Can I just say, learning to be personal in a public way is terrifying. Mainly because I am not a sympathy blogger. I want to be inspirational, but honest and real. However, ‘real’ is sometimes bittersweet and even sad and ugly. But, so it is with us all. So, there ya have it. Moving forward. I wanted to provide some of our backstory to lead this post…
It was early 2008, when our mortgage payments suddenly and insanely increased to $3400 a month (interest only), that we learned that we had fallen victim to mortgage fraud. Yes, that well-known CountryWide Home Loan scandal of 2008. Chris and I had not yet celebrated our first anniversary. Our first baby was due later that summer. It was devastating news to say the least. Work was scarce and we were no exception to the well-known financial struggles common among young, newly-weds. To say those were frightening days of uncertainty could probably win the understatement of the century award. We spent months and months trying to find relief, help and any answers to our difficult situation. LONG story short, after more than a year of many prayers, tears, private pleadings in desperation, and a mountain of debt in attempt to sell this ridiculously expensive home, it was all to no avail. We were going to lose our home and it was time to face the inevitable.
On March 9, 2009, we pulled away from our home in Flagstaff after having handed the keys to the bank and packing up our lives in a few boxes. Chris used some of last dollars to rent a Uhaul. I remember realizing how scared I was as I buckled our darling 9-month-old boy safely in his car seat in the back of our old suburban in preparation for our long journey East to Texas. I wish I could say I was valiant and brave and fearless but, I just can’t. I was a new mother and couldn’t help but worry. Equipped with only a seed of hope to sustain us, we sought to validate the rumors we’d heard of a secure Texas economy. With every passing mile, I began to beg and plead for answers as to how we would recover from this and sought solace in the quiet hope of a job for my husband in the home renovation industry. Those days driving from our home, never to return, are days to never be forgotten. The start of a journey down a long and bumpy road. At the time, I desperately wanted to know how in the world things were going to work out. Sometimes I think it’s better to never ask how or why. I’m so glad God never told or showed me, though I asked many, many times. I felt fleeting peace and assurance in my heart that things WOULD work out and leaned on that feeling as often as I could bring it to my memory. If I had known what all we were up against and that pulling out of that driveway one last time was probably the easiest part of everything, I might not have had the hope to keep going. Sometimes, I too, thank God for unanswered prayers.
Last month, not only did we mark the 8 year anniversary of losing our home, but we marked 8 years of battling to recover – including the bankruptcy we had to file as a result of the home – and 8 years of learning valuable lessons that have helped shape us and grow stronger. Thankfully, because of this, we have learned a bit about patience, long suffering, sacrifice and that you can be grateful in every circumstance of life. We learned that gratitude doesn’t mean that you are content with your situation, but that you accept it and continue to hope that things can and will change one day. This battle has taught us what hope is, what faith is and also what they are not. We have been those people who have literally scraped the couch to buy groceries. We have had our electricity and phones turned off many times. I learned that self-pity is NOT pretty or helpful. Who needs that? Not you and not me, my friends. We have survived on hand-me-downs, budgets, frugality and taking things one second at a time. And that’s ok! I’m grateful for these 8 years because I have learned to not judge others. I’ve been wearing clothes I wore in high school – when you are struggling to raise a family and start a business with little to no money, you do not go shopping! I am not as involved with my kids school activities – not by choice, but because I have to work and when I am there, I am covered in saw dust, sweat and wood stain. Vanity and pride are things I’d always like to live without, anyways. Chris and I have learned that you can grow a business without credit, credit cards or small business loans! It’s not easy or fun, but when you have no other choice you do what you have to do. We have yet to meet an institution that was willing to issue credit cards or loans to folks who lost a house and declared bankruptcy – never mind it’s been 8 years and it wasn’t our fault…We learned to find solutions, not dwell on problems. I have learned that despite any hardships, we have been blessed and those blessings kept our hopes and dreams of a brighter future alive. I remember arriving home on Christmas Eve a couple years back to a card on our porch in an unmarked envelope. It was filled with $500 cash and a note on the card that said to ‘be of good cheer and Merry Christmas.’ The generosity and kindness of others at time when you so desperately need it is evidence to my heart and soul that God answers prayers – yet another worth-while lesson. He most often does so through other people and I have been filled to overflowing because of the bravery of those who follow through with the promptings that they feel to spread love and goodness so freely and lovingly. Experiences like those have kept us afloat and filled with a desire to conquer our challenges. It was soon after that Christmas experience that we promised in our hearts that should we ever earn enough money to pay all our bills in the same month and buy food that we would give what was left to others. Not that you have to have money to give, but I know what a precious and scarce commodity it can be. I have longed for the peace that comes from income and would love nothing more than to share it. Which leads me to the inspiration for this post…
