It seems like so long ago that we were soaking in the sand and sun. But really, I think life has just been full for the past two months and August seems like an eternity away. We spent this portion of our trip with Steven’s family and drove through the Michigan countryside to get to little Traverse City. It’s more touristy in the summer, and the beaches were full, but we rented a boat and spent a long and lazy afternoon out in the wide open water just soaking in the breeze and the coastal smells. It did my heart good to relax and just be for a day, watching the schooners enjoy all the new sights and sounds. Cuddling them with no hurry, and no agenda.
We parked the boat a few times and jumped in to cool off. The water was absolutely freezing! But on a hot day, it did wonders. I felt like I was back in a 1994 summer in Delaware with my cousins on my Uncle’s boat…jumping in and water skiing as little 10-year-olds. If you saw an old picture, you would find drip drying braids and a bright life jacket, much like Emma Claire in these photos. When life comes full circle like that, it hits me hard. Many good summer memories I have. Many good summer memories we hope to give our kids.
We weren’t able to explore much of the little downtown, but I did steal away to meet up with Megan and Mike for some coffee at Morsels. I’ve been following Megan’s journey since I discovered her Paris adventure on Pinterest…we were the same age and the more I read, the more I saw that she was just going for things. And that really inspired me. I saw, for the first time, that by simply living out your dreams and writing them down, you can change someone’s life. And I guess that’s when I came to terms with being a blogger. I embraced it. I went after things. I worked harder. And tried more.
I’ll always remember this summer as being the first true adventure logged in our journals. We drove around in our old Buick, filled to the brim, logging in hundreds of miles. While in Canada, the locals asked us, “Why here?”
Steven and I looked at each other and just smiled knowing smiles, “Because we’re on a quest to see the world….and you’re our first stop.”
People have asked us for the past couple of years where the idea of simplifying our life, traveling more, and wholeheartedly believing in giving our children experiences over things came from, and I’ve always been at a loss for words. Because I wouldn’t say it came in one lightbulb moment, but rather evolved over time. A long, hurtful time. And to understand that, you kind of have to know our story…
When we moved from South Carolina to Oklahoma in 2011, I had just turned 23 years old. I had been married to the love of my life for 3 years and in those newlywed years dealt with struggling finances, renovating/living in a house that was a dump while being pregnant, and parenting a toddler, my husband working three jobs, pregnancies, a miscarriage, my grandparents’ deaths, the unraveling of suicide in the family, my own depression, and 4 moves.
When we boarded that little plane in Greenville, SC, to embark on an adventure to Oklahoma, people thought we were crazy. And we kind of were. My husband had gotten the job promotion we had been praying for, and we were looking for change. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was 35 weeks along with our third baby and we had a 2 yr-old and a 1-yr-old. So we packed up what we thought we would need to live on for a couple of weeks before the movers could pack up our house and send it to an unknown address in Oklahoma, sent a couple Facebook messages to a friend Steven had worked with for a summer at a camp, and bought one-way tickets for me and our 2 girls. Those first couple of weeks in Oklahoma were faith-stretchers. Steven was back and forth between the coast and the midwest, we lived on very little money, borrowed time with my pregnancy, and the generosity of perfect strangers who had taken us under their wings.
And that was humbling for me.
We looked and looked for a house to rent, but couldn’t find anything in our tight budget that seemed worth dishing out our hard-earned cash for, so we decided on a very basic 2 bedroom apartment that we really did love. And it was small. Very small. With the most basic amenities, but very within our budget. And when the movers delivered all of our stuff? You couldn’t walk in the apartment, let alone see anything because the boxes were piled from the floor to the ceiling. I’m dead serious.
We were coming from a 2,100 square foot home with an unfinished basement that stored all of our tools for the renovating we had done, and an acre plot land. It was quite clear. All of our stuff was not going to fit in this little 1,100 square foot apartment. So we were faced with our first milestone in our journey to simplify our life: do we get a storage unit, or do we give away the things we can live without?
