I hope you will excuse the delay of sharing details on this beautiful story that God is writing for our family. We have had quite the month which started out with a lot of excitement, but then took a difficult and painful detour as we battled illness for several weeks. Three weeks, three emergency room visits and about 13 gallons of gatorade later, I'm excited, relieved and honored to be able to be have three healthy kids spending the day at art camp and to be healthy and well enough myself to sit here and share these details now!
As of the writing of our print newsletter, we had accepted what felt like unfavorable circumstances --- without being able to get a mortgage it seemed that our only path forward toward a permanent home in West Philadelphia was a one year holdover in a rental home. While the idea and end result of moving can be exciting, the actual process of it is not all that fun. The thought of having to move twice, and having to sink precious dollars into rent while the real estate market prices continued to to escalate over the year to come felt overwhelming, discouraging and frustrating. We told ourselves that it would be worth it in the end, but it was really only hope in things unseen that kept us able & willing to step forward into that plan.
Well, the unseen was far beyond what we could have imagined! After spending a week searching for and submitting inquiries for rental properties to no avail, I decided to just take a peek at the real estate listings near our church neighborhood. We had been looking to the west and south of our church in order to watch for homes that we could potentially afford, but for some reason on that afternoon I decided to look a few blocks north in a little pocket of the city that we hadn't considered earlier. Just five blocks away from our church there was a house had just been listed that day. At 4 bedrooms, 1 1/2 bathrooms and 1700 square feet at a price less than half of what it would be if it were just a few blocks south, we suddenly saw a whole new path opening up.
The next morning we left a few minutes early for church and drove by the house. Noticing neighbors outside we parked and took the opportunity to talk with them. Most of the residents on the block are elderly and have lived there for decades. A man who had lived on the block longer than anyone else was outside picking up trash, warmly spoke with us and told us how nice it would be to have a young family move into the house. The next door neighbor sat on her step, and most everyone who walked by wished her a "Happy Mother's Day" by name. Was this too good to be true?!
The next morning our realtor was able to get us in for a showing. She had already long ago warned us about not even setting ourselves up for disappointment by viewing any houses that we couldn't afford. But with the sale of our lot and a closing set for sixteen days later, we would have the option of cobbling together a combination of savings, personal loans and help from family to add to the lot proceeds to make a cash offer on the house. By that afternoon we made an offer on the house, and by that same evening our offer was accepted! Part of the appeal of our offer was that we were willing to do a fast track to settlement, with a proposed closing date of June 1st. The next two weeks were a whirlwind -- inspection, following up with contractors, asking for adjustment to our offer based on the work that needed done, haggling a bit with the seller, but ultimately moving successfully to closing on June 1st!
We arrived at closing early as did the seller's real estate agent, so we sat in the waiting area and chatted with him for a bit. "What are you planning to do with the house?" he asked. "Uhhhh ... live in it," we answered. The entire time he had assumed that we were developers since we were able to offer cash, and figured that we were planning to rent the house out. And really, of course he was confused. We are a conundrum! God's goodness and zany favor towards our family just doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense that a family would move away from one Philly's most desired neighborhoods because we feel odd and out of place and starving for purpose here. It doesn't make sense that a family who can't get a mortgage could still get a new house. It doesn't make sense that the developer who bought our lot pulled out of the package house & lot deal, only to come back with an unbelievable offer for our lot alone, enabling us to buy this new house. Of course it makes beautiful sense to us and just seems like the perfect continuation of the story that God has been writing with our lives for all of these years.
Just after we settled on the new house we ran into a developer we know from the neighborhood who we had initially consulted with when we started to think about moving. We had had him over for dinner to pick his brain about the value of our properties and suggested improvements for selling them. During that dinner we shared some of our stories about how God has cared for us in the past -- His faithfulness to create a family out of a less-than-a-year-sober new follower of Jesus and a single missionary girl who had told God that she wasn't going to date, so He would just have to bring her husband to her with neon signs. We told him about how God sealed our engagement with gifted diamonds and given us the opportunity to purchase the house and lot in miraculous ways. I remember Frank telling this guy at dinner that night, "Don't be surprised if God just does something crazy all over again for us in this situation! It's how He works with us." Seeing him again after closing on the new house and sharing how everything worked out was an awesome fulfillment of Frank's prophetic words!
