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Learn from our Mistakes

This is by a “contributing editor”, Noelle D., my daughter.
In sharing her story and mistakes she wants to help others avoid the pitfalls. She has been remarkable through this and a testament of grace.

So You Want to Remodel….
(read this first)

I was awakened at 5:15 on a Friday morning by my son saying, “Mom, there is water coming in my room.” He was right, it was raining outside and water was coming in through the window but not only in his room, but every window in the rear of the house. Before long, water was pouring through the master bedroom ceiling fan. By then, I had a bucket and was dumping it every five minutes as the water continued to pour in. By the time the rain stopped outside, all but three rooms in the house had water seeping in them. Water even trickled down the basement walls.

A week earlier, my husband, Maury, and I had hired our next-door neighbor (whom I will call John and his wife Sue) to do repairs. They told us they had a licensed and insured construction company and could replace our roof and gutters. We took him at his word and did not verify his business license or insurance. His estimate for replacing our roof was less than the other estimates. He justified this by stating he was giving us a break since we were neighbors. His estimate was $7500 (keep this number in mind).

Our neighbor began replacing our roof on a Monday. By Thursday, John and his crew were still taking the shingles off, and the forecast now called for rain late Thursday night into Friday morning. He tarped the front roof of the house but failed to tarp the back roof of the house which was exposed – no shingles or tar paper, just roof decking. The rain came. Water poured in everywhere – attic, master bath and bedroom, boys room, upstairs hallway, HVAC ductwork, kitchen, downstairs bath, living room, study, sun porch, even trickling down to the basement’s back wall.

John came over first thing that Friday morning. He apologized profusely and stated he and his insurance company would take care of the damage and make our house better than it was before. At this point my husband and I were dumbfounded and overwhelmed. We had four kids, ages 9, 6, 4, and 2 at the time and homeschooling one of them. Also, our house was on the market – one reason we decided to re-roff in the first place. What were we going to do?

Later that morning as I was downstairs, there was a loud “BOOM!” I rushed upstairs and attempted to get into the master bedroom. As pushed the door open, I realized the master bedroom ceiling had fallen (the ceiling was made of plaster), thankfully missing my husband and our four-poster bed by 3 feet, but damaging other furniture.

In the afternoon, John’s insurance came to assess the damage. The agent informed me that the insurance would accept this claim and our living expenses would be covered. However, I was not informed of my options: Could we use another contractor to make repairs? How long would this take? Should I call my homeowners insurance? It was my understanding after meeting with the insurance agent that my only option for a contractor was John. Therefore, the contractor that was negligent and caused the original damage was now the same contractor repairing the house. (Fox guarding the henhouse comes to mind.)

John said Maury and I needed to pack up the house. The rear of the house needed to be gutted due to the water damage – the attic, master bedroom and bath, boys’ room, back wall of the first floor which included a bathroom, living room and kitchen.

He stated it would take two weeks to put the house back together as he was pulling crews from other jobs, making our house his priority. We made living arrangements accordingly.

The next eight weeks (not two) were nothing but manipulation and deception, which included the police being called on two separate occasions because of fierce arguments between John and his crew. Crews were not pulled from other job sites, as there were no other job sites. Each day there were different workers at the house, who were not allowed to talk to Maury or me.

Replacing our roof took three additional weeks. What was supposed to cost us $7500 cost another $3500 due to “damaged roof decking.”

John stated that he had spent $20K on replacing our kitchen cabinets. A disagreement between he and the cabinet company ensued with the cabinet company threatening to put a lien on our home. Maury talked to the cabinet company directly and found out that the cabinets were builder grade cabinets and that he only spent $9000 on them. When John found out that Maury was going directly to the cabinet company himself to deal with this dispute, his wife Sue texted the cabinet company and told them to not tell Maury how much they spent on the cabinets.

Maury and I questioned whether permits needed to be pulled for the construction. John stated that he was working with the insurance company to get permits. The insurance company stated John should have been pulling them all along!

John pitted the insurance agent against Maury and me, often telling the agent one story about us and bemoaning the actions of the agent to us.

