Have you ever struggled to choose a suitable farewell gift for a friend or friends moving away?
How do you decide? Do you choose something you think they would like, or find useful, or is it something to remind them of you? One farewell gift my husband and I received many years ago turned out to be more appropriate than our dear friends could ever have imagined.
In mid-late 1983, my husband Tony was invited by Scripture Union Queensland to take up a Christian ministry position based in Rockhampton, commencing in January 1984. At the time, we lived in Bundaberg.
The appointment had not been made public but, by the end of September, we thought it was time to put our Bundaberg home on the market. Our thinking: “This will give us plenty of time to sell our house in Bundaberg and buy a new one in Rockhampton.” Straight away, we started praying about this.
At the time, only a few people, including our parents, knew about our impending move. My parents lived in Rockhampton.
One weekend in late October, we travelled to Rockhampton to look at properties for sale, with the hope of finding something suitable in our price bracket. We inspected a lot of properties, but in vain. We also discovered, to our dismay, that property prices in Rockhampton were much higher than Bundaberg.
We asked ourselves: Could we afford to buy the sort of house we were seeking? Tony was leaving a well-paid permanent position as a high school teacher to take on a supporter-funded ministry position. His salary would be halved. And we had no other source of income at the time. I was a stay-at-home mum and we had two small children.
In early November, we told our Bundaberg church family that we were leaving at the end of the year. We had been members of the church for 9 years, had many friends there, and we were involved in leadership roles in a number of the church’s ministries. Despite our excitement about Tony’s appointment and new ministry opportunities in Rockhampton, we were sad to be leaving Bundaberg and the church there.
In late November, one of our church friends organised a farewell party for us and invited our close friends. They presented us with a farewell gift, a Bible text wall plaque. The plaque was quite beautiful, plain and simple. I liked it. It displayed the words from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
At home, we hung the plaque in a prominent place. I appreciated the gift, but I found the words hard to accept. At the time, I felt anything but joyful or thankful. Not that our friends knew how we were feeling when they chose that plaque and those words.
Our Bundaberg home had been on the market for 2 months, it was reasonably priced, but there had been little interest in it. No offers. In fact, very few people had even looked at the property. And we still hadn’t found a property in Rockhampton. We had been praying fervently since the beginning of October that our house would sell and that we would be able to buy a suitable house in Rockhampton. “Why is God not answering our prayers?” I would often ask.
In early December we travelled to Rockhampton once again to look for a house to buy. We spent 2-3 days searching, with several agents, but again without success. Our home in Bundaberg still did not have a buyer. The agents in Bundaberg were telling us that the market was flat, and there were not many buyers looking for a house like ours.
Each day I would look at the words on that plaque and say: “Lord, we are praying. Without ceasing. But you are not answering our prayers. This is hard. Really hard. Rejoice? No, I am not rejoicing. Give thanks? I know I should be thankful, but I am not thankful right now.” For me, the words on the plaque were like barbs, reminding me continually of my impatience and increasing frustration that nothing was happening as we expected and as we asked.
After Christmas, commencing on Boxing Day for 10 days, we participated in the Scripture Union Queensland Family Mission at Elliott Heads. Tony was the director of the mission team, so we were very busy and focused on the ministry job at hand. It was a much-needed distraction from the house sale / house purchase concern.
But when the mission was over, it was on again: the house saga. Still no purchaser for our Bundaberg house. Not a single offer. Still no house in Rockhampton (we had an agent looking out for us, but to no avail).
We spent a few days at home in Bundaberg, did some packing, and waited for that elusive buyer. No-one came.
We drove the 300 km to Rockhampton for the third time: our last ditch attempt to find a suitable house there. We did not know what we would do if we did not find anything this time.
On Tuesday 10th January, our agent showed us a house that had just come on the market. It was perfect – just what we were looking for! Given that we needed to relocate to Rockhampton before the end of January, we asked the vendors if we could have a contract with a completion date of 2 weeks. Remarkably, they agreed. Before signing the contract, given that our Bundaberg house had not sold, we needed a bridging loan. The bank agreed. We signed a contract for the purchase of our Rockhampton home on the 11th January, with the completion date due on the 24th January.
The next day, when we returned to Bundaberg, our agent there told us we had an offer on our Bundaberg home! The purchasers wanted to sign a contract straight away.
Thus, on the 12th January, just one day after we signed the contract to buy a house in Rockhampton, we signed a contract to sell our Bundaberg home. When we explained our circumstances, the purchasers agreed to make the completion date for this contract the 23rd January. They were cash buyers, but their funds were conditional on the sale of their Canberra property, which was due for completion on the 23rd January! It was all very exciting, in fact remarkable, but tenuous. We prayed much.
The end result? The sale of our Bundaberg house settled on the 23rd January 1984; the purchase of our new house in Rockhampton settled the next day, on 24th January 1984. And we did not need bridging finance from the bank!
We could not believe how all of this played out. God had heard our prayers! Truly, we witnessed a miracle. Each of the agents we dealt with (in Rockhampton and in Bundaberg) testified to this. The timing was just amazing; the set of circumstances was extraordinary. After months of waiting, God had blessed us abundantly more than we could have ever imagined. Despite my overwhelming elation, relief and thankfulness, I knew that I had failed the test.
The Lord had given us a clear message in the words on the gift plaque.
God wants us to rely on Him, to trust Him, to acknowledge our absolute dependence on Him. He wants us to realise our powerlessness to make certain things happen in our lives. And He wants to show us how much He really loves us.
It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over again in my life.
We still have the Bible text plaque. It’s displayed in a prominent place in our home, in the entrance foyer. It may not match the décor any more, it may not be fashionable, but it is there as our testimony to the particular work of God in our lives so many years ago.