At long last, I was in California. Mike arrived a day later. When I woke up that morning, a blanket of fog hung loosely over tree tops, but my heart was full of sunshine. Greg and Karen were gracious enough to give us an upstairs bedroom with a bathroom. This room would be our base of operations until we found a home. Little did we know we’d be there for eleven months.
Their house was spacious. Eucalyptus trees and several acres of gardens surrounded the house. Greg was a contractor. Behind their two-story home was an expansive Morton building full of contractor tools and supplies. He also had several trucks and trailers parked in back, used to haul lumber and equipment to job sites. When Mike got there, we were able to condense some of the stuff in the Morton building and unpack our U-Haul. This building would be our storage unit until.
Within the first few days, something came up I’d not anticipated. I knew we’d be returning to the church Mike and I attended before. The plus for me was counting on a renewed relationship with their pastor, Pam. She was a spirit-filled Christian. We had known her for years. We had similar experiences with the Lord, and I knew we would be a blessing to each other. But, when we got to church, we discovered that Pam had resigned as pastor and was attending another church. While I understood, I was disappointed. I felt alone.
I cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help me to know Your will and follow You in joy.”
He was gracious to answer. “I am your Shepherd. I am not leading you into a ditch but a broad place of freedom. You will have your critics, but I am with you. I will not fail to perform all I have promised. Though I’ve hidden from your sight, it will not prove false. I will do all things in My time by My hand. Rest in Me, Beloved. All you need is in Me. All you need is Me. I am drawing you closer. You will see your weaknesses, and you will run to My side for strength. I will never fail you…Do you trust Me?”
The scripture came, Psalm 18:30 “As for God, His way is perfect. The word of the LORD is proven. He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”
Mike and I secured a 2003 used car and life started to settle into a rhythm. Mike worked alongside Greg much of the time, and I took over some of the house chores and cooking as Karen worked. Our house search began on December 7th. We saw a home in Lockeford and put a bid on it. We were certain with all the homes for sale and foreclosures in full swing, buying a home would be a simple process. After all, we had cash. But, they denied our bid and another couple bought the home.
Later in the month, we drove to east Stockton, not the best neighborhood, but it was affordable. We didn’t see anything that said, “This home is for you.” It soon appeared that we’d be at Greg’s into the New Year.
Greg’s home was a God-send. He wasn’t charging us anything, and he was storing our belongings for free as well. Still, the house had its dynamics and time seemed to drag on.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went. Some of the times at church were good, and others were not. Early in January, I asked Him, “Lord, am I ministering life? It feels more like I’m ministering tolerance. ‘Bite the bullet, and you’ll get through this’ kind of life. What is Your mission for me here?”
“To follow where I lead. To speak what you hear Me speaking and do what you see Me doing. In all things rejoice, for I am with you.”
“Well, the rejoicing part has been missing for sure. Forgive me, Lord.”
“I do,” He said.
“Lord, What’s Your name for me today?”
“O Abba, You see me different than I see myself. Thank You for Your gracious love and assessment. May it be so.”
“Trust,” He said, “isn’t about doing everything perfectly. It’s about your heart and your persistence to turn again and adjust. To press into My will even when everything in you wants to go another way. I trust you, and you are learning to trust Me more and more.
“In My case, I do everything perfectly, and My heart is always turned toward you. I am trustworthy. There is no shadow of turning in Me. Do you believe Me?”
“Yes, Lord, even when it doesn’t always feel real.”
We continued our house hunt and placed bids on another home, this time in Valley Springs. It wasn’t in foreclosure, so we thought we’d get it without delay. We were wrong. Another bidder came in higher, and we were back pouring over internet real estate ads.
Mike and Greg were gone a lot during the day, and I needed new connections. I needed new sisters and prayer partners. One day as I sat in Greg’s construction office in Lockeford, I saw a woman walk by with her dog. “That’s Kass.” I gasped and ran out of the office.
Kass and her family moved to Missouri several years before and attended my church in Liberty. We were good friends. She and her family moved back to California about a year before we did, but I had no idea where she was living.
After many breath sucking hugs and tears, we started talking. I told Kass about my need to connect. She invited me to attend a Bible Study in Lodi, not more than a mile from where we were living with Greg. God answered the cry of my heart.
Within a couple of weeks, I also reconnected with Pam, and she invited me to a Bible Study at her church, “The Father’s House.” Again, lifetime connections formed. I could live life better because of sisters. When God said,“It is not good that man should be alone,” I’m sure He meant that for women too.
Soon after this, God placed another treasure in my hands. Mike’s church had been passing out sandwiches and treats to the homeless for several years. More than a handful of times in my past, prophetic people spoke over my life, saying God would use me to minister to those on the street with addictions or prostitution. Living in rural Missouri never afforded me that opportunity. Now, I was only miles from one of the largest cities known for drugs, gangs and homeless in the nation.
