HOW IT ALL STARTED
Have you ever had to move when you least expected it? When you were just getting comfortable in the place you called home? Where you had established significant friendships and had family near by? Maybe, you had even created a routine for yourself and your family and then… time to pick up and move. Bam! just like that. If you have, I’m sorry! If you haven’t, bless your heart.
It happened to us not too long ago, my husband came home from work, and told me he had been praying for a new job and maybe a new home… in a new place. I remember feeling blindsided by the news, after all, I loved our home and our city. We had just begun our homeschooling journey in Miami Springs, FL and were blessed enough to be in this journey along with our two dear friends and their families. We lived close to each other and attended the same enrichment classes and belonged to the same homeschool groups. My mother in law and sister in law lived only minutes away. I loved it. I thought it was the perfect set up for our lives and now my husband presents me with a different plan.
My husband, Sherman, was born and raised in Key West, FL, a true Conch (someone born and raised in Key West). He had always talked about moving back to The Florida Keys and had tried before to motivate me to move. Truly, I thought, maybe one day when we are old, we can visit Key West – on a weekend- for a few hours. That’s how much interest I had in this island dream of his. Little did I know, that not only was this dream of his very important to him, but was also in God’s plan for our lives.
Not a week had gone by since Sherman had told me about his prayer, when he came home early from work and announced that there was a job opening in Key West that would be more than perfect for us. I remember it clearly because just two days before I had my wisdom teeth removed and still could not move my jaw and was in unbearable pain. I started to cry immediately and not out of joy, of course. Through my teeth and with my mouth almost shut closed, I started to tell him off, “I don’t want to move to Key West! That place is for drinking and partying only (not true). There is nothing to do there (totally not the case). I don’t even think there is a church in that whole island (only like a zillion). What about our friends here? What about your mom? We can’t live away from mom?! I need to be close to her! Sherman Hamlin!!! Oh Lord, this isn’t happening to me, right now!”
I continued to cry the whole day. I called my pastor and she listened for a long time. By now I was really in a lot of pain because I was forcing myself to talk on the phone. She prayed for me, advised me to let Sherman go to the interview and she gave me a word from The Lord, that I will never forget.
THE REASON FOR CHANGE
My husband had not ever once complained about work to me or to anyone else. He had landed a job with Target after the 2008 “recession” hit. It hit us hard, too. We had just started our lives together, moved from California to Miami, bought a new house and we were expecting our first baby girl. The plan was to climb the corporate ladder with Target. He had recently been interviewed for a promotion. In fact, had more than one interview for the next step in his career. He met with important people. Had a trip to corporate headquarters coming up to meet more important people. If anything I felt safe and felt that life was good right where we were.
On the other hand, he worked every weekend and holiday. He worked six days a week, sometimes 14 hour days. Christmas Day was the only day he ever got off. We had just begun homeschooling so life rotated around his work schedule. If he was coming home at 11pm, the girls and I would go to bed early and we’d wake up when he got home to spend some time with him. If he got up at 5am, we did too. We had all the time in the world and it didn’t make a difference when we went to sleep or when we woke up. Our daughters, Hailey (4) and Carlie (2) at that time, were young enough to not mind time changes at all. Many times we would drive to his work to have breakfast with him or lunch. Often we shopped for groceries at Target just so he would help us, we totally considered it family time.
I knew he was tired, I knew that work had gotten more and more demanding. But I did not know how unhappy he was. I mostly thought this heavy load was only for a short time. I thought once we got this promotion, his hours and work load would change and we seemed to be so close to that goal. In the mean time Sherman had been reevaluating his life and heart. He found out that he really didn’t want a corporate job. He didn’t want to miss out on his girls growing up. This all started with him realizing that little league t-ball was about to start for Hailey and he was not going to be able to attend practices let alone coach her. This was important to him, his dad, Grandpa Chuck, had been his coach all his life. Grandpa Chuck, always made sure to be there for his every practice and game, no matter what. Sherman, you know, grew up loving baseball and being a pretty good player himself. He went on to play college ball for the Air Force Academy.
Once he shared his heart with me, I understood the reason for change. Now, I wanted change too. Now, I needed that change for him. I, too, started to pray. I prayed for guidance, I prayed for favor, I prayed for satisfaction and fulfillment in both our lives. I knew my husband needed to come home and find some rest. And I knew home was not where we were, home was Key West, FL. We needed to relocate.
THE DAY OF THE INTERVIEW
As it turned out, the owners wanted to interview all of us, children included. We drove down US A1A for the day. The weather was cool with blue skies that seem to have no end. We blasted our music, with the windows down. Me, letting the wind tangle up my long hair. We talked about his childhood and mine. I grew up in Honduras, in a port called, Puerto Cortez. I lived near the beach so everything about A1A reminded me how I grew up. I lived there until I was 14yrs old, then we moved to Los Angeles, CA. where Sherman and I met.
