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Preface

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“This is not our home,” Mark told the kids, pointing to the house we’d lived in the last seven years — the only house they have known or remember. It was Thanksgiving weekend last year, and we were sleeping in the backyard, snuggled in our sleeping bags and tent. Mark was trying to speak to them about the kingdom of God, this abstract thing we pursue yet cannot see. “I know that’s weird to say since we eat and sleep here, but our home — our real home — is the Kingdom of God. This is just a house.” He pauses, expecting this statement to segue into a larger dialogue, but the kids just shrug and begin making silly faces with their flashlights. They were camping in the backyard after all. “Good talk,” he sighs and tosses an exasperated glance toward me. I thought about these words this morning, these words left suspended in the cold November night so many months ago, and I realize now, they were meant for us.

We didn’t really have a plan when we put our house on the market in March — so unlike the both of us. Always working hard to live within our means (cash budget, debt-free), Mark and I had found it more difficult to pay our bills and expenses since the previous year when we lost more than half of our income overnight. Although our life wasn’t lavish, we lived with more than we needed, and those little details were the first things to go. We sold our nicer SUV and bought an old Suburban. Mark picked up extra writing jobs in addition to full-time teaching and part-time graduate school. I went back to work part-time, tutoring college students in writing in the late afternoon/evening when Mark could watch the kids. I continued homeschooling during the day. And unexpected money came in the mail like manna. Sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried. We were tired, but making it. Barely making it. And then the house. Our boys were 1 and 2 when we moved here, and this was the girls only home. It was a second home for so many of our friends, a collection of meals and prayer and discussion and parties and play. Our hearts were hungry for adventures and other unknowns we couldn’t always quite articulate. But somehow it seemed to always come around to this: should we sell our home? We decided to list it through the spring and summer, and if it sold, we would move. Otherwise, we’d stay. This was our coin toss, our fleece. It sold after three days on the market.

Mark and I had always joked with Kristen and Tim about cohabitation. Kristen is my younger sister and she’s married to Tim, Mark’s younger brother. (Don’t worry. It’s legit. Nothing weird, just lucky for us.) We live only 1/3 of a mile apart and our lives already overlapped in so many ways, it almost seemed easier. When our house sold, we decided to try cohabitation. We would move into their home, sharing the mortgage, bills, groceries, and space, for a one year trial period. Our four kids would share rooms with their two (girl/boy rooms) and each couple would have their own rooms. And now here we are after a difficult month of moving, cleaning-out, and giving away — the not so effortless combining of our two households into one.

Why am I telling you this? Why am I sharing this now? Because sometimes media deceives us. We see in part without the perspective of the whole. We consume and swoon over the pictures and the poetry without always understanding its origin, its birthplace. And then we compare ourselves, our families, our decisions, and believe what we have is not enough. I’m just as guilty as anyone else. So as I share handfuls of pictures and places of our life the last month, I want you to have context of what it cost us to get there. No one forced these decisions, the house sale, the move. We chose it based on a coin-toss and a longing for more of that abstract Kingdom, hoping to show our children what can’t always be discussed in a backyard tent– this is not our home.

35 replies
  1. brit
    brit says:

    so interesting. i just emailed this page to my friend. she and her family just moved in with me and my family (four adults, six kids, 1 dog, and 1 hamster). i can honestly say that it’s far better and easier than i thought it would be. did you find that? like, prior to the actual move, there were one thousand what-ifs and potential hazards, but with the right people and at the right time, it just works. this is the first time i’ve stumbled upon someone else “cohabiting” as well. cheers.

    Reply
  2. Jodi
    Jodi says:

    And now there are tears rolling from my eyes. 🙂 So beautiful. How all of our lives share similarities here on Earth. So obedient of you and such a leap of faith. Praying for both of your families. For grace and for rewards you could never imagine.

    Reply
  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    I am brand new to your blog, and touched by this post. We just recently found ourselves with a similar decision. Money being tight was the first time we started talking about it, but once we found out my single mom was sick, the decision was easy. So, for this season, we’ve created a little “apartment” in our basement. We share a kitchen and living space, but she has her own private space downstairs.

    Honestly, it has been easy, which I’m sure is the grace of God. My daughter has been a bright part of each day for my mom, who is utterly exhausted when she gets home from work each day. And when she has good weeks, she is so helpful to me as I juggle working motherhood.

