventeen times donating accumulated junk we would no longer need. What we valued but couldn’t bring with us in the camper, we packed into a cargo trailer.

One of the things that made its way into the storage trailer was that folder with information about a church we had decided not to buy. By every account, it was meaningless and I should have thrown it away. But I still had a secret desire for a church. I believed words had real power in the universe, and I think there’s a big difference between praying “God, just get me through tomorrow” and “God, please bless me.” One is a desperate plea and one is hopeful prayer. Words matter. Intentions have power.

Now, in the moments between looking at the Methodist church online and getting to see it in person, I remembered that folder of information about the Pecatonica church. And I thought I remembered precisely where I’d stored it. So I dug up the key to the cargo trailer, and I put my hands on that folder within five seconds of opening the door. Between the shadeless lamps and tubs labeled “winter clothes,” I’d filed the paperwork of dreams right inside the door.

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Tomorrow: Our first in-person look at the old Methodist church. Click here.

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