The Dreams of a Stranger (A Miracle Remembered)

*This is the story of a miracle that our family experienced a year ago. Not a day has gone by that we have not felt the significance of it. God answered the deepest prayers of my heart and even beyond that, he met needs I did not know I had. I wrote many of these words at that time, just before the final reveal of this dream-come-true. I have struggled to know how to adequately express my gratitude for how good God has been to me and my family. A year later, the only thing I know to do is share my story. It is a story that begins with the dreams of a stranger.

On November 22, I got a random message from someone I barely knew. Hi!! Weird question… are you home?

I thought it was odd, but odd things often happen to me, and I said, “Haha. Yes, what’s up?”

The next text came: Wondering if I could stop by real quick? I know…so random… Just trusting the Holy Spirit nudge. I would only stay 2 min…

It was dark.

“Sure,” I said.

See you in 10.

Heather knocked on my door, I answered it, and she smiled a beautiful humble smile, stepped over the threshold, and said these words to me:

“Hey Mackenzie. I know you are going to think I’m crazy (big, brave pause…), but can I see your basement? (Another pause…) Do you have a basement?”

And this was the beginning of the conversation that is now changing my life. The beginning of the story of a miracle.

Randy and I first stepped over the same threshold, into this house, 14 years before. It looked different then. It was a brand-new, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house. At the time, I didn’t think in terms of square footage, because my world was wide and still expanding, but this house was 1400 square feet of glorious space, and it was all ours. I knew I belonged there, moving through the yellow kitchen with the slant of late afternoon sun hitting the table. And in our deep red study in the wide corner of our bedroom, shelved with our favorite books, where we drank tea in the afternoons. We felt extravagant owning it because it was new and beautiful, full of character and walking distance to a small, historic town where we felt at home. We jokingly referred to it as The Chester Mansion when we had parties or get-togethers. It was clean. And quiet. And calm. And there was plenty of room to grow.

We spent our days working jobs, writing songs, and playing shows on weekends.

The following winter we had our first child. Our sweet Rosie, who changed our lives forever. We moved her to the corner of our upstairs bedroom and became a family.

A family that grew. A year and a half later, we had another baby. Paloma. Then came Kells, followed by Remy, followed by Heidi. Here I will pause.

Seven years later, our house felt increasingly smaller. By this time, we had moved our bedroom downstairs, and all five of our children shared the upstairs room. I felt claustrophobic in my own home. We taught music lessons several days a week in our living room, which meant that our children had to be quietly squeezed into one room for hours at a time, only coming out in 30 minute intervals if completely and absolutely necessary. We had people over in shifts all afternoon. While Randy taught guitar, I would sometimes visit with the mother of a student in my small and overly-crowded bedroom. In my memory, I see a bed, a couch, a tv, bookshelves, baskets of laundry, every surface piled high with papers and books, buckets of blocks and cars and trains overturned on the floor. And the thought of square footage became a reality to me. Because we had so little. And I longed for more.

This is when I began praying about our house. I did not see how we could fit another child into the dream-home we bought when we were young and the world was expanding, back when we were carrying a vision for our future that somehow didn’t include living in this house with a family. I was too overwhelmed to consider selling our house, because that would mean every room would have to be clean at the same time. Which seemed just as impossible as time travel or moving Mount Everest or sleeping through the night.

Life had changed for us. We were playing fewer shows, settling more into family life, still trying to share our stories and our songs. I traded coffee shops where I loved to think and write for the corner of our living room. This is where I started my blog and where Randy began recording our songs. The same living room became the intimate venue where we shared our music. We recorded live videos from the couch after our kids went to sleep, and our home became the stage from which we shared our stories.

There was a long moment where we felt too overwhelmed to have more children. We prayed desperately for a clear answer to the question: Should we be done? I felt maxed out on sleeplessness, on discipline, on space, on thought, on energy, on patience. I made the iconic pros and cons list, hoping to shed some light on the best course of action. The pros for being done stretched to the very bottom of the page. The cons were two things: 1)I wasn’t sure if it pleased God for us to make that decision at this point. 2)I had a name for a boy that was not yet born.

And so I picked up the phone on a Friday and made the most impractical decision of my life. I canceled my Monday appointment to have my tubes tied. And I said yes to the idea of more children.

And I knew that it was faith. And this is where the miracles began.

