We live off a gravel road that bears little, if any, resemblance to the wide, well graded, gravel roads of Iowa. The neighbor’s sign, “Slow, Children at Play” seems oddly unnecessary due to nature’s own speed bumps. Orange citrus trees line the road on one side and a handful of friendly neighbors on the other.
The five-acre property is bordered with strong new fencing. It does little to keep the determined turtle away that dutifully travels back and forth across the front lawn, (we named him Jonah), or the rabbits from nibbling off the bit of garden we’ve started. Ian likes to dream of larger animals that the sturdy fence might be able to hold within it’s confines, animals of the ruminant kind.
Our little home faces south while the north side of the property is lined with two greenhouses, two shade houses and the outline of a structure meant to house an aquaponics system some day. Several sheds and an outhouse with a flushable toilet are scattered over the rest of the area.
The greenhouses are full of orchids waiting to be weeded and tended. I hope to spend any free time I have pulling weeds there, and then working on repotting and salvaging the much-neglected plants.
Our little home on wheels has been such a blessing. Although not made to live in for any great length of time, it has been more than suiting our daily needs.
On Sundays we travel the one and a half hour drive to Sarasota to be with other conservative Anabaptists. While we’ve been made to feel welcome in these churches, there is nothing like our little church in Iowa and the tug it has on our hearts.
In all our childhood dreams, neither of us ever imagined we’d someday find ourselves living in Florida with its growing season almost as long as the year and its sand they call soil. How is it that we find ourselves living in a land of so much sunshine and cattle and biting ants?
So many questions flood our minds daily. Questions talked about, questions muttered and whispered and questions so savage and tender they seem only safe to keep locked in the confines of the mind and heart. Questions of doubt, questions of hope, questions driven by fear, questions bolstered by experience and faith. Who knew this would be our lot in life? Who knew some day we’d need courage to laugh because our hearts only felt strong enough to sigh?
In March of 2015, Ian and I spent some time in Florida. During that short time, we noticed a drastic difference in Ian’s abilities and energy level. In the evenings when it grew cooler, I saw Ian’s normal self, tired, drained and not able to do much. However, when he was warm or even hot during the day, he could go for short walks, and didn’t have to wear as many layers of clothes. He stopped using his cane entirely for the first time in almost two years. It was all so happy and also a bit surreal.
While in Florida, Ian visited with several men from two of the Mennonite churches who were on the board of a mission in Lake Placid called Tower of Hope. Taking from their vision:
“Tower of Hope had been ministering to the homeless in Sarasota for a few years. Every Monday night we had been feeding 60-100 folks, simple meals and ministering to them in a short Bible Reading and singing. We also provided blankets and clothing as donations were received. Due to the city’s recommendations, we have discontinued feeding the homeless and have switched our focus to providing assistance with the goal to help them become self-sufficient.
Our plan is to create a Christian Rehabilitation Camp for struggling men. Here we will minister to their spiritual needs, help them break free from bondage and addictions, and teach them practical life skills that will aid them as they face their future.
At the Camp, we will be living and working with them growing produce and other plants and helping them with various building projects for the Camp.”
Two green houses full of orchids came with the acreage when the property was purchased. Many of them have been sold, but there are still many more that need cleaned up and repotted before they could become saleable.
Going back to IA at the end of our vacation in March was a blow to both of us but especially to Ian emotionally. It was hard for him to sit again when he knew he’d be able to walk and stand and maybe even work if he was warmer. That spring and into the summer we dreamed and cried and prayed. What were we to do? What was God’s plan in all of this? How do we go on living carrying around these questions like an open wound?
Ever since Ian has been ill we’ve known that in warmth, he seems to do better. We kept asking ourselves why God had us in this place and in this spot and if Ian’s illness was a way for God to point us in a different direction?
