Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pop Quizzes and Post-Tests in the School of Life –The Quiz

Life would be funny sometimes if you could work up the energy to laugh. Our bankruptcy was discharged on July 3rd. Jeff was going to be 44 on July 15th. I had decided to give him a surprise. Our laundry room doubled as his tool shed. I was sorting and cleaning in a frenzy to surprise him. Yet another thing that makes me a steal as a wife. I'm a cheap date, AND I can organize his tools better than he can. What's not to love? He would be one happy camper when he saw the fruit of my labor.

In the midst of my project, a feeling of wistfulness overcame me. I stopped, leaned against the washer, looked up to Heaven and wondered aloud, “God, do you reckon I'm ever going to live in my own house again? You know, one with my name on the deed. One I can fix up like I want to instead of taking care of someone else's investment for their profit?” I sighed and shook off the horMOANal swing reminding myself that our little house in the garden-hood had brought much comfort and healing. Wasn't anytime to go and get all restless even if I have always suffered from a terminal case of wanderlust.

Only 3 days later, my registration pal and I were running a mean check-in desk for VBS. The gush of kids had settled to a trickle. We were about to move on to our next assignments for the night when I decided to check that unexpected cell phone message. I must have looked pretty shattered as I listened because the laughter slid off my cohort's face like a pancake sliding off a griddle onto a plate. Her eyes grew wide as my laughter gave way to a silent cry of anguish.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
As much as my world began to tilt and spin, it was nothing compared to what hers would do a mere 5.5 months later. The following New Year's Day, as she headed up an interstate to visit family and friends, she would get a call as well. Her caller would tell her to pull to the side of the road. Her husband had just died of a heart attack while jogging in a park near their new home. They had just moved to town from out of state. It was a move she had come to slowly after his layoff. Details of relocating had not gone smoothly, and she had only just begun adjusting to her new life when he died. But, on that day in July, we had both been commiserating and comparing and had agreed that all in all, life was looking up. Then, I went and answered my phone. Ignorance is bliss till you are not ignorant anymore........

I recognized the voice on the other end. It was the landlord. He sounded shattered. His composure was just a step ahead of him, and he was rushing to catch it. “I hate to ask you this now. I hate to leave a message. I'm sorry. I need you to move out of the house. I am no longer employed. I need to move into the rental. I need you folks to move as quickly as you can. Can you be out in 30 days?” One of his job benefits as a university professor was campus housing. Since he would no longer be an employee of the school, he was losing that benefit,. Thus, he and his wife needed to move into what had been their rental property. Our home was no longer ours; it was theirs.

“Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” That cursed old Southern saying had irritated me for my entire life. It bombarded me as I recalled my laundry room musings only a few days earlier. How could I have been so utterly, utterly stupid?

When I could speak, I realized my friend was gripping my hand? “What, is Jeff...is Jeff ok?” She knew he was again violently ill. I was wondering how I could go home and add to his load by telling him we had 30 days to find another place to live. Even tho' it was only early evening – not even dark yet, I knew I had to go home and wake him up. He had made it thru the work day but had gone straight to bed after supper.

Thankfully, neither son was close by. Son #2 was with his class. Son #1 was helping with the music for the kids. I had some time to work with. Time to figure out how I'd break the news to them. My friend agreed that she would tell them I had run home to get something I'd forgotten. With a cover story in place, I went home to break the news to my husband.

As the engine started, hysterical sobs broke open. “Are you KIDDING me, God? If this is your idea of a joke, IT SUCKS! It is NOT funny!” No...Mamma wouldn't have been proud, and that one occasion is probably the only time I have used that phrase in my life. That night...nothing else seemed to fit.

Then, the same voice that I heard all those years ago while I had been vacuuming eased its way into my heart. “Do you believe what you believe you believe? If you do, you know that I am not surprised by this development. Just like I knew 9/11 was coming when Jeff was out of work on medical leave, I knew this was coming today. Don't you think I already have an answer? Do you believe what you believe you believe about me? Either you do...or you don't. Either I am...or I'm not. Which is it?”

