Everyone thought we were a shoe-in. The house had passed from church family to church family, and of course the same would happen again. Our church friends put in a good word for us. The landlords were lifelong friends with one of our rental references. The previous tenants had blazed the trail for Rosy, our Golden Retriever, by fencing the backyard.
We wanted the property. Orchard on either side, a working farm behind, and a country highway in front. More than we could afford, but God would provide if it were meant to be. We met with the landlady and talked for two hours. Promising.
It was two bedrooms with a den, but I really wanted someplace my mom could come visit comfortably for a week or two or four. I couldn't see her comfortable in the den, which was really a wide hallway, and the landlady had specifically told us no travel trailers with relatives in them. This was a deal breaker for me, and when I realized that, I whispered a prayer asking God to keep us from that property.
He did. There was a catch. Jack and Gracie, our two black cats. The landlady explained that dog urine is water-based and cat urine is oil-based, so cat urine ruins floors that cost thousands of dollars to replace. She just couldn't see our cats in their home. But she said she'd talk to her husband about it and get back to us.
A week went by. No word. Our church friends wanted to know: any news yet? Nope. None yet. We called the owners to check the status, and they said they were still deciding about our cats.
We began looking elsewhere. We found larger homes for less money, but no pets allowed. Where could we find an affordable house that accepted us and our pets?
We found a house in a neighboring town for a couple hundred a month less than the orchard house. Jeff called the number and discovered the property was owned by one of his former real estate colleagues, who said if we were at all interested in the house, she would love to rent to us. I felt pretty certain any house would do, and the rate was good. I was elated that we had simply been accepted as tenants, hands down.
I called my mom to tell her the good news. She wanted to know if we'd seen the property yet, and when I told her we hadn't, she said, "Well, even if this isn't the house for you, it gives you an idea of what God is able to do on your behalf."
We went to view the property, and it would have worked for us. Sort of. Everyone liked bits about it, but everyone expressed bits they didn't care for. A couple of pretty serious deal-breakers. We went to dinner and made a list of pros and cons. I found myself praying, "Please, Abba, don't make us..."
But you know the flood analogy? The town floods, and a family climbs up on their roof, claiming God will rescue them. A boat comes by, and they say, "No thanks, God will rescue us." Another boat comes, and they wave them off. Finally, a helicopter flies over, offering to air-lift them out of danger. They shout up to the rescue team, "God's got this covered! We don't need you!" The flood waters rise, and the family drowns. When they get to heaven, they ask God, "Why didn't You rescue us?" And God replies, "I tried! I sent two boats and a helicopter!"
I was really concerned that if we said no to that house, we were missing the boat. Or the helicopter. Thumbing our noses at God's provision. But there was an oppressive heaviness I couldn't shake, which even Jeff felt, so we chalked it up to the Holy Spirit and told Jeff's colleague that we were going to pass. Inexplicably.
The auction date of our current home loomed ever nearer. My sister said the company she used to work for bought and sold commodities all in the same day, and she likened it to God's resources. He prepares everything at just the right time, and even though we felt a little panicked, God was like Mr. Incredible on his way to marry ElastiGirl. "Yeah! I still got time!"
I felt like Meg Ryan in French Kiss. "Currently without country."
Jeff felt worse. He did a nosedive into a morose coma. I asked his parents to watch the boys and took him out. Starbucks, a $3 showing of A-Team, and a drive around the lake near his parents' house, where we grabbed our camp chairs and sat under an oak tree, watching the moon shimmer across the water, reaching out to us like a whispered promise from Yahweh. "I will direct your path."
Jeff was able to talk through all the layers of the mental boxes he couldn't cram closed, and then he took my hand and prayed, humbly and gently, a prayer of surrender to our loving God.
The next morning, I returned to my obsessive craigslist scour for possible homes. Nothing struck me. But as always, to mark my place, I clicked on the most recent posting. I had dismissed it because it said 5 acres. There was no rental amount listed in the title, but 5 acres in our area usually go for somewhere between $1,500 to $2,500 a month. No way.
