For those who read part 1 (A Place To Rest My Head), you will know that, over the summer, my husband and I started house-hunting in the U.K. As an itinerant military family for more than a decade, we wanted to lay down some roots. In many ways, it was an odd decision as we currently live in the Middle East! But perhaps that was part of the reason. As we sofa-surfed our way around our U.K. family and friends during the holidays, admiring their nests, we hankered after our own. And we found one. A pretty cottage in a pretty village.
For various reasons, it felt like the perfect fit. We spent time praying about what to do during our three week visit, reading the Bible and talking to our families. After receiving the message below from a friend who knew none of our plans, we made an offer. It was accepted the same day we sold our rental flat. There seemed a certain poetry in it all, the words sent by my friend a fitting final verse:
For those who read part 2 (Gazumped), you will know, shortly after we landed back in the Middle East from the UK, the cottage was snaffled away by gazumpers who had deeper pockets than ours. But despite the money lost in conveyancing fees, it was our faith that took the biggest knock. We knew there were plenty of other properties out there. It wasn’t so much the loss of the house that hurt. It was the mockery it seemed to make of our beliefs, of all the time we had spent seeking God’s guidance.
We have some big decisions to make in the coming months about our future. The house had been the foundation we would build our plans around. The vital address needed to apply for school places, for example. Our daughter’s friends applied for secondary school last month but with no address, we were unable to do so. The deadline has now passed. We have no plan.
Since the gazumping, we have needed God’s guidance but there has been a reluctance to go back to him. If he was happy to give us, at best, ambiguous messages and, at worst, plain wrong ones, maybe he actually doesn’t care. Maybe, if we face facts, there’s actually no one there.
Over the past few month, in seeking advice about the gazumping disappointment from friends, we haven’t been asking for help house-hunting. We’ve been asking them to help us repair, maybe even save, our faith. Hard questions have pricked at our hearts and minds since the agents rang to tell us that the door God said no man could shut was being slammed in our face.
We have questioned whether faith is simply something to make the weak feel stronger. Are answered prayers really just the result of things coincidentally falling into place? The rest of the time we conclude it mustn’t have been God’s will, an easy, sometimes unimaginative or even lazy conclusion we are forced to offer when we haven’t really got a clue what his will might be. We have wrestled with the notion that God is kind. If there is a God, how can he be kind when he makes it so confusing to understand him?
In short, it’s been a dry time for us. Our prayers are polite little nods, Bibles don’t often get opened. We haven’t prayed about the big decisions that lie ahead because, beneath the disappointment, we don’t trust God. If we are his children, it’s less of a tantrum, more crawling into a ball to withdraw.
Last month, my husband and I spoke to the agents who handled the house sale. We wanted to find out about other houses on their books. It was too tempting not to ask about the gazumped house. It turned out that that very same day the owners and gazumpers were due to exchange contracts. That feeling of having landed on a ladder, only to slide down a snake a few moves later, settled deep within us again. A reminder that we were back at the start, trawling RightMove, and the gazumpers were nearing our finishing line.
The last few month have given us the opportunity to reassess what we want from a family home if we ever get to buy one! Like one of those annoying couples who tell Kirsty and Phil they want a rural idyll and then buy a loft conversion behind their backs, we have completely changed our plans. With rapidly growing tweenies, whose social lives now eclipse ours, we’ve decided we want to be nearer the action. We want parks, shops, a cinema, bus stops and a train station. Living in a compound where they only occasionally check in with us, we want them to have the chance, on our return to the U.K., to be able to make small steps towards independence. I don’t want to be a child’s answer to Uber until they can drive! Nor do they.
We are now looking at completely different houses. Victorian houses in a town rather idyllic cottages in sleepy villages. Is it possible that God knew our minds better than we did ourselves?! Maybe we are on the rebound, blowing raspberries at the type of house we lost, romancing with its rivals. How can we truly know our desires and motivation?
On Thursday, the agents emailed my husband. The gazumpers house sale has fallen through. They now can’t buy the cottage we so badly wanted. Did we want to make an offer, they asked? We could have a second bite at the cherry.
And then we knew. It wasn’t the house for us. We don’t want it. Not just because we don’t trust the vendor but because we have learnt, from this messy saga, what our family needs. We had to view a listed cottage and ruffle feathers in Hampshire’s council planning offices with our unsavory suggestions about smashing through wattle and daub walls to know a listed building wasn’t for us. We needed to imagine ourselves in a village to know the ways in which a village might not suit us. Perhaps we still need to try other ideas to find they don’t fit either.
Like faith itself, it’s been a journey. And the verse that caused so much heartache is now a comfort. It’s almost as though we were being warned the door would shut. Why mention a shutting door if we were being led though an open one? Maybe it was actually a promise from a God who knew the disappointment that awaited us- a promise that He is holding another door open for us somewhere in the future.
As I reflect back, I am struck by the fact that our sense for a long time about house hunting had been: Wait. That seemed to be God’s advice. But as soon as we had disposed of our flat, as soon as I was able to get on a plane to the U.K., we forgot this message. There was nothing really encouraging us to act over the summer except opportunity.
Imagine a life where we make opportunity our sole guide. That’s got disaster written all over it. But that’s what we did. We basically thanked God for his help and told him we could take it from here, whilst asking him to bless our choices! The strange thing was we didn’t even realize that’s what we were doing. With all that prayer, we thought we were open to his plans but actually, we were praying for him to achieve our agenda. Despite this, he graciously came with us on our detour, offering comfort that’s just starting to make sense. We have come full circle as our thoughts now are: wait.
A large chunk of our problem was trying to build our plans around a house. God doesn’t need bricks and mortar to achieve his purposes. His own son was born in a stable, or more accurately a cave. Without material security, God is still able to provide a place for us to rest our heads: that secret place with him where there is assurance, acceptance, trust and a Father’s unerring love.
He invites us to seek him first. Then, he promises, all the other things will fall into place. The job, the school places, the church, our community, friends. So we will try to wait and we will try to trust, a little harder this time…
My mentor, my wonderfully wise friend, reminds me that God never wastes anything in his economy. Even when we have gone off piste, he can use it. For me, the most lovely lesson in the gazumping woes was the lesson it taught me about prayer. Once I had stopped being mad, once anger gave way to understanding, I had a sense we should pray for the vendor. This wasn’t from me- I am not that nice! I have yet to pray for the gazumpers. I like to ignore that bit of that Bible that tells us to pray for our enemies. But on this occasion, a desire to pray started to grow.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that most people don’t act badly because they are malicious but because they are up against the trials of life, experiencing fear, stress, anxiety or another of their cohort. I had that sense here. So I am now praying the vendor sells his house. I am praying for ladders to get him back to the finish.
As with forgiveness, I am learning that when praying for our enemies, the first person to benefit is us rather than the recipient. Our hearts start to be transformed as we speak life into the other person’s circumstances. That life starts to fill us too. And love- a supernatural love that can extend even to those we have never met grows.
We may be taking the long way round with our house hunting but there’s much to be learnt in the search. And where I doubted the reality and character of God, I now stand amazed by him once again.