Author: Susan

Faith, Living In Tennessee

Learning To Embrace The Fall

A few months ago, I began attending the Mostly Mom’s Bible study at World Outreach Church. As I settled in that first day, I discovered the group was beginning a new study called,  Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted by Pricilla Schirer. It was uncanny timing…our lives had just been completely interrupted…and for the past six months we had been calling Tennessee our Nineveh. I sat there, stunned, as I realized this Bible study was EXACTLY WHERE I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

In October 2016, when Rich and I heard from God that we would be moving to Nashville, we thought it would take a few years. We weren’t quite sure how God was going to accomplish moving us, and our business, and liquidate the abundant life we created in California, so we could actually move to Tennessee. We had a few ideas of how it would all come together, and we figured we needed some time to discern if it was ACTUALLY GOD telling us to go.

We came up with a plan: We would sell our house; use the equity in our home to solidify some struggling aspects of our business; save money for a few years…then move our entire lives to Nashville…or something like that…maybe…

As the weeks went by, we prepared to sell our house, and the business went from a slow descent, to a rapid spiral, into serious debt. Month after month of losses add up quickly, when you are running a small business with a staff who needs paychecks every other week. The ship sunk suddenly and decisively. By March, it was clear that God wasn’t going to move our business, or even most of our belongings to Nashville…He was just going to move us. Very soon.

We entertained moving to other places we loved…Mammoth Lakes, California…Monterey, California…Cocoa Beach, Florida…even the small town where we grew up, Perrysburg, Ohio…but there was a mental block with every single place. The only door that seemed to be open in our minds and spirits was Nashville.

When Rich’s mom voiced the idea of moving to to her town for a little while, Rich said, “We can’t be like Jonah. When God told him to go to Nineveh and he didn’t, things didn’t go too well for him. We were told to go to Nashville, not Perrysburg. So that’s where we have to go.”

So that’s what we did.

Not long after the move, I found myself in this Bible study about navigating your life when there are interruptions…some big (like closing down your business and moving across the country); some small (like children interrupting while I’m trying to write an article). We all have plans and ideas and thoughts about how life is supposed to go. But God doesn’t work according to our plans and purposes. We aren’t God. Instead of seeing these events as “interruptions,” Shirer says we should work to see them as “Divine Interventions.” God Himself takes our life and puts something smack dab in the middle of it where we didn’t expect, so we can learn to lean on Him, follow Him, grow, and refocus on the work He created us to do.

But I still felt it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I wondered if we heard God wrong, when we felt his leading during the last year of our business. Every step seemed like it might be the missing key that would unglue us from the business’s descent…but it didn’t. The business still died.

I felt a lot like Jonah at the end of his story. The Ninevites LISTENED TO JONAH, and repented. God had mercy on them and spared their city…but instead of being thankful, Jonah got mad at God, because it’s not what he wanted God to do.

“But to Jonah (God sparing the Ninevites) seemed wrong, and he became very angry” Jonah 4:1

These past months, I’ve had an undercurrent of anger, and an inkling of distrust echoing in my mind. How can I keep following God, if the outcome isn’t what I expected? How do I even know that I am hearing from God, and not making things up? Will He really follow through, and provide us with a way to make a living here, or are we just chasing a new dream that will also fall apart?

I love what God tells Jonah, in response to his outburst:

“The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah knew first hand about God’s faithfulness and grace. The book of Jonah starts with Jonah not listening to God. He was thrown into a raging sea, and instead of drowning, a fish eats him, then spits him out three days later onto a beach…After that ordeal, Jonah FINALLY decided to listen to God, delivered the message God gave him to the Ninevites…the Ninevites LISTENED TO HIM…then Jonah was mad at God.

It’s so much like me.

The outcome for our business isn’t what I expected, but God has provided mightily in His own way for the Seiling family. We sold both of our houses; we sold our business brands; He provided the means to move across the country and rent a house in a nice neighborhood; He put our kids in a good school, and gave them peace as they transitioned from home school to public school. He gave us amazing and unexpected peace during the entire transition. Very few cross words were spoken between Rich and I…instead, we were given tremendous grace for each other as we lived out the difficulty of the past year. I’ve been given an excellent perspective on all that we had…and all that we really didn’t need. I’ve seen the homeless people on the street, and have a new understanding of how quickly homelessness can happen…it still could happen, truly, to any of us.

I have a new understanding about how it is by God’s grace alone that we all stand…and that same grace can provide us with deep peace when we fall…and WE WILL ALL FALL.

