I was doing the dishes when the strangest urge hit me. The wildest urge, considering where I was in my life—54 years old, recently divorced, raising two teenage foster daughters on a fixed income. I’d had health problems a few years back that forced me to stop working and go on disability, as much as I hated to.
I looked around my cramped apartment: The kitchen so tiny that my girls and I couldn’t all be in there at the same time. The early American garage sale furniture. The dull as, well, dishwater shade of beige on the walls that I couldn’t change because I was just a renter, and I could barely make the rent.
I was tired of having my dreams squashed. Especially one dream I’d cherished ever since I was a little girl. I wanted a house, a place I could paint and decorate just the way I liked, a place I could really call my own.
I rinsed the dishes and sighed. I knew I had a lot to be grateful for. I was starting to put my finances back together after the divorce. My foster daughters were resilient and seemed to be adjusting to being in a single-parent home. Our apartment was small but it was a roof over our heads.
Still, I couldn’t help feeling I’d made a mess of my life. I closed my eyes and hung my head. Suddenly I felt something strange. An urge to pray came over me, and it wasn’t in a way I’d ever prayed before. This was as if some presence outside of me was gently moving my lips and telling me what to say.
“Lord, I want a house of my own,” I murmured. “A nice house, big enough for me and my daughters, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a large kitchen so we can fix meals together. And a separate living room and family room so the girls can have a place to hang out with their friends.
"And a yard for the dog. And no stairs, since stairs are hard for me. And hardwood floors and a heat pump. And could it please be in the girls’ school district? A place like this is way more than I can afford, Lord, but you know how much I want this. I put it in your hands. Amen.”
My eyes flew open. I didn’t know whether to laugh at myself or cry. What had I just prayed? Had I really dared to give this ridiculous list of requirements, this wild dream of mine, to God? I put away the dishes and tried to put away thoughts of nice new houses too.
Yet every time I stepped outside something got me going again. Down the street newly built condos were for sale. “No Down Payment!” the sign boasted. I took a look. These condos were tiny, even smaller than my apartment! Who was I kidding?
“Why don’t you try a mobile home?” a friend suggested. I hate to admit it but I thought a mobile home just didn’t fit my dream. I looked over the budget I’d made for myself after the divorce. My friend was right. A mobile home was what I could afford.
Even then maybe not. My only financial wiggle room was my monthly tithe to church. And I was not about to stop tithing.
I opened the newspaper. I looked in the classifieds under mobile homes. Whoa! New mobile homes were expensive. Plus you have to rent space and pay to move them. I was so poor I couldn’t even afford a mobile home!
Next column over I saw a section for used mobile homes. I looked closer. The prices were much lower. Maybe there was something under thirty thousand dollars. A mortgage payment for that amount would equal my current monthly rent. I spotted two places in that price range.
I called the numbers. Before I knew it, I had two appointments.
All right, Lord, I’ll give it a shot.
The next day I drove outside town along a narrow, rutted road. I pulled up to what looked like a shack surrounded by junked cars. The ad said the house had three bedrooms. Really?
A woman opened the door. Whoa. The air smelled like mold—and worse. The place was falling apart. The carpet was black with stains. I tried not to show my feelings. The third bedroom turned out to be a wall torn out of the trailer’s side with an extra room tacked on.
I told the owner the house wasn’t quite right for me and hurried back to my car. I couldn’t face the thought of my next appointment. Obviously this was all I could afford—a dump. I thought about calling to cancel. But the woman at that other house had sounded so eager. I just hoped her place smelled better than this one.
At least the road there was nicer. Lots of wildflowers. I pulled up to a well-kept property with a lovely single-story house perched on a hillside. I looked around for the trailer. It must be out back.
A woman emerged from the house. “Hi, I’m Kathy,” she said. “Come on in.” She showed me into a spacious room with hardwood floors. Two teenage boys sprawled on the sofa playing a video game.
“This is the living room,” said Kathy. “We just put in the floors but it really needs a new paint job. We figured the new owners would want to pick their own colors. The kitchen’s through here.”
“Wait,” I said. “This is the mobile home?”
Kathy smiled. “You like it? My husband and I have remodeled several times. But now we want to build a permanent home. So we need to sell this one. Come on. Let me show you around.”
I followed Kathy in a daze. She led me through three big, bright bedrooms. Two bathrooms. A laundry room. A nook for a home office. She showed me where the heat pump was.
The kitchen had ivory floor tiles, green counters, gleaming white cabinets, a cooking island and brand-new appliances. I could just picture my girls and me fixing dinner together.
“Here’s the family room,” Kathy said. “Perfect for teenagers. Do you have kids?”
I told her about my foster daughters.
“Wow,” said Kathy. “That’s great of you to take kids in like that. Mark and I have talked about it. Maybe we should do it now that our boys are older. You like the house?” She opened a huge linen closet.
“I love it!” I said. This was one of the nicest homes I’d ever seen—mobile or otherwise. “I just—I can’t believe the price is so low.”
“Well, you know, used mobile homes depreciate a lot,” Kathy said. “And like I said, Mark and I really want to get started building. So we’d like to sell.”
Kathy walked me out to my car. I told her I’d be back in touch when I secured a loan. We clasped hands. It was like we were already friends.
I called the bank as soon as I got home. “A used mobile home?” said the bank officer. “I’m sorry, we don’t issue loans for those.”
I called another bank. And another. They all said the same thing. I called Kathy and asked for more time. I called more banks. Mortgage companies. Three days later I had to admit defeat. I called Kathy back. “I’m sorry,” I said, practically in tears. “I can’t get a loan anywhere. I’m afraid I won’t be able to buy your house.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Kathy. “You seemed to like it so much. And it sounded perfect for your daughters. Well, best of luck.”
I hung up and cried. So much for that dream of mine.
Then came a worse blow: My grandmother passed away. She left me twelve thousand dollars, which was wonderfully generous but nowhere near enough to buy a home as nice as Kathy’s. I sat through the funeral feeling lower than ever. That big, wild prayer I prayed…why did you let me hope, Lord?
A few days later the phone rang. “Barbara? It’s Kathy. With the mobile home, remember?”
Oh yes, I remembered. Kathy went on, “We’re having trouble selling. Everyone seems to have the same problem getting a loan as you did. But we really like you and we want you to have the house, especially for your girls. So we’d like to offer to carry the loan. Don’t worry about a credit check or anything. We’ll work out payments that you can afford. You’ll just have to cover the cost of moving the home.”
I hardly dared to ask. “How much would that be?”
“Around twelve thousand dollars,” Kathy said.
I almost dropped the phone.
“I’ll take it,” I managed to say. For a fleeting instant I felt that same presence, the One who had been there urging me to ask for my wildest dream, to utter my biggest prayer ever. I closed my eyes. This time no one needed to guide my lips. “Thank you, Lord, for all you do and all you have given me.”
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I found the very last available mobile home site in the girls’ school district, with a yard for the dog. Or that it turned out my mom had been squirreling away money for when I finally bought a house, enough for new furniture and paint so the girls and I could decorate just the way we liked.
Or that about a year after I moved into the house of my dreams, Kathy told me I’d inspired her and Mark to take in foster kids.
You could call all of these things coincidences. I think they’re the fruits of faith. Faith is the greatest resource we have for coping with tough times. I know God doesn’t always answer prayers exactly the way he did mine. But he does answer. Always.
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