Episode 47. December 18, 2016. Today I want to talk about Faith and when it really matters.
On Feb 14th, 1997 we started building our home in Magnolia. Well that wasn’t the actual day that the building started, but it was the day that we closed on the construction loan and within days the lot was cleared and the foundation was framed. It was an exciting time for us. We were living in Kingwood at the time and had been since returning from our assignment with Shell at the Norco, LA refinery in 1989. We had long felt the pull of the northwest area of Houston, having looked a number of times in Tomball for a home and some land, But it wasn’t until we found Indigo Lake Estates out in Magnolia that we actually had the courage to take action. We would try to get out to Magnolia, about 50 miles due west of Kingwood, every weekend. When the house started to take shape, we agreed with our builder that we would do the cleanup each weekend. This would save a little money in the construction cost and allow us to be a part of the building experience. Each weekend we would take ictures of the progress. It was an exciting time for our family.
Our initial thinking was that we would put our home on the market and find a place to rent while our house was being built. However, with 7 children we soon learned that that option was not open to us. It was impossible to find an apartment where 9 people could live. The max was always 6, meaning that we would have to rent two apartments, and that made no sense to us and wasn’t really affordable. We looked around for homes, but everything was an annual lease, and we only needed 6 months. We even checked with a new modular home rental community in Magnolia but they only offered 6 month leases and by the time we checked with them, we only needed 3-4 months. We ultimately decided there was nothing else to do but stay in our existing home until our new home was completed and then try to sell or even rent our home at that point. It was a little scary because we knew we couldn’t afford two house payments. But the feeling that we needed to move to Magnolia was so strong, that our faith exceeded our fear and on that Friday in February, we signed the papers.
In 1997 the housing market wasn’t great. It was a buyers market making it that much more difficult to sell. At some point, we figured that our only option was to rent the home with the potential for purchase. So sometime around the end of May, with our home in Magnolia about a month away from completion, we put a listing in the Houston Chronicle and began to take a few calls. Not long after listing it, we were contacted by a man, his wife and her mother who were very interested in the home. The wife’s father worked on an oil rig so he was gone for extended periods of time, so the mother was going to live with them and help pay for the lease. We felt like it was a solid deal and so they gave us some earnest money and we signed an agreement. Two weeks before our home was to close and we were feeling really good about how things were working out.
Then came the bombshell a week later, when the wife called us and told us that her husband had run off with another woman and they could no longer afford the house and could she please get her earnest money back because it was from her parents and they were no longer going to support the deal. I told her that if we could get it rented out again, that I would give her the money back, which despite the rest of the storyline, we actually returned to her.
So we redoubled our prayers even as some level of panic began to set in. Here we were a week away from closing on our new home and we had no renter. For documentation purposes we had to have a lease for our old home, which we still had from the young couple and her parents, but we knew it wasn’t any good. We explained this to the mortgage company but I think at that point they just wanted to close the deal, so they accepted the original lease and we closed. The pressure mounted.
A few days later I got a call from a man that wanted to lease the home. I don’t remember the story he told me, but it sounded good. He was already living in Kingwood but needed to move immediately (he gave me a good reason). I told him I would require the first months payment in cash and a reference from his existing renter. He told me that wouldn’t be a problem. I guess I should have known something was fishy when a woman called me a couple of days later, claiming to be his landlord and giving him rave reviews as a renter. I still felt uneasy, but we were in a bind and he did offer to pay cash for the first month’s rent. He explained that he power washed driveways and owned his own business and did very well at it. In fact, he said he would be happy to power wash our driveway for free once he moved in. We were undecided and I felt like I had not received any direction from heaven one way or the other on the matter. Seems like a couple of more days passed, he called me several times during that period expressing his need for a decision because he had to move. My recollection is that on the day we decided to go ahead with the deal, we were on our way to Kingwood, and stopped at the stop sign at the end of our street and I offered one more heartfelt prayer about whether we should do this. Again nothing from the heavens. I then began to reason how this must be an answer to our prayers. We were desperate and maybe Heavenly Father directed this man to us to bail us out of a difficult situation, so we should just go with it. I mean if he had the cash and a good reference, then it must be right. We proceeded to Kingwood, met the man, got his money and he signed the lease. Whew. We were saved…. Or so we thought.
