I had sought a year-long pastoral internship in the middle of my seminary education, and in part to restore a relationship with the Methodist Church that had disappeared since I had been studying at a non-Methodist seminary. My prospective supervisor had flown to Chicago to interview me, and in that process he had offered two housing options for my little family of soon-to-be three. One option was a small house two doors from the church which was now occupied by a young family who would have to be given notice to vacate. The second option was a one bedroom cottage with a small kitchen a few blocks away from the church. The cottage was already vacant. Since we were already living in a furnished efficiency apartment and would return to similar circumstances after the internship, the latter option made the most sense to me, not making someone else move for our benefit. (This was forty years before the advent of the tiny house movement, although nomadic furniture was in style.)
When the owner, Don Freeman, showed me the “cottage,” I thought I had made a big mistake. It was a two-car garage that had been converted into an apartment many years before, situated on an alley with no yard of its own. Covered with gray faux-brick asphalt roll shingles, an oil tank was the other conspicuous feature on the outside. Entering the small living room, I smelled the oil heater that occupied a corner of the room. The kitchenette sat to the left with the only closet (or pantry) next to it, and the bedroom and a small bathroom occupied the second stall of the original garage. It was about the same size as our Chicago apartment, with just enough room for a crib and baby’s dressing table next to a double bed. In such a small confined space it could be a difficult year for Jan and our baby. I asked Don to provide a full closet in the bedroom and to make arrangements as soon as possible to replace the oil heater with a fully vented gas wall furnace. Don had already paneled and recarpeted the interior, but he took my suggestions in stride. Since he was donating the space for a year, and he had a wife and five young children living in the four-square house at the front half of the lot, he had already committed about as much as anyone could expect. I had to make plans for air-conditioning—a small window unit would work—and the needed furniture.
Living in trust that God would provide had been our mode for several years. How else could we explain getting married with no money in the bank, moving to Chicago, starting graduate studies with no jobs lined up, Jan taking a job in the heart of the south-side slums, and then having our first child? This would surely be a test of that resolve and our marriage.
What I had not taken into account was the character of the family we inherited with the cottage. As full of trials and challenges as any family, the Freemans—Don and Sonja and their children, Donnie, Kathy, Carol, David, and Alice—accommodated and taught us as much or more, living in close proximity and grace, as the internship would teach me. Their laundry, workshop, and lives opened to us, and their experiences, Don as a trusted banker and active layman, Sonja as an extraordinarily loving mother and talented church secretary, the children with their enthusiasms and growing pains, became a part of our extended family experience of love and self-giving.
We probably would have not have chosen to live in that house if we had seen it before making our decision. That would have been the mistake. We were blessed.