Friday, July 26, 2013

This Part is Pretty Good Too!

Well, I didn't expect to share the next chapter in my house hunting story so quickly, but here it is. I know I said the last chapter was the good part, but this part is pretty good too!

Yesterday, I went with Ethan, Allyson, Gentle, and her kids to look at a couple more houses. One was too small, and the other was a great size with a good floor plan, but needed too much work. Plus the kitchen wasn't very big.

I apologized to Kim, my Realtor. "I never expected to be so hard to please," I admitted.

"It's okay," she said. "We'll just keep looking. The right house will come up."

On the way home, I got to thinking. I had just increased my maximum by $5000 because I'd come to the conclusion that, in this neighborhood, there was no way to get a decent kitchen in my original price range. Cooking is about my favorite pastime, aside from blogging, so I felt that adequate counter space and cabinets were a must.

When I first found the house with the oleanders, I'd noticed another house a couple doors down with the same floor plan and a nice yard. I ignored it at the time because it was priced at $9000 higher, way out of my price range. But I'd been watching it online, and they'd recently reduced the price to just $2500 over my new maximum. Perhaps I could view it and offer them less.

My mom suggested the same thing just thirty minutes later. "Yes, I'm going to do it," I said. "I'll make a lower offer. No harm in trying."

As soon as I hung up the phone, I went online to look up the address. Guess what? That very afternoon they had dropped the price another $2600, putting it inside my price range! So maybe I could offer less and get it for what I'd offered on the other house. I set an appointment for 10:00 this morning and went to bed, but it was very hard to fall asleep because I felt dangerously excited.

This morning, though, I woke in perfect peace. I spent some time with God, praising Him for whatever He had in store for my family. I asked Him to help me keep my eyes fixed on Him, and not on a house. I told Him I really wanted this house, but asked Him to close the door on it if He had something else planned for us. "And please give Kim discernment and wisdom on what I should offer. I'll trust you to make sure I get a good deal if this is the house for me."

When we arrived, we were surprised to find the owner, Jackie, at home. She'd tried to reschedule for 11:00, but Kim hadn't received the message. Jackie smiled broadly and beckoned us inside. "You're welcome to look all around, but try not to wake my girls," she said.

We tiptoed around and tried to be quiet, but we kept exclaiming over things involuntarily. First off, out front there was a lush crepe myrtle abloom with purple flowers. It was perhaps the biggest I'd ever seen, taller than the house. This would be my view when I washed dishes at those lovely windows!

Next was the gorgeous fireplace with a marble surround. And then came the shiny stainless steel appliances.
Does this kitchen look familiar? 
"This house is the best out of all we've seen!" Kim said. "It's immaculate."

Before we left, Jackie asked if I had any questions.

"Well, here's a question not about the house. That futon in the garage... is it for sale? I'm looking for a futon for my son."

She waved a hand. "You can have it."

"Are you sure? It looks identical to one I saw online last night. I was going to pay $175 for it this afternoon."

"Yes, you can have it. In fact, if you buy the house, you can also have the refrigerator, washer, dryer, lawn mower, and weed eater. I won't need them."

My jaw must have dropped two inches. She'd just listed off my entire shopping list, every item I'd dreaded trying to find on Craigslist or at garage sales, which I loathe.

We all chatted for a couple minutes. I learned that she was newly single like me, and that she had two daughters and another on the way. The oldest was nine, and the youngest looked to be about two. (She was adorable.) They are moving to another town to be near her mom, who provides a lot of support for her.

We shook hands and headed out to the car, where I consulted with Kim. "What do you think I should offer?"

"Full price," she said without hesitation. "It's worth at least that much. If you offer less, someone else will take it."  Part of me wanted to argue; maybe God would bless me with a lower price. But I remembered how I'd prayed for God to lead her.

"Okay," I said.

As I wrote out the checks for the earnest money and options fees, Kim asked, "Do you think you could offer her some money for all of those things she's giving you? She's a single mom like you. Money's probably tight. It would bless her."

I wrestled with the idea for a moment. My money is tight! And she'd offered it all for free. Again, I remembered how I'd asked God to lead Kim. "How about $500?" I asked.

