Saturday, August 30, 2008

God is Big

For those of you who share my belief in the living, universal God you no doubt have heard the cliches that talk about God being big. We chat in our lingo about how God can move mountains, nothing is impossible for him, he is over all things, he works all for the good of those who love him, and on and on. We study biblical testimonies of God's miraculous intervention which supersede any human understanding, and take comfort that God CAN work in these mighty ways. But, dare I admit it, I think we often (and certainly for myself) don't truly expect God TO work on our behalf in this same way. There seems to be a delineation between the God who literally parted the waters of the Red Sea, stopped the sun for a full hour in the height of the sky, allowed a 90 year old woman to conceive, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and even rose from the dead, and the God who lives in our hearts today. Apparently the new God doesn't need to make himself known in these same powerful ways. We have the entire inspired Word of God in the bible, and because of that the form of revelation given to many of these biblical patriarchs isn't necessary to repeat. I don't need to see the dead raised to life, because I have God's word, which is never false, telling me how he accomplished the fact. In a small way it is similar to my husband telling me he bought milk. I don't need to go with him to the store to believe that he did it. I trust him, and I know that he doesn't lie. I have been to the store before, and watched him purchase milk. The concept is not new to me. I hear him, and I believe. Because I believe he bought milk I go into the fridge with the expectation of finding milk. Here is how that same illustration often works itself out in our spiritual lives. God tells us he bought milk. We say we believe God, since we have read the accounts of how he bought milk for others before us. But instead of going into the fridge with the expectation of finding milk, we go to the store and buy it ourselves. We do what we believe. 

I have been learning over the past 2 years how strongly I actually disbelieve the promises, and power of my God. The bible tells me that God, "eagerly rewards those who believe him." I don't live in a way that shouts MY GOD EAGERLY REWARDS ME. I often live with a cloud over my head that constantly whispers, "I don't have enough faith to even pray for God to reward me."  The conviction that God doesn't want to pour himself out on behalf of a child who constantly thinks so little of him has been strong! So, what is the application? Believe God for bigger things, and start recognizing that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob's God is mine as well.

We have always said it would take a literal miracle for us to buy a home on the peninsula. Our conviction to place children above any economic station means we have not spaced children according to a saving's account, job promotion, or income security. We have been pregnant during lay-offs, given birth during huge job transitions, and generally not followed the rules of prudence set down by our culture. I didn't work outside the home in our early years of marriage giving us a cushion of income. And the decision to homeschool has meant more expense, with less ability to offset it by me earning a supplementary living. We have always had a peace about these decisions, and the places it has put us. We don't own a fancy car. We don't have gobs of savings. We don't own a home we can call our own. But we have Hannah, Bethany, Caleb, Leah, Mary and Josiah. Which one would I trade for any of the above "securities?" That is a laughable question. But it doesn't change the fact that there are times our hearts yearn for something more than renting in the hood *wink*. This desire has grown stronger over the last several months, and it is why I have been so absent on my blog! We were working through the myriad scenarios and questions associated with purchasing a home, and wondering if perhaps we were being given our miracle.

I can't imagine anyone reading this could be uninformed about the sub-prime housing market collapse, but in case you don't have a clue about what I am referring to there has been a serious blow to the appreciation in homes across the nation. This crash is so serious that even in areas of rather stable progress, like the Monterey Peninsula, homes have depreciated upwards of 50%. For the first time in our adult lives home prices have actually fallen into our price-point. We began hearing all manner of encouragement to "get into" the market now. But we were reticent. After all, much of the reason the market was so soft was directly linked to people buying too much home for their budgets only a few years ago. People told us we should "get into" the market then but our decision to do precisely the opposite probably saved our shirts. We were in no mood to trifle with spending multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars on a blunder we had avoided previously. But was God telling us he had bought the milk?

Through a series of "coincidences", of which we fully give God the glory, we met a real estate agent who had a large family of her own, and could understand some of the more unique challenges facing a family with many children. She also lived in Marina, and since we have lived here our hearts have quickened to this quiet town. We very much like the idea of staying here permenetly. She was well suited to help in that goal. Armed with very little real understanding of this whole process we jumped in, head first.

The first thing worthy of note is that when the nation makes a statement about its housing market being "soft", it means exactly nothing in plain English for the Monterey Peninsula. I had assumed I would walk into a home, marked down from something-I-couldn't-afford to something-I-could, decide if it was what I liked, pray over it for a few days, make a decision to offer something-less-than-the-buyer-wanted and with tears of appreciation for saving them from utter ruin the owners would gladly accept my bid. Little did I know that even in a soft market Marina still has incredible investor appeal along with first-time-home-buyers like myself seeing the possiblility of a dream turned reality in every MLS listing. The first home we even looked into was in escrow with no less than 8 back up offers standing in the queue - eight back up offers on a home already in escrow. This was soft?

It didn't take long to realize we were not going to have the scenario exactly like I had imagined. We began pursuing homes the instant they appeared in each day's listings. Again and again we would go to a home only to be told that there were 2, 3, even 4 offers already placed. The reality of dealing with a bank-owned property made itself evident as the combination of our price-point with our square footage needs did not allow for many owner-sold homes. We began questioning the difference between our wants and our needs. Did we really want a cul-de-sac? Did we really need a 4br? Some of those questions were good, and helped us see what could be changed in the future but lived with for now. But in many ways I gave up hope on finding my dream home, and began concentrating on trying to find a house of reality. We put in our first offer but were shot down after an interminable wait of nearly a week by an all cash offer. We put in a second offer and once again lost, this time to a bid snuck in moments before our own. We were growing weary. Each home being listed was covered in agents and prospective buyers within 24hrs. We noticed that each home fell into three categories: gross - and by the way you need to be a general contractor to buy this place because the previous owner lost it in the middle of a flip and oh yeah, they never finished the kitchen or bathroom; this is gorgeous, being sold by its owners, and will never be in the price point we can afford for a million years; and bank-owned, priced-below-market-value steals which meant we simply didn't have the financial package to compete with aggressive cash investors. I distinctly remember the moment when I threw my hands up, told God I was done, and prepared to rent for the rest of my life.

