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.