The final straw was when John stated he needed the final payment from the insurance company. He claimed his brother was sick in Florida and that he was going to be traveling for a week. Maury and I had grave concerns and stated we would not sign any release forms until the house was finished. John got his final payment directly from the insurance company.

He did not go to Florida to see his “sick brother.”

Finishing our house became a low priority as two weeks had passed after receiving the final payment and the repairs on our house were still not completed.

Finally, we had enough and fired John.

At this point Maury and I contacted the insurance agent, he shut us down and quit communicating. We asked if we could have documentation of John’s license. The insurance company said we could walk next door and get documentation directly from John. We never got documentation of John’s license from him or the insurance company. John was not a licensed contractor!

The next six months became an arduous process of seeking legal counsel, going to the Better Business Bureau and State Insurance Commission, documenting all the damage and repairs that had yet to be done and then getting the repairs done correctly by another contractor. Almost everything John had repaired had to be re-done — permits had to be pulled, a structural engineer had to be called, hardwood floors had to be refinished, gutters had to be replaced, kitchen cabinets reset, electrical outlets that were once grounded were no longer, kitchen plumbing that had been to code was no longer and was leaking, and the list continued on and on. It was not until the beginning of January 2014 that we finished repairs on the house.

Where were we living during all of this? Since we were told repairing the house would take two weeks, we made temporary living arrangements. Since the process was prolonged, we ended up jumping from place to place. One week at my mother’s, two and a half weeks in North Carolina (while Maury stayed behind for work), ten days in a cabin at a campground, and then another three weeks at my mother’s house. This past fall we lived in the house while the repairs were going on.

There was a period of 10 days in which we did not have a working kitchen.

Then we had to move all our furniture in the rooms that did not have wood floors so we could refinish the ones that did. We were out of the house for another week. It was not until the beginning of January 2014, almost nine months from the original water damage that the repairs to the house were completed.

In this process, Maury and I tried to keep a sense of normalcy for the children.

They did not feel secure, were anxious, and had nightmares (which just recently stopped). It did not help that during all this upheaval that our cat died. She was an older cat and the stress of the construction process proved too much!

We had to seek professional counseling for one of our sons due to his anxiety.

Others losses we incurred: We lost the Spring season for the Real Estate market as the house had to be taken off. Maury lost work days in order to help deal with the mess. Homeschooling was interrupted. We had huge financial losses – thousands of dollars in legal fees not to mention getting the house to repaired correctly.

No doubt, we learned a lot from this whole experience, and that’s what we wanted to share with you. So, if you’re thinking about remodeling your home or having any sort of major repairs done, ask yourself several questions and follow some simple rules:

1) Get 2-3 quotes for the work to be done.
2) Get references on all the contractors who gave you quotes, but pay special attention to and check those that make the ‘final cut’ and will be doing the work.
3) Ensure that your contractor is pulling the appropriate permits for any work being done on your home.
4) Ask for the contractor’s license and insurance documentation and then check on the State’s DPOR website to ensure that the license is still in force.
5) In the state of Virginia, if a dispute arises between entities in a contract, each one is responsible for their own legal fees. Therefore when writing a contract, specify that if dispute should arise, the losing party pays for the legal costs of both parties.
6) If you have damages, especially those caused by a contractor working for you, be sure to immediately contact your own insurance company and report the incident.

I hope this helps…

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God Hope

Last week I had the joy of speaking with my daughter, Windsor. We were the guest speakers for The Women’s Resource Center in Mobile, a pro-life organization that is doing a great job being a beacon of hope, love and truth right across the street from Planned Parenthood.

For years I have spoken for such groups because of Windsor’s and my story – she chose life 3 times. Two were unplanned pregnancies when she was in her teens – her baby girl she released for adoption and her baby boy she chose to parent. Her third child was born with significant challenges five years ago.

As you can imagine those were not easy times in our family but God has been so faithful to us. As I watched her stand before 1000 strangers to tell her story I thought back on our journey…the struggle, the anger, the tears… And she stood there looking lovely, poised, confident…all she wasn’t those many years ago.with Windsor in Mobile

We have just started to speak together – it is fun to have her along plus she tells the story from the birth mother’s perspective. We all applaud adoption and are so happy for the adoptive couple. But so often people forget that in the shadows stands a young mother with a broken heart. A woman who made a very courageous decision. Like Windsor did.

