Leaving the Cemetery

I was planning for my early blog posts to be all about the story of our land purchase, and I will definitely get back to that beautiful story soon, but something happened this weekend, and I felt compelled to share it with you. 

One evening about nine years ago I went with my extended family to a local hibachi restaurant for my cousin’s birthday party. I was so happy to be with my family and everyone was passing around my sweet little baby, Lacey. We were enjoying our evening when a group of men came in and sat at the hibachi grill across from ours. My stomach dropped and I excused myself to the restroom. I paced around the stall, cried, and felt nauseous. I was shaking and crying out to God, “Why? Why did you let them come in here? What am I going to do?!”

In 1995, two of those men had done some horrible things to me. I was a foolish, vulnerable, intoxicated 18 year old girl and had gotten myself into a situation in a place I should never have been, clearly with company I should never have agreed to be around. They were predators, 20 years older than me. The details of that night are heartbreaking to dwell on.

In 2001, I gave my life to Jesus. I met my husband in 2006, married in 2007, and had my first sweet baby in 2010. My life was completely different and so, so good. Every promise God made to me, He kept. My husband has always treated me like a princess, he has seen me through God’s eyes, and never once held anything from my past over me. He has been my greatest gift, apart from salvation. Yet, here I was, shattered on the bathroom floor of the restaurant. I did not know what to do. I cleaned my face up and walked back to the table. The men sat across from me, drinking and laughing and carrying on. Inside, I was raging. I wanted to throw a chair at them. I wanted to tell my husband so he could go smash their heads through the wall. Instead, I took my sweet baby girl and tried to keep all my focus on her….playing with her and trying to make her laugh. Tears kept coming down and I tried to hide it from my family. I even pretended I needed to walk around and bounce my baby a little so no one would see my face. 

The men didn’t even recognize me. I was nothing to them. They were the monsters in my nightmares, but I was no one to them. 

We left the restaurant and I tried to obscure how upset I was. For weeks, it haunted me. I felt myself sinking into depression over it. So, I begged God to please step in. 

He reminded me that I am whole in Him (1Thess 5:23). I am washed white as snow (Is 1:18). I am clean and pure and precious. He adores me. He protects me (Ps 121:7). I am loved (John 3:16). He has a purpose for my life (Jer 29:11). I am a child of God (John 3:1). I am chosen (Rev 17:14). 

I made a decision to stop defining myself as the victim that I was and start remembering and proclaiming that I am a VICTOR! When I gave my heart to God, I became a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17). That girl was gone. While her story was a tragic one, I had to make a choice. I had been putting band-aid after band-aid on this wound and living with it endlessly. All the while, the Great Physician was standing there with this miracle ointment that could heal the wound. I had fought Him and not let Him heal those broken places, but it was time. I had to move past this place of brokenness. So, I let it go. She is gone. Her wounds are healed. She is made anew. Can someone in the back say, “praise God!” 

This weekend, my now 9 year old daughter Lacey was on a camping trip with her American Heritage Girls troop (if you don’t know about AHG and Trail Life, you would LOVE it for your child! Christian scouting programs for girls and boys…chock full of goodness!). I had to pick her up for a dance class and then take her back to camp. My travels took me through a neighboring county that I have not been in very often. While driving there, I passed a building that stopped me dead in my tracks. A fuzzy memory of a place where I once made one of the worst decisions of my life (I was very lost and broken during that time). Heartbreaking. My soul literally ached for that poor girl. My eyes welled up with tears and I thought about how I wish her story had been different. I wish she never gone down some of those roads. 

BUT GOD. The road I am on now….friends, please know that I am OK. I am by no means insinuating that “I have arrived,” I just know a few more things 9 years later down this path in my relationship with God. The effect these memories had on me this weekend was so different than that day in the restaurant years ago. I know I am loved. He adores me. I am protected. He has a purpose for my life. I KNOW it with everything in me. My past is part of my story, but it doesn’t define me. The cross has the final word and my God says who I am.

Saturday, it was almost like passing the cemetery where an old friend had been laid to rest. Only, my sadness didn’t engulf me; it was fleeting because I know she had a different ending. I know she really had a new beginning. 

I don’t know if you are carrying baggage around or slapping a band-aid on a wound that has festered in your soul, but friend, I know a remedy. I know a Doctor who wants to heal those wounds. Your secret sins, your shame and guilt, the times you have been wronged or deeply hurt, the things that come back to haunt you…you don’t have to let them control you ANYMORE. My God wants to take these things away for you. Don’t let it affect your marriage, don’t let it affect your friendships or your self-worth, and certainly don’t let it affect your relationship with God or the work He wants to do in your life. 

I am not saying you won’t have a scar from your past, but I am saying for the love, you do not have to let it be a festering wound, not ONE. MORE. DAY.

