Archive for September 2012

Our Journey to the Promised Land

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WARNING: This is the longest post I have ever written but I'd be honored if you took the time to read it.

If you have been following my blog and/or have known me more for more than 5 years, then you also know the journey I/we have been on.  You know that the major player in our story has been a legacy of job changes and moves that began the moment our first child was born 15 years ago.  Stability and security have been elusive.  For me as a woman it was a painful, weary place and a mountain I grew so tired of climbing.  The questions and judgments from others who have not walked this path have oftentimes rendered me bitter, resentful and envious.  I am not proud of this but I want to be honest.  In our culture, it’s the natural order of things: college, job, marriage, children and a house.  The first time we had to sell our house, I felt shame to be known as a “renter.”  Without exaggeration, I was asked at least once a month: "Are you guys still renting?"  as if I had a communicable disease.  I always made excuses as to why our situation was temporary. Yet every time we thought we'd be in a rental for a short period, the days turned into a year, two years, and most recently three years. But by whose standards was I judging us?  Certainly not God's. Even though I was weary of not having a place to nest and call our own I knew God had a bigger plan and I could trust Him with our future.  I just got tired of always having to defend our lot in life.

Last November I felt God calling me to re-enter this space and begin dreaming again.  In 2004, when I was in a similar place after renting for 5 years, we made a "house wish list".  God gave us almost every single wish--at least the ones that really mattered. That home fit our needs beautifully for the next 5 years and we made wonderful memories there.  But, once again, we were left with no choice but to move on as many circumstances created a perfect storm that warranted downsizing and renting again.  As I sat with my prayer journal open and began thinking about what a home for our family would look like, it took a substantial amount of courage to even write one item.  That's when I heard in my heart, "to Him who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine........." (Ephesians 3:20) Over the next week I probably heard or saw that verse at least once a day.  I love how God confirms himself over and over.  We are so stinkin' stubborn!!

Little did I know that at about the same time Trey had been eyeing a house just 2 blocks down the road.  He didn't share this discovery with me until he did some research--actually a lot of research.  In March, he gingerly approached me with an offer to come with him and take a look at this house that had caught his attention.  I had passed the property on my normal driving route hundreds of times but rarely gave it much thought.  As we drove up the long driveway, there was not a stitch of curb appeal.  Built in 1984 and abandoned and neglected for close to a year, I wasn't particularly drawn to the house but was willing to look around and peek in the windows.  From what we could see, it didn't appear half bad on the inside. With 2.2 acres surrounding it and 11 acres adjoining it, this offered something for each of the boys.  A huge front yard for Ben to kick the soccer ball around, bike jumps galore for Ian to indulge to his heart's content; and within walking distance to the high school.   Trey told me the story of how the lots surrounding the house were recently purchased by someone we knew and he could contact the owner for us.  We sat in the driveway and offered the possibility up to God and moved on.  The next day we heard from our acquaintance saying he got a call out of the blue from the owner asking if he wanted to buy the house.  (He had downsized and moved to a different town) He told him, "I don't but I know someone who does."  Unfortunately, we didn't hear from anyone again for the next couple months.

In May we received a phone call from our landlords letting us know that they needed to sell the house and would be sending a realtor over that Friday to take pictures.  My anxiety went through the roof when I heard the news.  These are the same people whose house we had sold for them 2 years earlier.  And this would be the fourth house we have rented with a for sale sign in the yard while not knowing where we were heading.  After my freak out, my very patient husband completely went to bat for me, promising this would not be a repeat of being at the mercy of real estate agents and buyers.  He refused to let me be in the meeting with the realtor and laid some firm ground rules with her about showings, etc.  She was very amicable and the next couple weeks as the phone calls came, she made sure our time was respected. But then the questions started coming from every direction: "I saw your house is for sale, where are you going?  What do you mean you don't know?  Aren't you worried?  Are you guys going to rent again? "  This is when I can get "spun out" and start to question the peace I have had.  Yet, in spite of the old familiar feelings and fears, I sensed that this time was going to be different.  We had until the end of September before our lease expired and, even if the house did sell, our contract would have to be honored.

After I finished spring quarter, I met one of my college friends from Seattle for the day.  Through my tears, I was bringing her up on the latest when she said: “As you’ve been sharing, a scripture keeps coming to mind and I don’t remember where it is in the bible but it’s ‘to Him who is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine…” I cried even harder when I told her the story behind that verse.  Confirmation once again.  Even though the outlook appeared bleak at this point, I could sense God was working out all the details behind the scenes.

Fortunately, by God's grace, there were very few showings of the house as the school year came to a close and our summer began.  In the meantime, Ian had been spending a lot of time biking up on the 11 acres above the coveted house.  The owner's son had built a bunch of bike jumps with his friends while he was growing up here and told Ian he was welcome anytime.  Ian came home and excitedly announced that he had met "Joe", Mr. X's son.  Little did we know, that chance meeting would soon serve us well.

