2019 in a Nutshell

2019 – what a year. These past 12 months have been an insane blur of transition and change. To name a few, that included traveling around the world, graduating Bible school, moving home to the east coast, starting two businesses, purchasing a car and a puppy, and buying and remodeling our first home. I’ve been MIA on here, and this is why.

Two and a half years ago, Brian and I moved to Redding, California to put ourselves through Bible school. We left behind Brian’s window business, our entire family, all of our plans to buy and renovate a home, and to start a family. Life in Redding was a harrowing, yet somewhat rewarding time as we survived the wildfires that overtook our city (despite our car getting stolen during evacuations) and somehow managed to survive the insane amounts of homework and class-time required to graduate. I was overloaded, stressed, and wasn’t getting enough sleep. I caught strep throat Christmas day, a sinus infection through New Year’s, and my digestive system was off kilter for months. Every 2 weeks, I caught some kind of virus (stomach, head cold, etc.); as soon as I got over one thing, I was down with something else. It was long; it was hard, but alas, we both walked across the stage in May!
We were also blessed with the opportunity to travel to both England and Israel on mission trips last spring. The two experiences could not have been more opposite, but we were blessed and impacted by both in different ways. We were blown away by the amount of support from our family and friends, and saw God move powerfully! (Fundraising is always awkward and difficult, but God answered our prayers and met our financial needs in ways we least expected. How is that when God does the impossible, it’s hard to apply that truth and testimony to other areas of life, too? When He comes through financially, it’s incredible, but when we need healing, it’s hard to draw on that financial testimony because that was monetary and not healing. He specializes in the miraculous, period. And He never does things the same way twice. So why when He comes through in one area, why is it hard to remember it and think He won’t come through in another area? This is one of my biggest struggles – holding onto testimonies and clinging to them in every season. It’s easy to just depend on the ones that seem relevant to a particular season, but I want to grow in depending on testimonies from all seasons and circumstances, and applying them to all areas of life. Each season is slightly different, but testimonies have a way of transcending seasons. Regardless of the specific situation, the bottom line is that God’s faithful: monetarily, relationally, spiritually, and physically. For some reason, my mind often categorizes testimonies, but they’re always applicable.)

The night of graduation, we packed up our dogs and meager possessions, piled into a U-haul, and began our 7-day journey across the U.S., fueled by adventure and a million great ideas. We didn’t have a car or a house lined up for us when we got home, but we didn’t let it phase us. We took our time: drove through a few national parks, pulled over for pictures more times than I care to admit, watched grizzly bears, moose, and bison, and casually camped alongside the road – sitting in the desert among the sage bushes, roasting marshmallows over a camp-stove as dusk settled over the Wyoming mountains. We were finally able to relax, spend some quality time, and adventure together. It was a much needed change, and a rewarding and refreshing week. It was just what we needed to be reset relationally, spiritually, and mentally.

We finally arrived in Ohio with a to-do list a mile long. It was time to get serious. Brian needed to re-start his window installation business ASAP, and we needed to buy a car and a house pronto.  We were driven, ambitious and optimistic. After braving all the struggles thrown at us in Redding, we were ready to start over. Brian’s parents were gracious enough to let us and the dogs stay in their spare room temporarily until we could buy a house and a car. Family and friends poured in to see us and we felt incredibly welcomed and loved. After a year of being a full-time student, Brian was finally back at work making a steady income. I was finally back east in the country, and I felt like I could breathe again. The anxiety was gone, the nightmares had stopped, the PTSD from the wildfire and burglary was waning, and I was feeling revived and excited again. Almost every evening it seemed, we were going to looking at cars, and meeting with our realtor. We found a house I really liked but were concerned about some necessary repairs, so we were making phone calls to brick masons and electricians. Things were looking up, life was good. But it wasn’t even 9 days back to work, when I got the phone call that changed everything.
I came inside from helping the girls ride their pony to see I had several missed calls. Weird. My MIL’s phone rang then and I heard a familiar voice say, “I’m trying to reach Rachel…. Brian fell off a roof at work…” suddenly everything started spinning and my palms went clammy. Instantly I assumed the worst. It’s his neck, right? He probably broke his back. OMGosh, he’s paralyzed, isn’t he? All I heard was something about a fall on concrete. For 2 weeks, everything started to go right. Why? Why now? What did we do wrong? We were supposed to be buying and remodeling a house and getting a car! And then I heard, “His leg is broken…” Only a broken leg? I guess we can live with that.
Before I knew it, I’d dialed Brian’s number. His voice squeaked with untold pain. My heart sank and I felt so helpless. My MIL drove me the 2 hours to the ER where he was rushed and I stayed the entire day with him. His tibia was split down the middle almost 6 inches, and a chunk was broken off under the knee joint, with a hairline fracture that extended into the joint. Just when I came to grips with everything, we were notified that our insurance wouldn’t pay for the ambulance, didn’t want to cover the ER or his meds. How were we going to pay for it all? I was hardcore stressed. “Surgery is necessary, I won’t let you opt out of it,” the surgeon explained, “it will be 4 months off work.” What? I felt angry. So frustrated. Confused. What was going on? No one was inherently to blame, but someone had to be at fault, right? I had to hold someone accountable…so I decided to blame myself. There was nothing anyone could have done, but it was easier to blame myself. I thought the worst was over, but it was just the beginning.