I was halfway thru the 2-3 mile drive home. The tears began to dry up almost immediately. I was either going to show the boys that I believed what I believed I believed about that good God they'd heard so much about, or I was going to fail this pop quiz of life. “Ok, God. You must have a solution for this nightmare. Because, if you don't, I sure don't.” I hushed the voice screaming in my head that this good God I was choosing to trust in that moment was the same one that had left us flapping in the wind. He had let us go thru Chapter 13, homelessness, social disgrace, and all the other hideous things that had gone on the previous 9 years. I actually started to laugh. Not a crazy lady digging thru dumpsters laugh...a laugh of profound relief.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
Jeff looked at me dully while I broke the news. I think he was so sick that it took a while for reality to hit. We agreed on a 'party line' to use with the boys. The truth wouldn't wait since time was limited. In reality, you and I both know that my little family of 4 had no need to rush. We were but 2 months into our 4th 12 month lease on the property in question. We could have asserted our rights and taken our time moseying on. Our brains didn't work like that in the heat of those moments. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder. Two roads diverged that night. We took the one less traveled by.  It made all the difference. What if we had chosen to 'scotch our heels' as my Mammaw used to say? What if we'd held our ground and insisted on our renter's rights? I saved that voice mail for a long, long time. It never stopped sending a chill up my spine even months after we had another roof over our heads.

As it was, we had a heart of inexplicable compassion. We had been there. We had been unemployed and crippled by a housing crisis. We knew too much about how another family in the same boat felt to complicate their path that scary night. By the time we connected via phone with our traumatized landlord, we knew what we'd do. I guess he'd had time for someone to explain the light of the living day to him with regard to renter's rights,. His request reflected a more rational tone. We could take more than 30 days to vacate. They'd move in with family just as we had. If we could work with them, they sure would be indebted. As quick as we could move, just move. Please?

They returned our deposits early the next day to help ease us out the door. He had that shell shocked look I had seen before. I had seen it when I had looked in my own mirror. I sent out an email to friends, “Help us find a rental house. We cannot buy because of our history of bankruptcy. We have no down payment either. We must have a house that is pet and smoke free due to Jeff's pulmonary sensitives. Help us. We have to move ASAP. “

Later that day, a friend from high school called. I needed to call her friend, a Realtor. Basically, she said, “If you don’t call her, I will...” Against my better judgment, I gave in.

I had to leave a message: “Uh..hello, uh...my friend...my friend insists that I call you. I'm so sorry for taking up your time. We cannot purchase a house, but if you deal with rental property please call me. If you don't have rental information, please don't worry with returning this call.”

Little did I know that I had just opened the test packet for the post-test I had been preparing for the last decade. I wish I could say I passed. As I sit here tonight, I'd say I've been a rip-roaring failure. Maybe as I write my way back to God, I'll figure out that assumption isn't as true as I fear. I hope so. At the time, I really believed that I believed what I said I believed. In the months ahead that certainty would crumble and disintegrate as spectacularly as a super nova implosion.

Do you believe what you believe you believe? Is your faith as shaky as mine? Do you talk a big game when you are safely hidden behind your public mask only to hide in your closet crying, “If this is your idea of a joke, it SUCKS!” What fear paralyzes you tonight? Maybe you are like me. One fraidy cat critter got his foot in the door and let a whole litter of others come right on in and begin to make themselves at home rubbing all up against your legs like they belonged. Whatever brought you here, I sure am glad you came. Fear is a lonely thing. If you needed to know someone prayed for you today, but you think no one cared. You are wrong...I do. It takes a fraidy cat to know one. And, I'm your girl. So, come tomorrow? And bring a friend? I'll be here...if you will. K?
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations

Psalm 139: 12 and 16 (NASB)
12 Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You...Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. 


  1. I love your stories, Carol Anne! Even though I've never experienced bankruptcy, I have been through terrifying periods. Good to know I'm not alone. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Remember the conference keynote: "As a writer, I don't have crises, I have anecdotes...." I think that keynote was life changing for me since the idea of this blog was borne while he spoke. If he only KNEW what he had turned loose on the unsuspecting public, lol! Take care...and YOU keep running and writing. One day I'll join you in the running part too! Wouldn't it be cool to run a race together? Hmmm....I need to go lay down till I get over that insane notion!

  3. This photo by Mad Penguin of the trees is so beautiful. I pinned it on Printerest.