Howard be thy name ...

Ann Lamott tells a funny story about a friend who, for the longest time, thought God's name was Howard, as in, "Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name ..."

Well, we have met God, and it turns out, Howard is his name.

Let me back up. We've been half-idly thinking about moving into a new flat ever since, oh, the day we moved in here. Don't get me wrong--it's a very nice place, the facilities are fantastic, and we never have roaches or plumbing problems, which is more than some of my friends who live in fancy-schmancy places in the mid-levels can say. And we've actually gotten used to living in a shoebox. Who needs space between the bed and the closet? It's a waste, I tell you, a waste.

But, oh, to have a little more space, and spend a little less money, to be closer to the places we frequent ... these are nice things. So we've been thinking. Our standard response to the question this summer was: "Yes, we'd like to move, but we're going to be very picky. It has to be cheaper, bigger, same commute time for Matt, and closer to the park, the library, and the MTR station." Oh, and they have to be willing to negotiate a 9 or 10 month lease, since we're most likely coming home next summer. AND, we want to rent direct from the owner--no agent involved.

So my evenings turned into real estate-website-extravaganzas, with every naptime a phone call marathon. We stuck with our decision to forgo an agent---they take a hefty fee here, and the objective was to save money---but it turns out that agents are quite helpful.

On my first day of looking, I came across a flat that fit each requirement. I called Matt, told him I thought I had found the perfect place, and then called and arranged a viewing.

We met Howard, the landlord, and after we had seen the place--pleasant enough, and clean, if not new--he told us that he already had an offer from previous tenants, willing to pay more than he was asking, and wanting to stay longer than us. It was an invitation to a bidding war ... and we didn't want to play.

We called him later that night and told him we'd love the place, but we had to stick to the original price and a shorter lease, and if that meant he needed to take the other offer, we understood. We hung up, sure that we wouldn't get it, and I kept up my looking and calling.

The next few days were discouraging, to say the least. Rents, which had gone down last spring and summer, were creeping back up, and no one wanted to negotiate a short lease anyway. We settled back into staying where we are, telling ourselves how great it was that we didn't have to pack up and move after all, and really, what would we do with extra space? Besides, that apartment had two flights of stairs up to the elevator block--how would I go grocery shopping with Finn?

Whenever the apartment would float across my mind, I'd pray that we'd have the grace and the courage to accept whatever happened, that we would be grateful for our more-than-adequate dwelling, and pretty pretty please God make Howard choose us. I kept thinking about that Ann Lamott story, and "Howard be thy name" became a half-conscious mantra, a sort of code for "please God, you know what we want and we know it's not likely, and we know this guy may just be a sleaze who made up a bidding war to try and get more money out of us, but we also know you can work through anyone and this would sure be great."

And then, one night, after a McDonald's dinner that followed another round of apartment viewing, God called! I mean--Howard called! And he told us that he really wanted us to have the flat, and if we were willing to give up cable (!) (wireless broadband and cable were included in the rent) he'd give it to us. We thought about that for half a second, remembered that we don't even own a TV, and that was that.

It's so tempting to use situations like this, where everything works out, as proof of God's sovereignty and goodness: we got exactly what we wanted, so therefore God is in control and answered our prayers. And I do think that God answered our prayers, and I'm thankful for that. But I'm mindful of the Speaking of Faith interview with Kate Braestrom in which she says, "A miracle to me can't just be something that was providential, that everything had to line up just right in order for it to happen because bad things happen that way too. Really bad things happen that way too. And evil people have uncanny luck sometimes... If I look at it from another perspective, I don't look for God or God's work in magic or in tricks or in saying 'this is what I want' and then I get it. I look for God's work always in how people love each other, in just the acts of love that I see around me.”

I'm trying to remember right now, when I'm still joyful from this gift of finding (and getting!) the perfect apartment, that there will be plenty of days when this life is not what I want, plenty of situations that don't work out perfectly. And yet even then, God is still God, and God works through Howards and internet search engines and there is nothing, in fact, out of the reach of God's care.


We're back ...

... and actually, we've been back since last Wednesday. If that doesn't sound very enthusiastic, well, you're a good judge of written emotion. I could blame the lack of zest on jetlag, but we've pretty much emerged from that fog. I could (and did) blame it on the constant rain, but the sun came out today. The heat is certainly heavy and uncomfortable, no doubt, and that doesn't help my mood.

But really, the sharp contrast between grassy lawns, quiet sidewalks, backyards, back porches, and ready access to farmers' markets, dirt and family, and the crowded, concrete-filled, mall-walking, anonymous life we live in Hong Kong is just rough. Oh, you know there are things we love about life here, and it's not really so lacking in nature and community as my tired, glum self makes it out to be. I'm trying to pay attention to these things, to remember the goodness of our life and our rhythms here.

But I'm also paying attention to this transition time, this liminal threshold when both worlds are very present in our hearts. There is richness and understanding here, I'm sure. Lots to write about in the coming days: how quickly anything can become "normal"---which is both a comfort and a warning, how deeply and irrationally our own childhoods define parenting for us ("irrational" in the sense of how our past influences our present without, or even against, logic and reason), the gifts and challenges of living someplace on a short-term basis and how it differs from indefinite moves.

But tonight, let me just indulge in some memories from home and share a series of images from one lovely, iconic summer night---one of those nights that turns everyone into a photographer, except in my family we have Chip, so the rest of us don't even bother. (These pictures are, of course, all his.)

It was a night after a day of berry-picking, a night of BBQ leftovers and laughing so hard our tummies hurt. It was a night almost so beautiful it hurt, a night of (as Paloma says in The Elegance of the Hedgehog) the always in the never. Enjoy.





homegrown zinnias

golden hour

blueberry bliss

(want to see more beautiful pictures?  Check out Chip's flickr photostream)