Monday, August 11, 2008

Rescue From Lake Eerie

This story was originally written on June 6, 2008 and sent to friends and relatives via e-mail. It's another tale illustrating just how awesome God is.

As I walked into my Bible study last Monday night (June 2), I was giddy with excitement because Don, a member of our study, gave me a metric butt-load of tools that he no longer needed--garden shovels, a snow shovel, a pick axe, a few saws and a bunch of small hand tools--two big boxes full. I was really eager to put 'em to use but little did I know at the time that I would need them so soon.

The next day (June 3), I "went to town" on a huge maple tree that was obscuring our view of the basketball court in the back yard and also hacked away at the ivy that was slowing suffocating it. It was rainy all day, but I didn't care--I was having a blast hacking away those big branches and throwing them in the middle of the court! After liberating the maple from the ivy grip of death, I went up on the deck to try to remove some limbs from over the gutters. While up there, I decided to run my hands along the inside of the gutter to see what I could come up with (I didn't have a ladder). After pulling out about a dozen handfuls of muck, water started gushing out the downspout and I let loose with a mighty Tim Tayloresque "ARR! ARR! ARRGH!!" What a beautiful sight to see water gushing out the bottom. There I stood atop my deck watching fruits of my labor, but my joy quickly turned into a pained gasp as a huge lake started to form up against the foundation. "NOOOOOO!" I tried to divert the water with an old board that was lying around but that got me nowhere. Then I remembered that Don gave me a spade! So I ran to the shed, grabbed the spade and started digging a trench to escort the water away from the house. A few minutes later, I had the water moving away from the house. I stood there to monitor the progress of my new ditch and let out another "ARR! ARR! ARRGH!"

Feeling so very manly, I decided then to go walk around the house to see if anything else needed conquering. I rounded the first corner...."Okay, no puddles here. The gutter is clogged, but it's 25' above ground so I can't do anything about that now." As I rounded the second corner, I was horrified to see that someone had moved Lake Eerie into my driveway and that the garage (filled with dozens upon dozens of cardboard boxes) was now beach front property! In the chaos of the move, I couldn't find any five gallon buckets, so I ran to the front door, rang the doorbell about two dozen times and then went tearing back to the garage to find something to scoop with. I found an old pot and started bailing...but 2/3rds of one side of my roof was draining into the driveway about a foot from the clogged drain in the driveway and water was, of course, still coming down the driveway towards me! So I dropped to my hands and knees in about 5" of very cold water and tried to unclog the drain manually. I pulled out fistful after fistful of *crap* from the 4" PVC pipe leading from the drain but even after going in elbow-deep, the water still wasn't draining.

Then it came to me...."SIPHON! I need a siphon!" So I ran around the back of the house and grabbed the garden hose (which was left with the house--I didn't have a garden hose before) and after filling it with water from the spigot, I got it going. But it wasn't enough. So I grabbed a soaker hose and got *two* siphons going. Still not enough!

My aunt, in town with my mom to help with the move, suggested that I use a snow shovel to push the water away. As it just so happens, Don gave me one of those the day before! So I started bulldozing water off the side of the driveway, which helped a little bit, but I was only treading water (literally and figuratively). About 2/3 of the water I pushed away came right back downgrade at me. So I grabbed a shovel and the pick axe Don gave me the day before and dug a trench from the edge of the driveway (over the already dug-up area where the septic tank lid was just replaced) out towards the woods. This helped tremendously, as I was then able to push water over the edge of the driveway and keep it on the other side. But progress was slow to nonexistent--the water was going down ever so slowly...ever so painfully slow. So, barking orders like a general under fire, I told my wife to take my aunt to Home Depot and get me a sump pump and a plumbing snake (my aunt most of her life on the farm--she knows about things like sump pumps).

After having spent probably close to an hour shoveling water and digging trenches, I took a step back and took a good look at my roof and noticed how the amount of water coming from that downspout was really rather significant. My aunt, waiting in the garage for Adair to drive them to Home Depot, suggested earlier that I need to get that thing diverted, but I thought that the driveway was contributing more to my problems than the roof just by sheer virtue of the surface area of the driveway. But as I looked behind me I saw that God had used Aunt Connie, my mom and even my 5-year old Caleb to prepare me for this time. When I left for D-Group the night before I said to Caleb in the hearing of my mom and aunt, "I'd be really thrilled to see this area weeded when I get back home tonight" (Caleb was super excited to be able to dig and hack at something without getting in trouble :-). When I got home after D-Group, not only did I see the entire area devoid of weeds, but they also had dug a little gully around the area in preparation for a decorative brick barrier wall. So now, 24 hours later, I stood there watching a significant amount of water rushing downhill into that freshly made groove in the soil, and away from Lake Eerie in which I was then standing. All I could do was smile and offer thanks and praise to God for Don's generosity, my family's hard work, and of course for God's awesome timing. There I was, up to my ankles in rainwater, actually laughing out loud. God is awesome. But it gets better.

