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Following God, Finding Home

The following is the true story of my October this year, interwoven with past moments that have brought me to present faith and understanding. When I first created my website, Realizing Home, my name stemmed from my desire to combine the beauty of homemaking with the realization that our soul’s true home is found in Christ. Living with God means experiencing him in everyday life. And then God surprised me in October.

October 1, 2021

“I really like this front door”, I think to myself as the realtor opens the dark, solid door into the house. Shawn and I are at house number one on our first evening of house hunting. Following Ashley in onto the dark tile flooring of the hallway, I am immediately impressed by the thick woodwork trim so rich and handsome. The beautiful hallway quickly empties into the expansive living space of the home.

“Wow!” I say, “This dining area will work better than I thought looking at pictures! And I love the dark kitchen cabinets.” The beautiful, dark cabinetry staggers across the upper corner of the kitchen, but is dwarfed by the vaulted ceiling and, consequently, makes a bold impression rather than adding weight and heaviness to the light, bright space.

We cross the dining area into the living room which wanders into the large master bedroom and then into the master bathroom with a great closet to the left and shower, tub and toilet to the right. The plush, clean carpet bounces along with my steps. Downstairs is surprisingly large, roomy and bright, and even contains a storage room as large as my current one!

“I can’t believe I like this so much!” I comment to Ashley. “This is the very first house we’ve seen!”

“Really?” she responds. Ashley is filling in for our regular realtor tonight. “Yes, it is very well kept. One of the nicer homes I’ve gotten to show.”

Considering options

Because I had dreaded house hunting again, I had tried to imagine different ways to remodel our current house. But even that idea was put on hold until Shawn could change jobs. After taking the manager position at work, he quickly realized it was not what he wanted to do. That had been two years ago, and we had spent the months since then praying for a new job. Applications and job openings had come and gone, and still Shawn had been working a job he dreaded. In the meantime, we waited for God’s answer to our prayers. We waited. And waited.

During COVID our kids finished college. Our daughter filled out over one hundred job applications and eventually landed her dream job. Our son, a year later, began working where he had job shadowed in high school and been inspired to become an electrical engineer. God answered our prayers for our kids, and still we waited for a job for Shawn. Shawn was particular about what he applied for and where. We didn’t want to move for something temporary.

With children leaving the house, we no longer needed the four bedrooms, but we did need more living room and dining space. Family gatherings were cramped in these tiny spaces which we filled up with about fifteen relatives for birthdays. The ice maker in the refrigerator stopped working, the washing machine got louder, the display panel on the oven cracked, and I began to wonder if the appliances would hold out until the new job came and we could either remodel the kitchen or move to follow the job.

We were thrilled when a different position opened up for Shawn within the same hospital! The waiting game was finally over! Now, as we truly considered the option of remodeling, we saw that no matter how we reworked the space, there was no way to add square footage. Our house simply could not be built out in any direction. Our best bet was to move before the appliances died, and leave an allowance for the next buyer.

The daylight fades as Shawn and I park and follow Ashley into newer units being built in another part of town. On the website the listings looked great, but here on sight it’s just a jumble of unappealing new construction, sheared earth and unfinished buildings. We peek through a few unfinished options. Some are nice, but there’s nothing else that would really work.

Ashley unlocks another house that is the same design by the same builder as the first one we’ve seen this evening.

“So this unit is scheduled to be completed in March 2022.” Ashley explains.

“Well, I like that it’s the same flooring throughout on this unit.” I comment. I don’t mention that the grey wood laminate trend is probably on its way out. “I like the dark cabinets of the other house better than these white ones though.” Another passing trend, possibly.

It’s such a good floor plan. I count the cabinets and try to compare the number to my own. “I think it has the same number of cabinets, but it’s hard to tell on the lower cabinets.” My kitchen is short on drawer space, featuring shelving instead, so it’s not like comparing apples to apples.

What are these yards like? I wonder to myself. I peek out a window, but there’s not much to see in the dark. I can hear the traffic from the nearby highway… which makes me cringe.

As we leave, Shawn and I agree that we might consider the new construction. March would be a nice time to move. We might be able to be better prepared by then.

