The first 6 months of 2016 have rocked my world. There have been some of the highest of highs (birth of Vana and Natalie’s wedding) and the lowest of lows (a terminal diagnosis for my father-in-law and cousin’s death).
Today I wanted to share one particular part of the journey with you that I haven’t mentioned yet that has caused more discouragement but at the same time, more growth in my faith than I knew was possible in 6 months.
At the beginning of this year my husband, Tyler and I knew we wanted to start giving more. After some thought we decided that besides tithing from our paychecks as we had been doing, we would start tithing 10% from each of our businesses. This was no small decision. The commitment of this new line item in our budget we were making would be big. Subconsciously though, I thought, surely God will bless our businesses EVEN MORE since we plan to do all sorts of good stuff with it.
I’ve read enough Bible verses about blessings to know God blesses those who give, right? A few weeks after making that big decision that, truthfully, should have had the gravy train heading our way, things just kind of changed. We had a microwave blow up, a dryer break, then the washer, then the car. Then the other car got hit by a careless driver. And then there were obvious expenses of that having a baby and meeting a high deductible.
Had this happened 3 months before, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
You see, I was on a total high from the way we ended 2015. In the last three months of the year (thanks to a unexpected share from a former bachelorette and Christmas shopping) we sold as much as what we sold the previous 9 months combined. I knew things would certainly slow down, but it was if the faucet just shut off.
Our sales were the slowest they had been in years. YEARS! I can’t even begin to explain all those feelings you feel wondering what the heck you are doing wrong. For several weeks it was all I thought about. I went back and forth trying to figure out the source.
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- Was it loads more competition in our market now (I see a new prayer journal almost weekly so this is totally possible)?
- Maybe the fact that I had coasted during pregnancy and not really actually marketed or tried to sell the journals well? My friend Whitney and I were talking about this in the thick of it and she told me “what you’re doing right now will effect what happens 6 months from now.” Six months before then was when my nausea started and work took a back seat. This had to be it.
- Instagram’s new alogoritham? Insty has been such a big part of our marketing. The new change meant less eyes on each post.
- If all else fails, the economy. It HAD to be the economy.
I wrestled with God a lot over all this. Here we were, amping up our giving. Even if God didn’t want to bless us with more, couldn’t He have at least left things going how they were going? It felt like a punishment for doing the “right thing.”
My prayer life took a bit of a hit because of it. I was praying constantly for my business and not seeing any change. I felt like my prayers were hitting a wall and I started questioning things. Not my faith, but my belief that God truly heard me or knew what was good for me. Not a good place to be for the girl selling prayer journals.
After six months, I can easily say, I have never grown so much from trials as I have through the first half of the year. Honestly, on the scale of trials, this was hardly the worst. But for me, it was the never ending, relentless discouragement that changed me. Why? I couldn’t bounce back from a bad day with great sales or good news the next day. I had to learn pure Jesus joy, not joy based on circumstances getting better.
The relentlessness became laughable. Things kept breaking, unexpected setbacks kept happening. I had to pay $700 for a picture, A PICTURE, I shared on the blog that hadn’t been properly credited. Journals were misprinted. Supplies ordered wrong. I couldn’t recover on my own. I just had to cling to God for even scraps of hope.
Here’s what I learned in the process:
1. God’s truth is catching me in the midst of decisions instead of 5 minutes after. I feel like for so long, I’d remember what I should have done AFTER I made a poor choice. Now I’m actually able to choose God’s best for me because I’m recognizing the choices I have before I make them.
2. I am daily having to choose humility. Each time I see new products similar to mine, I remember my responsibility is to make sure I’m following where He is leading me. Not spending my life frustrated about someone else’s path that seems to cross into mine.
3. I’m more content with less. I returned a $70 lamp the other day. The old me would chalk up the moment of weakness in Target as a loss. This time, Vivi and hauled the lamp back inside, at which point she said “You need to pay for that momma?” And I told her, “I already paid for it Vivi. Sometimes momma spends too much money on things we don’t really need so we bring them back.” I actually just started the Contentment Challenge this month and am excited to keep learning this lesson.
4. I am starting to thank God more for the hardships because I see the fruit from it.
5. I am reconciled to the fact that I’m OK if God never decides to bless our giving with money. I’m not sharing this story because the gravy train started back it’s engines. It hasn’t but he has blessed me in so many other ways.
6. I’m learning how to manage my emotions better. As a pregnant lady and mom of a newborn, there are no shortage of emotions. But I was letting them wreck me. I’m using my brain a bit more and not being controlled by them.
7. I am really understanding what it means to be fully dependent on Him. It’s weird. I have always known this but my actions didn’t always show it. The tether I was on used to be much longer. I thought it was freeing to be able to handle things on my own but now my tether is much shorter and I love it. I cling to God for life every day, every decision. Freedom is right here, cozied up in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8).
8. I am learning to be small. I’m no longer kicking myself for choosing this for my word of the year. It’s a good place to be. But it’s hard. We like attention, even an introvert like me, likes certain attention.
9. Some really good products came out of this season. One in particular NEVER would have happened had I not wrestled with prayer so much. If this whole season was simply to create this product (coming in September!) that will impact y’alls lives, I am grateful for it.
10. I realized I’ve been coasting for a little while. We’ve had the only prayer journal like ours for the first two years and I had gotten comfortable. This year, I had many chats with God, praying for the creativity to come from Him instead of leaning on doing the same thing because it was good enough. He showed up and I’m so excited to share everything with you!
11. My prayer life is even more real now. It’s kind of like in college when another student debated me about my faith. He showed me all sorts of “inconsistencies” in the Word and for a moment, it shook me. But it forced me to make it my own and my faith came out stronger. Even as long as I’ve been praying, I feel like I’ve finally gotten real with God.
12. I have realized how much pride I had in regards to Val Marie Paper. I took credit for its success. I relied on its stability. I assumed that I could keep it steady by the things I, ME, did. This year has taught me how much God is in control.
13. I’ve learned more concretely it’s not about the metrics. It’s about the message and the lives that will be touched from our products. The other day, instead of praying that we’d sell more, I prayed for the journals that have already been bought. I prayed for the people that are using them now or having them sitting on a shelf. Gals, this is a BIG shift in my heart. I care about y’all more than I ever have before and it’s only because Christ lives in me and is giving me a heart to see your lives changed.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” – Malachi 3:10
Why did I tell this story? We aren’t supposed to talk about money. Really, I’m fine talking about money. Ask any of my friends. It’s talking about what has looked like a failing season in business that’s so difficult to do right now. But I really feel like God wants someone to hear this message.
For anyone who has ever expected to give and to be blessed back with money, God has something so much better in store.
I was once there. I would have never spoken that idea out loud. It was merely a subconscious thought. But I still assumed God would take care of all my needs. And y’all, my definition of needs was a lot bigger than His. The value of the last 6 months cannot be measured by a dollar amount. I am so grateful for what the Lord has done. I want you to know this truth as you may have money fears or begin questioning these verses. And truthfully, I still have fears of the unknown. Will we ever have a year like last year? Will sales eventually dry up completely? I have no clue but what I do know is that God has brought me to a point where I recognize my incredible need for Him and rest in the fact that He’s always here, that He’s a good God and gives better gifts than I can ever imagine.