Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life (Prov 13:12).
Confession: When I found this one, I fell hard.
It was a big old home on Hunter Road, tall and square and weathered gray—huge beautiful windows and a wraparound, falling-down porch.
Needs work. Sitting vacant.
Ryan got in touch with the owner in the fall of 2010 and asked a few questions, chiefly— Is it for sale?
No, not really for sale. Well yeah, he’s interested in selling but he’s in rather a tight spot right now, not sure what’s going to happen…
And called again in the spring of 2011. Well, yeah, bout the same. You can call my lawyer, here’s the name and number.
A gracious house, pleasant blend of elegance and home, presiding over ten acres of land just on the outskirts of town. The Gray House, we called it.
And it packed a fairly long list of problems—needs work, is not actually on the market, may be plastered with old liens and debts, and The Boss saying “Long story short, don’t get your hopes up, babe.”
We began to pack.
My parents had just bought and begun to renovate a little house on Plank Road in Guys Mills, promised to my brother when he took a wife in late summer. “How much time do you need in a rental?” they asked us. “You can have it till August…”
“We’ll take it,” we said.
Then we arranged a tour of The Gray House. My first reaction was a sinking heart—bad flooring, bad smell, junk all over, neglected too long. But our escort was amazed. He said it was a cherry ripe for the picking. “All the expensive stuff’s been done for you—kitchen cabinets are just fine, windows are new, electric is updated, furnace is new and high-efficiency…”
And more. The Gray House had three very big bedrooms and one small, a bath and a half, a fireplace, a big kitchen with an island, a dry basement, an open staircase, beautiful old woodwork, and boatloads of character.
But when I went outside, I really caught my breath. Huge old lovely trees, and space and space and space. Grassy, rippling yard. Ten acres. Woods! And a stream on either side of the property—one of them to die for, buried in a true Pennsylvania ravine with evergreens and cool air and open vistas, the sound of rushing water filling the whole back yard.
I walked back to look at the stream and found some little outbuildings, one with an open side facing the water. We could camp out here, I thought, and I began to cry.
Could it be?
Could it be that He had been shaping the desires of our hearts for exactly the thing He was leading us to?
In the weeks and months of uncertainty that followed, I began to pray the same small prayer over and over. “Jesus, we invite you to work on our behalf to accomplish what seems impossible to us now.”
The bad news came before the good news, and it came hard and fast.
- The bank was owed a whole lot of money on this house.
- A foreclosure lawsuit had already been filed against the owner, eliminating our chances of working out a private deal with him.
- There were other interested parties.
We prepared an offer for a short sale, sent it to the owner’s lawyer, had a huge garage sale, sorted everything we owned into “Necessary This Summer” and “Store Until Our Long Home” stacks, and moved to the village of Guys Mills in faith.
“How serious are you about this house?” asked one of our advisors. “If I were you, I’d turn on the electric and pay for it for a couple months, then turn it back off. If the current is off for more than a year, they require an inspection to get it up and running.” So we paid minimum electricity bills for two months on a property we had no tie to but that of heart.
And through a strange twist of fates, we were given keys to the House—one for Ryan, one for me. Though we never visited again in all those months, we carried them permanently on our key rings, mute reminders of an impossible dream, mute appeals to a Miracle Man.
We had a crazy summer—one in which my private world fell apart. But that’s another story, says Kipling.
The lawyer sat on our offer.
We looked at many houses over this time—no longer sellers, but prospective buyers. Though I was deeply in love with The Gray House, I tried hard to keep my options open and follow my man around. We toured any house we truly thought could work; we toured and toured. And door after door slammed shut.
One house had a lovely price but a whopping $5,000/year in taxes. Another had $3,000.
One house had a low price but a falling-in basement. One house had been gorgeously renovated, with a high price.
One had tons of land, too far away.
One had tons of land not too far away, but needed a size-large renovation and addition—too much expense.
One “ranch style” turned out to be a mobile home.
Door after door after door.
And August came. The lawyer had still not sent our short sale offer to the bank. We would need to move again.
A friend from church offered us a mostly-renovated rental house back in Meadville, on Sidler Alley. Hmm—street to road to alley.
“We’ll take it,” we said.
Now Amish men worked on ladders outside my windows at all hours, 7:00 am till evening. In the beginning I had no blinds on any window in the house. I was nursing Kelly on the stairway, napping in the hall, wedging a beach towel over a bathroom window, shushing the children. Hammers shook my house, and dust and riffraff filtered in around my closed windows. My son was stealing tools from work trailers. My other son was walking through tar. My baby was teething. Our mail was lost in a black hole, and a too-friendly neighbor man was calling me to discuss at length our mutual postal service problems. Where do you live?
Our car was backed into.
Our toilet overflowed royally.
We finally found a washer and dryer, after a week or two without, and then they didn’t fit in the laundry closet of our new house. Men worked inside and out.
Our next-door neighbor was apparently selling drugs.
We fought sickness. We all got stomach flu, we all got colds, Kelly got an eye and ear infection, Ryan got his wisdom teeth out.
Boxes were still stacked high around me.
We moved all our Permanent Storage stuff once more, and a box of my loveliest kitchen glassware fell to the sidewalk and broke three of my best pieces.
I was disillusioned with church life, I was struggling in relationships.
I could not find a time to meet with my mentor—first I was sick, then she. We began to start praying our meetings could happen.
I went to communion for the first time in my life without checking my feet.
And we’d now lived on Sidler Alley for all of one month.
I began doing night driving to escape. I wrote in my journal There’s desperation in the certainty that all the places You will take me are into this life, not out of it. Why? How can I come to You when apparently You plan to nail me to this cross and let me hang, writhe, die here? My God, my God…
Out of the frying pan into the fire. Out of the fire into hell.
Two moves behind us, one to go.