“What if instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing? When I want to climb the ladder, what if instead I tore the ladder apart and used the wood to build a bench?”
― Emily P. Freeman
“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in 5 minutes.”
― Oswald Chambers
It all started with my aunt suggesting that I pick napkin designs for my wedding. Being fresh out of planning one herself, she still had some juice and ideas about how to make it extra special and wanted to gift me the best way she knew how. So I researched and looked at napkin designs and coasters and other wedding favours and somewhere inside me, I heard my heart whisper, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tiny house of treasures with all sorts of gift favours of your own?” Boy, would it! I wrapped up this wisp of longing in my heart and let it grow quietly one Pinterest picture and link at a time.
I didn’t get the napkins for my wedding, in case you’re wondering but I wore a regal 30% off David’s Bridal gown that my aunt spent months paying off at the Boston outlet. It came with princess-like (if classic Snow White and Sleeping Beauty cartoons are anything to go by) open-toed sandals and bridal jewellery that was second to none. I was grateful that she adorned me for my big day and most of all, for lighting a fire within me.
It seemed far off – this dream. After all, where would I start? Shipping items from the US would be costly and even then, I knew nothing of design. So I learned. I spent close to 6 months poring over design tutorials and knowing my way around design software.
But the only thing that seemed affordable and doable at the time to start this little dream of mine was ceramic mugs. You know, the cute ones all over Etsy? Yep. Mugs.
The first designs I ever made were for Dave and I and we still use them for breakfast to this day. The only problem was that it took ages for someone to buy into my mug idea. 11 months to be exact. In that time, I learned the downs of the business – things like how it’s easy to get a double impression on a mug when it’s hot and not done well but that it’s hard to catch until the mug cools.
This cost me a lot of money having to pay to redo the work and one day on particular, my dear friend Grace who used to do the work for me suggested that I look for someone else who might do the job well knowing that it comes with no guarantees. So I did.
I walked out of her store and entered the building opposite hers asking if anyone knew how to do mugs. The guys at the ground floor were busy printing something so they didn’t give me the time of day. I was tired, and I needed some work done but just when I was about to about turn and head on home, I told myself to go up a floor.
There he was, sitting at a desk staring at the computer in the first open door office on the right. I remember how warm he was, accommodating me and welcoming me to sit down and take a breath. I asked if he could help and he said he knew how to do the job and had done it for years.
The price was right and the test mug I did turned out beautiful. I paid and said I’d be back the following day.
“How should I save your number in case I need to call or email you the work beforehand?”
“It’s George. Just call me George.”
If you’ve ever watched The Middle (one of my favourite tv shows that wrapped up 8 years of shooting last month), then you know Mike Heck. Mike was as tall as a flagpost and always wore a plad shirt, khaki trousers, brown boots and a brown jacket. I kid you not, if you’ve seen Mike, you’ve seen George. They shared the same fashion sense and height (probably the same age too) but the only difference was that George smiled more.
Come to think of it, maybe George smiled more when I was around. Perhaps it’s because in a few days, we became fast friends. I always knew he was around when I’d walk up the stairs and hear some country music playing. It was his favourite. He shared some of his favourite songs with me and I’d regale tales of growing up where my dad bored my brother and I to death playing and singing along to country songs on long drives to see my grandmother. One song in particular that’s ingrained in my memory – Amanda by Don Williams.
“That’s my favourite song by Don Williams. I have it on my playlist here,” George remarked gleefully.
“I know. I’ve heard you play it, I don’t know, what, only a thousand times !”
“You know, you’ll get better soon. I can feel it.”
“Amen. I believe so too. Have you seen how I push myself to walk without the cane? I’m getting better and stronger.”
George had been in an accident that did his hips bad and would walk painfully with the help of a cane. Sometimes I forgot about it because he was so happy and you’d think it to be a wall prop. But some days, it wasn’t hard to notice that a short walk to the bathroom would take 5 minutes to and fro.
“You’ll get better George, and we’ll line dance to your favourite country songs in this tiny store space. You and me George. Just wait and you’ll see.”
“I can’t wait,” he replied smiling as the light shone from his eyes.
Time was good to us and business was good for me which meant it was good for him too so we spent a lot of time together. We’d talk about our lives and faith, our spouses and families, our hopes and dreams… We’d even have lunch together at the store. Well, me more than him. George would always buy the food at 1pm and eat it cold at 4pm but the more I came around, the more I convinced him to take 10 minutes off no matter how busy he was for a hot meal.
He’d tell me about his wife – a devout Christian who loved to gossip and nag him (his words not mine) and how she always pestered him to go to her church which made him wonder why she thought her church was better than his.
“Don’t we serve the same God? Just because her church is “prophetic” doesn’t make her walk better than mine.”
These were my counsellor moments with him. I’d listen and nod and speak wisdom that was beyond my 1 year of marriage experience.
