We moved to Pasadena thirteen years ago in August. Matt was starting graduate school and we had been married just one month. Before we moved, we didn’t know what our new apartment looked like or where it was, but we had a floor plan, and we drew a life size chalk outline of our tiny house on my in-laws’ driveway, and placed all our hand-me-down furniture in the appropriate rooms so that we would not bring too much.
We had visited Fuller Seminary during Spring Break of our senior year of college. Arriving in the middle of the night, in the aftermath of September 11th, Pasadena seemed like a scary place to me, but once the sun came up and we visited campus, sat through classes, toured married student housing, and walked around Old Town, I began to love the city.
The following weekend we visited another school in the rural south, convinced that was where God was leading us, but as we sat in guest housing after we had thoroughly experienced Wilmore, Kentucky, we both wrote on a piece of paper the name of the school we thought we were supposed to go to. Shock of all shocks, we were in agreement. We made our first huge decision as a family.
We finished our classes, graduated from college, got married, honeymooned in New York City, and less than a month later we loaded our little Corolla, following a Penske truck, and drove from Texas to California … the place we would call home for the next three years, or so we thought.
As we drove away, Matt’s Dad said “He always takes care of the big things! Jesus, be with you.”
We used directions printed from mapquest to find our little apartment on August 21, 2002. When we pulled up to that big brown house on Ford Place, right across the street from the building where Matt would take most of his classes, I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude. In fact, I was out of the car as soon as it stopped and was jumping and skipping down the sidewalk in front of our apartment. That moment is such a vivid memory that I recall the smells and how shockingly huge the palm tree in the front yard was, what I was wearing and the tears that pooled in my eyes. When we had visited in the Spring, I had told Matt that if I could live anywhere, that would be the place, but we were told that it was only for single students.
So surprised that God heard me and provided what I longed for, I walked into that teeny 500 square foot apartment and I swear no house has ever been more beautiful. Sure it only had one closet in the entire place (which could be accessed in the living room or from the kitchen behind the refrigerator), smelled a little musty, had cheap carpet that stained bare feet, and the bathroom and bedroom were on opposite sides of the apartment, but it was just perfect for Matt and I.
We filled that place with furniture and boxes and wedding gifts, and then friends from Texas who had decided to move to Pasadena and Fuller without us knowing, invited us over to their cute little home and we had dinner.
After dinner we drove onto Ford Place and parked in our tiny little spot (beside the dumpster for our building), and walked through the back door of our home. We were so young and excited that it didn’t matter that we had just driven 1700 miles or unloaded an entire truck of our belongings, we were ready to make this place ours. This day, this home was everything I had dreamed it would be, except it was hot.
I discovered that when my husband is hot, he is not the happy, laid back person he is normally. When we got into bed that night, I scooted right next to him, and was promptly told to move to my side of the bed, because “It’s hoT!” The next morning, I rolled over and started talking to wake him up, and was told through sign language that he wouldn’t be talking until he got his coffee. I think he showered two or three times that first full day in our house.
And it was hot and we didn’t have air conditioning, and for a guy that was born and raised in Texas, that is just ridiculous. At least in September, I thought, it would cool down, and I would get the man back that I had fallen in love with and married. Little did we know that September is the hottest month in LA county.
September rolled around and we were miserable, and even though I hadn’t found a job, we decided that — to save our marriage — we needed to spend some wedding gift money and get a window air conditioning unit. We were shocked that they were sold out at every store. After weeks, my brother-in-law finally found a co-worker who had a seriously old unit, and he bought it for us for $5. Matt and he installed it, and it blasted cold air. Of all the air conditioners we would buy in the next several years, that one held up the best and cooled significantly better and more quickly than the others.
That year I struggled to find a job. We had decided not to take out any loans, and were grateful for the work study job Matt had gotten in our first week in Pasadena, but I learned quickly that my GPA didn’t matter when interviewing. School had already started, and California had just decided not to offer the emergency teaching credentials that I had counted on. I worked several retail jobs and odd jobs here and there, and we made it.
