A Georgia couple facing financial strife find strength and courage in their faith.
- Posted on Dec 12, 2011
Mail thunked into the mailbox and I ran to get it. Ads, bills and...my stomach knotted. There it was. An envelope from the mortgage company.
I went in to where my husband, Doug, was in the living room. We opened the letter together and started reading: Dear Mr. and Mrs. Crane, we regret to inform you that your request for another mortgage modification has been denied.... It went on with more financial mumbo jumbo, but that first sentence told us enough.
Doug let the letter fall to the floor. “That’s it,” he said. “We’re done.”
I gazed around the living room. Pictures of our three sons. The framed wedding photo above the mantel. Our furniture. Our whole life.
Two weeks earlier we’d received the foreclosure notice from the bank. We hadn’t panicked then because we were still waiting to hear about the loan modification. If we could bring those loan payments down we might figure out some way to hang on to our house.
Now the last door was closed. We had two weeks to move out. We were two weeks away from living on the streets.
I looked at Doug. He’s a stoic man, not one to complain or let his feelings show. But I could tell that he was as shaken as I was. How had we come to this?
Mentally I traced back through the last few years. Doug losing his job. My cancer diagnosis. This house we loved so much, where our three boys had grown into men and where we had raised our dog from a puppy.
Was it the house where we’d gone wrong? It was a big house, bigger than our family of five strictly needed. But that’s because when we bought it we’d thought that my parents would be moving in with us.
At the last minute they had backed out. Rochester, New York, where I grew up, is a lot chillier than Atlanta, but the rest of our family was there and so Mom and Dad decided to stay.
At the time Doug and I didn’t mind. Doug has been a hard worker all his life and he had a good-paying job doing woodwork and trim for a construction company owned by a friend. We could afford the mortgage payments plus raising three teenage boys.
We spread out in the big house. It was so nice to live in a quiet, relatively new development.
Read more: Prayers for Financial Help
Even my cancer seemed manageable. In 2003, a year before we bought the house, I’d been diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of leukemia. Doctors said I had a good chance of outliving the disease but I needed to take better care of myself.
I switched to a healthy diet and took up exercise—regular walks with Lexi, our boxer, through the neighborhood. I’d been a receptionist at a hair salon, but my health issues meant I couldn’t work anymore.
Then the recession hit. One day Doug came home from work looking worried.
“I won’t be getting a paycheck this week,” he told me. His friend who owned the construction company had told Doug that a few contractors had failed to pay him. “He said that things should be back on track by next week,” Doug said.
But things didn’t get back on track. Soon Atlanta’s booming construction business ground to a halt. After eight weeks without a paycheck Doug finally drove over to his friend’s house to find out what was going on. The house was abandoned. His friend was gone.
That evening Doug and I sat in the living room in shock. It was 2009, five years since we had bought our house. All three of our boys had finished high school and our two older boys had moved out. Aaron, our oldest, worked as a chef in Portland, Oregon. Shawn remained in Atlanta studying to become a pharmacist. And Adam worked at his brother’s pharmacy.
Even without the expense of three hungry teenagers, Doug and I knew we could not last long without an income. We didn’t have much savings. We pulled together some bills and tried to make a rough estimate of how much we spent each month. Ouch.
Living in a big house in the Atlanta suburbs was expensive. Our monthly air-conditioning bill alone was several hundred dollars. Same for heating in winter. Then there was gas. We had to drive everywhere. It took 15 minutes just to get to Walmart.
“I need a job,” said Doug. “Fast.”
The next day Doug started sending out applications and résumés like crazy. Finally he found a part-time job as an attendant at a fuel depot. A few months later he landed a full-time position on the sales floor at Home Depot.
The job came with health insurance, which we needed for my leukemia, and we thanked God for that. But it paid less than a third of what Doug had made in construction.
“We can’t keep up with these bills,” I told Doug a few months after he started at Home Depot. I wanted to be more encouraging but the numbers were unforgiving.
We cut out every extra. No more cable TV. No more landline telephone. I stopped getting haircuts and using conditioner.
We got two loan modifications from our mortgage company. At the end of each month we still made less than we spent.
The following summer the air conditioner broke. We couldn’t afford to fix it. At last came the day I’d been dreading. There was no longer enough money in our bank account to write the mortgage check. The foreclosure notice came a few months after that, on the first of February 2011.
Now we’d been denied a third loan modification and once again Doug and I were in the living room staring at each other in shock. The letter from the mortgage company lay at his feet. As usual Doug didn’t let his feelings show. He didn’t have to. We both knew we were desperate.
“Better start looking at rental listings,” Doug muttered, tromping off to get his laptop.
I went to our old desktop computer and tried to summon energy to look at rental listings myself. There was a new e-mail from my cancer support group. Those always included an inspiring quote or prayer so I clicked on it. The minute I saw the prayer I printed it out and ran to Doug.
“You have to hear this,” I said. I read: “Lord, your almighty power parted the Red Sea. When I face my Red Seas of life please give me the courage and faith to step out and follow you. I know that you are right here with me like you were with Moses at the Red Sea.”
Doug gazed at me in silence. Then suddenly the long months of holding in his feelings gave way. Tears ran down his cheeks.
“We can’t give up, Roxann,” he said, choking out the words. “I know that everything looks terrible and there’s no reason for hope. But we have to stay faithful. That’s all we have left.”
He reached for the paper with the prayer and I handed it to him. He read it again. “Let’s say it together,” he said. We did.
We needed that prayer big-time. None of the rental listings we looked at worked for us. They were too big, too small, too expensive, too far from Doug’s work, didn’t allow pets. All of them required a credit check, which we knew we would never pass, not with a foreclosure on our record.
Moving day was getting closer and we still had no place to move.
One afternoon on my daily walk I glanced down a side street. I don’t know what made me look, but a sign caught my eye in front of a small ranch house: For Rent. I hurried home.
“We’ll never be able to afford it,” Doug said. “Not in this neighborhood. Besides, you know that they’ll want a credit check.”
“Remember the prayer,” I said, trying to sound more hopeful than I felt.
We called the number on the sign. A few hours later the leasing agent met us on the front lawn of the ranch house. “You must be from New York,” the agent said after hearing my Rochester accent. “Me too.”
He showed us around the house. It was half the size of our current house but big enough for our things.
“What’s the rent?” we asked. It was less than our mortgage.
“You seem like nice people,” the agent said. “If you want it, it’s yours. Don’t worry about the credit check.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. I know that you are right here with me, Lord. How else could this have happened except through the grace of God?
Other things began to fall into place. Doug and I had tried not to burden our boys with our financial troubles, but when we finally told them that we were moving, right away they asked what we needed.
Shawn paid our first and last month’s rent, and since pets weren’t allowed in the rental, he took Lexi in. Adam said that he would be happy to live in the new house with us and contribute to the rent.
With the boys’ help—and our friends’ too—we got packed up and moved into our new place in a single weekend. Doug applied to a special fund at Home Depot for employees in financial need and received a small stipend that we put toward utilities. A girlfriend took me to a salon for my birthday and I finally got a decent haircut.
We are not out of the financial woods yet. Even with reduced housing costs and help from the boys, our budget is still tight as a drum.
Still, we don’t despair. Not long ago Doug and I sat in the living room going over bills. “A few more months like this and we might have to move again,” Doug said, halfway serious.
I blanched, but then I thought of our prayer. I squeezed Doug’s hand. “God will be with us,” I said. I didn’t need to say anything more. God had parted one Red Sea for us and I knew he could do it again.
Doug knew it too. “Let’s say our prayer together,” he said. We did.
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