Too Small a Thing (The Death of Signarama Part 2)

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I honestly think that our failures are more useful than our successes.  They certainly provide us with the opportunity to humble ourselves and acknowledge our need for God.  God doesn’t waste anything, and failure is a treasure trove of learning if we will take the time to seek out that treasure.  It is painful to come face to face with our shortcomings, but oh so worth it!

As we were heading toward the end of Signarama, I took every available moment to seek God.  I needed to hear His voice because it seemed like our circumstances were contradicting everything I thought He had told me.

I thought He had told us to buy the business.  Despite my fears and uncertainty about it, He had given me supernatural peace.  I thought that He had promised to prosper Signarama.  I thought that He had promised to use it to bring us the wonderful provision that He kept talking to me about.  Through the four years of running the business, we experienced ups and downs, but mostly downs.  Yet through it all, I had felt the peace of God.

Now that we faced our own inability to keep the business going, I questioned whether I had heard God correctly.  Could I even hear His voice at all?  How could I ever be sure that I knew what His will was?  How could I avoid making the same mistakes in the future?

Annalise was just a newborn, nursing about 8 times a day for an hour at a time.  Nursing this sweet little girl was my full-time job.  I still had to take Ashlyn to therapy once a week at HealthSouth.  Ashlyn’s therapist gave me my own little office to set up camp during the hour and 45 minutes that we were there.  I could nurse, read, and pray in a quiet, private room while Ashlyn did physical and speech therapy.  What an amazing gift!

Each week I would get cozy in a chair with Annalise and a nursing pillow.  I would set out my Bible, journal, and pen on the little rolling desk. All my other children were in school or at home with my two teenage babysitters, and I had uninterrupted quiet times. I would ask God all my questions….and He would speak!  How precious those times were!

One day I was mourning the loss of our dream.  Chris always said during the pain and struggle of business ownership, “It just has to be worth it!”  I always felt that it definitely would be worth it…eventually.  Business people kept telling us that after 2-5 years we would really see the profits.  Eventually, if we had the right team of employees in place, Chris would be able to work less but make more.  He would have the freedom to pursue other investments, to spend time with the family, and to take vacations.  Signarama would be an investment that would bless us for the rest of our lives, and perhaps one of our children would want to take it over when Chris retired.

Yet, we couldn’t make it to the point of earning a profit.  We were facing the reality of losing everything we had put into it and moving backwards in our goals and finances.

It had not been worth it at all!!!

                God gave me the scripture Is 49:4.

“But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”

Isaiah was describing exactly how I was feeling!  I continued to read.

“Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Could there possibly be a reward in all of this?  We just had to trust God that He was holding our reward even though we could see nothing good in failure.

When I talked to Chris about all of this, he told me that he had been meditating on the same scripture!  God certainly was trying to tell us something.

Another day at HealthSouth, I asked God, “Was it your perfect will for us to buy Signarama when we did?”

He gave me Is 49:6.

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

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God had spoken this to Isaiah right after he had lamented about spending his strength in vain.  Isaiah was being obedient to give God’s words to the Jewish people, yet he didn’t see any fruit.  No one was listening to him.  He was probably threatened and harassed for his message, and he couldn’t see what good could possible come from his pitiful ministry.

Yet God surprised Isaiah by telling him that his vision of bringing his people back to God (a vision that seemed totally unrealized) was way too small.  God was telling Isaiah that he would also bring the light of salvation to the non-Jews all over the world.  How could Isaiah have imagined how far his words would reach and how many people would be impacted by them?  For the past 10 years I have lived in the book of Isaiah!  The words of God recorded by that discouraged prophet have been a life line to me!

I bet Isaiah never imagined that a little mom and housewife in Pennsylvania would be forever impacted by his ministry.  Yet here I am, writing an article about him!  I bet most of you reading this have also been blessed by Isaiah.

I was very comforted by the thought that God was going to use our lives in ways we could not imagine, despite of, or maybe because of our failure.  Still, we were praying that God would do a miracle right now that we could see.  Resurrect our business, bring in the finances to keep going, bring us to the place where we could make a profit and recoup all our investment and more!  The days went by and no miracle came.  Why was God saying, “no” to our pleas?

After my time with God at HealthSouth, I began listening to some CDs that had been recorded at a recent conference at my church.  I came across a quote from Lance Wallnau that spoke directly to my heart.

“God says no to what you want simply because He has something better in mind.  If God isn’t answering Joseph’s plea to be released from the confinement of his prison cell, it’s only because Joseph, prophet, man of God, blameless as he may be, has a smaller perception of what prophecy fulfilled looks like than God has.  In other words, he was willing to settle for a whole lot less than God had in mind so God had to keep him in a place of contradiction until the timing was right for him to be released to the greater thing God had.”