We chose the latter.
We gave a lot away to friends and loaded up our mini van from ebay to the brim and took trip after trip up to Goodwill. I prayed each time Steven would take off with another load of my nice, Gymboree clothing and our baby equipment I had always thought I needed, and my Pottery Barn outlet finds, that God would put the right people in that store who needed our things.
In the course of about three days, at 38 weeks pregnant, we downsized our things by %50. I couldn’t believe that although I was 40 lbs overweight, I suddenly felt so light! There was a peace and a relief that settled into our little home that only me and Goodwill could ever understand. We could settle in for baby now. We bought a set of bunk beds for the girls in the second bedroom, and I bought a small side chair at TJ Maxx for the living room and that was it. We were ready.
And then God sent the blizzards…and we weren’t ready to deliver a baby at home. (You can read that whole whirlwind story here.)
Looking back, I wonder how we lived in that little apartment with three babies. How we stayed sane. And then I remember Abraham Lincoln lived in a one-room cabin with his family. You know? I mean, have you ever read even a teensy bit about Abraham Lincoln? He was awesome.
I also think there is a part of me that loves the idea of living against the grain of culture. Of doing things that are slightly crazy, or don’t make complete sense. I know the criticizers in the world love to pounce on people or situations like this, but if I weren’t ready to hear it, I wouldn’t be writing this. You see, for several years I felt this overwhelming need to explain ourselves and the decisions we made as a family to other people. I hated that I lived in that trap, and yet I couldn’t seem to get out of it. But God slowly freed me of that in Oklahoma. I guess we did one too many crazy things, fell on our faces one too many times, and I just came to terms with the fact that we were a work in progress. That I was waaaay harder on myself, than what other people were. And my perspective had gotten very self-focused to think people even cared what we did anyway.
After the apartment, we moved 4 times in the span of 2 years. We had put our house on the market in SC and needed to cut our costs here in OK significantly to afford both housing expenses, so we signed up to do show homes. They are homes on the market that you rent for a very reduced rate (ours were $400/month) and the pay-back is that you must keep them spotless for showings, and be ready to leave within an hour if a realtor calls you wanting to show a house. Oh, and you move when the house sells. We had realtors show up at our door and want to look at the house on the spot. We had people drive by taking pictures. We had an inspector show up once when I had a friend and her kids over for lunch and the realtor asked us to leave. And we did. The lasagna left on the kitchen table.
I had always considered ourselves pretty flexible people, but this. This really made me see we had room for growth! I was waking kids up from their naps and hustling to get the house perfect for showings. And it wasn’t long before we quickly realized – we need to downsize again.
So we did. We paired down our belongings to about a third of what we started with when we moved here from South Carolina. No microwave. No frilly baby items, just the bare necessities. We got rid of so many clothes, to the point that I was down to about 8 outfits per child. Steven and I shared one dresser (we have always done that) and it was comfortable again. We boxed up all the toys that were broken or that the kids never played with, and only kept what could fit into one small closet. We kept only what we were legitimately using, and what held sentimental value to us. And the rest? We gave away or sold.
We were beginning to experience a turning point. As we lightened our load and got rid of the excess, we began feeling more and more liberated. And less and less hindered. We began looking at life like not what is the next thing we can get, but what is the next thing we want to do? We began focusing on things in our family that had long been crowded out and ignored and began seeing monumental growth in our marriage and our idea of relationships as a whole. We began traveling and taking the kids on small weekend adventures in Oklahoma. All the free state park kind of places, museums, and libraries. We took a trip to our friends’ Missouri farm…where life is far from the city and very very simple. And we just kept soaking it all up.
Life was beautiful. Life was thrilling. Life was valuable…even without all the stuff.
I began wondering how we ever lived any other way.