We think that falling is the worst thing that can happen to us, and do everything possible to prevent it. When a friend or acquaintance falls, we analyze what went wrong, and what choices we would make to spare ourselves from the same pain. But ultimately we all fall, and oftentimes completely unexpectedly. I am learning that what matters is how I react WHEN I fall. I can choose to become bitter, jaded and disgruntled…or see it as a path to learning a better way to live. I can choose to be mad at God, or lean into Him in a new way, realizing that His ways are not my ways, and sometimes things don’t make sense, because I don’t have the big picture. I’ve found that, choosing to trust leads directly to unexpected peace and contentment…and that’s a lot better than where anger leads me.

God didn’t answer my prayer to save our business, but He did honor a greater prayer; one I’ve prayed since I became a Christian shortly after launching our business: That our business would thrive as long as He wanted us to pursue it. For 18 years, the business flourished…then in the 19th year, God Himself shut the doors. We fell.

We fell out of the business, out of California, and into the next chapter God is writing for us…which includes an a fantastic Mom’s bible study group, here in Middle Tennessee.

Joy, Living In Tennessee

The Best Kind Of Inspiration? Fun!

After living in Yosemite National Park and the Sierra foothills for the past 20+ years, I’ve been spoiled by beautiful views and natural treasures. That’s why, when I recently took a walk around my neighborhood, I didn’t expect my subdivision with thousands of nearly identical houses to give me much joy. But it was a beautiful fall day, I wanted to be outside, and I didn’t feel like driving, so I ventured into my little piece of suburbia.

I didn’t find wildlife like turkeys or deer, but I found something else. I found people enjoying their lives on a Sunday afternoon; people so engaged in their pursuit of fun, that it left me a different type of contentment than I feel after walking in the wilderness.

There is something inspiring about watching a person immersed in whatever gives them joy. It doesn’t matter what it is: cooking a good meal; a dad playing with his child on a playground; a potter carefully carving intricate details on a cup; a photographer immersed in capturing autumn aspens…When someone is so lost in their fun, they forget about the world around them, it’s mesmerizing.

The first encounter on my walk came as a sound, not something I saw. It was the steady rumble of a skateboard, rolling down the middle of our busy street. I thought it must be a kid, and I glanced over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t on the sidewalk, and that I wasn’t some kind of target.

His shirt was stripped off, his bare chest long and lanky, and his shirt was dangling from the back of his stretchy athletic shorts. His head was bald, he had wrinkles around his eyes, and he was riding that skateboard for all it was worth. I cracked a smile because THIS GUY WAS MY AGE. This middle aged guy was riding a skateboard down the middle of the busy street with the same gusto I’d expect from a teenage kid.

I kept glancing back at him…I was going to give him a “way to go!” nod… a smile that said, “you are middle aged, but you’re rocking it!” I couldn’t catch his eye. This guy wasn’t even noticing me, though I was the only other person walking on the road.

His eyes were focused firmly ahead, and I watched him skate right past me, then proceed to do a series of tricks up and down the curbs. He was clearly having a lot of fun…the kind of fun where you forget about everything else in life, and are totally immersed in the moment. He didn’t seem worried about pulling any muscles or what falling on his wrist would do to his day job. He was out rocking that skateboard, no matter the consequence.

It made me want to go skiing, or snowboarding, or try surfing…walking suddenly seemed so bland…

My walk continued after Mr. Skateboard left my sight. I rounded the corner and saw a couple in their backyard, intent on a project. The husband was digging a large hole in the dirt, and the wife was standing, watching intently with her hands on her hips. I initially thought they were burying a pet (my imagination tends towards the morbid). Then I saw a pot next to them. They were planting a tree; A sweet little tree. Was it a memorial for something? An anniversary present? Or did they just want a tree that would eventually block the view of the road from the living room window? Whatever the reason, they were doing it with such intention and diligence, and with a sense of togetherness, that it inspired me. Their Sunday afternoon was about planting a tree. And now we all get to watch it grow.

I decided to cut through the school yard on my way home, and came across a young boy driving a go-cart around and around the parking lot, his dad watching with a big smile on the sidelines. On the other side of the school, 20 or so men were in their grungy workout clothes, playing a game of football. They looked sweaty and hot and happy. Sunday afternoon was a good time for them, it seemed. I imagined them all coordinating their schedules to meet at 1PM, after lunch and while the kids napped. A little “daddy escape” amongst the craziness of life.

As I continued my walk home, I thought about how having fun releases the spark in people that makes them come alive; how everyone has a different definition of “fun”; how, for many people, having fun stops being a priority at some point; and how life does its best to reduce fun to something of a luxury, instead of soul-level need.

Our brand of fun has changed a bit, living in Tennessee, versus the mountains in California. We’ve been exploring museums and parks and interesting stores and quaint downtowns. But we’ve also been out doing the same thing we’ve always done: exploring the forest, and the natural world around us, looking for hidden places (caves!) and pockets of beauty to be immersed in and refreshed by.