Within days of him moving into our home we received a call from one of the parents on our daughter’s soccer team. Somehow they had found out their former renter had moved into our home and they called to warn us that he had just moved out of their home and had taken the refrigerator with him and that he could not be trusted to make the payments. They had called the police and wanted to have him arrested. Oh Oh. A few days later we called one of the neighbors that lived across the street from the house and asked if everything in the neighborhood was okay with the new renters. The sense we got from her that it was not okay and the neighbors were not happy about this guy. Seems like people were coming and going all night long and it wasn’t a stable situation. In fact, they indicated he had already broken the gate on the side of the house where he had a boat stored and when pulling it out quickly broken the pole and had done nothing to repair it. We were getting more and more concerned. Then about a week later, this neighbor called us back and said that last night the cops had been to our home and arrested this guy. Apparently he was notorious for buying electronics and then writing hot checks. The cops told her that he was storing these stolen goods in our attic. Ugh. Now we had to do something and do it quickly. So we drove over to Kingwood (it must have been a Saturday morning) and posted a notice on the door that he was evicted and had to be out of the home the next day. When we called the neighbor the next day, she confirmed that he had indeed been moving stuff out of the house in the middle of the night. So we went back to check and while nearly everything was out, there was still a refrigerator and a few belongings which we moved out to the end of the driveway. After we left he came back, took the rest of his stuff and we never heard from him again. He had indeed damaged the fence and the attic opening had been roughed up pretty bad, but in the big scheme of things, we considered ourselves extremely lucky that he moved when we told him to and no further damage was done. Lesson learned. When the heavens are silent that does not mean “yes”.
Okay it was now the first of August and our home was empty again with no renter in sight. Then within a day or two we received a call from some friends of ours (the Davis family) who were looking for someplace to rent for a couple of months while the house they were moving into was being refurbished. They had an made an arrangement to rent another house, but when the owner found out they had 5 kids, he refused to honor the agreement. They were stuck, we were stuck, so we agreed to let them live there for two months. That would give us time to put a listing back in the newspaper and get someone in that would be longer term. I think this proved to be a nice miracle for both of us.
So we listed the house for rent again in the Houston Chronicle and sometime in late August or early September we received a promising phone call from a couple who were interested in our home. He seemed very articulate and intelligent on the phone and really wanted us to meet his family and talk about a possible deal. They were living in Humble so we agreed to meet them halfway which turned out to be at the Woodlands Mall up in the food court. They were a very nice couple. He was black and she was white and they had two adorable young children. We talked for about an hour. I liked them. I started to drill down a little bit on their situation. When I found out that he smoked I told him he could not smoke in the home. Absolutely not allowed. He said that would not be a problem. They wanted to buy the home eventually on some sort of lease purchase agreement. When we left I explained we would need a deposit and the first month’s rent and that I needed a reference or a credit check of some sort he indicated that wouldn’t be a problem either.
A couple of days later he called to talk about smoking in the home and the credit check. He said if they were going to buy the home why would it matter and that if they ended up not buying it they would pay to have the carpet and draperies cleaned. I was not convinced. And then he told me that I needed to know that they had had a bankruptcy recently and that their credit report wasn’t that good, but they had turned over a new leaf and this was the home they knew was right for them. When I found out about the bankruptcy, alarm bells went off in my head. Put that together with the insistence to smoke in the home and I knew it was not going to work. We had been praying about whether we should lease to them and the heavens again were silent. We had been down this road before, so I was already convinced that they weren’t the right renters, and when he told me about the bankruptcy it was easy to tell them no. His reaction was one of anger. He immediately claimed that I was prejudice because they were a mixed race couple and that was why we wouldn’t rent to them. No matter what I said about my problem being the bankruptcy and the smoking, he wouldn’t listen. He raised he voice, chewed me out (at least that is how it felt) told me I was to blame for his family not having a place to live and then slammed the phone down.
This landlord thing was not working out so well for us. But through the experiences I was having I I was beginning to understand the still small voice in a way that I had never understood before.
Telling this man no, was hard for me, but I had received a phone call from another guy a couple of days earlier that was interested in the home, so I knew I had a backup option. A man who was being transferred to Houston taking a job with Houston Lighting and Power had called. So when this last deal fell through I called him back to see if we could work something out. He was a senior manager and they were in the process of building a home and needed to rent a place for 7 months. I told him I was really looking for a 12 month contract. He indicated they would even be willing to pay a premium to lease it for a shorter period of time. This was Saturday evening. On Sunday LaDawn and I fasted and prayed about whether to rent to this man and his family. While not the deal we wanted, because it was not someone who wanted to purchase it, it was definitely someone we could trust. But as we fasted and prayed, again there was no burning bosom and in its place was that same recognizable empty feeling from the earlier experiences. We were committed to obeying the spirit of the Lord (we had already learned the consequences of not doing so), so I called this man and told him no. It was a hard call to make because I couldn’t tell him that the spirit told me not to rent to him, so all I had was that I didn’t want a 7 month contract. He was not very happy either, but he didn’t slam the phone down at least.
