Unplanned Blessings

Like everyone else who is uncertain about what the future holds, we have had to alter our plans at the present moment for an undetermined amount of time.  When we left Seattle in February, our plans were as follows:  We had planned on spending a couple months in Waco at the Homestead Heritage, including attending a church conference during the Easter week.  Then, we had planned on traveling to Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia to visit friends and celebrate Mel’s 40th birthday (April 23rd) with her close friend, Ruth.  Afterwards, we had talked about traveling to several states that we have not yet visited.  Finally, our goal was to make it back to Seattle in June.

Now with the recommendations against traveling, meeting in groups, and the orders to shelter in place, all our plans have evaporated.  Though this has not been distressful for us, it has required some adjustments on our part.  For starters, one of our primary goals for the first half of this trip was to visit with the Homestead community and attend classes, church group meetings, and to learn more about the homesteading lifestyle.  All classes and meetings have now been cancelled.

Secondly, living in a motor home has some great advantages with a few, small disadvantages.  The advantages are to be able to travel wherever, whenever, and GET OUT and see the country and the great outdoors.  The disadvantages are that the living space is small and the RV can feel cramped and unpleasant if stuck inside for too long.  So, given the current state of affairs, we have found ourselves suddenly embracing all the disadvantages of the RV lifestyle without the ability to balance these out with any of the advantages.

After sheltering in place for over a week in our motorhome, we realized yet another obstacle we would need to overcome.  We had converted our shower into a storage space before we set out on our big 10 month trip and have relied on the generosity of friends or public facilities to bathe ourselves.  Suddenly, we had nowhere to shower and several of us went two weeks without taking a real shower (sponge-bathing from our RV bathroom sink was as close as we got.)

In assessing our new set of givens, a friend of ours at the Homestead asked what we thought about looking at a month to month rental option that someone in their community had.  Though it was not what we had originally planned on doing (being stuck in one place and taking on additional expenses), it did seem like it might help us overcome the obstacles we faced being confined to our motorhome.  We agreed to at least look at the property for rent.

The rental is a 2 bed, 2 bath (with 2 showers!), 1,000 sq. ft. mobile home on 2 acres of land.  When looking at it, we liked that it would be a much bigger space inside, had showering facilities but, for me, I was drawn especially to the 2-acre plot of land that was available for us to use.  There are 14 garden beds and plenty of room for the kids to run around and play.  If our family would not be able to travel or meet in groups, at least we could continue to learn about homesteading with our own piece of land to tend to.

After looking at the property we held a family meeting in our RV and discussed this idea fully from all angles.  Given that we had (and still have) no idea how long we would be required to shelter in place, we began to feel that this would indeed be a positive step for us to take.  With careful, and prayerful, consideration we made the choice to move forward and rent.

Since then, we have received nothing but unexpected blessing from that decision.  The day after we committed to rent, several men from the community helped us by gathering up used furniture from various members of the community and helped moved them into our new home.

Couches, beds, tables, and chairs were brought to us and in a matter of a few hours we found ourselves standing in a fully furnished home.

Now, we have done nothing less than fully embrace the homesteading lifestyle.  Our first act in our new home (after showering!) was to bake oatmeal raisin cookies (did I mention that our RV oven is poor, at best, for cooking).

Photo Mar 23, 5 08 30 PM

And because the kitchen and oven space is much larger than the RV, we have been able to have more elaborate dinners including BBQ chicken and baked potatoes (pictured below), shepherd’s pie, and quesadilla burgers.

Photo Mar 24, 7 05 12 PM

The following day, we began cultivating the garden beds and Caleb lead the charge to begin building a fenced in area (with spare materials found in the woods) for chickens.

Two days ago (Friday), after we completed building the chicken coop, we connected with a member of the Homestead community who raises chickens, and we purchased 6 laying hens.  The kids could hardly contain their excitement.

And even more excitement came the following day after the kids found our first egg.

Photo Mar 28, 8 16 08 AM

We have now also removed all the grass and weeds from the 14 planter beds and, after adding some compost, we have planted 12 tomato plants in the first garden bed.

 

Even now, as I sit at the dinning room table writing this blog, I look out the window at our chickens scratching the lawn for bugs.  I can hardly believe everything that has happened in the last week.  We truly have been given unexpected blessing in this season.  Though we consider this new turn of events a temporary situation, we really don’t have any idea what the future holds.  In the face of much uncertainty and unknowns, we are trading the fears of tomorrow in for the blessings of today.  That really is how I believe everyone can make it through these adverse times.  Count your blessings you have today.