When I learned I was pregnant Azalea, I knew I was at the end of my own resources. We were not in crisis, but the amount of energy required to constantly dream up how we could make life work as a family of 7 in a 2 bedroom house was exhausting. We worked from home, we homeschooled, we ate 3 meals a day all together every single day at the kitchen table. We recorded music, we made prolific creative messes, we had people in and out almost every day of the week for music lessons. I felt trapped in this house, but because of an economic shift in the house market, selling was not an option. When I turned to God in prayer, it was in desperation.

A couple of months before the baby was going to be born, a friend called and told me that she wanted to enclose a large segment of our front porch to make a music room, where we could teach lessons without having our students enter the main part of our house. She gifted it to us at a great personal cost. Her sister was an architect with the eye of an artist, and we watched as the transformation happened before our eyes. It was a race to finish before the baby came. And it was finished just in time. A room that was not only functional, but extremely beautiful. Built with love and skill and attention to detail, walled with wood that had history. Randy and I began teaching music lessons in that wonderful space. Our children were free to spend the afternoons in any part of the house they wanted to go. If we had friends over, they could play in the living room. We could have tea in the kitchen. When we weren’t teaching, we put a small portable bed in the new space, and our little Azalea Jane slept in the music room, adjacent to our own, for the first year and a half of her life.

Despite the beautiful addition, in January of 2018 I woke up and knew it was time for us to move. I couldn’t see the layout of our house ever working for a family of our size. I began to clean one room at a time and photograph it. I filled journal after journal with prayers for a new house, the right house, a house where I wasn’t spending one-third of my life trying to make it work… We decided to turn the large upstairs bedroom into two to add value to the house. We split the room and cut open to the wall to make a closet, and to our surprise found an 8 x 12 foot attic space. This surprise was a small miracle of its own, and the closet became the munchkin bedroom of Heidi and Azalea. All prospects for selling and buying fell through. Closed door after closed door. I finally felt that I needed to rest my restlessness and trust that if God wanted to give us another house, He would give it to us without me throwing my life into the zillow vortex. I began to settle back into the home he had given us and be grateful for the changes that we had made. We thought we were making them to sell our house, but it turned out we were making them to make our lives better here. We had somehow turned our two large bedrooms into, for all practical purposes, four. It made life easier for a season.

I still had a name for a baby in my heart. And on the page of my journal, I gathered my courage and made a definite decision that I would not refuse to open myself up to the possibility of having the child that I knew was one day coming because we didn’t have a big enough house. Another leap of faith. Another season of prayer.

I miscarried the same year. My Daddy had helped me plant a beautiful garden early that spring. I will never forget how the marigolds and mint in the May-showers ministered to me from the window of our music room. How our house held me in my secret sadness, how I gained strength there, how my family gathered around me in those walls and brought me back to the beauty of life.

And then came Rune. When I found out he was a boy, I knew that I would finally see the face of the baby that had given me courage to walk in faith. My heart turned back to the house. I made lists, I brainstormed, I prayed for a vision, and for God to intervene. And I got an idea. I sent a text to the father of one of my piano students, a man who had a concrete business, and asked if he would be interested in bartering lessons for pouring a floor in our dank and musty, dirt-floor basement. To my astonishment, he said yes. And so we began the process that I never thought would be possible–creating a basement that we could use as part of our living space. We prayed and asked on facebook if any electricians or builders would be interested in bartering music lessons for labor. God brought both to us, and so on the most meager budget you can imagine, our house became bigger than we ever dreamed it could be. When I was in labor with Rune, our builder-friend was finishing the staircase that connected our house with the space below. It was a miracle. And I knew that God had heard my prayers and that he was pleased to give us this child and to provide for his needs.

Yes, the floor was concrete, and it was cold in the winter, and there was naked insulation in the walls and ceiling, but it was usable space with a hope for a future. Randy put a shop in, he walled up a utility closet which later became my office. In this space, I created a journaling course, wrote dozens of blog posts, and began a podcast in 2020.

I knew God had provided this for us, and that He had worked in so many ways to miraculously make our life work each time we said yes to another child in this unlikely home.

When we found out we were expecting again, I knew our next need was more bedroom space. A light bulb went off when I thought of the shop room in the basement. How it could be perfect for Rosie and Paloma. I started making plans, but quickly learned that by no stretch of the imagination would we ever have the funds to buy a storage building that could be Randy’s shop, and heat the basement, and add a drop ceiling in that room, and just in general make it feel like a room that wasn’t a dungeon for them to sleep in. My heart went out to these sweet girls, ages 13 and 11, who help me so much with my life. I know they have felt squeezed in our home just as I have, as child by child, they have selflessly given up more and more of their space and privacy as I have. What I had dreamed was possible for them was a shut door. I began to pray that God would intervene.

