The power of feeling empowered

Today I took a class in laying tile at Home Depot. After I close on my new house next week, my first project is to renovate the kitchen. Yes, I'm doing most of the work myself. No, I've never done it before. But just because I've never done something before doesn't mean that I can't. I've successfully accomplished countless firsts in my life. And I've committed equally as many blunders, none of which were life-ending for me or anyone else. In fact, I'm better because of them. So, I'm educating myself, talking to professionals, reading how-to articles and watching how-to videos, and I'm ready to get started.

When I hit my first glitch, which I almost certainly will, I'm going to remember a story I heard in my class today. A woman attended the same class a while ago, and informed the instructor that she was going to redo her kitchen herself and she wanted to learn all she could so that she'd do a good job. She said that she'd never done anything like this before, but didn't see why she couldn't do it. Several weeks later, the woman returned to the store with pictures of her new kitchen. The instructor, having over 30 years of experience in tiling, said that she had done a wonderful job and her kitchen looked as if she'd hired a professional or done many kitchens before.

What's so amazing about this story is that the woman was 90 years old! My first thought was "Wow, I'd really like to meet this woman and have her show me her kitchen." I was so inspired by her courage, her tenacity and her energy to take on a project of this magnitude. But perhaps more importantly, I was struck by the fact that she could have easily decided that she'd lived all her life without the kitchen of her dreams, and she wasn't going to live much longer anyway, so it would be senseless to "waste" the money, time and effort on creating a new kitchen. That's exactly what I think most people would have concluded under the circumstances. This woman, bless her heart, gives new meaning to living a full life and following your dreams, wherever they may lead.

I've been thinking about that woman all afternoon and God's mandate to me is clear. If that 90-year-old woman can not only redo her own kitchen, but do a beautiful job at it, what excuse could you possibly come up with for not doing yours? I'm starting on Saturday.

Home is where God is

Were the truth to be told, I think many of my family and friends thought I was crazy when I told them 6 weeks ago that I'd decided to buy a house. And, that may have been their truth. But it wasn't mine. And it wasn't God's.

On August 10th, I sent an e-mail to 10 people asking if any could recommend a good realtor. I told them that I was looking for a pre-foreclosure, in a decent neighborhood, that wasn't expensive. I don't make a lot of money and I didn't have a lot of cash on hand. But what I did have was the belief that the undeniably strong pull towards making "the move" now, was not coming from me. I believed that God was ready to move not only my living space, but my spiritual space as well to a new season... now. The only question was whether or not I was ready.

Within two hours I received an email response from a woman I know from church, who's opinion I trust. She said knew of the "perfect" realtor for me. And she was right. Bernard and I spoke for the first time on the evening of Wednesday, August 12. By noon the next day I had been pre-qualified for a lender! We looked at five houses on our first outing on Saturday. I was very disappointed. But I didn't give up, and neither did Bernard. We looked at two houses on Sunday. The minute I set foot inside House #6, I knew it would be my home. On Tuesday evening I made an offer to buy the house. After one round of counter-offers, the sellers and I agreed on a price and ratified the contract on Friday, just over one week from the day I first spoke to my realtor.

So what's the big deal, you ask? Simply that on August 2nd, I was unhappily contemplating renewing post-divorce apartment lease to enter my fourth year of paying rent that was about to exceed $1000 per month. On October 2nd, less than two months from beginning the process, I'll be moving into a home of my own with about 1,800 square feet on nearly 2/3 of an acre, and my out-of-pocket mortgage payments will be significantly less than I was paying for rent. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my mortgage and utility expenses combined will be about the same, or a little less, than my rental payment alone. And that doesn't even take into account the tax benefits of owning the house and operating a home business there.

