It oftentimes takes courage to say that something isn’t working anymore, and truthfully, it hasn’t worked for some time for us.
A little over five years ago our family left Michigan for a dream that included a simple life in rural Tennessee. This is how Ryan and I operate – we hear “GO!”, and we go. We married quickly, Ryan moved to Michigan within months of proposing, and we moved to Tennessee after seeing our current house once. We are decisive, informed, and not prone to obsessing much about how our decisions will be perceived by others outside of our immediate family. To reference a Biblical metaphor, we move with the cloud.
We purchased a big, potentially beautiful, total renovation job of a house that overlooked the Tennessee River with the most breathtaking 30 acres, and we began building a simple life with our new family of 9. We worked hard. Really hard. Ryan renovated over 5000 square feet with his own two hands. He added bedrooms and bathrooms and worked magic with the hard clay land we inherited. We learned how to garden and raise chickens and make kombucha and sourdough starters and brick oven pizza. YouTube was our faithful teacher, and we devoured the knowledge she offered.
We joyfully added Annabelle to our family in 2015 – a dream come true as Ryan and I wanted to experience having a child together. I wrote and published a book, finished a Master’s degree, and obtained a teaching job. When we desperately needed resources for Luke but were unable to find them, as a true first born Enneagram 1 would do, I took matters into my own hands and started The Lucas Project which is currently on its third successful month of providing respite days for special needs families.
We’ve sang and celebrated and mourned and fought and screamed and loved and lived and danced in the rain with bubbles trickling down our bellies when all of our plumbing burst. This life has been joy filled. This life has been hard. It’s been life changing. It has served its purpose and now the grace has lifted. It’s time to say goodbye to our rural life.
A reason for a season as my wise former pastor would say.
This transition has been simmering for about two years and intensified to the point of tangibly taking steps to look at properties after Ryan’s numerous health scares this past summer. We realized we could no longer continue on this hamster wheel of isolation with 8 kids. Every doctor’s apt, grocery run, eye, dentist, restaurant, church, school activities, yoga, gym, sick kid at school, Wednesday night church, hardware store, school drop off, respite days, library, ALL 30 minutes away. And then 30 minutes back. Times 10 people. Times two towns. Times a Luke who doesn’t like new experiences or long care rides. Times it’s too much. It has caused us to become angry and isolated and panicky and clinging to each other for dear life rather than relying on other people to help us.
We are desperate for community like a fish is desperate for water, but it won’t happen here. We’re just too far away, and we have too many other hurdles in our life that make it nearly impossible.
We have searched high and low for help in all kinds of areas – child care, house cleaning, plumbing, maintenance, carpet laying, everything and anything, and it’s not readily available, and so we’ve gritted our teeth and born the heavy burden. We’ve taken care of business like grownups do, and then we looked at each other one day and barely whispered “We don’t have to stay here.” We spoke the truth which is always the first step towards change.
We did believe this was our forever home, and we poured our souls into it like it was. We believed in this simple dream of ours with every cell in our beings, and we still do in many ways, but not in rural America. Not in this isolation anymore. Not with 8 children. Not with 4 teenagers who need activities. We need for them to have activities to participate in so that we don’t have to burden all of the eye rolls alone. Seriously. There can absolutely be too much togetherness – especially within the age group from around 12-17.
It’s time to trade the physical beauty for messy, joy filled community somewhere in Tennessee. We love Tennessee, and she is our home for the time being. And as the whispers became loud vocalizations, the process of finding a community and a house began, and we weren’t exactly sure where that would lead.
We wanted to down size from our large 5000 + square foot home to something more manageable. We needed at least 5 bedrooms. We wanted acreage in a neighborhood because we do still believe in a sustainable lifestyle. We wanted a mother in law suite for Luke and his future aid (God willing). We wanted to be close to schools, a church with a special needs ministry and a gym. We wanted to be near a hospital just in case. We wanted pizza delivery. We looked and looked, in town after town, and we were disappointed time and time again.
I looked one last time while I was in Michigan for a conference. I found what seemed to be the perfect home near Nashville and met our realtor there. It was nearly perfect and reminded us of our current home. Ryan saw it a few days later. It had it all: six bedrooms, 3500 square feet, two acres in a neighborhood, all of the schools within 4 miles and a huge community center with a gym, three pools, fitness classes and future plans for a multi million dollar all inclusive playground set to break ground next year. We both had job opportunities come up within miles of the property. There was also a church a mile away with a special needs ministry, a mother in law suite for Luke, and every pizza delivery option imaginable.
We purchased this home and are moving next summer. We, kids included, are finally starting to exhale a tiny bit as we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our family has been simmering away on the back of the stove, melding into this new blended family of ours, slowly but surely without very many distractions, and now it is time to join the feast of community (a reference to my next book 😊) Rural life offers beauty in so many ways but the beauty has begun to suffocate us as our needs are so vastly different than many people’s needs at this time in our life.
What does this mean for The Lucas Project? Well, nothing really. The need is still huge in rural communities and the chapter we began in Savannah will continue. My non-profit dream began as a desperate need for help where there wasn’t any, and that need is still present. Once our initial site is firmly established, we will take applications for the next site in rural Tennessee and so on and so forth, God willing. It’s all in his timing and in his purpose as are all of our lives.
This has been an ongoing, agonizing decision for many months now as part of it feels like a failure to walk away. I’m the ‘just keep livin!” girl. I have this unbreakable persona – which by the way, is not entirely true. We’ve been broken repeatedly here in this land; this life. Broken in good ways as we shed that which is no longer or was never really us. This land has stripped us down to the shell of our beings and now we’re rebuilding that skeleton with new flesh – flesh that is ready to join others in community flesh. There are numerous sad goodbyes as we move forward – people and experiences. We’ll no longer be able to drink in the natural beauty of the early morning sun peeking through the clouds while sipping coffee on the porch. We’ll no longer hear the coyotes howl in the night. I’ll no longer be able to dance down my deserted dirt road, shaking my fist at the sky while singing at the top of my lungs, ‘BURN THE WHITE FLAG!” or fall to my knees during times of quiet desperation, lifting my face to the Heavens, hidden amongst the trees. Sad goodbyes are always part of change as they are a part of life.
We have met beautiful, wonderful souls doing amazing work out here who we will miss with every fiber of our being, and we will be forever grateful for the time you precious people have poured into our lives, but the grace has lifted, and we no longer speak of forevers. The cloud is moving, and we, as we always do, will move forward step by step into the next right thing. Stick around for the new adventure. It’ll be fun.
Just Keep Livin.