“Then He brought us out from there, to bring us in…” Deuteronomy 6:23
I need to tell you a story.
Almost exactly twelve years ago, we bought our first house. It was cute, quaint, an old New England cape on a dead end. I was five months pregnant with our first child. We were fresh out of college. The housing market was booming. I was in nursing school. He had a decent and stable job. It was time to settle down.
So we bought a house, getting a mortgage as first time homeowners. There were a few strings attached, but with a low rate which didn’t require a large down payment, we took the deal. Then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
It was an old house, full of character and full of cracks. We tore up old carpet. We repainted every room. My husband took a sledgehammer to the very old, very stained baby blue cast iron bathtub. He learned to tile, to mud, to roof and sheetrock. We found used furniture; we made do. We welcomed our first son to the house.
And our second. And third. And fourth, fifth, and sixth.
The quaint little two bedroom house strained at the seams.
When we were pregnant with number 3, we decided it was time. Time to put the house on the market, time to move on.
That was nine years ago. Many people were interested. Hundreds (I stopped counting around 200) set up showings to see it. Sometimes we’d take the For Sale sign down just for a break. (I remember taking a phone call once when I was in labor, a realtor on the other end requesting a chance to show the house. I breathlessly turned him down.) For one reason or another, when someone did make an offer, it always fell through. (In one instance, a bank refused the prospective buyers because the house was several hundred feet from a very old oil tank that had long been in disuse. My husband spent many frustrating hours getting run around by the large Canadian company to whom the tank belonged, trying to get proof that it wasn’t a fire hazard. The local fire department burned the fields surrounding them every Spring, and my husband worked for an oil tank company – ironically – and knew an oil tank was less of a fire hazard than the old wood of the house itself. But the large company didn’t seem to care, and the bank wouldn’t take our word for it. Coincidentally, though, about a month after the house deal fell through, a big tractor came and demolished the tank.) So the seasons came and went. We stayed.
One of the clauses in our mortgage said we weren’t allowed to rent. I suppose it was to keep us from becoming slum lords while taking advantage of the low mortgage rate, but there was no fine print that would get around it. We looked at remortgaging, but the housing bubble had burst, and the bank didn’t consider the house worth their while. We couldn’t afford a second house payment if we were still bound to the first. We were stuck.
I often felt the stuck-ness. One thousand square feet, especially in winter, with six rambunctious boys, and a wheelchair, too much stuff, and no closets (each bedroom had a tiny one, but that was it) – felt claustrophobic. I know; in any other country of the world, we looked like we lived like princes. But I didn’t feel like royalty in the American culture surrounding me. Yes, sure, I knew God could use the challenge to make me a better person. But there were plenty of days I didn’t want to be better. I just wanted a bigger living room. And closets.
Recently, I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy. It’s not the book of the Bible I tend to flip to for comfort or answers or entertainment. It is Moses reiterating the journey of the Israelite nation as they escaped from Egypt and moved to the promised land. Ah, the dream of a good new home, of space and freedom. I knew the feeling of being stuck in a land where I no longer wanted to be. Israel had willingly, gladly gone to Egypt at first. There had been food there, family, welcome. But four hundred years passed and the welcome became forced, the food rationed, the family downtrodden. It seemed like time to go. But not yet. Did they question? “Did we hear God wrong?” perhaps they wondered. “Did God really tell us to go to Egypt just to get stuck here?” Long, agonizing prayers seemed to go unanswered.
Years passed. Suddenly, God responded. The time had come.
He sent Moses. He made miracles. He parted the Red Sea. God made a way. It seemed unlikely. But suddenly, they were free from the bondage of Egypt. Surprise! That sounded familiar to me too. It was a breathless several weeks in Spring when God directly sent us a renter and the bank agreed to allow us a year to try to sell and rent simultaneously despite the mortgage clause preventing it. He sent us an unexpected check to cover extra expenses (it took me a while to figure out who sent it). He sent friends to help with a few major projects. He parted the impassable waters. Surprise. So we walked through.
The wilderness on the other side was rough sometimes. We bought a new home and had to trust He would help us to cover the expenses of owning two houses. We didn’t go on vacations, or out to eat, we didn’t celebrate birthdays with parties, or buy a bigger vehicle to fit us all. My husband worked extra, and I started writing a book to sell. We tried to live on the manna he provided.
I didn’t always want manna again. I got pregnant (surprise again!) and craved hamburgers and red meat instead. I didn’t want to spend my birthday cleaning the contents of a child’s stomach out of my sofa. I didn’t want to stay in the hot kitchen, I wanted to go to the beach in a larger van with air conditioning. I didn’t want my husband working extra time. But we had space, freedom, and our practical needs were covered.
You shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, know what was in your heart… So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna which you did know know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. -Deuteronomy 8:2-3
Then it happened. The renter moved out of our old house in September. The bank wouldn’t let us rent again, we’d already surpassed the year they’d allowed. There was no way to pay two mortgages. Had we gambled and lost? Had that just been our scheme, or did God really say go? It was for sale, but we didn’t expect that to work.
But it did.
I’m still in shock. Tonight I sat across the table from a young couple busily signing papers to buy our old house. We handed them the keys. They left as happy new homeowners. We left knowing we had been days away from foreclosure. Days. After nine years of trying and praying and waiting, the debt of a house was lifted tonight with the stroke of a pen. I’m still in shock.
That’s how God’s timing works. The wilderness has been humbling indeed.
I wonder what the Israelites thought as they looked across the Jordan at the promised land and Moses reminded them of where they had started. He brought us out from there, to bring us in… Deuteronomy 6:23.
And He wasn’t finished yet.
On with the adventure.