Angst, Disappointment and Belief

It’s Friday morning and a Facebook post predicts financial woe in real estate investments due to some impending report from Washington, DC on October 13th. “What a crazy unpredictable world1” I think. I so wish that we could have stability in our nation right now. I close my computer and decide that like most end-of-the-world prophecies, this marketplace prediction will probably come to nothing. But I’m still unsettled and wistfully longing for a steadier, stable world when I’m considering something as risky as a home purchase.

I grew up with parents fanatically in love with God and serious about living for him. I thought Jesus was wonderful until a rogue, self-proclaimed prophet assured me that Jesus would return before I became an adult. I was devastated by this misinformation that changed my picture of God from a kind, benevolent Father, to a selfish tyrant who was robbing me of my life! At six years old, all I wanted to do was to grow up and have autonomy. God became to me a cheat who cared nothing for me and my life, but only for his plans. It took decades to change my mind.

I came to believe that to follow the will of God meant to do the opposite of everything that I wanted. And this carried over into my Christianity. Yes, after I decided that maybe God wasn’t completely a self-absorbed autocrat, and I had surrendered my life to follow him, I still doubted his kindness. Reason and experience had convinced me of the sovereignty of God, and although I didn’t completely trust his intentions, I figured you have to side with the Supreme Ruler of the Universe every time.

We had once lived in a large, beautiful house in a very nice neighborhood. But the house was a financial stretch for us. Property taxes kept going up, and I began to notice things that needed to be updated. Shawn began looking for a day job in addition to his weekend night shift. Houses don’t take care of themselves – they’re an ongoing investment – and we were starting to feel trapped. We needed to downsize.

Ted, our previous realtor, began showing us houses, and we found a sweet one that I really liked. Although it was mostly a ranch, it did have one upstairs room with dormer windows, which I love, and was located on a cute, quiet cul-de-sac. Ted encouraged us to offer contingent on the sale of our house. Shawn and I felt confident that if it was the right house then God would work it all out. We decided to list our own house and hope to get an offer on the big home so that we could offer on the little one.

Since Ted was also the agent for the house we loved, he later called to give us the heads up that an offer had come in on it. He explained that we could quickly write an offer if we wanted to be considered. But we weren’t comfortable with that idea, so the little house went to another family. Now we had no properties we liked, and a beast of a house to unload on someone else.

I was so angry when a close missionary friend from a Christian family told me that she no longer believed in Jesus. In a way I had banked my kids’ salvation on the idea that good parenting would ensure an eternal home. Soul searching revealed that I was hesitant to draw near to God myself. I wanted to do as little as possible to qualify for heaven, and instead somewhat vicariously raise up better, more godly little humans than myself who would draw nearer to God than I dared. I wanted to push them to God, and hide behind them.

Instead, the Lord challenged me to simply believe. Believe that the Word of God was true. Believe that God loved me enough to send his Son to pay my debts. Believe that there is nothing that I can do to earn my salvation. Believe that he is good. That he is God. That he is with me. Live like I believed everything that I claimed I did. Believe with all my soul, instead of just with my reasoning.

And like the father of the demon possessed son, my answer was “I believe. Help me with my unbelief.” And another new chapter of my life began where I resolved to stand on truth that I only toyed with before. I began to seek God as if my life depended on it, because indeed it does.

Listening and Hearing

As I drive home from my friend’s house, I keep praying about the housing situation.

“Lord, please help us find the right place,” I pray. Inside my head, I’m thinking through the possibilities. Should we buy one of the new builds even though I’m not thrilled by the location?

My mind wanders back to the first house we visited. It checks off everything on our list. My only question marks are the smaller garage (could we fit everything?) and the kitchen. I can’t figure out if the kitchen is bigger, smaller or the same size as my current one. The expansive high ceilings kinda throw off my perspective. Maybe in the spring another house with the same floor plan will open up on the street we like. Or should we look at some in a nearby town still on our list? But really, I want to live in the same town. That street is so sweet. It’s meandering, unlike our own typical Midwestern straight street, the trees are grown, and the houses are not cookie cutter. We could offer on the first house, but that will probably sell at the open house this weekend and we don’t even have ours on the market yet. There’s no way we could make a good offer with so much competition and our house not even on the market. Back and forth I go.

“That’s your house.” I hear. Not in an audible voice, but a very clear impression. It settles over me with surety.