She raised an eyebrow.

"Too low?"

She nodded. "One... thousand?" I said, almost choking on the words.

"Yes, I think that's good."


Kim asked me to write a letter, which I thought was overkill since I'd already met the seller in person, but I followed her advice. I wrote a short letter explaining that this was where I hoped to start my new life with my children. I told her how much I loved the fireplace and that crepe myrtle tree. I wished her and her daughters many blessings in their move and ended with a postscript: "Allyson really hopes that squirrel she saw in the backyard comes with the house."

It was only about an hour later that Kim called, breathless with excitement. At the time, I was standing next to three good friends at the office, and they cheered as they saw me receive my good news.
I had to hold my heart because the news got better and better.

As I repeated the whole story, they were crying with joy and amazement. It turns out that Jackie needed a certain amount to get out of the house without owing money on the loan. My offer was just enough, but she was just squeaking by. The extra thousand was a huge blessing.

Jackie had turned down two other offers. She'd told her mom that those were not the right buyers, and she did not feel right about selling. She knew God would bring her the right buyer, and she needed to wait.

I covered my mouth when I heard that part. No wonder I'd felt such a connection with this young woman. She'd been obedient to the same direction I'd been hearing over and over lately: wait.

When Jackie met me and Allyson this morning--due to a "mix-up"--she recognized us right away as the buyers God had sent.

She sent me an email saying that she wanted to do anything she could to help me. She also said:
"I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness and your letter has brought tears of joy. Everything you mention is everything I love about this home... I know you will be happy as I was here!"... I hope you have a wonderful blessed rest of the day and tell Allyson she is too funny about the squirrel, and yes he comes too!!!" 

Now don't you think that would have been enough? But God wasn't through. After work, my lender called to go over the details of the loan and to lock in the new rate. I braced myself because I'd been wanting to plug my ears over the last few weeks each time I heard about the interest rate slowly rising.

Yep, you've guessed it. The rate actually went down, from 3.75% to 3.625%. Over the course of the note, that saves me over a thousand dollars. Plus I'm saving a lot more on three major appliances, a lawn mower, a futon, and a big-screen TV.

As I told God in the shower this morning, he really does go beyond the beyond. I fully expected Him to amaze me, and He did. I'm inclined to agree with my mom, who said tonight, "That's more like beyond beyond beyond."

That's the kind of God we serve.

P.S. The sensible part of me would have waited to share this news until after the inspection on Monday, but my impulsive side won out. How could I keep this news to myself? I feel pretty confident all will be well. We couldn't find any cracks, inside or out. To be safe, Kim is ordering a foundation inspection (free) ahead of the regular home inspection so that if there is a problem, I won't lose any more money.

Update 3/27/13: I felt drawn to the new house on my morning walk today because I wanted to see that crepe myrtle again. (And I hoped I might see Jackie in the front yard.) She saw me gaping at the house and came outside to invite me in for coffee. We talked for an hour and a half! She told me all about the kind neighbors on every side. It's going to be a great place to live.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

This IS the Good Part!

I know I ended my last entry on a positive note, but I was back down the very next day, maybe even lower. We saw three houses, including a second look at the one Ethan loved with the upstairs man cave. As Allyson and Ethan walked through the house, they both exclaimed over every room. Ethan praised the granite countertops and even the kitchen faucet!

My friend Gentle agreed that this was a great house. Despite my lackluster response on the first visit, I found myself swept along by their enthusiasm. The master bedroom really was very pretty, and the bedroom Allyson didn't want would make a great office and spare room. Maybe it didn't matter so much that there was very little countertop space, granite notwithstanding. Or that the washer and dryer were in the (sweltering) garage.

So when Kim suggested making an offer, and quickly, I said, "Maybe I will. This is a definite... maybe." We lingered for several more minutes, and then she said, "Have you come to a decision?"

I opened my mouth to say yes, but I couldn't form the words. My heart constricted with fear. What if this wasn't the right house? Or what if it was, and I let it slip away? I was afraid to say yes and terrified of saying no. So I just burst into tears, resting my head against the wall and clutching it with both hands.

"This is so hard," I sobbed.

