My dear ones. There is seriously nothing I can think to say to accurately express all of the feelings going on inside my brain. But alas, I will try to give you some sort of picture of whats going on. I owe you so much more than that but that is all I have to give. I hope you’ve got some time on your hands. Because this is going to get long winded.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Dustin and I moved to Springfield in 2011 because we had dreams for our future which included family, land, and self sufficiency. Our house and jobs in St Charles were quite the opposite of that so we took a leap of faith and moved everything to Springfield so that I could start working in the family business.
Dustin quickly found a job and even though we got kicked out of our first rental due to some health issues of the land lord, we settled into our second nest and made it our own. The goal was to live simply in a small house downtown, gain some more backyard gardening experience, and start some small animal husbandry with a chicken coop while we saved up enough to buy our little farm.
Fast forward two years and even though we weren’t really looking to get a place just yet, Dustin and I stumbled upon our little dream homestead that some acquaintances were trying to sell. This all happened right around the time that our house in St Charles sold so we were financially free and out of debt! It seemed too good to be true. And even though it meant moving while 8 months pregnant, we just knew that God was telling us to go there. Neither of us could see past the vision of one million children running free in the pasture, playing in a tree house, and learning responsibility with farm chores. It was home before we even knew it would be ours.
Trying to purchase the place turned out to be pretty difficult because we couldn’t find a bank that wanted to take out a loan on a 100 year old farm house with no central heat and air or no well. So the current owners reached out to us knowing how bad we wanted the place and we came to a wonderful, mutually beneficial agreement to rent the house and land. While we rented we could make improvements to the house that would help it get approved for a loan by the bank. And whenever it was at a point to get approved, we could purchase it.
It seemed too good to be true. We quickly began pouring blood, sweat, and tears into that place. Cleaning it up, updating it, making it home. And just one short month after we moved in, Dottie was born. My sweet baby girl, born at home. I labored through the night in that beautiful house, pacing the floor, clutching its precious walls for support during contractions. Soon after we watched the sun come up over the neighbor’s field, Dottie was born in her nursery. Born into my arms while I leaned on Dustin. In that first moment of meeting we all three collapsed onto that hardwood floor and we held each other and wept and fell in love in that room.
We spent countless hours packing our new baby on our backs while we brought in firewood for our self sufficient wood burning stove. The winter time was spent plotting out garden beds, growing tender seedlings, watching our baby grow, making home improvements, and dreaming of our future. This place had our hearts. We were prepared to work endless hours to turn this place into our dream.
The spring brought new life and growth. We expanded our little family to include some goats and more chickens. Our little Dottie had grown enough to sit outside cooing on a blanket and enjoy the sunshine while we worked the land. Gardens were tilled, trees were planted, Fencing was built and we began to see a small glimpse of our forever unfold on the land.
Spring turned into summer and we worked ourselves to the bone through the evening hours. Pouring our hearts and souls into that home and that land. After a pretty big set back with some goats destroying the garden and foxes wiping out nearly all of our chickens, we were blessed by some friends to get our dog Bella who is the best guardian.
Our friend Blake moved in with us and began helping Dustin with his wood working as well as helping us out on the farm with chores and projects. The three of us spent the summer working hard. And we loved every minute of it.
The land began to thank us for our work with beautiful garden bounties, fresh eggs, wild berries, and our place to call our sanctuary and safe haven developed. Dustin and I began to dream of what was next. And we quickly decided this next step was something God had been calling us to for quite some time. And that was family ministry. We knew it was coming. But after spending almost a year with our Dottie it was so much more clear than ever before that it was time to move forward.
And that we did. We signed up to begin our foster care training and shortly before the classes started we found out we were pregnant. It was everything we wanted and felt like God was calling us to.
Knowing our family would be expanding soon also helped push us to expand our little homestead. With a baby on the way and foster children only a few short months away, we wanted to make our home more self sufficient and a great place for learning and gaining responsibility for any and all kids that lived there. So we worked the land some more. Fall and winter veggies were planted, more chickens, three pigs, a male goat for breeding, and a flock of 10 sheep were all brought home to the settlement that we were so proud of and ready to commit to.
