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?"

"Wait."

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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Gentz said...
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