"I know it is," Kim said, folding me in her arms.

"I don't know what to do," I sniffled. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. You've been through a lot. Buying a house can be very emotional."

I finally told her and the kids that I would pray about it, sleep on it, and make a decision in the morning.

But even the thought of praying about it stressed me out. How could I know what God was telling me when I'd heard Him wrong the last time? I wondered about all the other times I thought God had spoken to me. Maybe I'd been wrong those times too. Maybe all of it had been my imagination. I wanted to believe God was with me, yet I felt like I'd have to make this decision all on my own.

I told the whole story to my Celebrate Recovery group last night, tears streaming down. They cried with me. And then they assured me that God was with me and would never abandon me. I said I still felt sure that God had led me to make the offer on the other house, and that I just couldn't understand why I was going through this.

One of my friends gently asked a question that convicted me deeply. "Could it be that God is testing you so you can learn to trust Him and be obedient when things don't go the way you want them to?"

"But what about the flowers?" I asked. "You don't know what those flowers meant to me."

"Sarah, we'll all come over and help you plant your own oleander bush at your new house."

"It can be the symbol of your family's new life. It will mean more because you planted it with your own hands."

"We'll plant it right outside the window so you can see it when you're working."

I smiled through my tears. Yes, why not? I've loved oleander bushes for years, and it never used to matter which house they belonged to.

Although it was past midnight when I finally had a moment to pray, I went eagerly to my closet and fell to my knees. "Oh, God," I cried. "I'm so exhausted. I don't even want to think about the house. I don't want to ask for direction. I just want to be with you. Please be near me.... Oh, you are near me. You are Emmanuel, God with us."

I wanted to praise Him, but I was too tired to think of the words. Instead, I sang an old hymn that came to my mind. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles.... Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait."

I crawled into bed feeling perfectly peaceful and slept soundly. But my first waking thought was of that house. What if I bought a kitchen island, the kind with cabinets and working space and a couple of barstools? How much would that cost? Maybe I could make that kitchen work after all. I'd also need an area rug to cover all that ceramic tile, and maybe a flat screen TV...

I threw my legs over the side of the bed. Ugh. I'd been awake two minutes and I was already trying to figure out the plan all on my own. "Good morning, God," I said sheepishly. "I really want to spend time with you."

I sat at the kitchen table and started to flip to the next day in my current Bible study, Discerning the Voice of God, by Priscilla Shirer. But I didn't make it that far because my eyes fell on a prominent caption in a lesson for next week: NO NEED TO HURRY.

I eagerly read the paragraphs above and below the caption, which were conveniently underlined from the time when I did this study a year and a half ago. I had underlined:

When we feel rushed and hurried to make a decision not rooted in a deep confidence of inner peace, God probably has not spoken.... If you feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, pull in the reins.... If you do not feel assurance in a decision, then wait.
And today I also noticed:
The Thief's voice, unlike God's voice, threatens and intimidates on the basis of fear: If you don't do this, you'll be sorry.... Do this now! If you wait, all will be lost! (Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens)

My heart pounded. There in black and white on the page were the very thoughts that had been swirling in my head for the last few days!

Here was my answer, the same one I've become so familiar with lately: "Wait."

I thought about the message I'd received from my friend Kristi the day before, an excerpt from a devotional that made her think of me:

"Therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you...blessed are all they that wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18) 
The Lord has an inconceivably glorious purpose for each of His children. "If this is true," you ask, "why is it that He continues to wait longer and longer to offer His grace and to provide the help I seek, even after I have come and waited on Him?" He does so because He is a wise gardener who "waits for the land to yield its valuable crop" and is "patient...for the autumn and spring rains" (James 5:7). God knows He cannot gather the fruit until it's ripe, and He knows precisely when we are spiritually ready to receive blessings for our gain and His glory. Rest assured that if God waits longer than we desire, it is simply to make the blessings doubly precious....

Ahhh! It dawned on me then that I was hearing God's voice at last, confirmed through a sacred echo. I remembered my morning walk from the day before, how I'd reminded God of all those little signs of His love that I'd found at my lowest point back in the fall. "I could use some more manna now, God."

