House of Grace

In 1981, I was living in a house I couldn’t have dreamed of in the 1950s of my youth. Maybe I could have plunked down fifty cents and seen something similar on the big screen at the Cinderella Theatre, but I doubt I could’ve conjured one up.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a mansion or anything. Just large. Over 7,000 square feet. Contemporary and grand. So, for this small town gal, living in that house was kind of like a fish flipping around in the forest. Felt guilty just being there, rambling around it’s big old rooms, surrounded by perfectly landscaped rhododendron and towering trees. I was too young to appreciate what I had. Perhaps what God had given me. But, I tried, Lord, how I tried.IMAG0098

I simply wasn’t prepared for what life had in store for me then, but there was a time when I was–at the “know-everything” age of eleven. It started with a conversation between my Hardy Grade School teacher and me. She’d discovered I’d be changing schools the next school year, to Williamson Junior High in Williamson, West Virginia, the area’s hub. “Karyn,” she said, “Wouldn’t you rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond?” The only reason I recall this is because someone told my mother and she recounted it proudly. I supposedly looked my teacher square in the eyes, and said, “I’d rather be a big fish in a big pond.”

How I came up with that at eleven is beyond me. And while the little girl me may have liked the bigger pond, the 31-year-old me didn’t. One thing was definite: no matter the size, you don’t ever want to be jerked from the pond you’re in. Yet, I’d prayed God to get my husband Alan and me out of there, and sure enough, my prayer was answered. Not exactly the way I’d hoped.

It was a grim time in my life. Stating that is like saying Hannibal Lecter wasn’t a very nice man. My Mother had died horribly, the stock market had crashed, and we lost our home. Actually, we lost pretty much everything. So, when word came that something positive happened, we felt grateful for that one silver lining–we and our possessions could stay in that behemoth house until it sold, and at a rental rate we could afford.

The next year dragged on painfully. I skulked about that big and lonely house, my peace of mind as shackled as a death row inmate. Yet, gradually, agonizingly, I was learning to trust God, and I was coming to see how He’d fastened many of the right pieces into place, even as my world had been imploding. (Read “It’s None of Your Business.”) Our bankers, lawyers, even Alan’s employees, felt sure Alan would be back on top soon enough. Yet, ‘soon’ seemed as far away as mother.

Then the inevitable happened–the house sold. With just a few weeks to vacate, it was time to take inventory: we had a dog and a cat, furniture out the yingyang, and a pittance for a housing allowance. We’d looked at rental houses, but none were available. Not in our price range. Not with pets. Not with a decent square footage. What we found were run-down and falling down. An ad that read, “needs work” translated to “has no air conditioning.”

Given my disposition, I should have been terrified. Yet as the housing deadline approached, I was uncharacteristically calm. One night as I sat on the deck alone, watching the stars and praying, my heart was hopeful. In the recent past, God had spoken to me three times. Just amazing! Each had elevated my understanding of events surrounding me and of my trust in Him—affirming that the Jesus who had come alive to me over a year ago, at the top of this very driveway, was as real today as He was 2,000 years ago.

In our little cul-de-sac, only five houses lined the private road, and while I hadn’t particularly  liked living here, I loved the evening solitude. Sometimes I heard the tiny creek wafting gently over rocks. That night an endless swell of fireflies rivaled the stars of a clear, beautiful sky. Out of nowhere, just like the first time God spoke to me, I heard a simple, soft voice. It said, “Move to St. Albans.” Words that seemed to light up the night.

Abruptly, I sat straight up and pondered His statement, knowing God’s words are truth. For the life of me, I don’t understand why I countered them, but I did. I said, “Lord, I don’t think I’ll like St. Albans.”

He was firm. “I said, move to St. Albans.”

End of discussion.

He had come at the Eleventh Hour as He is prone to do. I rocked back and forth frantically, hoping, praying He’d say more. But He didn’t. I had no idea why St. Albans. But, after consideration and before telling Alan, I decided it made sense. I’d been so unhappy in that big old pond. God understood that. A lesser house and smaller town only twenty minutes away might be perfect.

Feeling the wonder of my encounter, I was practically dancing as I opened the door, confident a St. Albans home was in our future. Finding Alan, I came straight to the point. “God just told me to move to St. Albans.” I could hardly stand still.

Alan was used to me of course, but not so much the ‘God speaks to me’ version. He looked up and without any sort of prompt said, “You won’t like St. Albans.”

I laughed, astounded that the first words out of his mouth had been the first words out of mine. But we were giddy. Both of us.

