I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years of age until thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a large weekend country house in a neighboring rural county.
As our own family grew, we spent more and more weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and charm of a by-gone era. It was on a two hundred acre rural setting of both woods and fields with a river sized creek complete with waterfall and swimming hole. It also had fields of peonies, horses and barns, a pond, a replica of Fort Nashborough built for the grandchildren to play in and a historic ruin of a real civil war powder mill.
At first I followed my mother-in-law on excursions into the woods to look for Jack-in-the Pulpit and tiny delicate wild Iris with a city dweller’s fear and trepidation. “Snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after my awakening to the reality of God, I began to fall in love with His creation from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section along with a scheduled hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, the tenant house, pond and the thirty- five acres of creek front woods and fields in exchange for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, but this was an incredibly good financial trade for us. Our house was a pleasant traditional two story, four bedroom house in walking distance of an excellent public school, but Birdsong was twice its size, historic, beautiful and unique in a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. There was even a tenant house that we had been remodeling. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due.
While I was in the hospital recuperating from my C-section and hysterectomy, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could have possession by January 1st. To say the least, the move was a daunting prospect at Christmas time in my post-operative condition with a new baby and four other children under ten. But, it seemed like a miracle to sell so quickly for the price we were asking. Besides, I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, my husband’s oldest brother had hired a baby nurse to stay with us for the first two weeks I was home. This was a perfect baby gift that would help us considerably. The move just seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately, shortly after we got home from the hospital, we discovered that our baby, who was miserably unhappy both night and day, needed surgery for a painful strangulated hernia. Our wonderful baby nurse and I prayed together for healing for him. But instead, at the hospital the night before his surgery, an intern discovered that our baby also had a heart valve defect. It was obviously his first examination of a baby boy, since he didn’t think to protect his new Christmas tie from a tiny fountain of pee. Shaken by his discovery, but hoping his lack of experience had allowed him to be misled, I called my pediatrician, who managed to get there in fifteen minutes. After emergency tests, the surgeon and our pediatrician agreed that the heart defect didn’t appear life threatening and since it was the type that sometimes closed naturally, they went ahead with just the hernia surgery. It was a scary, stressful time of tears and exhaustion, but with many people joined in prayer for Tommy. After the unscheduled surgery there was only room for us in a four patient room. The spoiled princess part of me was distressed over having to be in a room with three other mothers and their crying babies, all of us sleeping on cots literally under our babies in their high metal cribs. But, I had hardly had any sleep since my surgeries, so when Tommy awoke hungry the first time in the wee hours after his surgery, I didn’t even wake up when he cried. The kindness of strangers touched me deeply, when I finally woke and discovered that the other mothers had fed him, so I could sleep. It was a humbling glimpse of how false my priorities were.
The day we brought him home from his surgery, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted an offer for Birdsong, including the whole two hundred acres and all the smaller buildings . I was devastated. My heart felt literally broken and I gradually recognized that coveting really is different from just wishing for something. Eventually, I accepted that God was trying to set me free.
But ending up two weeks before Christmas having no where to go after the following week was pretty much of a shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling local realtors turned up nothing to rent while we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools mid-year, in case we decided to make the change to living in the country somewhere else than Birdsong. Available houses were as scarce in our school zone as apartments. After I had called the last realtor, I sat on the couch with tears flowing down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, an older black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for over four more weeks and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That will give us time to decide where we want to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded immediately with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c c can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, “We have to take the baby back to the doctor’s tomorrow and I’m not comfortable driving your car and mine needs a can of oil.”
I tried not to look incredulous, as she began to pray very specifically. When she finished and we said, “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman that I knew from the school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said,” I’m sorry to bother you. I hope I didn’t wake up the baby, but my car gets eccentric sometimes and it has stopped at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get my mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.” After making her phone call, she joined me for coffee while we waited for the mechanic and the can of oil.
“I hear you’ve sold your house and are moving to the country,” she said.
“Well, yes and no. The move to the country fell through and I’m in something of a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools until we figure out where we want to live. And right now there is nothing available to rent around here.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up as she asked, “Do you know about the Keck’s house?”
“No, where is that?” I responded.
“It’s one street over and two houses down from you. You can see the back yard from here. They are going to the Philippines as missionaries for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first of January, if they can find a renter. They aren’t advertising, because they will be leaving their furniture and possessions and don’t want to rent to complete strangers.”
Breathless with my heart racing, I asked, “What is the house like?”
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms and a study, and a large den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I actually gasped in disbelief. “That would work perfectly for us and we have a large basement storage area at our office where we could easily store their things. That would probably be safer for their belongings and happier for our kids.”
It turned out that we had many mutual friends with the Kecks, so they were happy to rent to us. Dr. Keck taught theology at Vanderbilt and had a library of books that I read hungrily in the months we lived there.
So, three weeks later we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own ‘hundred acre wood’ with a creek and hundreds of tiny wild Iris all along the banks. That fall, we moved into a marvelous house my husband had designed very specifically for us and in a county with a much better school system than where Birdsong was. Eventually, my husband started his own business here in this county where we lived.
One of the best parts of this memory is the woman who prayed with me. She had raised seven children in serious poverty and mostly by herself, due to her husband’s dependence on alcohol. To her, I must have seemed like a spoiled affluent weakling, yet she cared about my problems and believed God would help me just as He had her when she needed it.
An important addendum involves forgiveness. My in-laws had made an exceptionally generous offer, but seemed oblivious to the challenges their change of plans presented for us and I was not feeling very kindly toward them. I still couldn’t drive and our baby and I were both still recuperating. Christmas expenses and moving were draining our resources and as temperatures dropped along with my size, I needed a winter coat. As I was worrying about how to solve this, my mother-in-law appeared at our door. She came in obviously in a hurry handing me a shopping bag, saying, “I was in Dillard’s buying underwear and I saw this coat. You may not like it or need it, so you don’t have to keep it, but something just told me to buy this for you.” And there was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. It was a perfect fit. She brushed away my thanks and hurried on to an appointment.
As I prayed for grace to forgive, I thought, If she can hear God in this, maybe God has a reason for all of it. And I was able to shift perspective, let go of coveting and start looking forward again, seeking God’s will without assuming I knew what His plan for us was.
Time has made it clear that we were meant to start a totally different life in a house my architect husband designed specifically for us in a county with a better school situation. A few years later another crisis of circumstances led to starting an architecture firm in our new area which has been once again a challenging, but grace filled, serendipity.
Sometimes, it seems to me, there are values that we accept when we tell the creative force behind all things that we want to be aligned with its highest purpose, then we become part of the flow with complex circumstances uniting to accomplish this in our lives. And the pattern is like a tapestry that we are part of, seeing only the crisscrossing mish-mosh of threads from our perspective, while a glorious work of art is emerging from a universal, eternal perspective.
(However, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in God’s wine press and God has seriously large feet.)