Adair and I had been praying for a washer and dryer for a couple of weeks as I was a bit dismayed to see that brand new front-loading washers cost about $1400 and up...and dryers are almost as expensive. But God provided us a one-year-old super-sized set for $900! On Sunday, June 1, a friend from church and I went to go pick up the answer to my family's prayers. But what does this have to do with Lake Eerie? Everything. As I stood there gawking at the downspout, it became very clear to me that I needed to get that water from the roof away from the driveway. But with what? What would I use? I thought and thought and thought, but I couldn't think of anything that would be big enough to get around the downspout and still be able to make the immediate 90-degree turn to the edge of the driveway towards my new ditch. The idea resounded through my skull like a gong...


"Aunt Connie! Go pull the vent hose off of the back of the clothes dryer!" A minute later, she emerged from the laundry room with the floppy 4" hose in her hand. It was the perfect length--not an inch too short nor an inch too long--and was doing a fantastic job of ushering the Niagara-like flow of water over the edge of the driveway. But once again, God's sovereignty shines through the clouds Remember when I mentioned the septic tank's lid being replaced? That wasn't tangential trivia--it's a critical part of this story.

When selling a property that has an on-site septic system, the seller is obligated to have the tank pumped and inspected. So as with our sale, the seller ordered a routine inspection, but the problem was that whomever had paved the driveway laid asphalt over about 1/3rd of the tank lid--the septic tank folks couldn't even access one of the three access ports. So the seller gave the order to "Do whatever it takes to make it right." This unfortunately meant tearing about three feet off of the edge of the driveway to fully expose the tank. When they left, the entire area was left looking as if it were the detonation point of a small conventional weapon (i.e. it looked like a bomb went off). But my Father in Heaven knew that if that driveway weren't munched just so, our garage would have been flooded for sure because that dryer hose wouldn't have reached to the edge of the driveway. It's as if God was the Foreman on the site and told the guy with the trackhoe "Okay, rip up that asphalt to this point right here and not an inch farther. I want to demonstrate (once again) that I wasn't kidding when I said in Romans 8:28 'And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.'"

So there I stood...two garden hose siphons, a 4" dryer hose, soaked to the bone, and pushing water over the edge of the asphalt with an old snow shovel, all the while similing and thanking God for His amazing on-time provisions.

By the time Adair and Aunt Connie returned from Home Depot, the water was down to about an inch deep and we used the utility pump to suck out the rest of the water. When I think of that night, I just can't help but think of how awesome God is in using the purchase of a new washer and dryer coupled, an energetic five year-old, and the generosity of a brother in Christ to rescue us from certain water damage.

What an amazing night and what an amazing God we serve.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How We Got Our House

This is the amazing story of how God answered our prayers to provide a new home for us

Make a Wish

When Adair and I married in March of 2001, we moved into a 1,200 square foot condo, which was just about the right size for us. But as any parent can attest, having kids changes that. After the birth of our third child, we found ourselves looking in vain for places to put things--dresses, onesies, headbands, and shoes were everywhere. That's not to say we were ungrateful; quite to the contrary, we had it really good in our condo! Thanks to Adair's hard work as the property manager for the condo association, we didn't have to pay a penny for monthly dues which basically meant that we got "free" water, garbage and sewer--a great deal. But with each passing day, both of us felt more and more that our days in that place were coming to an end. So we put our heads together and drafted a "wish list" of things we needed or wanted.and then figured out how much we could comfortably afford. When all was written down and agreed upon, we started praying that God would provide a house in His perfect timing that would match our Wish List.

List in hand, we began our epic search for a new home. Every night, Adair faithfully poured over the listings, e-mailing me those she thought interesting. I rejected most out of hand, but every once in a while I'd see something promising, and most Friday nights and some Saturdays, we'd go house hunting. But despite the breadth of our search, I never saw anything that was even remotely attractive. Given our budget, literally everything we saw for quite some time was either a rambler or a '70s split-level. As if we were the unwitting subjects of a hidden camera prank, we went from house to house and saw the same things: dropped ceilings in the kitchen and showers, tiny-to-nonexistent master bathrooms and lower floors that definitely were not made with a seven-footer in mind. We saw so many homes that had so many of the same flaws, they'd haunt me in my dreams...shudder.