I walked home, and Rich and I loaded the kids in the car. We drove to the Stones River National Battlefield and hiked a back trail that was full of autumn leaves, and deer, and interpretive signs about the battle. Though we were 2000 miles away from Yosemite, something about it felt like hiking in our favorite national park. It smelled like the fresh scent of fall, the air was warm, we startled a deer in the forest, and the kids bounced and sang and we talked about the random things families discuss when wandering in a forest for an hour or two. As the sun began to set that Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves lost in time and transported to a place of joy. It was good for our souls.

Tell me now, what brings you joy? What things make you come alive? And, perhaps as important…how do you make the time in life to find fun?

Married Life, Photography

Peaceful Inspiration – Prints To Take Home

I’ve always felt God’s presence most in nature. There is a sense of grandeur, infinite peace, and creativity beyond my imagination that transports my mind away from the bustle of the world and into the quiet. Time and time again, when I wander in the forest, or by the sea, or up a mountain top, I learn a bit more about myself, and about God.

One of God’s greatest gifts to us here on earth is the earth itself: The granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley; the powerful surf crashing against cliffs on the Big Sur Coast; the giant Sequoias that stand big and strong, as alive in the 21st century as they were when Christ walked the earth. All of these declare His glory, His creativity and His power. Experiencing this beauty sets my soul at ease.

For a long time, Rich and I have sought out places of beauty, in an effort to experience this peace. Rich strove to capture the views on film; I would collect the experiences in my mind, trying to wrap words around the delight of my senses, sometimes on paper, usually just in my mind.

The Bible talks about how all of creation sings praises to God; that even the rocks and trees call out; that if no one ever heard about God, or who He was, or had any sense of “religion,” creation itself would declare who God was through its beauty, strength and majesty.

The other day, Rich took one of his photographs and laid a piece of scripture over it. It was a photograph he took on the way up to Yosemite Valley, of a group of trees we were fond of, and had become like old friends we enjoyed seeing each time we drove into the mountains.

We were intrigued by the pairing…scripture, plus his photographs. God’s word, plus a carefully composed and deeply felt view of His creation. It goes against all rules of photography…photographs are supposed to speak for themselves; a photograph says 1000 words… But those 1000 words can be different, based on each viewer…and it felt important to point the viewer not to worship the creation itself, but the Creator…

We were given words that could be meditated upon; words that coupled with the artwork in a harmonious way; words that gave a deeper meaning to something that could be construed as simply a pretty view.

The rocks cry out…

The trees clap their hands…

All of creation sings of His glory.

We wanted to share this coupling of scripture with Rich’s photographs with you. Take a look at our first few pieces, and if they inspire you, order one…it will help us continue to fuel this project. We will be adding more in the upcoming days, and I’ll post them as they are available. They are all printed as fine art prints, on fine art paper, and are ready to be matted, framed or simply tacked up on your wall.

Want to give these away as gifts, or sell them in your store? Contact me for quantity discounts, or wholesale pricing. 

Visit my Etsy store.

 

Married Life, Photography

15 Things I’ve Learned About Being Married To A Photographer

Photography has defined my life since I first started dating my husband, Rich, nearly 30 years ago. Since then, photography has taken us on adventures I never could have imagined that first time I stood next to him in his old-school darkroom, watching an image magically appear in the developer tray.

After navigating through brambles, long-awaited sunsets, several versions of LowePro backpacks, and countless dropped lens caps, here are 15 things I have learned about being married to a landscape photographer:

1. All extra money that comes into the household will be first considered for photography or photographic purposes.

2. Most trips of any meaningful length, distance or expense, will also involve photography and/or will completely revolve around photography.

3. Romantic sunsets sitting side-by-side will be replaced by sunsets spent sitting next to his camera bag while he photographs.

4. You will freeze many mornings while watching spectacular sunrises. Bring blankets or hot cocoa.

5. Dinner will not be eaten until it is completely dark, and all possibilities for photographing sunset have disappeared. Bring snacks.

6. You will find yourself answering a slew of questions about your husband and his photography, while he’s busily taking photographs. Be patient and kind.

7. A “quick drive to check something out” always turns into a longer adventure than you expected.

8. Bring hiking boots. Even if you are going out for a romantic dinner. Especially if you are going out for a romantic dinner. This image of Half Dome, for example, was taken on our second anniversary, requiring an unexpected hike in a Yosemite meadow (pretty, but not so great with flats), and delaying dinner by at least an hour. It was still a happy anniversary.

9. Photography equipment will hurt you. Especially heavy tripods, which always seem to catch onto something…like your ankles. Or your hips. Or your back, as you are juggling it alongside your three-year-old toddler.

10. Inkjet printers, photo equipment and mat board will fill your home. Who needs a closet for clothing? We spent our clothing budget on photo gear, anyway…

11. Photographing with kids? That’s almost always an oxymoron…especially if you have more than one child in tow.

12. If you are traveling, at least one of your carry-ons will be a camera bag, and your checked bag will be partially filled by a bulky tripod. Plan accordingly.

