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Our Family’s Year in Review: The highs, the lows, the struggles, and the victories (Part 2)

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If you missed Part 1, be sure to read it here first. We left off in June — here’s a run-down of how the rest of the year went:


We began the month by heading back to Kansas to celebrate the fourth of July. It was good to go back, though Silas had a lot of asthma struggles when we were there, so we didn’t get much sleep at night as a result.Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.20.09 AM

The following week, I flew to Chicago to give the keynote presentation at the Firefighter Wives’ Ball — which was my first time to ever attend, let alone speak at, a ball. It was quite the experience, as I wrote about here.

Jesse also started playing on our church’s softball team this month. I was so excited to see him taking initiative to do something fun and I felt like it helped him to start turning the corner in a small way. He also met with our campus pastor about possibly being apart of the men’s small group they were starting. Again, after weeks of him really struggling, for him to be taking strides to work on personal development and plant roots was huge to witness.

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At the end of the month, we took a family trip to South Carolina to visit my sister and her family and for me to attend the She Speaks conference. We had a great trip and we realized how wonderful it was for us to be able to just pack up and go somewhere without having to plan months in advance due to Jesse’s full schedule.

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August found us on the road as a family again, this time for an 11-day trip to Arkansas and Branson, MO. We spent the first part of the trip with my family at our annual extended family trip to Bull Shoals Lake. We then headed to Branson, MO, to meet up with Jesse’s family and got to Silver Dollar City.

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While there, I also learned to knee board, which I was pretty stoked about!

I also started working on writing my next book in August. The first two weeks of the month, my ghost editor and I spent hashing out some of the bones of the book’s outline and then on August 15th, we jumped in full force.

On August 19, we re-launched Grocery University and you all blew us away by buying thousands and thousands more copies of the course than we ever dreamed. We’re learning never to underestimate you all. 🙂Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.18.10 AM

Near the end of August, I flew to Las Vegas for Michele’s dad’s funeral. It was a bittersweet time — it was such a gift to get to be there to support Michele and to witness how much her dad meant to she and her family. But on the other hand, our hearts hurt so much for our friend and her loss.

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The first week of September, Jesse began meeting with the men’s small group from our church — a group that has turned out to be such a gift and encouragement to him. Silas also started soccer this week and some local friends generously offered to come over and help me finally get some things hung on my wall. I was amazed at what a difference it made in our home to have wall-hangings up!

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This month, my friend, Ginger, came to visit for a weekend. Her husband was deployed at the time and the days were getting long for her. So it was fun to plan an impromptu girl’s weekend at our house. We stayed up way too late talking, but it was oh so worth it! 🙂

We celebrated Jesse’s birthday this month really simply and just as he wanted — spending an evening hanging out in downtown Franklin and trying out a new-to-us restaurant that he’d been itching to go to. The kids all saved up their own money and I took them to dollar store (at their request!) to buy him gifts. I had so much fun watching them giggle and plan and wrap their gifts for him — and then he had so much fun opening up each one!

September was also the month where I realized that trying to homeschool, write a book, and run a blog all at the same time just wasn’t working. I was run down, exhausted, and felt like I wasn’t really doing a good job in any of the three areas.

So Jesse and I sat down and had a real heart-t0-heart talk about what our options were. I was feeling really at my wit’s end and unsure of what to do. Well, Jesse came up with an idea that I never saw coming and would have never even thought or considered to suggest myself… he said he’d like to take over homeschooling while I finished up my book.

He’d already been doing part of the homeschooling and I knew he’s such a great teacher, but it’s a big task and I didn’t want him to feel like he had to do it. As we talked more (and I sort of tried to talk him out of it!), I realized he really wanted to do this.

And so I handed homeschooling over to him for the next two months and I buckled down and got in full-on book writing mode.

This turned out to be a completely blessing in disguise as Jesse was still struggling and grappling through what his calling in life is and what he was supposed to be doing in this new season. He had made some good strides in the right direction, but taking over homeschooling gave him a new purpose and drive that I hadn’t seen before. He OWNED the homeschooling, and in doing so, I saw his spark really come back again.

It also helped him to solidify more long-term what he wanted to do and that he really wanted to make being involved in homeschooling an important priority.

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My Mom & Dad came to TN for my birthday — which was so kind of them. My dad helped do a number of projects around the house, my mom and I got to spend quite a lot of time talking and hanging out together, and they also took the kids one evening so Jesse and I could have a date night!

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Kathrynne had her first swim meet — something she’d been wanting to do for awhile but had been really fearful of. Watching her go out and face her fears with courage and bravery blessed my Mama heart more than words can say!

I feel like I spent almost every waking moment of October working on my book manuscript… I ate, drank, and slept (or more accurately didn’t sleep!) book-writing. The hard work paid off as I made a LOT of headway on it in October and had almost finished the rough draft by the end of the month!