“What?” I think. “Is this for real? The first house could be ours? Or did God mean that another house on that street could be ours?” I had no doubt that if I was hearing correctly, that God had just given me my answer. But I did question whether or not I had heard correctly. I have been known to get it wrong sometimes. Did he mean this house exactly? Or another just like it on the street?

But how exciting! What a gift! That house would be awesome! Could we really get an acceptable offer in on time? What a blessing to be done house shopping already! If the house is God’s plan, then the kitchen doesn’t matter. It will either be a perfect blessing, or a lesson in gratitude and contentment. God knows the best house for me. I know that his plan is the best! And I know that Shawn wants that house. I also know that he wants me to have a house I want, and he is willing to wait for it.

The answer is clear enough for me to know my next steps. I’ll tell Shawn that I am ready to make an offer on the first house, and we’ll see what God works from there. If I have heard correctly, then it will all work out and become our house! And if not, I’ll wait until spring. But I won’t tell Shawn just yet what I think God told me.

John 10:27 on picture of lamb

I used to get so frustrated about my inability to hear God speaking. I was afraid that I wasn’t one of his sheep because I couldn’t hear him. (his sheep listen to his voice) I would beg and beg for him to say something, hoping that that would solidify my faith.

Deciding to believe changed all that. I began to trust that if God wanted me to hear a word from him that he would speak to me. I didn’t need to try to hear his voice. I needed to believe that he could speak to me. My belief didn’t need to be based on whether or not he did. Instead I began to talk more to him. And to try to obey what he had already made clear to me in the Bible. I’ve learned so much about God as I’ve seen what the Bible tells me about him. And I’ve learned to content myself with listening rather than stress about hearing.

I used to want to hear the voice of God so that I would be safeguarded against screwing things up and so that I would have insider knowledge about my path. I wanted to eliminate risk. But following the voice of God sometimes means walking into dangerous territory without a clear picture of where you are going. As Grace Chou Simons says, “your Father is more interested in your desperate need for His lamplit direction than in your path-paving skills.” The risk is eliminated not by knowing the path, but by knowing the voice and character of the Shepherd that I follow.

Light Bulb Moments

A few hours later, Shawn and I park outside the first house. Somehow our realtor had managed to work out another visit for us since I wanted to look again at the house before writing an offer. Jeff hasn’t showed up yet, so I decide to walk around and look at the landscaping. I walk along the side of the house, mentally identifying all the plants I recognize from my days working in landscape retail.

I head back around the house to find that Jeff has now arrived. Jeff hasn’t even seen the house yet so we show him the main level and urge him downstairs to check out the light, bright rooms downstairs, the large family room and generous storage room. Then we talk about writing the offer. As Jeff and Shawn hash out some of the details a light bulb suddenly goes off in my brain!

“What?” I remark, “We don’t have to make our offer contingent on our house selling?”

“No,” Shawn says, “that’s why we have the bridge loan.”

I feel a little dense. I knew Shawn had applied for a bridge loan, but I was only counting on that to give us a cushion of time between buying and selling. Suddenly, I realize that our offer can actually look appealing to a seller! And with no deadline in mind and at Jeff’s suggestion, we let the seller choose the closing date. Even more appealing!

I had been told, as so many of us have, that God has a plan for my life. And because I had originally regarded him as a cold, unfeeling dictator, I was sure that God and I had very different plans! My new life of submissive surrender had loomed before me like a tractless wasteland void of joy. I had wrongly assumed that any desires of my own were to be discarded.

As I walked, talked and prayed with the Lord, I began to realize that God had a bigger plan than just the plan for my life. His plan was a good plan, to restore all of creation unto himself and my life was woven into this bigger plan! Part of his big plan was designing me with the gifts, talents and desires that would bring me joy and satisfaction as I used them for his purposes instead of my own selfish gain. So although Christianity is indeed a life of surrender and often self-sacrifice, it’s surrendering to a better plan, a surer way, a richer reward than our own short-sighted substitutes. In my past life, I would have never believed that God and I would want for me the same house.

Trusting in Love

I am completely at peace about our offer. By this time, I’ve shared with Shawn my secret directive from the Lord so neither one of us are surprised when Jeff calls to say that our offer has been accepted. Instead I feel extremely loved! How wonderful that God would care enough to lead us to the right house on Day One of our shopping! How thoughtful was his timing to conveniently land this blessing in our laps when several other commitments in my life have ended, and I now have time to pack and clean before they pick up again! How amazing that he worked out our closing date for the end of October so that we can be in our new house by the holidays! My stomach is too excited to be hungry.

