Moving is stressful, even under the best of circumstances. Try doing what we did—moving out of New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late March 2020 my husband became extremely ill and spent 10 days in the hospital with COVID-19. Once he was home and had recovered most of his strength and much of the 30 pounds he had lost, we finally, in June, drove out of the Bronx on our quest to find a house in or near Warren, Ohio. We had been searching online at various real estate sites for more than five years, and the time had come. We were preapproved for a certain amount and knew what we needed in a house. The real estate agent had listings to show us, and I had added a few that looked promising, according to photographs and descriptions.
Driving through Pennsylvania, we encountered something we had never anticipated. It was but one more pandemic-inspired crisis: severely limited access to restrooms, because of COVID-19 restrictions. We felt more desperate than ever as we were rejected, rather callously, one more time. Then our good God intervened, as we saw a hospital nearby, and approached with hope that the people there would be more considerate.
Porta potties! Have you ever praised the Lord for a porta potty? We sure did, as the guard in the lobby pointed us to the porta potties not far from the front entrance. It gave us a new perspective on celebrating God’s goodness to His children.
Driving from the Bronx to our friends’ home in Ohio proved to be an all-day trip, a tiring proposition that takes from us much more than many realize: the muscle exertion involved in sitting through long hours doesn’t get counted as work, but for our bodies, it is. A recent article in Science ABC (“Travel Fatigue: Why Does Traveling Tire You Out?”) states that our brain sends a stream of messages to our muscles about keeping us in proper posture while traveling. The small movements our muscles must constantly be making to help us sit right are a taxing effort that tires them out over a trip as long as ours.* Falling into bed after a whole day’s exhaustion brought great relief to muscles that had overworked themselves just trying to keep us sitting right! We could taste a Solomonic truth that night in our friends’ basement bedroom suite: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet” (Eccl. 5:12). Tomorrow, Monday, would be another day, the day our search would begin.
Has house hunting ever made you wonder about heaven? Will we just live in quarters provided? Will everyone have to build their own house, or will it be up to heaven-certified contractors? We didn’t think we were in heaven, of course, since the first seven houses our real estate agent showed us were still totally underwhelming: dingy or water-damaged basements, with a smell of mold; steep, narrow stairways with no rails to hold on to going up and down; ugly kitchens of weird configurations. I could not imagine living in any of them. Maybe I’d have to blame our modest price range!
I signed and continued to trust that God would figure something out.
And then we saw it! A darling little gray house—one-story, finished basement, nicely painted inside—that we both instantly recognized was “the one.” And our price range was not at fault after all, thank God. We saw one more house just because it was scheduled, but our God had already performed His miracle for us. Now it was time for the avalanche of paperwork, and getting all things ready for a mid-July closing date.
Our two-week vacation ended, we returned to our Bronx apartment to discover how much stuff we actually had to pack and move, the complications of moving, and the steadily climbing amount it all would cost: a broker charges a fee, then passes the client on to a moving line that affixes their own fee. A smaller van shuttles belongings from a home in a small street to a location outside the city; then the items are reloaded onto a large van that will take everything to its ultimate destination.
Movers must be paid. The moving broker’s charges kept climbing with each call until it was $3,000 above the original quote. Added to that were the inspection fees, the electrical work that had to be done before we moved in, and other unforeseen expenses. Our savings were flying out the window at great velocity. We tried to keep costs down by inviting men from the church to help pack our hundreds of books. When the stores ran out of the right-size boxes, we had to buy larger ones to pack the books. It made for boxes of greater weight that were decidedly more unwieldy. The movers would later moan at the very sight of them when they arrived to start their work.
I requested funds from my 401k to pay our closing costs, and happily awaited the check. The representative indicated there would be no problem getting it to me. However, a couple days later he called again to advise that my particular 401k did not allow any deductions until after retirement. He was highly apologetic, but that was all. I, meanwhile, needed those funds for the closing. I was already aware that the finances for getting us moved were going to be screamingly tight. And I had tried to prepare for it, as well as for our approaching stage of life: I had been paying off debt as fast as possible so that we could have a better cash flow in retirement; during the past half year or so, I had concentrated on building up our savings. But I did not have enough there to pay closing costs, movers, and everything and everyone else involved.
The news about unavailable money, my own money, was my last straw: I broke down in tears on the phone. Did my tears move the agent? Did his ear hear whispers through my tears? Perhaps they came from one of those ministering angels the book of Hebrews mentions, that God sends out to work for us (Heb. 1:14). One of them may tell me himself when I get to glory. What I do know is that the poor man, having had to bear with my weeping, promised to call my firm and see what could be done, if anything. I knew we would need income from my work for a while longer. Had that not been the case, I would probably have retired on the spot.
But though I could not retire, I could still count on my God. He has promised to supply all our need according to His inexhaustible riches, through our Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:19). And once again He found a way forward for us.
Our first miracle was His provision of a house. This new miracle would be financial. My 401k representative called again. The news was that the administrator of my plan had agreed to change the no-withdrawal clause so that I could access the necessary funds. And though that introduced a new challenge, timing, I had no need to worry. God was clearly in charge. He had moved people to grant an exception that made the funds we needed available to me. He would surely get the check to me on time. And so it was, thanks to UPS overnight delivery, that I had my check in hand the day before we drove back to Ohio for the closing. Tight timing? Another miracle, I say, from my gracious Father in heaven.
The movers arrived the Monday after I retired. Their leader added to his moaning about the heavy book boxes lining the front hallway, some groaning about the costs being greater still, given everything that still needed to be packed. I wondered if the broker had even informed him of the information we had already provided, since he went over everything that day as if for the first time.
Finally, at midnight on an exhausting Wednesday, with everything boxed, taped, and labeled, we drove away from our apartment. The movers had already left, their leader’s final act being to have me sign the paperwork and pay the first of two installments. My hand shook as I signed—for an amount thousands of dollars higher than I had been told. But what else could I do at that point? This man had all our belongings in his possession. I signed, and continued to trust that God would figure something out so that I could hand over the second installment when the van arrived at our new home on Friday.
Several hours later, in a motel just over the New Jersey border into Pennsylvania, tired beyond sleep, I lay awake trying to figure out how to deal with that next installment. After all my God had already done—giving us a house that filled our fantasies; facilitating previous payments; showing up right on time. I am chagrined to admit that I lay there, after all His gracious doings, in full panic mode, tears falling onto my pillow. But then His voice came. His still, quiet voice, reminding me of kindnesses my brain had not properly registered, financial gifts that would fill in all the blanks and make everything possible, enabling us to cover all our costs, fulfill all our financial obligations, and breathe a sigh of relief that was simultaneously a prayer of gratitude to my good God who did for my loved husband and me what He did for the psalmist thousands of years before: “He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps” (Ps. 40:2). Mine was not a pit of slime and/or mud, but without the extra $3,000 from our church family, the generosity of the firm that (a) changed the 401k clause and (b) presented me with a retirement bonus; without all that and the gift from my two lovely bosses, our move would have been impossible to pull off. None of these was a given.
As a Christian believer, I consider all these acts as direct blessings from a gracious God who brought us to New York for His own purposes in 2007 and worked miracle after miracle to get us out again, during a pandemic, because He needed us elsewhere. His gracious provisions, despite the malicious scamming of some schemers, brought us, whole, to the “pleasant pastures” where we are now. No, it’s not our forever home. But His provisions for us here encourage us all the more to trust His Word about a far more pleasant moving experience He has planned for us, and soon: “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also . . .”