I began dreaming about the future again and allowing my mind to wander….what if we actually pursued our dreams? Not just talked about it, but did them. What if we dared to live a little braver, and get outside of our comfort zones? What if we set our own course for our family, and not the one we were expected to take? What if we viewed our school choices revolving around what we wanted for our family, not what felt normal? What if we were givers? Not just thinking about the next thing we wanted to add to our wardrobe, or the next really nice car we wanted to buy. But what if we gave? To people. What if we viewed our stuff as not ours, but God’s? And not just said it, but actually lived it. What if we got over ourselves and our own agendas, and began seeing the world? Like, really seeing it. The needy people. The hurting people. The insecure people.
The ones who were just like us. Who had been where we had been and where we still are sometimes, with their own stories.
And I don’t know. Somewhere along the line, we changed. We’re still changing.
I guess what I’ve learned from our simplifying journey is to keep an open mind. You’ll feel like you have to do what other people are doing, or “fit in” with clothes and cars and houses, but I really think the whole thing is a trap. A trap to get you to always be looking for something, something you’ll never find it. You’ll always want something you can’t have, or wish you could be someone else and have their “perfect” life. But it’s all such a lie. Such a cultural thing we’ve created in America, that bigger is better, and more is cooler.
When Steven and I were shooting the Red Carpet event two weeks ago, I overheard Leland Orser talking with what looked like an extremely wealthy Tulsan. He said, “I used to think I had to keep up. And when I finally realized I didn’t, it was so much better.” The wealthy Tulsan agreed and they shook there heads knowingly, like a huge weight had been delivered from their shoulders. Here was a person who had fame, a successful career, and money, and he was saying it all wasn’t what was truly important. I am amazed that over and over again, this same idea has been reiterated in all the biographies I’ve been reading about successful actors and royal family members. Like God keeps sending me little hidden messages and if I look really hard, I see them.
I hope that we can be in our own home someday, like the one we have in South Carolina that never sold, where I can pick the paint colors again and salvage historic wood for my countertops. I would love to have a guest room and be able to give people a place to stay. I heart J. Crew clothes and I would rather have one pair of pants by them, then a hundred from Target. And I certainly have my wardrobe wish list. If we have another baby, we’ll need to get another car and we’ll definitely need tobuy a few clothes, because I gave away all of ours.
But I want to hold loosely to all of that. I don’t want to be clenching those things in my hands so tightly that if God asked to take it away it would cause me to despair.
When people ask why we have made the choices we’ve made in the past few years, how we got on this idea of simplifying and downsizing, and experiencing more, I guess you could say we saw that life was short. We saw that we only get one shot at this. And we wanted to live a well-examined life. We may be in our twenties, but we’re going to believe the 80-yr-olds who tell us it all goes by so fast. We’re going to believe the successful artists and creatives who have “made it” and who we look up to, and take what they say to heart. We’re going to believe the word of God when He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
We only have one life. And I guess we know how we want to live it now.
Here’s to more adventures!
(This is in no way a post about people needing to live their lives the way we live ours. This is to tell our story, for those of you who have asked, in an effort to inspire and encourage and to give our God the glory for the work He has done in our life. I hope and pray my honesty here touches someone’s life today and gives you a small peek into our hearts. As always, I love reading your comments, and they truly make my day. But please leave them under that light.)
Northport, Michigan. A little village nestled in Leelanau County, with quaint, small shops and a lighthouse at the nearby state park with rocky beaches and the prettiest blue skies. When you pay the entrance fee into the park (around $8 – $10) you can walk up to the lighthouse and from there it’s a short walk to the beach along a narrow gravel pathway with wild blackberry bushes growing freely on the sides. We ate our fair share, but shhhhhhh. Don’t tell.
