Settle in, friends, because Melanie is at the writing helm and I've never been accused of being brief. Want the full story of how we bought our first home and moved states in a move we never saw coming a year ago? This is it.
Once upon a time, Andrew and I met in Dayton, TN and had our first two kids here. Before I could graduate, I had to do a semester of student teaching. At the last minute, our childcare plans fell through and we made a much-agonized-over decision to uproot from Tennessee to move to Cary, NC to have the support of my parents and sister who had recently moved there. Within a few weeks of us moving, one of my best friends started sending me house listings or photos on a regular basis, tempting us back to TN. Each time, I'd look at the photos (because who doesn't like to look at houses?), laugh a little, and text her back: not this time, not this house. At one point, I remember telling Andrew that if we ever moved back to TN, there were a few things I wanted:
1) I wanted to be at a place where I was okay with and we were able to buy, not rent.
2) I wanted to buy a house within walking distance to my friend's house.
3) I wanted a few acres to raise our family and garden in
4) I wanted a sunshiney house and yard
5) and oh yes, I wanted a pool. Because doesn't everyone in East TN have pools and isn't that completely attainable?
Andrew about laughed himself to the floor as he told me that all sounded amazing—and completely impossible. But it was a nice dream!
Originally we only planned to stay in Cary for a semester. We didn't expect to find a church we loved and to fall in love with our community there, or jobs that made a difference for us, or any of the other gifts and blessings that came our way over that semester...that year...the next year...the year after that…but somehow, nine years passed.
It wasn't all beautiful or easy. There was a lot of hard in there. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of grief, a lot of struggle. There were years where it was harder to be content than others. Seasons where I wondered if this was really my life, and the life I had to look forward to for the next fifty years. Months where we wondered if there would ever be light at the end of the tunnel, or when would we stop surviving and start thriving. There were big griefs: we lost six of our babies in North Carolina, and I will never forget preparing for one hurricane that was expected to be terrible in our area and wondering how to pack our son David's ashes to protect them in case we had to evacuate. It was eviscerating to even have to wonder about the logistics of protecting my son's remains.
There were seasons in NC where life flowed easily and we relaxed into friendships and enjoyed the blessings big and small that came from living near close family in the suburbia of a capital city near a beach and mountains, and there were seasons when I wondered if my time of dreaming was over and the best I could hope for was building a better life for my kids to dream in. There were seasons where we maxed out on field trips and greenways and parks and playdates and the amazing things North Carolina has to offer, and there were seasons that can only be described as struggle-bus Mondays the entire way through. We put aside some things that were important to us as a couple because they weren’t practical for us as a family. We said “no” a whole lot to things outside our family so we could say yes to intentional time as a family. We worked hard to make our little townhouse and patio area be a beautiful thing for our family rather than something we were in a hurry to get out of. So many intentional choices in the small things, but they rarely felt easy or went smoothly in the process.
And then... the sun started to peek through a little more.
As I've put time into my business over the last few years, it's grown to a point where that's a big part of our family budget and life, freeing us up in a lot of ways which a few short years ago we thought would be many years away. At one point early last year, I told Andrew that I thought maybe…maybe I was getting to the point (and our life was getting to the point) where I felt like maybe, possibly, maaaaaaaybe I could start dreaming again. That maybe things would start getting easier and better and maybe there could be some fun and good things to look forward to instead of just making the hard choices and having to say no to so many things we might really really like. That maybe some of the things we’d talked about once upon a time, and wished for, and thought about when we were young, and that we’d put aside for so many years as impossible, that maybe some of those things maybe could be possible after all.
While there were some hard things that came in 2020, Andrew was able to begin working remotely right around the time Marius was born, and having him home was amazing and wonderful and absolutely crucial for our family as my recovery afterward was long and difficult.
Some time last summer (2020), my friend sent me two photos of a house: the outside of the house, and the yard. I don’t remember her exact text, but it was something along the lines of “Guess what happened today?”