Windsor was articulate as she told of the ups and downs in her life with her cute self-deprecating humor. I am so proud of who she has become and the little family she has made. When all of it was happening I could never have imagine all God would do in both of our lives – the healing that has taken place!

It was a rough road. But we both know God in a way we wouldn’t have any other way. We grew in grace and understanding of each others and even strangers. God promises to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth…He has kept those promises.

We’d like to encourage you – if you are in the thick of a difficulty – hold on, don’t give up. God is at work even if you cannot see Him. He has a plan and it is a good one. He will reveal it in time. Claim His promises. He always does what He promises. We get disappointed because He doesn’t meet our expectations. Our expectations fit our thinking not His. We have to align ourselves with His Word.

It isn’t easy but it is real. There is hope. A good hope – which is not wishful thinking. It is a hope based on the unchanging character of God.

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Divorcing Parents

There has been a story in the news about an 18-year-old girl in New Jersey who wants to be free of her parents. She took them to court. She accused them of harsh treatment – not abuse, mind you, but stuff like obeying the rules in the same way her siblings were required to do. Nothing unusual. Curfew. Rules about dating. Things like that. But to her it was cruel and unusual.

She is an intelligent young lady who makes good grades. She just found her parent’s house rules too burdensome for her taste. She left the house of her own free will but now wants her parents to financially support her. She has a sympathetic friend whose father is a lawyer and sued her parents on her behalf.

I am making a complicated story very simple. I cannot begin to imagine the heartache… the wounds that have been inflicted on this family. I pray they will be able to move on in grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Most reasonable people would find this story bazaar. If a child is under your roof and you are paying the bills it is not unreasonable to expect certain standards of behavior. If at 18, she wants to go out on her own then she can make that choice but a parent is not obligated to support her or her lifestyle. She wants the goodies but not the rules.

Fortunately, there was a judge who had common sense.

There was much discussion about it. And as I listened to the discussions, I thought we treat God exactly the same way. We want His blessings but not His rules. We want our independence. We want own way. We want “freedom”, emancipation. We do not want restrictions. Like a good parent, God does not let us get away with that. There are consequences for our choices.

The sooner we learn that, the better it will be. God always wins.

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Traveling in the Back

Today I took what, I hope, will be my last airplane trip for the year! Hooray! I will not miss the smell of AV fuel, the blare of CNN’s talking heads, the chatter of folks on cell phones, the rushing to or from a gate, taking off my shoes, lifting my suitcase…all the unpleasantries of travel.

Last week on my trip back to Virginia from Sacramento I sat in the very last row next to the lavatories in the aisle seat. Has to be the worst seat on the plane! My assistant, Anne, actually gave up that seat to sit in the middle – she can sleep standing up – or, as in this case, sitting up. I cannot. The accompanying odor just from the chemicals was noxious. And every time anyone came down the aisle they bumped me.

Okay, I can deal with all of that. But for 6 hours! After just a few hours, I had a headache from the fumes. Then I got annoyed at all the folks bumping me. After the food service it seemed as if everyone had to go to the toilet! I began to suspect they were just circling around in an endless parade. The fight attendants, who were not very friendly in the “friendly skies”, maybe they’d had a hard day too, let them stand in the aisle 10-12 deep. I didn’t think they were supposed to. (Those of us “in the back” are not allowed to use the first class toilet. Don’t get me started…) And, of course, the flight attendants still had to do their thing so they would squeeze by those in line. Those in line had to move somewhere so they moved into me! Brother! (Remember, I told you I believe each airline has a committee that thinks of ways to make travel more unpleasant? Well, they should get a bonus for that trip!)

About 4 hours into the flight, I got the giggles. I was struck by how absurd it all was. There was not a thing I could do about it! And I was reading an excellent historical novel about, of all things, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. A good treatment of a very grim event that so few know much about.

