Following a Dream

I apologize in advance, because this is a wordy post.  In fact, it will probably go down in history as the World’s Longest Blog Post (I’m sure that’s in the Guinness book somewhere), but it’s a story that must be told.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10

Many years ago, when we were first starting out in our relationship, Shawn & I talked about what we would like to do in our future.  The idea came up that we would like to own some land.  We dreamed about what we would call this land.  I jokingly said, “Did you know that our last name, Hevel, is in the word heavenly?”  We laughed and then said, “Why not?  We’ll call it Heavenly Acres Homestead!”  We had no idea how heavenly inspired that idea was and how, one day, God would show us how he wanted us to use this future land for His Glory.

Shortly after the idea of Heavenly Acres was born, we bought our first house.  It was .11 acres and smack dab in the middle of a very urban city.  We started jokingly referring to it as “Heavenly Plot,” but it was ours and we could finally start talking about what we would actually do with land, and a home, of our own.  Surprisingly, we had never thought about, or discussed, what we would even do with all this future land.  Enter our good friend, Christopher.  He had met Shawn at church and asked if he could catch a ride with him to the weekend men’s retreat.  On the way there, he mentioned to Shawn that he was a life coach.  At the time, our personal lives were a disaster and we decided to enroll in his “boot camp” style program.  He asked us what we wanted to do in the future, what were our hopes and dreams?  We only had one answer, “We want to buy some land and call it Heavenly Acres Homestead.”

“Great!,” he responded, “What is Heavenly Acres Homestead?  What does it look like?  How will you use this property for the kingdom of God?”

We looked at each other and realized that we never really discussed any of this.  He encouraged us to pray about it.  “Ask God to show you what it looks like.  Get specific.  Where is this land?  What will you do with it?  God will answer you.,” he implored.  So we prayed.

God answered us, but it came more in bits and pieces.  First, God answered the where.  At first, it came as a vague answer.  We felt the Spirit telling us our future land would be in a city with the letter C.  We were very convinced this meant we would be moving to Charlottesville, VA, a city we both loved.  So we started to look for property in Charlottesville and planning to relocate.  Then one evening I had a dream that changed everything.  In my dream, we were tilling the land.  I could see us working in the field and there were others working alongside us.  As I walked the land, I saw our home but there were other homes as well.  Small little cabins.  I suddenly realized that these people who were working our land with us had been staying on the land with us.  Then I knew that they were there to learn from us.  They were learning how to provide for their families and cultivate their own food.  As soon as this realization came upon me, I heard one of the other families ask, “where are we again?”  To which another family responded, “Chattanooga.”  Then, I woke up.

“Chattanooga?!  Where the heck is Chattanooga?!,”  I asked myself.  I ran to the computer and did a quick Google search.  There it was, “Chattanooga, Tennessee.”  I looked at some of the images of the land around Chattanooga and was amazed at how much it resembled the land in my dream.  I had never been to Chattanooga, and to my recollection had not seen any images of Chattanooga, so I was blown over by this.  I picked up the phone and called Shawn at work.  “I know where God wants us to buy our land,” I said.  “Where?,” he asked.  “Chattanooga, TN.,”  I said.  Then he laughed, and I told him about my dream, and we both agreed that we should look at Chattanooga one day.

The answer to what we would do with our land developed slowly over the next 5 years.  While living at Heavenly Plot, we began to learn how to become more self-sufficient.  We started first, by applying the principles of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  We purchased our food from the local farmer’s market or in bulk at the local health food store, and reduced the amount of pre-packaged food items.  We recycled our dish water and used it to water our garden.  We started composting and reducing our water usage, and we learned that we really enjoyed this way of life.  Suddenly, the desires of this world became less important and we started connecting with each other, and our land, in a new, more meaningful way.  We realized that we were both being given the desire to do this on a much bigger scale, and that on our future land we wanted to teach others to do the same.

Then there was the last question, “how will you use this land to further the kingdom of God?”  As much as we prayed, we still didn’t get clarity on this question.  But we knew that God would answer us in time.

So, over the next several years we paid off our debt and worked hard to prepare for our future land in Chattanooga.  In the summer of 2013, Shawn’s parents told us they wanted to take all of us on a family vacation and asked us to pick a location.  It took us less than a minute to come up with an answer….Chattanooga!  Why not go see this future homeland for ourselves?  We were almost 1 year from being able to move and had never even been to Chattanooga to see if we liked it!  They agreed and in August we finally got to lay eyes on “the promised land.”  Shawn and I arrived a day early and decided to go to the local farmer’s market.  We thought we would take the scenic route and talk about our future property.  We both shared with the other that we felt God wanted us to use our land to show other families how to live “off-grid” and provide their own food.  We felt He wanted us to prepare His body for the coming difficult times, and that he would use our land as a way to minister to those in need of food and shelter, to prepare for His coming.  We looked at each other in amazement, that we both had the same realization and neither one of us had shared it until now!  Then we turned around a bend in the road and saw this:

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I think it was that exact moment when we fully realized who was driving this whole thing.  We felt humbled.