I’ve felt this stomach excitement before and this wonderful love of God. When Shawn and I became engaged, I began a new season in my life of finally being convinced that God did really love me, that everything I desired was not forbidden, and that my life could be good rather than constant trial. Yes, I had been that much of a pessimist! God didn’t hate me! Instead he had blessed me with a wonderful man to love me! I could hardly eat for all the happiness I felt in anticipation of my wedding day and a new season of married life.

Surrendering


I hate risk. And waiting. This is the worst part. Now that the house is cleaned and ready to show, we must now wait for the offers. What if we are stuck with this house until spring? Despite all the optimism of my friends who don’t doubt that our house will sell quickly, I know that October is very late in the year to list a house. And the days pass like minutes on a ticking time bomb.

Matthew 12:24 on picture of bird eating seed from hand

I hate risk. I like predictable, sure, small and safe. But the life of faith is not a small life. It’s a life full of calculated risk where we trust that the faithfulness of God holds us more closely than gravity.

In With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani, he shares about Henri Nouwan, a man who learned a lesson about faith as he watched a trapeze group perform. He noted that the true hero of the show was not the flyer, but rather the catcher. It all depends on the catcher.

Because we have a trustworthy, able catcher in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are free to fly. We are completely safe to jump, and to live bravely because God catches us. We believe that although the struggles of life are real, they are ultimately powerless to rob us of the dearest treasures – faith, love, peace and hope – found in communion with our Creator Father. We are completely safe in him. Selling a house in October is risky. Financial risk is my least favorite kind of risk. But I need to set my eyes on Jesus and my hands and feet on building his kingdom. I can trust that if God can care for sparrows and dress the grass of the fields then he can care for me.

Receiving

Shawn and I head out for a walk during our third house showing of the day. And as we walk, Shawn begins to pray:

“Lord, we’d really like to get a good offer before Friday so we don’t have to relocate our weekend birthday party. And Lord, it would be great if we could get an offer without contingencies and be able to close before December. Thank you, for the new house.” Shawn goes on to pray for our family, and I chime in with a few more thoughts and prayers.

After a long day of house showings, I am happy to be home and ready to rest. As I head toward a nice, hot bath, I hear Shawn answer the phone and I can tell he’s walking my way. Which can only mean one thing, the realtor is calling! Shawn puts Jeff on speaker phone.

“Well, I wanted to let you know that I received an offer today, but I held onto it until your showings were done for today,” Jeff explains, “and sure enough, another has come in as well.” It’s only day two of our house being on the market, but we’ve had ten showings.

We go through the offers together. The first is a very nice offer, but it’s contingent on the sale of a house that’s not on the market yet and has a closing date proposed for January. Not so great for us. Our financing will start to get more complicated if we close any later than December 1st.

Then Jeff pulls out what he calls “the good offer” and we talk through it together. Is it any surprise that it answers everything Shawn has just prayed on our walk? Better than we asked on the price. No contingencies, just inspections and appraisal. And a closing date in the middle of November. Perfect.

Jeff emails the offers and Shawn and I each look at them carefully. When God so completely answers your prayers, the path is completely obvious. Shawn and I sign to accept the second offer and turn in for a peaceful night of sleep.

Constant Communication

I pull into the garage to find our shelving torn off the wall. I quickly text Shawn to let him know.

“The inspector asked to take it down to get to the fuse box,” he replies. “I told him that the door was still accessible, but evidently he still thought he needed to remove the shelf.”

My mood is none too pleasant, but I am a little appeased that at least the inspector asked first. Last night I had started pulling things down in my shower, and found that the wall above the shower doesn’t quite look right. What did the inspector think? Will we pass the radon test? Is my lattice too close to the property line? What are these inspections going to turn up?

In my busyness, with decluttering and packing, I’ve lost my focus and lost my peace. Fortunately, I know who to turn to when I’ve lost my bearings and have wandered again into the path of my own making.