The four hour drive down A1A was breath taking! no matter how many times I have made that drive, I always remember our interview day drive. We arrived in Key West and met with the owners of a local hardware store. I tell you, I was blown away immediately by them. I have very seldom met people that just blow me away with their kindness and humbleness. I knew immediately I wanted our family to be part of theirs.
The interview was delightful… Very smart men sitting around talking about all things that mattered to them work wise. I remembered the owner, taking a moment to ask me, what I thought about a possible move to Key West. I remember feeling the urgency to pour out my heart to him, almost as if my whole life depended on it. I managed to tel him that I just wanted my husband to be home. To have normal hours and to feel joy in whatever it was that he set out his heart to do.
I remember the owners asking us for a moment, so they could look things over and they would get back to us in a few minutes. I promise you, I held my breath the whole time! I let my husband wrap me in his arms and I listened as he told me that everything would be alright. I stood there with him just weighing it all in heart. How I didn’t even want to move just a few days before and now here I was, unable to breath because I needed this move to happen for us.
Thankfully, they made us an offer.
You bet we took it!
FINDING A HOME
Within days we were packing and turning in the keys to our old place. We were downsizing and it was not easy. We ended up giving most of our furniture away for free to anyone who would take it.
Finding a home proved to be difficult. Turns out Key West is quite popular, which made me feel like I had been living under a rock and didn’t know just how sought after the island was. I thought, we’ll rent some nice place and make things work until we get a bit established. Well that didn’t happen!
There were like three places available to rent on the entire island! That we could afford anyway. We quickly made the decision to buy. Sherman contacted a long time friend, Bascom Grooms, who is a realtor… and here is when our move becomes the adventure we never saw coming our way.
Bascom found us a home, which I immediately loved. It was a two bedroom in Big Copitt, FL. Only 15 minutes from town. The sale seemed to be going smooth, until closing day… the seller backed out of the contract! We thought, what now? All of our stuff was in storage. We had made plans to stay in a hotel until closing day. Where do we go? What do we do?
An old time friend of Sherman’s family, Ms. Sammy, took us in and let us stay with her until we found a new place. God is always working to make all things come together for our good. Ms. Sammy was God sent and to this day she is a treasure to us.
HGTV HOUSE HUNTERS
We met with Bascom after breakfast the next day, He had a lineup of homes within our budget. We geared up with our girls ready to see them homes, when Bascom started telling us about an HGTV producer reaching out to him about being on the House Hunters show. He told us he had never really wanted to do it before because he could not find the “right” family to do it with. On he went telling us more about the details of it all. By the end of the conversation we were in!
The producer contacted us right away. She wanted to meet us and learn more about us so we made a little video and sent it to her. It was so much fun. It all was so much fun. In the next few days things were moving fast… we had the filming dates sooner than we thought. Within days the crew was on their way to Key West.
All of this was happening and you won’t believe it, but we didn’t even have our clothes with us. Everything was in storage! Shoes, Fancy make-up, clothes, jewelry, even my hair dryer was in storage. If you happen to come across the episode you will see right away that we are anything but fancy. What you see is what you get.
We don’t know how other shows are made, but for us the journey was real. We needed a home and we needed it fast. The homes that made it to the show were pretty cool homes. Sherman was just begging me to agree to buy the house with the pool. He really loves a challenge and wanted to make that home beautiful for us to enjoy. I, on the other hand, just knew in my gut that it was not the season for a “fixer upper” in our lives. In fact I was terrified of getting into a fixer upper. Bascom was such a gentleman and never sided 100% with Sherman, he always kept my concerns in mind.
#3 SMALL TOWN-HOME
The day we walked into that small town-home, I just knew we could make it work for us. It could use upgrades but it was move in ready and that’s just what we needed. The cameras captured some of the charm of the home, but the neighborhood itself was absolutely breath taking. The pool was located right across from the house. The neighborhood was surrounded by trees which attract all kinds of birds and butterflies and bees. It was all, oh, so quiet there, all the time. At sunset we loved going for bike rides. Just around the corner from the neighborhood is the Key West Botanical Garden, where we rode our bikes to, almost daily.
Our small Town-Home also came with great neighbors. The week we moved in was absolutely wonderful. Neighbor after neighbor came knocking at our door with cookies, pies, fruit bowls or just stopped by to say “welcome”. Soon after, the whole neighborhood knew our girls by name. Needless to say we felt home right away.
SPEAKING OF NEIGHBORS
That same week I got a call from a lady.
“Iris, I got your number from your next door neighbor. She says you homeschool? My name’s, Emily. I live just down the street from you. We homeschool our children as well.”
Woah! Wait, what?! We have homeschoolers down the street?! Turns out we had homeschoolers everywhere on this island.
She went on to say stuff I can’t remember, because I was still in shock. I did hear her say, homeschoolers are meeting in the afternoon at the library. She invited me to come and meet everyone.
Guys, we couldn’t fit in that room! It was full of parents and children. My girls found friends right away. What I mean by that, is that they found, lifetime friendships, their childhood “best friends” at the library that day. And I found that one friend I had been praying to have all my life. Mrs Emily turned out to be an incredible woman.