He spent the next week in bed, and I waited on him hand and foot. His pain was intense and constant. We barely slept and my nerves were fried. We got a phone call that the house I had my eyes had just been sold. I was frustrated. Back to square one with the house search – again. Then it was time for Brian’s surgery. I was with him in the hospital for over 24 hours and his pain was off the charts. He came home, and it was miserable. We were on the couch for days. Family and friends called and checked in on us; I kept asking them to pray. The house search was officially called off, our vehicle fell through, his pain level stayed elevated and I felt like a ticking time bomb. We got a phone call from the hospital  saying that our insurance would’t pay for the surgery either. We were on our own. How soon could we pay? We could fight it in civil court, but was it worth it? I held it together fairly well on the outside, but inside, I was a wreck. I put responsibilities and expectations on myself that no one else was putting on me, and I was buckling under the pressure. I am terrible at asking for help or letting people into my current struggles, so I “suffered” alone in my own little world. (One of my worst character flaws is unrealistic expectations, because I then get disappointed so easily. I have very high highs – it doesn’t take much to excite me or make me happy, but it also doesn’t take much to disappoint me. My highs are very high, but my lows are very low. I recognize this and am working very hard on it, but it still catches me off guard at times. I’m trying to learn to ride the high waves longer, but not linger in the lows.)

The weeks dragged on, and our morale dropped to record lows. Finally, Brian’s pain broke, which was a sigh of relief for everyone. We called and argued with insurance companies for weeks, sometimes we were on the phone with them for 5+ hours a day. Yet, no one would budge and no one would help us.  It was the last straw, I was done. I couldn’t so it anymore. Suddenly, my dog got sick and I was a stressed, worried wreck. What if something happens and he dies? Not with all of this happening! I just wanted to go to bed and forget about everything. But first, the dogs needed to potty. I took the dog I was impromptu dog-sitting outside and, before I could blink, she got loose, and bolted across the road, disappearing into the pitch black woods. I couldn’t believe it. I stood outside and flagged traffic for 2 hours waiting for the cops to show up. It was the last straw. It tipped me over the edge. I just could not do this anymore. After a month of holding it together, trying to be everything for everyone, I broke. I cried, I yelled, I vented, I asked God where the heck He was. I told Him I was done…if He hadn’t noticed, I couldn’t do it. I had such high expectations that coming home would be starting over, that I would find rest, but all the calamity and frustration in Redding had just followed me to Clinton, Ohio. My world was crashing down around me and I was utterly done. I wasn’t strong enough. Maybe we would never get a car, buy a house, start our real estate business, heal from surgery, or get our new puppy, especially now since we were paying for the surgery out-of-pocket. It would ruin us. Just please let me find this dog, please! I don’t need this right now. The cops arrived just a young woman pulled into the driveway. “I found a dog, is this what you’re looking for?!”  “YES!!” I cried with relief. “Thank you, Jesus for bringing her home!”

