George W. Bush was re-elected. The golden hues of fall splashed the California Mountains. Our baby girl was the latest addition to our now trifecta of children playing in the living room of the houses we were cleaning. Life was good.
For the first time in our lives, we were actually able to put away some money each month in a little shoe box tucked toward the back of our closet. It wasn’t much, but it felt so good not to have any debt, and to actually be able to start saving rather than financially drowning.
As fall transitioned into our second winter in Mairposa, we kept on cleaning houses, and I started throwing myself into creative writing, something I had not actively fostered for several years.
We also tried new various modifications to our schedule just to see how things would work. For several months, Annika would go clean houses with baby Miriam, while I stayed home and homeschooled the two boys.
Day after day, seated in my computer chair, I would face Isaiah and Elijah who sat on our large couch. For a few hours, I would take out a huge colorful map of the United States and quiz them on the various states. Eventually, they even memorized the capitols. We would review scripture, do some math, and study history. It was a wonderfully delightful time, and Annika enjoyed the peaceful solitude of house cleaning with baby Miriam.
Our life was smoothly content, and to this day I often refer to it as the “golden years of Mariposa”.
Still, I knew, lurking deep beneath our contentment, the Spirit of Yah was nudging. A gentle, loving, nudge, reminding me that I could not hide out in the mountains forever.
As much as Yah had blessed us in the nearly two years we had spent in Mariposa, I could not escape the fact that what had led us here was my running away from the ministry. In Portland, I had pulled a Jonah, and though YahShua was merciful in allowing me time to recover, eventually, under the pressure of that ever present tug -- I would have to heed the call to get back into the fray.
Still, my contentment in Mariposa was so deep and so refreshing, that I would often look out the windows as dozens of deer would come up to our door, dreaming about the perfect Norman Rockwell life that could continue forever in these idyllic mountains. Here there were no pressures of the ministry. Here I just had my family, the rugged outdoors, and a beginning-to-thrive business that didn’t require a lot of overhead.
By the time the lazy, warm months of summer arrived, I had utterly convinced myself that our new beginning in this butterfly mountain town would continue for the rest of our lives, and though I might always wistfully wonder what would have happened had I continued in the ministry, those days were a distant shadow.
Then, one late summer day, YHVH gave us a very rude wake up call.
And it changed everything.
I had just put the children down for a nap, when Annika pulled into the dusty driveway. The hot dryness of a late California summer had turned all our grass into brilliant yellow, but the ponderosa pines still towered in unchanging green.
Carrying Miriam into the house, Annika looked distressed.
“Hey, honey. Everything okay?”
“Well, I just paid our rent for the month.”
I watched Annika place the sleeping Miriam into her mini-crib.
“Oh, good. How’d that go?”
My wife rose to her feet and locked her gaze on me. “It looks like our landlords want to move this trailer and build a house here. We have to be gone in 30 days.”
I stared at her in shock. All my feelings of contentment and peace shattered under the weight of those words, and I gripped the top of the chair in front of me to steady myself.
My first reaction was denial. “Are you sure about this? How can they do this? They can’t just kick us out, can they?”
I could see the pain in Annika’s eyes, for she loved this peaceful country spot just as much as I did. “It’s nothing against us, Daniel. They’ve just always had a dream of building here. So we’re going to have to find a new place to live.”
I reached over to embrace my wife. “Okay, okay. Fine. We’ll just find another place up here, no big deal.”
But even as I said the words, I couldn’t ignore the sinking feeling in my heart. After all, it had been a virtual miracle that we had secured this place at all. Real estate in Mariposa was rare in the tiny confines of the town, and nearly impossible to find in the rural outlaying area where we had lived.
For the next two weeks, I frantically searched the classifieds and called as many rentals as I could so that we could hold on to our Mariposa dream. Of the few openings I could find, they had already been rented.
I finally managed to find one place, but it was a few hundred dollars more than what we were currently paying, and there was no way we could afford it.
Late one Saturday night, shabbat over and our little ones sleeping, I sat down with Annika. Pulling out some paper, a couple of pens, and a calculator, we looked at our budget, trying to figure out what we should do.
We briefly toyed with the idea of returning to Portland, but we didn’t want to just give up on our housecleaning business that we had poured all our sweat, blood and tears into for the past two years. With less than two weeks before we had to vacate our house, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to stay in Mariposa. There was simply nothing opening up fast enough.
“I think we should look for a place in the valley,” Annika said, as we were crunching the numbers.
