Hollie Jo and Jarrell Joseph (Joe) Hepler are Lakeland transplants who call Lakeland home. Their journey is filled with Lakeland being a big part of their past, present, and future.
Joe and Hollie met at Southeastern University. Shortly after getting married, they were living in the downtown Lakeland historic Lake Mirror Tower apartments when they were offered job opportunities in Miami.
“When we made the decision to move to Miami, we thought we were going to be there for the next 4-5 years at least, if not for the rest of our lives,” says Joe.
The night before Hollie and Joe planned to drive down to Miami and relocate, Hollie brought up the idea of getting tattoos.
“Let’s get something that seals this chapter of Lakeland, something that signifies the way the city of Lakeland impacted our lives,” Hollie said.
“I have a few tattoos, and I am always looking for ideas to get [another]. I have a list of tattoos I could choose from and go get one right now,” Joe said.
They arrived at Black Swan Tattoo (their original location) on S. Florida Avenue around 10 pm.
Hollie’s tattoo was the word brave, inspired by a message she had preached, focusing on stepping out in faith and being courageous.
“I wanted to get something super Lakeland, and what is more Lakeland than a swan? Then I remembered the first time I saw The Lakelander logo and said, ‘That is a tattoo worthy logo right there,’ so I decided to get The Lakelander logo tattoed,” says Joe.
Two years later, Joe received a job opportunity at Southeastern University that led them back to Lakeland unexpectedly. “Returning to Lakeland was so special because Lakeland always felt like home to us. Our experience in Miami was fun and exciting, but we really believe that in our hearts Lakeland has always been home,” the couple says.
Hollie is the discipleship team lead at Grace City Church. She helps create spaces for people to have a community. She also oversees conferences and events. “My life was changed through finding good friendships at the church and experiencing living life together in community,” says Hollie. “I get to help cultivate atmospheres where people can spend time together, like our City Groups where people gather to just talk about marriage, life, God.
“We love all of the families and entrepreneurs in Lakeland. At Grace City we strive to help them make an impact in their sphere of influence. Businesses such as The Lakelander, The Poor Porker, We Are Curio, 5th & Hall, The Balance Culture, and many more are what make Lakeland great, and we love being a part of people in our city doing their thing.”
Joe works at Southeasetern University. As the strategic development coordinator, he helps the university resource extension sites and nontraditional programs. “I love bringing people to Lakeland and sharing what Southeastern has embodied from being in a city like Lakeland … the entrepreneurial spirit, staying cutting edge with what’s new, but also staying true to our roots and the distinct community that can be found in Lakeland,” he says.
Hollie was born with a genetic disorder called Müllerian agenesis, also known as MRKH Syndrome, which is a chromosomal-genetic syndrome that means you are born without a uterus. Hollie has been struggling with infertility for 14 years.
“In my early 20s, I felt like my story would be shared publicly, and it would be a platform for me to help other families struggling with infertility. We just launched a family blog with our family journey teambabyhep.com. I will take some of these difficult questions, or even have one-on-one relationships with people, and just let people know you are not alone,” Hollie says.
“We started a journey through the process of IVF & Gestational carrier, where someone volunteers to carry your baby for you, and the baby is in no way related to the person carrying the child. It is our egg and sperm, our biological child. My sister-in-law, Joe’s sister PJ, will be the carrier. Our full journey details are on teambabyhep.com,” Hollie says.
“Our prayer is that we are able to bring awareness to people who may be uncomfortable with infertility and don’t know how to talk about it, to come alongside families and women so they know we are in this together,” Joe says.
“One of the highlights of this journey is watching our community just love us so unconditionally. Our friends Jill and Terry asked to meet at our house one day. They came over and surprised us with a secret Go Fund Me account. They blessed us with the gift of raising funds for our procedure to grow our family.
Joe getting emotional
Jill and Terry sent texts to people from all over Lakeland and beyond about this Go Fund Me and they said, ‘Hey guys, let’s rally around this family in Lakeland.’
“We were nervous. We stepped out in faith with the mentality of we are going to figure this out. We felt like it was our thing and we were ready to go on this journey, just the two of us. It never crossed our minds, nor did we feel like we needed to organize anything like what Jillian and Terry surprised us with. It really felt like an unconditional love from a community of people and once again confirmed how special Lakeland is,” say Hollie and Joe.
“It is so cool that science has advanced and you can actually have a family, have a biological child, along with adoption and plenty of options and resources to help you,” Hollie says.
“Having a family through the process of IVF is unconventional and can be uncomfortable for people who feel like perhaps you are forcing something. We just made the heart stance to say, ‘Hey, when I read the Bible, I see unconventional births happen all throughout the Bible, and for us this is us stepping out in faith and believing, trusting what God is going to do. We are just going to have a family through unconventional means, and that’s OK; it is part of our lives and we are proud.’
“If we could go back and redo our life, I don’t know if I could have a family on my own. This process has opened up doors for people to be involved in our lives, and that’s why it is called Team Baby Hep.
“You are on the team. Your prayers, support, encouraging texts, and phone calls are needed. It is truly remarkable what our community of Lakeland and beyond has done for us,” say Hollie and Joe.