It was the summer of 2003, sixteen years ago. Ty and I had been married for almost a year. He was working for a ministry and I was a Graphic Designer with a local little firm in Knoxville. I was working on this “side hustle” (as the young people say), and The Happy Envelope was just starting to take shape in my mind and in practice.
In August of that summer, I found myself very suddenly without a job. The graphic design firm that I worked for filed for bankruptcy and there I was: one year out of school and jobless.
There was grace: Yes, Ty was working. He was completing his first year as (what they used to call) an “Intern” for Young Life. (Yes, he was a college graduate, and yes, the job title was terribly misleading, which is why that position is now more accurately titled, “Associate Staff”). His annual salary that year was $12,500, the entirety of which we were supposed to raise ourselves.
Usually, I try to avoid numbers when writing or telling a story. What seems high to one person can be low to another… numbers aren’t the point and can be a distraction. But in this case, I want to be clear about the reality of our situation. My graphic design salary contributed to about 70% of our total income as a married couple. And with no notice at all, we were unexpectedly reduced to 30% of our income.
This is where a wise woman would say, “Self, it’s time to go get a job. Straighten up, brush up the resume, call for those interviews, and start hitting the pavement. You’ve got a design degree and it’s time to put it to work for someone new.” Many thoughtful people suggested different avenues to take, connections that they might have for me, or interviews they were willing to set up on my behalf.
But I’ve never claimed to be wise.
Instead, I had this crazy idea to continue with The Happy Envelope. I’d designed some stationery and invitations in the past for friends and family, and somehow this seemed like the perfect opportunity to see if I could make it work as a full time gig. True: there was a huge learning curve and I pretty much had no idea what I was doing, but was I going to let petty concerns like total and utter lack of knowledge and experience stop me? I think not.
Hold up—I’m married now. I have a brand-new husband. This cannot be a solo decision. Enter Ty Pattison: Champion of my dreams. Yes—he says to do it. Yes—he says we can make the money work somehow. Yes—he says, you’ll never know if you don’t try. Yes—he says, why not now?
I remember the look of troubled confusion when we told the wise people in our life my new plan. Nope, I wasn’t going to interview at new firms. No, but thank you for thinking of me. You know, we’re just gonna hunker down with this little bitty monthly check and see how we survive.
Just a few weeks after I lost my job, we walked out of our church service on Sunday morning and headed to our car. Right there, stuck under our windshield, flapping in the wind was an envelope. We removed it, peered inside, and found a stack of cash staring back at us.
All these years later, Ty and I can’t remember exactly how much money was in that envelope. I remember it being $300 worth of crisp bills, but he remembers is being much more… like $1,000 or even more than that. I think it’s kind of perfect that we can’t remember the amount. It wasn’t about the number, it was about the moment.
I will always recollect standing in that parking lot outside our car, laying eyes on that money. I’ll remember the confusion, looking wildly about as if I would find someone watching us. In my mind I can still see Ty’s astonished face, and I’m sure he still recalls mine. That moment became a marker on our journey together, and it was a foreshadowing of what God would be gently teaching us over the upcoming years, the consistent thread of manna and quail in the wilderness: we are not in charge of meeting our own needs. Our lack is simply an opportunity for Him to show up.
Sometimes you have to begin at the beginning. Thanks for reading and encouraging me in the telling of our story. It’s a story that demands to be shared, and just like a true Trail Marker in the mountains, these stories are meant to provide a reliable route and firm foundation for those that are walking the journey, too.
Postscript: I meant to get this post up last week, but somehow things got in the way. Just within the last few days Ty and I once again find ourselves unexpectedly on a place of of shaky ground. I promise I’ll fill you in on the whole story as it unfolds, but for now, it is again a matter of holding hands, jumping into the unknown feet first, and trusting our Father to provide what we need when we need it. Re-reading this story today buoyed my own heart in this new, hard place—even all these years later—as I hope it does yours.