Over the last eight years transition has become almost a way of life for us. If you’ve ever lived in a similar space, you know how trying it’s tension can be. I spent a considerable amount of time last year trying to make sense of where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. Writing this essay was an extremely therapeutic exercise for me, helping me define the values and lessons we’ve learned that have led our family to where we are today.
By sharing this here, I am in no way trying to say that the decisions we’ve made for our family are the right decisions for yours, or that they’re better in some way, or harder than the difficult decisions I know you’ve had to make too. I’d simply love to invite you into our story, hoping it might encourage you to live out the story you want to tell with your life too.
Our lives unfold as stories, filled with the characters and action it takes to move us forward. For some, and in certain seasons, those stories are given as a gift–like a script written to perfection, waiting for us to open and live into. For others, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance, we become the storytellers, wrestling away the pen, doing the hard work of authoring the story we want to tell ourselves.
Ours has been a combination of both.
My husband and I knew how fortunate we were in our early twenties to do work we loved in a local, stable church. When the state office of our denomination called out of the blue with a position for each of us in their youth department, we accepted without reservation, and immediately packed up our lives in the suburbs of Chicago for what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
The move took us four hours south on I-55, halfway between Springfield and St. Louis, to a very small town–as rural America as we’d ever been. The entire transition took one month–from the initial phone call to our first day on the job–and we fell into our new routine with ease.
Our work was more exciting than we’d dreamed, allowing us to network with like-minded leaders all across the state. We loved the travel, the long nights, the high-energy events. We cared deeply about what we were doing, and knew firsthand the reward that comes from having real and meaningful work to do with our days.
In our free time we remodeled our first home, making that beautiful white colonial both a beacon and a haven. We were a team, my husband and I, in every sense of that word–sharing life, and work, and love like very few married couples can.
With few exceptions, and without any real effort, our lives felt as near perfect as they could be.
Fourteen months later, I was pregnant. While most couples experience a profound sense of joy the moment they discover they’re going to become parents, ours resembled something more like shock, disbelief, and fear. We knew we wanted to start a family in the way that you acknowledge you’re going to grow old–it happens. Someday.
That collision of someday and today was a force we struggled to reckon with. We felt too young. We had just bought a house. We really, really loved our jobs. We had no idea how we could fit the idea of family into an already very full, very meaningful life.
We wrestled with the idea over several weeks until we could think through the panic, and our hearts started warming up to the idea that we were going to have a baby. We were going to have a baby. And tell our families at Christmas. And live happily ever after in the house we’d finish remodeling, at the jobs we loved so much.
And then we miscarried…
And it felt like everything, everything in our lives had shattered into a million impossible pieces.
For the next several months we limped forward with a secret hole in our hearts. Our work was still wonderful, our house still beautiful, but the only thing we could see now was the chance of the family we lost.
Then favor and blessing, and grace upon grace, we were pregnant again, and in just a moment’s time he was here. Peering into our hearts with his big brown curious eyes. Causing us to pause just long enough to really examine the lives we were living.
Could we keep up this pace? Should we? Did we want to?
Traveling no longer held the same appeal. Neither did staying up all night planning for event after event. Or leaving this baby with someone we didn’t know, in a town whose customs we still didn’t quite understand. Our extended families seemed a million miles away, and the home we lovingly remodeled felt less like a retreat and more of an island whose isolation brought more sadness than peace.
Is this really the story we want to tell?
All the reasons we loved our jobs and loved our lives began to unravel because this tiny person came and made us a family. The mountain of our priorities shifted seismically. When looking at the life we had and the life we really, truly wanted, the decision became remarkably clear.
We had to start over.
Armed with little more than the desire to be a stay-at-home mom, and my husband’s longing to go back to school, we put the white colonial on the market, resigned from our positions, and moved into my grandparents’ vacant two-bedroom home back in Chicago. We chose the story we wanted to tell over the big house, and the dream jobs, and the comfortable life. We chose family and trusted all the other things would eventually fall into place.
It’s been almost eight years since we made that move, and I wish I could tell you that we have since seen the reward of our bravery and courage to make some of the unconventional decisions we have. Staying home, going to school, building a family, and then choosing to homeschool that family are not decisions most make. In truth, this has become a much more arduous and anonymous journey than we anticipated.
We thought my grandparents’ home would be a temporary residence–three months, maybe four–until we figured things out. Instead, it has become the home we brought two more babies into. The home that holds the vast sum of our memories as a family. The home our boys will remember first, and most.
We thought going back to school would be easy. Quick. A one-way, for-sure kind of ticket into a new career. We’ve learned that balancing school, and work, and marriage, and family is harder in some ways than the busyness of the life we left, and that you can be highly educated and still under challenged, under resourced, or under valued in more jobs than we believed possible.
I thought being a stay-at-home mom would be simple–a little love and tenderness sprinkled over the babes with grace. But mothering is messy. The days are repetitive and often lonely. There is no second shift, and for all the joy that it brings, it is near impossible to relay what mountains I must climb in a day.
In the last eight years we’ve struggled to afford two homes–the one we lived in and the one we desperately wanted to sell–until it nearly broke us. We’ve spent mental and emotional resources every month to make ends meet with a host of jobs that barely pay the bills, experienced miraculous provision in the absence of work, and heard a thousand no’s for every simple second interview.
We have learned the sobering reality that not every good choice–even every right choice we’ve made–is an easy one. That sometimes the things we want in life have to be earned through the blood, sweat, and tears of showing up every day and giving a thousand percent in anonymity.
We’ve discovered who our real friends are–the ones who loved us before we mattered to anyone else, and the ones who love us still. We have been humbled to accept that life is not about the home, or car, or things we have, or jobs we do, but about the people that are in it–the ones who love us and we love back.
We’ve discovered a depth to our faith we would have never known had everything always been so easy. We’ve learned to lean in to the promises of God even when we cannot tangibly touch them. We’ve learned to pray, to listen. To rely on Him for our daily bread. To trust in His goodness, His faithfulness, and to expect that He still has great things in store for us.
On the days I start to get a little wistful, emotionally and physically tired, my husband gently reminds me that no one gets to have it all. That the sacrifices we’ve made for the life we long for hurt just as bad as the sacrifices of our neighbor. They just hurt in places we’ve decided we can live with.
Even though it’s been hard. Even though we have encountered frustration, and challenge, and disappointment, we are still living the dream.
I see it every time I look into the wide brown eyes of my three little boys. I hear it in the conversations we share around the table and at bedtime. I feel it on our family adventures and in those brief moments we get a glimpse of the life we’ve been striving for, that is almost within our reach. By faith, I know the end of this season is coming and we will be thankful not only for the dream we are reaching towards, but for the dream that’s become a reality.
Our story has taken us places we never thought we’d go, to experience things we never knew we wanted. But this is the story of our choosing, and I wouldn’t have it told any other way.