The Moment I Realized Things Were Not The Way They Used To Be
It wasn’t until I saw the selfie that I realized where we had arrived.
For much of the eighteen years that Tim and I have been married, I have felt alone. By that I mean that in the things we have had to do both in business and family, I have been lonely. In those times and in every one of those moments, God has met me there and I have had peace. And the blessings and gifts I have experienced from doing what He has called us to do is immeasurable in so many ways.
But it has made me tired. So, so tired. The kind of tired that makes you weary, and the past few years, adding foster care and all the emotional weight that has brought has literally made my shoulders physically ache.
In the beginning years, it was new and exciting, the whole world in front of us and it was whatever we colored it to be if we just painted enough of the canvas. I was young, Tim was strong, and we faced so many challenges head on, always expecting great things. Together, we created a beautiful life and a beautiful business, and once I knew I made my parents proud, had my pastors’ blessing and felt God smiling at me, I was good.to.go.
I don’t know where along the line that I started to lose my spunk. I constantly attended business meetings, stayed involved in the community, and juggled the growing children in my home throughout that time. I even belonged to a “for women only” business referral group to try to ease some of the alienation I felt in the business world. It helped to be able to become friends and colleagues with other like-minded business women, and I found a safe place to share my business challenges and frustrations, but when home life added up and I had to choose to hold the fort down at home over the last couple years, even that went on the back burner so I could bring peace back into the war-torn place we had once called home.
Being a stay-at-home mom can be so lonely. Being 600 miles away from your family can be so lonely. Being a business owner and a woman can be lonely. Being a foster parent can be lonely.
I faked my brave for the sake of the children in my home that were depending on me. I forced myself to do the things that a mom should do, and went through the motions of everything a wife should be. It worked for the most part, and every morning I would just ask the Lord to help me to do what He wanted me do to, and show me how to live life the way He wanted me to. It was a tough spot to be in no matter how I diced it, and someday I will write more about the challenges we faced in that time that made it so heavy and so dark.
One snapshot of one day would maybe sum it up best if I tried: about a year and a half ago, I shut the front door to our home after a visit from our social worker regarding our little buddy. We were about five months in to his stay with us, and the case was taking a turn for the worse. Would we consider adopting him? Tim was out of town on a field trip with our older two kids, and there was no need to answer immediately anyways, we still had many months to go before anything would become permanent, and in the world of foster care I had already learned that things we thought were permanent can shift completely upside down in a moment, even until adoption. But that was not what was hurting my heart. Our little buddy was still struggling so hard and so bad, life was a constant war. His anger thundered through the air in our home and his cries of rage deafened the voices of peace we were used to. He could not sleep through the night; he would often sleep walk or have night terrors. If I was not home to tuck him in, every night like clockwork around 2AM he would come find me and I would have to walk him back to bed. Tim and I had not slept through the night in months, and our home had been invaded by an angry stranger who could not unpack his grief at the door. We had to leave our home if we wanted any peace or rest, and such a situation was so unnatural and opposite of what I had worked so hard for so many years for.
I shut that door as the case worker drove away, and leaned my hand hard against the door frame. I stared at my arm, a scar still healing from where my buddy had clawed me in a rage. It still hurt, though it was far more in my heart than physical. “God?” I wondered out loud. “Could this really be you? Could this really be the future you have in store for me? Because it doesn’t look like a hope and a future. It looks awful.”
He did not answer in that moment. Instead, I received a call on my phone. It was the bank. They wanted to know when we were going to pay the house mortgage because (in case I hadn’t noticed) we were over 30 days past due.
A part of me died inside when I hung up from that call. Debt is something I have always hated with a passion, and I struggled to reconcile how we could have late bills while honoring our word to the things we promised to pay. Business had been so low for so long, and health insurance and liability insurance had sky rocketed, and we were scraping at every end of every line just to make payroll for our team. I thought about each one of them as the checks went out, and each family that money supported. Tim and I had gone without a paycheck for so long I didn’t think we would ever be stable again. My new dream became survival. And even then it seemed more like a nightmare.
There were rays of sunshine that would come through in the moments that seemed the darkest. Friends and team members would unknowingly speak hope at the perfect time, or our children would step up and amaze us with their help at home or at the shop, and breakthrough after breakthrough, no matter how small, kept me getting out of bed each morning.
