Stories that Stretch

Stories.

The shape us, they stretch us, they essentially tell the tale of our lives.

I love them. The way they weave and wave and they give us pages to go back to, to remember.

They give us memories that are so good you want to store it away in a drawer and stumble upon it when you piddle instead of clean.

Stories take my heart places that nothing else can.

Stories bring an emotion every time they’re told. But the ones that grab us are the ones that are unexpected, the kind that inspire and light a match under your fanny to choose the path that seems crazy only to find yourself living in the craziest blessing.

This story today, the story of a friend I met on Instagram, is one that I am daily blessed by.

I never thought that I could meet a complete stranger over my phone screen and feel completely inspired and blessed.

Meet Ashley Petrone.

Or on Instagram, Arrowsandbow

A California girl.

A believer, wife to her sweet hubby, and mama to three awesome kiddos!

I stumbled upon her IG page when we finishing renovations on our duplex, looking for inspiration for decorating in small spaces and found this adorable family that decided to renovate an RV and live in it while building their home!

It seriously may be the #worldscutestRV.

What made you decide to get an RV and renovate it? 

“Before the RV, we lived in a 5 bedroom house in SoCal. We bought land at the beginning of the year and plan on building a house. While building, we had so many options on where to live. We could move into an apartment, but we would be paying more than our old mortgage for 1/4 of the space. We thought about a Tiny House, but they were also a bigger investment. We decided to go shopping for an RV and when we saw ours, we were sold. It had 3 bunks in the back and was perfectly old inside. I knew I was gonna rip it apart so it was a done deal! We figured while were building we can save money and travel and just experience life in a different way.”

Ashley has an eye for design and turned this place into an absolute dream space.

In my own personal experience renovating and moving into a smaller space, I knew that a lot was going to have to change and I was going to have to figure out a new way of doing things.  Watching Ashley’s instagram stories on life with a spouse and three kiddos in such a small space was helpful and so inspiring!

Tell me about your renovations.  How long did it take? Did you do it yourself? What design/space efficient hacks can you share?

The design of the RV took 3 weeks, Dino and I are kinda nuts like that… when we go, we go hard! I designed it all and we did most of the work ourselves. I designed it with the intention to make it feel like home. I knew we were going to be misplaced for a while and I didn’t want us to feel misplaced. So while its designed and styled while, I shopped with a major budget and everything in there was a bargain. I’d say when living tiny the best advice I have is less is more. Such a cliche but so so true. More just stresses you out. So every time I bring something in, I get rid of something. 

How have you seen the Lord work through this opportunity to live in an RV with your family?

“Gosh the Lord has used us and this experience in so many different ways. Just the simple fact of living tiny with a family of 5 is a struggle in itself. But through struggles, we grow. I have already seen how much He has shaped, molded, softened, and used us in amazing ways. My husband and I were just talking the other night. We were sitting by our fire pit outside, looking at the stars and just kinda laughing at how awesome this experience is. Like how random that were doing this. But its not random at all. When I look back at the last year of our lives, God has carefully guided me and I have fervently sought after Him for wisdom. He has led me to create a blog and a page where I thought I was just gonna share design tips, little did I know He had other plans.”

Ashley continued to explain how amazed she was that her instagram and blog has led her to share with other women about living minimally, contentment, being vulnerable, and being a joyful mom! Her words: God’s like.. nah kid… I got more for you.

What is life in an RV with 3 kids like? Do you feel like this is such an awesome space for them to play outside more? 