Wilderness Survival Camp

One of my passions is to go backpacking in the back country wilderness of the Olympic National Park and the Cascade mountain range.  In an effort to increase my abilities to survive for longer periods of time in the wild, I decided to attend a primitive survival workshop.  This workshop, hosted by Sigma 3 (https://survivalschool.us/), was a five day intensive class in the woods of the Missouri Ozark Mountains.

To get there from Waco, Texas, I had to travel eight hours by car.  I used the family mini-van and turned it into a miniature motorhome for my travels to the Ozarks.  It was complete with a fridge (cooler), dresser (traveling case), and bed (sleeping bag and mat).

Photo Mar 14, 12 47 22 PM

When I arrived, I set up my tent where I would sleep for a few nights before moving into a more primitive camping arrangement.

Photo Mar 17, 5 32 44 PM

I stayed up late that night around the fire, getting acquainted with the fifteen other people I would be spending the next week with.  In the morning we began our adventures.

Day 1: Shelters

Day one was primitive shelter day.  Contrary to what I would first have assumed, shelter is the number one survival priority, even greater than food or water.  Where as a man can survive for 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water, a man can die within 3 hours without proper shelter in extreme conditions (freezing temperatures).  Once a temporary shelter has been established, then the lesser priorities of food and water can be found.  We learned how to create several shelters out of raw wooden materials including the debris hut, lean-to shelter, tepee hut and jungle hootch.  We also learned several ways to create shelter using cord and a poncho.

Debris Hut:

Lean-to Shelter:

Photo Mar 15, 2 23 21 PM

Tepee Hut:

Photo Mar 17, 1 10 34 PM

Poncho Shelter:

Photo Mar 15, 5 53 41 PM

Day 2:  Water Filtration and Fire Starting

Day two we learn how to create a primitive water filtration system using sand, rocks and burnt wood (charcoal) to create a charcoal filter. (Sorry no picture).  We also learned techniques for starting fire with a feral rod.

Photo Mar 16, 4 57 47 PM

Day 3:  Bow Drill Fire Starting

What might be thought of as the epitome of primitive survival skills?  Day three we learned how to create fire without modern fire starting devices.  The old fashion way of a friction fire created by rubbing sticks together using a bow drill made with a boot lace.  I was one of four students who successfully started fire that day.

(After I produced an ember (bottom right picture), I added kindling to create a fire, though I did not take a picture of this).

Also, on day three, I moved out of the tent I brought with me, and for two nights, had the privilege of sleeping in the tepee hut.  Both nights we (I had a roommate named David) slept in the tepee hut we had thunderstorms throughout the night.

(Picture on the right is my roommate cooking us dinner over an open fire inside the tepee hut.

Day 4: Traps

Probably one of the funnest days (though they were all fun) we made primitive traps.  Just like I remember seeing on the cartoons when I was a child, we made a loop on the ground with a rope with a trigger that would noose anything that set off the trap.  We made dead fall traps, figure four traps, bird cage traps, and spring snare traps.

Day 5: Primitive Tools

Day five we learned how to create primitive tools such as spears, hammers, and chairs.  We also learned how to braid cord out of dried grass in order to make rope.

But, probably my favorite experience I had at camp was sleeping in the lean-to shelter on the last day of the trip.  Though wet and muddy, the rain stopped for the evening and I was able to sleep in a shelter that provided “just enough” protection from the elements.

 

In summery, the experience was an overwhelming success and I learned many outdoor survival skills I had never been taught before.  The class I took was the “survival standard” and I hope to someday be able to take the week long advanced class in the future.  I hope everyone is well back home. I look forward to connecting with everyone again with my next blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Short and Sweet

Last year I signed up to attend a wilderness survival class in Missouri.  Due to the health concerns Mel had a year ago with her heart, I was not able to go.  The class is an 8 hour drive from Waco, so I will be attending this year starting tomorrow.  I am very excited. I am spending the entire day today preparing for my trip, which means this blog post will be short, and I will not be blogging next week.

This last week at the Homestead we have been busy with several things.  First, we had dinner at a family’s house that have a small petting zoo and the kids got to feed the 4-day old baby goats.

I have been continuing to work at the woodworking shop making custom cedar doors.

The most exciting thing that happened is that we had friends visit us at the Homestead.  Last year in our travels we met a family, the Haugens, in Florida at an RV park.  We became fast friends with them then and saw them several times on our last RV adventure, including visiting them at their home in Oklahoma last March.  We have stayed in contact with them and have spent the last 3 days with them here in Waco.

So, like I said, short and sweet.  I’ll connect back with you all in a week.  We love you all.

