According to Celtic mythology, “a thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.” I first wrote of this concept in The Love of My Life | Can You Imagine? just before Christmas in 2016. I wrote of Teo’s, my favorite espresso and gelato shop just across from Seton Hospital. I could sit there and look up at 7 North and see the room where Maureen and I last held hands on this side of heaven before she passed on the morning of October 21, 2014. Our home at 4005 Skillet Cove in Spicewood has always been that kind of “thin place,” too. As I wrote earlier this week in The Light of a Lantern | The Light of Love, Maureen and I found this thin place when we moved to Austin from Chicago in 1994.
I would glimpse the glory of God just sitting with Maureen on that hill having tamales and Gatorade in 1996 when there was nothing more than oaks and cedars. I would glimpse the glory of God watching her crafting the plans that would become our home. I would glimpse the glory of God as the foundation was poured; the framing nailed in place; the stones stacked; and the flooring, cabinets, and fixtures installed. Our home of 23 years was never just a house. It was a thin place, and together, Maureen and I glimpsed the glory of God as Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn came into the world, came home to this house. For you see, as I have reflected the last six years on my love for Maureen and the gift of almost the 26 years we had together on this side of heaven, I have realized that Maureen herself was and is a thin place. She is the glory of God, and God’s love and my love for her let me see it. I like to joke that obviously God is in charge, but Maureen is my tuning fork in heaven. Our love connects us and shows up in thin places.
As I noted in Part 1 of this story, “It dawned on Kyla and I, as we were walking, that 2020 was going to be a big year of change for our family. Her acceptance to the University of Virginia had not yet happened, nor had the global pandemic of COVID-19, but we knew that this was still going to be a significant year. When she headed to college, it would just be Katelyn and I. We knew that our cocoon of love was springing forth its butterflies. We knew that these 2 1/2 acres, this little slice of heaven, would be too much for just her younger sister and I. We knew that the increasing traffic of 71 and the growth past Bee Cave and out to Spicewood was consuming more and more time to navigate. We knew. We knew it was time to sell. What we didn’t know, though, was just how this whole process was going to play out.”
Two thin places collided the morning after Kyla and my walk back in January. As you might imagine, Maureen and I made many momentous decisions together over the years. She knew me like no other, and so navigating a decision was always easier together. This was a big one, and she weighed in, using our tuning fork of love and our thin places. I literally shook as I got the text, because as I read it, I knew the message. I knew the messenger. One of my thin places, Teo’s, was being stewarded at the time by someone that had converted it to Caffe Teo, while Matt, the founder, grew his gelato business at HEB and now, many other grocery stores around the country. With Austin’s changing real estate environment, I knew there were tough business decisions to be made in the new year. When Becca texted that morning in January after our big decision, I knew. Her text? “Hey Gary, you may want to come visit before the end of the month. Teo’s is closing.” Wow! Just wow. Maureen spoke the only way she could speak. The only way I could hear. Through our thin places, I knew it was time to navigate forward to a new chapter. Teo’s closing was the end of a chapter. Selling our house was to be the end of a chapter, too. New chapters were about to be written.
Having not sold or bought a house in over 25 years, the next step was clearly to reach out to a realtor. I was blessed by a friend of many, many years that had left the technology business and has built an amazing career as a realtor. What is a beautiful and important piece of this part of the story and the next thin place is the fact that this friend was the former partner of a dear Apple friend. His partner, Ron, and I had worked together in the 1990s in Austin, and he took over as Account Manager at Apple for the University of Texas at Austin when I headed to law school in 1997. You might recall from Part 1 that starting law school coincided with moving into our new house and my new lantern. With a busy real estate practice, my friend referred me to his nephew, John Richardson, at Realty Austin. Little did I realize what a gift, what a thin place, this would be. John asked me the question, “how well do you know Chris?” As I answered, he chuckled. That Apple friend I mentioned now lives in California, but he is the godfather of Katelyn, Maureen and my youngest. Ron officiated at John’s wedding. As John told me, though, Ron had trouble pronouncing his wife’s name. It isn’t that they didn’t know each other well. It was just that Ron kept calling Kayla, Kyla. John laughed as it dawned on both of us that Maureen’s hand was on this part of the process, too. Through Kyla, she had found yet another thin place.