Perhaps you already know Him and just needed a reminder of this truth or maybe this is your first introduction to our King. Friend, go to the foot of the cross and set it right. 

His love is greater than ___________ (literally anything you could think of for that blank). Grief, loss, cancer, exclusion, loneliness, addiction, depression, rape, infertility, infidelity, financial worries, spiritual attacks….He is bigger than all that. If you are in the thick of your battle or on the other side of it still dressing old wounds, He will carry you through it and give you a remedy. If you are waiting on Him in your battle, do not give up…He always shows up. It may not be the timing you wish for, but you are not alone and He is always working. I wasn’t planning on sharing this story, but I know so many people that are hurting deeply and I sincerely desire for you to know, speaking from experience, you DO NOT have to continue on that path.

I held my sleeping baby (my 5thsweet child) in song service Sunday morning and tears streamed down my face as I praised Him. I am so grateful. He is worthy, y’all!

THIS is living my best life.

Not trendy clothes or fancy cars, fun trips, exclusive parties, or some elite circle of friends. All of those seem to dominate the desires of our society today, but not one bit of that will matter in eternity. My best life is one that Jesus is the center of. Get you some of that!! You will NEVER regret it.

My kids are literally like my trophies of redemption. He never fails. I am reminded of that every day when I look at those sweet faces.

Discover your true purpose. Go find the story He wrote for you and share it with someone who needs it. In Christ, we LIVE. He came to set you free. He came to give you hope. He redeems. He restores. He gives you beauty for ashes. I feel differently about my scars now. They are testimonies to God’s faithfulness because of what He brought me from, and I straight up want to shout when I tell about what He’s brought me to. Get up. It’s time to leave the cemetery. 

The Reservation

After the beautiful discovery of Firefly Crossing, we decided to go back in the daytime to view the property. We went back again and again and again, until I said we could not go back anymore because everyone was getting too attached. The kids had picked out spots for a fort and a koi pond, we loved the land, and already knew that we would be devastated if it didn’t work out. So, we decided to put in an offer. The owners of the land live in Canada and I felt like God had laid it on my heart to send in a letter with the offer. 

In the letter, I told them that I am a photographer, my husband is an appliance repair technician, we have 5 kids, we homeschool. I told them all about Lacey starting her rabbitry last year when she was only 8 years old and the backstory behind that (if you don’t already know it, the super brief version is that she sold $1,339 in cinnamon rolls in one week and homemade by herself 64 dozen in ONE week to raise the money to start her business). I told them these kids were born to live on a farm! Lacey would like to be chief farmhand over all the animals, Eli would like to raise bees and be head gardener, Luke would like to be in charge of machinery and tools, and the youngest two, Maddie and Levi would be in charge of mischief and mayhem. I explained that we desire for our children to grow up with deep roots in faith, family, love of nature, an appreciation for hard work, and lots of outdoor time….not tethered to devices. I said that we believed with all our hearts that their land was the next chapter of our story and asked if they would please consider our offer. 

We received the most beautiful, unexpected, exciting response. Their family had moved from Canada to Wilmington in 2004 to start a ministry home for men coming out of prison, called Gracefalls. They purchased the property back then, thinking they would stay in the area, but felt like God called them back to Canada. They put the property up for sale and he said over the years it had gone under contract time and time again, for way more money than they were asking now, but the contracts always fell through. They did not understand why this kept happening, because it is such a treasure of a property, but believed it was for a spiritual reason and one day they would know.

After some discussion, he and his wife truly felt that all these years God had reserved that property for our family.

He offered to sell it to us for less than he paid for it, with two stipulations. One, we must promise to teach our children about what God is doing in their lives, why He kept that land for them, and what they can give God in return. The second stipulation was that after we build the farmhouse, they would like to make a trip down from Canada to meet us. We obviously agreed wholeheartedly and signed the paperwork to go under contract on Father’s Day after church. What a gift on Father’s Day from our Father in Heaven, showering blessings on His children, like the good, loving Father He is. 

Friends, don’t ever doubt that He has a plan for your life. This plan for us was YEARS in the making. He was orchestrating it long before I ever met my husband, before we had these 5 precious children, long before we had this dream of land and a farm. Still, He was weaving our story, working in the intimate details of our lives. Luke 12:7 says “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

In fact, when I looked at the dates that the property was bought and then listed for sale all those years ago, I realized that He was weaving this into our story while I was in the midst of the lowest point in my life, incredibly lost in sin. When I was at my absolute worst, when He was knocking on the door of my heart and I was still turning Him away, when I was running 100 mph in the wrong direction, He sat lovingly and began working out plans to pour out blessings in my life. If you knew the full extent of my depravity, you might understand my complete, overwhelming thankfulness. He could have been planning my punishment for my despicable behavior, but instead, He was planning my future. I can almost picture Him saying, “I already know what choices Beth will make. She won’t stay here, in this place in her life where she has given away so much. One day she will choose me. I am already preparing a new life for her. I am molding Steve to become her husband and I can’t wait for them to meet these beautiful children I have wonderfully made just for them. And that farm they will wish for 15 years from now….I am already working on it.”