13.  You will see breathtaking beauty and fleeting sights that few people will ever see, just by hanging out with your husband.

14. You will gain a new understanding of light and simple beauty, while exploring the area around his tripod holes.

15. You will likely never be rich, but photography will take you on adventures you never dreamt of having, giving you experiences that will shape your life for the better, one beautiful scene at a time.

Faith, Joy

Learning To Choose Joy

I am waiting for the certainty. I am longing for the guarantee.

It’s been well over a year since we’ve had a predictable paycheck, and in that time, we watched the business we spent 19 years building, be systematically disassembled.

In the face of starting over mid-life, we moved across the country. We placed our homeschooled children into public school. With more changes on the horizon, I continue to wait for some semblance of normal to return to my life. Instead, all I see is the open space of time…and the frustration of not being able to see beyond the very next step.

As a natural-born planner, it’s been a struggle to live this life of daily faith God has called me to, time and time again. Owning a business, we didn’t have the luxury of planning many aspects of our lives…there was almost always an unexpected need, or expense; some fire that required our full attention. We learned to grab pieces of time and last-minute trips, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

As I examine the lives around me, I see that for all people, life is uncertain. Most just don’t realize it until it sneaks up on them, unexpectedly.

I didn’t expect my son to be born with a birth defect requiring a childhood speckled with surgeries.

I didn’t expect my 37-year-old husband to present with Stage 3 Testicular Cancer, requiring aggressive chemotherapy.

When I was a little girl, I didn’t expect to live in California…and I certainly didn’t expect God to move us to Tennessee midlife…

All of these life surprises tend to initially fill me with a feeling like panic; like my body is full of soda or a million ants marching…then the breathless and torturous waiting until the uncertain becomes known, and then finally a part of my past.

It’s easy to declare God’s faithfulness after the trial…but why is that feeling so illusive when I’m in the midst of it? How can I grasp the freedom of KNOWING I can rest in Him, and trust in Him, even when I don’t know the final outcome? I’m realizing it requires a deeper level of faith than I knew before.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2 )

I’ve been hoping for a guarantee. Something tangible. I’ve been waiting for my husband to go to work, and come home, and have a “normal life” with normal stresses. The truth is that we are starting a new business, so we are a long, long way from that happening. I need to become comfortable living in this new form of uncertainty, once again. I need to let go of my concept of what constitutes a “normal” life, and instead embrace my actual life.

Instead of focusing on the things going wrong…the problems, the unresolved issues, the troubles, the struggles…God wants me to focus on Him, and His promises.

He is good. He is faithful. He holds me by my right hand. He is always with me. He started something good, and will finish it. He has not finished writing my story yet.

Several months ago as I was praying, I saw the shambles of my life like the ashes left over after a house fire. You could recognize some key pieces of the home…the chimney; the brick facade; random pieces of pottery that were fire resistant…but the rest was gone. Completely and utterly ruined. Unrecognizable. My life.

“How long do I need to live amongst these ashes?” I asked God.

I felt him draw my eyes up from the ashes to the top of a wall. Beautiful, lush ivy was growing there, full of life and health and vibrancy. It’s the new life God is building out of these ashes, and it had already begun to grow. I felt His spirit ask…will you focus on the ashes, and all you must leave behind, or on this new thing? It’s up to you…

Do I cling to this impossible goal of certainty, or learn a new way to walk out these days I’ve been given? It’s up to me.

Trusting God is hard, but I know that NOT trusting leads only to fret and despair. So for now, one minute at a time, I will lay down chasing this god of certainty, and embrace God and the wildness of His Holy Spirit…the God who allowed our business to thrive for 19 years, then suddenly fall apart. The God who established my boundaries in pleasant places in California, then ripped up the tent stakes and moved us to Tennessee. The God who has plans for me…good plans…if I choose to follow them, instead of choosing to follow fear, one step at a time. It’s up to me.

So, today, I will choose His path.

Today, I choose joy.


Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Faith, Living In Tennessee

Pondering The Lives Beneath Our Feet

It was just past sunset as we drove a twisty road toward the interstate. An old church with a cemetery appeared along one bend, with a “point of historic interest” sign. We turned around a mile or so later, intrigued to see who might be buried on that old piece of land.

Our kids thought we were crazy, and they begged us not to stop…it was growing dark, and their imaginations filled with stories of ghosts, dead bodies and who knows what else might lurk in an old cemetery. We knew better…

Having grown up in Ohio, with family on the East Coast, exploring cemeteries was practically a family pastime when I was growing up. When I was a teenager, my grandmother took us to the family plot that housed the Cavanaughs, who immigrated to New York from Ireland in the 1840s.

The cemetery a mile from my house in Ohio interred soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and all of the wars of the 20th century.