After a week in Chattanooga, we were smitten.  When we left, it felt like we were leaving home, but we also knew it would be another year before we could move there.  We felt like Caleb and Joshua when they went to spy on the promised land, and we wanted to take the land NOW.  When we got back to South Carolina, Shawn decided to start investigating the costs of moving.  Surprisingly, it looked like it could be affordable, but it felt like there was still so much holding us back.  Shawn would have to find a job, we were tied to a lease on an apartment for 3 more months, we still had $4K in debt that we couldn’t afford to move with, our son would not have enough time to adjust to the idea of leaving everything he knew behind and starting over, it just felt like we had too many obstacles in the way to move.  On a whim, Shawn decided to put his resume out there and see if there were even any jobs in Chattanooga.  That was August 21st.  On August 27th, he was being interviewed for a new job, and by September 9th he was officially an employee.  We were moving to Chattanooga.  The rest of the story will blow you away, so strap on your seatbelt because here goes!

Our first concern was how we would work out the living arrangements for Shawn’s new job.  Would he live in Chattanooga while we waited for our lease to end in South Carolina?  Where would he stay?  How would we afford it?  Would he be able to come visit us on weekends?  While we were trying to figure all this out, Shawn’s boss asked him when our lease would end.  After hearing that it would be another two months, she offered to let him work remotely from South Carolina until we were all able to move together!  I want to stress, that she did this without knowing that we were wrestling with any of these questions.  So that was that.  We knew that God was pushing us to go NOW to Chattanooga, but we still had to tell our son.

A little background before I continue, our son does not like change.  Not in the stubborn “I don’t want to change way,” but in the “my world is rocked when the slightest change happens and I think I’m going to lose my mind,” way.  You see, he has Aspergers.  A form of high-functioning Autism.  He likes when things are predictable, and when they aren’t, it feels like his world is collapsing.  When he was 4 years old, I replaced his “baby” dresser with a larger one that would fit all his clothes.  He cried about it for a week and reminded me that he wanted his old dresser for 6 months before he finally accepted that they were gone.  So we were more than a little apprehensive about telling him we were taking him away from everything he has ever known, and all his family that he loves, and moving him to a different state.  When we finally did sit him down to tell him, we were shocked at his reaction.  He was so excited he was ready to pack his bags and move right away.  Even after we explained that he wouldn’t get to see his grandparents as often and would have to make new friends, he said, “that’s okay.”  Stunned, I tell you.

So, with that out of the way we sat down and tried to figure out how we would budget for a move while still trying to pay off the last of our debt.  We had been working for 4 years to become debt free and only had $4K remaining.  We were really hoping to move debt free, but it was obvious to us that God was wanting us to move now, so we trusted that he would provide.  Then it happened.  God provided us with unexpected money that paid off the last of our debt.  Out of the blue.  It was almost as if He was saying to us, “Are you finished yet?  You can stop figuring out how this is going to work because I’ve already taken care of it.”  Finally, we stopped trying to figure it all out and just went with it, knowing that if a problem arose, God would provide.

So that’s the first half of our story.  God had prepared us for 5 years and we were finally moving to our Land of Milk & Honey.

For the sake of your eyeballs and brain, I’ll tell you the rest of the story in another post, but I’d like to leave you with these questions:

What are you being called to do to fulfill your God-given purpose?  When was the last time you asked God to give you a vision for your future?  If God has shared with you a vision for your future, are you pursuing that vision or running from it?

I promise you that God has a plan for you, and he wants to share His plan with you, all you have to do is ask.  And if you follow Him, He will blow your mind.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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It has taken me quite a while to write again on the blog. Partly because I am an admittedly lazy blogger, but also because we have been dealing with an unending wave of problems and I didn’t quite know how, or even if, I should write about them.  We know that we would not be here in Chattanooga if it were not for Yahweh moving mountains to make it happen, and I didn’t want to sound like a whining Israelite and complain about our current circumstances.   We know that everything we have experienced is just a bump in the road on the way to bigger and better things.  Yahweh is faithful to complete the work he has begun with us, so we didn’t want to focus on the problems and get bogged down with our current circumstances.

After much thought, I feel that it is important to document the entire process.  Not as a means of complaining about it, but because so many times (usually when I’m in the midst of a trial) I forget how Yahweh was faithful to bring us through previous trials, and it’s encouraging to look back and see how He provided for us.