I scanned the listing anyway, pipe-dream-style. It said, "5 acres at a reasonable rate in exchange for someone responsible and handy to do upkeep on the property and aging 2-bedroom mobile home."
I turned my computer screen so Jeff could see it and said, "Here you go."
He called the number immediately. We were the first caller, onaccounta we called ten minutes after the posting went live. The owner said the land was her inheritance and she just wanted enough rent to cover the property taxes. She said she was all done pouring money into the property but she wanted it kept up. The house had been on the market for a while, but she said she'd be happy to take it off for several years if she found some good tenants.
We immediately piled into the car, our poor boys resigned to another boring day of house hunting, and drove the seven miles out to the property. The listing had said 2-bedroom mobile home, and I said to Jeff, "If the house is anything other than a single-wide trailer, we'd be fools not to jump all over this." Hope caught in my throat as we approached the driveway.
There it was. I expelled a violent breath of relief and said, "Oh, good. It's a double-wide." I was sold. There was a view of the Coast Range. Jeff was sold. There was a treehouse. The boys were sold. We tramped around the property through grass taller than the boys' heads. In several spots, Jeff had to help his townie wife down little hills and through unnavigable thickets. I could see how the labor necessary to keep up the property was a reasonable exchange for the low rent.
I nestled my hand in Jeff's as we gazed across one of the fields on the land and said, "Jeff, this is it. This... is it."
Then we went inside the house. The living room was huge! 23x16. The kitchen was adorable and it had a dishwasher! There was a family room off the kitchen, and a wood-burning fireplace. Two bathrooms, huge closets in the master, nice flow to the home.
We called the owner and said if we passed her inspection, the property passed ours. She requested rental references and a face-to-face meeting, but not until she could make the six-hour drive from her house to our area on August 29.
My heart sank. August 29 was eleven days away. It felt like eleven years. I reminded myself that Oswald says to do the next thing, and I got busy writing her a newsy letter about us, complete with rental references, before-and-after shots of Jeff's work, and a family photo.
Then we waited.
Two days went by. We didn't expect to hear anything back until the owner arranged for our August 29 appointment. I checked craigslist to see if the posting was still active. It was.
I went to bed that night anxious, and woke up the next morning anxious. Jeff watched me closely for signs of an impending breakdown. But I'm getting better. Instead of breaking down, I actually stated my feelings to him. Sort of. "I feel sick," I said. "I don't think this is the property for us after all. She's going to meet with a whole bunch of people on August 29 and then pick which ones she likes best. I can't stand this! I'm totally freaking out!!"
He looked at me compassionately and said, "Thank you for telling me this. I'm proud of you... Becky, you know God will take care of us." He was right, and I knew it. Two hot tears squeezed past my closed eyelids as I let myself relax into God's promise.
Jeff walked into the next room and did a routine check of his voicemail. There was a message from the owner. She said, "Hi, Jeff and Becky. Uhh... I think I would really like to rent to you guys, so if you're serious, I'll start sending away other callers. But I still want to meet face-to-face, so I was wondering if you would be willing to wait until August 29 before you take another rental."
I bit my fingers (forget the nails!) and started running in place. Jeff grinned.
Then I lost it. Without warning, my eyes filled quickly with tears that splashed torrentially onto my bewildered husband. I threw myself across our bed and sobbed loudly. The boys wandered in.
"Is Mom crying about Grandpa again?"
"Well, no," Jeff replied. "She's actually crying happy tears... I think. You know the house we looked at a few days ago? The one with the treehouse? We just got a message from the owner, and she said we might get to have that house. I think that's why Mom is crying."
My three men shrugged at each other wordlessly, and the boys wandered back out.
But Jeff was only partly right. I was definitely crying happy tears of relief, and it was only when the tears came that I realized just how stressed I had been about the whole business, and how low my stress threshold is while I grieve.
But I was crying for my dad, too.
Whenever I had big news, I would always call him first. "Daddy!"