As much as I hated to admit it, her advice made the most sense. All of our house cleaning clients were down in the valley, so we would save a couple hundred dollars a month in gas. We knew there were a gazillion and one places to rent down in the valley. And there was simply not enough time to explore any other options.
That Monday, after we finished cleaning houses for the day, we applied to a very nice town home that was about what we had been spending in Mariposa. As much as I dreaded living down in the polluted, hot San Joaquin Valley, at least this rental looked very nice.
But a few days later we were turned down. Because our bankruptcy had occurred so recently, they would not allow us to qualify.
Depressed beyond belief, our sad little family drove up into the mountains that afternoon, with only about a week and a half until we had to move.
After we arrived home, I took the long walk down our country drive to check the mail. As I pulled out a few pieces of junk flyers, the hot California sun beating down on my back, I suddenly, very angrily, cried out to Yah.
“Why are you doing this to us? Why?”
Walking back up the hill, tears streamed down my face. The idyllic countryside dissolved into watery frustration around me. My thoughts were a blur -- I love this place, Yah! Love it. So why do You feel you have to rip it away from me like this? And we can’t even find another place to go. What do you want from us? What do you want from me?
But I knew what Yah wanted. He wanted me to come out of my cozy cave. And my tears, though bitter, soon became tears of resignation.
I could not fight my Master anymore.
* * *
Over the next couple of days, we found a duplex in the valley that was not in the best part of town. In fact, the nicest way to describe the area could be summed up in one word -- trashy. But when we met the manager, he liked us immediately and didn’t seem to have a problem with our bankruptcy being discharged a year ago.
Sighing with disappointment, not liking how run down everything looked, I led my family toward the only available unit. As the owner opened the door, I caught my breath from shock.
A new carpet had just been installed only days before. The walls gleamed with fresh, white paint. All the appliances had been newly furnished. The three bedroom home was much bigger than the single wide trailer we had grown accustomed to in Mariposa. The place looked amazing.
As Annika and I began to peek our heads into each room, our excitement only grew. From the bathrooms to the baseboards, this dwelling was actually cleaner and nicer than the town-home we had been turned down from.
“It’s unbelievable,” I whispered to Annika. “This area of town seems to be a complete dump, but this place is amazing.”
“I know!” She agreed, “And there’s so much space.”
The owner found us toward the back of the duplex. “Well, you want to apply?”
“Absolutely,” we both said.
Less than twenty-four hours after filling out the application, and with only a few days left before we had to be out of our Mariposa trailer, we got the call that we had been approved.
As we scurried to start packing everything, and cleaning out the trailer, the realization dawned on us that as much as we had cherished living in these secluded mountains, the move to the valley was going to bless us in significant ways. Financially, we would be saving over two hundred dollars a month on gas. We were going to have triple the space we had enjoyed in Mariposa, and for the same rent that we had been paying for the past two years. The nearly two hours in commute time we had spent driving from the mountains and back each day would be eliminated, giving us a great deal more free time.
On Sunday, September 11, we finished packing the U-Haul truck.
“It’s time to get a new house,” Elijah said for the umpteenth time. Over the past month, he had made this his mantra.
That 9/11 in 2005 would soon become known as the day that would begin untold blessings. For years, when my wife and I saw any reference to 9/11 or even happened to see 9:11 on a digital clock, we knew Yah was about to bless us.
A few weeks later, it was time for the Feast of Tabernacles. Because of the extra money we already had from the savings our move caused, we were able to purchase a large pavilion like tent. Our unit just happened to be on the edge of the duplex lot, fronting a large yard with a tall oak tree.
I pitched the Sukkot pavilion. On the very first day of Tabernacles, as I read scripture about the Feast to my children underneath that tent, we started noticing curious eyeballs peeking through the slats in the fence.
“If anyone wants to join us -- you’re free to do so!” I called out to the shy onlookers.
Within about twenty minutes, we had dozens of children from the surrounding neighborhood gathered beneath our pavilion. The same sermon I had given at John Smart’s congregation two and a half years ago, I re-told again, but this time with animated sounds and exaggerated hand gestures, so as to excite the gathered children. I described in vivid detail how one day the King of all Kings would take His Throne in Jerusalem, and that all nations would come up year after year to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. As Annika strummed on her guitar, and I continued to tell the story of Tabernacles, dozens of children sat in wide-eyed amazement.
My heart rejoiced on that sunny afternoon in early October. Yah had put me back into the ministry, just where He wanted me, and blessed us beyond what we could have imagined a few short months before. And as dozens of children from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the valley heard the story of Sukkot for the very first time, I realized that my period of living in an isolated cave had ended.
Jonah was gone.
And King David had emerged.