top of page

The Journey

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

I had been in a very unsatisfying, unfulfilling job for 15 years and it had taken it’s toll. If you haven’t read about that, click on this link to catch you up first:

Ralph writing

Courtney writing

So we waited for answers on what path we would be on next. When I say wait, I do not mean that we sat idle in hopes that something would drop in our laps. We have close friends that moved to Tennessee in August of 2020 that we very much wanted to follow down.

A little history: I was in the same homeschool group with another Campbell family and in September of 2019, I heard Lauren talking about moving out of NY. I told her we were thinking about doing the same thing and that I’d love to get the families together to talk about it.

Getting together with families, including husbands was unfortunately an uncommon occurrence between Ralph’s schedule and his lack of desire to really meet new people, but I thought this was important.

This get together changed our lives! We found a couple that was going through very similar things. Our kids got along really well. All the while us adults were able to have deep, meaningful, and purpose-filled conversations.

(1st row- Left: October 19, 2017. Lauren and I on field trip, Middle: October 6, 2019- first get together, Right: January 26, 2020- a deeper friendship was forming that night between Ralph and Ben.

2nd row- August 5, 2020- couple days before the Campbell's moved to TN)

Then the covid nonsense hit in March of 2020. New York had gone from gradually declining to practically falling off of a cliff in a matter of months. At the prison, understaffing was creating mandates which were becoming substantially frequent. It was causing a chaotic family life. I didn’t know when I was going to be home. When I was home, I was too tired to be engaged because I was being forced to work 16 hour shifts from 3P.M.-7A.M.. It wasn’t healthy for our marriage and children. We agreed that this was no longer the life we believed we should be living or the state we should be raising our family in. We needed to start taking moving more seriously.

At this point, the Campbell's had already moved to Tennessee. They had spent years researching it. We trusted their judgement and started to consider moving there, too. They told us that we could use their home as a base for us to scope out their new area for as long as we needed. It was both generous and seemed like a promising idea.

We visited them within a few weeks of their move in August of 2020 and fell in love with the area. We had been steadily flipping the house we had been in, but now had more motivation to get it ready to go on the market.

(Our August 2020 visit, including our time at Ozone Falls)

Four months later, Courtney’s dad and step mom decided they wanted to move to Tennessee, too. We spent a lot of time talking with them about buying a place with multiple dwellings on it to save money on housing for all of us. Courtney and the kids even took a trip down in February of 2021 with her step mom to look at some properties.

(Short February 2021 trip to TN.

Left: My stepmom and I left at 9pm to drive down.

Middle: One of the views to a house we had looked at.

Right: some much needed time with my friends)

Even though we all had the best of intentions and ideas surrounding this, God was repeatedly and firmly closing the door on that idea for us, but not for Courtney’s parents. Her stepmom had already found a job and they were able to buy a house almost effortlessly.

In March of 2021, we drove to Tennessee to stay with the Campbell’s and see what jobs in that area looked like. I explored around the town, and talked to people that lived there about work. What I discovered was that, for the most part, the better paying work was further out than I wanted to have to drive everyday and the work around the town just wasn’t that good.

(Trip to TN in March of 2021)

After that trip, Courtney and I both felt discouraged given the fact that we both really liked the area, the Campbell’s were there, and loved the church that they had found. So again we were left with waiting, pondering, and praying for what to do next. Now I say that in the a manner that may seem like no big deal, but for Courtney it was a huge deal. We had covid to contend with, the restrictions in our state, the cold weather and being stuck inside! Things we used to take the kids to indoors during the winter months were no longer running thanks to government mandates.

It was those mandates that also drove me to want to get out and do better for my families sake. If we as parents are not operating from a full cup, how can we effectively pour into our children day in and day out? We needed change from the dreariness of New York!

We spent a lot of time evaluating what we really wanted and what we believed God wanted for our family. We wrote down pros and cons to so many scenarios. What if I stayed in corrections for another 10 years? What if I left it, but stayed in New York? If we move to Tennessee, do I stay in law enforcement? I didn’t feel settled on any of the ideas.

My favorite idea of Ralph's was that we move into a live-in flip in Tennessee, fix it up within a couple of years, and do that for two houses. That would give us a house that was paid for in about 4 years. I thought that Ralph could stay home to do that and I could supplement with photography.

With every idea we had, I was trying to figure out a way to keep Ralph home. He would always ask, “how could we afford to do that” and my response was always the same, “I am not worried about it. God will provide.” My earthly provider is a tad more strategic than that. Even though Ralph desperately wanted to do the same, he couldn’t see a tangible way to make that possible with the ideas that we had. So we continued to pray together for direction, peace, joy, contentment, and patience.