As we landed I called my wonderful travel agent in Boston and asked why I had been assigned those seats. She apologized and said she had been trying to get us moved away from the toilets and closer to the front but United was just hard to work with – I don’t have status with them as I do with Delta or USAirways. So I reminded her I would be doing the same trip this week and be sure I got a better seat. She said she had already been working on it.

We were the last to get off the plane and dear Anne’s suitcase wheels had a mind of their own. Like the grocery cart with one weird wheel I always manage to find. Well, we really got the giggles over that! People probably thought we were drunk – laughing, stumbling over this obstinate suitcase, unable to get ourselves together…What a sight!

What a flight! (in the back)

I had a few days home to do my laundry, see my grandkids and repack to go back out to San Diego to speak for the crisis pregnancy center in Escondido. Wonderful event. From there I rented a car and drove up to Riverside to stay with my friends, Tony and Angela Ferraro. He is on my Ruth Graham Ministries board as well as being a good friend and trusted advisor. He and Angela are a dynamic couple with big hearts for ministry. His first book, Killing Cows, is due out before Christmas. I’ll let everyone know. Until then I’ll let you guess what it is about!

Then I attended and participated in the Raw Church Unconference at Sandals Church, Riverside. David Vigil, Blaine Bartel, Ed Gungor, Michael Cheshire, Ted and Gayle Haggard, C.J. Chaung and others were there to discuss the restoration process in the Church for leaders who fail. We discussed race and how to gracefully address that as well as same-sex attraction, among other topics. The conference was a safe place to discuss these sensitive, difficult issues. There was good stuff. What I took away was that it all boils down to “relationship” – with God, each other regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, religion…and that sin is an opportunity to show God’s grace. We are not called to be judges but to love each other.

I am not talking “woo woo” stuff but hard-core love when it hurts. I’ll write more about this later…but I want to tell you about my flight home…

This morning I was up early to catch my return flight from San Diego. (I drove down from Riverside last night, turned the car in, and got a hotel room and some snacks for supper so I would be close to the airport this AM.) Boy! I am thankful I don’t have to drive in California regularly!

I checked in for my flight but it was going to charge me for my checked luggage. So I had to iron that out – because I have the United credit card I don’t have to pay the fee. But I noticed on the seat chart that I was in the very last row back by the toilets. Again! But this time I was by the window. Land-locked! Brother. I asked the agent if there was a better seat. He said only middle seats were left and the plane was full. I was not happy. But I determined to try to make the best of it. I had a good book in hand. My nut mix and a bottle of water. This trip would only be 4 hours.

I keep telling God I want an airplane but He is not impressed!! And I don’t really want one – just the use of one!!!

A nice man was standing in the back and I asked him if he’d help me put my bag up top. He was more than willing and volunteered that he would help me get it down. I settled into my seat. Soon I realized that he was to be sitting in the aisle seat of my row. We commented that these really were the worst seats on a plane but at least we weren’t walking! Or riding a donkey or in a cart – like so many dear missionaries have to do. We both said we hoped no one was going to sit in the middle seat but it was too good to hope for. He happened to place the book he was reading down on the middle seat – it was written by my nephew – Tullian Tchividjian!

I had to comment! Now, if it had been one by my father, I would not have said anything but “Tchividjian” is a far cry from “Graham” and figured he’d never put the pieces together. I told him Tullian was my oldest sister’s son. He actually hadn’t read Tullian’s biography so didn’t even think of the Graham connection. We chatted as the passengers continued to get settled. Soon we realized no one was going to sit in the middle seat! God is good.

This man, Dave, was on his way back from a surfing trip to Hawaii. He is connected with Campus Crusade and is interested in reaching professors on college campuses. He played soccer for Yale, lives in Northern Virginia, was saved in his mid twenties, has a very tender heart for the things of God, 3 kids and happily married to a lovely wife. It was such a thrill to have sweet fellowship all the way across the country. He had great stories – that I can use for my next book as well as some contacts and resources for my ministry. (It didn’t take him long to put my pieces together and seemed blessed by it. He was really cool about it. Didn’t get all excited but seemed to have a deep appreciation and respect for my father.)