Ladies at church prepared the sandwiches ahead of time and bagged all of them for delivery. Then, every Sunday a handful of helpers would load up their cars and head for the homeless shelters. I asked the group if I could join them. They agreed. And so, it was, I began ministering on the street.
I loved handing out sandwiches and cookies, even though it was a little frightening. I’d never been among the poor like this before. What surprised me were the mothers and children in the mix. My heart broke for them. I wanted to be able to pray for them and hold their babies, but there wasn’t time.
We’d jump out of the cars, pass out the food to the line of two hundred people, jump back in the cars and drive back to church. The local police weren’t always thrilled with our presence either. They felt we needed to follow city ordinances about food preparation. We knew the food was safe. We were more interested in serving love.
After a month or more of this, Abba and I met one morning in our secret place. I’d done a lot of searching in a household full of adults with differing schedules. Finally, I found I could have an hour or so alone in an office space above the garage. Sitting in a chair between stored camping gear and old office furniture, I shared my time with Abba. This cubby hole was my secret place.
That morning God told me, “Make a sign, ‘FREE HUGS,’ and hang it around your neck. Write it in English and Spanish.” Then He said, “Hug every person in the line and tell them I love them.” I’d been reading Heidi Baker’s story how when she hugged people, many were healed. So, I said, “Yes.”
I asked my friend Brandy Cook in Baja to tell me how to say God loves you it in Spanish. Many of our homeless friends were Spanish. “Dios te Bendiga,” she said.
That next Sunday, I hung the sign around my neck and hoped in the van with the rest of the crew. My stomach was in knots when we got there, but I wasn’t going to chicken out.
With a smile on my face and sacks of cookies in my hands I hugged every person in line, at least the ones who would let me. Some of them wouldn’t. I told each one that God loved them. They seemed shocked, but many were grateful. Some cried and kissed me on the cheek. My heart went out to them. These were God’s children, my brothers, and sisters. But many of them hadn’t met their Abba yet.
One Sunday, God told me, “Find Johnny, and tell him, ‘God loves you.’” I asked every person in line if they knew a person named Johnny. I thought for sure this would be easy. But that week there wasn’t a ‘Johnny’ to be found. I came home wondering if I heard right.
The next week, as I went down the line hugging my homeless friends, a guy named Joe stopped me. “Someone said you were looking for a guy named Johnny last week.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You must mean ‘Wino Johnny.’ He hangs out at the bus station,” said Joe nodding in the direction of the Greyhound Bus Depot.
I took Joe aside and told him what God told me. I gave him some extra sandwiches and cookies. “Take these to Johnny. Tell him that God wants him to know that He loves him.” Joe assured me that he would.
Several weeks later, as I hugged one of the guys lined up at another location, a man took my hand and said, “I’m Johnny. Since Joe told me about you and what God said, I have been sober. Today is my 24th day without a drink. Thank you.”
I gave Johnny another big hug. “God loves you so much. He sent me here to find you. I am so glad your life is turning around. My prayers are with you, Johnny.”
That was the last time I saw him. A couple of months later, Joe told me that Johnny remained sober for another few weeks. But Johnny was back on the bottle. My heart ached for him, but I knew God touched him and would continue to water the seed of love He’d sowed in Johnny’s heart.
Later, when I was bemoaning the fact that we were still without a house of our own, Mike responded. “Maybe we are still here so you could meet Johnny. Once we move, you may not have the same opportunities.” He was right.
On February 25th, we looked at another home in Valley Springs. It had been one of the first houses we saw in December. But at the time they were asking more than we could afford and the house was trashed. I saw it listed on the internet. It didn’t look like the same house. The price was lower, but still out of range.
We liked the house except for the fact that most of the inside doors were missing. A ceiling fan, bathroom mirror, thermostat, all the appliances and a few other amenities were also gone. We’d seen many foreclosed homes with damage to them. In some cases, the previous owners had removed all the kitchen cabinets. This home was in foreclosure as well, and they were selling it on a ‘short sale.’
We told the realtor to draw up the papers, and we’d sign them in the morning. That night as I was washing the dishes, I ask God, “What price should we ask on the house?”
“$155,500,” came immediately to my mind.
“Okay,” I said and went outside and told Mike. He agreed. I called the realtor and told her that was our offer. This home listed for $349,000, when it went on the market. The economic crash was changing the face of California real estate.
Over a month later, still not hearing about our offer, I cried out to the Lord. “Lord, I am crying out for help and wondering whether I’ll ever surrender in full to Your will in peace.”
“Your times are in My hands.”
“Yes, Lord they are. What is the purpose of all this waiting?”
“It’s a time of refining.”
