Tag: small business

California Life, Faith, Living In Tennessee, Married Life

Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

More Posts, Work

Small Business Owners – I Understand!

Oh, Small Business Owner, how I feel for you.

I understand the fear of knowing what tomorrow holds. Stay-at-home orders mean a lack of sales, dwindling business prospects, and evaporating savings accounts.

I understand the faces that pop into your mind at night: Your employees and the faces of their children; those children who are fed each week by the income brought in by your ideas, innovation and persistence. How will those good, good people pay their bills if you lay them off?

I know how you are sitting up, looking for a new market, or a new way to address the same market, to bring in some kind of revenue to bridge this ever-widening gap of income.

And let’s just acknowledge that, when they talk about how most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, the truth is that many American small businesses do, too. The income from this week pays for next week’s payroll…

I know how, even if you have a decent savings stacked away, or a line of credit, how quickly payroll and rent eats that up. $250,000 in the bank can become $250,000 in debt in a few short months for many small businesses. It’s nothing to lose the cost of an entire mortgage or two, with a few months of bad business.

You never thought you’d see 20 years of brutally hard work evaporate, seemingly overnight, right? I get it.

These are the times that small business owners live in a haze of caffeine, anxiety, and endlessly stretching their minds for a great idea that might save the day.

And dare I suggest that the idea that might save the day is this: You don’t need to save the day. 

Run your financials; make projections; create plans and worst case scenarios and backup plans, and whatever you need to do to reconcile the crazy in your mind with the craziness surrounding you…and then take a walk.

Go breathe the air outside, feel the sunshine on your face, and hold your little boy’s hand as he picks up dandelion bouquets. Notice the things in your life that have nothing to do with work, and begin to cherish them in a new way.

If you are like I was, you have become so entrenched in running your business that somehow you became your business. Its success or failure equals your success or failure. And that’s not the truth.

Your business is an entity that you created, grew and gave life to. And just like all things, it has a beginning date, and an end date. Statistics say that most small business owners will outlive their business. Statistics also say that second businesses are often more profitable and better run than the first.

What if this is a turning point for you? What if this is the thing that makes you finally focus on what you’re supposed to be doing? What if it allows you to trim a department or make a change you’ve been knowing you should do, but couldn’t find the justification to do it? Or what if it’s time to stop this business, so you can embrace something new?

I have learned and grown a huge amount in the three years since I closed my small business. I didn’t plan it, and I didn’t expect it…but once I surrendered to a new course for my life, I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years. I was able to release the pressure and my own expectations, and look forward as a new chapter began to unfold.

And guess what? I like the new chapter!

My prayer for you, Small Business Owner, is this: That you trust God. That you seek Him out, and ask Him to show you the next step, and the next step, and the next step. And that you embrace that fact that He loves you, and He will give you the wisdom you need to endure this season, and whatever challenges or successes it includes.

While I’d love to tie this up with a neat little bow, the truth is that this season is really hard. Stand strong, breathe deep and press on into tomorrow, one day at a time, knowing you truly are not alone.

Photo: The staff of our small businesses, West Coast Imaging and Aspen Creek Photo, in 2016

Living In Tennessee, Work

Surprising Gifts That Came From Owning a Business

I used to say I didn’t have a single entrepreneurial bone in my body. I was brought into business ownership when I married Rich…a guy with extreme independence, unique talent and big dreams. I fought incapacitating anxiety as we bade our small-but-consistent paychecks goodbye to launch our first business.

I was 25 years old, starting a business with my (fairly) new husband, in a male-dominated industry, in a small California town where we essentially knew nobody. It was lonely, and scary, and I spent way too much time alone with my husband and three cats, creating websites for photographers using the early HTML builders that were available in the late 1990s.

We worked constantly, building websites and pursuing fine art photographic printmaking, steadily adding more and more well-known landscape photographers to our roster of clients. Within a year, we were moving the business out of our house, into a commercial space, hiring employees and taking out leases to buy expensive pieces of production equipment.

The risk, lack of certainty, and financial insecurity of early business ownership led me to Jesus pretty darned quickly. My reliance on God as my provider and counselor is the only thing that has kept my always-beckoning anxiety in check, every single day of my life ever since. It’s also the ONLY thing that gave me hope as our first business crumbled out of our hands in 2017.

As we closed down that business, I vowed I would never own another business. It was too uncertain…there was too much risk. We had taken the first half of our professional lives and devoted it to something that evaporated seemingly overnight.

I dreamt of having a job with a solid paycheck and benefits. A job where someone else could do the worrying about making payroll every two weeks, or buying the never-ending list of supplies a business requires. I wanted a job where I could just be an employee…and leave the tough decision making to someone else. So God led me to that job, and that’s what I’ve been pursing ever since. There is something amazing about not having to pay my own healthcare for the first time in 20 years…but working for someone else has shown me a few truths about myself, as well.

It turns out I have solid business instincts. After co-steering my business for 20 years, I instinctively know truths about business, stewarding employees and navigating challenging situations. When you live for two decades with professional challenges presenting themselves on a daily basis, you grow used to upheaval, reorganization and change. It turns out, not being fazed by this is actually a skill.

I’ve also recognized that dreaming up new ideas is a fundamental part of who I am now. A program or product isn’t working? People aren’t happy? We need to change something fundamental to the business? Let’s throw away, “How we’ve always done it,” and invent a new wheel. I’m discovering that NOT having a fear of change, and having a heart to tackle problems head-on, is a rare thing, indeed.

The last thing I told my husband I would NEVER do again, when we closed our business, was bookkeeping and payroll. It’s a never-ending job. If you leave it alone for a day or two, you are greeted by piles of work when you return. Imagine my surprise when the job God led me to in Nashville was the Accounting and HR manager of a Christian nonprofit, where I do bookkeeping and payroll. The amazing thing is that He’s given me a heart to ENJOY reworking and updating the ministry’s books to meet its growing needs. If you knew how truly burned out I was after closing our business, you would see that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I’ve discovered that being an employee for the first time in 20 years is both liberating and frustrating. In our business, my husband and I would often make large decisions together, then we would quickly implement those changes. In a nonprofit, you can’t make decisions independently… it just doesn’t work (plus, you would upset a lot of people). Learning to collaborate in a new way has been both challenging and rewarding, as I see my ideas refined by others…and vice versa.

The essential truth I’m learning from all of this is that each life experience truly does prepare you for the next. Life’s persistent details add up into new character traits like steadfastness, patience, self-control and trust in God…if you approach them with a heart ready to learn, grow, get broken and heal. It’s a cycle that builds something tough and strong…and though my business no longer exists after 20 years, I’m enjoying the fruit of it in new ways, as I pursue an entirely new path with the skills it gave me.

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