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I apologise for the length of this testimony, but I hope you will bear with me and read to the end, for it’s a story of how God cares for each one of us personally and can act in the most miraculous of ways to help His children.
When my father died (officially on 12 April 2020, but in reality on 11 April 2020, Easter Saturday) in shocking circumstances (a fall down the stairs at his home fracturing his neck and abruptly ending his life), I was worried about selling his house. We may hail property as a financial investment and blessing, but to me, acquiring that house meant a financial albatross was hung around my neck. It had an equity mortgage on it – and only the sale of the house could release me from that debt.
To compound the problem (pun intended), this mortgage did not have a fixed amount to repay, but a daily rate of interest at exorbitant amounts meant it felt like the house, far from being an asset, was actually a liability – a ticking time bomb of debt waiting to explode into the faces of the unwary (and I was definitely the unwary when it came to selling houses!) To be sure, the mortgage value was at that point below the estimated value of the house, but this particular house would never sell for the valued amount. Years of neglect and decay would ensure that. The kitchen cupboards were hanging off the wall. There was no floor covering whatsoever in the kitchen; all the carpets in the house were at least thirty years old. Decay, mould and neglect were apparent everywhere, each factor reducing the value like the persistent, annoying drip-drip-drip from a leaking tap. Both gardens were more like wild jungles than gardens, forests which needed hacking down. It felt hopeless.
Panic filled my soul. We were living at the start of a global pandemic, three weeks into a nationwide lockdown, the likes of which I had never witnessed in my lifetime (nor had anyone else!) The country was in a state of high anxiety, with individual households forbidden from meeting other family members. The majority of people were working from home or on furlough unless they were ‘key workers.’ The police regularly parked on Doncaster Road in Ardsley by the church, stopping people in cars and asking where they were going and why. Town centres had benches plastered with crime scene tape to stop residents from sitting down while shopping. Normal life as I knew it had effectively been criminalised. No matter what protective justification the government gave for these measures, I felt the notion of selling a dilapidated, neglected, mould-filled, plaster-crumbling house was as probable as me landing a vehicle on the moon.
Having worked through the shock of my father’s sudden death, the swiftness of the post-mortem revealing a fractured neck as the cause of death (and uncovering a hitherto unsuspected cancerous tumour on his liver), the onerous tasks of notification of death at a time when no one was in an office to answer telephone calls or emails, having braved the apocalyptic town centre of Barnsley where tannoys blared out messages urging us all to go home and police prowled the centre questioning all who dared to be outside, the news which finally came about the mortgage stripped me of any hope or optimism I may have felt. How on earth could I sell this house and clear this debt in lockdown? It felt like the last straw, the knock-out blow.
I remember sitting before God in desperation, tears falling as I surveyed the mountain of jobs to do, feeling utterly inadequate for this task. Was this to be my legacy, seeing the numbers rising daily on a mortgage statement, sitting on this ticking time-bomb, knowing that within twelve months, I had to have sold the house? It wasn’t that I personally wanted anything from the house; I’d never seen it as my inheritance or my right. It was my parents’ house, to do with as they saw fit, but I wept that day from helplessness and grief that my father had felt compelled to hand over the house to a rapacious company for a pittance he needed to survive and that I was now left with the mess of sorting this out.
Into that storm of self-pity, God spoke kindly but bluntly. I talked about trusting Him, didn’t I? So was I going to trust Him?
I lifted my tear-stained face and mumbled uncomfortably that yes, I trusted Him.
“So what’s all the fuss about?” came back the answer.
I was a little surprised by the tone. It felt like I’d been slapped around the face to stop my hysteria. I marshalled my arguments: lockdown, the economic climate crumbling as a result of lockdown; who would ever want to buy a house that was falling to pieces? And even if they did, when? Didn’t God realise the clock was already ticking?
“Do you trust me?”
The question kept coming to the core of the matter. God is never fooled by the fluff. He always puts His finger right on the spot, right on the main issue, cutting away all the fripperies.
Again, I mumbled that of course I trusted Him.
“So what’s the problem? Are you really saying I can’t sort out the sale of a house for you?”