I have tears in my eyes thinking about it, because it is mercy I cannot fully comprehend and kindness I did not deserve. If you do not know Him like this, I would LOVE to share Him with you. There is nothing on earth that can compare. So, because of that, there is nothing on earth that will satisfy like a real relationship with Him. He loves you more than you can fathom.  

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

       This also made me really reflect on the parenting choices that we make when our kids are at their absolute worst. How do I respond when they turn away from instruction, act out in a rebellious spirit, and don’t show the love and kindness that I know their sweet hearts are capable of? Do I plan what their punishment should be? Or do I make big plans for their future? Lord, help me to find ways to show them incredible love, how to balance necessary guidance and  instruction with grace and mercy in these little years, where our patience is so often tested. Help me to remember the patience You had with me, when I was old enough to know better.  “Love is patient, love is kind……it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Cor 13: 4,5

We were finally under contract, but there was so much to be done before we could make this property our own. I will share with you soon how it almost didn’t happen. It is so important, friends, to trust God when things go how you want as well as when your plans fall spectacularly apart. Following His plans for your life will always yield the best outcome. He already knows how your story ends, why not let Him lead you through the paths of your life, lean on Him through the valleys, and hold tight when you reach a hard-earned summit? Never let go. Never lose hope. He will NEVER leave you or forsake you. “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5). Y’all know what He did with Moses, right? Miracle after miracle after miracle. You’ve heard about that Red Sea parting? He said JUST as He was with Moses, He will also be with YOU. That alone is worth an “amen!” God is so good. 

Firefly Crossing

We had been looking for land for about two years and seriously looking for six months…when seeing something we liked online, we actually hopped in the car to go check it out in person. My husband, Steve, had talked about a three year plan to get us there, but we were looking anyway because we were wanting land so bad. I had big dreams for a home that my children could play in, but I didn’t want to wait until they were too old to play with toys to get it. I wanted some farm animals while they were still young.  After Hurricane Florence, so many of our local areas flooded and any available good homes were quickly snatched up by folks who had lost their homes. I wondered if we would ever be able to find anything around here. I love our area and have spent 13 years building my photography business here. Steve started looking at land in Virginia, but I was hoping and praying something would come up in North Carolina. 

Some of the land we went to see was beautiful, some looked like there were probably bodies buried out there.  We went to see a listing in Hampstead one January day after church, but upon arrival realized the dirt road in was more like a BMX track. We hit a four foot deep puddle and the mud was lapping over the hood of the Suburban like ocean waves. I looked at my husband and said, “honey, are you buying me a Hummer? Or are your plans to put me here and never let me leave? How will construction vehicles get back in here? It is obviously still for sale because it is inaccessible.” 

We left there and headed to a listing in Castle Hayne. The area beside the land was very run down. Some of the homes had cardboard over all the windows and I asked my husband not to stop at the stop sign, but to roll right through. I said, “somebody is definitely abducted up in here. We could make some money back on the land if we charge the news crews for the bone reveals, because there are some bodies back in there, 100% for sure.” 

I went to the beach to photograph a beautiful maternity shoot, then Steve and the kids met me in Rocky Point to look at the last listing we found, even though we were checking it out in the dark, thanks to those early winter sunsets. The road in was promising….paved and lined with trees, every neighbor appeared to have 8 acres and a horse. Could this be the one? We got out of the car and peered around. We were VERY excited. Either this land had flooded during the hurricane or God was handing us a gift on a silver platter. It was beautiful! We immediately called our agent, Cassie Williamson, and told her we wanted to make an offer, walk the property in the daylight, get more info…all the things! The next day on a 3 way call with Cassie and my husband, we were reviewing the aerial maps the other agent had sent over. Zooming in, we realized the land was not in Rocky Point, but right down the road in Leland (thanks for the bad directions, Siri). “So where were we last night?” I asked my husband. Trespassing on someone else’s property that was not for sale and thankfully not getting shot as we were hooting and celebrating in the dark that we had finally found “the one.” I hopped in my car and quickly rode over to the actual property still for sale in Leland, only to find a web of power lines, discarded mattresses, piles of beer cans, and swamp land. 