Tim was taking on more and more of the financial management of the shop as I had nearly dropped it all like a hot potato as foster buddy had needed so much more than we could have ever planned for, but suffice to say with so little sleep and so many challenges, we were miles past Hot Mess Haven, and seemingly headed Nowhere Fast. We were looking at nearly one hundred thousand dollars in unsecured debt and I struggled to see anything past that. I both admired and resented him that he still had the audacity to hold on to his vision for expansion while we so desperately needed a miracle. Or a hundred thousand.
But he did.
He would talk about future plans and try to explain how it would be laid out, and I would just stare at him incredulously, trying to decide if he was genius or crazy. My future plan was “when can we afford some groceries?”
What a pair we were.
One day he was explaining to me another aspect of the expansion, and listing all the ways it would be profitable and streamlined and better and all the things he had researched and been learning. I listened and tried not to squash him, and chose my words so carefully so as not to exclusively focus on the debt we were drowning in, nor how bleak our current situation was. “That’s great, babe,” I managed to choke out. “But how are we going to pay for all that?”
Right in that moment there was a knock on our office door, and it was a friend from church we were happy to see. We were not extremely close, and with the conversation we were having I was feeling very vulnerable, so when he asked some questions about our business situation and financial issues, I panicked a little. Tim opened up to him, and I just kept listening and holding on. By the time he left he explained that he just felt to ask us these questions, and did we mind giving him a few days to sort some things out and get back to us? We were mystified.
Within the week he came back to us explaining he had taken out a loan in his name at a very low interest rate, and we were welcome to pay off all our unsecured debt with it and just write him a monthly check to pay it off over the next three years.
It was the stuff that the greatest Hallmark movies are made of, and we sat still, dumbfounded, at what this meant for us and our business. It was unbelievable and miraculous and incredible and overwhelming all at the same time.
After that, it seemed like the happy snowball effect took place pretty quickly. Sales were up a little more, our team was rallying and pitching in and getting better all the time, and paychecks started steadying to where I did not have to log in the mobile banking app right before I walked in to Walmart anymore just to figure out how much money I had left to spend.
Tim kept learning, sketching, and dreaming his same dream, holding on to his same vision. “I’m on board” I told him some nights as we drifted off to sleep. “But I can’t hold on much longer; I need some rest.”
I held on and went through those motions, doing all the things to love my husband, my children and my team well. I hunkered down and pulled long 14-16 hour days as Tim traveled to conferences, sat with mentors, read about new laws and changes in the industry and finally filled out applications and created presentations to move forward. The date was set for the first County meeting.
My heart wasn’t exactly in it. I was doing this thing out of obedience to my God and out of respect for my husband. I was just so tired of being alone and carrying that weight of moving mountains when it was just the two of us.
But this time we were not alone.
My oldest daughter at home, Abby, was holding the fort down with the younger four so we could attend the first County meeting. Our oldest son Andrew was riding in the seat next to me as Tim drove us across the street to pick up our 90 year business partner and landlord of the service center, Mr. Lloyd Hodges.
What a motley crew we were, the four of us headed to the other side of town for this meeting. My anxiety was creeping in as I prepared for the same-old same-old of having to be the strong one and sit beside my husband and play the part and do the things that needed to be done to get it done. I had done it before, I would do it again, but boy was it getting old and oh-my-Lord was I over playing this part.
But when we pulled in the parking lot, I saw the truck of one of our technicians, and there he was, smiling and waving as he climbed out to walk in with us. The sight stopped me in my tracks. “What’s Travy doing here?” I whispered to Tim. “Oh, I just mentioned in a team meeting what was going on with the County, and invited all of them to come, so he’s here to show some support.” My heart swelled. We had offered and invited our team for years upon years to participate in events and things, and never really got much of a response. This was such a heart warming moment.
Before we could walk in to the building, another of our girls joined our crew and hugged us hello. “The others will be here in a minute,” she smiled.
Others? Others as in who? The others on our team apparently. Once seated inside, it wasn’t five minutes later before our front office girl and her best friend, who also worked with us in the past and recently moved on to a field more related to her future degree. I was floored. I turned around to whisper to her: “Olivia! What are you doing here?!” She smiled and shrugged at me. “I wanted to be here! Besides,” she winked, “This is the coolest thing happening in Franklin County in years. And it’s good experience for my field…”
I was speechless. I faced forward a moment to process, and heard another shuffle. Our lead mechanic and his wife were seating themselves in the row next to our girls. I couldn’t take it anymore. My heart felt as though it would burst. I managed “hellos” and “thank yous” and turned forward because the meeting was about to start. And also, I had no idea what else to say.