I sat, biting my lip. There is never any point being glib with God. I could trot out easy answers and quote Bible verses with the best of them. But at the heart of the panic gripping my soul was a fear that this problem was too big for God. Which was, clearly, rationally, if I stopped to think about it, stupid. Absurd. God has dealt with things far bigger than the sale of a run-down three-bedroomed semi-detached house. He who parted the Red Sea and rescued millions from Egypt’s murderous intents was hardly going to be fazed by one house, even in lockdown, was He?
“Um… I suppose You can do that.”
“So what’s the problem? Why are you sobbing like a hysterical child?”
Again, there is no point fudging the issue with God. I couldn’t play the grief card (‘I’ve just lost my father – cut me some slack!’) when the only father I truly needed was there with me, right then. I couldn’t really play the helpless-damsel-in-distress card, because my knight in shining armour was there with me, right then. I wanted to object to God’s calm reasoning tone, but I knew I couldn’t. He was right to ask these questions.
“I suppose… I know You can sort it, Lord, but…”
“But I won’t? Is that it? I have the power to do something to help you, but in my cruel, inflexible way, I’ll just leave you to flounder and drown? Is that it?” There was both playful amusement and tough steel in the questions now.
“Um… no. I know You can sort it.”
“O.K. So leave me to sort it and stop this ridiculous snivelling.”
I took a deep breath, stopped crying, stopped snivelling and decided I’d better start trusting instead.
That encounter took place on 21st April. The next day, we called again at my Dad’s house for the next round of clearing. Black sacks of rubbish were being collected at an alarming rate. We had nowhere to take them as all the dumpit sites were closed, but still we sorted and sifted. We had a pile on and under the dining-room table of stuff to take to charity shops whenever they would eventually re-open. It felt like I was playing a game of moving items from one room to another, but still it had to be done.
As always, there was a mountain of mail to sift as we arrived (at least Royal Mail were still working, for which we thanked God!) In the pile was a handwritten envelope, clearly a sympathy card. From a neighbour, I assumed. I’d been phoning people to let them know the news.
I opened the card. “We’re so sorry for your loss”, it proclaimed. But then, my eyes widened. The card did indeed express condolences for our loss, but it was from the owner of the house next door and it said, “If you are thinking of selling the property we would like to have the opportunity to have a chat before it goes on the market, with a view to making an offer as it stands.”
This was one of those jaw-dropping moments of life when God does something so stunning that you can’t quite believe your eyes. I had long decided that the only person mad enough to buy the house would be a builder. I had even contacted the only builder I knew to ask if he was interested in buying the house, but he had said no. I hadn’t even known that the neighbours next door were only tenants and that the house was owned by a builder. I didn’t know any more builders. But God did.
I showed the card to my husband, all thoughts of clearing rubbish gone. I phoned my son to tell him the unexpected development. I phoned the builder and said that yes, we were interested. I plucked a figure out of the ether, enough to cover the mortgage even if the sale took months and enough to leave us just a small legacy. That was exactly the figure he’d been considering, he said, since the house would need a lot of work doing on it. We arranged to meet the following week so he could see the house before making a firm decision.
I sat on the sofa, hardly daring to believe what I’d just heard. Could it really be that easy? Could God sort it out all with one phone call? Could a house be sold in lockdown without estate agents and valuers, when at this moment technically I didn’t own it as I still had probate to sort? Could God really do the impossible?!
I could almost feel God’s wry smile. “Do you trust me now?” He was asking. “Is there anything too hard for me?”
And so it was to be. We had time to wait. We had a bizarre graveside funeral still to attend… countless forms to fill in… probate to sort… a solicitor to engage. Lockdown rules eventually eased slightly. We filled a skip with rubbish, made countless trips to the dumpit site and charity shops, obtained an EHC certificate that was needed to sell a property, gained probate to have the right to sell. And on 1 September 2020, twenty weeks after my father’s death, the keys were handed over to the builder and the sale of my childhood home went through.
Can you sell a house in almost impossible circumstances? You certainly can if God steps in! The God who made the universe cares about each one of His children. He knows what’s best for us. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
God is there for each one of us – not only as a hypothetical figure who might vaguely do something, but as One who loves us tenderly, provides for us lavishly and is involved in the nitty-gritty of life. He does for us what no one else could possibly do. As the saying goes, ‘God specialises in impossible situations.’ And when you’re on the receiving end of that care, you know that you simply can’t lose.