As the summer of 2015 progressed, Ian was able to begin driving truck again. It felt like a miracle that he could drive and work! He was hauling box trailers on several routes, some to the East and a few South and North of IA. The biggest down side with this type of hauling was that Ian was often gone up to a week at a time. We talked about me possibly joining him, or getting my CDL and driving with him but several factors made this seem impractical for us.
One day late in autumn, our landlord stopped in and gave notice that we would need to be out of the house by July of 2016. It began to feel like God was making decisions for us.
As the mild autumn and winter wore on, we knew that any day it would be too cold for Ian to keep working. God had given him grace to sit through the two previous winters. Emotionally, he wasn’t sure if he could do it yet another winter knowing he would be able to work and provide for us in a warmer climate.
It’s a beautiful gift, this God-given desire for a man to want to provide for his family. And since Ian has gained a little of his strength back, with it has come this desire again.
Around Thanksgiving time, we told the families I was babysitting for that January 2016 would be my last month. I was beginning to feel worn out with caring for four children while Ian was gone for days at a time. It felt like a huge step of faith to make this decision financially, but with so many unknowns on the horizon this seemed the best thing to do.
Around that same time Ian made a phone call to the president on the board of the Tower of Hope mission asking if they were still looking for someone to stay on the property to be grounds keeper. The nearest board member is over an hour from the property and because of the distance, things were falling into neglect. They responded that yes, indeed we would be more than welcome to come. Ian told them that we would let them know our decision the beginning of the year. We were a little startled at how quickly they had said yes to us coming, since we had only met them once, but we sensed God’s presence in their answer.
In December, the day before we were to leave for PA for several weeks, we received a Christmas letter in the mail with a personal message attached from Mary Sue Moss. In her letter she told the story of how Jerry, her husband, had spent time researching and eventually purchasing an old, classic, 1976 GMC motor home. They were hoping to be able to use it to travel to see family and the extra space would make the travel easier with his dialysis equipment. After they purchased the motor home, Jerry’s health unexpectedly declined. That June, Jerry went home to be with Jesus and they were never able to use the motor home together as they had dreamed of doing. At the end of Mary Sue’s note, she asked if we could possibly use it as a home away from home somewhere in the South. If we would accept, she would like to gift the motor home to us.
Later, in a conversation with Mary Sue, we learned that she hadn’t known we were considering moving south for a time. She had just felt that maybe, because Ian seemed to do better in the warm, this could be a way for us to travel south.
In just a few short weeks the doors were opened for us to have a place to stay in Florida and a home to live in while we were there. Now we just had to make the decision to go to Florida or to try to find a way to stay in Iowa.
The questions, “Do we go?” “How do we stay?” and the many things relating to them have absorbed most of our thoughts and prayers.
Decisions like this change our tomorrows.
Decisions like this impact generations.
We shared our story and listened and talked with our families and church community. We feel like we’re abandoning our little church. Like we’re choosing another way. A way far away from them. We love them deeply and we feel keenly the loss of even a few months apart.
We knew full well that making the decision to go to Florida for several months could lead to a different future. A future we weren’t sure we wanted.
We chose to move to Florida for four months, from February to May, to see how the climate change would affect Ian.
The month of January found us sorting through stuff, packing boxes and eventually moving out of what had been our home for three and a half years. We loaded most of our things into a semi-storage trailer and parked it. The rest of the things we needed we packed into our motor home for Florida.
On February the 1st Reuben and Christy Fall travelled with us to Florida and helped us settle into our new home. We fixed leaks, built a shower and made a pallet patio around the motor home.
We’ve been in Lake Placid now for over a month. I work around the house and property, and Ian is driving truck daily. The warm weather is a blessing. If we were in Iowa right now, he would be sitting in a chair in front of a heater with the thermostat turned up to 90* longing to work again.
We continue to talk and pray and ask. Life doesn’t look or speak the words we thought it would. Life doesn’t pave the track we hoped and dreamed, but God has proved Himself faithful and we rest in this!