The very next day Alan called from work. Incredibly, an employee had told him about a house for rent in St. Albans. “I’m driving by for a sneak peek after work,” Alan said.

God has a house for us! I was so excited.

But when he came home that evening, he didn’t mince his words. “Karyn, trust me. God doesn’t want you living in that house.”

Father God, are you paying attention, here? It’s less than three weeks and counting!

I was trying not to panic, trying to pack, still heartbroken and crying over mother. I reminded myself, from God’s lips to my ears. I was a baby Christian, and though every nerve in my body was charged, every heartbeat too fast, every teardrop bitter, the recent past told me to trust Him.

Two days later, an ad in the newspaper caught my eye. “Historic home in St. Albans for rent, hardwood floors, Oriental rugs, updated kitchen, custom drapes.”

If it sounds too good to be true . . . Even the price was only $50 higher than what we’d determined we could afford.

I called and spoke with Patsy, (not her name) a neighbor showing the house for the out of state owner. That evening Alan and I drove up a beautiful, well maintained St. Albans Street. Each house seemed nicer than the next. Many were turn of the century and charmingly southern. Way out of our new price range. St. Albans street

We drove slowly, taking it all in. Manicured lawns and stately homes, some with veranda-style porches.Before we reached the top of the sloping street, Alan stopped the car. “This can’t be the address.”

I agreed. House number 512 (not the real number) would not fit into our budget on this street! Moving slowly, a beautiful three story tan brick with an enormous veranda-style porch and a red clay tiled roof, came into view. Arguably the most beautiful house on the street. “Wow, look at that,” I said to Alan. We slowed down and to our complete and total astonishment the number was 512. “Something’s wrong,” said Alan, “That can’t be the house.”

As we cautiously pulled into the driveway, I realized how dissimilar this historic home was from what we were used to. Can this possibly be the house God has for us?St. Albans house

We approached it like interlopers, like children approaching the gingerbread house of fairy tale fame, ready for the witch, not to pull us in, but to shoo us away. Finally, we rang the bell. When it opened, I recognized Patsy’s friendly voice.

“Hi. Come on in,” she said.

Right house. Thank you, Lord. Before much was said, my eyes started roaming about the texture and textiles of the house. Custom window treatments on oversized windows, built in bookcases, hardwood floors, oval dining room, large sitting room, beautiful crown molding, high ceilings, massive staircase, crystal chandelier! And that’s just what I could see. This is not a house in our price range. Yet wanting it to be, I was afraid to ask.

The upstairs was somewhat dated, but we weren’t buying it, and I doubted we’d even be renting it. Generally, it seemed more like what we were leaving than what we were looking for.

Finally, I asked the dreaded question. Dialogue that went something like this: “Do you know why this house is renting for only . . . ?“

Patsy tilted her head like she had heard me incorrectly as I said the dollar amount.

“That’s not the rent,” she said, quoting a higher number.

About what I’d expected. “But it was listed in the newspaper for the lower price.”

“They must have it wrong,” she said, “The owner told me this price the last time we spoke.”

After we left that night, I was teary. Of course the price was wrong. Who would rent this magnificent home for our pitiful housing allowance? Yet, as badly as I felt, as badly as I wanted the house, I knew if this wasn’t it, there was another. God had said so!

The next day Patsy and I spoke. With no other options and a deadline of a little more than two weeks to vacate our furniture-full home, without a lot of resources, the hope in my heart, and likely in my voice, was apparent. Patsy happily relayed that the owner had indeed lowered the rent. She had hoped to attract a better tenant. If we had excellent references, we’d be okay, including the animals..

Shortly, we got word that the house was ours and the pets were okay. The biggest miracle of my life. Thank you, Jesus! It made no sense, then or now. Only in God’s economy does less money equal superior renters.

God had moved mountains to put us there! I felt that way even before examining the equations: the house was showcased at precisely the right moment in time; the price was lowered, significantly, to almost exactly what we could afford—and before the owner even tested a higher rent; and this house was ten times, fifty times nicer, than anything we’d seen.

Then there were the surprises: Our eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furniture, our Persian rugs, all fit perfectly and looked better in this historic home than in the contemporary one. The drapes complimented the furnishings. The glass round table wowed the oval dining room. . . on and on. Who knew God cared about décor, color, and interior? Plus, we loved it.

If the house was a miracle, the ease with which we worked into that community was equally miraculous. The commute for Alan was better and the mayor appointed Realtor me to the Planning and Zoning commission. And, thanks to an enterprising neighbor, I was a founding board member of a halfway house in the area.  Topping things off, the church where Alan and I married was just blocks away. The minister, an old family friend, had married us. He became our pastor!