We like to say we lived on love and oatmeal that first year. We did. We were constantly provided for in unexpected ways, from the fact that our apartment was the only one in the entire building that had electricity included in the rent (which meant Matt could stay cool), to a check from my grandmother right before Christmas, making it possible to pay rent, buy groceries, and get a couple little gifts for each other, to a twenty-five cent an hour raise at one of my retail jobs, to the fact that we got down to thirty five cents in our bank account once, but we never went completely without.
We walked everywhere to save money on gas and just when we were almost at the end of ourselves and our resources, I got a temporary teaching job. It was an hour and a half away, but it provided for our needs and I looked forward to leaving the house at 5:30 every morning.
In the first year of our marriage, I learned what it means to live by faith. We could no longer rely on our parents to provide for our needs, and we were no longer a part of their church or their community, but we had each other and we had our faith in God.
When I look back on that time, I am amazed at a God who knows me so well, that he knew the joy that would come from living and making memories in that apartment in the big brown house on Fuller’s campus.
He knew that we would laugh about squeezing between the fridge and the closet door to get our clothes.
He knew that every afternoon there would be a distinct smell that mysteriously filled the space between our living room and our bedroom, and we would jokingly say that our house smelled like old man.
He knew that alone, on the floor beside our bed, I would discover that marriage did not live up to my expectations and I would learn how to give grace to the man made just for me who has always shown me nothing but grace, and that love really does cover a multitude of sins.
He knew that we had fallen in love with the ideal, dating version of each other, but that we would find in each other things to love that we didn’t know existed.
God knew that Matt would break many of our dishes in our old ceramic kitchen sink and that friends would send us a package of plastic dishes, and we’d laugh.
He knew that we’d learn to appreciate the simple things in life in those days. Things like clean sheets or a new toothbrush or pack of gum.
He knew we would pack that little space with other young married couples and that we would support, encourage and do life together.
He knew we would grieve over broken marriages in that group and we would resolve to let love win in ours.
He knew that we would discover one Sunday morning before church that we were going to have our first baby. He knew all the joys and fears and frustrations that would come as my body and mood changed.
He knew that home would be filled with an imperfect love that we couldn’t fashion on our own.
Before we ever met, God knew that we needed to experience what it really means to trust, and He gave us those first couple really hard years of our marriage for that.
We learned that even when we fail, there is a laying down of yourself that is really a necessity in a relationship built on love. And we do. Even now, we let each other down with silly things and big things and misunderstandings and carelessness, and we continue to choose love.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because it has been an incredibly hot summer. In so many ways it has reminded me of our first summer here. Life looks a lot different than it did thirteen years ago, but the truths I learned when we had little more than love and a really hot apartment have lasted.
Last weekend, I woke up to rain. It was glorious. We don’t get rain very often in this area, and it was exactly what we needed; a respite from the heat and nourishment for the grass and plants.
As it rained, I went out on my front porch and just smelled the air, and I remembered that our needs are known by God better than we know them ourselves. We long and we grasp for the things that we think will satisfy, but they don’t.
I never would have chosen to spend the first two years of our marriage, barely having enough to pay our bills and eat, but that was His plan.
Without having to trust that my basic needs would be provided for when there were just two of us, I would never have known I could trust him to take care of the big things.
Every day I am learning what it means to be content, and what I learned back then about myself remains true — I have a wandering heart. I want to chase after the things or the behaviors or the events or the friendships that I think will satisfy me, but they always fall short.
Like rain refreshed us hot Californians last weekend and helped the dead grass grow, like a sweet note and a toothbrush from Texas encouraged me when we sometimes couldn’t buy our own, God knows our soul needs and He satisfies us with His love in a way things never can.
And I remain forever grateful that
… The Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:11 (AMP)
copyright: Laura Hackett, Forerunner Music, 2012