We also considered moving to West Virginia. That was a state we had frequently visited over the years because one of my best friends, Don and his parents live there. They were like family to me for many years. Though we love our friends and the landscape there, it was not quite south enough for our liking.

Florida was a state that we often talked about. I had lived there nineteen years ago for only six months for school, but I loved the weather and would have stayed if it wasn’t for my future ball and chain in New York…aka Courtney. When she was visiting while I lived there we had talked about getting married and staying in Florida. I ultimately ended up moving back to New York where we got married two years later in 2007.

(First: August 2004, at First Baptist of Orlando church where Ralph attended while living in Florida.

Middle and right images: October 2004 when Courtney surprised Ralph while living in Florida

Last: Ralph and his co-worker, Vega at Advanced Auto Parts in November 2004)

While we were visiting Florida in 2009, we met up with a friend of Courtney’s from high school that lived down there. We had many common interests. In 2012, we met his girlfriend, who later became his wife. We all got along really well so every time we visited Florida, we’d see them and they would visit us when they were in New York.

My friend would constantly ask us when we were moving to Florida. Well for years the answer was that I made good money, had good benefits, and a pension. I couldn’t justify the move out of New York to Florida, even though I used to say that I wanted to retire, move to Florida, and drive a Disney bus.

Shortly after we had returned from our last discouraging trip to Tennessee in August of 2020 where I was trying to find work, my friend texted us. He asked again, “when y’all moving down to Florida?” This time I responded half-joking and half-serious with, “when you can get me a job.”

He then informed us that he was starting a new company. He would need help once it was up and running six to eight months from then. I said that it sounded interesting and to keep me updated.

I did not expect that at all. It was the most promising opportunity so far, but we aren’t ones to get our hopes up. Ralph and I really try not to be dead set on something because it doesn’t allow for God to work. We wanted what God wanted, not what we wanted. We began to ask, “Is Tennessee not what God wants for us even though it’s a great state with our best friends and soon my dad and stepmom?”

The thought of waiting another 6-8 months from then to move seemed torturous to me, but the reality was that we had a lot of work to do on the house still before we could put it on the market anyway. We were right in the middle of some big projects. Then Ralph said, “realistically, we have about a year’s worth of work to go on this house given the pace we’re going now.” He was spot on with his estimation.

A year to wait seemed like forever! I also wasn’t sure if this possible job in Florida would work out given it was a new company and they could have needed people before I could ever even get down there.

Meanwhile, my dad and stepmom moved to TN in March of 2021. We had only been neighbors for about a year and really enjoyed that! It felt surreal saying goodbye to them as they left to fulfill what we thought was our dream. We believe that this was God's way of moving them there as it has been a

huge blessing in their lives!

Eleven days after my dad moved, our friends came to visit us from Florida. Ralph and I prayed together before they arrived, really wanting God to lead this potential job opportunity. We talked with them about our willingness to move down to Florida even though it was totally out of Ralph’s comfort zone.

In addition to the new business that was started, his wife also expressed an interest in hiring Ralph at her company as well. So Ralph now had two job opportunities in Florida. Wow, God. Before leaving, our friend said, “you just have to rip off the bandaid, Ralph.” That saying stuck with us as we continued down the path of moving out of New York and starting all over.

Four months passed with very little word from our friends about how things were going in Florida. We kept working diligently on our house in faith that we would need to put it on the market soon. We were still very uncertain where we were going to end up. My dad and the Campbell’s were asking around about work for Ralph. We still kept leaning towards wanting to move to Tennessee, but we would always say, “but God hasn’t shut the door on Florida yet.”

I started getting antsier about what was going on with the job opportunities in Florida. It was the only thing that seemed to make sense. We both had talked in the past about possibly moving to that state and we loved its governor. It would be a great state to raise our family in, too.

As mentioned before, I didn’t care about a job for Ralph. I thought we could make Tennessee work with the cost of living being lower and working from home. Ralph did not see that as a viable option yet, so I was trying to be supportive in helping him figure out what he could do instead of being a correctional officer. Sitting in limbo was making us feel crazy and unsettled.

The days at the prison got longer. I was getting really annoyed with going. It seemed pointless aside from a paycheck. On top of all of that, every day I went in, I didn’t know whether I was going to get mandated. I kept telling Courtney that I thought that God was keeping me feeling uncomfortable. Without getting too much off topic, He helped me to see during that time that I can get too comfortable in dysfunction.

