Saturday, November 14, 2009

What a Foreclosure Sign Means

I'm not sure why I remembered that event with such clarity, but it struck me with such force a few days ago that, for a moment, my breath was taken. Maybe the pictures of those people leaving their offices with their possessions piled in their one box, walking void of emotion, triggered it or maybe I had heard a few too many news reports of families leaving their homes and that sent me back to a lifetime ago.

I was 15 and we were packing up our belongings. We were "starting over." My dad took a job in a city 2 hours away because there was nothing else in our area. Still reeling from the death of my mom a year and a half earlier, this was more than we could bear.

It was the early 80's and we were still experiencing the effects of the recession of the years prior to this and were in a business unkind to those desperately wanting to hang on until the economy turned. There would be no turn for us.

I was the one who answered the door when a man, whose face I can no longer see, asked for my father. He handed some papers to my dad; I don't recall my dad every explaining it, but I knew.

My father went to the bank to ask for more time. They were not interested in giving us time. It was after this that my father began sleeping longer.

We lost our business- the business my mom and dad built. My father took whatever job could pay.

I remember grocery shopping as a 13 year old, shortly after my mom was gone. It was my job to buy groceries with what money we had. I would clip coupons and try to purchase only what was needed, but sometimes there wasn't enough in the envelope and I would become terrified that I would have calculated incorrectly and would be humiliated when I reached the register and have to choose what to put back. Sometimes I would add my babysitting money to cover the lack. I never told my dad; it would have wounded him unnecessarily.

I remember the day we left. Someone had given the cat medicine to help him sleep during our move. The medicine made him ill and he vomited up a mouse on our living room carpet right before we walked out of the house we used to call home. I realized we didn't have any cleaning supplies and I remember a friend saying to leave it for the bank.

I died inside that moment. The thought of leaving our home- the home that I was responsible to clean, with vomited mouse remains on the floor, as if we were white trash leeching off of society, unwilling to pick up after ourselves- was unthinkable to me. I frantically searched for something to remove the newly formed symbol of our destitute situation.

We left our house, the last home I remembered with my mom, the last place we gathered as a family, and turned down the driveway. We had acres of wooded property that now belonged to someone else. I suppose it always belonged to someone else, but it's funny how you never think that when you're living there.

I have only been back one time. There was a man in my front yard, wearing a jacket like my dad wore, looking at the trespassers in his driveway.

I don't know what sparked this memory - the one of the cat throwing up the mouse. It was the moment that changed me. Humiliation and shame were my companions then. I also watched my father and knew I lost another parent; for the bank took more than our house and business that day.

When I see foreclosure signs I view them differently then most people probably do. I know another side of the story. I know some people live beyond their means and there are natural consequences for foolish choices, but I also know sometimes situations occur that are not a result of foolish choices, and occasionally normal people find themselves in places of great loss, not of their own creation. That is not to say my dad did everything right. I'm quite sure he did not, but I do believe he did the best he could with what he knew.

I wonder about the stories of the people who live in those homes with the signs in the yard. What dreams did they leave there? And will they ever hold their heads high again, or will the demons of their past haunt them?

25 years later I still get nervous and sweaty palmed when I reach the check out line, and I secretly hope I calculated correctly.


  1. I haven't thought much about the people on the other side of that sign, but after reading this, I certainly will from now on. With the economy the way it is today, that could easily be any one of us. Unless our house is paid for and we have significant funds on hand, a couple of bad months (or even weeks) could see a lot of these signs. This will make anyone who reads it more sensitive. Thank you.

  2. This was so beautiful. I believe that one reason God allows us to go through very difficult things is to give us new eyes in orser to broaden the vision of others. Your experience, now passed on to me, has given me new eyes too. I will never drive past another foreclosure sign without thinking of you...of loss and shattered contentment and a mouse lying dead on the floor.

  3. This post touched me deeply. During my first marriage, I faced many similar circumstances along with the abuse. Deep in my heart, those circumstances impacted me greater than the abuse. I get it. I know the feeling you are talking about. I was overcome with tears and even some anger as I read your post.
    I am horrified when I see signs like that in a yard. I always pray and wonder about the children and all those affected. What will happen to them?
    Blessings, hugs, and prayers, andrea

  4. This story tore at my heart. The question is -- what do we do if we see something similar? Do we turn our heads? What is the body of Christ called to do? We know we can't do everything -- but what can we do?

  5. Thank you for your words of encouragment everyone.
    Andrea and Glynn,
    Yes, the question is what is the body to do in such circumstances? While I admit ours was a unique and multi-layered situation, the sad truth is, the body is ill-equipped to minister to brothers and sisters in less drastic situations. I remember feeling like an anathema- people avoided us when we needed them most. We were fortunate to have some dear ones who came along side us - but they were few. I sympathize with those who didn't know what to do- I'm sure they felt great sadness for our situation - but the truth is feeling great sadness is not the same as ministering a cold cup of water - or a bag of groceries to a family in their dark journey of the soul. Which ultimately means the church is failing to teach her people how to rightly love one another. I think we lead by example. We ask the Lord to give us eyes to see what he wants us to see and we pray for hearts to love like our Savior loved. Even as I post this reply I know I do not faithfully pray this. Yes Glynn, you are so right, we can't do everything and sometimes the need is overwhelming. But we can do something - I think most of the time we are comfortable and removed from the pain some of our brothers and sisters carry. Again - I think it reminds us of our constant need to pray without ceasing in order that we may be useful vessels to our Lord. Sometimes it is as simple as a note of encouragement, a homemade meal, or a visit to the house of mourning. It is spending ourselves for those who bear the image of our Savior, and sharing those dark valleys God has brought us through with others to let them know that they do not walk them alone.

  6. Oh friend, this is one of the best posts I've read in a long time. I mean that. So full of rich memories and truth, pain and conflict. Sadness, yes sadness. It hurts my heart to think of any child having to handle life too early. I think you qualify.

    Thank you for sharing a part of your story that has, undoubtedly, written your present in many ways.

    I'm moved to tears, and that doesn't happen often with posts I read.


  7. This touches a nerve in me -- maybe because it's so personal for you, and all the details (the vomit, the coupon-clipping, the money counting) leave me feeling a sense of so little hope, of shame tinged with despair. How beautiful that you can speak and love with true empathy from a place of experience. The suffering makes us more human and real somehow -- to be able to identify with that in others really is a gift.

    Thank you for sharing this memory, for drawing me in with your words.