House of Grace

By | Personal Stories

A woman standing in the middle of a yard with leaves.

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.A house with flowers in front of it.

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. Withjust a fewweeks 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, Iwas uncharacteristically calm. One night as I sat onthe 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. A road with trees and bushes on both sides of it.

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?A large brick house with a porch and trees.

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 ownertold 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 ofour Heavenly Fatherwas 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.

23 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.

    • I so agree with you, Rick. Had I not known God through this, I’m not sure what I would have done, but it would not have been pretty. Holding on is tough sometimes, but when God speaks, however that may be, we know He is always faithful. Thanks for the kind words!!

  5. Rhonda Hitchison says:

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

    • Thank you for the kind remarks, Rhonda! He is our refuge! I guess that’s why I love the 91st Psalm so much! Just to remind myself. And cover myself. I’m so thankful the story blessed you.

  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….

    • Thank you, Jennifer! Teachers tell us writers to write what we know. I guess that’s what I’m doing! As you said, packing my living into writing! I love that!

  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

    • That’s so true, Brenda! I feel so thankful that He was so omnipresent, when this started with my Mother in the previous story, and then throughout the entire ordeal, really. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise! Thank you for the kind words!!

  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!

    • Thank you, Alice! Yes, it truly was about “letting go and letting God!” You know, I don’t blame anyone anymore. Crap just happens and there it is, sitting on your doorstep, needing to be dealt with. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, they say. And I’m stronger. And I have a wonderful testimony from all my tests. You said it well when you said, “look at all the gifts of this disaster.” That’s how I feel about it now. And yes, it takes a while to get there, but I love that it is part of who I am. Relatable on many levels. I thank God for that! Thank you girlfriend! Love you back!

  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.

    • Cheryl, I am so sorry for your losses. Such terrible tragedies. But, I’m so glad your faith has been renewed!!Sometimes we feel like we are the only ones who have suffered terrible losses and we feel that we have to blame someone. God is not the enemy. I hope you read, “It’s None of Your Business” the post before “House of Grace.” I suspect you did. I absolutely believe God did not cause these tragedies in my life or your life. We have an enemy in the spirit realm who is unfortunately more real than we can imagine. His goal is to steal our faith and our destiny. God is with you dear Cheryl. He led you to my post. I’m sure he’s taken you other places as well. Put your hand in His mighty hand and ask Him to guide you through this terrible time. It will not be easy, but with God it will be doable. And while God did not cause this tragedy He will use it for good. Out of your trials will come the most amazing testimonies. I am praying for you Cheryl; that God will bestow His awesome peace, love, grace, and favor upon you and will reveal His presence to You. That when you are discouraged, God will reveal Himself mightily. And that restoration of the kingdom of God’s goodness will envelop your future. God bless you, Cheryl, and thank you for writing. I’m sending you a piece of my heart. xo Karyn

    • karyncstagg says:

      Hi Cheryl! I have been thinking about you, praying for you, and hoping things are better for you. When I posted my latest blog, actually when I was writing it, I kept thinking about you. God has put you on my heart and I just wanted to let you know someone is praying for you, caring for you from afar. Besides our Heavenly Father! Love in Christ, Karyn

  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”?

    • Brenda, I’m so glad you’ve seen and know the faithfulness of God. Yes, He is good! He is awesome! Sometimes we think He’s missed us, but He is always just in time. I’ve really quit trying to push my timetable on Him. LOL. Much of my journey hasn’t been easy, as you said, but if it had been, I wouldn’t have these uplifting stories to tell. Stories of God’s faithfulness and purpose for our lives. Stories that hopefully let the reader know there is more to life than the here and now. And stories that brought joy to you!!! I’m so glad it moved you Brenda, and I appreciate you letting me know! God bless…

  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.

    • Brenda, If we could peel the layers away, we are all interconnected. And our need is not only with our Creator, but with each other. So I thank you for sharing youR life, too! I’m so happy you are in tune enough to find your treasure, for that’s what it feels like when we follow God’s call. Of course you know that. You found ample opportunity and a soul mate! God bless you! I’m so glad you wrote and hope you’ll “like” my Windows to Heaven Facebook page and come back. I’m very grateful for your generous compliments and words and I pray God will generously bless your retirement. As you said, just keep letting go and letting God!