Here was my manna! But it got even better... and then better still.

Around mid afternoon, I was smiling at my desk and thinking about what an amazing author God is. Yes, this has been a roller coaster, but what a story it is, still unfolding. "I can't wait to get to the good part," I thought.

Another thought followed right on the tail of the first. "This is the good part!"

I laughed out loud. Yes, really. The good part is not getting the perfect house, or even the perfect neighbors. The good part is not getting free from all this stress. No. The good part is finding peace in the middle of the stress. It's breaking free of my fear and taking a leap of faith, knowing He will catch me.

Oh, if I can learn this lesson! I'll never be the same again.

When I shared all this at Bible study tonight, I explained how I'd felt so lost the last few days. "I felt deaf, alone in the desert."

One of the ladies reminded me that sometimes the desert is right where we need to be. It's there that God works on us, makes us grow. I nodded in agreement.

Priscilla Shirer's entire video, immediately after, was a sacred echo. It was a personal word to me (and probably to many others on both sides of the screen). Guess what it was all about? Yep, the desert! She recounted the story of Moses fleeing from Egypt and living in the desert for 40 years. After growing up in the palace with all the luxuries and the best education, he found himself a lowly shepherd. But it was there that he encountered the burning bush and heard the voice of God that changed his life forever.

"Bushes don't burn in the palace," Priscilla said.

"If your life isn't going the way you prefer it, if you find yourself in the desert, know that God is with you. [Emmanuel, God with us, I thought with a smile.] He has you in the desert for a purpose. He has a plan for you, and right now He's equipping you for that plan. Don't look at your circumstances, look up! Keep your eyes open for the burning bush, and keep your ears open. He will invite you to join Him in the personal plan he has for you, a plan that fits in with His plans for your generation." (my paraphrase)

Wow! As I said in my last entry, God's plans for me are so much bigger than a house. I have no idea what He's preparing me for, but I think it might have something to do with the call I felt to teaching about a year ago. In my current circumstances, going back to teaching seems utterly impossible. But is anything impossible for our God?

Thank you for reading. I can't wait to share the next chapter (and the next). As Gentle said this morning, I have no doubt that God will surpass my expectations in every way.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

He Settles Me in My Home

What a roller coaster ride this house search has been. In my last entry, I explained how the home of my dreams had some serious problems. After the bad inspection report, I had to wait several days for the sellers' response. It was almost as agonizing as waiting to see whether they had accepted my offer. I did a lot of praying, trying to rest in the peace that comes from the Spirit in me.

After a couple of days, I thanked God for the waiting. "I know I need to learn to wait on you. I know I need to let you develop patience in me. So thank you for this opportunity to wait."

Boy does God have a sense of humor. I'd told Him I was thankful for waiting, and my reward was more waiting! The next day, I learned that the sellers wanted to extend the options period for another week. The worst problem with the house was probable foundation damage, and they wanted to know the extent of the repairs before they committed to paying for them. Although it was frustrating not to have a final answer, I was actually relieved because I didn't want to pay $400 more for the appraisal only to find out that they couldn't do the repairs after all.

My Realtor, Kim, scheduled an appointment with a reputable foundation repair company, and I came out to meet them on Monday. I brought my mom and dad along so that they could see the house and give me advice, and I also brought my nephew Ryan along because he was over for a visit. We oohed and ahhed over the house--except for Ryan, who only got a bit excited over the giant turtle/tortoise. It turns out they have two; we'd only seen one on our prior visit.

After touring the house and yard, we sat down in the beautiful, peaceful living room to wait. I relaxed and let the natural light and the view of the lush, green backyard soothe me. The crazy infatuation of my first visit was gone, and in its place was a wonderful sense of belonging. It simply felt like home.

Kim literally clapped her hands when she saw the report. "If there's going to be damage, this is the best case scenario," she said. The entire house was tilted almost an inch, which is pretty modest. The repair would involve drilling down to the bedrock and installing eight piers to lift the low end of the house, which would bring the high end back down. And then all the cracks would come back together "like pieces of a puzzle." The repair came with a lifetime transferrable warranty, and the repair plan included corrections to the drainage system which had caused the original problem.