 

“Life in the RV with 3 kids is crazy. The boys try to wrestle in here and the whole thing shakes! lol! So we really try and spend a lot of time outside. And living in here has really shifted how we spend our time. While before we were more homebodies, now we are kinda forced to explore and get out. All in all, we would not change a thing about our living situation. I am so thankful for this time and what it is teaching my family.”
The fact that I am sitting in my home in Montgomery, AL and getting to glean from the kindness and wisdom from this beautiful soul ALLLL the way in California is beyond my understanding.
But man, I sure do love that we are in a time where our stories can reach across a nation.
That they can touch us, move us, and ignite us, into trusting God with all of ourselves.
That it is indeed possible to live out of your comfort zone to live in the center of where God needs you to be. No matter the town or the place.
Alabama or California, a big city or small towna duplex or an RV.
Ashley, your story, though still being told, is stretching across the nation to touch more people than you know. It is an honor to know you and learn from your God given wisdom. Thank you for letting us dive into the pages of your story.

It’s Your Adventure

Three years ago… and a few months, we got married a week and a day after we graduated college.

Sounds like foolery to those who marry when they’re “secure”, but we married for love… and we had no money.

We adventured to California on the dime of loved ones who managed to bless us with the adventure and it was one for a life time.

When we were deciding where to go, I remember thinking to myself, “I want to go somewhere I have never been and likely won’t be able to go to again for a long time.” So California it was. An excursion to set off the adventure of marriage we were about to embark upon.

The honeymoon was over quickly and reality set in faster than we could grasp.

Long nights working jobs that paid nothing and squeezing by on rice and beans and a newly discovered sweet potato recipe that still never gets old

We would go to Wal-mart to buy pop tarts and coke and come home to watch an episode of Parks and Rec as a date night.

We sold rainbow cleaning systems and I waited tables for extra tip money to put towards groceries.

We figured out how to roast coffee and realized it was a cheaper way to have coffee in our house, and that “hey, maybe we could sell it!”

We had to decline social trips and events because bringing the side dish cost us more than the meals we were eating at home.

We renovated a house and sold it not long after to pay off debt, moving us in with my parents.

We renovated another house and finally moved into it a month ago, making that move the 5th move in 3 years. We know most poeple timeline their lives according to the year, but the Bells do it according to what place we lived.

I have about a million more stories where these all came from. I am happy to share with any who need a sense of relief.

What does this even have to do with California?

Well, kind of everything for us.

Because our lives have felt like chaos, and not just a few days of chaos, but years of what feels endless and non stop. A lot has been hard, a lot has been laughable and a lot has been rewarding.

But we have been tired.

So, a few months ago, while I am sanding floors, sealing them, and doing it all again, trying to hold back exhaustion tears, and my husband lays it on me “hey, i’ve been saving money for a  couple of months and for your birthday, I am taking you to California.” Words can’t describe what my heart felt. But, joy and dancing, to name a few.

So, almost two weeks ago we packed our bags and flew to California for an adventure that neither of us really knew we were about to embark upon.

We rented a car and drove to San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and shamelessly played the full house theme song. We spent 30 minutes parking for a 5 minute stare at the Painted Ladies houses.

We drove up to Pointe Reyes National Seashore and let the ice cold ocean burn our toes with its freezing temperatures and didn’t care one lick.

We spent the night in Bayside, CA at an Airbnb that puts any southern cottage to shame with its charm… murphy bed and all.

We drove up the coast, I would point and Cody would pull over so we could dip our toes in more ocean and breathe cold air that let our southern lungs rejoice in our moments away from the scorching south.

We hiked all day in the Redwood Forest and touched century old trees that seemed unreal at their enormity. I felt like every few steps we would stop and gaze. For the first time in 3 years I saw the adventurous look on my husband’s face again.  The one he carried in college when paychecks came from mom and dad and the greatest stress was calculating our chapel absences.

We drove towards Redding and were stopped by forest fires closing off roads for hours, so we stopped at a bar in Big Flat, CA with the population of 36 people and a pup named Olive.  The bar was no longer a bar, but a place with frozen food and a microwave, hotpockets and ramen noodles it is! 

We talked to the owner and sat outside with our paper plates and hearts that only wanted to listen.

We made it to Redding late and woke up with the sun to catch the early service at Bethel Church, a place I have longed to visit since the days when I streamed their sermons through my iPod nano.