Turns out she’d had a dog show up on her lawn and in the process of returning him to his owner, she discovered he belonged to a neighbor down the street and over a little bit. In talking with the owner, she discovered he was hoping to put his house up for sale sometime in the near-ish future (maybe a few months? Maybe a year?). The house’s attributes? Over 2500 sq ft, four bedrooms, two car garage, several acres, walking distance from her home, and… A POOL!!! Estimates showed it was probably going to be within our price range, but we wouldn’t know for sure, and we didn’t know when it would be available, and it seemed too good to be true.
But those pictures grabbed me in a way other house photos hadn’t, and I kept thinking about them. One of my firm points to Andrew was needing to know that if we moved, we would still be secure in his job. Maybe a week or two later, Andrew got permission to work remotely for good, with an eye towards moving to TN down the road. Combined with my ability with Norwex parties to pick up and move, we went from looking at houses to buy in the greater Raleigh area (where competition was fierce and our budget didn’t stretch as far and we were looking at being likely 45+ minutes away from all of our friends) to… actually considering maybe, possibly, MAYBE moving and buying a house in Tennessee. Whaaaaaaaaaat!
So many things were still up in the air, though, starting with the house. We didn’t even know what the inside was like, and maybe it completely wouldn’t work for our family if we did know. We didn’t want to get our hopes up one direction or another, and if there was a possibility we’d be moving to TN in a year, we didn’t want to buy in NC before then, and we wanted to see how things played out with covid and the election and general craziness of the world. Plus—the house wasn’t available then, and we didn’t know when it would be or what a final cost would be or if there was anything in the house that would be a major “No” for us. So we waited, working to dig in and continue to live where we were at, while holding onto the possibility that maybe sometime in the next year, we’d have a house of our own, with sunshine and room to host and garden and run and SWIM.
Sometime in the fall, the opportunity came up for us to see the inside of the house. We hadn’t mentioned the possibility of the house to the kids before this because really, how likely was it to even happen?! But we decided to make the trip out to Dayton (eight hours one way) to see the house and get an idea of what it was like so we could rule it out or…continue to live in the limbo of wondering what our future might hold. Just before we came out, my friend had the opportunity to walk through the house herself and video it for us, and we watched that video probably twenty times. It was blurry and and dark and fast and hard to see at points, but it was exciting and full of possibilities. When we got to Dayton, Andrew and I got to do a brief walk through of the house in person. I’ve never been much of a lawn person—give me all the flowers and plants and herbs and cottage gardens—but I fell in love with the yard right away. It was grassy with flowers in and around it and edged completely by woods for privacy. And that pool. THAT POOL. Did I mention it had a sunshiney pool?! If you know me, you know sunshine and water are crucial, and aside from being sad to move away from friends in NC, the idea of moving farther away from the ocean shrivels my soul if I think about it too much. But a pool we can use anytime we want? That…that’s life-giving right there.
The inside of the house was perfect, too. Older, and we knew we’d want to repaint and update some of the aesthetics, but the homeowner was wonderful and meticulous and gracious, and the house? It may not have been what I would have thought I’d choose for myself if I was working from a blank canvas, but it called to us, and it was the perfect blend of well-taken-care-of home mixed with the opportunity to make it ours. Did I mention that I’ve never lived in an owned-home? I grew up in rentals around the world and Andrew and I have never taken that step to buy—somehow it’s seemed so much more scary and full of responsibility than having kids or being able to up and move states. I’ve always loved the freedom of renting and not feeling tied down to a building or location. It’s taken me years to get to the point of being okay with settling down enough to buy, and one of my fears has been buying a home that ends up being a money pit. This home was clearly loved and kept up well in a way that reminded me of my grandfather’s care for his home and property and hearing the updates and talking with the homeowner eased a lot of my fears.