When you get to the water, it is absolutely breathtaking. Words just cannot describe it and pictures truly don’t do it justice either. All I can say is, you should go sometime. The kids played in the rocks and explored in their saltwater sandals. I had taken the plunge and bought some for the girls at the end of the summer right before our trip….why I waited so long I have no idea. Shoes typically have a short life-span around here, but the girls wore them everywhere and they have held up remarkably well. If you’re a new mother and wanting some free advice, or an old-timer whose frustrated with millions of pairs of shoes. Take it from me: it is worth paying a bit more for one really good pair of shoes that go with everything, than buying several and trying to keep track of them all. Keep them in a basket by your exit door in the house and religiously make the kids put them in there. After 5 years of parenting, that’s the sum of what I’ve learned. Impressive, no?
After the beach, we drove back to little Northport, the tiny town we passed through on our way to the state park. We got ice cream and coffee at Kamp Grounds Coffee and Creamery. It felt right to end the summer that way. Strawberry, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan…nothing can beat it! If you make it to Northport, you must stop in and at least say hello. It is nestled into an old millhouse with tiny treasures and an event center with painted wood floors. It is only open seasonally and there was hardly a soul there when we went, so check before you go to see if it’s open.
I look back on these photos of our trip and feel certain there was something that awakened in all our souls. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it was there. I could feel it. Shiloh in particular came alive during our northern travels and I saw her breaking out of her quiet and reserved shell to talking incessantly and singing passionately. Those photos of her on the rock were not staged (most none of my photos are) and they show her singing at the top of her lungs to the sea. When she realized I was there watching her she flashed me the biggest, most sheepish grin. I’ll never forget that.
I think Steven and I learned a few things on this trip about ourselves. And maybe relearned a few too. Isn’t it funny how you forget who you are when life demands so much monotony? The day in, and day out, and you need to take a step back from it once and awhile to reevaluate who you are and what you want to contribute to the world. I have so many thoughts about this. What is the mark I want to leave? Who are the people I want to invest in? How do I want to be remembered? Steven says I’m borderline morbid. And maybe it’s true. But I love to think about life like the long haul that it is, and breathe in the fleeting days that pass. I know all-too-well that you can have a person one day, and not the next.
Steven and I have dealt with much loss in the short 6 years we’ve been married. I haven’t talked about it much on here, but Steven lost his dad shortly before we began dating. We walked through the unraveling of all that…I was 18, he was 20 at the time. We got married and I lost my grandfather 3 months later. Our first trip as a new couple was to Delaware for the funeral. As a newly wed (and pregnant with Emma Claire) I spent almost every day in the nursing home with my grandmother after the stroke that left her mostly paralyzed and her mind gone. Feeding her spoonful by spoonful her lunch. Talking to her about my Pop Pop and the farm and the children who needed to be fed. She had lost her mind, but she still loved. Oh so well. And it broke my heart into tiny pieces seeing the end of life so fragile in front of my very own eyes. She passed away after Emma Claire was born with a yellow rose for her first great-granddaughter. And my heart broke into tiny pieces all over again. After the girls were born, I miscarried in 2010 with no warning. All that loss really changed Steven and I and made us come to grips with a few things…
I think loss demands things of you and makes you view the world differently if you can get past the bitterness and allow yourself to feel again. It makes you want to live a well examined life. A life lived freely, loving on people just as Jesus did when He was here. I think about that a lot too. How Jesus loved so well. How he didn’t hold back his kind words and his giving hands. He opened them freely to people. He gave freely. He felt deeply. And when I think about what I really want in life, I think that sums it up. To love well, and live well.
Steven says I’m raw. And open. And easily hurt. And I guess that’s true. I’ve worked a lot on that in the past few years. On being stronger. On fighting my battles. On facing fears. But when I travel? I see the worth in those two sides battling it out with each other. On feeling, and trying to be strong…all in one breath.
When people ask us why we travel. Why we can’t get enough of new places. Why we take our three small kids on these long drives and stay up really late some nights, and get up really early on others. Why we drive old cars and live in a small house. Why we plug away to become financially free.