I knew I couldn’t spend any more time looking for houses. I had seen everything. And the last thing I wanted was a bigger house and more debt. It was depressing and overwhelming, and more than that, it was just a huge waste of my precious time. I knew that the only way to make our space bigger was to get rid of stuff. So that is what I started doing. With a passion and fury that only a nesting Mama can muster, I began getting rid of everything I didn’t like, everything that I thought I might fix one day, everything that I thought was a great buy but never used. Clothes, books, kitchen gadgets, dishes, toys, anything and everything. I went through every room of my house. I took vanfulls of stuff to the thrift store, feeling lighter with every load gone. I was on a rampage. People had to hide their stuff.

In my heart, I knew that God was going to either give us a lead on a new house or help us to come up with some creative solution to how we could add another child to this one. Because I was truly at the end of all my own resources, ideas, and energy where making it all work was concerned. I felt that I was waiting on a miracle, because there was nothing else I could do. And getting rid of stuff was a small act of obedience and faith, trusting that I was getting ready for whatever God had in mind.

And then it happened. About six weeks into the great purge, I got the text. Heather showed up on my doorstep. Late at night. With a beautiful humble smile and eyes twinkling as bright as stars.

“Can I see your basement? Do you have a basement?”

It turns out that this beautiful soul, who barely knew me, had been having dreams about my basement. Knowing nothing about my years of prayers, page after page in my journal where I had poured out my heart to God for more space for our children, for a way to make this house work, for an answer to whether we should go or stay… All she knew was a nudge from the Holy Spirit, bringing me to her mind over and over again. And dreams about my unremarkable unfinished basement.

It turns out that Heather runs a non-profit organization in my wonderful Northeast Georgia community called The Everyday Good, where she has begun a movement of everyday people seeing the needs around them and reaching out to change lives for the better. And standing in my living room, before ever walking down into my cold, dark basement, she leaned in like a lifelong friend and half-whispered that she believed The Everyday Good was supposed to do some work in our basement, and asked me if that would be ok.

In that moment, every prayer I ever prayed flashed before my eyes. I stood on the threshold of my house of miracles, humbled and in awe. Through tears, I nodded, knowing I had been seen and heard by God. That He cares about these children we were bringing into the world. That He is able to answer our prayers in ways that we can not fathom. Our earthly resources are nothing compared with his riches. He can access the dreams of strangers. He can bring hearts and hands together for the common good of others. He can give a visionary woman the faith to rally a group of people who can grab hold of my mountain and cast it into the sea. Nothing is impossible with God.

Two months after this conversation, we packed up our suitcases and moved into a cabin for three weeks. We had no idea what we would come home to find, but we knew God was working out all of the details. 

We didn’t know about all the people who had rallied together to meet our needs. We came home to a party with balloons and cupcakes and 900 square feet of beautiful, inspiring, warm, inviting, colorful, wonderful space. There were flowers in the once-bare garden boxes. Through tears, I saw a houseful of people who had served our family, welcoming us in. They had put in a kitchenette and a bathroom and built a bedroom for our oldest daughters. They put in a heating system and finished all the walls and floors and ceilings, with a beautiful color palette and attention to detail. It was decorated like a picture in a house in a magazine. But with all of our books and treasures in it. A place I wanted to be. The house was deep-cleaned almost beyond recognition, and there was new furniture in all the living spaces, as well as brand new mattresses on every bed in the entire house. Every child had something special in his/her room. Every child saw the incredible, lavish love of God. 

We learned later that over 60 volunteers had been in our home, selflessly giving their time, money, and support to our family. Most of whom we had never met. Words on paper cannot describe the palpable love of God that lingered in every room of our house when the job was done.

This is the work of the Kingdom. This is the kindness of our God. He is the God who sees our hearts and hears our prayers and is able to do more than we could ever think or imagine.

He cares about the hidden details of our lives. And He is able and willing to work miracles.

The day after we came home, Paloma, my eleven-year old daughter, looked up at me with the sweetest, purest expression on her face and said, “Mom, this is like the best dream ever.”

I agreed.

This is the God who hears and attends to our secret cries. When we are at the end of all of our resources, he is richer than we could ever imagine. He cares about the dreams of our hearts. And he can use any source He desires to bring them to life. He can even use the dreams of a stranger.

mackenzie chester family large family dream come true, the sacred everyday, the everyday good, miracles
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