What made matters worse was that we didn't even know where to look. Neither Adair nor I are from this region, so we basically just drew a virtual radius around downtown Seattle and say "No farther than this"--my commute from Kirkland was already 45 minutes to an hour and it's about all I could tolerate.

The very first house (a split level) we looked was on a good-sized big lot, but what the listing didn't state was that it was basically on the edge of a ravine--the back yard was completely unusable. To make matters worse, it seemed to be on the edge of civilization. The second house, another split level, was literally just a few hundred feet up the road and sat on about 3/4 of an acre, but it had a short, steep driveway and not one but two huge decks that immediately made me cringe as I imagined the time and effort that would be required to maintain those monsters. "No thanks" I said, and we drove off.

Discovering "The House"

Fast forward about a year and a half.

Deja vu all over again

In one of her nearly nightly e-mails to me (she'd send me listings via e-mail even though we were right next to each other so I wouldn't have to read over her shoulder), there was a listing that seemed somewhat intriguing:

Motivated Seller! Priced $100k below appraisal. Great Buy! Great House! Set on .96 acres. The Kitchen has been completely redone in maple, granite and stainless. It features a large walk in pantry and breakfast bar island. The entire upstairs has new bamboo floors. The Master Suite overlooks the park like back yard and is huge with an oversize closet & new bathroom inc. radiant heated tile floors, a large shower and separate water closet. All new windows, doors, floors & roof. Northshore Schools

At $560k, it was *just* out of what we'd agreed was our comfortable ceiling, but with the softening market, we thought that maybe there'd be some "wiggle room" on the price. As I looked at the listing closely, I didn't see anything that was a big "No way, Jose" nor did I yell "YES! Finally!" The shy acre lot and basketball court were intriguing, but as we'd both become somewhat jaded by the all the less-than-forthcoming listings, neither of us were ready to get our hopes up. But we called Dorece Davies, our real estate agent and set up an appointment anyway.

As we turned off the main road, Adair said "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this the road where that very first house was that we looked at?"

"Huh?" I'd long since forgotten.

"Yeah, look--there's the house with the 3/4 acre lot and the big double decks in the back! Looks like someone bought it. The very first house we looked at is just down there on the left!"

"Hrmm. Wow, I guess this place isn't quite as near the edge of civilization as I'd first thought." It did seem a lot closer than some of the other houses we'd looked at out as far as Echo Lake.

First Impressions

The Back Yard

As we pulled off of the gravel easement road onto the asphalt driveway, I was favorably impressed by all of the 100 foot trees all around. It felt very "country"--secluded yet not isolated and there was actually room to walk between the houses. We got there before our agent so I thought I'd walk around the house and peek in the first floor windows. As I walked around the tool shed, I started to see the back yard and when I got to the corner of the house and could survey the entire back yard--the gently sloped grassy lawn, full basketball court and the stream cutting across the property--I got what the great "prophet" Don Henley once described as a "peaceful, easy feeling." I could all but hear the Holy Spirit saying to me "This is it, Dan. This is where you're going to live."

As I continued to walk back, I caught side of a wooden structure about 15' tall just across the creek--a two-story fort. The place just screamed "FUN FOR THE KIDS." It stirred in me fond memories of the football field-length back yard of my childhood home on the Kankakee River, and it still brings a smile to my face to recall those first moments of discovery as I imagined our kids romping around in the creek, playing cowboys and indians in the woods and as they get older, inviting all their friends over to play hoops and empty out our fridge. :-) I walked the full length of the court back to the house and up the other side where sat a five-tiered garden. Wow, and finally a place where Adair can grow her own vegetables! By the time I'd gotten back to the front, I was trying very hard to contain my enthusiasm. Dorece, our agent, had just arrived, so we went inside.


Things were looking good as we entered. It was still a typical "stairs up, stairs down" small entry way that all uncustomized split levels have, but at least the stairs were done in bamboo. When we got to the top of the stairs, I was impressed by the vaulted ceiling, twin skylights and a wall of windows--lots of light and headroom. When we saw the kitchen, my jaw just about dented the bamboo flooring--granite, maple and stainless. This can't be right. This place can't possibly be $560k. The second bedroom upstairs was formed by joining the two tiny bedrooms that all three-bedroom split levels have upstairs--I could stand in the middle of the room and even with my 7'3" wingspan, I couldn't touch the walls! It reminded me a lot of a bedroom that my dad and a couple of his brothers used to share when they were growing up, and where I spent many nights with my two youngest uncles. There was even a walk-in closet for the boys!