Our flight home got canclled because of Hurricane Irma and we were rerouted to L.A. for a night.  An opportunity to spend the whole evening with a friend we feared we wouldnt see for years.  A hike up Pointe Dume and sunset over the pacific before heading back to Alabama.

We felt full of adventure and exhaustion, but the kind that sends you home with renewal and vision for what’s to come.

I felt like I finally had my turn to have adventure or explore, the kind that I watched other young people and couples experience through a phone screen, envying what they had.

Finally, it was my turn to have the experience and the places to go and see. But coming home, driving down interstates that are slow paced and foliage is the median, laying my head under the roof a duplex that the two of us poured literal blood and sweat over, seeing my nephew running down the driveway to see “RaRa and DoDo” after our time away, when I go church and faces hug me and ask how it was “out west” and my mom makes pot roast for Sunday lunch, I stop and I realize … this. this is the experience I want.

Sure, I wanted and I think we both desperately needed our trip to California. We needed a breather.  Thank God for a husband who pinched our pennies to make it happen!

But it’s the simple, the small, the even frustrating moments that I want.

I even want the ache. Because when I ache, I know I’ll smile too. When I cry, I know I’ll laugh too, and that’s the adventure that I crave.

Isn’t it funny how when we are in season of mundane, hardship, or disappointment we tend to think we are in it alone? How the enemy isolates us and tells us we are the only ones.  Can I get an amen??

I know that ache. The kind where you feel it in your gut.

I know the exhaustion, the kind where you feel like there is no light at the end of your tunnel.

I know the envy, the kind where you often question if God sees you or if He just wants you to cheer everyone else on in their excitement.

But adventure is in your now. And I hope you know it. I hope you know it’s in the life you are facing.  The school you are struggling through or the job you feel swamped by, the children that you are rearing or the loads of laundry you are folding.  It’s in the coupon clipping and Sunday lunches.  It’s in the rice and beans and rainbow cleaning systems. It’s in it all. It’s your story. It’s your adventure.

I would really love to encourage anyone who needs encouragement today! Email me and let’s chat!

So, How’s Married Life?

We all looked like typical bridesmaids as we walked around a carnival cruise ship, unashamedly sporting our bride/bridesmaids clad.

Our friend, Kayla was getting married in 3 weeks and it was time to celebrate her.

To make her the focus of our attention… and everyone elses.

Us, in our blue tank tops reading, “Last sail before the veil” and Kayla in white, “Bride to be”

As we were making our way for probably a third round of all you can eat cruise ship pizza, we heard a voice yell out,

“You getting married?”

Kayla perked up, her eyes searching for the face to match the voice.

She spun around “Yes! I am! 3 weeks away!”

The man who yelled out was older, with gray hair and wrinkled, overly sun kissed skin.

He huffed back “Ha, good luck.”

#partypooper.

But, it’s that question and that answer that seemed to keep coming up throughout the weekend.

The question and response that I, along with many many others, have gotten as well.

The words of people trying to shift your heart from excitement for a life long partnership, to discouragement and disappointment.

“The old ball and chain.”

“Kiss your life goodbye.”

What even is that?

We celebrate for weekends, spend hundreds and thousands, yet a realm of people (even those who have been married decades) want to speak an inheritance of shame over you.

no thanks.

But in Kayla’s most Kayla fashion, she threw back a quick, sassy remark and ignored that man, focusing on the celebration.

I’ve always admired that about Kayla.

She and I roomed together for 2 years in college, years where she taught me how to be brave, how to laugh at life, and where she scolded me for not replacing the toilet paper on the roll. 

It was in college that she met Matt, that handsome guy in the Khaki suit.

The guy that keeps her smiling and really keeps her laughing at everything in life.

Her perfect match. I think that watching Kayla and Matt’s relationship unfold into what it is today is what made me so excited to ask her about married life.

How’s it going?

What led y’all to this day?