"Hi, Sweets!" he would say.
I would ask, "Are you busy?"
"I always have time for you," he would remind me gently.
"Thanks, Daddy," I would respond seriously, knowing he was wrapping a profound, regret-filled apology for my entire childhood into that one sentence.
Pushing ahead, I would say, "Guess what!"
He would respond in that voice he reserved for cute children, "What?"
"We think we got the house!" I would say.
He would rejoice with me, "Sweet!" Then I would babble on about the details, and he would listen and murmur softly, "That's wonderful, Princess."
I didn't know this part of grief. I didn't know the part where something so happy could hurt so much.
I sobbed harder.
Jeff held me and brought me a tissue and stroked my hair and anything else he could think of. Trying to compose myself, I said to him in a wobbly voice, "Bet you didn't see that coming, huh?"
He shrugged, "I knew something was coming... It's okay."
I shuddered and sniffled.
"Do you wanna call your mom and tell her about it?"
Through great, gulping sobs, I blubbered, "I wanna talk to my dad!" Then I started the bawling process all over again.
Half an hour.
Finally, I did call my mom, still crying. She picked up and said cheerfully, "Hi, Bec!"
"Hi, Mom," I said brokenly.
"Are you okay?"
"But it's good news..."
I told her about the real possibility of the house and how Daddy wasn't available for me to talk to about it. I told her about the treehouse, and the seasonal pond, and the grapevine, and the fruit trees, and the RV parking loop where she could come stay.
When I got to the part about there being a view in front of the house and trees behind, she started crying right along with me. That had been one of her and Daddy's dreams -- to retire someplace where there was a view in front and trees behind. I knew Jeff and I shared that dream with her and Daddy because Daddy had told me so a couple of weeks before he gave up on all of his dreams. Our property was a gut-wrenchingly fresh reminder of her loss.
Mom couldn't talk, so she handed the phone to my brother, Aaron. I told him about the house, and he responded with just the right amount of playfulness, "Oh, that is great news. I can see why you and Mom are both crying about it..." His gentle joke lightened the mood considerably, and Mom and I were able to compose ourselves and finish our conversation.
Jeff called the owner back and asked if she would be available to meet us in her town in the next couple of days, so we could move forward with getting settled somewhere. Suddenly, there we were, on a road trip date, having deposited the boys at Jeff's parents' house. We brought an audio book, but we only got to the middle of chapter three because we kept pausing to share more ideas about the property.
We entered the owner's shop at exactly the right time, then we all walked together to a nearby coffee shop, where we ordered drinks and made our way to a table. I wondered how long it would take her to decide whether or not we were the right tenants, and how she would go about informing us of her decision. But as soon as we sat down, her first words were, "I brought along a rental agreement. Here. You can fill it out."
We talked through the rental agreement together, tweaking a couple of things here and there, and when it was all said and done, we had signed a one-year lease and handed her a check for first and last, with the agreement that we would take possession on September 1.
OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!
I called the boys immediately. James was pleased with the news. "You mean the place with the treehouse? YES!!"
Jonathan responded somewhat differently.
"We got the house, Jonathan," I told him excitedly.
"Oh. Okay," he replied calmly.
"So that means we have a place to live," I prompted.
"We do?" he asked.
"Yep!" I replied.
"Great!" he said finally, for my benefit. "Where?"
I started giggling. It baffled me that the process taking up all of my focus could have escaped him so completely.
But Jonathan is six, you see. He has never not been taken care of. He is so secure in his future that it doesn't even occur to him to build up anxiety or obsessive anticipation about it. Of course we would find a place to live. We always have a place to live. His dad sees to that, and Jonathan doesn't need to bother himself about it.
Oswald Chambers says the same thing. "God is my Father, He loves me, and I will never think of anything that He will forget, so why should I worry?"
Why, indeed, when His provision blows our imagination out of the water.