In elementary school, I remember going to a cemetery with my class, finding an old grave whose letters had long since disappeared, rubbing a black crayon on newsprint, and watching the letters appear, telling me the name and dates of life of the person buried beneath me.

Cemeteries are sacred places where people are memorialized…they have stories, and history to discover…

We stopped the van, and bribed our kids with chocolate to disembark from the minivan and adventure out into the burial ground. Sure enough, there were dozens of stones of people who died over 100 years ago; the grave of at least one revolutionary soldier and his wife, appropriately marked “PATRIOT” on a separate, beautiful stone; and other graves of everyday citizens…most from the early part of the 20th century.

My kids talked about how it scared them, the idea of dead bodies beneath their feet. And, I agreed, it is a bit freaky…

But what intrigues me are the stories contained within a cemetery. The lines of stones that represent lives lived on this earth; some long, and some short. Each person was buried at a separate time, with a unique gathering of the people who loved, cherished, or at least tolerated them. Can you picture the gathering? Can you still sense the tears? The stones had their names; the dates they were born and died…and little else. Many stones were broken, or could not be read. Others were simply labeled “Mother” and “Father.”

Here we were…another Mother and Father, walking with their children, just as these people had over 100 years ago. What was the area like then? What tasks made up their daily lives? It’s hard to really know. Their stones are weathered into disrepair because the people who loved them, and remembered them, are also gone…

We wandered for a good 15 minutes before we loaded up again in our minivan and drove toward home.

In the end, my children weren’t scared by the cemetery at all, but were somehow comforted.

“You can live life, and not have to worry,” my older son said, before he loaded up into our van. I thought it was an interesting comment, considering the fact that few things remind you of your own mortality like visiting a cemetery. He continued, “Ultimately, we all end up dying, and we will be with Jesus, anyway. So, all the other stuff we don’t need to worry about.”

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that however believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Yes. We know where we will be in the end, so the rest of life is just the details…the glorious details of living with each other, loving each other, and embracing this good life; this beautiful sunset; this quiet night in an old cemetery; and this gift of time together that God has so graciously provided.

Living With School, Mom Life

My Official Excuse For Walking Around In Yoga Pants

To the other moms in the school drop off line:

I know I look like I just rolled out of bed. Because I did.

Last night, I went to bed with my hair wet, which is why my pony tail has this interesting geometric pattern right above the rubber band. Make up? Not yet…it’s too early for my eyes to focus that closely on my eyes…I’m in my 40s now, you know…

And this ratty tshirt? I wore it to train for two half marathons, and it’s my psych-up gear to lose weight again, after baby #3…even though baby #3 is now almost four years old. Having a baby in your 40s is most assuredly NOT good for the waistline. But still…there is history in these old clothes…inspiration beneath the ugly perspiration stains that I forgot about when I put on my t-shirt this morning…stains are so unfortunately apparent in the daylight…

After I drop my kids off at school, I will sip from my giant travel cup of coffee, drive my Camry home, boot up my Jillian Michaels workout video, and actually move my body.

Because here’s the truth:

Unlike fat, you can wash dirt and sweat away in the shower. So, I’ve purposely decided to stay dirty until after my workout each morning, because my shower is my reward…a reward for sweating, for making time to take care of me, for successfully launching my kids into another day at middle school…

But here’s another not-so-glamourous truth:

Sometimes, the workout doesn’t happen. Then the three year old keeps me busy, the big kids come home, and suddenly it’s 10PM at night, and as I put my pajamas on, I realize I FORGOT TO TAKE A SHOWER!!! I’m still in my yoga pants. (Which means I’ll have crazy geometric shaped hair again in the morning, because I’ll shower and go to bed with my hair wet, once again).

Which brings me to the overriding, universal truth that the other moms in yoga pants (or their pajamas) will agree with:

Motherhood is fantastically detrimental to personal hygiene. Some days, showering feels like a miracle, let alone putting on makeup or cute boots.

So, if you see me in the drop off line…or at the grocery store later today, and I’m STILL IN MY YOGA PANTS and funky t-shirt, please know that I KNOW I look a little crazy. And I realize that sometimes a temporary look becomes an unintentional fashion statement: The 2017 “Disheveled Mom” Look. It’s a look I rock far too often, but it’s one I’m willing to embrace because it’s a happenstance of the most wonderful job I’ve ever had: Being my kids’ mom.

(And at least the yoga pants look is better than the sweatsuits of the 1980s…don’t you agree?)

Faith

The Year My Life Was Liquidated

We acquired every piece, every item, so deliberately. So much thought went into each purchase: the price carefully researched; the usefulness proven; the purchase made. Time and time again, thousands of times…and all of those things became the bones of our business.

Most people don’t experience the stuff of their lives being liquidated, half way through life. It’s something reserved for their children, after the death certificate is signed, and the burial is complete.