As I was driving to work to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo recently, I had an experience. It was simple, but caused me to think. I’d like to share from my journal:
March 17, 2017
“I was driving to the Rodeo just as I had done the previous 11 days on just another beautifully warm, Houston morning. Normal day, normal traffic and normal loud music blaring from my minivan all the way. After a quick, premeditated trip through a drive thru for some hot cocoa, I realized I had a bit of cash in my wallet, not much, but considering I never have cash, it was new and different. I immediately considered our opportunity to sell at the Rodeo and the blessings that have come from our sales. Income. Something I have pleaded for every single night for 8 years. I felt very overwhelmed with love in an instant. My family is blessed with work. My mind then rewound back to that well-known feeling of the anxiety of not being able to even rent a home because of the damage the fraud had caused to our credit. Upon arrival to Texas in March 2009, we spent $300 or our precious $400 dollars on rental applications and were denied every.single.time. After borrowing money from family and after a month of living in the cheapest motels we could find while we tried to find somewhere to live, our needs were met after deciding to find a church to attend. I can still feel the wet tears of relief after 2 perfect strangers in this new Texas church offered to rent their home to us – no application, no fees, just a hand shake and a promise to mail a check regularly. This is a reminder to me that miracles are real and happen when you act on faith and that blessings come from church attendance. All of that had flooded through my mind from time it took for me to reach for my wallet, pay for some cocoa and pull forward.
I continued on my route to the Rodeo and stopped at a junction for the interstate that is commonly known for transients. Just then, I saw a group of young boys, I would confidently say ages 10-14, standing on the sidewalk wrapped up in raggedy blankets after having just crawled out from under the bushes on Main Street where they had clearly spent the night. Sadly, few of us are a stranger to what it is to see others living in such a way, however, at this particular moment, considering the depth of my current introspections, my heart especially swelled up for the band of kids before me. For a moment, I thought I recognized the glossy looks in their eyes. Where had I seen that before? Yes, I’ve seen that unmistakable expression that reads “please don’t judge me” and “yes, I’m exhausted, broke, dirty and hungry.” You see, once we moved into our newly rented home, my Chris would try everything he could to secure work. Craigslist ads, church friends, friends of friends, signs…anything. Sadly, that wasn’t usually fruitful. So, he would clean up and get all ready for the day and head to local home improvement stores all around the Houston area. He spent hours upon hours, day after day, walking the aisles and offering his skills and services to customers – trying hard not to seem scary, intrusive and flat out creepy. He would offer to lay the tile they were shopping for – he offered to install those new fence pickets in their carts, lay those bricks or hang those shelves they were buying. Most of the time, people said no, and that meant usually he would walk into our home after all the stores were closed, with that look. I can’t imagine the weight he felt as a father, husband and provider during those days. Nor could I imagine the humility it would take to approach men and women in such a way and dreading the judgment he would see reflected in their responses. But each day he headed out for another day of seeking and hoping that someone just might say “yes.” Hope surely does encourage us to do crazy things. I recognized the look on those young faces and matched it with the one I saw so many times, night and after night, on the man I love so dearly.
It only took a millisecond to process what my eyes saw, and for my heart to tell my hands to reach for my wallet again. But this time not for cocoa. I rolled down the window and with an arm outstretched I offered these young boys, at the very least, what I hoped would be meals for the day. The light in their eyes upon seeing that shimmer of green in my hand was enough for me. Their “thank you, beautiful lady” is a sound my heart will always remember. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something. And a wave of emotion began to wash over me and tears welled up. No judgement, just compassion.
I was stopped by three lights before I turned North to the rodeo parking lot. Each time there was someone with a small cardboard sign in need of something.
The line of the song, How could I see another’s lack and I not share? Rang in my ears…
I ended up waving money out of my minivan to anyone I could, stopping traffic and horns honking behind me. Many cars swerved around and rushed passed us as I emptied my ash tray of coins, my lunch box of food and my wallet of dollar bills. After I turned north, I was full-on bawling. I called Chris, who I am SURE was freaked out for a moment when he heard my sobbing, and exclaimed my gratitude for him, our family and our devotion to each other and our faith. And for all the tender mercies we’ve seen in our lives. For all the kindness we’ve seen. And for moments like those that teach me to be a little more kind. A little more sincere. More understanding. I was reminded that some needs are obvious. Standing on a street corner, battered and worn is a dead giveaway. But how many of us walk or drive right by or swerve around others whose needs are not as clearly portrayed. The joy I felt to give reminded me that life can also be very, very sweet. It is all dependent upon our attitude toward others. Choosing to love. Choosing to feel. Choose to act. Choosing to see people instead of pass judgment. Choosing to be grateful and thereby choosing to live, not survive. We can all survive – but can we live in a way that brings joy to ourselves and others?”
