Meant for Evil… and our Gracious “Just Enough” God

*This article is written collaboratively by both Rondall and Pamela. *

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)

Those who follow this blog may have read the post, “A Birthday (and Holiday) Lamentation” written at the end of 2018. It was a difficult and personal post which Rondall wrote just before seven months of silence on this website. Our family of seven has been through a lot over the last year. This post will catch you up. So, grab a cup of coffee/ tea… or two.

Evil Meant

Over the last year in particular, we’ve thought a lot about this line from the biblical story of Joseph, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”. 

There is no doubt in Rondall’s mind that his siblings have meant and perpetrated evil against him and our family over the last year and a half, as demonstrated by their actions. He outlined in the Lamentation article, last December, how his siblings worked to keep him out of the vacant long-time family home (on which his Dad gave Rondall a purchase-option in his trust), how they attempted to have Rondall disinherited and thrown in jail through false accusations, and then forced us out of our home, making our family homeless. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have been on a wild ride. At the end of December, Rondall sent a letter to his sister with the Power of Attorney and Dad’s lawyer explaining all we had done to try to have sufficient income to be able to move out of the house. He notified them that if we were forced to move at that time, we would be homeless and said we would need some additional time to find employment enough to avoid homelessness. He knew it was a long shot, but he knew it would not be his father’s wish for us to be homeless, so it was worth a try. We didn’t hear anything for about three weeks, so we thought they were allowing it. No news is good news, right? No.

Without any communication from his sister or Dad’s attorney, we were served notice of an eviction lawsuit that was filed against not only us but also our two adult children. His sister could have simply told us “no” when we requested more time so we would have had a definitive answer. Instead, she decided to take the most aggressive approach available to her. We couldn’t risk an eviction on our records, or our children’s, as it would impair our already uphill path to securing housing. This seems to have been a part of her calculus. In fact, we were told as much by the eviction specialist lawyer she paid for with Dad’s money, the fourth lawyer employed. So, we moved out… without anywhere to live. The court date, ironically, was set for Valentine’s Day. Exhausted after many months of being harassed primarily by two siblings and seeing the harm they intended toward us, we were able to get things packed, the house cleaned, and everything moved into storage by the 13th. Since we were no longer in possession of the premises the eviction proceedings were dropped.

At the court proceeding, Rondall was shaken to the core by his sister’s callous demeanor. There was no sense of empathy nor regret that “it had to come to this.” Instead, there was a sense of smug self- satisfaction- she had finally to put him in his rightful place, as she deemed it. When she exited the courtroom, she actually gave Pamela a taunting, self-gratified smile.

Living Without a Home

We spent the next month homeless.

Thankfully, we were able to utilize a county program that gave us a 14-days in a motel room to stay near our children’s work. Another program then provided another 16-days in a seedier motel about 50 minutes from where the school aged children and Pamela were staying during the week. Sadly, our children now know what a prostitute working from the side of the street looks like. The vouchers only covered a single motel room… for a family of seven (and two caged pet rats). During this time, Rondall continued looking for work. He spent hours each day applying for any academic position for which he was qualified knowing this was a make or break moment and represented our only hope of secure housing. He’d actually been applying regularly over the last few years, but academic jobs are not easily secured. He also took the C-BEST (the California Teachers test) so that he could substitute teach while waiting for an academic job to materialize. 

Pamela was commuting about 40 minutes each way to work. During that month, she and the school aged children stayed with friends near their school since the closest available motel was half-an-hour away. No friend could house them for more than five nights, so they spent Friday nights through Sunday afternoon crammed in the single motel room in which the rest were living. She would drop the kids off early at school some days. Some days a friend would get them ready and drive them so she could get to work on time. Some days Rondall would have to drive the half-hour to fifty minutes to their schools and pick them up after school because they couldn’t be left alone where they were staying. Once Pamela got back from work, he’d then have to dart back to pick up our daughter from work.

