A funny thing happened on New Year’s Eve. I’m usually not one to be given over to jealousy as I do the social media scroll. But the flood of “look at what God has done with my business in the last ten years” posts started to get to me. Hard and fast. In that sucker-punch kind of way. And before I knew it, I was playing the comparison game. So many amazing friends and fellow entrepreneurs had successfully grown their business by leaps and bounds. Some of them into million-dollar companies. And me? Well, from the inside looking out, it appeared as if I had run mine into the ground.
In 2010, my business was booming. It wasn’t bringing in millions by any means (not by a long shot), but it was providing a comfortable salary. I worked from home full time, had design projects and photography clients coming out of my ears, and was as happy as a creative-entrepreneur clam could dream of being. By 2012, my husband quit his job to run my business with me. And in 2014, when we moved across the ocean to a tropical island, graphic design clients all over the world were my bread and butter. I unplugged my computer for a couple of weeks, and plugged it back in a couple of thousand miles away and picked up right where I left off as if nothing ever happened.
And then, 2016 came. And 2017. I stopped everything to be a mom and write a book. I also hired a new bookkeeper and wasn’t paying attention to the business numbers. Or the important things, like if quarterly tax payments were being made (they weren’t). I had an ugly surprise waiting for me at the end of that year, to the tune of $18,000 of tax debt from unpaid quarterlies. But I swallowed it down, found a new bookkeeper, and kept trudging forward. She paid my quarterlies, but I didn’t realize she wasn’t paying the payroll taxes. And the end of that year? We faced an additional $15,000 of debt.
We had gone from being debt-free to drowning in debt in the blink of an eye. And I’ve spent the last year working my tail off just to put 100% of anything I make towards paying down that debt (it’s been slow-going). So those “look at what God has done with my business these last ten years” social media posts? They threw me into a “what do I have to show for these last ten years?” tailspin.
By the time Josh got home from work, I was in tears, giving out-loud words to the hidden turmoil of my heart:
I feel like a failure, I said between sobs.
He knelt there on the floor next to the bed where I sat crying and, without missing a beat, asked one simple question: “What did you want the most ten years ago?” I quickly answered “a successful business,” and he gave me the look. You know the one that says, “Come on, Jane, you and I both know that isn’t correct.” And I realized that wasn’t true.
“A family,” I said quietly. And he glanced at my nine-months-pregnant belly and smiled.
“That’s all that matters,” he said.
This morning, I read an article that a friend posted about motherhood. And my perspective shifted even more.
“Motherhood is not a hobby. It is a calling. … It is not something to do if you can squeeze in the time. It is what God gave you time for. … When you are in public [with your children], you represent laying down your life for another – and laying down your life for another represents the gospel. Laying down your own life is terrifying, in any way. It’s fear that your dreams will die, that your future will die. But a Christian should have a different paradigm. We should run to the cross, to death. So, lay down your hopes, lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances and your desire to be recognized. Let it go.”
I thought about the purpose my creative business had served over the last decade:
– Six months before Shawna was diagnosed with stage four cancer, I hired an assistant in the city that she lived in (2-1/2 hours away from me). I wasn’t sure why it worked out that way at the time but went with it anyway.
– After the diagnosis, I was in Corvallis as often as I could be, for as many chemotherapy appointments as I could attend. And because my assistant lived there, I could also work, making every single trip a write-off.
– During the 18-months of her cancer journey and new scans that directly contradicted every prayer I would pray for her, my business was the only measurable way I could see God moving. He still provided the clients and the work and, with it, a distraction from my heartbreaking reality.
– After her death, the business afforded us the opportunity to move to and live in one of the most expensive places to live in the country without the need to job hunt.
– Because of my business, I made irreplaceable friendships, and often traveled – speaking and teaching and experiencing adventures that filled the void that our family-wait had left.
And now, God freed up my time to be the mom I begged Him to be all those years. Yes, I ended the last decade with thousands of dollars in tax debt for a business that is all but dried up. But I’m starting the new one with a new career of motherhood (and, when time allows, writing).
“Death to yourself [or, in this case, my business] is not the end of the story,” I wrote the article-words down in my prayer journal. “We, of all people, ought to know what follows death. The Christian life is resurrection life, a life that cannot be contained by death.” The truth is: my once-lamented empty arms are now full. Full of good things and miracle-sheaves, and now, I give up my once-upon-a-time life for theirs every day.
“Stop clinging to yourself [and your old business],” I re-wrote, interjecting my own words, “and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone.”
I put my pen down and stared at the words. I felt like a weight had been lifted off – a letting-go that I didn’t know I needed to do. It was a saying goodbye of sorts to an old identity that served me well and served its purpose for its time. But one there isn’t room for in this new and already-full decade.
So I toasted to the old life with my coffee just as Josh came down the stairs, one miracle in each arm, ready for their toast and morning milk. And I was ready to tackle a new day, a new decade, cheerfully and joyfully. No matter what it decides to throw at me.
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