It is amazing that when God is preparing to do something big he usually needs to make sure you are worked to the end of your capabilities so there is no question about how the next event could have worked out itself.

#100 Miracle Drive came on the market to the tune of tens of thousands below market value. Our realtor saw it first thing that morning from her office. Christopher saw it first thing in the morning from work. I saw it first thing that same morning from home. I contacted our realtor, found out the scoop, and made plans to see it bright and early the following morning. In the mean time I had to work to get specific paperwork in order because it was bank owned, and required additional documentation for any prospective buyer's financing - namely a pre-qual letter from the foreclosure bank itself. The next 24 hrs were a blur. To list all the details would make your head spin, and my fingers ache, but suffice it to say we "somehow" *wink*:  coordinated to view the property for the first time with a plumber (MLS listed that copper piping vandalism had occurred but did not specify to what extent damage was done), go back later in the afternoon to view the property with a builder; discuss some serious stains looking like a major infestation of mold; get our fully processed pre-qual in a record 7 hours; discuss the reality that all copper piping was ruined, and the entire house would need to be re-plumbed; try to see past the outdated kitchen, horribly abused carpet, and wallpaper-happy decor in every room; and ultimately make the decision to put in an offer.

We knew as we put our offer in our realtor's hands that there were already 2 offers on the table. We were told specifically that the foreclosing bank would be dealing with all offers simultaneously, and would expect us to put forward our best offer with only a single verbal counter. We knew there was no way we could compete with cash investors. We also knew that the work needed to bring the property up to livability was extensive, and getting our lender to agree to finance a home with no working plumbing was impossible. Yeah, this was what you might call a LONG shot. Our offer was placed on Saturday.

On Monday the listing agent called our realtor to confirm she had received our bid. She noted that there were still offers coming in, and she expected at least 3 more by days end. She added that we would receive a disclosure agreement verifying we understood that we would absolutely receive a single verbal counter which would be our one chance to add any addendums to our offer. Basically we were buying a house on eBay, guessing at how high the other bidders were willing to go without losing your own neck. Not particularly the kind of place you want to be when you are trying to buy your first home!

On Wednesday our realtor received the next call from the listing agent asking why she had not received the disclosure she spoke of on Monday. Apparently it was lost in our realtor's email spam folder. In a record 30 minutes we faxed, emailed, pdf'ed, signed, and submitted the delinquent document. There were 6 offers on the table. Ours was not even officially submitted yet because of the missing form. 

Three hours later the listing agent called our realtor to verify details in our offer. We had asked for a closing cost credit, in hopes that we could use the money to fix the plumbing and potential mold infestation. We also hoped our lender would agree to finance on the house without working plumbing if he saw that we would have the money after close to repair it. The listing agent said our offer needed to specify what our intentions were with the plumbing. She was very clear in explaining that no lender would be allowed to finance a house that did not pass health and safety in the appraisal - which pretty much means you need running water. The MLS listing information was VERY clear that the foreclosing bank was selling this property "As Is", and would not be held responsible for repairing any damages. We had seen this in several other foreclosure homes where the banks basically cut their losses and while you got a deal you also got a dirty house in need of a lot of love. After discussion and prayer we chose to amend our original offer and ask that in leu of the closing cost credit the seller would pay for all plumbing repairs. This was going to far! Never before had our realtor heard of a bank taking on such extensive repairs for a foreclosure property. However, there was still the single verbal counter-offer promised, and we could reassess then.

Nothing on Thursday.

On Friday afternoon my realtor called me... our offer was accepted - no counter offers, no negotiables, no fuss. Not only was our offer accepted, but the seller agreed to pay for the plumbing, heating vent work, repainting (the entire interior of the house including wallpaper removal and retexturing of walls), carpet removal, wood floor repair, pest inspection, "green" termite remediation; and we received the closing credit we had asked for in our original bid before the plumbing addendum was added. It was all there, in black and white!

As we have moved through this dream world it has been one thing after another showing God's "biggness". There are times in our lives when we need it. Like the Israelites through the desert, being led by the presence of God in a pillar of fire or smoke day after day, Christopher and I have needed the very real presence of God in this decision. Inspections, repairs, financing, budgeting, and timing have all been insurmountable obstacles at one point or another during our journey, but each time we simply remind ourselves that if God bought us milk he put it in our fridge. So we continue looking for God to work it out, and so far he continues to make sure that every aspect comes together smoothly.

We are now just over 2 weeks out from closing escrow, and the excitement continues to mount. I am giddy with anticipation to pick out colors for my walls without asking anybody's permission! Christopher is looking forward to working in our backyard. Even the kids are tickled about the provision of God in this huge adventure. It is such an incredible journey, and I look forward to updating you more as these Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan, and enter their promised land (flowing with milk and honey *wink*).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Little Things

These two tidbits came out from Leah and Caleb over the last couple of days. I knew I couldn't let them get away.

Leah: Mama, on yur birfday I'm gonna buyed you a BLUE present! Yep. And it's gonna be a beautiful blue princess unicorn my little pony doll. And I can play wif it wif you.

Caleb: Mama, do you know what I'm going to live in when I grow up?
Me: No, Caleb I don't.
Caleb: I'm gonna live in Escrow.
Me: In Escrow, huh?
Caleb: Yep. That way I can always be right by you.
Me: That's awesome!