On a summer high school trip, I found myself expected to complete ropes course training. Ropes courses were a big deal in the eighties, used especially to help build teamwork among young adults. Not an athlete, careful, cautious me was somehow enrolled in this course, where on one particular day I was expected to wear a harness, climb a tree, and walk a tightrope twenty feet above ground suspended between two trees. In my own typical style, I decided to go second. One person was in front of me so I could watch and learn, but then I was next so that I didn’t have to bear the butterflies in my stomach any longer than necessary.

The first person seemed to struggle a little with first too much, and then too little, slack in the harness rope. Too much slack resulted in a wobbly walk as he tried to balance on the tightrope. Too little slack meant that it was hard to move forward. The job required less slack in the beginning and more as you advanced. Now came my turn.

I used what I had learned from watching the first person. I called down to my belayer exactly what I needed at each step. Working together in close communication made the job easy, and I quickly crossed the tightrope to the next tree.

And I saw the connection this example gave to my life. If life is a tightrope I walk, then God is my belayer. Walking a tightrope is impossible without him helping me. And as he and I communicate together, the impossible becomes not only possible, but exciting, rewarding and simple.

What I Need and What I Want

As I stand in my kitchen, eyeing my cupboards and forming a plan for storage, I suddenly come to the realization of a sad, sad truth.

The new kitchen is smaller. Significantly smaller.

A wave of disappointment washes over me, and I lean back against the dishwasher accidentally lighting buttons and activating warning beeps. Flustered, I push more buttons and silence the dishwasher before turning back to survey my cabinets.

Why did I think I had more drawer space? I have two fewer drawers and four fewer cabinets. What am I going to do?

What am I going to do? I’m very good at pity parties, but I’ve learned that I’m the only one in attendance and the longer they last, the harder they are to leave. Take a deep breath.

“Only believe,” I hear in my soul. Yes, that will be my response. I will continue to count this house as a blessing and a gift. There are so many ways it is far superior to meet our needs. And evidently I don’t need as big a kitchen.

And besides, aren’t I good at organization? If I had a spacious kitchen, how would I be able to help my readers struggling with small kitchens? Maybe this can be an opportunity to think creatively and reimagine some spaces.

And lastly I am reminded of this verse in Proverbs. “Give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30: 8b-9)

quote by John Newton on sunrise picture

Like I’ve said, I have known my share of pity parties, but one of my low points of despair came the spring that I reinjured my knee and struggled to recover. Ironically, I was leaving the doctor’s office when I missed seeing a step and set my foot down oddly, dislocating my bum knee.

If only I hadn’t been texting while walking. If only I wasn’t wearing progressive lenses that altered my view of the ground. If only I was in better shape. If only I wasn’t prone to this injury that I had repeated several times when I was younger, but hadn’t encountered in over fifteen years. I felt defective. I felt irritated at my own carelessness. But at first, I felt hopeful that my recovery would repeat the patterns I had experienced in the past. A few days of pain and swelling, days with a knee brace, and then back to normal.

But my knee didn’t return to normal. It remained steadily puffy, and tenderly achy for weeks as I hobbled around. I returned to work and elevated as much as possible, but my leg was still puffy. I tried brace after brace, and I continued to hobble. Every time I thought I was recovering, I would step funny and reaggravate my knee.

I got really low and discouraged during this time. This injury was triggered by having very loose ligaments and by the reshaping of my knee cap from dislocating it so many times. My struggle with God was over the supposed good plan he had in creating me this way! The loose ligament situation is only one of my birth defects – were these really designed by God? Or are birth defects an affect of the fall? Is the fallen nature of man, more powerful than the love of God?

In the end my body recovered through physical therapy, but my spirit recovered by trusting the words of Psalm 139:13-16. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” June of 2019 found me listening and weeping to Wonderfully Made by Ellie Holcomb over and over.

Soaking in God’s truth brought me out of this difficult time with more surety of his nearness, his love and his purposeful design in creating me.

Be Still My Soul lyrics

The kitchen may be smaller, but I super love my house. Every time I bring over a car load, I walk in and I’m in love with it all over again. Is it the perfect house? No. Is it my dream house? No. There will be things that I don’t love about my house, but guess what? It’s just a house. My real home is the on-going, growing relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. If I live with him and he lives with me, I’ll always be home.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Carole Sherman

    Loved your post Penny! I can’t wait to see your new home!! I know it’s beautiful!

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