I heaved a sigh of relief. This was not going to be a $20,000 repair. Surely the sellers would be willing to pay for it, knowing that no one else could buy the house with foundation damage.

The estimate came the next morning: $6300. A lot of money, but not insurmountable. Kim forwarded the estimate on to the sellers' Realtor and told me we could expect an answer in a day or two.

Four long days passed.

All that waiting I love so much really wore on me, but for the most part I rested in the knowledge that God was in control. I prayed continually for the sellers, Christoper and Keely, asking that God would lead them into His will for their family, even if that meant that they would stay in the home.

One evening I had a bout of insomnia, and I got up and prayed for Christopher and Keely. Afterward, I still felt very unsettled. Sleep just wouldn't come. At 1:30 or so, I decided to read the Bible. I'd been reading the book of Hosea, and I wanted to read the next chapter. But as I started to read, I turned instead to the previous chapter. There in the quiet house, God spoke very plainly to me in a verse that had made virtually no impact on me just the day before.

"They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes," declares the LORD. (Hosea 11:11)

In that moment, I saw myself as a trembling bird, afraid to land. I felt God beckoning, felt Him cradle me in His giant hand as He settled me in my home.

All the tension slipped away as I whispered. "You are my home. My home is not a house. Settle me in you!" I crawled back in bed then and slept like a baby.

You would think, after hearing that message and having that sweet time with Jesus, that I would have been well prepared for the devastating news I received two days ago, on Friday. But you would be wrong.

Kim called and explained that the sellers were not able to make the repairs, and the best they could offer was to take a thousand off their asking price--leaving me with the other $5300! For just a moment, I considered that offer. I do have the money, but as a single mother, I don't feel comfortable pulling it from my emergency fund. Nor do I feel comfortable taking on more debt. "I'm going to have to walk away," I said slowly.

After we hung up, I began to weep. It wasn't just a few disappointed tears, it was wrenching grief, the kind of grief I should have felt just the day before when I went to court and saw my divorce become final. I can't explain to you why I was so broken. I can tell you this. It wasn't the house itself, even though I had fallen so hard for it. It was the whole experience, the way I'd heard God's leading so clearly. So had I not heard Him after all? Had I misinterpreted what He said?

Here I was, $429 and 17 days later, back on the market. The two houses that looked pretty nice already had contracts on them. I had no prospects, having just signed my house over to Bill. Understand, Bill is not going to throw us out on the street, but this still feels horribly stressful.

"What am I supposed to do, God?" I wailed, my face against the carpet that was drenched with my tears. "I've never been so sure of hearing your voice. But I was WRONG. I need to hear your voice now, but how can I be sure this time?"

To be honest, all of that angst wasn't what hurt me most. It was those pink flowers, which I'd learned were oleanders. For 16 days I had smiled over those flowers, my very favorites. Each time I felt the pain of loss pierce me, I remembered the extravagance of those flowers and smiled. "My Father loves me," I'd say.

So what of the flowers now? I felt such rejection. My brain knew that God had not rejected me, would never reject me. But my heart felt betrayed, tricked, shattered. I sobbed and sobbed over those flowers for two solid days. Even now my eyes sting at the thought of it.

Yesterday a perfectly acceptable house came on the market, with 200 more square feet, an office for me to work in, and a $5000 lower price tag. Ethan loved it because it had a single room upstairs that could be his bedroom. It was a great house, and I liked it. But I didn't love it. It had none of the items from my original list except a place for my desk and a location near Allyson's school. It also had a tiny living room that wouldn't fit my furniture and was situated on a corner lot on a very steep hill. It would be awful to mow.

Now I'm concerned that no house is going to measure up to that perfect house I wanted. I'm asking God to help me let go of the house and to trust in His plans for us. I'm pressing closer to Him and trusting that as long as I stay close to Him, I can't miss His will.

Last night after midnight I had a sweet time with Him in my beloved prayer closet, which is what I will miss most about this house. "God, I know a house won't bring me joy," I prayed. "What I need is to be where you are. Settle me in my home! You are my home, not a house."

As I crawled into bed, I thanked him for this new phase of my trial. "Please complete the work that you started in me. Keep working on me until I learn everything I need to learn."