As we started to make preparations to sell and create a punch list of items to repair or replace before going on the market, we were hit by a curve ball, the same curve ball that has hit us all as the COVID-19 global pandemic has caused so many to rethink so much of daily life. Rather than being on the market in March, selling in April, and moving in May before Kyla’s graduation, we suddenly didn’t know what was going to unfold next. That, and an infestation of oak wilt that made itself manifest as the leaves of spring didn’t bloom on some of our trees, suddenly made me wonder. Really? With all these thin places, I thought we were on the right track. However, as Taylor noted in a recent video piece for our church, All Saint’s, quoting Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We may have a plan, but God has another plan. Looking back, I now realize this period of time was a silver lining. For all of my anger as to why there was even oak wilt in our neighborhood, for the next several days and weeks, Kyla and I cleared trees. Cutting. Dragging. And, singing. A silly dad putting silly words to an old pre-school song and singing about branches. As my “little girl,” Kyla heads to Charlottesville today, I smile and cry thinking about that time with her. It was a silver lining. A gift of time. Together. A father and his daughter.
Silver linings wrapped themselves around this, our cocoon of love, many more times over the ensuing weeks. God, and Maureen, knew that the love of this house would not be complete until her “little boy,” Taylor, was home one more time, after studying at her mom and dad’s near Beaufort, South Carolina and finishing his Third Year at the University of Virginia online. God, and Maureen, knew that Henry and Ann, her dad and mom, had to be with us all one more time in this thin place, this cocoon of love. We all worked together in late May and early June, as they came to Austin for Kyla’s graduation. We painted together. We caulked together. We cleaned together. We shared love together.
We never know we are in the midst of a silver lining until we look back and reflect, but thin places always give you a “God shiver,” as another of our youth put it in the same video piece for All Saint’s I mentioned earlier. And, the next two thin places are just that, the realization that love was guiding the sale of our home, that the divine had lifted the veil between heaven and earth.
We chose to list our house on July 14. As we were finally wrapping up the repairs and getting photos taken, John Richardson and I were talking about the week of July 13 to list. Usually, you list on a Thursday to capture weekend buyers. However, I knew immediately the day to list was going to be Tuesday. I knew that Maureen and my love that was always part of this house had to be part of this moment. Tuesday, July 14 was our 30th wedding anniversary. What I didn’t know what was about to come next. We listed that morning, and within hours, we had showings at 3pm, 4pm, and 5pm that same day. After all the work, all the stress, it was a relief to know there was active interest.
Two days later we had an offer. We knew there was even more interest, possible offers, and that a bidding war could actually ensue. But, we also knew that it wasn’t just price that was driving our decision. We wanted a family that would love the home as much as we had. As we negotiated, the buyer’s agent forwarded a note the wife of our potential buyers had sent a few days earlier. She reflected on how they had been searching for months, for the right house, for a slice of nature, for acreage, and how they had almost given up and yielded to building themselves. But at 4pm on a Tuesday, she and her husband walked into our home and saw the architect and the love in all that made 4005 Skillet Cove more than a house. They saw the chance to keep their promise to their three boys to be in a home just like this one. And as we discovered during their final walkthrough before closing, they, too, love the God we love. They knew they were in a thin place. And, as I told them later, 4pm, the time of their showing, was 30 years to the hour of Maureen and my wedding vows at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. No greater sign that love can truly transcend all. A thin place. A thin time.
As Steve Jobs would joke at the end of his keynotes, “there is one more thing.” He became known for it. Audiences would laugh. Well, there is one more thing to this story, too. One more thin place. For all that have sold a home, they know there is a buyer’s inspection. We had extended the option period a few days to allow our buyers a little extra time, but as the kids and I, along with Taylor’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, drove into Estes Park for our week at Rocky Mountain National Park, I was starting to wonder. We were in day six of a seven day option period. I was a little frustrated actually. I wanted to hike and not worry about “the deal.” We decided to stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, before camping. The kids and I had stayed here with Maureen and the son of one of her Belgian cousins many years earlier. It was a special place. We had shared love, the love of family here. As I looked over the Rockies in the distance, I couldn’t help but have a little tear stream down my face as I thought about my Maureen.
We arrived on a Friday and had burgers sitting in a park in downtown Estes Park that night. It was spectacular, and on Saturday morning, day seven, I awoke to a list. A list of things from the buyer’s agent. Fortunately, John Richardson was a part of this process. For all that he had done right to this point, his instincts, his years of experience as a realtor cut through in this moment, and he guided me to the right counter-offer for a concession for the repairs on that list. And, as John texted back, “we have a deal,” I paused. Because I knew. I knew that the YMCA was indeed a thin place. I knew because I heard. I heard the bells of the chapel on the grounds ringing. It was noon. But more importantly, it was God. It was Maureen. Love transcends all if we let it. Love has transcended this house for decades, and I know that the light of love will burn bright there for years to come.