We were willing and ready for the ordinary, and yet God has done the extraordinary for us again. Our hope is that as we keep simply obeying and following, He will keep using us as examples of His faithfulness to people who might be impressed with how good, loving, generous and creative He is!
When we were moving solidly towards closing on the new house, my mom made plans to come and spend a couple of weeks with us to help with the kids so that we could get necessary work done at the new house and also with packing and moving. We had been hopeful that we'd be all moved in by mid-June, but both the illness that knocked us out for weeks and the scope of the work at the new house have slowed things down. It turned out to be so necessary for us to have the help from Nana just for basic functioning for the three weeks that she was here. We probably said a hundred times while she was here, "We could not have done this without Nana!"
Frank stayed well, so for the time he had leftover from caring for the sickies he was able to make good progress at the new house. Major work needed to be one on the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. At this point the plumbing is done, the electric should be finished later today and the HVAC team is coming out to start their work tomorrow. We think it's realistic that we could be all moved in by the end of next week!
Before I got sick and since I've been well I've been painting up a storm and have all of the bedrooms and bathrooms painted. During my time of painting the kids' bedrooms (YES, PLURAL --- Selah will have dream-come-true of her own room and Callum & Clementine will share a nice sized room) I was just so overwhelmed thinking of the loving parent heart of God. As a mother I am humbled almost to tears to have this chance to give my children something nicer than I ever imagined we could give them. My own mother has been so excited about this new home that she was unable to sleep in the nights leading up to her visit. As he has always done in our home, Frank has lovingly sacrificed and worked to hard to be sure that our home is as safe and functional as it can be.
More and more, I am understanding and cherishing this loving parent heart of God. And really, this has been the heartbeat of our ministry since having our own children -- that people could know how wonderfully God loves them and that it would cause them to want to draw near to and follow Him. We are so excited to imagine how this story will continue to play out from our new home in West Philadelphia!
There is big, good news!
But first - I need to ask you to pause with me and acknowledge some other news that has been weighing so heavily on me for the past two weeks. Grappling with this has been part of why I have struggled with putting down words to share our good news. While we were in Ohio we got the heartbreaking news that the mother of four of my dearest Philly kids passed away unexpectedly. She was an amazing woman, a tremendous community advocate and the kind of person who you couldn't help but love. From the first time that I met her kids nearly 19 years ago my heart for Philly has been rooted in the love I have for her family. She had been struggling with a respiratory infection that got bad enough to put her in the hospital and take her life. She was 63 years old and generally in good health, so it was very shocking and unexpected to lose her.
So before going any farther, will you thank God with me for the beautiful life of Awilda, and pray with me for her kids Edgardo, Jessica, Vicky & Noel (as well as their older sister Erica who I didn't know). Her family is feeling her loss profoundly.
Today I looked at pictures of Awilda's kids that I have from over the years, and it's amazing to me that I could have been here in Philly long enough to watch a baby in a stroller grow to be a young man who is head & shoulders taller than me. When I first moved to Philly and wondered how long this place would be my home, I always thought, "Well I know I at least plan to stick around until Noel finishes high school." Last year he completed his GED, and while we are not planning to leave Philly, it does feel like an important milestone has been reached.
Noel's name is one of several kids' names that are written in the cement in the sidewalk on our block. Walking over that square of cement each day is bittersweet -- sweet to think of the good things God has done for us and through us during our season here, but bitter to accept the pain and discomfort that comes with change. I think about how one of the ways that God got me to Philly in the first place was to displace people who I loved in Akron -- moving my parents to Virginia and the Franklin family to Vermont. Nearly two decades later, here we are again with God now using the redistribution of our neighbors from Fletcher street to nudge us towards a move to West Philadelphia.
I promised big news though, and I'll bet you are wondering when I am going to get to that. I won't keep you waiting any longer!