In late June, while on a camping trip I took a long walk one morning and talked with God about this circumstance.  September felt closer and closer and not having any future plans was starting to drive me a little crazy. God prompted me with a thought: "Write him a letter.  Tell him your story.  Tell him about your family and why you want to buy his house."  After wrestling with this idea for a week or so, I finally sat down one night, penned that letter and sent it registered mail the next day.  Two weeks went by with nary a word. Finally, I did get the return receipt showing " Mr. X.". received the letter but only silence ensued from his end.  

A few days after the confirmation that the letter was received, Ian got involved once again. In his "git ir done" way, he informed "Joe" (23) that our family was interested in hisdad's house but couldn't get in touch with him.  Utterly pleased with himself, Ian came home and announced  "I got Mr. X's phone number, do you want to call him?" I burst his bubble and told him that I was waiting for a reply to my letter and would continue to wait.  Apparently, Ian was not happy with my answer and took matters into his own hands.  The second week of August came and all our summer adventures were behind us.  We were ready to move forward but there was still silence on the other end.  Ian couldn't stand it any longer.  One afternoon I heard him downstairs talking on the phone.  I hadn't heard any phones ring so I went downstairs assuming he had picked up my phone (teenagers don't actually talk on their phones) when I heard: "Ian.  Yeah.  13.  I'm Trey's middle son.  My mom sent you a letter, did you get it?  We were hoping we could work out a deal with you to buy or rent your house."  I just about had a stroke on the spot.  I immediately thought about the verse. "And a little child shall lead them...."  When this kid gets focused, there is no stopping him.  He hung up from his 10 minute conversation and informed us that "Mr. X. is going to answer your letter tonight and call Dad tomorrow."  I just love how naive children are to the stupid games us adults play with each other.  They take everything at face value.  I was hoping he was right.

Another week went by with silence and we were in full on back-to-school mode.  We had resigned ourselves to the fact that the kids would be starting the school year at the same house. Our landlords sent a message asking if they would need to be looking for new tenants at the end of September.  That same night Trey's phone rang and it was none other than "Mr. X."  After a long conversation that I tried to piece together through eavesdropping, it was decided that we would meet at the property the next evening at 5:00.  Worried he wasn't going to show, I busied myself all day and as I made my way down the drive, there he was  to greet me.  (Trey was having crazy car troubles and got there late.)  We all went through the house together and our whole family fell in love with it.  Judging from the exterior, I would have NEVER guessed what was waiting inside. It had everything on my wish list: huge kitchen; tons of natural light; a separate office for Trey; a sitting area off the master for me to study; a room for each of the boys. We discussed the terms of a purchase versus a lease option and agreed to meet on Saturday to finalize the details.  He gave us a key and went on his merry way.  We all stood there shaking our heads and pinching ourselves.  Only God could orchestrate something this crazy and miraculous.

But of course, the enemy couldn't let us get too excited before he wreaked havoc on our hearts once again.  I've said this before and I stand by it: when God says "no," the doors are slammed shut and it's obvious.  When God is about to get a lot of glory for blessing his children, the enemy turns up the heat so we will doubt God and his goodness. We knew this entire process was spiritual because the attacks kept coming day after day.  Trey's ignition switch immobilized and his car wouldn't start; my transmission started slipping, my laptop hard drive crashed; Ian's bike needed a hefty repair.......all major distractions set against us to take our eyes off God.  Saturday at noon came and Mr. X. was a "no-show"  My heart dropped but I still had an amazing sense of peace.  God would not bring us this far with no other options a month before we had to find a new place to live.  I knew I could trust Him but I sure didn't like it.  Mr. X. sent a text apologizing with a promise to be in touch.  After a week of phone tag and promised emails, he rang our doorbell at 8:00 a.m. on August 31st with the paperwork.  In just enough time to give our landlord a 30-day notice.

One last hurdle was to get the water turned back on and make sure there were no broken pipes or leaks.  Mr. X. was going to take care of this but another week came and went and still no water.  Another verse God gave me when I asked for a scripture for 2012 was from Isaiah 43:18-19: "Forget the former things: do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." As tempting and natural as it was for me to want to return to my old ways of thinking and believe that "this is our lot in life" I knew God was saying to forget the past.  As we entered the second week of September, I couldn't sleep one night so I got up and started reading the whole chapter of Isaiah 43 and it was all about WATER--the one thing we were waiting for so that we could move--literally.

The water was restored on the  September 11th (hmmmm...)  and there were a few more minor glitches that took us down to the wire and gave our friends just 2 days of warning before our request for moving help came.  In spite of that, they rallied and we were almost entirely moved in 4 days ago. I stood humbled, amazed and grateful as I watched these men and women love on us.

As I sit here and write this, I am still pinching myself that our family gets to live in this house.  I want to share two very key anecdotes about this process that became clearer and clearer as moving day approached.  First, my friend, Joy, had such great insight when she told me: "I was thinking about how for the last 10 years you have been living so close to this property and it reminded me of the Israelites and how close they were to The Promised Land but God had to deal with their disobedience before they could go there."  She assured me she wasn't saying she thought we had been suffering for disobedience but I definitely see the parallels.  Maybe we weren't living in rebellion to God but there were definitely a lot of areas we had to work on individually, as a couple, and as a family before we could ever be ready for a blessing like this.  Second, I have thought about how unattractive this house is on the outside but how beautiful it is when you walk inside.  God had to seriously show us how much time we spend on our outside appearance when He wants to work on who we are becoming internally.