Friends, my life has been dramatically influenced by the actions of others. The fraud and losing my home would be a perfect example. But then again, so would the friends who offered me their home when I was 15 so I would have a safe place to live. The ladies who snuck into our home just last month to clean it while work days were long and hard leaving only fresh flowers and clean, folded laundry are no exception. Neither would the time I received the anonymous letter indicating our electric bill had been caught up and paid for the month. How could I ever forget the sacks of groceries that would show up on the porch more often that I’d care to admit. Are we not all beggars? I want to be like these humble, selfless people who act and “remember why we’re here” – It’s those same people who emulate faith and bring hope to lives of all around them.
When I started this blog, I gave plenty of warning of my tendency to draw upon song lyrics while sharing my thoughts. So, I do not apologize for the following – One of my hands-down ALL TIME favorite songs (written my Tom Douglas, David Lee and Tony Lane – recorded by Lady Antebellum on their Need You Now album).
Traffic crawls, cell phone calls
Talk radio screams at me
Through my tinted window I see
A little girl, rust red minivan
She’s got chocolate on her face
Got little hands, and she waves at me
Yeah, she smiles at me
How’ve you been?
Good to see you, my old friend
Sometimes I feel cold as steel
Broken like I’m never gonna heal
I see a light, a little hope
In a little girl
Every day I drive by
A little white church
It’s got these little white crosses
Like angels in the yard
Maybe I should stop on in
Say a prayer
Maybe talk to God
Like he is there
Oh I know he is there
Yeah, I know he’s there
How’ve you been?
Good to see you, my old friend
Sometimes I feel as cold as steel
And broken like I’m never going to heal
I see a light
A little grace, a little faith unfurled
Sometimes I forget what living’s for
And I hear my life through my front door
And I breathe in
Oh I’m home again
I see my wife, my little boy, little girl
All the empty disappears
I remember why I’m here
Just surrender and believe
I fall down on my knees
Oh hello world
Today, I would offer that the word, “HOPE” is one of the most powerful words we use in our vocabulary. It’s right there next to the words, “LOVE” and “DREAM.” As a small business owner, as a mother, a woman, a mortal human being, hope been my life raft many times. For all of us, sometimes hope is all you have. Sometimes it’s why you have what you have – because you never gave up hope. The power of hope is so impressive. It is so deep, meaningful, motivational and truly inspires us to do things we might not ever do otherwise. Hope brings strength. Hope encourages faith and allows is to grow. It is where we decide in our minds and hearts that all is not lost. That even if things are not okay right now, they can be and will be some day. However long the night, the dawn will break.
I appreciate so many of the dark days and times in my life that have caused me to choose and discover the meaning of hope. Some were long ago and some were much, much more recent. I also appreciate all the simple moments in between that remind me what is really important to me and in turn reminds me of the kind of person I want to be. I call them “Hello World” moments – where we ‘see a light, a little grace, a little faith unfurled…Hello World.’ Maybe it’s a group on the corner, maybe it’s a friend who calls at just the right time, maybe it’s a song, maybe it’s something you read that evokes an emotional response and a change of heart – or a greater remembrance. They are often brief but powerful and clear. For me it is usually simply a tender moment with my family or darling boys that open my eyes again to gratitude for just being alive one more day, despite my immediate circumstances, good or bad. I have recently had more of these moments than usual and I cherish them.
May we not forget what living is for – May we talk to God like he is there – May we, no matter how broken we feel, find a shimmer of light that brings hope – May we allow that hope to lighten our lives and be brave enough to let the brightness of that hope shine and help light the way for others – May we stand strong. May we grow from our trials and learn from them. Allow them to teach us and help us to be grateful – May our hearts go out to all the “needy” and the “beggars” in this world – yes, all of us, who need each other – May we be the goodness in the world that lifts up those hands that hang down, that strengthens the knees that are weak and just be good to each other.
Hope is never lost.
Love always wins.
This I know and share with you today.