During this time, we were diligently searching for housing, knowing full well that it’d be an absolute miracle to find any. Due to a mediation agreement, we had money in the bank with which to rent but we were still not able to rent. In California, you need an income of three times the rent before landlords will even consider you as a tenant. We did have enough income for a few homes. But California has a significant housing shortage, especially of affordable houses. Our income was cobbled together from several sources which made it unappealing to landlords. We were struck the first time we went to look at a rental home and found 10+ other families waiting, before he realtor even arrived, to tour the house. We did apply for several homes but never heard back or were rejected from all of them.

During this horrific time, we had been incredibly blessed by the help of two friends who kept our cats and dog for us. Our cats weren’t yet a year old but provided much comfort for all of us, especially to our children with autism. Our dog had been a part of the family for 11 years.

Two weeks into becoming homeless our autistic adult son who was really struggling with the loss of home and routine lost his staffing agency job. It was his first job ever.  As a result, we no longer had the family income to qualify for a rental. We really had no idea what we were going to do. None. We had money in the bank, but potential landlords would not consider our application without the requisite income. A friend was helping us by calling around frantically trying to help us find a place. She, like us, was getting desperate. She was realizing what we already knew… we were in an untenable situation, a downward spiral, through no fault of our own. With only a couple of days left in our subsidized motel stay our friend happened to connect with a family friend who had a small home he was willing to rent to us short-term while it was on the market to sell. It was an incredible help, but we knew it was only short term.

Not a Care

During this entire time of homelessness not one of Rondall’s three siblings inquired as to our well-being. None of them asked if we were okay. None of them asked if we had any place to sleep. They had maliciously forced us out of Dad’s long vacant second house and into homelessness- showing no care whatsoever about the effect of their actions. Further, during our month of homelessness the house we were coerced out of sat vacant. In fact, it has been six months since they forced us out and the home still sits empty and has yet to be sold, or even put on the market—even though the stated need for removing us from the home was so that it could be sold quickly. The repairs they have made did not require the home being vacated and the lawyer argued that since the home needed to sell immediately, they could sell it without making the repairs. Additionally, Rondall’s brother has yet to return the easement that runs straight through Dad’s property to his brother’s adjoining property. The immediate return of the easement was a part of the mediation agreement since he has a separate driveway and the easement only serves to devalue Dad’s property. This was signed and agreed to by all siblings, but they are refusing to comply.

The reason they gave for needing to quickly force us out of the home was the money from selling that house was needed to cover Dad’s expenses. It sounds reasonable, if it were true. Dad has several pensions that amply provide for his needs. If Dad’s lack of resources were really at issue, it would not have made sense for them to spend in the neighborhood of $40,000 of Dad’s money to force us out of the home. Further, Dad owned property out of state that could have well covered any deficit for the rest of Dad’s life.

A mere eleven days after taking us to court to force us out of the family home, Rondall’s eldest sister informed him that Dad was being moved to a care home. This was a process they had quietly started several months earlier but were trying to keep hidden, violating the mediation agreement in the process. The move meant that his monthly expenses would drop to approximately half of his income. It also meant that the home he was living in could be sold—as it now has been. The family home we had been living in clearly did not need to be sold.

The timing of the family friend letting us move into his home was providential. We had only two days left with motel vouchers and nowhere to go. We were trying to wrap our heads around what living in our vans would be like, and how we would possibly survive, let alone function. Just a few days after moving into the short-term rental, Rondall had video interviews with two universities. They went well. One led to the job Rondall just started.

Joseph and His Brothers’ Sin

Over the last several years, the biblical story of Joseph has continued to resonate with us.

Joseph, from the Book of Genesis, is famous for his coat of many colors. That coat was a gift from his father Israel (formerly named Jacob), as an expression of Israel’s deep love for Joseph. Unfortunately, Joseph’s siblings were jealous of that love. One day, when Israel sent Joseph to check on his brother’s, they decided to kill him. The oldest brother, Reuben, talked them into just throwing him into a pit.