Allow me to start from the beginning…  We had been paying rent on our apartment in Chattanooga for two weeks and were about two more weeks from our “official” move-in date.  We decided it would probably be easiest to split our move up into two separate trips (at that point we didn’t know a single person in Chattanooga and thought it would make the move more manageable, considering it would be just Shawn and I unloading all of our belongings).

When we arrived at our new apartment, they looked confused and claimed they could not find our keys.  This made us a little suspicious, but they did find the keys and turned them over to us.  Before we left their office, they asked us, “You aren’t moving your stuff in, are you?”  All of this sent our “Spidey senses” off.  We had been paying rent since the beginning of the month and couldn’t figure out why it was such an issue that we were moving in “early”.  Once we entered our apartment it was abundantly clear why they hesitated.  They had not done a single thing to prepare the apartment for us and were thinking they could bleed us of rent money for three weeks and we would never know.  The apartment was filthy.
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We threatened to leave and find another apartment to rent.  It took a good hour of negotiations with the apartment manager to work out an agreement for us to stay.  Of course, we were still left with the responsibility to clean up the apartment and make it livable.  So off we went to Target for cleaning supplies and a few other necessities.  It was late at this point, around 8pm, and everyone was getting tired and hungry (We decided to bring our son’s friend along for the trip so he would have some company, and we could focus on getting the apartment ready, I’m so glad we did).  So we go to check out at Target, and my husband slides his bank card, only to hear the cashier say “I’m sorry, but I can’t take that payment.  Do you have another card?”  No problem, I had my bank card so I slide it through the reader.  Again, the cashier says “I’m sorry, but that card was declined.”  Here we were, with carts piled full of stuff and no way to pay for it!  We knew there was plenty of money in our account so my husband quickly got on the phone with our Credit Union to sort the problem out and we asked the cashier to suspend our transaction.  I prayed.  “Lord, I can live without cleaning supplies, but these children are hungry and I have nothing to feed them.”  It took about 30 minutes on the phone to sort out the problem (we were trying to use our bank card in a different state than the address they had on file and they flagged our purchase as possible fraud), and the staff at Target was amazing and patient, but we were finally able to purchase everything we needed and head back to the apartment.

After feeding the boys, I set straight to work, cleaning the house.  It took 3 hours.  I was bone tired when I was finished, but at least I could take a shower.  In a nice, clean tub.
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 The next day, we woke up feeling a renewed sense of purpose and set to work on making our apartment our “home.”  We knew that we wanted to repaint, and make the house much brighter.  We were used to living in homes with high ceilings, and the apartment was painted a dark, dingy yellow that made the ceilings feel even lower than they were (only 7 ft. in some places); So we decided to paint all the walls, in every room, the same white as the ceilings to open it up (crazy, I know, but it worked).  After painting for 12 hours straight, it was time to clean up (our least favorite part).  Shawn took all the brushes to the kitchen to clean them while I folded up all the drop clothes and put outlet covers back on, when I suddenly heard him yelling.  I ran to the kitchen, only to see water bursting from the kitchen sink pipes and spraying everywhere!   All I could do was laugh.  The kind of crazy, hysterical laughter that happens when all you want to do is cry.

Shawn was finally able to fix the pipes (whoever had replaced the pipes had installed one of the gaskets backwards) and we carried on with cleaning up our paint mess.  When we went to bed that evening we began to recap all the events that had happened and could not stop laughing.  We felt pretty confident that the worst was behind us and we were looking forward to finishing up our painting the next day so we could take the kids out to see some sights in Chattanooga.

The following afternoon, while Shawn was cleaning up our paint supplies, I ran to the Hardees around the corner to grab some lunch for the kids.  I pulled into the drive through, made our order, went to pay, and the nice woman at the window informed me that my card had been declined….again.  I knew that the bank had just flagged the purchase again, so I parked the car, went inside, and proceeded to call the credit union.  The woman on the other end started accusing me of making fraudulent purchases and eventually hung up on me.  There I was.  Standing in the Hardees with two kids asking me for food, and no way to pay!  The manager had overheard my entire conversation and offered to let me take my order and come back with the cash later, once everything had been resolved.  Gobsmacked!  What a blessing.  So I grabbed the bag of food and rushed back to the apartment to tell Shawn about my little misadventure.

