The longest government shutdown in U.S. history may have been triggered by a delay in construction of a wall to keep some people in their homeland, but the political move has barred at least one local family from going home.
Dan and Hillary Orban, of Mitchell, were in the final stages of building their new family home when President Donald Trump announced Dec. 22 that certain federal offices would be closed until a bipartisan solution to what he calls a southern border crisis could be reached.
Just over a week later, the couple excitedly called the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office, which issued their home loan last year, to let them know it was move-in ready. But no one answered.
"We found out (our USDA loan officer) was furloughed and there was no getting ahold of anybody. The first thing I did was contact both Sen. (Mike) Rounds and Sen. (John) Thune," Dan said. "The only thing that we got ... was a phone call from Washington, D.C., saying it would be illegal for any of them to sign or do anything work-related" during the shutdown.
Previously unbeknownst to them, there was one step - a home inspection capped with a signed Certificate of Occupancy - that had to happen before they could move their belongings in and call Ethan home.
The final paperwork was put through the day before the shutdown, but one signature was needed for the general contractor to be paid for their work and release the home.
"But no one can sign off on that right now," Hillary said.
So the couple returned to Hillary's parents' home in Mitchell, where they and their six children had been staying since their previous home sold in early September, to break the unexpected news.
"It was kind of hard for us to come here and tell her parents, 'You're stuck with us a little longer, and we don't know how long,' " Dan said.
But, just as they had when asked if the family could move in after deciding to purchase land adjacent to the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Ethan last summer, Glen and Lisa Weber responded graciously.
"They were like, 'Well, God's got us learning patience,' " and said the family could stay as long as necessary, Dan recalled.
A new schedule
Dan and Hillary Orban purchased two lots that once belonged to the former Holy Trinity Catholic Church from the town of Ethan in June. They quickly made plans to purchase a Governor's House for the land, secured their funding, and sold their house in August, initially planning to move by Dec. 1.
"We had that date in mind" because it was on the original paperwork, "but we'd never built a house before, so we didn't know what to expect," Dan said. "Things actually fell together awesomely until the very end, when things started to just fall apart. We were kind of shooting for Christmas, but ... the weather put people behind a little bit."
Although the Orban family is experiencing what Dan calls "a good workout for our faith," they are quick to point out just how fortunate they are in comparison to others affected by the government shutdown.
"There are other people not getting paychecks. ... I know they're going to get their back pay, but right now they don't have any money coming in. I don't know how we'd do it," Dan said, looking at his wife, who is pregnant with the couple's seventh child. "We've really been focusing on how fortunate we are."
The Orbans are not the only family displaced by an unfinished USDA housing loan.
"We have a roof over our heads and somebody gracious enough to take us in. I feel really fortunate right now," because some in the same predicament do not have the same accommodations, Dan said.
Now, the Orbans are praying a resolution to the congressional conflict is imminent and hoping the newest member of their family holds out on making his or her appearance until they are able to unpack their new home.
But Hillary finds peace in knowing that "we're taken care of" if "God's plan doesn't match ours."
"One perk is that we're living with our babysitter," Dan said with a laugh, adding that his in-laws have always been very helpful to their family when a new member has been born.
Hillary said she is convinced the family will learn the reason that they weren't meant to move into their home yet once they finally get to.
"It's God's timing, not ours," she said.
Daily road trips
At the beginning of the year, the eldest two Orban children - Timothy, 8, and Madelyn, 6 - transferred from John Paul II Catholic School in Mitchell to Ethan Elementary. So the Orbans load up the younger children - Cecilia, 4, twins Claire and Maria, 3, and Gianna, 18 months - and make the 20-mile-round-trip school run twice a day. The school offers a rural Mitchell bus stop to children who open-enroll to the district, but the Orbans opt to drive the kids themselves.
"It's a lot to get all of the shoes and mittens and hats and get them out the door, let alone get all the car seats buckled," Hillary said, but having the older kids to the bus stop by 6:15 a.m. still would require waking all the children since Dan goes to work before that. "It's so much earlier," and makes for a longer day.
And, despite the extra miles and family bonding that happens daily in the family's 12-passenger van, the couple is happy with their decision so far.
"The commute has been a bit of a bummer for the school drop-off, but I think it's worth it, rather than pulling the kids at a weird time of year," Dan said.
Because of the school transition, the family has the opportunity to "visit" their home frequently. Nearly every day, they drive past the home that awaits them on Maple Street in Ethan and they are filled with warm thoughts of their eventual move as they watch the steam billow from the furnace that eventually will warm them physically.
Peace in the pause
Moving a busy family with six young children into the home of empty nesters can get a little chaotic, but the Orbans said everyone has learned to understand each another's needs better over the last few months.
"Our faith has played probably the biggest part in all of it," Dan said, and the timing was perfect for practicing a bit of humility. "Look where Jesus was born. God put His own son in a cave. I think we can handle a basement with a heater and cable TV."
"Soon we'll be able to live in that camper" that's been parked on their new lot since summer, he joked.
"I thought we were pretty minimalist before," but living with most of their possessions packed into a storage unit has quickly taught them which items are actually necessary for their family to function, Hillary said.
Some of the greatest gifts - like what her parents gave them on Christmas morning - are not material.
"Somehow, they slept through the kids opening their gifts," she said. "The night before, they told us, 'We will sleep in so you can have your family Christmas.' "
Later in the day, the bigger family celebration was held.
"It was a fun day. We had a really good Christmas," Dan said.
In the times when chaos ensues, the couple is careful to keep things in perspective.
"Even if we only take a moment together at night or go for a drive or something, we just really make sure that we not forget that this has to be number one," Dan said, waving his hand between himself and his wife.
A grace-filled transition
The last four months have been filled with grace, according to the couple.
"If anything has really stood out over this whole journey for us, everybody we've worked with has just been (caring)," Dan said. "It seems like everybody's been in our corner the whole time. It's been really cool to be able to work with a lot of people like that. And everybody in Ethan that we've dealt with has been awesome."
From Ethan to Mitchell, friends, family and neighbors have offered to help the family weather the transition in little ways that mean a lot to the Orbans.
"All the people who have offered to help out with the kids when they find out that we have to drive so much has just been wonderful," Hillary said. "People have been very accommodating ... and offering to take kiddos and stuff to help us."
As thankful as they are for everyone's generosity, the Orbans said there "aren't words" for how excited they are to finally move in to their new home, where they can resume handling the majority of their needs alone.
"I just think it's going to be pretty cool to lay down in my own bed in my own house and just kind of (relax). But I'll probably work the next day, so I'll have to get up early," Dan said with a chuckle. "I think the day (the USDA Rural Development office opens) up I'm going to show up with donuts and flowers. I might have to put a tent out on their lawn like they do on Black Friday."