    I am so looking forward to more of your blog, so glad I stumble onto your little space on the internet.

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      So lovely to meet you here, Mary! What a gift to be able to help your mother while also enjoying her being so close. And cheers to all the life stories we’re collecting on cohabitation and community. Blessings to you! x

      Reply
  4. Kristin Kleinkort
    Kristin Kleinkort says:

    And here I am again, reading your beautiful blog at work, and getting choked up in my little cubicle. This is a sweet reminder that heaven is our home and that what we see through the lens of media doesn’t always reveal what lies beneath the pictures or in between the pictures….the truths, hardship, joy, etc. that pictures can’t always fully capture. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      I’m always glad to shed a little light into cubicles. (Wink.) Seriously, thank you for your encouragement and sincere heart. It was so good to visit with you guys last week. Much love to you!

      Reply
  5. dera frances
    dera frances says:

    this choked me up, as it hit close to home right now for us. we are at a crossroads of sorts with jobs, homes, decisions about parents, whether or not to go back to homeschooling, etc… and i’m fretting. forgetting everything i know to be true. forgetting about the time that terry & i had $20 to our name when we first got married. we tithed it, because why not? it couldn’t hurt. and (i kid you not), when we walked back into our apartment after church, terry (who’s 6’4″) brushed up against a low-hanging tree and a crumpled $100 bill fell like a leaf to our feet. how can i ever forget such a strange and obvious miracle? anyway, thank you for helping me remember. xoxo

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      What?! How wonderful and faith-building and like God. Thank you for sharing, Dera. It really does encourage me to bits. Maybe one day the stars will align and we’ll be able to share a coffee or a glass of wine (or several!) at the same table. Grace and wisdom to you guys. xo

      Reply
  6. Lucy
    Lucy says:

    Wow! This is amazing and faithful and inspiring and honest and brave! I LOVE it! How challenging to keep in mind that our post/ ZIP code is a heavenly one not an earthly one. Imagine how much that would change us if we fully understood? Looks like you are learning in a pretty challenging way 🙂

    Prayers from across the pond,

    Lucy xo

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Yes, so true! See what beautiful challenges life holds? I’m so grateful to walk through it together with my husband. Blessings and a congratualtions to you and yours in YOUR new marriage! Glad to meet you here, Lucy.

      Reply
  7. amy
    amy says:

    wow. bethany, I found you by way of instagram several months ago. not knowing you, but seeing your sweet images and captions…and so much context missing…it is amazing how much I could see. I see ripples of what you and your husband are doing throughout the body of Christ, I see it in our own family, and I think, “Lord, what are you doing?” it is amazing and good and meaningful, and I want to keep in step with Him. I think what you, your husband, your sister, and bro-in-law are doing is beautiful and challenging and full of so much richness. may we, the body, keep in step with His goodness and grace and live for the eternal.
    with love,
    amy

    Reply
  8. Terri
    Terri says:

    Oh Bethany, I love to read your writing. Love you guys and the example you are. Thanks for sharing. Hope we can spend some time together soon!

    Reply
  9. constanze linnea
    constanze linnea says:

    Bethany, you are a true inspiration. For real. And I love the vulnerability of your words cause this world needs more honesty, more reality – and I pray that you won`t ever get hurt for what you are sharing!
    The Lord is proud of you, sweet lady! He really is. And he wants to bless you in ways you`ll never imagine. It`s gonna be beautiful.
    Dearest.

    Reply
  10. Kaylan Buteyn (@kaylanbuteyn)
    Kaylan Buteyn (@kaylanbuteyn) says:

    What a beautiful post, Bethany! I had been wondering what was going on with your big move and why you moved in with your sister/if it was a choice. I’m ever caught between the desire to lose all of my earthly possessions and attempt to live with the bare minimum, but also struggle with materialism and the desire to have a beautiful home. mostly i care that my home is a temple of creativity and peace for my family, which is what i try to keep my focus around when purchasing things that go inside it. Anyway, hope you blog about your big family vacation! Would love to hear more about your trip. xo

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Thank you, Kaylan. I completely agree about how we create the atmosphere in our home. Peace and creativity — sounds similar to our own goals here. I knew we should be friends (wink). Moving is always good if only for realizing how much “stuff” we have, and I’ve always felt we live minimally. Ha! And yes, I WILL definitely be posting pics of our trip. I’ve been switching over some things on the admin side of the blog, and I wanted to make sure all of the content transferred before I began adding them. Also, we have so many projects to complete in our new home before the school year begins — talk about finding balance. Anyway. I’ll share soon. XO

      Reply
  11. Patti
    Patti says:

    This is such a good reminder. I have had major struggles with house envy. And travel envy. And school envy. The list is truly and disgustingly long. So, I am working on realizing that it is a ridiculous waste of energy and time. That my blessings and trials are mine, and that to measure them against what I perceive to be someone else’s bigger or smaller share is presumptuous and fruitless.

