One week ago life was falling nicely into place.
On June 15 we signed a contract to sell our home on Green Street. The price was agreeable. We survived the inspection. And we set about to make the requested repairs. The only variable still in negotiation was the fireplace.
So in the midst of scheduling plumbers and electricians and chimney work, I also began looking in earnest for a new place to live in Chicago. Peter was working at camp that week, so I was flying solo on the house front. With a July 29 closing date on our McHenry home, though, I had no time to waste.
After multiple trips into the city and several showings at a wide variety of houses, including one which Daryl called “haunted” (…and he may have been right..it was BAD), I actually found the beautiful bungalow above. Isn’t it cute? We loved it. It came on the market at just the right time. The space worked for us, in every way. It needed minimal work. The location was a convenient 22-minute drive to work. The closing date would be a week before school starts. We already had friends in the neighborhood. I saw God’s hand in so many of the details. We made an offer last Wednesday (June 22), and the seller accepted it outright.
For four joyous days, we praised God for His abundant provision—above and beyond what we had even asked!
Then came Monday.
That morning our realtor called to say that there was another offer on the Chicago house. We had a signed contract, so we remained hopeful. He would call again when he knew anything more. It was 8 p.m. before I heard from him again. “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” he said when I answered the phone. “But the seller has cancelled your contract and accepted the other offer.”
I was stunned. I don’t remember exactly what else was said. I think he told me, “I believe these things happen for a reason.” I think I said, “I’m sad.”
Peter wasn’t home, so when I got off the phone, I sent him a simple text. “We lost the house.” He replied just as simply “What??????”
Then I left my children, watching their nightly episode of Little House on the Prairie on the big bed, and I went down to the living room to sit on the sofa for a moment and cry. Where would we take our children to live in four weeks’ time? Why would God allow us to have a contract on a great house only to take it away? All of the common human questions came clawing and clamoring to mind.
When their show finished, the kids came and found me. Their initial response was to comfort me. Hugs and tissues were offered—sweet children. Instinct told me to pull it together for their sake.
But as I blew my nose and pulled the kids close, I knew that this was also an opportunity to invite them in. To model for them a response to disappointment. To show them how we can walk out our faith.
So I told them what happened with the house and we prayed—that God would provide an even better house and that we would trust Him no matter what.
Then came Tuesday.
In between carting the kids to VBS and putting away piles of laundry, Peter and I tried to regroup and make a plan. We brainstormed our housing options come August. We emailed our employer, asking about the possibility of renting an apartment on campus for a time. The regretful response was, “There’s nothing available.” We searched online for affordable short-term rentals in the city. We contacted our realtor about showing us a few more houses—nothing nearly as suitable as the one we lost, but we knew we might now need to compromise.
Right after dinner I asked Peter if I could take some NyQuil and go to bed. To top things off, I was fighting a nasty summer cold.
Around 8 p.m. Peter woke me up.
Standing over the bed, he told me, “I think I know why our contract on the Chicago house was cancelled.”
He didn’t have to finish his explanation. Instantly—even in my groggy state—I knew. “Our McHenry sale fell through.”
Peter nodded. “James (our attorney) just called to tell me that the buyer got our request to split the fireplace repair costs, and they pulled out.”
And—just like that—we found ourselves back at square one.
We are not strangers to suddenly slammed doors. I’m sure you’ve had your share of yours. Some of our more startling ones came in the form of miscarriages and disrupted adoptions—those times when it seemed that God was about to bless us beyond belief—but instead we heard the resounding thud of disappointed dreams.
This can look a lot of ways. The job prospect that doesn’t pan out. The college admission rejection letter that arrives in the mail. The breakup with the boyfriend or girlfriend we thought was “the one.”
Some people say that we shouldn’t ask “why?” at times like these. They say that we shouldn’t question God. It isn’t our place. No good can come.
But I disagree.
I believe that God can handle our inquiry—that He welcomes it even—when it comes from the proper place.
In Scripture, when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they asked “why” out of anger (Exodus 17). More than once they grumbled at Moses, accused God of trying to kill them, and cried, “Why have you brought us out here to die?” When Moses replied, “Why do you test the Lord?” they had no answer. They couldn’t accurately see their own behavior because their eyes were so firmly fixed on their pain. They weren’t even truly seeking answers from above. They were too busy shaking their fists at the sky.
Sure, sometimes anger can be a helpful and healing stage of the grieving process. But the danger is getting stuck in that furious and self-focused pit, wallowing in the “why me?” and “why are you so cruel?” and “why have you brought us out here to die?”
I’ve been there actually. In fact, during our season of infertility I spent three long years in that deadly ditch, and I don’t ever want to go back.
That’s why I recommend and I’m trying to practice asking “why?” in another way.
I think we can we can ask “why?” when we are requesting insight and clarity. We can seek His face and look for His hand. Moses asked this sort of “why” in Exodus chapter 5 when his first encounter with Pharaoh didn’t seem to go as planned. Moses was disillusioned and confused at God’s seeming ineptness. God had promised redemption and then suddenly the door seemed to slam. “Why did you send me here?” Moses hollered at the heavens. “You haven’t delivered your people at all.” But he doesn’t actually seem to be mad. That’s the difference. He genuinely wanted to understand.
So maybe we pray “why?” in this way:
Why has this happened? Why am I right here, right now? And instead of looking to ourselves and our pain, we look up and around for the reason. Not that God always gives us all of the answers. Not that He reveals all of His motives and ways. But I do believe that He will honor our request for wisdom, that He will show Himself in both big and little ways when we are prepared to see.
Maybe to our prayer of “why?” we also add a “what?” and a “who?” and a “how?” or two.
What can I learn while walking this road? Make me more like You because of this.
Who is watching and needs to see Your grace in me?
How can I be a witness to Your faithfulness?
And how will Your glory be revealed? I can’t wait to see.
Because in the words of Randy the Realtor, “These things do happen for a reason.”