It was late December so Kim and I went to Illinois for Christmas, and tried explaining to our family why it was a good idea to move to the wild, wild west to be rock stars.
Jobs? No, we didn’t have jobs lined up. Money? No, we didn’t have any savings. Where will we live? We are going to stay with some people we just met. Texas? Are you out of your mind? It is a thousand miles away and freaking Texas!
“What happened to the idea of being a pastor? You know — what you went to school for? We were kinda proud of you going into ministry. Instead, you want to be in a rock band? Really?!!”
This is what our Family, Bible college friends, church friends and most sane people were asking us.
We had answers, but I don’t think anyone was very satisfied with them. I would say, “Well, this IS ministry — ministry on the front lines! We are taking the light of the Gospel into dark places and blah, blah, blah. I play bass and sing big. I have friends in a band you have never heard of who are going to help us. I met a guy in a tweed cap.”
We must have sounded crazy explaining how we believed we were on a mission from God. Like Abraham explaining to his family in Ur of the Chaldees that he would be moving to a land flowing with milk and honey — somewhere in Canaan. I’ll have to get you a mailing address later.
Oh, and can I borrow a few hundred dollars?
After many tearful hugs, a few words of encouragement, and more than a few raised eyebrows — that basically meant, “you are out of your ever-loving mind,” we were looking through the windshield of our van in a southwesterly manner.
We made a brief stop in Missouri to load our furniture and belongings for the exodus. Even with the cargo trailer we borrowed from David however, there were still a few boxes we couldn’t squeeze in, tie onto the roof, or hold in our lap. I asked the young couple who were buying our house if we could store some things in the outdoor shed for a few months. We would get them on our way to visit family in Illinois, probably in the summer. They agreed, we shook hands, and I gave them the house keys.
Every square inch of the van and trailer was stuffed with something. There was barely room for Kim, myself and RainDog (our chow) to squeeze in. Next stop Texas.
We drove straight through because we didn’t want to waste any of our limited money on a hotel. When we couldn’t drive any further, we took a short nap in a rest stop near Dallas. It was cold and wet. We drove through heavy snow and over icy roads, the wind was brutal and destroyed the tarp protecting the things strapped on top of the van. For much of the trip, we could only go thirty miles an hour. This is the reason smart people pay attention to the Weather Channel before embarking on a long trip.
After an exhausting and nerve-wracking journey we finally arrived in Houston and pulled into the apartment complex where we would be staying with our new friends, it was almost midnight. David and his wife didn’t have a telephone, and the last time I had spoken to him was when we were visiting Houston a month ago. They didn’t know exactly when we would be arriving and there was no way to call and give them a “heads up.” Kim asked if I was sure they were expecting us — I assured her we would be welcome and I walk up to his door and knock.
“Who is it?” a voice said through the door, it was David.
“It’s me, Frank. We drove straight through — we’re finally here!”
Still through the door, “What are you doing here?”
“We just pulled in, been driving since last night. You said we could stay with you for a while, remember?”
It felt pretty weird to say that, I was starting to get a bad feeling. He opens the door and steps out on the porch, closing the door behind him.
Then he says, “Yeah, about that. That’s not really going to work out.”
Dear Reader, what goes through one’s mind in a moment like this? We had sold our home, packed our belongings and driven to Houston in the understanding that we had a place to stay. I was feeling embarrassed and betrayed, and my delusions of having found a new BFF were shattering in the moonlight on a wet concrete porch.
He wasn’t going to offer any more information. “Well, can we at least stay tonight? We’ll find somewhere else in the morning.” I was feeling a little desperate, I didn’t want to sleep in the van again.
“Hold on,” He went back inside to check with his wife. He shut the door and left me standing on the porch. I could hear them talking, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Kim got out of the van and walked up the metal stairs to stand next to me, I explained to her what was happening.
“You’ve got to be kidding. Why would someone say we could stay with them and then change their mind when we show up? Who does that?”
David opened the door, “You can stay tonight, but you have to find something else tomorrow. I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to work with you staying here.” They must have had their reasons, but no further explanation was ever offered to me, we really did appreciate having a place to stay — even for one night.
We walked RainDog, left her in the van for the night, and slept on an air mattress in the guest room.
The next morning we got up early and left — we were hurt, angry and completely naïve. We thought we could just go rent an apartment and be moved in by sundown. We had no idea how the real world of “apartments, first month, last month, pet deposit and security deposit” worked — we were about to learn. The first thing we wanted to do is get a local bank account, but NCNB (which became Nations Bank and is now Bank of America) wouldn’t let us open one. We didn’t have any Texas identification, an address or jobs — as far as they were concerned we appeared to be homeless, driving an out-of-state van, and had $350 to our name.
We left the bank and drove to a Stop N Go to get some gas. While I was holding the gas nozzle a man walked up to me and asked for some change, I told him I didn’t have any I could spare. He looked longingly at my beat up Ford van and said, “Must be nice to always have someplace to be.”
I started to wonder what we were going to do if we couldn’t find a place today. I’m careful to stop the gas pump at exactly twenty dollars and go inside to pay.
Across the street from the bank was a small storefront business called Apartment Locators. These kind of shops used to be everywhere, but now it’s all done on the internet. They help you find an apartment and collect the referral fee as payment. I figured it was just what we needed, since we were trying to locate an apartment. Did I mention that we were naïve? Geesh! Did anybody see the turnip truck we fell off?
We walk into the little shop like a couple of bright-eyed puppies and tell the person how we are new in town and looking for a place to rent. They ask what we are looking for and show us a few brochures, then they say, “I think I know just the place.” We followed them to a nearby apartment complex called Gaslight Square, which had recently been remodeled and was under brand-new management.
It was obviously an older building, mostly brick, lots of French paned windows, iron railings, and metal gas lighted lamps. There was a fresh coat of black paint on the iron rails and wooden doors, but the parking lot was filled with cracks and the landscaping was overgrown or dead.
We parked our van and walked into the office.There was a woman sitting behind a desk who was the spitting image of Mama Fratelli from “Throw Momma From the Train.” The office was cluttered with neglect and she was still wearing her house-coat. As we walked in the door, she looked up from her pile of scattered paperwork and stared at me like she was looking at a ghost.
After a short pause she said, “God told me you were coming! You’re a musician aren’t you? I’m not even gonna run a credit check. Follow me, I’ll show you your apartment.” She grabbed some keys out of a drawer and started walking out the door, motioning us to follow her. She continued talking, “It’s $220 a month and I’m only going to need your first month’s rent. I’ll waive the security deposit, too. God told me you were coming!”
Kim and I looked at each other in disbelief — this was happening.
It hadn’t even been ten hours since our hearts were crushed by the reneging of a friend’s promise, and God shows us this spectacular kindness. We had started to wonder if we had made a big mistake; maybe we should just get back in the van and drive home to Illinois. And then this crazy lady happened, not only did God give us a place to live, but the whole situation was also a powerful encouragement. I would look back on this moment for comfort whenever I began to have doubts — doubts about moving to Texas, doing music, or even about God Himself. This was His strange and wonderful way of letting us know we were where we were supposed to be.