Things got even better in "ginormous" master bedroom. It had more than enough room for our California king sized bed, and the closet was so big I again couldn't touch the walls. I laughed out loud as I thought about how insanely large that closet is. Actually, it still gives me a bit of a chuckle when I walk in there. It's crazy big.

"I can see us living here."

We spent a lot of time that first visit just walking to and fro, and during our visit, we got the story on the house--how the sellers got into a bidding war to buy it, gutted it and remodeled it, and then how the Mrs., a Regional VP of HR for a Fortune 100 company, was transferred to the midwest before the couple ever got a chance to live in the home. I'm not even sure they got to see the finished product in person. Both Adair and I cringed at how sick it must have made them to spend all that time and money on remodeling a house and never get to enjoy it.

As we all gathered at the top of the stairs, I said "Dorece, in the year and a half that we've been looking at houses, this is the only one that I can honestly see us living in." It was a beautiful house and was priced really well, but nonetheless it was still not yet within our grasp. So we left and decided to put the house on our list of favorites to watch.

Our new "Gold Standard"

The next two months of house hunting were particularly eye opening (or sickening, depending upon whom you ask :-). With every house we saw, my wife and I would always ask the question "How does this compare to the Canyon Park house?" The answer to the question was usually something like "Well, this house is about $15k more, has one-third of the property, is on a rocky slope, and it's ugly inside and out." Or maybe "It's about the same price, and has the same amount of land, but it's another 20 minutes farther east...and it's ugly." The Canyon Park house had become our "gold standard" and like a can't-do-wrong older sibling, every other house we saw got compared to it...and came up short. We went back to see it at least three more times with Dorece, twice with friends who have experience in construction and assessments to give us their gut feelings. We even went back a couple of times without our agent just to walk around and make sure we weren't imagining things. Even though the floor plan wasn't our ideal and we weren't really looking for a remodeled home (what with the way small children are prone to destroy pretty much everything in their path), there was clearly nothing else that compared to it. So we decided to throw our bid into the ring.

Buying the House

The First Offer

We learned that the house originally went on the market $740k and that the price had been dropped seven times in the roughly seven months it'd been on the market, but that they'd received no offers. We also estimated that the sellers were losing about $4,000 per month between their mortgage and maintenance. Adair once asked me "Why do you think the place hasn't sold? It's a great price and a nice house! Is there something wrong with it that everyone else sees but that we don't?" I could only answer her question with a question: "Because it's ours?" It's all that came to mind as I thought about how I felt when I first saw the backyard in person. "I think that maybe God has set this house aside for us."

We agonized over what to offer, but figuring that "We can always go up, but we can never go down" we offered $520k, contingent upon the sale of our condo. A couple of days later, the counter-offer came back: $560k, minus $5k to defray closing costs. Seeing as how the sellers weren't budging (we couldn't blame them), we had to decline the counter-offer. After all, it's not the closing costs that hurt--it's that monthly mortgage payment for the next 15 years. We resumed praying and hunting.

The Second Offer

A couple of weeks later, after doing some more number crunching (and seeing some more underwhelming properties) we figured that since units in our building have always sold very quickly, we could be reasonably sure that we could go non-contingent on the sale of our condo. So we made another offer: $530k, non-contingent on the sale of our condo.

The response we got back took the wind out of our sails. We were told that the listing had expired and that the sellers were renewing with a new agent who promised to launch what was described to us as an "aggressive marketing campaign." So we sat and waited for the house to come back on the market. After about two weeks, Adair said to me "I bet I know what's going to happen--they're going to bring the house back on the market with a bigger price tag." It didn't make sense to me, but sure enough, three weeks later, it reappeared with infinitely better photos and sporting a heftier $574,500 price tag--$14,500 more than before.

A Bold Prayer

After a few days of "stressing," trying to figure out if we could find some creative ways to afford a better offer more, I came home after work and said to Adair "You know, I get the distinct impression that God's just telling us to 'wait' on this one. He obviously hasn't said 'yes' yet because we're not living there, but He hasn't said 'no' either because the house still hasn't sold and they're not getting any other offers." Apparently, the Holy Spirit had been having the same conversation with her that day because she said "You know, it's funny you say that--just today I was thinking the exact same thing!" I'm embarrassed to admit that that feeling didn't last very long, though--a couple of days later, we started getting nervous at the thought of "blowing it" and missing out on a great house. So one night after the kids were in bed, I led my wife in this prayer:

Heavenly Father, If this is not the place you want us to live, then we ask that you sell the house quickly and get [the sellers] out from under this burden they're carrying. Lord, it's got to be painful for them to have to spend all this money every month for a house they're not even living in. So please bring a buyer quickly if this isn't the place for us.