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The last week and a half of October were spent at the Allume conference and back in Kansas again. It was wonderful to get to spend some quality time with dear people — and so refreshing after it felt like I’d been completely holed up all month long!

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The first bit of November was spent polishing up my manuscript in order to send it out to a few friends to critique.

Once that was done, I left for MN to go speak at the Hearts at Home conference and then meet up with Jesse in Colorado for the Platform Conference. I had really been looking forward to both conferences, but as it turned out, finding out that Michele’s cancer had come back made the week really, really hard for me.

A few days after we got back home, our dear friend and previous mother’s helper, Susanna, came to stay with us for a few days. I was completely physically and emotionally drained and God knew how much I needed her to be staying with us for a few days. She was like an angel in our home — loving on our kids, doing our laundry, doing some organizing and cleaning projects, and just all around blessing our family at a very deep level.

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While she was here, Jesse and I drove up to Atlanta with some of my team for a meeting with the company who is designing and manufacturing our product line in 2015. We’re really excited about the possibilities and what the future holds there!

I made another quick trip to Colorado for a one-day filming project and then got home just in time to unload my suitcase, wash my clothes, and repack it to leave a few hours later to go back to Kansas for Thanksgiving.


The day after we got back home from Kansas, my sister, Olivia, flew in to stay with us for a few days while we had our end-of-year executive team meetings. I had been really nervous about these as we had some big decisions to make and had spent quite a bit of time worrying over them, planning for them, and praying about them.

Turns out, I should have skipped the worrying part, as the meetings went FAR better than what I could have ever imagined and we all came into the meetings with the same hopes and on the same page — without even knowing it!

We made some big decisions for 2015 that I’m really excited about — namely, to streamline some areas and pare down in some areas so we can prioritize better and have more breathing room in our lives. I’m stoked about this coming year and our mission to be even more focused and prioritized. I don’t regret 2014 in any way, but the pace of it was not a pace of life I aspire to continue at long-term!

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The rest of December was incredibly laid back and peaceful — a much-needed respite after many, many full months. We hung out together as a family, we made special memories, we read together, we slept in, we watched movies, we went to a few fun outings, and Jesse surprised us with an overnight stay at the Gaylord Opryland. We’d heard it is beautiful this time of year and it truly was. It was a great way to close out the year!

Looking back on this past year, it kind of takes my breath away that we did as much as we did, traveled as much as we traveled, and accomplished as much as we accomplished! I truly feel like God’s hand was so faithful to carry us through over and over again when we were tired or fearful or overwhelmed. We got to see Him show up on our behalf and give us what we needed to do what He had called us to.

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Our faith grew so much this year, our marriage grew so much, our relationships with our kids grew, and, probably the biggest blessing for me, Jesse had a major personal transformation this year. Honestly, while he was busy with law school and then different legal jobs and then running his own law firm, he never stopped long enough for me to realize how much he was struggling deep down — with fear, insecurity, and feeling like he wasn’t good enough.

As we processed these things together and I challenged him to replace his long-believed lies with truths (just as I had learned to do myself a few years ago), he slowly ever so slowly started changing from the inside out. It’s been a beautiful thing to witness!

He’s now so full of life and drive and ambition, but also just so happy. He loves overseeing/managing all the legal and financial aspects of our business, he loves managing our two rental houses, and he’s getting a lot of opportunities to do pro bono legal work — which he finds so much fulfillment in. Plus, he’s loving being in charge of our kids’ sports and extracurricular activities and helping with the homeschooling.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.42.37 AMSopping wet after riding a water/boat ride at Silver Dollar City together. 🙂

These struggles and the growth over the past year has only served to strengthen our marriage at a deep level. So looking back, I am incredibly grateful that we made the decision to move — even though it didn’t make sense to a lot of people and even though we weren’t even quite sure how it was all going to play out.

For the sake of our marriage, our spiritual growth, and our personal growth, it was every bit worth it — and we’re only six months into this adventure! We’re excited to see what 2015 holds!

Happy New Year!

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  • It’s so exciting to be able to look back and see how much has happened this year for yall! It was such a busy year that I had forgotten most of this was in the same year! I hope you the best this year Crystal!

    • I had forgotten a LOT of it, too. Thanks to Instagram and Google calendar, I was able to put together the recap. Without those two things, I would have forgotten about half of the things we did this past year, if not more!

  • Stacey says:

    Thank you for sharing. My husband and I are embarking some of these challenges and changes in our family. It is nice to know we are not alone with new adventures and journeys we are on for our family. Thank your for being encouraging to the others out here that face some of the same fears and struggles.

  • Sarah M. says:

    Wow, I’m exhausted just reading that!

  • Tara says:

    This may be too personal a question but can you help explain how you able to afford so much travel for your family? We try to live frugal as well but travel is getting so pricey these days.