What's amazing to me is that God doesn't limit our possibilities, we do that on our own. I believed that God wanted me to look beyond what my limited imagination thought was possible and to boldly ask for what I wanted in my home. After all, where is the testimony in buying a run-down fixer-upper in a neighborhood where I'd be scared to sleep at night because I believed it was the only thing I could afford? Where's the evidence of my faith or God's goodness in that? So, here's my "wish list" and how God responded (in parenthesis):

  1. Deal only with good, decent, honest and fair people (I couldn't have asked for nicer, more trusthworthy people consistently throughout every step of the process - my realtor, my mortgage banker, the home inspector, the title rep, even the sellers have been amazing).
  2. Move before my lease expires on November 30th (I close on October 2, which was my choice, I could have closed sooner than that).
  3. Decent neighborhood (Better than decent, the neighborhood is very nice, quiet and I feel quite safe there).
  4. "Enough" living space, but not too much - I didn't want to spend all my time doing housework (Nearly doubled the size of my living space).
  5. Move-in ready (Other than a good cleaning in the kitchen, and buying a refrigerator the house is move-in ready, including having been freshly re-painted).
  6. Enough yard space for a garden (More than enough space for all the gardening I could ever manage, and to be honest, much more yard than I need).
  7. Plenty of off-street parking (A circular driveway that goes around the back of the house).
  8. At least 2 bedrooms and space for a home office (2 large bedrooms and a 19x12 office/craft room).
  9. Hardwood floors (The entire first floor, except for the kitchen and bathroom, of course).
  10. A screened porch (2 screened porches!).
  11. Closer to my church (Now less than 5 miles/10 minutes).
  12. Fireplace (Got it).
  13. Storage space (walk-up attic space with windows).
  14. Pantry (Walk-in off the kitchen next to the "mud room").
  15. Older, well-loved home (Without a doubt).
  16. Sellers pay all closing costs (Done).
  17. New windows and roof (Already done).
  18. Lots of windows/natural light (Yup).
And, as if all that wasn't enough, there have been some extra added bonuses too. For example, I had no idea that I qualified for the $8000 tax credit, I discovered that the weekend after I move in is the one weekend of the year that my state has a sales-tax holiday on the purchase of major appliances (and I need to buy some), after hours of research online and hours spent in my local Home Depot, I have the confidence (and the cash) to completely update my kitchen, doing most of the work myself which, believe it or not, I'm really looking forward to, AND a rebate at closing from my realty company of about $700, as their way of saying "thank you" for my business, which will pay for a new washer/dryer! From the home security consultant, to the customer service reps at all of the utility companies I'll have to work with, to the locksmith and the handyman I'll have on standby for my "honey do" list, I am truly blessed to have such great people to work with.

If you know me personally, or if you've been following any of my blogs for a while, you'll know that life hasn't been easy for me. I've experienced tragedies and challenges, some totally beyond my control and quite honestly, some of my own making. The reason that I'm sharing what God is doing in my life is not to brag or boast. My reasons are twofold: First and foremost, to give God all of the honor and praise for how he is moving in my life, not because of what I am, or what I've done, but simply because of whose I am. And secondly, in sharing my testimony, both the tragedies and the triumphs, I hope my life will be an example that demonstrates that no matter where we've been, what we've done, or how hopeless our circumstances may appear, God can and does work miracles every day. Despite others telling us, or more importantly, us telling ourselves, that we are defined by our pasts and that we must drag our "mistakes" around with us forever as a constant reminder of all of our "stuff", God doesn't see us as the sum of our mistakes. He uses every circumstances in our lives as an opportunity to help us mature, both spiritually and emotionally. He is ready and able to come live in our hearts and our homes. We just have to open the door and invite Him in.

The gift of time

Short on cash? Short on gift ideas for the friend who has everything? My friend Irene shared with me a wonderful gift idea that just about anyone would love. The gift of time. Irene has a friend who uses every gift-giving opportunity to give Irene the one thing that she never has enough of - time. Sometimes it's only a few hours. Sometimes it's a weekend. The important thing is that once they agree on a mutually convenient time, this friend allows Irene to decide what she needs help with most, and that's exactly what she gets.

Whether it's planting flowers, pulling weeds or de-cluttering the spare bedroom, this simple, yet extraordinary gift has many benefits. In addition to the obvious benefit of an extra set of hands to tackle a project, there's also the gift of quality time spent among friends. Sometimes all we need is an extra set of eyes to provide a different perspective on how to solve a problem or complete a task. Sometimes the encouragement of a friend is just what we need to get the job done.

Instead of buying a gift for a friend or loved one, next time consider giving them some of your time. More than likely, it's a gift that will bless you both.