If you are a person of faith obeying what you believe God is calling you to do, you’d think you could count on him to smooth the way. Think again. I’m in the midst of doing just that – obeying a certain inner voice to relocate my family from Los Angeles to Nashville – and I can tell you, the journey has been rough.
What’s up with that?
We might ask Moses, if he were alive. He followed God’s every command, and where did that get him? Forty years in the wilderness with a hoard of ungrateful, stiff-necked people. And in the end, as reward for his faithfulness, YAHWEH informing him that he would not be crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land with the others. Gee, thanks, God.
I’m tempted to say that with friends like the Judeo-Christian God who needs enemies. But I can’t, because the trials my family has endured during the past several months have not been without certain surprising consolations.
God’s tug on me to move to Nashville began ten years ago, when the acquisitions editor of a major publishing house there invited me for a meeting. I was living in Boston at the time and (I’m ashamed to admit) held an ignorant, unflattering stereotype of the South. I fully expected to see Minnie Pearl walking the sidewalks with a price tag hanging from her hat.
Imagine my astonishment when I discovered that Nashville was as modern and sophisticated as any of America’s finest cities today. The restaurant where we held the meeting easily could have been in midtown Manhattan – the food and service were that excellent. And the city buzzed with a youthful, creative energy that appeared to coexist comfortably with the South’s old, staid traditions.
But it wasn’t until about a year ago that I felt truly “called” to leave my comfortable existence in sunny southern California. I don’t know why I’m feeling called to Nashville – it’s a journey of faith – but this much I can report: in late June, when my family and I pulled out of our driveway, I was expecting a far more congenial adventure than we actually experienced.
We drove the I-40 from Los Angeles to Nashville without incident. But no sooner did we arrive than we learned my wife’s father was dying from a rare form of heart cancer. Ten days later, he passed away. During that same time, our beloved black Lab Annie collapsed on us during a walk. Two weeks later, she died of a virulent form of cancer of the blood vessels.
As if that weren’t enough, we needed to move into an apartment because despite nine solid months of searching, we had not yet found a house suitable for our needs. We required a country property with acreage for our son’s farm animals – a horse and two sheep, which we had transported from California – that was also within a half-hour commute from his new school, which was located very much in the city.
Throughout this demoralizing drama – which included additional losses and disappointments that I cannot describe in this limited space – I kept reassuring myself, my wife, and our sixteen-year-old son that we’d done the right thing. That the calling I’d heard from God was legit. That it wasn’t just my wanting to escape from southern California (my birthplace), with its high taxes, congested freeways, and severe drought. That God had our backs and we needed only to be patient. That, as the popular worship song goes, “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.”
My family listened and continued believing all of this because we take our Christian faith seriously. We’re not what I call “weekend duffers” – self-described Christians who spend an hour in church on Sundays and then go back to living thoroughly secular lives. According to the latest Gallup poll, we’re among the 56% of Americans who say that their faith is “very important” to them.
Several weeks ago, I even delivered a sermon at a local church about the importance of hanging in there when things don’t go as planned. That a journey of faith – what I call a divinely appointed road trip – is the antithesis of the meticulously planned vacations advertised in glossy travel brochures.
Nevertheless, despite my considerable faith, about a week ago, I took off the gloves and duked it out with God. I felt like Jacob as I loudly aired my frustration at having been led to uproot my family for no apparent reason, at having been made to endure painful losses right when we were being obedient to God’s wishes for us.
Later that very day, we received a call from our long-suffering realtor informing us that our offer on a house that fitted our needs perfectly had been accepted. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide; but bear in mind that, by then, we had made many offers on houses that had fallen through for one reason or another.
As I write this, we are hours away from closing on the property. It’s a huge relief, of course, but more importantly an opportunity for me to reflect on everything that has happened to us. And here’s the headline: my faith in God has once again been vindicated. I’d like to be able to list all of the unexpected blessings we have experienced since arriving in this fair part of the nation, but I will settle for naming just three.
First, because we were living in Nashville and not Los Angeles when my father-in-law was losing his health, my wife was able to make more trips to New Jersey and spend more time with him than she could have otherwise. Just before the end, she was even able to sing to him his favorite hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Thank you, God.
Second, as it turns out, the apartment we’ve been forced to live in while seeking a house, is right up the street from the area’s premier vet hospital—the one that celebrities such as Carrie Underwood use for their own pets. So, for the last days of our precious Annie’s life, she not only received the best possible medical care, we were able to visit her day and night during her stay there. Thank you, God.
And third, as I contemplate the houses that didn’t come through for us, I recognize they all had one thing in common: they stood for more of the same for my family and me, big houses in fancy neighborhoods. But the vision I had caught from God before leaving Los Angeles was of a small, simple farmhouse on a nice but not extravagant parcel of land. And that’s what we’ve ended up with – it’s the one real estate transaction that ended up succeeding. And, fortuitously, the property is only about fifteen minutes from our son’s school. Thank you, God.
I’m still waiting for God to reveal the reason(s) he has dislocated us. But more than ever, I’m willing to be patient. That’s because, as a result of being severely challenged, my faith is now stronger than ever – like a well-exercised muscle.
Thanks for that, too, God.