But if this is the place where you want us to live, I pray that you would have the sellers contact us and offer to take us up on our last offer. Lord, we want Your name to be glorified above all else and I can't think of a better way that we might bring glory your name by welcoming people into our home and saying "Let me tell you the amazing story of how God gave us this house!" Father, bring glory to yourself in this situation. In Jesus' name was ask this, Amen.

We prayed this way just about every night and I also brought this request before the Lord during my commute both to and from work--at least three times a day. Day after day, we prayed for God's clear guidance, and trusted that He would answer in His perfect timing.

The Answer

About six weeks later, my phone rang while I was in my weekly Bible study. I let it go to voicemail and then discretely checked it as our pastor talked on. It was Adair:

You're going to be very happy! Dorece just called and said that the [seller] called her and said that he'd just fired his agent and could now afford our last offer of $530k, non-contingent if we're still interested.

If we're still interested?!? Of course we're still interested!!!

The Inspection

Going into the inspection, Adair and I were praying that nothing major would turn up--that everything would be routine. As with most home inspections, though, our inspector Randy Navarro turned up a laundry list of "issues" he felt worth commenting on. Among them were about a half-dozen items, all weather or water-related, that I felt were significant enough to trouble the seller. I talked over the inspection report with Randy and he concurred with my severity assessment, so Adair and I began praying that the seller would be amenable to fixing all of the issues and this wouldn't turn ugly.

God came through again. The seller said "No problem. I'll take care of everything. Don't worry about it." When Dorece relayed this message to me, she said "I don't believe it--this does not happen."

"Well, Dorece, you better get used to it, because we're a praying family over here!"

All in all, the seller dropped over $5,000 to fix all of the issues I asked to have fixed. We all were completely "floored" to see how this man and his wife chose to treat us after all they went through with this house. I don't know if they've ever been an answer to someone's prayers before, but they are now, and it is our prayer now that God will pour out His richest blessings on them for the way they treated (and continue to treat) us.

Back to that List

You might be interested to know what was on the Wish List and Adair and I put together and how our house stacks up against what we were praying for. The list wasn't prioritized--it was just thrown together as we thought of both needs and nice-to-haves. Below, the list items are in bold and how the house stacks up against the list is detailed in italics:

Natural gas
No, but was only a "nice-to-have" to begin with
Level, unwooded lot (0.25 acre +)
Mostly level, slightly sloped to the creek, 0.96 acres, about a third of which is heavily wooded...great for making trails!
No dropped ceilings (8' minimum), vaulted a plus
Mostly...the ceilings in the bedrooms upstairs are just shy of 8', but the only place I have to duck in this house are the standard-height doorways. The ceiling in the living room and dining area upstairs is vaulted.
Full-sized master shower or tub
Two sinks, and a crazy big shower about as big as an average elevator car
Open floor plan (common areas)
Level driveway
Mostly level. The idea was to have an additional area the kids could play in, and our boys *love* to start up by the gravel and roll down on their scooters into the garage. The neighbor frequently come over and share in the fun. :-)
Dedicated master bath
Yes, with dedicated sinks for each of us, too!
Two-car garage
Yes, great "man space" *and* it's got a tool shed!
No galley kitchen (must be walk through/have two ways in & out)
Yes, with an island no less!
Forced-air heading + cooling
Yes, heat pump *and* air conditioning
Fruit trees (cherry, apple)
We have one apple tree with three different types of apples, also has salmonberry on the property and some blackberries on the easement road
2,000 ft3 livable space
The house was expanded to about 3,000 square feet, and even after dedicating about 510 square feet for a mother-in-law apartment, this is still a "yes."
Not on busy street, walkable neighborhood
We're off of an easement road connected to a quiet, dead-end street
Good visibility from kitchen to back yard
Yes. We can easily see our kids fighting on the basketball court! :-)
Fenced yard a plus
Partial fencing on the North, full fence on the West, but really not necessary thanks to all the trees
Close proximity to hiking/biking trails or parks
We're about a 4 or 5 mile ride to the Burke-Gilman trail

Since we've moved in, we've had quite a few people over for barbecues, and with each group of visitors, I get to relive the joy of telling this story and giving glory to the awesome God who hears the prayers of His people and answers them according to His good pleasure.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Next: How God used a friend's generosity, a torn-up driveway, and an enthusiastic five-year-old to avert a small disaster two days after we moved in...