It is interesting that Reuben planned to save Joseph from the pit, later. But instead of being willing to stand up against the evil planned by the brothers, he tried to manipulate it while maintaining his own standing with the siblings. He didn’t truly stand for good. He hedged to not be as bad… but not so much as to risk the disapproval of his brothers. 

While Joseph was in the pit, his brother Judah said, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” While recently rereading this story, the narcissistic reasoning of Judah really stood out. He ends his argument by saying they shouldn’t lay a hand on him; he was their brother. What a good guy…until one realizes that he started the argument by saying, in effect, “Hey if we kill him, we won’t make any money!” So, they sold Joseph into slavery. This instinct of siblings trying to appear good while doing evil is far too familiar.

When Rondall’s siblings tried to have him thrown in jail (you know the story if you read the Lamentation article), it occurred to us that such an action was the modern day equivalent to selling a sibling into slavery. 

Joseph and Reconciliation

To make a long story short, Joseph becomes a slave in Egypt then rises to power becoming second only to Pharaoh, saves his family from starvation, and eventually reconciles with his brothers. But it was a very long road, at least 22 years. On that road, Joseph tested his brothers requiring evidence of true contrition from them before reconciliation was possible.

To save his family, he relocated them to Egypt. It is interesting that even after the reconciliation—seventeen years later after their father’s death—the brothers feared that Joseph would repay the evil they had done him. They still couldn’t imagine someone not holding onto hate as they had and not repaying them for their evil deeds. They even lied to Joseph saying that their father had explicitly asked him to forgive them, which Joseph had already done years prior. Despite their contrition over having sold Joseph into slavery, there was still much sin in their hearts. They didn’t seem to truly understand grace, nor could they imagine Joseph extending grace to them. Instead, they were quick to lie to protect themselves. But Joseph answered them, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

One of the great ironies of our situation is that for years Rondall has felt called to the academic life. He has enjoyed being a department chair and teaching at several institutions. But, getting a tenure-track position is often described as winning the lottery in academic circles, as such positions can be elusive. When Rondall’s siblings began their attacks, he was working full-time on a PhD. and Pamela was a full-time college student. The lease we had with Dad actually stated that the purpose of him granting the lease was so we could finish school.

Nevertheless, Rondall was increasingly frustrated with the significant challenges of getting back on the tenure-track. So, in addition to PhD. work he had spent the previous year building a business, preparing for the potential of leaving academia altogether. His sibling’s onslaught killed that business just as it was starting to gain traction. Inadvertently, they created the very path which led to his current tenure-track position. What they meant for evil, God meant for good!

We have both been Christ followers since childhood, but we have seen in this situation many instances where God used the darkness and treachery of others for good in amazing and unfathomable ways. There can be no doubt it has been incredibly stressful, especially during the times when we saw absolutely no path forward and felt we were on the very edge of destruction. We have seen that God always gives us just enough. He has been and continues to be our Jehovah Jireh, our provider, our God who sees.

Just Enough

There are too many instances of God’s provision for us over the last year to list, but we will share a few examples with the hope that should any reader be in a situation they feel is insurmountable, or where they feel God is silent, our story might provide them with hope and encouragement. As we were pushed into homelessness, God repeatedly provided just enough, just in time, in unexpected ways, even before we knew we needed it.

-Our moving to Dad’s vacant house delayed the homeless by six months. When Rondall’s oldest sibling took control of Dad’s finances, she suddenly and without communication stopped the stipend Dad had been depositing monthly. He was committed to keeping his promise of helping Rondall complete his PhD. Rondall’s parents put two of their other children through law school, so this was not an unusual situation. They were incredibly generous to their children and supported and encouraged any form of education that was sought. Even though Rondall still had at least a couple of years to go in completing his degree, the stipend was just entering a mutually agreed upon draw down phase with our having moved to Dad’s house.

-Moving to Dad’s house put us in a much better school district which provided our daughter with just the help she needed in getting her educational Autism diagnosis about which we’d been wrestling with her former school. This new school finally saw her for who she was and met her needs. This was a HUGE blessing!