And there was the matter of hearing that simple, soft Voice, Move to St. Albans. If not for that, St. Albans would not have been on our radar.

When I think of the old adage, you can’t judge a book by the cover, I realize Alan’s and my life reflected that perfectly. To a casual observer there was barely a ripple in our pond. We had simply moved from one gorgeous house to another. But the ripple in our world was like a tsunami. Behind the stone and wooden walls of that big old house was a couple shattered by life and by death, fighting to overcome grief, fear, humiliation, fatigue, and the financial disaster that nearly destroyed us.

Yes, status and wealth had brought advantages, yet when our pond ran empty and our souls lay bare, when bankers stopped courting us and options disappeared, God was our Champion. The power and purpose of our Heavenly Father was working long before we knew there was a need. And, ironically, it was in that moment of need and compensation that we found true wealth. The wealth of a heart that God can pour into if that heart is humble and surrendered to His will.

The book of Proverbs teaches us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your path.”

In the hour of our greatest need, God provided our greatest miracle. And, here’s the thing, He didn’t do something for me He won’t do for you. It’s not about our worth, it’s about our birth—into the Kingdom of God through a risen Savior. When I put my trust in Christ at the top of that driveway, our Heavenly Father could finally ‘direct my path.’ He opened the windows of heaven and provided something Alan and I did not, could not imagine after what we’d experienced. Something we didn’t earn or deserve.

Amazing grace.

Available to you and to me. To all who trust and believe.

22 Responses to " House of Grace "

  1. Candi Riggs says:

    What a beautiful testament of faith and trust in our Saviour! He has blessed you with an incredible gift, Karyn. I always look forward to reading your life story! XO

  2. Thank you so much! I needed this today, more than usual.

  3. Jo Agnes says:

    Karyn, what an incredible story. Your faith and trust are an inspiration.

  4. Rick Wingo says:

    Thanks, again, Karyn. We all have been though many troubling times, and we are blessed we had our faith in God to help guide us. Frankly, I don’t know how one gets through times without Him. Looking forward to your next post.

  5. Rhonda Hitchison says:

    What an amazing story!! And what a blessing !! God is our refuge that’s for sure!! Enjoyed reading your story!!

  6. Love to read your musings… interesting to know the people and places being written about. You have certainly packed a lot of living into writings. Keep them coming….

  7. Brenda Damron says:

    What an awesome and encouraging story to share. Once you find him…it is amazing how long it was to realize how he works in our life’s! U

  8. Yes, truly amazing, dear DR~I loved reading every word of this story. It’s just about reaching that level of ‘letting go’ and letting God take control knowing that He knows best. And, as for bankers, well most of them,, they’re a sleazy bunch…your ‘friend’, sometimes best, in good times, but let the the true need be there, and they’re long gone. Reckon you nor I could ever be a banker b/c our hearts are too kind. Rebounding from total loss isn’t easy. But, dang, look at all the gifts of this ‘disaster’ xox love you girl!

  9. Cheryl Bailey says:

    You have renewed my faith to continue to trust God that He knows what He is doing. I lost my husband in a farming accident on 12-05-2013 then on 04-05-2015 our home burned. I lost everything all of our possessions my car and my sweet beloved dogs cats and birds. I have been living here in an unfinished house that my husband had been building. I went 10 months before I was able to put a septic system and bathroom in. I was about to the end of my rope when your post caught my eye. I am so glad that I read it. You have renewed my faith. Thank you.

  10. Brenda says:

    Karyn, I am so moved by your story! I have seen God prove Himself faithful several times in my life as well. It fills me with great joy to know that your faith is strong and, although your journey hasn’t been an easy one, it has brought you to a place of humble submission before a gracious, loving sovereign God!! As the song goes, “Isn’t He Good”?

  11. Brenda says:

    Karen, Thank you for opening your heart and soul to your readers. You are truly a gifted writer. So much of what I’ve read in your blog reminds me of my own journey. In my late 40’s and several years following my divorce I felt God calling me to leave my known world behind and move hundreds of miles away. My heart was gripped with fear even though I could see the opportunities there. As I prayed for guidance I heard that same still, small voice say “Let go of the steering wheel.” In other words “let go and let me take control.” That is exactly what I did and turned down my first job offer at Mayo Clinic in Florida. Seven months later on my next vacation trip to Florida I met the man who quickly became my soul mate. Four months later that still, small voice spoke to me again saying “It’s time to go now.” My husband and I have now had 20 beautiful years together and I have retired from Mayo Clinic following a successful career there. Let go and let God because His plan for our lives is better than any we could dream of for ourselves.

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