    • Great question and I’m happy to answer!

      First off, since we are debt-free and live fairly simply and minimally and on a strict written budget, it doesn’t cost us much to live. In addition, because we have multiple streams of income — through this blog, through our rental houses, through my book sales, etc. — we are able to live on significantly less than we make.

      Because of this, we’ve decided that one area we want to prioritize now that we have breathing room in our budget is travel. We want to give our children opportunities to visit historical sites, go on family adventures together, and make lasting memories. Now that we have a flexible work-life schedule and can operate our businesses from anywhere, it’s inspired us to put this priority into action.

      That said, we have found a number of creative ways to travel very inexpensively. Because much of my travel is to conferences where I’m speaking, all of my travel expenses are paid for and often Jesse’s will be, too (if he comes). In addition, we’re able to earn free miles and points from the hotels and airlines for this travel — which allows us to earn free hotel stays, airline miles, and more. We cash these in on our family traveling and that significantly reduces our out-of-pocket expenses.

      In addition, we look for the best deals, negotiate better rates, and book things when there is a special sale. Finally, because of the Swagbucks credit I earn through referrals here, we’re able to earn some free Hyatt, American airlines, and restaurant gift cards which we use for our trips, too. By combining all of these things together, the actual cost of most of our family trips is very little out of pocket.

      I know other people who use cashback and points from credit cards and travel even cheaper — even for international travel — but we’ve opted to find all the creative non-credit-card options available and use those instead.

      • Thank you so much for that response. I’m so glad to see you said rental homes; I’ve been putting back funds from my blog, two business, etc. and am looking to purchase two or three tax sales in the coming few years. I hope to upcycle and renovate with the help of my husband, rent out the properties, and use the funds to help fund my retirement and pay off my grad school/ JD loans. Seeing you state this was a breath of fresh air for me, as so many in my family thought this was an odd thing to do. Thank you so much!

        • Most people thought we were a little crazy, too, and we were scared that it was going to be a bad investment. Jesse did a LOT of research ahead of time (like 2-3 years’ worth of reading, learning, listening to podcasts, looking at housing markets, etc. before we jumped in and both houses have turned out to be a really good investment and good source of residual income each month. Plus, my Jesse LOVES managing that business and researching out where we should purchase next/what markets are good.

          We’re currently saving for our third rental property and one of our 2015 goals is to fully fund that account. We’re excited and have started to dream some BIG long-term dreams for real estate now that we’ve seen such good return on our investment.

          • Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m going to start heavily researching this venture for my family. I fell a little less intimidated now, too! Thank you! Happy New Year!

            • Valerie says:

              Thank you for sharing a bit about the rental properties! I have been curious about this too. Would love to hear more (from Jesse?) on this topic! e.g. what makes a good investment in this area?

              • It really depends upon so many different factors and what you are hoping for in the experience. In a nutshell, since we are paying cash, we look for property that is in a great area, with great schools, in good condition (not needing a lot of $$ investment to get it rent ready), and that has been on the market for awhile or that the owners are really wanting to sell and have reduced the price on or are willing to reduce the price on. We look for houses that we’d want to rent and that would rent for over $1000 per month as that attracts more stable and dependable and long-term renters.

                Jesse works with a local rental management company in Kansas who take care of collecting payments, finding and vetting renters, and serving as the go-between. They take 9% of the profit and that’s been very worth it for the hassle they eliminate for us.

                So far, we’ve had very few issues and our houses have been rented almost 100% of the time so, because we paid cash, it’s been a really great source of residual income for us.

          • Julie says:

            LOL. One of our goals is to get rid to our two rentals this year. One is a former primary residence and another has just not attracted good renters and so we have had a few evictions. BUT, these both have mortgages that are underwater and are in Las Vegas which had incredible growth but then an incredible downturn. It sounds like you have done things the right way by paying cash, researching the best areas and managing them personally. Glad this is working out for you!

            • We’ve heard from people who have had a lot of issues with not finding renters, etc. so that was one of our biggest fears going in… well, that and getting really BAD renters or the house having some major issue that would cost thousands and thousands of dollars to repair. I’m so sorry you’ve had a hard experience and I hope you’re able to sell your rentals this year!

  • Tammy C says:

    Wow you sure are busy.Right now we are starting the year in the ER with our son.He had a Crohns Flare up.

  • Erica says:

    Thank you for sharing! I’ve been a reader for years and feel like our years have paralleled in many areas. We sold everything in May and moved to Guatemala following God’s call to a complete lifestyle change. We also rented a house sight unseen which was a little crazy. We finalized 2 adoptions and we also started homeschooling 4 kids. My hubby and I have also had to figure out through prayer and much trial and error how homeschooling and working from home is going to work! Keep sharing! I love to read how y’all continue to persevere in life’s challenges.