-A good friend payed our car payment for two months while we tried to get on our feet after Rondall’s sister unceremoniously cut the stipend. And friends across the country told Pamela to set up an Amazon wish list for our children’s school supply needs. They provided everything we needed, and some. Shoes for our three school children were provided by someone we didn’t even know!

-Our church gave us a check for exactly what we owed on our electricity bill that was two days from being disconnected. They had no idea what we needed nor how much. The church continued to help us for several months, it was a huge blessing and made all the difference. Two men in the church replaced the brakes on our old van, a repair we could not afford. We had stopped driving it due to safety concerns. That van was critical to our survival as we became homeless and were split up as a family.

-While we were homeless, it often was not known until about two days prior where Pamela and the children would be housed the next week. But God always provided, and sometimes through people we really didn’t even know that well prior.

-The two different county programs provided the housing we desperately needed for a month. This helped to delay the depletion of our resources which proved crucial to our having the needed funds to secure housing in our new state.

-A good friend installed a tow package in our van to help us in our cross-country travels. After an order snafu with the wiring harness we originally ordered, the company gave us one for free. It arrived the day before the planned installation.

-Rondall began the initial application process for his current position in January. He did the initial interviews (a phone interview and two less formal phone conversations) prior to becoming homeless. In mid-March, once we were in the temporary rental, he had a place from which to do a video interview which took place only a few days after moving in. Weeks later, Rondall was offered and accepted the position. When Rondall inquired, his new employer increased their typical relocation package due to the distance we’d have to travel. It was increased just enough so that it entirely paid for our household goods to be transported to our new state. This was an amazing help!

-Two months after Rondall was asked what he might want from his Dad’s house, and just weeks before we moved, Rondall received word he could pick up the furniture. The furniture turned out to be exactly what we needed and fits perfectly in our new house. God provided what we needed even before we knew we needed it and made sure it was given with just enough notice.

-Another friend, who lived more than two hours away travelled to us to help us move things from three storage units to our temporary house and into the moving trailer. We were all SO exhausted and worn out by that point, it was an incredible blessing to borrow someone else’s strength and energy.

-We were blessed with free places to stay as we travelled across country through our network of friends. These friends not only provided places to sleep, but they also fed us, and gifted us gas money/cash, as did several others. In fact, one gas card arrived the day prior to our moving. Talk about amazing timing!

-After we arrived in our new state, we providentially found a house in a very tight market in only two days, in an ideal location in relation to Rondall’s work. Our friends, once again, asked what we needed to make it through, including what might help organize the house which has very little storage in the living areas. Our friends provided such love and care in their gifts, gifts which helped begin our healing and began to smooth what had been a very rough road. They even encouraged us to forgo our reluctance to ask for anything other than prayers and good thoughts.

-We didn’t have a second month’s rent when we moved into our house and were totally walking by faith. Through our friends’ help, jobs found, and miraculously extended credit lines (just in time), we have been able to cover rent and basic bills until Rondall’s paychecks begin. We have not been able to keep up on everything, but we have had just enough to know we will be fine. God has provided richly, and we remain in both awe and great gratitude. He has made a truly wonderful way when any way at all seemed impossible.

False Care

Rondall’s siblings have seemingly done their best to destroy him. They have demonstrated the grace of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Dad’s estate lawyer, selected by the siblings who has helped them undermine Dad’s clear wishes, actually brought up that comparison. Yet, God has shown grace. He has taken what they meant for evil and used it for good. They have caused us great pain, but God has proven himself, once again, to be far greater.

We think of Judah, in the story of Joseph and how he tried to twist his evil idea of selling his brother into slavery, rather than killing him, as evidence of his goodness. This type of spin we know all too well.

We’ve watched the siblings praise their care for Dad as they have isolated him from Rondall—he has not been able to spend any of the holidays with his Dad since the mediation even though mutually agreed upon shared holidays was part of the mediation. We’ve watched them isolate him from his long-time friends and place him in a rural eldercare facility that basically just allows for him to sit and watch television all day.

