A House — and a Life — Love Restored
- Sandra* as told to Rebekah Montgomery Right to the Heart of Women
- 2008 10 Oct
Remember Sleeping Beauty? Because of a curse, when she pricked her finger on a spindle, her world was frozen into a nightmare. Prince Charming’s kiss was required to break the evil spell.
A finger prick transformed my world into a nightmare, too. More amazing than the fairytale, the love of the Prince of Peace and His loyal followers broke the spell and gave me a home and a future.
The finger prick came in the summer of 2003 during a routine baby wellness check for one-year-old Emily, the youngest of my three preschool children. I was not expecting the shocking results: Her blood lead concentration was four times higher than the danger level.
Within days, the state health inspector was knocking at my door. “Move. Now,” he warned. “Your house is dangerously contaminated with lead. Your children could already have severe and permanent damage.”
Panicked, I phoned my husband, Tom, who was away on business. “What’ll we do?” I asked. “We have to move but how can we afford it?”
Although Tom made a good salary, for reasons that had been puzzling to me, we never had extra money. I kept expenses cut to the bone and we had only one car — my husband’s. His job required extensive travel, but in recent months, I had begun to suspect that his long absences were not entirely job related.
Tom’s response to my distressing news confirmed that our marriage and family was dangerously contaminated, too. “I’m sure you’ll handle it,” he said. He had no plans to come home anytime soon. And no, he couldn’t send me any money either.
The landlord was livid with the health inspector’s report. He refused to make any of the recommended repairs and blamed me for the discovery of the lead poisoning. “You have until August 1st to get out,” he thundered.
The eviction was illegal and I could have fought him in court and won the right to stay. But I needed to get my children out of that poisoned house. I could expect no help from my husband. I had no money, no place to go, and no way to get there.
The date was June 25. A month. Forty days and forty nights and my children and I would be homeless. Where would we go?
However, I had a secret weapon that prevented me from becoming desperate. In 1976, when I was seven years old, I had made a profession of faith in Jesus. Since then, my faith had not been severely tested. Yet I knew enough about trusting Jesus to know that if I only considered the depth of my problems, I’d sink in despair. If I considered the power of Jesus to help me, I could make it. I’d just have to be brave enough to take that first step of faith — whatever it was.
Still hoping that my marriage could be salvaged, I confided my troubles to Rose, a friend from my church. She listened, prayed with me, and although I had no income she said, “Let me see what I can do about finding you a house you can afford.”
I really didn’t expect much from Rose. After all, what sort of house could she find for someone with three kids and no money?
As the weekend approached, my father paid for the children and I to come see him. In a shocked state, I poured out my troubles to him. In my heart of hearts, I knew my marriage was shattered and that Tom would not support us now without pressure from the court system. That would take time, money, and lawyers to accomplish. What was I to do in the meanwhile? Where could we go? How would we live?
Dad had no ideas but he, too, prayed with me.
On Thursday, June 26th, the phone rang. It was Rose. “If I found a house that someone will give you free-of-charge, would you trust my judgment to accept it for you?” she asked. She was suspiciously sketchy about the details but she did say that the house had three bedrooms, a nice-sized backyard, and was in an okay neighborhood.
What choice did I have? “Go ahead,” I said.
“I’ll have some guys clean it up a little,” she told me.
Had I been paying attention, I would have realized that she giving me the first clue to the adventure ahead for the next month.
When I returned to town on Monday, June 30 th, Rose — a little nervously, I thought — showed me the house. The exterior was painted an odd color but it had “good bones structure,” she told me. Rose’s husband had checked it out and pronounced it solid except “for the obvious problems.”
I thought she meant the exterior color — until I stepped inside and my nostrils were dealt a stinging blow. At the sight of the interior before us, my five-year-old burst into tears.
The walls were cracked and dingy, totally speckled with some sort of substance. The floor was filthy and littered. But the smell… whew!
As we opened windows to let in the summer air, Rose hastily assured me that the only things the house needed was a thorough cleaning, fumigation, paint, plaster, a few new windows, a toilet, and other incidentals. And the house was free, thanks to someone who had once been in my situation.
If we worked hard, the house could be ready in a month, she said. Work had already begun. That Saturday, men from our church had shouldered out urine-soaked mattresses, a refrigerator filled with rotting food, and similar furnishings — enough junk to fill a 16-foot trailer.
Had she mentioned that the house was free?
