The DIY home improvement expert studied acting and music. But ultimately God led her back to the life that had first started with her church youth group.
- Posted on Apr 27, 2020
I looked around the office, waiting to audition. Of all the TV shows to be called for! Bathroom Renovations on the DIY Network. I was an actor, a trained opera singer, a musician. By now I’d played myriad roles in my career: from commercials, voice-overs, films, plays, operas, cruise ship entertainment…but no reality television. The producers were looking for a host, someone who could show people how to get it all done: redo the tile, fix the plumbing, paint the walls.
An acting teacher in college once told us, “Your job is to audition. To show up. To give it your all. You won’t book every job you want, but you’ll book the jobs that are right for you.” I was a shower-upper. I always brought my A game and left expectations at the door. But for some reason, this audition felt different. Is this job part of the bigger plan…?
That audition was a dozen years ago, here in Minneapolis. My home. The place I grew up. Did I say DIY? Well, yes, there was a bit of that in my background. My dad was an Army reservist and counselor. In his spare time, he liked fixing things around the house.
The oldest of three daughters, I was always amazed at my Dad’s workroom and its plethora of tools. A room filled with wonder and potential. Whenever a plumber or electrician or carpenter would come in, Dad would ask a million questions, trying to figure out how he could do something himself.
When I was 10, our house was remodeled to make room for the five of us. A contractor came in and popped the roof off the house to add extra bedrooms and a bathroom. All day long, I could hear the hammering and sawing. I loved to sneak a peek at the upstairs door and see only blue sky where the roof had been. A transformation in progress.
Downstairs, we girls made a fair amount of noise ourselves. Mom and Dad insisted that we take up a musical instrument and study it seriously. For me, it was the violin. I started sawing away at age three. My little sister, Sarah, also took up the violin, and Christine, the youngest, played the piano. My violin skills grew.
Music was my life. I considered it a career path. In junior high, I started singing as well. The lyric line of the violin and the smooth strength of the voice seemed one and the same. I was invited to do Christmas solos at church. I took voice lessons, and a new medium for artistic expression opened for me. This felt like home.
Then in high school, I dove into acting. We had a great drama department, and I found myself spending all my waking hours in the theater. Acting is the art of expressing ideas and giving the audience a chance to leave their routine and venture into another world.
I found this fascinating and quite fun—whether I was playing Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, a feisty Pink Lady in Grease, the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I’ve always believed that we all have God-given gifts and it’s our job to find them, hone them and share them with the world.
I didn’t know where the arts would lead me, but I knew I was on a path. During those same high school years, I discovered something else I loved doing, maybe because it directly connected to my faith. My family was active with Valley Community Presbyterian Church.
Putting faith in action was something I learned from a young age. Whether it was providing the homeless with a place to sleep, visiting homebound seniors or (best of all) going on summer trips with the youth group to rebuild homes for families in need and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.
When I was 14, we went to a little West Virginia town. I was put on a team with kids from all over the country. Our assignment: fixing up an A-frame house in disrepair. The first thing I had to do was climb a steep ladder, roll out new tar paper and attach it to the roof.
It was the steepest roof I’d ever seen. I might not have had a fear of heights before, but I sure did at that moment! I carried the tar paper in one hand and a hammer in the other. As I went up, all I could think was Mom and Dad will never let me go on another trip like this if I fall.
I said a quick prayer, then opened my eyes. The view was amazing! Lush hills and hollows stretched as far as the eye could see. A blazing blue sky, like the one above our house when the roof came off, arched above me. I felt I was where I was meant to be.
By the end of the week, the A-frame home was renewed, revitalized and functional! I watched the owners look at it in wonder. Each of us on the young crew had done our small part, but together it made a huge difference. Mustard-seed faith, one little action transforming a life. Not just the owners’—ours too.
The next summer, our Habitat project took us to a little town in Tennessee and a run-down shack. The lady who owned the home didn’t have any steps to her front porch. She was too frail to jump up or jump down, and her home had peeling paint, broken windows, floorboards coming up. In some places, you could look down clear to the earth.
Lo and behold, this roof needed tarring too. Not tar paper, as we’d used the summer before, but tar that you roll onto a tin roof. No one wanted to go up on top, but being a sun and heat lover (and now thinking of myself as a roofer), I climbed the ladder. I fastened a rope into a sort of rappel harness, looped the end of the rope to the chimney and got to work. Bliss.
Still, I didn’t see any career path connected to all that hot, sweaty, wonderful work. I was still focused on the violin, voice and acting. After high school, I went to Boston University for two years, then to a conservatory for dramatic arts in New York City. I was studying voice with a fabulous teacher who had been a star at the Metropolitan Opera. She told me I had potential. It just took time for the voice to mature.
Meanwhile, I was auditioning for everything—stage, movies, TV, commercials—I could find. I even worked for a year as a performer and hostess on a cruise line (like Julie McCoy on The Love Boat).
What a way to see the world: Tahiti, the Pacific, up and down the coast of Chile, around to Brazil, then over to Africa, the Middle East, through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, up to the Baltic, Russia, Iceland, Ireland. But just as we were leaving Dublin, 9/11 happened. I thought of my dad. Still with the Army, living in Minneapolis but traveling often, working in the Pentagon. I got word soon that he hadn’t been there that day. But many people he knew had been.
My father was mobilized shortly after 9/11. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be on a ship halfway around the world. Didn’t want to be in New York City. I wanted to be home. Nobody could go anywhere for a while. Boats weren’t moving; planes weren’t flying. Finally we set sail. Right into a hurricane in the north Atlantic. Go figure. As soon as I could, I returned to Minneapolis.
Work was going well in Minnesota, better than I expected. The theater scene was booming. Sometimes I’d even be flown back to New York for a project. It was the best of both worlds. And yet there was something missing.…
And now this crazy audition for Bathroom Renovations. I thought back to my DIY childhood. Those summers with Habitat and the church youth group and how much I’d loved fixing up houses, turning them into homes. I heard my name being called. How was I with a hammer, nails, a wrench? Could I climb a ladder and talk to the camera? I could almost hear myself saying, “I once had to put tar paper on this A-frame house that had the steepest roof you’ve ever seen.…”
The rest is history. I got that job, which led to other jobs, hosting DIY shows such as Sweat Equity and This New House and HGTV’s Renovation Raiders. Appearances on the Today show, CNN and CBS became regular occurrences. I got my contractor’s license—lots of studying, lots of bookwork, but it took the idea of hosting to the next level: the act of doing.
Home is where I found my passion. I love the home space. I love teaching people how to care for the biggest investment they will ever make. One thing, though, I believe any of us who work as an expert should never lose is our beginner’s mind, that mix of curiosity and enthusiasm.
I have continued my volunteer work—as you might have guessed—with Habitat for Humanity. What a thrill it is transforming people’s lives, giving them a hand up by making sure they have a solid roof over their heads.
My résumé might still seem eclectic. Violinist-turned-actor/singer and youth group volunteer–turned–budding opera diva–turned–building contractor and TV home-improvement expert. That’s the thing about God’s plans. I don’t believe in trying to decipher what they may be. I believe in showing up, in taking risks, in putting others before self and honing your unique talents. And trusting that the master plan will be greater than you could have ever imagined.
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.