When we visited him, we noted that there weren’t even photos of Dad’s late wife of ten years in his room which struck us as a cruel thing to do to one losing their mental faculties. We’ve watched them congratulate themselves as they have moved Dad’s complicated primary medical care needs from a respected medical doctor in a top-tier university system to a small-town nurse practitioner whose training we have been unable to discover. Both the nurse practitioner and the elder care facility owners are church friends of Rondall’s oldest sibling.

More recently, several people told Rondall about a public Facebook post where his brother gave “a shout out to [Rondall]” and claimed to be “so happy for him and his family.” Both sisters responded. One saying she was “So happy for my brother!!!” and the other crowed that it was wonderful news, “a great adventure for the entire family,” and addressing Rondall by name exclaimed “Well done.” That all sounds great; it looks great. But there is a problem. You see, Rondall is not connected to any of his siblings on Facebook and has been blocked by his brother which means he cannot see his brothers posts or any comments under them, even if they are public. Rondall made the comment after finding out about the post that those comments were the nicest things two of his siblings have ever said about him—or to him. But, Rondall clearly was not the intended audience. It seems to be little more than a public posturing; an empty public show of care with no real substance.

There are appropriate times to block people on Facebook and Rondall has no objection to his brother blocking him since his brother has systematically worked to destroy the relationship over the years. It is what it is, and Rondall accepts that. But, the public “shout out” and congratulations by all his siblings shows their hearts, and the disposition toward deception. They say proud congratulations portraying themselves to be loving and supportive all the while knowing how they have treated our family and knowing that Rondall can neither see nor respond to their words.

None of his siblings have congratulated Rondall personally and only one sibling has said anything remotely resembling care to Rondall this year, and even that was a lot closer to the passive aggressive, ‘I hope this draws you closer to God’. Unknowingly, Rondall happened to exchange emails with all his siblings about Dad’s care the day after they all posted their public congratulations. Yet, none of them offered privately what they publicly proclaimed. There were no words of congratulations or even acknowledgement. We only knew about the odd public post through other connections.

Back to Joseph…

It was over two decades from when Joseph was sold into slavery until he reconciled with his brothers. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said, “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you.” This may be the hardest admonition in the whole of scripture. We struggle, we fail. Rondall, in particular, still tears when he sees expressions of love between adult siblings on TV.

Despite all this, God is not capricious. He is faithful. What was transparently meant for evil He has used for good.  By his grace, He has allowed us to learn to lean on him more. In a way, He has allowed the passive aggressive wish of Rondall’s sibling to come true. He has used their contempt to reveal Himself even more to us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In our darkness, He has been our light. When all we could see was the hate of a few, He has shown us love through the hearts and hands of so many more!

We have a large network of friends who have graciously shown great love and concern over the last many months and who have steadfastly rebuffed his siblings attempts to smear us through private messages. Our friends have truly been God’s hands which have allowed us to have just enough to keep going, often emotionally but also, at times, financially. They have reflected Christ’s love toward us, lifting our arms when we could not. When we have been reluctant to share needs, they have admonished us. When we have felt alone, they have reminded us we are not. They have consistently pointed us to our Father in heaven who cares for us just as he does the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields. When we have felt as though we are crazy because we simply cannot fathom the depth of the hate that has been directed toward us, they have reminded us that the crazy does not lie with us. They have shown love and friendship when family has shown it has no understanding of either. 

God has shaken the dust from our feet and allowed us to cross the Jordan. He is faithful. He is good!

 (Side Note from Pamela: When we lived in CA before moving to Rondall’s family home, we lived in a place named Providence Walk. Many were the days that I’d think on the name and marvel at how it seemed to describe our lives in so many ways. In our new home, we literally cross a road named Jordan on our way home. I chuckle over God’s Providence… and his humor.)

Rondall

Rondall Reynoso is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a PhD in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Rondall has shown his work in over 80 exhibitions internationally and his scholarship has been presented at conferences and published in both the U.S. and Canada.

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