This morning, it no longer feels like the world is coming to an end. My Bible study was all about peace, and it reminded me that peace comes through Jesus's authority. His peace rules my heart. The peace He gives is not like what the world gives (John 14:27); it can't be taken from me unless I give it up voluntarily.

I'm glad that I can share this chapter of my story with you. As my Aunt Sue said yesterday, we still don't know how this story is going to end. I do believe God spoke clearly to me when I saw those verses in that house. He does have beautiful plans for me, and I can overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. His plans are so much bigger than a house.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Beautiful Plans For Me

Please forgive me, but this is going to be a long post. The story has been unfolding for weeks, and there's so much to tell you....

After much prayer and a lot of agonizing, I decided several months ago to let Bill buy me out of the house and then buy something smaller. After that decision came months of waiting because I couldn't find a lender who would even talk to me while I was in the process of divorce.

On the advice of my sister Amy, I wrote down all of the things I needed and wanted in a house, prayed over the list, and stored it away in a tiny prayer box she had given me for my birthday in April. She assured me that God would give me the desires of my heart, but I have to admit I was a little skeptical regarding the list; it was very specific and had things that weren't that important in the scheme of things. For example, I really wanted a gas stove because it's so much easier to control the temperature when you're simmering soups and sauces. But isn't it a little silly to think of choosing a house based on how easily I can simmer a soup?

Anyway, I put that list away and continued to pray whenever I thought about my impending move, which was pretty often. Meanwhile, I watched the market closely through an online search my Realtor, Kim, had set up for me. There weren't many houses that were both in my price range and within Allyson's elementary attendance zone. Now and then, I'd fall in love with a house only to watch it sell within as little as 24 hours. Each time, I was crushed. I finally got smart and swore off online real estate until I could get pre-approved for a mortgage. Still, I looked at the for-sale signs in the neighborhood and tried not to worry about whether there'd be a house available when I was ready to buy.

I turned a corner in June, on the night I went for last-day-of-school ice cream with Allyson, Ethan, and Bill's family. Afterward, I had severe cramps from the ice cream, but because Bill's parents were coming to dinner the next evening for Allyson's birthday, I forced myself to mop the floor even though I couldn't even stand up straight. About halfway through the floor, I spontaneously started praying and praising. I didn't think about it or decide what to pray about, just let the words flow out of me. I thanked God first for the house he had picked out for us. I praised Him because I knew he had me in mind when that house was built. "I know you will amaze me, God," I prayed.

Next, I asked for God's blessings on my current house and everyone who will live in it in the future. I asked for God's presence to hover here, and that the house will be filled with peace. With tears streaming down, I thanked God for all the love and laughter and life in this house over the last ten years: all the birthdays, game nights, Mother's Days, Father's Days, and especially my 40th birthday party.

Last, I asked God to help me let go of any resentment and insecurity. I asked Him to help me be happy that Allyson and Ethan will still be able to swim in the pool and that Allyson can keep her lovely room when she's here with Bill. I asked Him to make me gracious and kind, like Jesus. I had such joy, completely unexpected! As I put away the mop, I even realized that my stomach ache had gone away.

It wasn't until last Sunday that I could actually start looking at houses. That evening we viewed three houses. The one I was most excited about needed too much work, and the other one I liked appeared to have foundation damage. Ethan and Allyson really liked the third house, but I wasn't fond of it, mainly because it was an older house and I didn't like the kitchen. For the next several days, Allyson hounded me relentlessly, trying to sway me.

It was a cute house, offered at a good price, and it had a new roof, new air conditioner, and all new energy-efficient windows. It also had a lot of beautiful flowers, and a place for my desk--two items from my list. But when I prayed about it that evening, I said, "God, I'm not amazed."

I took a second look on Monday, this time taking my friend Gentle and her children along. Her sweet daughter Grace, age four, had been praying faithfully over my house search, so I was tickled that she could be there. Gentle could see the potential in the house, but she also spotted some little problems I hadn't noticed.