For Rich and I, it happened in 2017, at the ages of 44 and 45.

Business was great…ever growing, ever expanding. We saw new opportunities, and grew our offerings; hired more staff; and the business very much took on a life of its own. Like the old cartoons of the giant dog Marmaduke, who dragged his owner around by the leash; this is what our business became. It had needs and necessities that were ever-present and unpredictable. For a long time, we were able to provide for those needs…

But California continued to increase minimum wage, and therefore all wages…a very hard thing for a low-profit-margin business like ours. The cost of our materials increased every year, in a market that did not allow price increases. Our services cost the same or less in 2017, than they did when we launched the business in 1998. We had debt that, no matter how much we grew the business, we couldn’t quite seem to pay back. I can’t count how many Dave Ramsey inspired “debt repayment plans” I came up with in spreadsheets, only to have unexpected expenses render it obsolete the next month.

2015 was our best year ever. 2016 was the worst…until 2017, which put the nails in the coffin and we closed our doors in the spring of that year.

Ecclasiastes 7:14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one, as well as the other.

As I inventoried our equipment as we prepared to sell to another lab, I thought of all of the stories:

The Tango Drum scanner…the first major purchase we made…it committed us to this path more than any other decision we made in the early days. It led us to hire our first employees, and placed us on the map of digital imaging labs. It was $72,000 lease that we took out before we owned a home. When we bought it, I didn’t know the difference between a $1 buyout lease, and a “fair market value” lease, which requires a 20% buyout at the end. By the grace of God, we somehow dodged the bullet of having to pay the 20%. I’m still not quite sure how that happened, though it was likely because we took out another lease, for another expensive piece of equipment.

So it went, year after year, for 19 years. Printers that cost nearly as much as our first house; mounting presses; a CNC router; work tables designed and constructed by hand, per our specifications; a half dozen self-healing mats that could withstand the blades of the box cutter knives we used to package hundreds of thousands of shipments sent across the country and around the world; the giant storage cabinets an eager intern pieced together for us, surprised we trusted her with power tools; the hack saws we used to cut down tubes for shipping rolled prints to our clients…so many stories, contained within these things. I wanted to write down the story for each item, so the person who bought it would know the history; the background to that unique piece…what each piece did, and what it meant to us, right down to the little drawers that perfectly housed all of our paper samples. I was so happy when I found those in the Dick Blick catalog.

But the book is over. The book of our small business, which employed over 100 people in its lifetime, has been completely written. The things sold off to someone, who will further liquidate it, and the stories have become unwoven and lost.

Except in my mind, and in my memory.

I’ve received a great lesson in the impermanence of stuff. A man can toil every day for 20 years, and all he is left with in the end is nothing. All of the years of worry and stress and agonizing over the best inkset for the inkjet prints and metal prints amounted to a few dozen clients who miss us, relationships with some of our former employees, great memories of beautiful projects we printed, and really, truly…nothing else.

Ecclasiastes 2: 22-23 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

The stuff was sold.

The business ended.

And oddly enough…

Life went on.

Yes, indeed, something new has begun. New things. New dreams. New items to collect; new places to explore; a new set of memories to make.

It’s odd when you realize you needed to lose everything. You needed to let go of the life you once held so dear, to take hold of something wonderful, fresh and new. The stuff of my former life is gone, and so many treasures…but my heart is singing in an entirely different way, and to a much purer tune.

There are things I wish could’ve ended more smoothly as the business wound down… but, just like the entire story of our business, the ending was not mine to write. My job was to live it out as best I could, holding onto God for dear life. This is what we did. Every. Single. Difficult. Day.

This is what I continue to do, despite the uncertainty, and the fact that we are living one day and one step at a time. God is writing something new. Something good. And He loves us. His plans for us are perfect, and I can trust in Him as he unveils the next steps of this life.

Psalm 40: 1-3 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. 

Living In Tennessee

What I Love About Living Near Nashville, Tennessee

It’s been over three months since we arrived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about a half hour drive southeast of Nashville. We moved here with our three kids and all of our belongings, though my husband had never been here before, and I had only been here on two very brief visits. We weren’t exactly sure whether we were going to like living here, but knew God was calling us to move to this specific location. It was very much a leap of faith. Three months in, I can now say confidently that we like living in Middle Tennessee. A lot. Here is a list of ten things we are really enjoying about our new home, listed in no particular order:

1. Everything is green
It seems obvious that plants and trees would grow luxuriously in a city that receives an average of 50 inches of rain a year…but the overall color of GREEN everywhere you look is truly remarkable after living near the parched (12 inches of rain a year…) California Central Valley. The first month we lived here, I continually marveled at all of the shades of green that created the landscape. There were things growing EVERYWHERE: ivy dangling off branches, soybeans covering fields, corn towering over our heads, grass that grows, and grows, and grows…unlike California, where we’d weed whack once or twice, and be set for the year. I forgot how delightful green grass feels on my bare feet.