Our first technician Travy grabbed his phone and crouched in front of us all. I watched that selfie click with this flood of people all smiling and laughing, and felt as though I had moved in to a different dimension. Where had we gone? I was too stunned to process it all.
The meeting went without a hitch and we were allowed to move on to the second approval meeting, scheduled six weeks from that date. Nervous and excited but oh, so giddy, we all laughed and cheered and made fun of each other and let out sighs of relief in that parking lot that night. So.many.things.were.accomplished.that.night.
The magic and miracles of that evening carried me through the next six weeks as we prepped and prayed for all of it to go smoothly. I’ve been doing this thing too long to think that I should let my guard down before I see the final score, but all signs pointed to “Go” and I felt the old anxiety fall off a bit as time came closer.
Suffice to say, that second meeting could not have gone more smoothly. Mr. Lloyd drove himself this time because he was coming from a doctor’s appointment, and Drew swapped with Abby so she could have a chance to see what was going on for all the times she has held the fort down. Travy couldn’t come this time because he was getting his house ready for Baby Girl #1 to arrive, but his brother and our craziest technician came in his place, skipping dinner with his wife and daughter with promises to catch up with them later. Our girls came again, smiling and excited, also bringing another friend of theirs we have known through Life for years. She was also cheering us on from the row behind. The icing on the cake was when our painter brought his girlfriend, though I think they were smiling more because they were with each other than because they were cheering for the team. Tomato, Tomahto.
As Tim took the selfie that time just before the meeting started, it occurred to me what that picture stood for in my mind. It was people showing up, and rallying for their team. It was that they believed in our dream. Maybe even more than I did during that dark time. Actually, I’m sure it was more than I did during that dark time, and I am so very grateful for that. They had more faith in us than I did, and that picture meant all the things I felt but could not say.
And I knew I could not say that I was not alone anymore.
Maybe the greatest point of all? I did not feel quite so alone anymore.
In seventeen minutes the entire presentation was delivered, approved, adjourned and we were back out in to the parking lot for the last time, headed to Dairy Queen down the street to celebrate. The girls were the only ones available to party, but we went just the same. We ate ice cream and French fries and burgers and rehearsed the whole night’s events, chatted about upcoming colleges and we laughed way too loud for a very long time.
When we got home, we took a victory lap around the property and saved it to our Instagram Stories forever. I’m sure there will be many more announcements and press releases and expansion plans laid out, but for tonight, this much is enough.
I just needed to mark the moment that one great thing was accomplished, and finished tonight. The weight is lifted, the meetings are done, order is established, and the season is changing.
After we did our lap and pulled into the driveway, Abby asked if she could go for a walk to catch the sunset alone. She had had a tough day watching the kids earlier, and the weight of all that had happened this evening was not lost on her either. We excused her to have her moment alone, and chatted with Drew about how the kids had behaved while we had been gone. He laughed and gave us a play-by-play on a couple highlights of the naughty boys, then how it all came together.
Foster buddy had struggled this week with some old behaviors creeping in, and though we were pretty sure we knew why it was happening, it was still hard on us all. Drew told us that as he tucked the boys in, he prayed over our buddy that God would help him to listen better to Mom and Dad, and that he would not have such a hard time trying to obey. Half asleep and bleary-eyed, foster buddy mumbled out loud, “I think you will have to pray that one a hundred more times before I can do that, Drew.”
Drew just tried to encourage him the best he could and said, “Well buddy, God just wants you to try your best every day, and I don’t think you’ve been doing that, so just try that and you’ll be good to go.”
Satisfied, foster buddy snuggled in to bed and went to sleep.
As for me? My mama heart exploded over Drew and this moment they had together, and I had to fight everything inside of me to keep from rushing upstairs to wake our little buddy up and grab his shoulders and look right in to his sleepy eyes and say, “Wow, buddy. I can promise you will never be alone. It may be hard and you may feel as though you will never get the hang of this thing, but you just need to do your best and know that you will never be alone.”
That’s how I heard the Lord answer me tonight, anyways. All because of a selfie.