It was in that moment when I told him no, that I realized that now my faith really mattered. Faith was easy when I had a backup option. Faith is always easier when the stakes are small such as when we have faith that the lesson or talk we prepared will go well. Or even when we have faith that someone will get well or will get a job. I mean our faith matters in those situations, but the impact to us personally is often minimal. For me, it was another complete matter to know I had someone who was ready to move in on October 1 and pay me for 7 months, vs. having no one and not being able to make two house payments. In that moment we felt totally dependent upon the Lord for his help. We had listened to the spirit and now we needed help. The clock was ticking.
After hanging up from that last call I just sat and pondered on what we were going to do. I then remembered that LaDawn had mentioned a week earlier earlier that a woman had called from California about the home. She hadn’t thought much of it because we thought we were going to do a lease purchase agreement with this couple we had met, but she thought she had written her number down. Now if she could just find it. Miraculously she was able to find the phone number on the back of a piece of scratch paper that should have been thrown away. I felt like even though a week had already passed that I should call this woman. So on Sunday evening, after fasting and praying all day, I called her. I told her the house was available and was wondering if they were still interested. She said that they were. I said, okay and then, still smarting a bit from the recent experience with the smoker, I said something like “but you can’t smoke in our house”! Then it was me who was surprised when she said “I don’t know if you know anything about the LDS Church, but we are members of that church and we don’t smoke!”
Well to make long story short, this family was to be on a house hunting trip in the next week and wanted to see the home. They hadn’t really found anything else thus far that appealed to them. He had just taken a job with Enron and they were moving from California to Houston. They weren’t in a position to buy a home, so they needed to rent for a few years, but ultimately that was their goal. As we prayed about this family that night after a difficult weekend with potential renters, it was as if our souls were filled with light. We knew this was the family that would lease our home. So they came and saw the house. The neighbor across the street happened to be from the same town in California that they were moving from. When she saw the wall paper border in one of the bedrooms, she said it was the same border they had in their home in California. They loved the home and we ended up renting it to them for three years. They would write the checks out in 6 month increments and send them to us so they were never late. At the end of the three years, they purchased the home for a favorable price and we were both happy.
What a painful yet powerful lesson the months of June-September turned out to be for us, and especially for me. During that time, despite the difficulties, we were paid for every single day. We did not lose any money, but there was a cost in time. Valuable teaching time. When I was called to be the bishop in the Magnolia Ward on November 9, 1997, the lessons I personally learned about listening to and obeying the spirit, about having faith when it really matters and the power of fasting and prayer, served me and I hope the members of the ward well. How grateful I was for a kind and loving Father in Heaven who invested such effort in me to help me learn these valuable lessons in an effort to make me a more effective father and priesthood leader. I hope have lived up to his expectations.
There are two scriptures that I believe reinforce this principle of Faith that matters. The first is in 1 Nephi 7:12: “Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.”
My experience is that when we have done all we can. When we have been faithful and sought his will and his help and when we have nothing more we can do, this is when miracles happen. When we are willing to press forward to the edge of the light and then take a few steps into the darkness. It is in the very moment when we cannot see the next step that he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
The second scripture is well known from Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
For me, faith that matters is a result of hope for something that we cannot see initially but once we have exercised that faith, the evidence is clearly visible. Such was the case for us. When we can only hope for an outcome without the ability to make it happen, and that outcome is of extreme importance to us and when we have been faithful in following the spirit of the Lord in order to follow His will, then will He move mountains in our behalf.
There was one other lesson that I learned through this tutoring period. Heavenly Father does his best work when there are disparate, yet matching needs. In the case of the Davis family, they had need for short term housing and we had an immediate need for a short term tenant and it seemed that Heavenly Father must have inspired them to contact us. In the case of the final lease and ultimate sale to this LDS family in California, they had a specific need, we had a specific need and he inspired them to call us from an online add, then inspired LaDawn to first write down their number and then to not throw it away. The wallpaper border and the neighbor being from the home town were just evidences to both of us that this was the answer to both families prayers.
Faith that matters is the most important faith at all. I have learned that this is the type of faith that I must nourish and ultimately develop. If there is no consequence for a failure of faith, then we never really put our faith to the ultimate test.