In August of 2021, I reached out to our friend in Florida again to see how things were going with his new business. Within minutes he called me and said, “what is it going to take to get you down here?” I was not expecting that. To have him coming out of the gate with that question really caught me off guard. I was just asking him as his friend.

We talked about what he had going on, the nonsense of New York State, my job, and their desire to have us work for them. He said that they would be in touch. I hung up with a clearer sense of direction for the first time since we had been pursuing the idea of moving. I was encouraged, hopeful, and grateful.

Ralph texted me right away, but all I saw was, “guess who called me?” before our friend was calling me. I answered and the first things I heard out of his mouth were, “Hey! Pack your bags. You’re moving to the sunshine state. It’s time for beach hair don’t care.” All I could do was laugh. He filled me in on their conversation and said that they would love to have us down there.

I was speechless. God was answering our prayers.

A couple of weeks later, I suggested that we tell our friends that we were willing to come down there to check out the work that they were doing. A few days later they said, “can you come in two days?” Ralph scrambled to set up some swaps to cover his shifts. He told only one person at his work what was going on. Though this man didn’t like to swap, he agreed to work for Ralph so that we could check this job opportunity out.

Courtney wanted to come with the kids so we packed the van up, slept in a rest stop overnight and kept going till we arrived. She makes traveling fun with snacks, music, movies, and audiobooks and has trained the kids to like it. The sleeping in a rest stop is cheaper than getting a hotel or Airbnb and its like camping. That may be a stretch to say, but the kids actually like it! Maybe that could lead to a camper van conversion in the future…

I spent two days with my friend at work seeing what they had going on. There was a greater need for me at his wife's work then at the company they had started. It seemed interesting and worth a try. It was a great opportunity to try something new.

(The boys and I went to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens one day and New Smyrna Beach the other.)

We talked at their house about working for them as well as our ultimate goal of working for ourselves and creating a family business. I needed a steady income because it wasn’t clear what direction we should be going in order to make that goal a reality. However, I was open to making this a long term job if that was the direction God wanted me to go in. Our friends completely understood. They love to see and help people succeed in their goals.

A big thing as I was looking for jobs was pay. We knew what we needed to live off of. We still wanted the majority of Courtney’s time to be spent raising our boys so the income would mostly fall on me. We did not think it would be wise to intentionally put ourselves in a worse position financially. We were trying to be as strategic as possible, but still trying to leave room for God to work. Our friends shared said how much I could get paid and it was very close to what I was already making.

This was huge. I was blown away by what God was doing. There was a company in Florida that was willing to hire Ralph for practically the same amount of money he was making in corrections. He would be home in the evenings, weekends, and holidays for the first time in fifteen years.

In that same dinner conversation with our friends, I brought up my little brother, Tyler. I said that he was looking to move down with us, too and that he was a good worker. They immediately mentioned a different job opportunity. If Tyler was interested, my little brother would be coming down with us, too. I was grateful that I might be going with some of my other family.

With that talk, the next day we were headed back to New York excited that this was happening. I was also thinking about all the things that we had to get done to move. It would be a lot.

My brother Tyler was giddy over the news. My dad was genuinely excited, recognizing that this was a work of God in our lives and a very clear open door. The Campbell’s also shared the same sentiment. It was hard though for all of us knowing that this door was opening in Florida and not in Tennessee.

When we returned to New York, the hiring process was slow. Our friends in Florida had a lot going on. This made communication tough.

Not having been given a start date yet had me doubting if this thing was going to actually happen. I started looking for jobs on I was still open to Florida and other states. All I knew was that I wanted my family out of New York.

At the end of October of 2021, I got a call from our friend asking how soon I could get down to Florida to start working. Liam’s ninth birthday was coming up and I didn’t want to miss that so Courtney and I decided that I would leave in the beginning of December. Unfortunately we couldn’t all move down right away.

It was a stressful time for us, but it was finally happening. We were moving out of NY! Though there wasn’t much time to process this, I still wrote about it because it was too big of a deal not to. I had so many emotions.

We had only a few weeks to get the house up on the market. Thankfully, we had been diligently working on it for the last two and a half months. We had already started to get rid of things, pack up what we could, and I took photos of the house.

(Top left: The heating element in the dryer went while we were in the middle of selling the house

Top right: Courtney photographing the house to sell

2nd row left: Gutters were replaced before going on the market.

2nd row right through 3rd row: the boys helping with a few small projects before going on the market

Bottom Row: Mark Haines of Superlative Real Estate helped us buy this house and then sell. We LOVED him!)