That evening, I had a wonderful prayer time with Allyson. Both of us surrendered what we wanted to God and simply asked for His will. Allyson prayed a memory verse from her recent vacation Bible school. "God, you told us to go everywhere and share the gospel with every creature [Mark 16:15],"she said. "Our new neighbors are God's creatures. Please put us in a house where we can share the gospel with someone who doesn't know you, or if they do know you, help them know you better."

That night I could hardly sleep because I was so excited, not about the house search, but about what God was doing in our hearts. During the night, I woke up praising God. "It just keeps getting better and better," I said. "God, I AM amazed."

In the morning, I asked fervently for clear guidance. All I heard was one word: "Wait."

"Wait for what?" I asked. "Do I wait for you to change my heart regarding this house? Or do I wait for another one?"


That night, I started thinking about improvements I could make, and I found myself a little excited over the prospect. Before bed, I fell to my knees in my closet. "Lord, I don't want to get carried away by excitement. I think you told me to wait, not to buy this house, but I'm not sure that's what you meant. I don't want to be disobedient. I know you said to wait, but how will I know what I'm waiting for? I need a sign--not just a sign, but a billboard."

I opened my Bible to Proverbs, looking for some wisdom, but there was nothing specific. I prayed, "Lord, you said I could ask for wisdom, and you would give it generously [James 1:5]. I need wisdom now."

I then opened the Bible at random, and my eyes fell on this verse:

This is what the LORD says -- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. (Isaiah 48:17)

I heaved a sigh of relief as the weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn't have to figure all this out! God would make it clear to me.

First thing in the morning, I went to my online search to see if the old house was still available. It was, but now there was another house on the list. My heart sped up as I viewed the pictures. It was on a gorgeous lot shaded with mature trees (list item), and it was on a cul-de-sac right across from the park and within sight of Allyson's school.

And look at that kitchen. Oh, those windows! I'd have a view of the beautiful yard while I washed dishes. And was that a gas stove? Yes!

I made an appointment to view the house at 3:00, and Gentle agreed to meet us. Shortly before the appointment, I sat in a waiting room and cried out to God, in a whisper. (Have you ever done that?) "God, I am desperate for you right now. I need to hear your voice. I'm so afraid of making a mistake."

Immediately, I felt a calmness settle over me as the Holy Spirit reminded me of the verse I'd found the night before, that He would direct me in the way I should go. I felt Him telling me, "You don't need to be desperate. I want to speak to you. I will lead you."

Gentle, Allyson, and I arrived a few minutes early, so we took the liberty to walk around the grounds. It was so much better than I had imagined that I found myself literally clutching my heart. "Oh, Gentle!" I said. "I can't get my hopes up."

I had to catch my breath when I spotted the flowering bush (another list item) in the backyard--the very pink flowers I always admire and thank God for on my walks. I remembered the whispered prayers: "Oh, if I could have flowers like that at my new house." But always I would think, "I can't expect all these little things."

The inside of the house was just as beautiful, with lots of big windows and high, angled ceilings. As if all this weren't enough, Allyson fell in love too. She exclaimed over every room, every storage closet. Gentle told me later that I should have seen her face, grinning at each new room as if we were touring a mansion. "You were floating up above all the rest of us, so you didn't see," she said.

When I saw the master bath, I all but floated up to heaven. It wasn't the design, for it was pretty close to what I have in my current house, down to the dated brass fixtures and shower trim. No, it was God's voice all but shouting to me there. Over the garden tub was a scripture plaque with a verse my Aunt Sue had sent me in a card when I was mired in despair over my dying marriage.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).

"This feels like a sign," I said, tears pricking my eyes. A moment later, Gentle touched my arm and pointed to another scripture plaque in the alcove for the toilet.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

This familiar scripture had never had a personal meaning for me until Gentle wrote it out for me on a note card; I think this was when Bill and I separated. I put it on my refrigerator, where I see it nearly every day. Both the promise and her familiar, flowing script bring me comfort. Likewise, the Romans 15 verse gives me hope whenever I'm working; I copied it onto a sticky note and stuck it to my computer.

As I looked at those two precious verses, side by side, tears filled my eyes. "Guys, I think this is my billboard," I said, wiping my fist across my eyes. In that moment, I knew without a doubt that this was my new home. I didn't hesitate to make a full-price offer right on the spot.