2. Nothing is dusty
Since there is so much rain, and so much green, the dirt stays where it’s supposed to…on the ground! I have encountered a bit of mud here in Tennessee, but not that parched dust that coats EVERYTHING in California. Taking my daughter horse riding was an entirely different experience, as she rode through green pastures compared to the bare patches of hardened dirt in California. Granted, it is a bit (a lot) more humid here…but at least it’s not dusty!

3. The sunsets
I gave up the mountain views when we left California, but I gained the eastern sunsets. The rolling hills of Tennessee, coupled with the salmon, pink, orange, yellow and blues of sunset, are truly something to behold. Add in clouds that vary from night to night, and it’s truly like watching a God sized canvas being painted in real time.

4. All the shopping I could want (except Costco) within ten minutes
In California, I had two shopping lists: my local grocery list, and my Fresno list. If I could wait to go to Fresno (an hour away) for most items, I would…if not, I’d spend at least 20% more buying groceries and household goods from the local grocery store. I usually had no time to go to Fresno, or I had to tack shopping onto trips to the doctor or orthodontist…so that meant it was really hard to shop for groceries, let alone clothing, shoes, and random things my family needed. I cannot tell you how much my life has changed, having shopping a mere 10 minutes (or less) from my house. Going to the store only takes a little bit of my time, instead of ALL DAY. I can zip over to Target, buy a few things, and go home. The hardest thing to get used to with this change is the feeling that I have to fit a month’s worth of shopping into a single trip to the store. I still feel a sense of panic of, “If I don’t remember what I’m supposed to buy today, then it’ll be another month before I can buy it,” each time I go to Walmart…then the panic fades away when I remember that I now live in Tennessee.

5. Having family nearby
It’s been over 25 years since my sister and I lived in the same town. In that span of time, she had four kids, I had three, and we developed very full lives of our own. It’s been wonderful to be nearby, and to have the opportunity to spend time with her and her kids (my nieces, nephews and now GREAT niece and nephew) and get to know them on a regular basis, instead of a “once every few years” kind of relationship. I mean…my son is enrolled in school with his cousin (my great-niece). Having cousins nearby is something we never imagined having for our kids…and now they are in the same preschool class, twice a week.

6. The schools
There are good schools here. Many, many schools that are growing and changing and being built all around us. In our small town in California, we homeschooled for a number of reasons. When we moved, we decided to look at all of the options that were suddenly available to us, and ended up enrolling our kids in the local middle school. My son is suddenly in band, there are clubs join, and hundreds of kids to meet. The school day itself is very structured, the teachers have extremely high expectations for the children, and the kids all (mostly) behave. Imagine that! As a bonus, the STEM magnet high school in our county is the #1 high school in Tennessee…and my kids have hopes of attending.

7. The manners
I thought my kids had good manners, until we moved to Tennessee. The number of times I heard “Yes ma’am” and “No sir” each day was a bit shocking at first…add to that the “my pleasure” from the workers at Chick-Fil-A, and I quickly realized we needed to step up our game.

8. The work ethic
You know you’ve been living in a retirement community for a long time, when you move to a place and are surprised to see your neighbors driving to work, first thing in the morning. The fast food restaurants, the stores and the gas stations are all full of workers who take pride in their jobs, and do them cheerfully and well. The overall attitude is that a job is considered to be a blessing, instead of a necessary evil…and it makes a true difference in the quality of service.

9. The history
Civil War history; revolutionary war history; history from when Tennessee was considered to be the frontier; Native American history; Nashville history; this place is steeped in history, and stories, and legends of yesteryear. It’s magical to my storyteller’s heart.

10. The opportunities
I was born in Flint, Michigan. I spent my teenage years in the rust belt near Toledo, Ohio. I went to college in the Appalachian foothills at Ohio University. I then moved to an extremely rural part of California, where the most secure jobs were those created by the state…firefighters, teachers, highway patrolmen. I have never lived someplace like Nashville. This place is exploding with growth…houses and new stores are popping up all over, even since I moved here three months ago. There are tens of thousands of companies, corporate headquarters, small businesses and creative professionals feeding into the local economy, and it’s reflected in the quality of the local parks (There are so many! They are so beautiful!), the smiles on people’s faces, and the cultural opportunities that are able to thrive here. This is a place that provides plenty of space to learn and grow, for a very, very long time…which is exactly what my family and I are beginning to do!