November is not a prime time to sell a house in NY. We weren't sure how it would go, but within 9 days, we had 10 offers, and many well over asking price. We were again blown away at God’s activity once again!

At this point I was excited for the change in job and to be finally getting out of New York. However, I was nervous at the same time because I’m a creature of habit. The thought of learning a new job and finding housing without Courtney was overwhelming, too. And lastly, I was sad about the fact that I had to leave my better half and children for two months.

December 4, 2021 came quicker than we all wished. There were so many tears leading up to that goodbye. Ralph is extremely family oriented and doesn’t handle change well. This was a really big challenge for him emotionally. It brought to the surface a lot of painful childhood memories. It broke my heart to see him going through this. I am so proud of him for taking such a bold step of faith in not only starting all over again, but going before his wife and children to prepare for our new life in Florida.

On top of all of that, Courtney and I were both working through covid before I left and it was awful. I still had a terrible cough, couldn’t breathe well and was dealing with night sweats when I arrived in Florida. It wasn't the best way to start a new job.

But that’s not all. Despite my best effort in having my vehicle checked by our mechanic before my drive down to FL, a brake line blew when I was only a mile from my destination. I had to rent a car to be able to get through my first week of work.

The cherry on top was on the following day, Ralph's phone number was stolen. It was a test by a hacker who weeks later stole $5,000 from us. We never got that money back. Clearly, the enemy was determined to rain on our parade.

While Ralph was in Florida, I created a giant countdown to keep sane as I played single mom. I remember saying to Ralph, “God has a sense of humor. You are leaving the boys and I during some of my least favorite months of the year.” Between the darkness, cloudy skies, cold, and snow, I would be in a funk every winter and this one was one of the hardest.

I had to pack the house practically all on my own with our 9, 5, and 2 year old boys. Though friends and family came to help, the majority of it fell on me because it often turned into socializing and trying to squeeze in my last few minutes with people whom I loved dearly.

To keep Daddy “around” we did a lot of video chatting, texting, and calling. I would often put the phone at the table in the spot where Ralph usually ate and we would all eat our dinner at the same time. He would still read books with the boys at night, sing, and pray with them. They kissed the phone and there would often be tears when we hung up from missing him so much.

Though I missed Courtney and the kids, I was happy to be out in the sun and warmth. That is why I loved living in Florida 19 years ago. I was thankful to be in it again on a daily basis.

(Below: The contrast of Ralph in the sun to our snow)

There was a lot to learn about construction management, but I was grateful to be given the opportunity to learn it. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to like my job, but as I already stated, it was a great opportunity to try something new.

It was like two different worlds. When I was working in the prison, I couldn’t have any outside contact. Now I could communicate with Courtney and the kids at work. I was able to go across the street for lunch. While working in the prison, it was almost like I was a prisoner myself.

Ralph was able to come home for Christmas for a week in December. We all got really sick again so we did not get as much packing done as we had hoped. It was another hard goodbye. Nineteen more days and we wouldn’t have to do this again. Another countdown went on the chalkboard wall.

We did not know where we were going to be living until about three weeks prior to moving down. In between adjusting to being away from my family and learning a completely new job, I was looking for houses. I would video chat Courtney so she could see them, too. I probably looked through 20 houses.

We put in a few offers, had been under contract for one house, tried getting into some rentals, but nothing was working out. We started to joke around saying, “we’re all moving into the warehouse.” Until the whole family could come down, I had been staying in a room in the companies warehouse with Courtney’s little brother.

Two weeks before we were supposed to move, God again opened a door at just the right time to give our family a place to go. My friend called me saying that they knew someone who was having to evict a tenant from their rental house due to some unexpected and unfortunate circumstances. The old tenants would be out of that house by the time we would be coming down which didn’t leave them much time to get it cleaned up. It was a roof over my families heads so we were grateful.

We are so thankful for how God has used this family to bring us down to Florida and all of the extra things they did for us in the moving process. In addition to offering Ralph and my brother a job, they provided shelter for two months, rides to the airport to fly back to Buffalo, a real estate agent, and now a house to rent. Despite all that they had going on in their own lives, they were generous with their time and resources.

At the end of January, Ralph flew home to move us out. He didn't fly in until late so the boys came running into the bedroom first thing in the morning. Liam was nestled under the blanket next to Ralph. Our family was whole once again.

(Ralph came home to lots of snow. Notice what he is doing with his thumb. It was his last time having to plow our driveway!)