Could this be what was happening in our lives?  God had promised prosperity, we had pursued prosperity, and we had failed.  God’s promise was still true, but His plan was even greater than we had originally thought.  Was Signarama “too small a thing?”  Did God have something much greater for us?

We purchased Signarama because we wanted something better for our family than struggling from paycheck to paycheck.  We were in pursuit of the American Dream; that if you worked hard with skill and determination, you would achieve a better life for yourself and your children.

“Is Signarama a picture of what we could do with our own hard work?” I asked God.

“We were with child, we writhed, but we gave birth only to wind.  We have won no victories on the earth.” Is 26:18 was the answer that I received.

Perhaps God’s dream was higher than the American dream?

“How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.  I thought you would call me ‘father’ and not turn away from following me.” Jer 3:19 was the scripture I got next.

This reminded me of the book I had been reading, God with You at Work by Andy Mason.  Chris and I knew in our heads that we were God’s children and He was our Father.  Yet reading this book had made me realize that the way we thought and lived our lives were indications of an orphan mentality.  Truly being a son and daughter the way Andy described it was so foreign to my thinking that I could hardly understand it.

He said that the key to doing business in a kingdom culture was behaving like sons.  To live in our inheritance that Jesus already won for us rather than working so hard for payment.  To cease from striving and self-effort and to do all our work out of rest.  To not seek God to attain His blessings, but to seek Him for relationship simply because we love Him so much.  Then we would be able to watch the amazing things that God would do on our behalf.

People in the world are successful in business all the time with no relationship with God.  They have innovative ideas, work hard, and achieve great things while having no understanding of God as their father!  Why could WE not succeed even though we had sought God every step of the way and asked for His blessings?

Perhaps it was because we have also prayed crazy, outrageous prayers such as:

Give us more of you!

Give us YOUR dreams and visions.

Don’t let us fall short of YOUR plans for us.

Don’t let our lives be ineffective.

Let us impact eternity.

We want to see and participate in signs and wonders.

Bring all of our children into their destinies.

Prayers like that mean that a financial success out of our own hard work was “too small a thing.”  God has something bigger for us like he had for Isaiah and Joseph.  Something that requires us to actually become the people He intended us to be.  That can only happen by seeking Him more and more each day.  By being uncomfortable to know that we need Him.  By seeking His kingdom first.

We can never achieve this by working hard.  We can never step into our sonship and inheritance by working hard.  Signarama was all about working hard.  God cares about us too much to let us earn success from our own hard work.  He wants us to become a son and a daughter and to see real success happen out of rest.  Success that He brings about with His amazing power – not our own abilities or intelligence.

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I still don’t understand this whole “sonship” thing.  How can I just accept His unconditional love for me? How can I just live in my inheritance?  You mean I never have to work hard to earn it?  I never have to prove anything?  God delights in me just the way I am right now, failures and mistakes and all?

You mean I never have to worry about provision because God ALWAYS provides for His children?  I don’t have to seek after these things but can seek His kingdom? This I just don’t understand.

But at least now I KNOW that I don’t understand it.  I can ask God to show me and help me.  I have the death of Signarama to thank for that!

 

The Death of Signarama

It would be in the cool of the evening when Chris and I would slip out to walk together, by ourselves.  This was a special treat.  It is hard to get time alone to talk and even harder to leave the house without some tag-alongs when you have 9 children.  I hadn’t been up to walking much in the past year, being pregnant and then recovering from having a C-section.  In the weeks following my surgery, Chris had encouraged me to walk with him.  It was spring and the weather was so lovely…but I wasn’t feeling up to it, and the truth was…I was afraid.  Afraid that I would be too tired to make it very far, afraid that my large incision would hurt and feel like it was busting open. The truth was, I was fighting the sorrow of having a C-section rather than the natural birth I had dreamed of, and I was still so very tired.

Chris kept pushing me out of my comfort zone (like he always does) and practically forced me to start walking.

“We will just go around the block and we can always stop and go back if you get too tired,” he wisely coaxed me.

So it began.  First just a short walk up the street and back, then around the block, then to the elementary school, and the all around the neighborhood.  The children got used to our nightly outings after supper, and older ones took care of the younger ones back at the house.

Chris and I got the glorious opportunity to clear our minds in the cool evening air. We would talk about our day and the children.  We were drawing closer to each other, and I could feel the depression lifting off of me.  I also thought I saw it lifting off of Chris as well.  He had been struggling the past 3 and a half years.  Almost four years ago was when we had purchased Signarama, a small sign shop down the street from our house.

We didn’t have experience in the sign industry, and we didn’t have a lot of start-up capital, nor was anyone willing to give us a loan or a decent line of credit. This was one of Chris’ big dreams, and we were crazy enough to take the leap into the unknown, believing that God had led us.