As I left you with our last update, the developer who had wanted to buy our house & lot together had come back with an offer so low that we couldn't even consider it. We were back at square one, figuring that we would move forward slowly by first selling our lot at the end of the summer and using the money to get ourselves into a rental in West Philly so that we could get our house market-ready. There was no sense of urgency, especially with warm months ahead that we could use to enjoy a final summer season with our lot.
Not even hours after I posted that last update, our realtor reached out to let us know that the developer would be interested in buying just our lot if we were willing to sell it separately. We were, but figured that after his lowball offer for the house & lot together, there was no way that he could offer a price that was worth considering. We couldn't imagine him making an offer that 1) would be substantial enough to say yes to and 2) would be enough incentive to give up the use of our lot for the summer months.
That's our problem so often -- our imaginations aren't ample for God's abundance. Ephesian 3:20 reminds us that God is able to do "more than all we ask or imagine."
Thank goodness we didn't say a number first, because this developer was willing to offer us far above the highest price would could have imagined for our lot. It was several weeks of working out the details, but we are now officially under contract for the sale of our lot with a closing date set for May 31st! The better offer will give us much more breathing room, allow us to do all of the necessary work on our house to get it market ready and even be able to pay some people to help Frank with the work, be able to rent a house as an stepping stone between selling our house and buying a new one and likely enable us to eventually buy a home that is better as far as size, condition & location that what we were expecting from the offer that fell through. Whatever outreach we do this summer will have to happen in spaces other than the lot, but we were already discovering as of last summer that the ministry we were trying to do there was not gathering the crowd that it had in previous years. While it is a timeline different than what we expected, we see God's favor all over it and are grateful for his more-than-we-could-imagine provision.
As Frank and I talked and spent some time praying together this morning, I told him that so many of the aspects of moving that once left me feeling paralyzed whenever I considered them are starting to feel so much more manageable. The packing, the work on our house, the living next to a construction project when they break ground next door -- not my favorite, but it will be okay! I wish we didn't have to move twice and spend a year in a rental, but if that's what we need to do, it will be just fine.
I think that this breakthrough in my own heart along with God's abundant provision are absolutely a reflection of the loving prayers and encouragement that you all have offered up on our behalf. We hope that as we continue this journey and share updates with you along the way, you will be able to share in our joys and trust God's goodness for your own lives even more!
I skipped a week from posting an update, in part because we were so insanely busy and also because we were in a state of limbo with nothing much to report. One of the main reasons why things were so busy was that I was preparing for my first ever opportunity to be the featured speaker & facilitator at a weekend women's retreat. It was a big sacrifice of time for Frank not just to have the kids on his own while I was away for the weekend, but to keep the kids busy or even away from the house to give me time for the hours and hours of preparation for the weekend. All went well as I powered through my last week of writing & practicing my presentations, even so much as to give us the chance to have a lunch date last Thursday. We thought it might help to try to take my mind off of the butterflies in my stomach as I thought about the weekend ahead and for us to spend some time together before Frank had his single-dad weekend. Our realtor called just as our food was brought to our table, so we enjoyed our meal before calling her back.
Technically all of last week and even up until midnight on Monday we were still bound by contract as the backup buyer on the house that we had put an offer in on back at the beginning of the month. I guess I had posted the update on Facebook that our first offer and even our counter-offer had not been accepted, and the seller had instead accepted a full-price offer. Within an hour of finding out, we were already kicking ourselves. "Why didn't we just put in a full offer?!" In truth, Frank has been busy working all day and our offer went in through a series of short phone conversations, text messages and DocuSigns in what felt like a mighty uncertain whirlwind. We didn't at any point get to really sit, dig in, think hard, pray or any of the other things that such a big decision warranted. Honestly, I felt like we blew it.
We brushed ourselves off, knew that we at least had learned a lot through the process, and that we could still put in a backup offer in the case that the original offer fell through. At the same time, we were holding on to the sage words that we have heard numerous realtors and experienced home buyers tell us -- "There is always another house." I picked apart the house in my mind, figuring out ways to try to tell myself that I didn't really want that house anyway. But in truth, the location near the park, the vacant lot backed up to it, the awesome State Trooper next door neighbor and the fact that it fell into our "sweet spot" price range seemed hard to top.