Week Three

Now our third full week at the Homestead, this has been our busiest week yet.  Caleb and I attended an intensive 6-day workshop, taught by the Homestead’s school of woodworking, focused on the fundamentals of handmade furniture and crafts.  We learned how to use hand tools to make wooden joints including dovetail, dado, mortise and tenon joints.

By the end of the second day we had completed a candle box;

the fourth day a wall shelf;

and the sixth day an end table.

The class was well worth the time and investment we spent and it was a joy to work alongside Caleb to learn woodworking and complete our furniture projects.

Back at our RV, the other three kids have been exploring the woods behind the RV park and created a fort to escape to during homeschooling breaks.  When not attending a community event or eating dinner at someone’s house, this is where the kids have been spending all their free time.

Speaking of dinner, we visited our good friends, the Nathan’s, twice this week for dinner, once for pizza, and once for an outdoor grill and camp fire.

Fun, Friends, Food and Learning all summarize the last three weeks here at the Heritage Homestead.

And, if I wanted, I could end this post by saying, “We are having the time of our lives and everyone is happy and healthy.”  And that would be quite true.  But in doing so I would be ignoring the burning question in our hearts – “Why are we here?”  Are we here just to eat and make friends?  We could do that in Seattle or anywhere else in the world for that matter.  “Why are we here?”  “What draws us to this place?”  We could enjoy an extended vacation anywhere we wanted in the country.  “Why do we feel compelled to be right here, right now?”  “Is there a greater purpose for us being here right now?”  That is the question that begs to be answered every time I stop and pause to reflect.

The answer to this question seems much more allusive than the cascade of thoughts and emotions that pondering on such a question invokes.  Our family believes that everything happens for a reason and that our lives gain meaning and purpose as we seek God’s direction and obey his leading.  This, then, ultimately becomes the question we must answer.  “What is God saying to us in our hearts?”  “What kind of a life is he leading us to live?”  “How can we know for sure what is God’s direction and what are our own ideas or feelings we are following?”  We do feel that there are lessons God wants to teach us and this is where He has us to learn. But is there more than just lessons to be learned?

The apostle John recorded the teachings of Jesus.  In John’s book Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepard, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  My sheep follow me because they know my voice.  They know my voice; I know them and they follow me.”  This is what we want – to know, hear and follow Jesus’s voice.  There is something about being right here, right now, that gives us the desire, more than ever, to hear that voice.  Our prayer is that we may clearly hear that voice before we ever move in any direction.

Two weeks in Waco

When we are home in Washington it is always a goal of mine to invite friends over to our house for dinner as often as we are able.  Among busy schedules and conflicting commitments this goal always seems to be difficult to fulfill.  Yet every time we share a meal with friends, either friends we are just getting to know or friends we have known for many years, we always come away feeling joyful, connected and loved.  Cultivating bonds of relationships always seem to be a profitable investment for our souls.

Since we arrived at the Homestead community in Waco two weeks ago, we have been the recipients of many invitations to share a meal with new friends.  In fact, we have shared a dinner with seven different families, each in their own homes, over the past two weeks.  These meals have been food for both our bodies and for our hearts.

Many of the evenings we have not been invited over to someone’s house, we are involved in a public community gathering.  On Wednesday and Friday evenings, the community has regular group gatherings that we have been attending.  These meetings often also involve eating a meal together.

And, of course, we celebrated Asher’s birthday as a family on the 18th and also celebrated his birthday last weekend at a group birthday party.

During the day light hours, Mel and the kids have been faithfully working on their school work and doing gardening in the community.

Also, Mel and I just finished a two day class on gardening and growing your own food this weekend.

As for myself I have been spending my days working for a man in the community who owns a wood working shop.  I have been learning how to mill, plane, cut, sand, join and glue wood together to make doors and counter tops, among other things.

I was also able to used my electrical skills to help him hook up a new piece of equipment and we cut a giant log with it.

Next week I begin a six day class on the fundamentals of woodworking with hand tools and joinery.  I am very excited.

In summary, we are eating our fill of homemade food, learning new and useful skills, bonding with kind-hearted people, and feeling our souls nourished by this entire experience.  We remain excited for the days ahead; new things to learn, new people to meet, new adventures to explore.  Our love goes out to all our family and friends back home.  We love you all and are so thankful for your desire to see God’s best for our family.

On the Road Again (Josh)

Last year our family experienced an amazing adventure as we toured the country on a 10 month and 19 day excursion.  Originally, we had planned on going back to “life as usual” once we returned.  But, much to our surprise, we realized that our ambitions to travel and experience other places and other communities in other parts of the country had not yet been exhausted.   In fact, our trip of a lifetime actually fueled a now growing desire to experience life in new ways; ways we had not been able to experience in our hometown of Seattle.  Mel and I, both born and raised in the inner suburbs of Seattle, never imagined loving a place as much as Seattle.  But as we traveled the country in 2018-2019, we started to enjoy a slower pace of life, an escape from the relentless Seattle traffic, a respite from the constant demands of an over-scheduled life, and the joys of focusing on relationships first among other things.