Being a business owner had taken a toll on Chris.  I had watched him begin with excitement and work hard.  I had watched that excitement diminish as he faced challenge after challenge.  He continued to fight and work hard month after month, but many days he had to fight through depression just to keep going.

In the midst of the struggle, we saw that God was working.  He saved us from having to close the doors three times.  We would get to the point where we had no more money to continue, could see no way out, and then God would do something miraculous. Singarama would remain to make signs for another day…and Chris would keep on fighting.

All through my pregnancy, time in the hospital for the C-section, and my slow recovery; Chris and I were both worn out, battling depression, and weary of fighting.  The business was failing again.

Yet when we took our walks together, we discussed all of these things and the weariness would lift a bit.  We enjoyed walking down the tree-lined streets and looking at the beautiful older homes in our neighborhood, each one unique and full of character.  Then we would follow a path through green rolling hills and marvel at the colors that the sunset had painted onto a perfect sky.

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The fact that all this majesty was found in a cemetery didn’t diminish it, but rather added to it.  The headstones had their own sublime beauty in the light of the setting sun.  Some were old and others were very recent.  Some had statues of angels…

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others were without any embellishment at all.  But all of them represented a life that had been celebrated by those who were left behind.  They were a memorial of the death of one who was loved.

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How fitting for us to be walking among these gravestones as we discussed the death of Signarama.

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During the long days of fighting for Signarama, having to close the shop had felt like the worst possible thing that could happen.

Yet as we discussed the inevitability of shutting down the business for good, we realized that this was not the worst possible thing.  We had lived alongside others who had endured much worse.  One guy had to sell his business because he and his wife were getting a divorce.  Another man was watching his fiancé slowly die of cancer.  Three marriages close to us had been shaken because of unthinkable betrayals.  Even in these tragic circumstances, there was always the hope of Christ.

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Thankfully, all we were facing was the loss of money.  Our marriage had been strengthened through the trials.  Our children were healthy and happy.  Our baby had not died but lived because of the C-section.  We were so blessed!!!!

Of course we weren’t just discussing the loss of money and the loss of our livelihood.  We were discussing the loss of a dream.  The loss of a big dream that we were hoping would lead to the fulfillment of many other dreams.  A big dream in which we had invested everything we had for the past four years!

Admitting that this dream really was dying was also admitting that we had heard God wrong. That He really hadn’t wanted us to buy Signarama in the first place.  Perhaps we had made a huge mistake and had gone woefully off course, wasting our time and money, moving backwards rather than forwards.

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Or perhaps God really did speak to us, but we just misinterpreted what He was saying.  Wow, we had seriously misinterpreted!  In fact, we had no idea what He was doing right now, or what He was going to do!  We admitted to each other that we didn’t know much of anything anymore.

How incredibly freeing that was!  We could surrender to God’s will, even if that meant losing everything we had wanted and worked for…because we knew that He was still good and that He still loved us.  We could surrender our “knowledge” and trust in God’s superior wisdom.

The possibility of Signarama being lifted off of Chris’ shoulders gave him a hope that he hadn’t had in a long time.  Perhaps he could finally be free of all the responsibility and the hassles and the long hours.

There was so much sorrow in the defeat and failure, yet there was so much hope as well.  The death of something always means the birth of something new, and new was exciting.

I began reading Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Visher (the creator of Veggie Tales) during this time, and what a comfort it was to me!  Phil had a big dream like we did.  He had a huge success, and then the most colossal failure!  The grand scale of his failure sure made me feel better about our own.  But what was really striking about his book was the fact that he was actually THANKFUL for his failure because it brought him closer to God.

During some of his darkest hours, Phil was listening to a recording of a sermon and the preacher said, “What does it mean when God gives you a dream, and he shows up in it and the dream comes to life, and then without warning, the dream dies?  What does that mean?…It may mean that God wants to see what is more important to you – the dream or Him.”

This set Phil on a path to find God, to walk with Him as the men of old did.  Noah was able to fulfill the dream of building an ark after 500 years of walking with God.  Phil realized that during the frenzied years of “Veggie Tales”, his life was about working hard to meet deadlines and putting out new shows and new products.  He had spent very little time listening or seeking the voice of God.  It took failure for him to realize that, “the Christian life wasn’t about running like a maniac; it was about walking with God.  It wasn’t about impact; it was about obedience.  It wasn’t about making stuff up; it was about listening.”

Phil also said, “God has taught me to focus not on results, but on obedience.  Not on the destination but on the journey.  He loves you even when you aren’t doing anything at all.  We really shouldn’t attempt to do anything for God until we have learned to find our worth in Him alone…and God is enough for you.  But you can’t discover the truth of that statement while you’re clutching at your dreams.  You need to let them go.  Let yourself fall…and falling into God’s arms – relying solely on His power and will for your life – that’s where the fun starts.  That’s where you’ll find the ‘abundant life’ Jesus promised – the abundant life that doesn’t look anything like evangelical overload.  The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact.  It occurs when we’re pursuing God.”

