Shannan Martin pulled her door open quickly, revealing a sunny living room and the kitchen that was featured in Midwest Living. She stood tall and lanky in jeans and a cardigan- the beautiful but well lived in vibe of her house reflected in her outfit. She gestured to the coat rack and says, “You don’t need to worry about taking off your shoes. We don’t worry about that here.”
With her children–Calvin, Ruby, Silas–fresh out of the house for the day, Martin offered a glass of water and took a seat on the couch. She mentioned the walk to Chamberlain Elementary School that morning to drop off the youngest two, a daily routine she describes as grounding: “For me it’s a great way to start my day slowly with my kids. It just starts the day off on the right foot.”
Walking her kids to school takes her back to her small-town roots, having grown up in the “one-light town” of Pleasant Hill, Ohio. A graduate of Bethel College in Mishawaka, it was there she met her husband, Cory.
Soon after graduating, Cory and Shannan were married and followed Cory’s job to Washington: Capitol Hill, to be exact. While he worked for a congressman for a nearby district in Indiana, Martin worked at a conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, as a policy analyst and researcher on domestic policy.
However, this successful stint in D.C. didn’t last as long as anticipated, with Cory’s job yet again leading them across the Midwest back to Indiana. They moved to Wakarusa, bought six rambling acres of property that included an old farm house outside city limits, and began thinking about starting a family.
It was during this time of transition that Martin started her blog, Flower Patch Farmgirl. “It was a bit of a creative outlet, but more than that it was just a kind of documenting everyday life,” she said.
It served as a way to save memories and share pictures with family a state away, in Ohio. “I had no intention at all of anybody really reading it.”
What Martin didn’t know was that her blog would grow unexpectedly in it’s first year, gaining readers outside of her extended family and friends. They began home renovations and she started decorating, with what must have been exceptional taste, as her blog began to catch the eye of a few major decorating blogs.
But the other thing that neither Cory or Shannan knew was that their seemingly ideal life was not destined to last – or at least look the same for long. Around the time they were in the process of adopting their youngest son, Silas, they started sensing a shift beginning to take place.
“We had a pretty dramatic paradigm shift in our faith, where we felt like God was calling us to sell our farm, move into town somewhere, and really begin to live our life in a pretty different way, with an eye more toward justice issues and all those things that we had been blind to for a long time,” she said.
“We lived very privileged lives, you know. We are middle-class white people, we had great jobs, we had everything we wanted, and so we had been living in a bubble that we didn’t necessarily realize we were even in.”
It was during this season of their lives that blogging became a deeper, more intentional routine for Shannan.
“I started to write about a lot of that tension that I was feeling, and so my blog started shifting around a little bit,” she said. It underwent a name transition as well, becoming a straightforward Shannan Martin Writes. The blog that was started as an outlet for picture-perfect family memories started to change, and she noted that.
“The people that were following me because they loved my sweet country life and decorating and cute kids were left out a little bit in the cold.”
As for her family’s transition, they decided to sell their big white farmhouse on six acres of property outside of Wakarusa and move into Goshen city limits, on the North side near the railroad tracks.
Cory left politics and took a job as chaplain of the Elkhart County Jail. They began thriftier renovations on their downsized house in North Goshen, and readers followed along.
“It was so weird to me,” she said, “because after all this attention that my farmhouse got, we move and downsize and then Midwest Living called and featured our kitchen in the magazine.” It turns out that sometimes too, even for mainstream media, less can be more—with the right curtains, of course.
One of the driving forces behind the Martin’s move was a desire to get connected, become deeply and genuinely involved in a community. “When we lived in the country, we very much had this mindset of ‘our job is to take care of our family unit,’ which at the time included three young kids and ourselves. We lived down this long lane, we had no neighbors close to us, we went to church and we felt like we were involved in the community then,” said Martin.
She added a clarifier: “But it looked nothing like it does now.”
What does it look like now? It looks like walking her kids to school every day, slowly and with intention.
“At first,” Martin said, “I was like, well now what am I going to do? It was easy to find beauty out in the country, where everything was untouched, and here everything is just different.”
She explained more about the morning routine, saying, “I take my phone and I try to take a picture on my way back. It’s made me more aware of the seasons and of small changes in my community. When we get out we start to notice that stuff, and when we notice it and find it beautiful, it helps us love our place and its people more.”
It also looks like getting involved. “Cory and I both felt like when we got here the easiest thing for us to do to get connected was to get involved in things that were already happening,” Martin said. “We didn’t want to come here and start a new thing. We were looking for ways to just engage people that were already in our community and build relationships…that was the best way to get to know our neighbors.”
But, inside the family house, Shannan and the rest of the family focus on those relationships too. Looking ahead at a typical Friday night in her house, Shannan said, “Friday nights are usually pretty slow for us. Usually we are ready to watch a movie and order pizza or do something easy for dinner because cooking isn’t going to happen today.”
She laughed unapologetically, her candor in real life mirroring her philosophy when writing.
“People talk about ‘write what makes you a little scared’ and I think there’s truth to that. I think we want to write with as much vulnerability as possible,” Martin said. “I think that’s what people want, that’s what I want when I read.”
She added a piece of writing advice learned from life experience: “I think a great way to find your voice is to document something challenging that you’re going through, something that you might not understand.”
Martin’s situation was unique in that she actually had people following along, which initiated the idea to write a whole book.
‘Falling Free’ was published in 2016 by Nelson Books, and a lot has come of it. “I’ve been having more speaking requests come in,” Martin said of her growing success in the publishing world. She also details promotional activities: radio interviews, videos, podcasts. A second book is in the works as well.
And free-fall they did, all the way from Capitol Hill to Goshen. “People have a hard time understanding why you would, rather than climbing the ladder for the American dream, back down off of that ladder to go from working on Capitol Hill to being the chaplain of the jail,” Martin said.
She added, “but, the intention behind moving here was to really begin to be invested in a community and in a place, and Goshen is just such a fantastic place to do that. We cannot be more thankful for where we have landed.”
As Shannan prepared for her next visitors–videographers to work on book promotions–she straightened a couple small items sitting on a repurposed dresser that serves as a table in the entryway.
“We try to keep our door easy on its hinges,” she said, as the front door swung open, “just so that people know they’re welcome.”