For over a year we’ve shared stories of people who are living life boldly for the benefit of themselves and the world around them. Our desire to share these stories all began with following a fresh path in our own lives.
It all started in the fall of 2014; Jeff and I hit a time where we knew God was leading us to move on from our home of 17 years in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We had had wonderful years in Hattiesburg watching our boys grow up through high school and then attend college at Southern Miss. Jeff had the privilege of serving on a dynamic church staff at Venture Church where he was able to to be part of an organization that was willing to try new and different things to reach others. Mary Ellen had a wonderful job at Presbyterian Christian School where she loved her students and her coworkers. It would have been a great place to retire! That’s just not what God had planned for us.
Two to three years earlier, God had begun to expand our horizons. We began to travel more and try new things. After our oldest son Seth had completed 11 months on the World Race through Adventures in Missions, we were able to serve as coaches with that organization and had the chance to travel to eight different countries to mentor Racers. (See the picture below of some of our wonderful Racers and the places we visited.) I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but these were just drips in what would become a stream of readiness to move forward.
Everything came into focus January 1, 2015. It was at this time that God let us know that it was time to let go of our security in Mississippi and take a bold step forward. To make that step even bolder, we didn’t even know what we were going to do except that it would be something new. All we knew was that it was time to do “it,” though we still didn’t know where. That month, Jeff resigned his position, and we began to explore what was next.
During this time, a friend from Adventures in Missions put us in contact with a man named Bobby John who wanted to start churches. Bobby was in the Atlanta area, and, though we looked at other areas of the country and world, this seemed to be where God was leading. We put our house on the market “For Sale by Owner” and it sold within a week. Now, that’s really strange because it had been on the market for six months prior to this time and only four people looked at it. It seemed it was time to go.
At the end of May 2015, we packed up the half of our belongings we had decided to keep and moved to an apartment in Sandy Springs, Georgia. But that’s just the beginning.
For the last four years we’ve been given the opportunity to meet many people from all walks of life and from all over the world. We’ve had church in our home more than I can count with people with whom we had much in common and those with whom we had nothing in common. Jeff has done more one-on-one ministering during this time than most of the time he was on church staff put together. Churches now exist in Dunwoody, Roswell, and Clarkston, Georgia, that were not there before. (The picture below are from the Dunwoody church.) People have come to faith in Christ. We’ve been able to see lives changed. Could those things have happened in Mississippi? Yes, and they were happening, but for us to be on the front lines of such experiences, we had to leave our comfort zone and move. It has been one fresh path after another.
Throughout this time, we have been struck by how so many people live their lives by conventional standards. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great if that’s what God has for you. But, what if He has something more? What if He has a fresh path for you that requires a bold move? An adventuring spirit? Would you take that fresh path? When we decided to leave Hattiesburg, people were, of course, excited for us, but so many expressed that they wished they could do the same type of thing. We always asked, “Why don’t you?” The answers revealed that, though many want to live daring lives, they’re just not able to break free from their security to do so.
With this in mind, we wanted to tell people’s stories who live boldly and do things that positively impact themselves and others. That’s how Freshpaths.life got started. We’ve shared with you stories from people all over the country who followed their life calling and are living their best lives. Once you start hearing all of these stories, it does something to you; you want to take even more fresh paths. You begin to think “what if…?” Which leads us from Atlanta to the north Georgia mountains in answer to one of those “What if.…?” questions.
Two years ago we bought a great townhome in Roswell, Georgia. It was beautiful. Mary Ellen had a teaching job that was the total opposite of what she had had in Hattiesburg but loved it. She especially loved the people with whom she worked. We had friends of different nationalities and points of view and enjoyed the diversity, but we knew that wasn’t where we wanted to stay forever.
We began to toy with the idea of moving to the mountains and building a cabin on a stream, maybe even build a couple of rental cabins. It went from toying with the idea to actually looking at property in and around Blue Ridge, Georgia. Then we found a real estate agent, and, wouldn’t you know it? Her husband was a builder. With our realtor’s help, we found over 10 acres on one of the prettiest, noisiest streams you can imagine less than a mile from a wilderness area. Mary Ellen had even been offered a job in the area where we wanted to build. Just one hitch, we owned a townhome in Roswell.
The thing about fresh paths is that, once you’ve taken one, you feel pretty confident about taking another. So, we put our townhome on the market. Nine days later, it sold for cash for our asking price. It seemed it was time to move again.
Some of you who have known us longer may be asking, “What about your children?” Well, that’s yet another great thing. Seth and his wife Ashley work for Adventures in Missions in Gainesville, Georgia, about an hour or so from here; they’re moving into their first house this week. Ben has recently taken a position at the University of North Georgia, which is also in Gainesville, Georgia. Crazy, huh? (The pictures below are from Seth and Ashley's wedding in October 2017.)
So, through pretty miraculous circumstances, Mary Ellen is writing this story sitting on the couch in a small cabin on top of a mountain in Ellijay, Georgia, that we’re renting until the house is ready. About 10 miles away, the footers have been poured for our cabin. Yesterday we walked the creek that borders the property—four football field lengths of creek frontage.
Here are some pictures of the progress that's been made on the property. Don't worry. Mary Ellen is just pretending to operate heavy machinery. We don't have enough insurance to let her do that for real.
Here are some more pictures of the property because, if you're still reading this, you may want to see them.
Oh, and did I mention the zoo? One of our stories for Fresh Paths was about Hope Bennett and her mission to bring people and animals together for the glory of God at the North Georgia Zoo. Our hearts bonded with Hope. Mary Ellen spent a large portion of her summer working and leading day camps at the zoo where she has gotten to pursue a goal of providing education in nature. Teaching and nature AND animals—what more could you want? Jeff will be working at the zoo some in the coming months helping them wherever his gifts and experience are needed. That may be cleaning out goat pens and feeding the pigs, but church work prepares you for everything!
So, this is the path that we’re on. Jeff is still leading the church planting in the Atlanta area, and we drive to Roswell to have church in a friend’s home every week. The churches in Dunwoody and Clarkston are still rolling, and we are hoping to start a church at the zoo! God is already doing some great things as we build relationships with the people there. We even got to speak at a youth camp last week at the zoo. How cool is that? I guess they didn’t notice that we’re dog old.
That's a pretty eclectic mix of fresh paths, huh? This is what we’ve learned through all of this. God wants us to live life abundantly. If we’re willing to take risks with Him, He’s ready to prepare the way. It’s not always pretty, and there are still plenty of hard times. Within 10 months from October 2017 to August 2018, we lost three of our four parents; it was a painful time where we learned a great deal about grief and about life. Another thing you learn is that when you dare greatly, you often get greatly disappointed, and that’s happened, too. You can’t, however, let fear of disappointment, or fear of any kind, keep you from taking the path if it’s what God has for you.
We’ll keep you posted on where this next stage of the journey takes us. We hope it includes some baby goats sooner or later and maybe a miniature horse. How fun would that be?
We’d love to hear from you! Let us know about your fresh path. Tell us how we can pray for you as you seek God’s path for your life.