Along with these new experiences away from the big city, we met a community of people- the Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas.  This church community was unlike any other community we had ever experienced.  From the way they prioritize relationships, to the way they live a life of excellence and put first things first, we immediately liked them and desired to experience their way of life.  Spending several weeks with them last year, we found ourselves wanting to continue to know them more.  As we continued on with our travel in the spring of 2019 we could all feel a tugging on our heart strings to go back and see them again.

And so, 8 months after our return home, we left Seattle once again.  This time, on a shorter 4 month excursion, our itinerary has a much more intentional focus.  On Feb. 11th 2020, we pulled away from our house in Washington.  We traveled south on I-5, sleeping along the way in Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico on our focused route to Waco Texas.  Six days later we arrived at the Homestead Heritage Community.

We plan on being here in Waco for two months before we leave again to visit friends in Alabama and Tennessee.  During these two months with the community, we hope to come to know them more, to learn from them, and to experience their way of life.  A way of life that, for us, is unique and refreshing, a lifestyle that nourishes our souls.  To hear more clearly that still small voice that speaks to our hearts and calls us to live a life of purpose and meaning.  Nothing I know could be more valuable than learning to live in such a way.

I am grateful and thankful, not only for the opportunity to embark on this adventure once again, but also for every relationship I have built and cultivated over my lifetime.  I am grateful and thankful to my parents and my family, who raised me and taught me to live a life seeking meaning and purpose.  I am grateful and thankful to Mel’s family, who have tolerated me as I have taken Melodee from them on crazy adventures in far away places.  I am thankful for my friends who have supported me and encouraged me to press on to my dreams.  I am thankful to my employees who work diligently and support me while I am away.  Without all the love and support of everyone I know, I would have never developed the faith or courage to find myself in the place I am now.  I recognize all of you as contributors on this journey of seeking what is most valuable in life.  Thank you all, I look forward to sharing with you what we discover in the months to come.

Re-entry

Though the beginning of this blog post may not seem to have anything to do with re-entry, please trust me that it will all connect together at the end.

Over 20 years ago, I had arrived at the lowest point in the history of my life.  I was making my living as a drug dealer, my relationships with family and friends were completely ruined, I was facing criminal charges, and my ex-girlfriend was marrying another man who was to parent our child.  Then, by the grace of God, I found myself within the walls of a church building, completely surrendering the broken pieces of my life.

When I gave everything I had (which was not much) to God, he filled my heart with “a feeling of his love.”  But as time went on, the “love in my heart” began to grow distant and faint, until one day, I realized that it was gone- no where to be found.  When I asked those in the church why the feeling had left me, they told me that our faith goes through seasons and, in some seasons, God wants us to trust him even without experiencing the “feeling” we felt when we first believed.

This answer satisfied me, for a while, until, one day, I forgot about “the feeling of love” and I even forgot that I was in a season of trust.  Though I continued to seek God and attempted to be faithful in following after him, I entered a much more difficult season in my faith journey.  This season was a season of darkness, marked with deep pain, loneliness, feelings of abandonment and overwhelm.  Little did I know at the time, this season was not from the Lord, but was created by myself as I attempted to control my destiny and take back the life I had so completely surrendered when I first believed.

Last year began the start of yet another new season in my life, a season of re-entry back into the faith I once had at the beginning, a faith marked by complete surrender to God.  And, without any expectation of him doing so, God touched me in a way I haven’t experienced since those early years of my new spiritual birth (See blog posted on April 4th, 12th paragraph).  The memory of that touch has been burned into my heart and mind ever since.

It has now been over two weeks since our re-entry into “normal” life.  And though we did expect it to be an adjustment, we were in no way prepared for the struggles we have had to face as we attempt to re-connect once again with our family and friends who are closest to our hearts.  Today, we found ourselves humbled before God, praying for his grace and mercy in areas of our lives we find ourselves powerless and without control.  As I prayed for God to strengthen us in our pain and insufficiency, he blessed me with His presence once again.

To a degree I had never experienced before, I felt, in great measure, God’s spirit fill my heart, and the power of his love become real beyond all conscious understanding.  It was unbelievable yet undeniable.  Jesus himself said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  God has become our comfort today as we continue to struggle through our re-entry.  But though the physical re-entry into my “normal” life has been a greater challenge than expected, the spiritual re-entry into a life of total surrender gives us hope for the future.