When he texted his wife, she said she had heard Anne, read Gigi’s book Weather of the Heart and had ordered In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart! Small world.

As the flight attendants served the snacks you pay for these days she said she would give them to us since we were in the “crappy” seats. She made up for the flight attendants of last week!!

So that’s what happened as I traveled in the back of the plane!

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In Over Our Heads

We are in a mess. In a pickle. In Washington. Unfortunately it is a dangerous one – our politicians are skating very close to the edge. We are in over our heads and sinking fast.

A storm is brewing. How will we handle it? Does God even care at this point?

I wrote about Jesus sending the crowds away. We need to send all that crowds and complicates our lives away: worries, tensions, demands, fears, guilt, shame…you name it. These things crowd our hearts and can paralyze us.

But what happened after Jesus sent the crowds away? He sent the disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the lake. He needed the alone time to pray. His cousin John had just been beheaded no doubt He was grieving. Jesus wanted to spend time with His Father. The disciples were experienced fishermen – very familiar with The Sea of Galilee. It was an unpredictable sea: “storms result from differences in temperatures between the seacoast and the mountains beyond. The Sea of Galilee lies 680 feet below sea level. It is bounded by hills, especially on the east side where they reach 2000 feet high. These heights are a source of cool, dry air.

In contrast, directly around the sea, the climate is semi-tropical with warm, moist air. The large difference in height between surrounding land and the sea causes large temperature and pressure changes. This results in strong winds dropping to the sea, funneling through the hills.”

One such storm blew up that day. The boat with the disciples was already far from shore and was “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” No doubt they were doing all they could to manage this bucking boat. Trying to man the oars, baling water, shouting at each other, frightened. Wondering, “Where is Jesus? We could use another hand here.”

The Bible tells us just before dawn, perhaps the sky was turning pink on the edges, Jesus went out to them, walking on the water. He knew exactly where they were, even if they didn’t. He knew what was going on. They saw this figure coming towards them and were frightened. They thought he was a ghost! On top of being afraid of the storm and worn out from the struggle against the waves, now they were terrified. Have you noticed how when you are tired, things seem much worse?

Jesus immediately speaks to them to calm their fears.

Peter, being Peter, asks the Lord to tell him to come to Him on the water. Sort of an interesting request, don’t you think? I am quite sure I would prefer the safety of the rocking boat. Peter wanted more of the Lord. Jesus tells Peter to “Come” and Peter got out of the boat onto the water and went toward Jesus. He was headed in the right direction. But he took his eyes off Jesus and in his humanness, the wind – loud, like a train roaring by – the the scripture says he “saw” the wind. We can’t see wind – just the results of what it does. Peter saw the waves, the whitecaps, the bobbing boat he just left.) His fear kicked in, he panicked and began to sink. Uh oh!

In those few seconds did he say to himself, “I was so stupid, what was I thinking? Why didn’t I stay in the boat? I could be safe. Now I am going to drown.” He hollers, “Lord save me.” Jesus simply, calmly reached out and caught him. Jesus asks why Peter doubted and why he had so little faith. The fear Peter experienced, the panic, obliterated his faith. It does the same to us, too.

Then I find it interesting that the Bible tells us, “They climbed into the boat.” Both of them. It was then the wind abated. So they climbed into the rocking boat – that is not easy! Can you see the Son of God, God Himself in human form, grabbing the edge of that boat and hauling Himself in – soggy clothes and all. Jesus was with Peter helping him, being there for him. Even in Peter’s fear. Sogginess. Doubts. Panic.

I am sure over the camp fire that night they must have laughed at themselves. And told the story many times over – the other disciples ribbing Peter.

The point is that Jesus is there for us…in our fears, worries, panic but when we give into them they will hinder our faith. Jesus takes note that as we obey Him we are headed in the right direction. He wants to grow, strengthen, our faith. And He will rescue us.

So when the storm comes, don’t panic. Keep your focus on Him. He has it all under control. Use the scripture to “take every thought captive” so we will not be defeated.

A national storm is coming. Where will your focus be?