Ten years ago I was running a residential painting business, and I was in my van outside of a potential client’s house, writing up an estimate. The real estate bubble had burst the year before, but it took a while to filter down to little people like me. In any case, the summer had come and gone, business was much too slow, and as I sat in that van writing up the estimate, I was trying to figure out how to tell Maile that the worst-case scenario had arrived: I wasn’t making enough money. Our business was in a lot of debt. We needed to make a major change.
That second-half of 2009 lives in my mind like a long-ago series of unfortunate events.
I had co-written one book at that point and was deep in the writing of my second co-writing project.
After many sleepless nights, long conversations, the support of friends, and the overwhelming graciousness of our families, we decided it was time to hit reset. Start from scratch.
I remember how all of our friends came out to help us load the moving truck. I remember the long drive through the rain, 150 miles north to Lancaster. I remember how dark it was at my parents’ house, shuffling the kids down into the basement, getting them in bed, and then lying there, wondering how it had come to that. I was in my 30s, my family of six was living in my parents’ basement, and we were starting over.
Maile would later tell me how she was lying there, too, in the dark, when she felt God whisper, “Maile, this is a gift!”
And I remember her response to God, before rolling over and going back to sleep.
“Well, God, it’s a pretty shitty gift.”
* * * * *
Here we are, friends, ten years later. And it is good.
And it was a gift.
I can’t say the ensuing years were simply victory after victory, a constant upward trajectory. Nope. Nothing like that. And I’m not going to use our story to say that you should leave your job or chase your dreams so that you can live your best life now.
Nothing like that.
But I will say this–if you’re living through a large shift in your life, and you’re more focused on learning from the journey than you are on any particular destination, then eventually you will see it for the gift that it is.
I know that’s a pretty sweeping statement, but I stand by it.
* * * * *
Last Saturday night, Maile and I were walking back from Luca, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. We had sat at our table and had a good-but-hard conversation about where we are, where Maile is, where we want to be, what we want to do with this “one wild and crazy life.” Maile was in tears at some point–I don’t think she’ll mind me saying. And I held her hand and listened. And the waiter was kind, even though it took us days before we were ready to order.
As we walked home, I said that to her, “Do you realize it’s been ten years since we left Virginia, since we moved here?”
We walked quietly in that realization, the late-night darkness all around us. The street lights seemed bright, and the air was cool. Fall had arrived. Someone had decked their front porch out for Halloween, and the scarecrow sitting in the lawn chair made me jump again, just as it had when we passed it earlier in the night.
I couldn’t see our future ten years ago: the two additional babies we would have, the 20 books I’d co-write, the novels I’d see published. All the words. All the new friends. The ways Maile and I would change, and grow, together.
I couldn’t see that incredibly hard thing for what it was: a gift.
“Ten years,” she said quietly. That was all. We each knew what the other was thinking.