I caught my breath. Well, free was the right price because I had no money. But where would we get the money to fix up the house? Who would help us? All those concerns turned out to be the least of our problems.
Rats, cockroaches, and their remnants were, however, a major problem. I’ll spare you a graphic description, but the house had been so infested that the walls and ceiling were mostly brown whereas they had once been white. “Residue” was everywhere — in cracks, ceiling tracks, light fixtures, in doorknobs, even under the kitchen cupboard hinges necessitating the fine oak cupboards be burned. However, the rats and roaches turned out to be disguised blessings. Because of their presence, the house was given to me.
We rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Day after day, as the calendar ticked forward, a steady stream of miracles occurred. Solicited by Rose or moved by compassion and love for me, people with various skills showed up and went to work at carpentry, plumbing — whatever was needed. Some cleaned. Others took my children and babysat them. Still others packed up the other house in preparation for our move.
A lot of adjustments to our plans had to be made as work progressed. For example, the crew that came in to clean the kitchen ended up demolishing the walls with sledgehammers and hanging drywall instead. The drywall just happened to be left over from someone else’s remodeling job. It was also the right price — free.
A new toilet showed up just when needed. Beautiful baseboards came from an old house about to be demolished. Someone cleaning his garage found a length of plastic pipe, plumbing fittings, and a new countertop — just the day and at the hour when they were needed.
Inspired by the community spirit, people chipped in together, bought and installed new windows. Several brave souls cleaned the dungeon of a basement, scrapping up and hauling out loads of debris.
Two five-gallon buckets of latex paint appeared — along with the church youth group who primed and painted every room in the house. I realized one-year-old Baby Emily had been watching the painters so much that her idea of fun was to play “painting” with a brush and invisible paint.
In many ways, fixing up the house was like a month-long slumber party — with an audience. The neighborhood watched in amazement as day and night we labored together, working into the wee morning hours, talking, laughing, and eating carry-in pizza. Despite a steady diet of pizza, we all gained muscle and lost weight. I dropped 40 lbs. that month! Because of the formerly wretched state of the house, curiosity brought my new neighbors over to see how the house now looked, get acquainted, and sometimes, lend a hand.
I think people — the great majority from my church — sacrificed and helped for a variety of reasons. For some who had been unfaithful in their own marriage, it was cathartic. Others helped because God moved them to; some out of pity for my situation. Most helped, I think, out of pure love for Tom, our children, and me.
By the middle of July, irrefutable evidence came forward that although Tom had been active in the church, unbeknown to nearly everyone, he had long been leading a double life. He had finally chosen that life over the one he had with his children and me.
Tom’s leaving felt like a death, and like what often happens when we lose a family member, the rest of the family drew closer together. Everyone gathered around Tom’s “widow” — me — and his children. Many prayers were offered up for him. The children and I would have to begin a new life that would rarely again include Tom.
Only God and His inspired followers can take someone with no money and no budget from homeless to at-home in less than a month. By July 31, the house was livable. It wasn’t fancy but it had new cupboards, freshly painted walls, refinished floors, new windows, a working toilet and shower. It was clean, smelled fresh, and was bug- and rodent-free. A caravan of pickup trucks loaded up our things and moved them into the house.
No, Tom never came home to us again. Eventually, we were divorced and I have returned to the workplace as a substitute teacher. The children are healthy and none have exhibited side effects from the lead poisoning.
We still live in the house that love remodeled and the house that remodeled my faith in God. Often, when I clean, I again see all those who spent hours repairing walls, floors, and ceilings so we would have a roof over our heads. I remember the miracles, big and small, of supplies that showed up exactly at the right moment and the people with the right skills to install them.
I know firsthand that He will look out for my children and me whatever my circumstances, however hopeless a situation may look. Faith is no longer theory but drywall, plaster, windows, and doors. Faith is literally the roof over our heads.
*All names have been changed for protection.
Originally posted October 30, 2008.
© Rebekah Montgomery 2008
For reprint requests, contact Rebekah at her website, www.Rebekah Montgomery.com
Rebekah Montgomery, author/speaker/teacher, is a gifted, dynamic communicator. She is the author of more than five books and has penned 1,100 articles. She shares tough real-life topics and biblical application in a simple easy to grasp manner. To book Rebekah for your next event visit www.rebekahmontgomery.com. Rebekah is also the editor of Right to the Heart of Women and a publisher at Jubilant Press.