When I arrived at the apartment Shawn was already on the phone with the credit union (they called him to tell him I was trying to make a purchase and they stopped it).  It turns out, that (at least with this particular credit union) we could not use our bank cards for purchases in another state, only in our state of residence.  So, in order to continue to use our card we would have to call the credit union every day and inform them that we were “on vacation” and get permission to swipe our card.  They removed the “flag” and allowed us to use our cards for the next 24 hours.  I promptly ran to the nearest ATM with both cards and pulled out the maximum allowed on each card in cash.  From then on, we would pay for everything in cash.  After stopping at the Hardees to pay for our meal, I went back to the apartment.  When I walked in, Shawn told me to follow him to the kitchen where he showed me this…
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and it wasn’t just the kitchen sink that was backing up.  Every sink, shower, and bath in the entire place was backing up.  We ran to the front office and showed them our pictures, they called the emergency maintenance staff to let them know (it was a weekend) and told us that someone would be there in 30 minutes.  Turns out that the problem was bigger than the maintenance crew could fix and would require a call into a professional plumber.  So, for the rest of the afternoon and evening we would have to use the outside water spigot and go without showers.  The kids didn’t seem to mind, and by Sunday we packed it up and got on the road again to South Carolina.  Because of our many mis-adventures, we weren’t able to give the kids a day to play in Chattanooga, but we were at least able to eat out at Cheeburger Cheeburger and stop at the local bakery and cafe.
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You might be asking, “Um, Tiffany.  What’s the blessing here?”  Well, we were able to discover all these problems before we had officially moved in.  So that gave the management two weeks to fix everything.  In the meantime, we were able to live in our nice, functioning apartment without crazy bursting pipes, or backed up showers and when we came back with our big moving truck everything was almost normal at the Chattanooga apartment…almost.  More on that later…

Hello Chattanooga!

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Moving Day, November 21, 2012, will officially go down in history as epic.  We laughed, we cried, we were tired and sore, but it was so worth it.  Now, it is all just a faint memory, but it’s a story I will never get tired of telling.  I’ll just list the highlights here:

1.  I learned to drive a trailer!!

Shawn – “We need to get a trailer, and you will have to drive it.”

Me – “Stop playing.”

Shawn – “I’m serious.”

Me – *blank stare*

Chalk it up to a little miscalculation on our part, but I got to earn a new badge of experience and it wasn’t that bad….as long as I didn’t have to back up.  The most important rule is to remember that you have the extra load, so you don’t accidentally take a corner too short.

 

2.  Cats and drugs don’t mix…

This was seriously the worst part of my trip. We thought that the cats would be too stressed out during the move, so we went to the vet and got them some anti-anxiety medicine.  It was supposed to make them sleep peacefully through the move, and they would wake up happily in their new house.  Well, that’s not what happened.  They were beyond terrified and screamed…the entire 6.5 hr. trip.  Not kidding.  And because they were drugged up, they couldn’t walk.  So they just stumbled around the car, falling and crying.  Poor babies.  Never again.

 

3.  Starbucks baristas are awesome.

After cleaning the old apartment for almost 10 hrs., packing boxes, and loading a truck, all we wanted was a little caffeine.  So we pulled into Starbucks, walked in, used the facilities, and walked up to the counter to order, where the sweet barista informed us they had actually been closed for almost 10 minutes.  I almost broke down in tears, and must have looked like a terrible mess, because she caved and said she would open the cappuccino machine back up to make us some coffee.  While she was doing this, we recounted the many hilarious happenings of the day.  Soon, we had the entire staff listening and laughing (with us, I hope).  When she was finished, we handed her the money to pay.  She told us she couldn’t take the money, as they had already closed their registers.  We handed her $20 and told her to split it with everyone as a tip for their kindness in staying open.  As we pulled out of the parking lot, the entire Starbucks crew waved to us through the drive through and wished us luck.  Best experience ever.

 

4.  Not all gas stations are open all night.

Yeah.  This one should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but we weren’t operating with half a brain.  Beyond tired, and completely sleep deprived, means a guarantee that you won’t be able to think straight.  So, when you decide that you will just fill up on the way, you have a 6hr. road trip ahead of you, and you don’t leave until well after dark, it might be a good bet that you won’t be able to find an open gas station either.  We must have pulled off the interstate a total of 5 times (looking for gas) and then we would get right back on.  We finally found an open gas station, but their bathrooms weren’t working!  I thought I would explode (that coffee was kicking in), but we made it another 2 hours to Chattanooga with no accidents and without having to call roadside assistance.

 

5. Some people are Superheroes.

Here we were, the day before Thanksgiving, with 2 truckloads full of stuff and just the two of us to unload it.  We had made a contact on an earlier trip to Chattanooga, and he said he would try to rally some troops to offload the truck, but we weren’t holding our breath (with it being a major holiday, and all).  On the day we needed to unload our truck, his crew of merry helpers showed up and within 2 hours time had everything unloaded.  Not only that, but they invited us to their house for Thanksgiving dinner the next day!  Superheroes, I tell ya.

 

In the end, it was worth every minute; because now we get to say we live in one of the best cities in the US.  CHATTANOOGA!