In an earlier post, I described how we had received the call to come to Germany to serve the Lord in the ministry of reconciliation with Wittenberg 2017 and join in the 24/7 prayer movement in person at the Augsburg Gebetshaus. That was in the spring of 2015 and followed on nearly three years of prayer and exploration, visits to Augsburg, and, for me, ministry as a simultaneous interpreter from German to English at the meetings of the Wittenberg 2017 group in 2012 and 2013. And there were some important matters that we had to deal with before we could leave. Like selling our house.
That house we had purchased in 2007, just in time for the birth and then arrival of our daughter (more about those events in later posts). We closed on the house and moved from our apartment on Riverside Drive in South Austin in mid-July and Felicia was in her crib in the baby room in the little red and white house on Melbourne Lane in Round Rock on August 17th. It was only home she had ever known, in 2015, the house where she had gone from infant to toddler to school-aged girl, with all the attendant milestones: Crawling, first steps, first words, first writing, first, second and third kittens of her own, first friendships, and first songs. She was happy to help me put the “for sale” sign in front of our house, but she did not understand, not really, what it was going to mean for her. As far as she knew in the days leading up to the sale, we were going to go on a trip to visit our family and friends in Indiana, North Carolina and Texas. Then, we would go away to this magical, distant place called “Germany”, where daddy had lived before but a place which we had only visited before (in December 2014 into January 2015). And then we would come back. That we were leaving the house forever? That did not really sink in for her, at the time. With her only seven years of experience to go on, the concept of leaving anywhere forever was still hard for her to get her mind into. A wise friend of mine who had been a missionary in his youth had once told me that the real cost of going anywhere on a long-term mission, even if “long-term” only meant a couple of years, was the cost to our children. They rack up emotional losses at a higher rate than we adults. To a (non-pathological) 30-year-old, 2 years is hardly anything anymore. To an eight-year-old, “a couple of years” is a quarter of her life. Four years, half; six years, three-quarters. We would have to deal with her expanding understanding of this reality and the emotional pain it brought repeatedly over the next six years. We’re still dealing with it and with our own losses.
When your seven-year-old watches her bed, bike, and boxes of toys being packed away she thinks that she will see them again. As the months pass and she realizes she won’t, you have to address her losses and your own. If you are planning to go into missions, you need to devote time in prayer to this point before you get there, and ask the Holy Spirit to prepare you. It will still be hard, but the Lord will give you the wisdom and strength you need.
Now to return to the chronological narrative: At the time we put the house on the market, we had no idea how long we would be waiting to sell the house. The market was good in the greater Austin area in 2015, but even there and there it was not unusual for houses to stay on the market for months. So, we went to a meeting of the Austin House of Prayer Community on a Tuesday afternoon, and were happy to ask our friends to pray for the sale of the house, which was due to go on the market that very day. While we were there, the listing went on line and my cell phone started blasting me with calls and emails from people eager to buy that little house in Round Rock. The ad went on line at around 3PM that Tuesday and we accepted the offer from the people who eventually bought it – for a higher price than we asked– by 9AM on Wednesday. They were a young Christian couple who said “the living room looks perfect for our small group” in their email, which, I admit, was a strong influence on our decision.
The sale did prove more complicated than we had hoped. The buyers wanted some work done on the back fence and the siding along the back, so we had it done. Then we closed on the sale, and were effectively homeless pending our move to Germany in June. In the meantime, we were guests staying in the guest rooms of Christ the Reconciler in Elgin, a house purchased by the Austin House of Prayer Community, and I was tasked with cleaning out the few things that remained out of the house, and specifically the garage. With the kind loan of Thomas Cogdell’s late and lamented big red Chevy truck, I drove back to Round Rock to enter that little red-and-white house for what was the last time. The emptiness of our –former– living room hit me like a maul to the sternum. It took me a few minutes, honestly, to collect myself enough to do the work that needed done, which mostly consisted of removing the traces of our lives left in the place. Pieces of broken toys, strands of bright pink and purple nylon that had once been part of various of those “princess dresses” marketed to little girls and their parents at places like Wal-Mart and Target, boxes of papers we had meant to throw out, broken pieces of children’s IKEA furniture and a hundred other forms of commercial detritus from seven years of suburban American parent-and-childhood. It was in cleaning up the garage, sweeping out the area where our cats’ litterboxes had been, that I finally, really lost it.
“This had better be worth it!”, I shouted at God, wiping tears from my face. “This was my little girl’s home! We’re taking her away from all of it. We’re leaving out cats. For you! We’re leaving this all. For you. For your kingdom.”
And then I heard the Lord say:
“Everyone who leaves houses, John, everyone, receives a hundredfold. And family, and friends. It is still true. This is the first time you’ve really done it. Really left. Of course, it’s going to hurt. But I truly am with you, always. Is this the end of the age? Even if I was? I would be there.”
It was paraphrase of Matthew 19:29 and Matthew 28:20, and after I heard it, I was ready to finish what I had come there to do. I loaded the remain pieces of our past life into the truck– to take them to Goodwill– or dumped them without any further emotional outbursts into the waste cans for the Round Rock Disposal people to pick up later that day. Then, I got into our borrowed red Chevy and drove away from my daughter’s childhood home for the last time.
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