    I love the canyon shot.

    Also, I think you and Mark should write a book about the realities of the family commune. I’d buy that book. Much more interesting than that guy living in his van so he wouldn’t go into debt at Duke.

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Yes. There’s so much value in thanksgiving. In speaking it out loud and counting His goodness and faithfulness toward us. We created a list in these last two years. Maybe i’ll talk about that some day. Thank you for YOUR honesty and compliment. I would love to work on a creative project with Mark at any point — maybe that’s what we’ll do when all of our children leave and we have quiet and time again. 😉

      Reply
  12. betsy berre
    betsy berre says:

    bethany! you may be my favorite writer. thank you for sharing. thank you for this preface…this framework to tell the rest of the story of your move and your road trip!

    Reply
  13. wifeysinger
    wifeysinger says:

    thank you so much for sharing these words, this part of your journey.
    so much familiar here. praying for your dear family!
    for smooth transitions and grace upon grace in the difficulties and the joys.

    xo
    psalm 40:11

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      It always builds my heart to hear “I know. I’ve been there.” Thank you for that and for encouraging my vulnerable heart.Thank you for your prayers and sweet blessings. Glad to “meet” you. 😉

      Reply
  14. Autumn Caron
    Autumn Caron says:

    Thank you for your honesty. I love your posts and seeing the pictures of your family on Instagram. You are blessing to those who read your blog!

    xo, autumn @ courageouslove.net

    Reply
  15. Carissa
    Carissa says:

    This is both beautiful and telling. Beautiful because it illuminates the Holy Spirit within you, and telling because it shows your focus. My heart literally sang with gladness at reading of God’s hand at work within and through your family.

    Praying for all of you, and rejoicing in some part also – He is able and He “goeth before.”

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Amen to singing hearts! Thank you so much for your encouragement, your blessing, and your prayers. My heart is full at the responses I received here. So thank you, thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  16. JAAM
    JAAM says:

    Hi Bethany,

    I can not even begin to describe to you how this post touched my heart so deeply. My husband and I are currently in the process of buying our very first home together. The past four years have been spent living with his family as we were in and out of work and very young (got married at 19!). Now we are finally in a position where we can move out. I understand where you are coming from with the media perception of what we oh so badly need and must have. When in essence this life is short lived and we should go through it as though we are travellers for that is what we truly are, Here to love and worship God in belief that our real lives begin once this is over. My husband has been trying to instil this in my mind in the hope I one day feel content with what I have. It is incredibly refreshing to come across someone like you and your wonderful family. Please keep up the good work. I need it!

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Yes. And yet there is so much beauty and hope here too, even in the midst of hardship. I’m so happy that you all will be moving out to start a new chapter with its own challenges and triumphs. Blessing to you both. x

      Reply
  17. Sarah Kate
    Sarah Kate says:

    Bethany,

    I loved reading this and understanding the perspective behind your last several months. (And, by the way, I know a pair of sisters married to twin brothers and I think it is so neat– and they lived together for years with all of their kiddos and had a marvelous time!)

    Last night, I also wrote out some thoughts about the media perspectives that we mull over in our minds and hearts. How thankful I am to have found you and others in the sea of IG and blog land who realize that this, however beautiful and broken it is, this is not our home.

    Reply
    • cloisteredaway
      cloisteredaway says:

      Thank you so much, Sarah. It’s hard sending something so vulnerable into the web space, but I felt it necessary all at once for people to have a snippet of the reality. Thank you for your encouragement. Always. I look forward to reading and catching up on your big move soon. And maybe one day we could sit for a real cup of coffee. xo

      Reply

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  1. […] refocus my own heart in this way regularly the last two years. As life has seemed to size us down (you can read more about that here), it feels easier to focus on the loss, the lack, the want. Finding ways to say “thank […]

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