“Let it go.  Give it up.  Let it die.”

I heard of the voice of God speaking to me through those words.

Chris and I still prayed for a miracle for Signarama.

No miracle came.

So we let it go.

We gave it up.

We let it die.

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We gave up on all we had been working and fighting for, and decided that God was enough for us.  If all of this time and struggle had no other purpose than to bring us closer to God…than it had been worth it.

It was still hard to walk through the process and navigate through all the questions.

How will we tell our employees, our investors, our creditors?

What will Chris do for work?

What will we do for money?

How will be pay our bills?

(Here  is a beautiful song that described what we were feeling; The Unmaking by Nicole Nordeman.)

We had been stripped down to the essentials and these truths became clear –

Our lives are about knowing God.

The only dream that matters right now is knowing God more.

When we seek Him, we will find Him.

So the death of Signarama became the beginning of a new life of walking with God.

 

My Children Aren’t Perfect

cole 2I had such a Glorious Vision of Motherhood.  I had such amazing dreams about child rearing.  Dreams fueled by extensive reading.

Books about how to multiply your baby’s intelligence.

Books about how to make your child physically superb.

Books about how to build strong immune systems with a traditional, whole foods diet.

Books about how to foster a lifetime love of learning by homeschooling and employing each child’s individual learning style.

Books about how to raise happy, obedient children.

And many, many more.

I was totally confident that I could achieve these goals with my knowledge and ability.  Plus God gave me these children, so he would make this glorious vision of perfection come to pass to be a beacon to the world…wouldn’t he?

An honest evaluation of my life and my children revealed to me that I have failed on every point with every child.  Every one of those dreams of child rearing has died…my Glorious Vision of Motherhood obliterated.

And what is left in the ashes of total defeat?  Dirty, messy, disobedient children who are neither geniuses nor prodigies, neither physically superb nor perfectly healthy.  They are many times rude, disrespectful, average, and markedly below average.  They often hate school and love soda.  And do I blame them?  No, I blame myself totally and completely because I am the Mother and I have failed.

“God,” I ask, “How can I move forward?”

He answers in the ancient verses of Isaiah 46:6,7.

“Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales – they hire a goldsmith, who makes it into a god; Then they fall down and worship!  They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there;  It cannot move from its place.”

What if I had all the time and money to carry out all the good advice in all of those books?  What if I had the wealth and the gold to hire a goldsmith to create for me the perfect child?  Beautifully carved, perfectly painted.  It would never get dirty or have a runny nose.  It would never pee in its bed, poop in its underwear, or throw up on the couch.  It would never be rude or illicit dirty looks from old ladies in grocery stores.  It would never scream at me and backtalk.  I wouldn’t have to worry about it falling out of a tree and breaking its perfect neck.  I wouldn’t have to prescreen every TV show it watches in order to protect its pristine mind.  I wouldn’t have to constantly be concerned about its schooling or properly stimulating its mind.  I wouldn’t have to wonder, during those moments of eerie silence, what they were destroying or who they were torturing.  I could be at peace knowing my perfect child was still sitting there…perfect.  I could lift them up on my shoulder and show the world with no shame.  Look everyone!  My stunning, marvelous child!  Forever and perpetually perfect and unchanging!  Yet cold and hard and lifeless.  No breath, no life, no will, no heart, no desires, no sin…no love.

DEAR GOD!!! My dream for my children is an idol!  A gaudy idol with eternally unblinking eyes.  That sickening chill fills my soul as I realize – I must cast that idol down, see it smash into a million pieces at my feet and ask for forgiveness.

I don’t want idols!  I want children.  I want the grimy, rosy cheek warm against mine.  I want the smell of dirt and sweat as I embrace them.  I want the tornadoes of chaos creating one mess after another.  I want the inappropriate thoughts blurted out as inappropriate words.  I want to bear their disrespect for everything I hold dear.  I want to see them struggle and sin and fall…because I get to see them rise again.  We all fall short and miss the mark, and so will my children.  When they do fall, it will not be my fault.  I get to love them and pray and love them some more.

My new dream for motherhood is immerging like the first rays of the dawn.  I am not sure what it will look like at midday, but I imagine it something like this.

Brilliant, dazzling, blinding, sparking jewels of worth beyond all estimation…peaking out bit by bit from cracked and broken jars of clay.

2 Corinthians 4:7

“Our bodies are made of clay, yet we have the treasure of the Good News in them.” God’s Word

 “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” NRS

 

Whew!  How light I feel without carrying those heavy idols around.  Now I can let God carry me (Is 46:3,4).  He gave my all of these wild children, so I think I will let him carry them too!  I am a much better mother without the false Glorious Vision of Motherhood.  Now I am free to laugh and enjoy…the imperfection of it all!