I also met other moms that I absolutely treasure. Their children, husbands and lives are all so inspiring. These are also life long friends, here to stay in our lives. No matter what life may look like later on down the road for us.
Who would have thought that Key West was full of homeschoolers? I knew Key West as a vacation destination. A place to party and bar hop. But lo and behold, it is also a place where wonderful people are raising their families.
“Lord, this can’t be happening to me” that’s how I had reacted to the news of a possible move to Key West. Looking back, I feel so grateful that God guides our every step, no matter how we feel about the unknown. Fearing that this move would mean loneliness, instability and having to start all over again in a new place, when in reality this move has meant abundance of friends, stability and finding our place in this world.
Remember, how my pastor had advised me to come to the interview? Remember, how I told you that she gave me a word from The Lord?
She told me, “Iris, I feel like God is taking you out of your comfort zone and taking you to a place where you do not want to go so that you can see how sufficient His grace is for you. Sweetheart, your husband is looking for a new job in his hometown, but I tell you even more than that he will receive. I see gifts that no man can give, I see blessings you haven’t prayed for yet, that will change you and your family forever. He is giving you the keys… and you must take them.”
Since we have moved here, the blessings of friends and meaningful friendships have been abundant. Everywhere we go people know us. In part because my husband is a “Conch”. In part because of the House Hunters show. We’ve met so many people from all over the country through social media and in person. I even reunited with a long lost friend because she was watching the show, late one night and recognized me. But also because “homeschooling” to us is more like “everywhere-schooling”. And also because God gave us those gifts that no man can give, two new daughters. Now we are the family with FOUR girls, strolling all over town.
Ezra entered our lives just a month after closing on the Town-home. She was and will always be our “welcome home” gift. That girl is the joy of this house. I absolutely adore her. We plan on keeping her. She has changed me as a mother and as a person. I have become more like the mother I always wished to be one day, and it’s because of how much she inspires me to be the best I can be.
Earlier last year, we welcomed Eve. I can’t even say her name without tearing up a bit. Eve means so much to me. She is my treasure. My pastor, of whom you’ve heard a bit about, was like a mother to me. She got sick in 2016. I went to see her, in California, during her last days with us on earth. Everything about that woman was beautiful and our conversations were so meaningful all the time. One of the last things we talked about, was me having another baby. I told her we were done, three kids were more than enough for us. But she insisted on praying for me and blessing the fruit of my womb. We prayed that if it was His will and He had a purpose for another soul to come to this world, that we wanted a boy, but that if we were meant to just have our three girls that was fine too. I just assumed that if The Lord wasn’t going to send a boy, than He most certainly wasn’t going to send another girl! Little did we know that I was actually already pregnant as she blessed me with all her love.
Choosing her name was easy for me. I knew I wanted her name to be Eve because one of the meanings of Eve is: beginning. Now that “mom”, as I affectionally called her, was gone, so was a season of my life and a new one was beginning. I also felt that just as one life was ending, another one was beginning. Eve represents all things “life” to me.
At the end of 2016, because Eve was coming, we had to sell our #3 SMALL TOWN-HOME. It was a little bitter sweet. We had really made that town-home “home”. But once again life was changing and changing fast. By now I had learned a thing or two about moving.
We received Eve in our new home. The House itself is a “fixer upper” so you know Sherman is delighted. I am too. We are slowly fixing it. One weekend at a time. The idea is to have it completely redone by the end of 2019. Pray for us!
CHANGE IS GOOD
Because I have seen the goodness that has come out of this move, I am now a huge fan of change. I encourage you to make “change”, your friend, as well. I pray, that as you read these words, you may find a peace that surpasses all understanding. That you too have your moment of holding your breath, waiting to see which way God will direct your steps next.
I thank God that I embraced it and that we are now enjoying the benefits of being dragged out the comfort zone. I am thankful to my husband for not giving up on his dream. You’d be so proud to see him coaching little league soccer and little league softball.
We have found a home church that we love, where we are learning to make a bigger impact on this community. Even though we homeschool, we like to be part of our community the best we can.
This year we are full of more dreams. Dreaming, as it turns out, is a heavenly thing. The first dream for 2018 was building this blog and sharing with you, our lives here in The Keys and how God is reshaping them.
We have plans to build an “island garden” and eating fresh, healthier, organic food, right from our backyard.
Our girls have found an entrepreneurial spirit and have begun three different businesses.
Loosing my pastor, Pastor Alicia, was not easy. I miss her daily. My biggest concern was not having someone to call to ask for advice whenever life happened. As I’m sure you know, there aren’t a lot of those wise women left in the world. But I take heart knowing God is always working in His mysterious ways. Instead of lamenting her departure, like Israel lamented Moses’s death, I have found now a desire to be more like her to other women. I don’t think I could ever fill her shoes, but I can definitely pass on the wisdom of her advice and the endless love she taught me from Christ.
So here is me and my family taking a hold of The Keys and sharing them with you!