We felt so blessed. Never in our marriage (or single lives) had we ever worked so hard or had a to do list quite so long. But never in our single or married lives had we ever felt something so right, such fulfillment. We had been wandering aimlessly for years just living life. But this felt like our calling. Like we were finally listening to God’s direction. And we were reaping so many rewards from it.
Our house and home was so full of life. That of the animals we so deeply cared for, the snoring puppy that drowned out the music, the giggling baby that would chase her dad in circles around the house, the roommate and friend who had come to be like an uncle to Dottie, and the frequent kicks I started to feel in my belly from baby number two. Our life together was precious. And I will never forget this season we all shared.
Dustin’s mom came to visit us for Christmas all the way from Dallas and we began to share our vision of the future with her. Her plans involve moving up here in the spring and we were so excited for her to share in our dream on a daily basis.
On Saturday December 26 we took her to the airport at 3 pm. We live fairly close to the airport so we just hopped in the truck without coats thinking we would be back in a few minutes. It had been raining off and on all day but just as we headed out of the house, the rain started to pour more heavily.
After saying our goodbyes and leaving the airport Dustin and I discussed doing something with our afternoon. Neither of us really wanted to go anywhere, we just felt a bit of cabin fever and we didn’t want to return home just yet. Our roommate, Blake left shortly after 4 pm for the evening. Dustin and I eventually wound up at Gordman’s which is on the complete opposite end of town from our house and we hardly ever go over there because it takes too much time to get there and back home. We spent some time perusing the isles for some home goods since we were in the process of redecorating a little bit. (Did I mention that we bought a new (to us) couch the week before Christmas? And his gifts to me included a shelf for my kitchen, a table top for the sofa, and the most gorgeous custom built dining room table I had ever laid eyes on.) I actually left Gordman’s with a mere $15 spent on home decor because I just wasn’t really feeling it. We did however, get Dottie a couple of outfits, a pair of sweatpants for me and Dustin, and a pair of new jeans for him.
After leaving Gordman’s we decided to go out to eat. During dinner Dustin got a text from his mom and her flight hadn’t left yet due to weather. We were waiting to hear if it would be cancelled for the night and we were going to bring her back to our place for another day. We returned home before hearing back from his mom and it was a bit of a scary drive. At that point the heavy rain had turned into heavy storms and torrential downpours. We had to take a few detours to get home due to high water. The storm was still raging when we pulled onto our road around 6:45pm. All the houses seemed awfully dark and an eerie sense fell over the truck. We topped a hill about half a mile from our house and as we looked down over the dark landscape it was lit up in a certain spot by a lot of flashing lights. It seemed like where our house was, but we weren’t certain. I told Dustin that I thought it was higher up the hill toward the neighbors house. As we turned the last corner before our house and got within 100 yards our hearts sank as we realized what was happening. Nine or so fire trucks were already parked out front battling the blaze as our house was engulfed in the flames. They let us through far enough to park in the driveway as we stood in the pouring rain in shock of what we saw.
Dustin immediately started calling Blake frantically. His truck was gone, but we were still worried about him somehow being there. I got back in the truck to check on Dottie and our poor farm dog Bella plowed the door back open and jumped into my lap. Dottie had somehow fallen asleep through all of this and Bella and I sat holding each other in the front of Dustin’s truck as he talked to the fireman to make sure everyone was safe and see if they had seen our other dog Nanna. The lightening was still striking dangerously close so we moved our truck to the neighbors driveway where we sat for the next two hours watching the flames take what was left of our home.
At some point Dottie woke up so I brought her to the front seat with me. She began singing and playing like being in the front seat was the greatest thing in the world. I love my sweet daughter. My parents finally made it up. As soon as I had called them they headed to our house and braved the storm. They had to back track several times to get through the high flood waters safely. Thank God they did. They gave me a big hug and sat in the truck with Dottie while Dustin and I walked down to the house with the homeowner to check on the progress.
The fire marshall said he was pretty sure it was lightening. And we asked again if anyone had seen a brown dog. But no one had. The local fire department had 20 something other calls that night because of all of the flooding and storms. I am so thankful for their service and for working endlessly in the pouring down rain to put out the fire all before packing up and heading to the next call.