That house was one of many that we have watched go under contract within the first week of being on the market. Houses are moving FAST in West Philly. Other people like us are watching, waiting, ready to pounce. And nearly all of those other people have something that we don't have and can't currently get -- a mortgage pre-qualification letter.
With that in mind, we made the decision to take the risk of moving forward with our uber-interested buyer even though it would put us on a 3-6 month time line for needing to move into a new home. We could stay our house for 3 free months after closing and pay for an additional 3 months, giving us until the end of October to be in a new house. BUT - we would have the advantage of cash-in-hand to purchase with. It could mean compromising on what we really thought we needed. But the offer from this buyer was far more than the other offer we had received, and seemed too good to pass up.
Then came that lunchtime phone call from our realtor. She had been brokering the deal between us and the developer who wanted to buy our properties. Since initially agreeing to that "too good to pass up" price, he had reassessed, recalculated and determined that his best profit margin would come from knocking our house to the ground and building new construction on both properties. Beside the sick feeling that gives me to imagine, the real blow was the price difference that he had determined would make it work his time & effort. It was 2/3 the amount that he had originally been willing to give us. He hesitated to even put a number forward, knowing that it would seem like an insult. Maybe not an insult. But it totally felt like and injury, a gut-punch that at once deflated the hopes & plans we had been entertaining.
So - the facts at hand are this. We are back to the drawing board. The offer we made on that house is dead in the water. The buyer who was prepared to make that home purchase a reality for us has changed his tune, so that deal is also dead in the water. Dead in the water.
Good thing we serve a God who makes dead things come back alive, and who walks on water, calms raging waters and in fact CREATED water. This past weekend when I shared with the women at the retreat, we talked about being "Anchored in God's Love," so there was an awful lot of talk about all things nautical. As we talked about the fuel that powers God's love, I compared it to the power of water.
In a time that I was recently feeling overwhelmed by all that is wrong, broken and evil in the world, I was comforted simply by the thought of the power of water. The idea crossed my mind that as powerful as people are, we can neither contain the volume or the power of the water on this earth.
It fills 2/3 of the earth’s surface. We are made of it and need it to survive. It might seem weak as it slips through our fingers, but it can also slip in to the tiniest cracks, freeze, and break apart a mighty block of concrete. The presence of too much water in a flood or the absence of water in a drought can make or break the well-being of great portions of the earth’s population. Water is pretty powerful!
As mighty as water is, it is simply the creation of God. Imagine HIS power as it’s creator! It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around. The power of the God who loves us is beyond the strength of anything we can comprehend!
These are the facts. We aren't buying that house and it looks like it will be much later rather than sooner that we will be buying any house. We thought that we might be on track for this move to be a similar pace to our meeting & marrying which took place in pretty record time as far as relationships go. We have seen God work that way, and are entirely comfortable with it. But instead, it is looking like the patience-producing pace is what God has in store.
And our feelings? Well, I'd like to say that I'm just so full of faith and expectant for things to work out. After all, look at all that God has done for us already! And yet, I struggle. I'm cynical and doubtful. My default feelings run more along the line of self-centeredness and self-pity. Frank gets total credit for being the faith-filled one during this season. And for moments I am there too, and I think I will get there eventually. But as for now, it's all on God to give me even a mustard seed of faith.
Oddly enough, a sweet, silly song is giving me some of those moments of breakthrough faith. To get through his solo-parenting weekend Frank spent some time at his sister's house on Saturday, and she introduced him and our kids to OK Go, a band with catchy songs and jaw-dropping music videos. One of those songs, "I Won't Let You Down" is now on my running playlist. And even thought it a guy singing to a girl, the reality is that the chorus boasts something that no human can ever truthfully say to another human. "I won't let you down. My love won't let you down." So I'm banking on that. That the ONLY one who can truthfully say that, God himself, is not planning to let me down. Enjoy the video posted below. (It is amazing! A single continuous shot, filmed by a drone camera!) If some humans minds can create an execute something like this, certainly God has something good in store for our little family who is depending on Him and his goodness for our move to West Philly and our new home.
A quick update ...