We went back to Cary knowing that if the final numbers were within our budget, we wanted the home. That was scary to realize for me, but Andrew was excited and the house checked off all the things I’d told him years ago were important to me. We spent the next few months living in Cary, knowing that it was still very possible that the house wouldn’t come to fruition, but… there was the possibility it might.
Fast forward to this spring and the homeowner reached out to us because he was ready to sell—and it was within our budget! Even knowing it was a possibility, it still felt like a shock to me to realize this could actually happen. Apparently I have more fears than I realized because I worried from the time we put our offer in all the way up until we actually closed on the house that SOMETHING would happen to keep us from getting it. It wasn’t that we were moving states to move states—it was that this house was making it possible for us to buy, and if the house fell through, then we wouldn’t leave North Carolina, and I didn’t want to start saying goodbye to people in Cary only for the house to fall through and us to end up saying, “Just kidding, we’re staying!” It was hard for me to find a balance between mentally and physically preparing for a move, while also holding it lightly in my hands in case it fell through. Because really. How could a house so perfect for us actually happen for us?
A few things complicated the process for us. At Thanksgiving, we found out we were expecting again and would be welcoming baby #7 this summer. My health was still not in a good space with migraines and chronic anemia, and this was the first time I’ve ever been 100% shocked to find out we were pregnant. In all honesty, it took me a little bit to wrap my head around and be excited because I knew it was going to be hard—the timing, the toll on my health, my health’s toll on our family, and figuring out how to move when my pregnancies are hard in regular life as it is. Carpal tunnel and blood pressure issues were quick to set in, as were constant nausea and vomiting throughout the day. Needless to say, once we started packing to move, my inability to do much at one time or sometimes to do any packing at all for a few days at a time made the entire process much, much more difficult to manage, and pretty disheartening to boot.
We also discovered right as we were putting the offer in on the home that there’d been a change with Andrew’s work, and if we moved now, it would probably mean Andrew would need to give up his job and look for something else. For him, the idea of moving on from a job and coworkers he has loved was sad, and for me, it was a big deal as I wanted the security of the job, but over the course of the previous nine months, I’d moved from where him having a solid remote job was crucial for me to consider this move, to me trusting that God had made every step of this crazy journey possible and he wouldn’t leave us out on our own now. If I’d known last summer that moving may mean leaving a job he’s loved and coworkers and bosses who have been amazing, I would never, ever, EVER have said yes to looking into this house or even considering a move. It wouldn’t have even been a mental exercise to think about—just a solid “no.” But with each obstacle that came up or each point where we were in a “wait and see” pattern, it was so incredible to see how God took care of each thing to open the door at the right time to make this happen. I don’t say this lightly, but this house and this move and the way things unfolded and the improbability of this price on this house plus it having every single thing I wanted? I have no doubt that God worked the details out for us to make this move in this timing. Now I wonder if we didn't get that "yes" last summer--that I needed so badly then!--because it was the first step for me to be open to this move and all that is coming from it.
And so we’re here. In Tennessee. As of March 29th, we're homeowners, though it took us a little bit into April to finish up in North Carolina. March and April were incredibly hard months. So much more than I want to put online, but we had many challenges, from my health issues to an electrical surge and fire outside in our last full week in Cary before our initial move (try running an online business without internet and only intermittent electricity, or packing boxes in the dark with a baby crawling over everything and throwing things out) to all of us coming down sick with fevers and congestion when we came back to Cary to finish our final pack-up (having multiple people down sick with fevers anytime is miserable; doing it in the final week of packing and loading a truck is so much worse), to logistics packing up and getting back to TN, a stomach bug two weeks later, migraines and low energy throughout, fitting in final doctors appointments in Cary, finding new doctors in TN, and so much more. That’s not even touching on painting or caulking or unloading trucks (especially when the hired movers don’t show up; thankful for an eighty year old neighbor in Cary who came and helped us pack, and a new 80 year old neighbor here in Dayton who faithfully helped unloaded the entire first truck) or unpacking boxes into our new place. I am beyond thankful for friends who showed up to help unpack or paint or strip wallpaper or bring meals by or field kids, and for friends who prayed us through the chaos from afar or have answered question after question after question of mine as we go through a new-to-us process.