"As it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." ~1 Corinthians 2:9
I'm not finished yet. I haven't quite exceeded the extreme maximum length for a magazine article submission, so why stop now. It's my blog, after all. I can talk as long as I want. Me and Abba might be the only two who make it all the way through this post without glazing over, but that's okay. Just be thankful you didn't have to write the whole thing. All you have to do is read it. And you don't even have to do that. Frankly, I'm surprised you're still here.
But I have one more thing to say. This spring, while we were in Idaho, we told the boys we had to move this summer when we returned to Oregon. They're as tired of moving as we are, and they want to settle down, just like we do. As a family, we made a wish list of all the things we hoped for in our next house. I want to share that list with you.
First, here are the things the boys wanted that I have automatically deleted from the list. I'm sayin' no to the following:
Jonathan: a meerkat, a warthog, a gorilla named Tarzan, a hyena named Drool Rool, two pet rooms, a portal to the cartoon world, and an allowance of $10 a day.
James: a corn snake, Legend of Zelda legos (which I don't think exist), a Jeep (how about a license first?) and an allowance of $50 a week.
Y'all, I kid you not. Everything else on our list is at our new property, in some form or another, or the property easily accommodates its future acquisition. Check this out:
a big backyard -- will five acres do?
a house camouflaged by trees -- yep
a piano -- my childhood piano is coming from Idaho this fall
a place we'd be able to stay at for a long time -- more on this in a second
a puppy -- shhhhh... Jon's birthday is coming up...
a place to store a super hero costume, like a disguised secret hole in the backyard -- take your pick, son
a built-in pool in the backyard -- how about a pond?
a treehouse -- already built!
a treehouse bed with a slide -- Jeff has drawn up the plans and budgeted for the materials
an office -- well, a corner of the master bedroom that comes with a free bookkeeper (me)
a wood shop -- a roomy shed with workbenches and shelves
a recliner -- done! yay craigslist!
a hot tub -- a cement pad to put one on is a good start
a master suite -- yep!
no close neighbors -- two neighbors hiding behind tall stands of trees, but lots of privacy, and no shared walls
a king-sized bed -- how about a bedroom big enough to put one in? Check!
a backyard fire pit -- Jeff already found the remains of the old burn pile
a kitchen that's not a hallway -- yep
a fenced yard for Rosy -- a dog door and a dog run will do nicely
a family room -- yes!
a street to ride bikes on -- an enormous driveway that loops around the house
a laundry room -- yup
a dishwasher -- oh yeah!
a cook -- well, I married one. That counts.
a maid -- Me. I'm the maid.
a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace -- a fireplace in the family room
a guest room -- how about a guest house? I mean an RV parking loop for a travel trailer.
a place to settle permanently --
I hoped and prayed that God would guide us to someplace we could stay for a very long time. This was my impossible prayer. We couldn't afford to buy, and lease options are expensive. But at the coffee shop, the owner asked us first thing whether or not we thought we could stay on her property for a few years. Jeff told her we would like to rent from her to start and then buy the place as soon as we were able to. She replied dismissively, "Sure, that's fine."
My jaw nearly dropped. With a shrug of her shoulders and a wave of her hand, our new landlady became God's answer to my impossible prayer. This is the biggest miracle of all to me. A permanent home. I've moved 33 times in my 34 years, including eight times in my nine years of marriage. I'm not complaining about those numbers, mind you. I try to milk them for dramatic effect by counting dorm rooms and the like. And I recently found a drawing I made as an eight-year-old of a Ryder truck with my dad at the driver's seat. I had written, "I LOVE MOVEING!!" across the top. But the notion of settling in one spot and staying there finally appeals to my nomadic soul.
Our dear friends, Randy and Sheila, gave Jeff and me two intertwined corkscrew willow trees as a wedding gift. We've been carrying them around, transferring them from pot to pot, for nine and a half years. We can't say for sure how long God has planned for us to stay in our new home, but we know one thing: next month, we are going to plant those corkscrew willows in the ground.
And because this post is still not long enough, I've included a slide show of our new home for your viewing pleasure.
Note: you may need to visit my blog to view the slideshow.