We walked around the property in the dark trying to navigate our way to each animal area to check on their safety. Everyone was cold and soaking wet. But they were all a safe distance from the actual fire. The chickens and goats were suffering through some pretty thick smoke so Dustin tried to wrangle them to a safer location. The neighbor later said he had heard a loud thunder and the power in his house surged and the lights started flickering for a few minutes. That was about 15 minutes before he saw all of the sirens up the road. Someone driving by had called it in only about half an hour before we arrived. My car was in the driveway. I think he thought someone was in there. I hope that man knows that we are all safe.
Dustin’s mom finally called and her flight was indeed cancelled so she would be staying in Springfield for the evening. It was so good to have her here during this time. Dustin and I left our house around 10:30pm to go to my parents house. There were still about three fire trucks left and the fire was mostly contained. The house had a metal roof so it was preventing the rain from helping put out the blaze.
The ashes continued to smoke and spark back up for the next two days. It finally stopped smoking and the roof is now hovering about three feet off the ground so digging through all the rubble hasn’t been possible. From what we can tell standing beside the house and looking in, there won’t be anything worth salvaging.
Dustin gave me his grandmother’s wedding ring when we got engaged. It is so treasured to me that I didn’t even wear it because I was afraid I would loose it. We knew exactly where it was sitting when the house went up in a blaze. We got some shovels and reached in as far as we could and sifted through the rubble close to the wall scoop by scoop. My friend, Kelsey exclaimed that she found a metal box. And there in the rubble I opened the ring box that held my wedding ring, damaged, and not exactly in tact, but recognizable and more beautiful than I had ever seen it. It was a needle in the haystack. It was a symbol of God’s grace and provision for our future. A glimmer of hope and a sign of his promise.
So many family heirlooms, photos not yet uploaded, videos of Dottie’s first days that I didn’t have room to store on my phone, homemade baby quilts, toys from Dustin and mine’s childhoods, and the most random of possessions that held some sort of sentimental value to us. They are all gone.
The first home that we shared together as a family is no more. The same home that had seen several families make memories in over its one hundred year life. The home where I birthed my sweet baby in. Our landlords, and now dear friends, birthed three of their babies in that same room. All of this is now laid to rest with the ashes of the old timbers.
We are so grateful for that home and the time it shared with us. So grateful for the experiences and the memories. We will cherish them forever as we move on to the next chapter.
What will that next chapter be? We have no idea. God is so good and faithful and we know there is a good and perfect plan for us and for our dear friends the Millsaps who owned the home and for our dear friend and now family member Blake who lived with us.
We are trying to be patient and trust in his plan. Our farm critters are not only a hobby, but they have become a part of who we are, part of our identity. And we know there is a plan out there that involves having them all with us. It will just take some more time to find it. We will mourn the loss of our home, but more than that we will mourn the loss of that dream, that future, that life. But we will move on to God’s even bigger and better plan for our lives.
We only had a few papers left to turn in before we were approved to start foster care. But because of the circumstances, that has been put on hold until we get settled. We know God has called us to that. We feel deeply for that. And we will continue to pursue our license just as soon as we can. We will bring a new baby into this world in May and we will rejoice for it and love the “season” that a new baby brings to a family.
Dustin, Dottie, and I are so blessed to have family close by with a big house, lots of land, and open arms. We are staying warm, cozy, and loved with them as we rebuild our future one day at a time.
I tell you all this just so Dustin and I can document what was only the beginning of something great and we can remember it and we can mourn it and we can process it. Every little detail. And we can cherish it. And we can praise God for it. We don’t want you to worry about us. We don’t want you to feel responsible for us.
If you have seen posts on social media and feel bad and want to know how you can help… you can hold your babies tighter. You can take a step back and truly breathe in the moment that you’re in. We deserve none of what we have been given. The love, support, money, God’s grace. It is so much more than we will ever deserve.
We love each and everyone of you so very much. We want to see you all and spend time with you and grow our relationship with you. But time is precious and we are still recovering. So much to do and so little time. For now, please be patient with us. We want to have so many deep and meaningful conversations. And they will happen, with time.
5659 North Farm Road 151 and the first Stewart Settlement will forever be in our hearts.