On Mother’s Day we took a ride up to St. Helena to look at 63 acres we had been watching online and were greeted with the most amazing sunset and beautiful neighboring property. When we inquired about it, it had just gone under contract. Where was God leading us? I was so hopeful about this listing, but we prayed that if it was meant to be, for Him to please open doors, and if not, slam them shut. 

Still on the hunt, we found 80 acres in Beulaville and some other pretty land in Riegelwood, but we shared concerns about being able to sell it if we ever wanted to. Also in May, we visited an address in Rocky Point. One of the neighboring properties had a dilapidated concrete block compound. There were 25 or so “No Trespassing” signs stapled to the trees flanking the driveway that also had a chain going across it. In front of the building was a shiny new BMW. I looked at Steve and said, “This looks like a country episode of Kiss the Girls. Where is Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd?” So, that property was a definite nur. Gotta protect my babies. 

A promising listing showed up in Castle Hayne in May. Gorgeous land, but the listing said the house needed some work. We toured it and were sad understanding it was for sale due to a bad divorce situation. Apparently they started a reno, but stopped abruptly, because they had cut a giant hole in a wall to make two rooms one big room, but they never even finished taking the wall down. My son Eli (age 6 at the time) looked at me and said, “Mom. We are gonna need Chip and Jo.” Yep. That was too much for me to take on. The land was so pretty, but the house was a mess. 

June 1st Steve found a listing in Leland just 8 minutes from our house (we had not even been looking in that area) and texted it to me, but I was already asleep. June 2nd we got up and went to church, planning to check it out just after, but there was a thunderstorm, so we went home. That evening, just before sunset, the weather had cleared and Steve asked if I wanted to go check it out. “Boo, the sun sets in 20 minutes, if we are going, we have to go right now.” Then I yelled, “Don’t even get your shoes, everybody run to the car!!!” We have 5 kids, at the time ages 9, 6, 5, 3, and 1, so finding everyone’s shoes and putting them on would have taken way too long. If ya got ’em, grab ’em; if not, let’s roll.

We pulled down a long driveway, between two giant oaks, but 12 minutes to sunset is already dark in the woods. We could see what was just in front of us, but couldn’t really see the whole landscape. We got out to look around. There were fireflies everywhere. We don’t see fireflies around here. I grew up catching them, but we never see them anymore. Two years ago, we rented a cabin in TN, and the woods put on a beautiful show of these nostalgic night-lights. It was the kids first and only time seeing them, so they enjoyed chasing them so much during that vacation. We stood on this new property and watched in wonder as the woods lit up and the children ran around catching fireflies. I said to Steve, “this feels like a sign” and then I whispered to God, “this feels like a sign, Lord.” We decided we needed to go back and visit in the daytime to see if this was it. God truly does speak to us, but we must take pause and listen. We very affectionately refer to this area of the property as Firefly Crossing. Those beautiful fireflies have been glowing all of June, July, August, and so far in September. 

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

Firefly Crossing- June 2, 2019

Closing Day! My God. He is SO faithful.

Friends, we have some BIG news! I share a lot of our lives on social media, so it has been super difficult to keep this mostly under wraps for over 3 months. Today, Steve, Sharlene (my MIL) and I closed on some beautiful land for us to start our family farm and build a farmhouse. I cannot wait to share all of the details with you. The story is a beautiful one, full of ups and downs, blessings and curveballs. Woven into it are tales of provision, favor, disappointments, frustration, and beautiful redemption. It is an incredible testimony to God’s faithfulness and we are ever grateful. He is a Waymaker, friends. 

None of this would have been possible without my dear friend and agent, Cassie Williamson, who went WAY above and beyond to make everything happen. We could never repay her for what she has done for us this year! We love her immensely! We also would not be here today without the God appointed new friendship we have with the previous land owners, Alain and Josee, from Canada. 

Y’all know that you are my people. Over the years you have laughed and loved with me, encouraged me, and more times than I can count, you have cheered me on to start a blog or write a book. With so many new adventures on the horizon for us, I thought this was the perfect time. Not to mention I have been hiding the most amazing stories from you for over 3 months. Seriously, cannot wait to share! Please take a moment to like the new farm page on Facebook (fb.me/HuckleberryGroveFarm) follow us on Instagram (www.instagram.com/HuckleberryGroveFarm ), and subscribe to our blog. I look forward to sharing with you all about Huckleberry Grove Farm. 

I asked Maddie G if she knew what was happening today. She said, “I’m going to be a farm girl!” 
We are over the moon excited!
These kids are thrilled about the farm life and adventures ahead! Left to right- Levi (21 months), Lacey (9), Madeline (4), Eli (7), and Luke (5)
My boo! There is no one else I would rather be on this journey with. Steve and I will be married 12 years in October. He is my best yes!
Levi with our dear friend and AMAZING agent, Cassie Williamson

This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what He has promised

Isaiah 38:7