Hi there.

Here’s the thing. I’m not sure where to begin.

Or if I should begin.

My story is not one of perfection. Of overnight success. Or being an expert.

In fact, if I look back over the past (almost) eight years I see recklessness of heart. I see tears and sweat and more tears. I see years of overtime and hard knocks alongside God somehow providing financially in every situation, grace, growth, healing and recovery.

Growing up, I watched my parents scrape together every penny to pay for their first farm. The 90 acres of corn fields, creeks, forests that raised us. We milked cows, cared for poultry chickens and made hay. Despite always vowing to “never marry a farmer” for this childhood I am eternally grateful. Dad always has soil between his fingers, an opinion and possess more common sense than neccessary. Mom is the queen of the kitchen, gentle, and calm. Rumor has it I was a terror as a baby, walked at 9 months and bit the older boys at church.

The teen years proved to be, interesting. To this day my tendency is to set goals, execute and accomplish, repeat. My feelings and emotions? Squashed down deep in my heart somewhere. The more I had on my plate, the happier I was. Volleyball, traveling, friends, youth group and the little Dodge Neon dad bought me took me everywhere. At 16 a job opportunity came up at a local printshop where I was introduced to graphic design for the first time. Promising to only be a computer nerd until 18, my only goal was to create what the client asked of me– nothing more, nothing less. 40 hours every week, sometimes 50, sometimes 60. Life became a hamster wheel with few goals besides making more friends, not getting married young and keeping everyone happy.

At eighteen I visited my missionary friend in Haiti. The 4 week tropical vacation, became a once-in-a-lifetime (I hope!) experience when a 7.2 earthquake rocked the island.

Thousands died in 35 seconds. but each child, staff member or visitor on our compound walked away, unhurt. Our house did not collapse like most of the buildings in the small town, but was condemned due to tremors that continued to shake the island.

The last 2 and a half weeks of our stay we slept under tarp tents, cooked, brushed our teeth and showered outside. Never will I forget the first 10 minute phone call with my parents, WE WERE ALIVE. Breathing. Safe. For now, that was enough. My heart broke into a thousand pieces through deep pain witnessed, the smell of death, and hearing many miracle stories. I never cried once… until I came home. The following summer malaria struck 3 times and I was filled with so many questions.

Why God?

Why was I there?

Why such devastation?

The moment my feet hit American soil I knew life would never been the same. Suddenly every morning was a pure gift. An opportunity to LIVE. To exist. Each day the world didn’t collapse into heaps of rubble around me was a good day. A new way of life began to bubble up within me. The next few years my relationship with God went through many valleys. For the first time in my life God didn’t feel trustworthy. Despite my doubt, fear and wandering heart, God remained. Great is His faithfulness!

But I never forgot the children.

The rubble dust and blood covered faces washed with tears streaming down their cheeks. The feeling of sitting in the grass outside the collapsed Kindergarten school where 100+ students never again returned home.

What could I do?

A farm girl in Ohio with $2,600 in the bank.

One day a client requested to sit with me in the cubicle and design a card line. As we began working together a thousand ideas came to mind and the obsession began! [True story– a few days later the client requested a new designer due to my bad ideas and designing.] It all began with designing a few cards for my mom, then grandma, then friends.

Slowly the vision grew, I knew each card would contain these 4 things:

  • Beyond the typical 5×7 card size

  • Unique photos

  • Excellent design

  • Heartfelt words

At age 19, most of the winter was spent creating cards, revising cards, second guessing everything, then designing some more. Finally I had 36 designs that felt “done.” It was time to hit the Print button, invest the $2,600 in my name and visit potential local retailers. How well I remember the Saturday in February I visited 14 gift shops, grocery and book stores. That day 9 stores signed up.

How you present your product is so important, but can be done in many different ways. This is what my introduction processed looked like:

  • I asked to speak to the manager or owner. If they weren’t available I left a package or returned at a later date.

  • The manager and/or owner are busy people with 50 racing through their mind, also be considerate of their time. My goal was to present in under 10 minutes and always thank them for their time.

  • With the direction of an aunt who had worked in retail for 14+ years I created a catalog featuring each card design and listing the wholesale price, retail value and package options (floor display package vs. card only). Keep it simple. Put your contact information in the front, on the back and in-between.

  • Press proof * samples – if they wished to look through them. From these 36 I gifted each person I met with 3 cards & envelopes for them to use personally regardless of their decision.

  • Communicate well. When will you deliver the goods? What are the payment terms? How often will you release new product? Ask questions. Stop in frequently and ask how you can better serve them, for customer feedback or products that are hard to find in today’s markets.

*a press proof is color accurate, printed on the same paper, with the same press the final product will be by the print shop

May 15, 2011 my dad delivered the wooden displays an Amish neighbor/carpenter had designed, created and painted. I followed with the cards, envelopes and posters, setting up the display at each store. This was it. I was wild with excitement, exhausted and nervous. Either it would be the beginning of a story, or me not needing to buy a single card for the next 20 years of my life. That night I went to bed with a smile knowing I had given it my absolute all, the best within, thankful to God for confirming His presence in so many details.

 

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for writing this, Abi. I can identify completely with the intensity you described and am unfortunately still living in a lot of it, but I’m in the uncomfortable transition stage where I know it has to change and I know it WILL, but I’m not quite sure how or when. You give me hope that I’ll make it through and be a more mature, balanced, sane individual on the other side. 😉 Can’t wait to read parts 2 and 3!

  2. Abi, this is such an interesting read – I’m looking forward to part two! This brought back so many memories from Carlisle and those teenage years. And if that client is the one I think it is, you sure dodged a bullet! 🙂

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