In all honesty, I don’t think we could have chosen a better time to move. It’s been chaotic, yes, and so much work and stress that despite all of my previous moves in life that I’ve always loved, I finally understand why someone could move and say they never want to move again (that’s me this time!), but 2020 showed our kids they can still keep up with friends and maintain friendships even when they aren’t seeing friends regularly in person. It gave us time as a family to slow down and prepare in our own time, and the big girls got to continue on with a passion of theirs from a distance: being part of Peace Church’s spring choir production, before it moves back to being in person this coming Fall.
We’re settling into life in Tennessee slowly. We've got more than one trip back to NC planned over the next few months and it honestly feels more like a "soft goodbye" than anything permanent since we'll still be visiting to see my family and come back for some medical trips and to see friends. We’re between jobs for Andrew at the moment, but my business will hold us through for now and we’re excited to see what the future holds. Going from 1200 sq ft to 2600 sq ft is pretty huge (literally), and I feel incredibly spoiled to be able to do laundry inside our home and not dread starting a load because I don’t want to go outside in freezing weather or rain or bugs. We’re a good ways from fully unpacked and not done painting a couple rooms, but I’m working to give all of us grace in doing this slowly, because life and kids and health and did I mention LIFE?! I look forward to the day we’re unpacked (or even halfway unpacked), but it’s going to be a while, and I’m working to enjoy the fact that this home belongs to us rather than focusing on how much more I wish I could get done right away. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way and every day Andrew and I wake up and sit in awe all over again that this is ours.
Back in 2020, my word of the year was “faith.” At the end of the year, I remember thinking that I really failed on that front—there’s so much I could have done better. And then I stopped and realized, 2020 really was a constant exercise in faith—in holding onto what I knew to get through all the uncertainties of what I didn’t know (and there was a LOT I didn’t know). From having a baby in the early stages of covid when things were SO unknown, to Andrew’s job changing, to opening up to the possibility of moving states, and buying a house, to living in the limbo of not knowing anything but trusting that God knows, 2020 was all about faith. 2021? When I sat down with friends in January to choose my word for this year, I kept coming back to one idea: dream. Dream. The last twelve years have been so much work and so much trucking along, trying to be faithful in the small things even when things have been hard, working to figure out how our childhood and teenage and individual dreams might need to change in light of the life we have together. This year, I’ve been reminded that dreams can come true and I’m not too old or too much a mom to have dreams of my own still. This year, with a baby we may have been surprised with but one we’re so excited for, and a house of our own, and several acres to run free on, and a freaking POOL and SUNSHINE and space to open our home up to others, this year? This year is for celebrating years of waiting and hoping and longing and struggling and working and finally, finally, finally, seeing some dreams come true.
That keychain with my word for the year on it? It now holds our new house keys. Hang on for the ride with us, because I have a feeling we’re just getting started!
Andrew and Melanie fell in love over late night snacks, dozing off in the middle of studying for exams, words, and a shared love for stories. We see stories everywhere: in the little day to day incidents and in the bigger sagas over days, months, and years of our time. We cherish the stories that root us and we rest in the Story that gives our lives meaning. We love seeing the threads of stories come together in gut-busting, belly-laugh-inducing, choke-on-your spit ways, and we love the gentle, quiet, easily missed stories that ultimately can play a bigger part in our lives than many other more obvious stories. We're young, we're old, we're growing, we're learning. We make a lot of mistakes, fall down a lot, struggle with life, sometimes sit in our sadness, but ultimately we pick ourselves back up again and keep on trekking. We're on a journey of parenthood now and have been for over ten years, learning and growing into it right along with our six children.