It was such a bittersweet time. We were so blessed with how many people came to help us move and say goodbye. We were leaving such a great community of people. They would be hard to replace!

Things felt very chaotic so unfortunately, I did not get photos with everyone that came to say goodbye to us for various reasons. (I also hadn't thought I'd be doing what I am doing now in this post.) Not pictured are my friends and bridesmaids, Jenie Andrzjewski, whom I have known since I was two and Heather Maier since middle school. Also, Mike and Lisa Kokanovich, our friends since 2007.

Bear with me as I reflect on each of these people in the photos below. Leaving them was not easy. And I’m a photographer so photos are kind of my thing…..

Darren and Jessica Wight- Our closest neighbors, friends, and brother and sister in Christ.

They and their family were such a gift to us! We could talk for hours!!!

Michael and Heather McDowell- Heather has been a faithful friend since middle school.

She was also one of my bridesmaids and a cherished sister-in-Christ. Also a big help with moving!

My nieces, Bri, Morgan, and Samantha.

I gave whatever I could to invest in these girls over the years.

I pray that the seeds I planted take root! I love them so much!

My only living grandparent. I cherish all of the time she has invested in me and my boys.

Bill and Katie Cloen with three boys just like us. She's a lifer. Katie was a big help despite her health problems. I won't forget it!

Aaron and Mary Henderson. I graduated with Aaron from high school and we were neighbors for a few years.

He and Ralph are good friends despite how it looks in the photo. Ha! God is up to something with the four of us...

Ralph's cousin Mari, who he lived with in Florida 19 years ago, but she moved back a handful of years ago. She has been a great cousin to Ralph!

My sweet friend and sister in Christ since middle school, Amanda Cottle. She broke into tears when she walked in the door to say goodbye and so did I. We have so much history together. She loved our boys like her own.

My soul sister in Christ, Donna Domres. She snuck into our lives only a handful of months before we moved, but she was all in helping wherever she could. Her joyful heart to serve and love people is contagious!

My Leah Sophia. She threw one of my baby showers. Before kids we spent a lot of time together helping each other grow closer to Jesus.

Tiffany and Jake (not pictured) Kokanovich. Our families got together when we could squeeze it in. We both were on the journey of trying to move out of NY together, but God is keeping them in NY for now while they build their newer business. Our kids had a blast together!

Brian and Linda Wight- more of our great neighbors. We would visit the farm and had great conversations as Brian milked the cows. They came to pray for us before we left and more specifically for us to have Godly neighbors. That prayer has been answered and we are so grateful!

Levi and Paula Choate. Though we've known them for 14 years, we got closer the last year we were in NY through a gathering they host every other week called Man Training. They have huge hearts to serve and share Jesus. The boys were close with the Choate boys. They still talk about them and the skate park in their basement.

Mark Haines, our real estate agent for buying and selling our house. This Godly man voluntarily prayed for us through every step. When you are going through such a major change as we were, it was a great blessing and encouragement to have him.

My girl, Heaven Bonning would come over in the evenings and stay till late at night so that we could sing, compose and record music for Jesus with minimal interruption. Our shared love for music is what really bonded us.

Our sweet and loyal friend and sister in Christ, Krista Woodruff, her husband, Brian and four cute kids (not pictured). We have so much beautiful history dating back from the last few days of high school when we got to know each other!!!

Ralph's dad. He took our move very hard and that was difficult to see.

My mom. She has lost much over the years and my heart breaks for her that we were leaving her. She used to tell me when I was younger, "you can go away for school, but you can't move away for good." She knew that she ultimately couldn't get in the way of what God was doing. She said in the days leading up to our move, "I'm devastated for me, but I am happy for you." My heart.

Theresa and Curtis Hoffman- my "adoptive parents," "grandparents" to our boys, mentors to both Ralph and I, sister and brother in Christ, best friend all wrapped in one. Words cannot express mine and Ralph's gratitude for their investment in us for the last 14 years. Though they hated to see us leave, they were fully supportive and encouraged this move.

Leroy and Marleen Webber- They hosted the first small group Ralph and I ever went to as a married couple 14 years ago. Their investment in us spiritually is one of the big reasons for why we are where we are today. I definitely cried saying bye to Marleen while thanking her for her investment in me. I'm pretty sure that tough woman got choked up herself, but don't tell anyone.

The Thompson Family. Candace was a cherished friend and mentor of mine for 15 years. We have them to thank for modeling homeschooling so well for us. Oh and there's how to lead humbly, steward wisely, parent graciously, travel often, save responsibly, and how to love like Christ. Just a few instrumental things.