"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities."
For years, this passage in Isaiah 54 has spoken to my heart. And, on a small scale, I have witnessed it come to pass in my own life. I went from a frightened twenty-year-old girl told by doctors that I might never have children to becoming the mother of four, to a spiritual mom to dozens, to a mother-in-law to two and a Grammy to five. But this past year, I found its fulfillment in an unlikely way after my husband and I downsized and moved into a much smaller house but one that put us into a neighborhood which has expanded my vision, stretched my heart, and increased my love.
It all began three years ago, after my hubby and I sold our family home because it felt huge and empty as one by one our children moved away. We rented a small condo until we figured out what we wanted for a dream home in this new season of life. However, while we were dreaming, a friend suggested we buy a few investment properties before we settled down again. My husband, who loves real estate and an adventure, jumped at the idea while I slowly warmed to it. Until, that is, we actually saw these potential investment properties.
One weekend, my husband and I drove from our familiar suburban neighborhood to look at houses in an older, urban part of town. I'm ashamed to admit it, but these were neighborhoods that I had rarely seen and had never considered living in. Our fair complexions cried out stranger as we drove through dozens of ethnically diverse neighborhoods. And, I felt sick as I noticed the bars on most of the windows, graffiti sprayed on fences, polls and walls, and empty lots strewn with trash and abandoned paraphernalia.
For three more days, I drove through the barrio and looked at the houses for sale while asking God, "do You want us to move here?" People curiously stared at me, perhaps wondering what this "white lady" was doing driving down their streets. I knew I would be the minority and I felt like I was somehow invading sacred turf. As I sincerely prayed to know God's will, a verse from Philippians 2 came to mind, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." And I knew the answer. I understood that if Jesus left heaven to come down to earth, then certainly I could leave my familiar and comfortable master-planned community and move to a unfamiliar one. And I had hope, just maybe, God might be able to somehow use me to encourage others and be a blessing in this new community.
One year ago, after making a dozen offers on properties that needed a lot of tender loving care, we moved into our first investment property. God graciously provided a house that was move-in ready. It had fresh paint, new carpet and an updated kitchen and bathrooms. It was built in the early 1920's with charm, character and amazing views. My new neighbors watched me suspiciously before warming up to me and welcoming me into the neighborhood. A woman who lives across the street told me, "You are the first white people who have lived in this neighborhood in thirty years." Now, she is my friend and we often stand out in our front yards where we talk and laugh. Last week she even brought me homemade fish tacos! Yum!
I love my new house, my new neighborhood and my new community. Some people think we were foolish or crazy to move here. But living here has expanded my vision. I no longer notice bars on the windows, graffiti on the walls or trash in vacant lots. Instead, I see families in their homes. People who work hard, who watch out for each other and who love to celebrate life. A friend asked me if I feel lonely and isolated living so far away from my old community and church home. I told her that I actually feel the opposite, as if God has enlarged my realm of influence and stretched my heart to know and care for more people than ever before. And everyday, as I am forced to look into the face of poverty, brokenness and the homeless, God has increased my love for a people it was once easy to overlook or ignore.
"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes." The past few years, the part of this passage that has spoken to me the loudest has been, "DO NOT HOLD BACK." And, I am trying, with all my heart, to give God my all. This past year, as I have stepped into a new place that was hard, unpopular, counter intuitive and counter cultural, I have grown and been blessed in ways I never could have imagined. And it is my hope and prayer that God is also able to use us to bless and encourage others in our new home, in our new neighborhood and in our new community.
How about you? Has God ever asked you to do something hard? Or, something that seemed counter intuitive, counter cultural or just plain unpopular? I'd love to hear your stories of what God did in and through your obedience or about what He might be asking you to "step out in faith" and do!