I’m not too sure that I got through to him though. All I know is that he stopped talking about his wife save for a mention or two. Deep down, I knew he loved her but wanted a change in their marriage. I hoped for a better report as the days went by.
Another time, we happened to be sharing about the rigours of running a business – the ups and downs – and how that is for your dreams in marriage. I happened to share about my desire to move from where we were living and he told me his home story.
When I was a young man helping out in roadshows – my first job that taught me about this business – I used to live in a tiny house that I rented and hated deeply. I remember one night before bed, I was up and I prayed to God and said, ‘I don’t want to be renting a house when I get married. Help me build my own home, no matter how small it is and I’ll be thankful.’ True to that, I was able to buy a plot of land in the countryside and build a house with my own two hands that I’m proud of before I was married. Don’t be afraid to ask God and believe Him for the thing you want.
I was inspired and challenged by his story and narrated this to my husband. Our prayers started changing from a house to move into as renters to wisdom (and quite frankly, a miracle) to become home-owners.
We were very frank with each other and he shared concerns about employees and how good help was hard to find and how he was sad because his best guys took better offers elsewhere and one even had to relocate to Dubai. I took time encouraging him and keeping his spirits up but it was a weighty time for us both. My business was expanding too fast and I needed a faster way to produce and deliver items. And I was afraid that meant going elsewhere and leaving George.
So what did I do? When George’s machine began glitching, he recommended that I go elsewhere. I did. I knew that it was hard for him to say that. It probably even was a test but I went on with it. And I took the same heart of friendship in business to the new guys I worked with.
***As long as you're in business, there'll always be hearts and hands tied to you. You can't run from the people factor. Click To Tweet
It’s this piece of wisdom that kept me grounded in business and you remember that lesson I learned earlier on about how there’s seldom perfection when it comes to mug making? This helped me not cause fits and complain unnecessarily when it didn’t go my way. I believe James calls it the hard work of getting along and I learned this the most in my business relationships.
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” James 3:17-18 MSG
And what a lesson that was. I have such deep friendships with my suppliers and business partners because I saw them as people, with needs and hopes and dreams too like me instead of just focusing on the bottom-line. This helped sweeten the deals and have favour with them not because I begged, asked or overpaid but because of relationship. I wouldn’t have learned this if I never opened myself up to George.
How was George at this time you ask? Trying to make do with temporary office help and frustrated. I’d check in on him once in a while but not as frequently as I had been accustomed to. He also got to meet my husband at this time and I was so happy that both could finally put a face to the name.
As my business expanded further, I was able to work fully from home and not do the tasking rounds of delivery or creation. I was in a good place.
Then 8th of April this year right after church service was over and I was looking forward to indulging in some french fries and an afternoon nap, I read a text from Ngoru, my go to guy for frames and art (because I had expanded beyond just mugs and coasters) that George had introduced me to.
“My God bless you but George left us.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Oh my God! Dave! Dave!”
“What? What’s wrong babe?”
“George, the guy I used to work with, is dead.”
I tried to call Ngoru back but he was unreachable. This didn’t help my heart. At a loss of what to say or do, Dave just stood there quiet and I wept not knowing how to process his death. Memories of my time with him flooded my mind and I wondered if he was angry or sad at me for abandoning him.
Did I abandon him? We’d still talk but not as much. Did he really understand that I couldn’t be as close because my businesses expanded? Did he think that I left him like his best workers? Oh and the line dancing. We’ll never get to do that now. I thought he’d get better. I prayed that he’d get better…
These are the thoughts that flooded my mind but instead, I chose to focus on our friendship. I remembered a moment at the store about a year ago where we were talking and sharing our stories and lives when I thought to myself, “I can totally see myself going for his funeral one day many years to come because we’re legitimate friends.”
I must have said that to my husband in passing at the time but there we were. George was gone…
But I’m richer for knowing him. I wouldn’t have gone as far in business without his guidance and lessons in enjoying my smallness which is what this whole post is about.
I desired a tiny house of treasures but I began to build it with one mug. Which led me to a friend. Who led me to others that I can also call friends like Jimmy, Sammy, Sam, James, Nyinges, Grace, Ngoru, Jack, Dickie. I love you all so much and woke up today (Wednesday) giving thanks to God for you.
At the time when I met George, I used to cry on my way to town telling God how I hated the work that I did. How I wanted it to grow and provide more money. I’d tell Him how it felt like menial work. How I had a great education and a big dream yet there I was going to the backside of town to a dingy building to print designs on mugs for sale. I wanted bigger and fancier and more. And I wanted it faster.
Instead God gave me relationships so deep that I’d have missed if I got the big quickly and become mechanical in business instead of relational. And being relational in business means doing the hard work of getting along like James says.
God gave me a bench in business and not the ladder I desired and I’m ever so grateful for this man George.
Here’s to you ol’ pal.
“A toast: To knowing you being my greatest business gift, and for the gift of your friendship. You will always be remembered. I’ll let Don play you out friend. You’ll be deeply missed George.”