 

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What I Miss About Living In California

I lived in California for 22 years, which is exactly half of my life. It’s been three months since I left the Golden State, and it seems like a good time to write a list (in no particular order) of the things I have begun to really miss:

1.  In-N-Out Burger
Like many California transplants, I remember the first time I ate an In-N-Out burger. I was driving home to Yosemite with my boss Claudia, and it was growing late. We were hungry, and as we discussed dining options, she discovered I had never eaten at In & Out. We stopped in Tracy, and I remarked at the simple menu. Hamburgers…Cheeseburgers…Double Cheeseburgers…and fries. How could something so simple be so good? As we drove away and I took the first bite, I realized SOMETHING SO SIMPLE IS SO GOOD. There is nothing like In & Out. Anywhere. The fresh meat that is perfectly salted; the melted cheese; the bun toasted to a slight crisp; the crisp iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing; the french fries that are ACTUALLY POTATOES cut there, in the restaurant…oh my gosh. In-N-Out…Get in my tummy right now.

2. Yosemite and the High Sierra
Beauty. Majesty. Unexpected, breathtaking gloriousness unfolding on every single drive. Hikes to waterfalls and 8000-foot domes. Meandering alongside ancient trees. Taking in fantastic mountain vistas, and equally intriguing minute details…I will never grow tired of exploring and loving the Sierra mountains.

3. My Friends
So many great friends. Real, true friends, who I had babies alongside; wrangled toddlers with; homeschooled together; and otherwise navigated the craziness of life. I can’t stand the fact that I will likely never again live in the same town as these soul sisters. Can we please meet for coffee, or Bunco, or a 10K in Santa Cruz, once again?

4. My Mom and Dad

My parents moved to California a decade ago, and I grew used to them being in the same town as me. It’s so odd to live across the country from them, and know that when I call, I’m 2000 miles away, and not simply across town. How did I manage to leave California before they did?

5. The Turkeys
Seriously. We had the most entertaining wild turkeys at our last house. They paraded on our front deck, acting like they owned the place…and in truth, they did own it, far more than we did (we sold the house and moved…they are still there…). In the 3+ years we lived there, we saw the flock grow from about a dozen to over 30. There were Tom turkeys who plumed their feathers and walked with a cocky strut; baby turkeys who grew from tininess to awkward toddlers within days; and hens who seemed both interested and indifferent to the Toms, depending on the time of year. Every day we watched them peck for food in the grasses; balance on the handrail of our deck, 20 feet above ground; and roost in the old Ponderosa Pine in our side yard. They were a part of our family, and “turkey” was one of my son’s first words, because they were (and are) so remarkable to watch.

6. Cool Bean Cafe
Cool Bean is the quintessential small town coffee shop. Cool Bean owners Casey and Alyssa Lucas built something far beyond Starbucks. It is the heart of the town, and on any given day you can find people from nearly every social circle gathering there to share time and life. Besides being a place to gather, the coffee is so good, it’s art. I miss coffee made with the craftsmanship of Cool Bean’s offerings. I have yet to find something as good, in taste and ambiance, here in Tennessee.

7. Pizza Factory

Everyone knew my name at the Pizza Factory. They knew I ordered a #3 (a slice of cheese pizza and a salad with an iced tea and lemon)…then a diet special (a salad bar and iced tea with lemon), once it became apparent to me that gluten was no longer my friend. I enjoyed meals there as we launched our business; countless lunches with my husband as we navigated our way through business ownership; parenthood; cancer; life. We had staff parties, and birthday parties and going way parties at that place…When you are done eating, the staff yells, “Thank you!” and “Good Bye” as you push the glass door into the parking lot. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t leave Pizza Factory happier than when I arrived. I miss settling down into a booth, and enjoying yet another tasty lunch with my family.

8. The cool summer mountain evenings

The heat of California’s Central Valley summers are only made bearable by one thing: the cool evenings. When the sun sets, the heat lifts, and you are left with a fresh coolness and a slight breeze that is altogether wonderful. It’s almost like the beach…but it’s more like a breath of life and hope at the end of a parched, dusty day. Those summer evenings are the perfect setting for sitting on the porch, enjoying a margarita, and pondering the stars.

9. The stars at night

Away from the glow of the city, the stars take on a spectacular three-dimensional quality. I always meant to memorize all of the constellations, but never got beyond a handful. So many nights, I’d arrive home from town, unfold myself from the car, take a deep breath of the crisp mountain air, and look up to see the twinkling lights of the magnificent stars, shining down on me. It made me feel so small and insignificant, and like the richest person in the world…I had something better than diamonds shining down on me, showing me their glory, every clear night.

10. The view from my bedroom window

When I first moved to California, I could see Yosemite Falls from my bedroom window in Yosemite Valley. Then when I moved to Oakhurst, I saw a riverbed with a spectacular mountain vista rising above it. Later on, once we bought a house, I saw 250 year old oak trees amongst the tall brown grasses…and then in our final home, and spectacular vista of Sierra foothills, Ponderosa Pines and Sycamore leaves. I loved waking up and seeing such beauty. It was an early morning blessing, every single day.

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