    • Um, you moved to Guatemala and adopted two children. I’m pretty sure that more than one-ups me! 😉

      But yes, this whole both parents being self-employed and homeschooling lifestyle is quite the adventure and learning curve. And I think we’ll keep learning as we go, seasons change, kids’ needs change, the businesses evolve… it should be interesting!

  • Ash says:

    Crystal, where do you live in TN? We are visiting Nashville in 2 weeks because I have a job offer and my husband has interviews 🙂 We are hoping to move near Hendersonville because of the lakes. It would be a big move for us. We are a little anxious to see if it’s all going to work out!

  • Crystal, that is amazing! Your family is such a great example of how hard work and dedication can pay off. Imagine the differences in families if more parents were able to work from home! Thank you for inspiring me and many others. May God bless you and your family greatly in 2015.

    • Thanks so much for your kind encouragement! I know that our lifestyle is not possible or ideal for every family, but I do hope that we encourage people to think outside the box and make changes if where you’re at and what you’re doing isn’t working or healthy for your family. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut thinking “this is the way it has to be because this is the way it’s always been.”

  • Wow, Crystal! You really did have a huge year!

    I appreciate you sharing the struggles and triumphs with us.

    It’s amazing to see how much you and your family has accomplished and how you have come through so many changes. It’s wonderful to see how you strive to keeping God and family as such high priorities.

    Can’t wait to see what you do in 2015!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for posting this! I so appreciate how authentic you are. Your post encouraged me to look back over my year with my family. What a great idea?! I realized my family came through quite a bit this year and also had some big victories. Thanks so much!

  • Valerie says:

    Thanks for sharing the second half! I always have to remind myself that everyone is different when I read your blog, because I feel overwhelmed/tired just reading about all this!!! You guys are pretty amazing! Can’t believe you fit this all in!!

    I remember awhile back you posted about the things you *don’t* do (at the time, I remember things like you didn’t make your husband lunches, you didn’t participate in any regular bible studies or playgroups). Great reminder to me when seeing all that you accomplish that you are doing it intentionally! Saying no to some things while yes to the important ones!

  • Anon says:

    Would Jesse consider compiling all of his research about house rentals into a book?

    • At this time, because we’re still learning a LOT and experimenting ourselves, probably not. But feel free to write in and ask questions and I’ll try to see if I can get him to write a post to answer them or answer them myself, if I know. 🙂

  • You are amazing, Crystal! Congrats on your many accomplishments this past year. My question is about health insurance. With both of you self-employed, is that an area where you have to “splurge”…since I’m led to believe that self-employment health insurance is super expensive?

  • Autumn Beach says:

    Oh, man…I don’t know how I missed the post about Michele, but I just Googled her and – wow! My heart is heavy and completely inspired all at the same time. What an AMAZING woman. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! I have a feeling she would respond with, “To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Praying for your friend.

  • Deana says:

    You mentioned Grocery University. I bought this the last time it was offered but never got any link to start it. I did email you about this already. Is there any way to activate it? Thank you.

    • Hmm, I’m so sorry if you emailed in and never heard back. Not sure what happened there, but I’m so sorry!

      Email christy @ and she can send you the files. If you don’t hear back from her within 24 hours, let me know.

  • Maryalene says:

    Loved reading about your year. Thanks for sharing!

  • Julie says:

    I just went back and reread your post about moving to Nashville. That must have been such a hard decision… and brave! After reading the update for the 2nd half of your year it sounds like it was the best one for your family. We don’t homeschool, but I loved reading how your husband has taken that over and enjoyed the role. Good for him, and for you two as a team!

  • Wow, I know you had a busy year! I’m glad to hear that Jesse is doing better! You have been in my heart a lot the last 6 months! I hope you have a wonderful 2015. Also, I’d love to see if your Mother’s Helper is available or knows of someone who is. We’ve tried a couple of times and their schedule keeps changing and doesn’t go well with what we need. Thanks for keeping us updated, I love the posts on your family!

  • Julie says:

    I also wanted to say that while I am not a long-time reader of your blog, I have gone back and read a lot about the progression of your businesses and blog. I have seen how your are worried to let your readers in on the success of this blog and how it has allowed you to do things like increase your grocery budget. But for me, it is the success of this blog and where it has led you and your husband that is an inspiration to me and will keep me coming back.

  • This was one of the best year-end recaps EVER! And WOW was your year ever full. So happy that your marriage and family were strengthened, even through all your struggles. Wishing you God’s richest blessings this new year!

  • Christy says:

    Maybe Jesse should write a book, if he wouldn’t mind being an open book, about his struggle and figuring out what God and his life had in store for him and how he worked through it. My husband left the military to pursue what he thought he wanted his career to be and has been met with disappointment there. I feel like he’s really struggling to refind his purpose.

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