Kim said there were multiple offers, and she suggested writing a letter to the sellers explaining what the house would mean to me and my family. I'd never heard of such a thing, but I almost laughed with delight. To think I might earn my dream house through a writing contest! Had it been anything else, say a cornhole tournament or a Frisbee golf game, I would've been worried. But I had this one covered.

I went right home and poured out my heart in a letter. I told this stranger named Keely all about my list and the gas stove and the pink flowers and the garden. I told her how God had comforted me with those verses in the past months and how I recognized them as my billboard.

Allyson wrote a letter, too, and it was so sweet I knew there was no way they could refuse her. She said:

I love your house. You have done a great job on your garden and plants. In your backyard, I saw a lizard, your turtle, and a squirrel. I will pray that you and your family will find a nice house just like I know my family will. Me and my mom visited some houses and one of them I thought no other house could beat. But your house did! You were blessed with a very nice house. May God bless your family in many other ways....  

Here's the turtle she referred to, which I think is actually a tortoise. Kim almost screamed when she first saw it walking toward us; she had mistaken it for a rock.

It Was 2 or 3 Feet Long

I floated through the rest of that day, absolutely certain that God had given us this house. I couldn't stop smiling over the extravagance of the pink flowers. I felt like a blushing bride, cherished by her husband. The next morning, July 4, I woke up feeling peaceful and serene. All morning I waited for the call, but it didn't come. The owners had said they'd make a decision by 4:00, but I didn't expect it would take that long, for how could they resist Allyson's sweet letter?

At 2:00, Allyson and I set off for Austin with my sister Amy. By then I was feeling pretty blue. Obviously they had received a higher offer, and now they must be agonizing over whether to accept mine. When 4:00 came and went, I was convinced they had rejected our offer. Since it was a holiday, I figured their Realtor would have notified only the winning bidder, and the also-rans would be contacted the next day.

My other sister Melody, whom we picked up on the way, gave me great comfort. "Sarah, if that house is yours, nothing will stop you from getting it. And if it isn't the house for you, you don't want it."

I wasn't the only one feeling blue. As we neared our destination, Allyson nestled against me, under my arm. "I really want that house, Mommy."

"I know, baby. Me too. But remember what Aunt Melody said. God is in control. If we don't get this house, he has something better out there for us. It's hard to imagine that, isn't it?" To make ourselves feel better, we prayed for the family of the sellers. The closeness with Allyson was such a treasure in the darkness.

At 8:30 PM, on the way to watch fireworks, I received a text from Kim. "Congratulations. They accepted your offer. Woo-hoo!"

I can't possibly put into words the elation I felt after being so resigned to disappointment. But it was nothing compared to the fun of sharing the news with Allyson, who had ridden in another car. I knelt in front of her in the parking garage, took both her hands, and said, "We got the house!"

The grin that lit up her face then must surely have been the same grin that Gentle had described. I kissed her on both cheeks, and she threw her arms around me. As we walked to the fireworks, fingers entwined, she said, "A day can't get any better than this."

The fireworks seemed all the more exciting given our wonderful news. Despite the July heat, I let her lean her back against my chest. I wrapped my arms around her and swayed with her as we oohed and ahhed over each explosion of light.

Since then, I've been pinching myself to see if this is all really happening to me....

I wish that was the end of the story, but maybe it's not. I got the inspection report tonight, and there are some pretty serious issues, probably bad enough that the house is not insurable without significant repairs. Tomorrow morning I will talk with Kim and see what repairs we will request. I know nothing of the sellers' story, whether they'll be able to afford the repairs. (I certainly can't.) But I feel in my gut that they made a sacrifice for us, that they accepted a lower offer in order to bless us with this house that feels so right for us. So I'm trusting God to work it all out, to help them somehow.

I'm not going to lie to you. I hated to post this entry, not knowing the final outcome. I've been sitting here crying, to tell the truth. But I have to hold on to the message of hope that God sent me, my billboard. Regardless of what might happen with the house, I know God has beautiful plans for me, plans to prosper me and give me hope and a future.


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