In the days that followed, my dog recovered, and I felt much better after having blown off steam. Brian continued to badger insurance companies and I kept looking at houses…online. One day, everything seemed to do a 180. “Thank you! Thank you, you have no idea what you’ve done!” I heard Brian gasp from the living room. I dashed in as he hung up the phone. “That was the insurance company. Not only did he not hang up on me, but he actually listened, and agreed to help. They’re covering the surgery, Babe!” I couldn’t help but cry tears of relief. We found a car within the next 2 days and put a deposit on it. Suddenly, our realtor called, saying the house we had been interested in before was back on the market. The sale had fallen through, but we didn’t have much time. We zoomed over to the house immediately, although, Brian hobbled inside far more slowly. We pooled all the money and resources we could find, and placed a deposit on it. We also welcomed our new puppy, Addie, home and bought our car. Things were getting better.
At Brian’s 6 week post-op appointment, his surgeon was impressed with how quickly he healed. “I know a motivated patient when I see one, and this guy is ready to go! The rapid healing is evidence of that. You can start walking at 8 weeks, if you’re ready.” Was he ever! Brian was hobbling around at 7 weeks with one crutch and by the next week, the surgeon cleared him to walk and return to work whenever he felt ready. The relief that flooded over me was astounding. Things were going to be okay. Somehow we survived, and God got us through.
Less than 3 days later, we closed on our house.  There was another miscommunication and the title company wouldn’t give us our key when we signed the papers, but we didn’t let it get us down for long. We were FINALLY the proud new owners of a run-down fixer-upper in Canton, Ohio. God is good! It was a huge project, to say the very least. We knew it would be a ton of labor, but we didn’t know just how much work it was actually going to be. Construction began promptly as soon as we got the keys. It started with mowing down the 14″ high grass, and trying to waterproof the exterior. It was 98 degrees and muggy outside and I got heat exhaustion the first day. The old chimney had come to come down before it fell, taking the living room wall and foundation with it. The men worked tediously on scaffolding, installing siding (note, Brian was just given the go-ahead to walk without crutches less than a week ago) and I tore up urine-soaked carpet and pergo flooring from the first and second floors of the house. There was no functioning bathroom and I had to drive to the nearest grocery store to wash my hands and potty. Expectations were destroyed routinely, and nothing was getting done in a reasonable time frame. The days were long and hot – we put in 87 hours the first week and barely scratched the surface. The temperatures and humidity continued to hover around 93 degrees and 80%. This was my first big project, and I had expectations of how it would go. But like with any project, it was 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Sometimes it was 1 step forward, 2 steps back. Some days, I questioned our judgement. I asked what we were doing. We shook our heads and wondered aloud if we were stupid. On many occasions we got frustrated, I cried and walked outside, and Brian grunted and mumbled (he doesn’t yell, just mumbles when he’s mad.) We threatened to sell the place more times than we’d like to admit, and just cut our losses. When we were covered in insulation and stale dog urine, we asked why we couldn’t be like normal people who just buy a nice home. Then we remembered that while their houses are clean and don’t smell like an outhouse, they spend half their lifetime just paying it off, and we will own ours free and clear within a year…and when we sell it, we will make a profit. The idea of living rent and mortgage free didn’t make us sweat any less or make the house seem any cleaner, but it was comforting to know that we still had a plan.
Work was slow and monotonous. After 3 weeks, we had installed a toilet and a shower, and the bathroom was half done. The icky flooring in the master bedroom was removed and the floors and walls primed. It was good enough for me. Our appliances were being delivered and we decided it was time to move in. The last thing we needed was for the brand new appliances to be stolen. So with a twin air mattress, pillows, and a cooler of apples, milk and cereal, we moved into our new home.

Living in a renovation isn’t fun or easy. Nothing is clean, nothing smells decent, and sawdust just becomes a part of your diet because it’s in everything, no matter what. You always look like an idiot because paint doesn’t come out of your hair or off your skin before you go to the store. The employee’s of Lowe’s know you and accept you as you are: sweaty, paint-covered, and exhausted.
But alas, we made progress. Slowly but surely. By the time Christmas rolled around, the house no longer stank, our bedroom resembled a bedroom, the master bath, and the bathroom we added downstairs were finished, as was the downstairs (except for a few areas needing touchup paint.) We celebrated our first Christmas in our new home.
We still have a long way to go, but the house is cozy, pretty, and we’re very proud of how it’s turning out. Next time, there are definitely things we will do differently, and I’ll lower my expectations a great deal since I now have a better idea of how such projects go, but there will be more fixer-uppers in our future. Despite all the chaos, hard work, disappointment, stress, and sweat this house has caused us in these last 6 months, I am eternally grateful to God for getting us through the difficult times, for giving us the skills and wherewithal to be able to tackle a fixer-upper, and my husband who is a fix-all; and who kept a level head at all times, rolls with the punches, and was patient with me as this was my first hands-on experience with a project of this magnitude. I can honestly say it’s been worth it, and living rent and mortgage free is pretty nice!

2019 was a whirlwind, but despite the difficulties, we made significant progress and came a long way. The best part is: we now have a home.

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