What did you learn leading up to wedding day?

What is the Lord teaching you?

What marriages have you learned from?

Kayla shared such matter of fact answers with me.

Answers with mindset, not just fluffy cliches.

“It’s different living full time with another person that isn’t a parent or college roommate.  This person needs your help getting through the day, relying on you as much as you rely on them.”

Remembering the art of thinking of someone else before thinking of yourself.

Kayla nailed it. 

The two had to find a place to live, a last minute search where they wound up in Kayla’s parents camper or as Kayla calls it “my parents 5th wheel.”

Kayla laughs when she talks about it, referring to it as #camperlyfe

Her words: “We get this fun memory to always have and think back on. It’s easy to clean and we can’t run too far away from each other.”

No complaints.

No regrets.

Just her and Matt and a mindset that says “We have been provided for. We live close to one another. *insert a Kayla laugh* And it moves!

In all serious nature, Kayla can pull herself together from the laughter to look a person in the eyes and say “It’s worth it.”

Every hiccup, every moment that didn’t go as planned, every little inch of marriage is worth it because Matt is who partners with her in it.

She shared that growing up with parents who have been married 37 years, a couple she never watched fight made an impact on how she views marriage.

She loves Matt’s grandparents, who he loves and admires, and how their partnership has shaped his mind the gravity of marriage.

Kayla thinks about holidays.

Not worrying or wondering what town they’ll do Christmas in and who’s family they’ll join for Thanksgiving lunch.

She thinks about the fact that her holidays are spent with him.

No more separate Christmas.

No more Matt in one town and Kayla in another.

They get to have it together. Kayla talks about the Lord.

His faithfulness while she waited to marry Matt.

His faithfulness in providing a home for them.

His faithfulness in examples of strong marriages.

His faithfulness in her purity before marriage.

Kayla has seen the power of why the Lord asks us to abstain until marriage.

She openly discusses how the shift of single life and married life happens with “I Do” and a piece of jewelry.

How she’s processed the transition and what she’s learning from it all.

She has perspective, the kind that women need to hear.

The kind that every kid needs to hear about waiting and why it’s worth it.

Kayla even likes learning Matt’s habits and ticks.

She wants to know what he loves and what upsets him.

It’s all a part of the process, one that she sees as a consistent journey of learning.

Kayla never looked at marriage as a destination, but rather a starting point.

Where she can laugh at the fool who tells her “good luck.”In recent conversation we laughed about how people only ask you about married life when you first get married.

They want the scoop on how you’re adjusting, if he’s a nightmare or if there is truly bliss.

For some the question comes because they just don’t know what else to ask.

But together, we wondered what it would be like if we looked at a couple married 25 years and asked that question.

If that question is ever asked anymore.

Three weeks, three years, three decades long… How is married life?

Did you learn from the months that were really hard?

Where life wasn’t ideal?

Where you lived in a camper while you prayed for a new space.

Did you take notes when you learned how to communicate better and practice that?

Do you delight in holidays and the fact that it’s spent with one another or are you stewarding a negative mindset on where you have to go?

Are you loving one another with your words, actions, body, emotions?

Because yeah, that guy on the cruise ship probably dealt or is dealing with a marriage that never took note.

One that was hurtful and unfair.

A lot of people have.

But you get to make the choices that are best for YOUR marriage today.

To look at the home you live in as a place to be close.

To look at holidays as quality time with your spouse.

To thank God for provision of food on your table and a roof over your head.

To see your bodies as belonging to one another and celebrating that.

To look to marriages that have survived the ages and seek out wisdom and guidance.

To learn what your spouse loves and what they hate… and learn the art of giving them a life they love.

Thank you for celebrating tirelessly and giving us all another reason to be brave.

Kayla and Matt, you two have taken 4 weeks of marriage and taught the world around you how marriage is really going. 

 

Photography:Jaclyn Nolin Photography

Makeup: Erin Bryson

Flowers: Haley Scott