“Yes, You told me that before. Will we ever reach the stage of refining we need? It feels as if there is no end to this. Forgive me, Lord. I am complaining and questioning Your wisdom. God forgive me.”
“Forgiven. Let’s go play ball.”
“Lord, I don’t want to play ball. My heart is weeping. Lord help.”
“Let’s go play ball. Come on. It will help.”
We are on top of a grassy hill. He tells me, “Go way over there—far—and I will throw it to you.”
“Lord, I’ll never catch it. I won’t even be able to see it coming.”
I walk with deliberate steps far out into the field. I turn, but can barely see Jesus.
“Are you ready?” He yells.
“Put up your mitt.”
“Lord, You can barely see me, how are You going to hit my mitt?” I sense that He’s smiling.
“Here it comes!”
I search the space for a ball. Smack!! – Right into my mitt. How did He do that?
“Did you catch it?”
“Yes, I got it.”
“Did you see it coming?”
“No, I didn’t.”
He is smiling again. “You don’t see what’s coming your way now either, Beloved. There are blessings aimed right to your hand. Rest knowing, I know where you are and how to get these blessing to you on time. They may appear to be far off, but they are closer than you think. Rest Beloved, I do all things well.”
Weeks later He counseled me again. “Just as I hid the identity of Jesus from the world and the enemy, My plans for your life are also hidden in My hand. The butterfly wrapped in its cocoon must not be helped. I cannot allow you to rend the veil to your future beauty. It is in My hand. It is in My time. It is in My way. Rest and drink in the nourishment of My presence. Strength for today and hope for tomorrow. There is no fear in love. Trust Me and rest. All is well.”
Mike grew familiar with my morning questions to him. “Have you had any dreams? Visions? Angel visits?” God rarely spoke to me through dreams, but for Mike, it was God’s means of communication. Nothing significant materialized.
We waited. We continued to look for houses. We drove to Riverbank, Oakdale, Sonora, Rail Road Flat, Murphy’s and made another trip to Stockton, Lodi and Valley Springs. There were several homes we liked and bid on, but other buyers purchased them the day they listed on the market.
On May 2nd, we heard about the house in Valley Springs we’d placed a bid on in February. It was number one hundred on the list of homes for the negotiator to consider. This real estate debacle of foreclosures put banks under truckloads of paperwork and decisions.
Tension increased in our living quarters. Greg, as a contractor of new homes, was watching his business collapse. Mike’s mom developed an infection in her knee replacement. The doctors decided to remove her knee altogether. She was unable to get around except by wheelchair. Mike and I felt like we were a help, but were treading water with our house hunting and our life.
I poured out my feelings in my journal that morning. Afterward, I opened an email to find this post from Marsha Burns -Small Straws In A Soft Wind—May 13, 2009*:
Even when it seems like your efforts are hindered at every turn, trust that I am moving you in a particular flow. Things may not be moving along as quickly as you would like, but trust that I have everything under control. I know the end from the beginning, and I have your best interests at heart. All you need to do is relax and rest in the assurance that everything will work out in perfect timing and progression according to My plans and purposes for you,” says the Lord. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and My ways are higher than your ways (Isaiah 55:9)
One day, early in our house hunting, we were sitting in the realtor’s office. A lovely woman named Rebecca came in to say hi to our agent. In the conversation, our realtor mentioned that we were Christians. Rebecca immediately started telling us about some meetings taking place at IHOP. (International House of Pancakes, on Hammer Lane in Stockton.) She told us about Kevin and Genevieve Horn and their call to minister in the marketplace. She went on to tell us about the miracles of healing, deliverance, salvation and changed lives through their ministry. I took down the information and determined to go and see for myself.
With all that was going on in our lives, I’d never made it to IHOP. But on May 6th, I called my friend Pam and suggested we go together. That meeting was a divine appointment setting Pam’s, Mike’s, and my life on a path planned before we were born by our Abba. But it will have to wait until the next chapter.
~~ How About You? ~~
Have you ever heard from the Lord and then stepped into the promises, only to discover there are giants in the land? That’s how we felt.
He had told us “What ‘should be’ difficult, will not be. What ‘should be’ easy, may prove a challenge. Look to Me for your supply. I have all the answers and all the maps.”
We thought finding a house, was going to be the easiest task of all. Yet, it proved to be the biggest challenge. More and more, we were having to lean not on our own understanding but on God’s faithfulness.
1 Thessalonians 5:24 says. “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
God faithfully completes everything He calls us to. He typically calls us to do things we are inadequate to accomplish in ourselves. That way when they are accomplished, we know it is Him. Our confidence must be in Him and Him alone.
If you thought your promised land would be easy and it isn’t, call on the Lord. He is faithful and He will continue to guide and encourage you.
1 Small Straws In A Soft Wind – Marsha Burns – Archived here: https://ft111.com/archive.htm#archive%20smallstraws