So here we are settling into our own little "Promised Land."  It has been quite a journey filled with heartache, longing and pain but I never would have dreamed or imagined this kind of ending.  Only God.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.

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Ian is 14

Saturday, September 15, 2012

These are by far my favorite posts to write.  I so enjoy writing about two things I love the most in life: my boys and birthdays.  Even better when one my boys has a birthday.  Today, we celebrate birthday #14 of boy #2.  This has been a big year for Ian and the theme I have seen over and over in him for the past 12 months is: "Problem Solver."  He is a "git ir done" kind of kid in every sense of the word (or stupid redneck phrase).  

One of my favorite stories about Ian not only showcases his problem solving skills but probably will go down in history as our most embarrassing moment--ever.  When he was 8 years old, our neighbors (who often made comments about their finances, mostly on the frugal side of things) did a major landscaping project that had many of us wondering why they would suddenly drop a load of cash on something that wasn't a great return on investment?  My husband happened to wonder out loud where the cash came from.  Unbeknownst to us, Ian's little ears overheard the conversation and decided to take matters into his own hands.  After riding his bike around the cul-de-sac, he came in the kitchen and announced that he knew the answer to our earlier question.  Ian: "Mom and Dad, I know where the "Smiths" got the money to do all that work."  Us: "You do?  How?"   Ian: "I asked 'em!"  Us: "WHAT?"  Ian: "Yeah.  I said my mom and dad were wondering where you got the money to do all this work.  They said they saved it up!!"  Trey immediately lit into him and he defended himself with "you said you were wondering so I thought I'd find out for you."  Like I said: a problem solver.  So maybe that wouldn't have been my first choice for how to get the info (that was none of our business to begin with) but he was honestly just trying to help.  

At the end of last summer, he decided to build a bike from scratch.  The kid made a list of every single part, knew the manufacturer he needed to buy them from and what the estimated cost range was.  Little by little he chipped away at earning money and ordering each part as he could afford it.  Within 6 months that bike was built and even the 20-somethings admire his handiwork which is always a nice perk when you're 13.  

The best, and final story I will share has all come to fruition just this week.  Almost a year ago we began trying to buy a house that was brought to our attention just around the corner.  Ian builds bike jumps above the property which was how we learned about it.  The house had been empty for almost a year and the owner was not returning phone calls from us or anyone else.  I ended up writing the guy a letter back in July but as of early August I had no reply.  Ian met the man's son biking and came home with the dad's phone number programmed into his phone.  He proudly walked in that day announcing how his problem solving skills were going to help us get in this house.  I told him we were waiting for him to respond to my letter or Trey's phone calls.  A couple weeks later I hear him downstairs talking on the phone.  As I eavesdropped, I heard:  "Yeah, Ian.  Trey's middle son.  13.  My mom and dad want to work out a deal with you to buy your house. Did you get my mom's letter?" I couldn't believe my ears!  He was tired of waiting around, had heard numerous conversations about it, he wanted to live there too so once again, he took matters into his own hands--and we are moving in tomorrow.  Man, I love that kid!

Happy 14th Birthday, Ian Joseph!  You are confidence, kindness and sassiness all rolled into one and I'm so glad God chose me to be your mom.  I adore you!

 Didn't his mother tell him his eyes would stay crossed if he did that?

 Doing what he does best.

 The finished product.

 Showing his swag.

Almost as tall as mama. 


Back to the Books

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

 No smiles at 7:00 a.m. for this sophomore.

 At the top of the class-8th grade!

The "senior year" of elementary school-5th grade!

Last night as the boys were scurrying about getting their binders and backpacks fully stocked with new pencils, notebooks, highlighters and pens, I found myself feeling quite melancholy.  I have ALWAYS looked forward to the first day of the school year.  If you asked me what my favorite day of the year was, without hesitation I would answer: the day after Labor Day aka the first day of school.  I love new beginnings. I love high expectations and excitement.  I love Fall.  I love plugging practices and games into my calendar.  I love Friday Night Lights and Saturday morning soccer matches.  But this time around it feels like the inevitable is one step closer.  The calendar keeps turning to a new month faster than I ever imagined it would. Today it's September and before I know it, Christmas will be here.  (sorry)

I think what makes this adjustment even harder is how fleeting the summer felt.  Aside from our road trip-which is now even more special to me than ever before--we spent very little time together as a family.  With two teenagers, their social lives and independence seemed to be in overdrive.  There was rarely a day where someone wasn't doing a lawn mowing job, heading to the lake or mountain biking.  I have always fought for our family time when our culture screams for over-scheduling, over-committing and over-everything.  But even when I did insist on sharing a movie night, pizza or ice cream, everyone's minds seemed to be elsewhere.  I remember those days myself so I can't begrudge them.  It's the natural order of things.  It's all part of the plan.  I just wish one part of the plan included making time stand still.

For nostalgia's sake, I had to post this photo from 2007-the one year all three of them were at the same school: Kindergarten, 3rd grade and 5th grade.