counting down the days

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The last day in our old space is September 15th.

Less than 1 month before the big move. Eek! I have always felt that my life is like that little game of plastic squares you have to move around and get in order, and all you have is one square free. It's even worse than usual. Every box that comes in, I unpack, put new goodies on display, then repack, then put on the hallway shelf where the items used to be. Today I tacked some of those miscellaneous boxes which I'm pretty sure have not been touched since we first moved in. Soon we will get the key and I will be able to shift things into our new basement. So exciting to get storage space! 

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There are a zillion ideas rolling around in my head. At least the paint colors have been decided upon so I can stop pestering everyone with that. I just have to go around the space and mark all the walls with the color changes. We've started talking about what to do with an expanded craft workshop space and pondering new directions of products. That said, we also remember our business plan when we first started - some of the good intentions we had which were replaced with good implementations based on customer feedback. I'm already envisioning a bit of a rearrange in January once we see how traffic flows for the holidays. Now that we have more storage, we don't have to store everything on the sales floor so there will probably be some gradual replacement of dressers and other fixtures. Generally, gradual, that is, unless situations arise as they did this summer, with Capitol Kids retiring and creating the opportunity to purchase what is perhaps the cutest fixture ever - I mean, it's a boat! We couldn't resist, even though I have no idea where it is going. It's very functional though so I don't think it was a hasty decision.

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Anyway, time is going quickly and I continue my blog lapses, however if you want to keep up to date, there's always Facebook and Instagram. For progress on the new space, you can check out #anthology230 (get it? We'll have moved from 218 State Street to 230 State Street).


heart rocks

A little preface: From time to time, I deliver the children's sermon at our church - no big deal, other people do as well but I think it is a nice thing to recognize that the Spirit doesn't speak only through one designated person. I'm not the greatest at public speaking so while I appreciate the chance to share my thoughts, there's always the racing heartbeat and the fumbling with the sound system to contend with. There's also those days leading up to Sunday, the trying to shoehorn my thoughts into the planned service or make my words match the liturgy. I do like matching, and I do like things well-planned out but the best sermons are usually those that leave some room for serendipity. Whether I stop trying so hard to match the theme of the week or when I don't cling so hard to whatever plan is rolling around in my brain, usually that's when something magic happens.

For this week, the theme of the service was planet earth and interconnectedness, but I went off on my tangent of rocks and geologic time. I've been thinking about it all week - first marbled some paper to make paper rocks, but then dumped out some bowls of rocks to find some to bring to the service. It was only on Friday night that I decided on not just any rocks but on heart-shaped rocks. So I go merrily along my way, only to find out after the fact that one of the matriarchs of the congregation, who died on July 22, collected... wait for it.... heart-shaped rocks. For real?! I love it.

Well, anyway, here's this morning's sermon:

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I couldn’t believe my luck when Pastor Sonja told me that the focus of our Creation Liturgy this week is Planet Earth. Because you know what I studied in college? EARTH Science. And I know that a lot of times we talk about Planet Earth and we think about the plants and flowers and trees, the wind, the air, the oceans, the birds and bugs and cats and dogs and all the living creatures. But honestly, when I think about the earth, I think about the rocks.

It’s a funny thing, I suppose, because rocks can bring a lot of difficulty into our lives. Like, have you ever been walking along and you get a little pebble stuck in your shoe? and you don’t really want to stop and take it out so you just try to shake your foot around to get it out but it is stuck there and you are trying to walk but it keeps poking your foot? 

Rocks are hard. cold. sharp. uncomfortable. unyielding.

People throw stones and it is not a nice thing.

But have you ever been walking along looking at rocks and found a rock like this? It really looks a lot like a heart to me. And it feels like a message of love that’s coming to me across time. Imagine all that had to take place or not take place in order to come to standing on a path with a heart-shaped rock at my feet.

Because when I pick up a rock, there’s so much that I think about. 

about little particles that coalesce into big solid rocks, 

and big solid rocks that tumble and rumble and turn into little particles, 

about hard edges that turn into round pebbles

about the way that little drops of water can wear away even the hardest stone

about the immensity of time that passes as lava cools underground, is lifted to the surface, and then breaks it down into just the right size of a stone to fit in the palm of your hand.

So much time. More than anything, rocks give me perspective on time. Rocks make me feel both really small and really special. When you go about your regular day, sometimes it can seem like time is going quickly and sometimes it seems like time is going slowly. But that is NOTHING compared to the amount of time that a rock sees. That is NOTHING compared to God’s time. In God’s time, we talk about the first day, the second day. But all that happens in one of God’s days? It clearly can’t be just 24 hours long.

This moment that we are in is just the tiniest smidgen of a moment in all of time, it’s really nothing to a rock or to God, and yet somehow this moment is ours. Here we are, out of all the possible paths and twists and turns, out of all the time that has passed since a rock first started out as molten lava or particles condensing in the ocean, out of all the time that has passed since the first day.

We are. You are. I am. What will we choose to do with our moment? 

So why don’t you join me in a prayer:

Dear God, as we walk along our path

help us watch for the rocks that are hard, sharp, smooth, sparkly

help our hard edges be worn down by water and time

help us to see the hearts that lie open at our feet

help us open our eyes to see the world in a grain of sand

help us remember the smallness of this moment in all of time

help us remember the preciousness of this moment in all of possibility

 

Amen.


Anthology on the 200 block

So, before you start to worry, Anthology IS staying on the 200 block of State Street. But earlier this year, we started thinking about celebrating our 10 year anniversary and we also started looking ahead to the next 10 years. It started innocently enough with my plans to repaint the store and deal with all those nail holes that have appeared over the course of 10 years. It moved to maybe removing some cabinets, and then to maybe seeing if our landlord would clean out the basement and find us a little more square footage. And then in the process of thinking about bargaining chips for those asks, it turned into touring several different downtown properties and a feeling a little like Goldilocks. We ended up staying on the 200 block of State Street but will be moving down the block into the former Fanny Garver Gallery space.

With the basement, it is about triple the square footage, but segmented in such a way that I still think there will be some coziness. Some of the other spaces that we toured were cavernous! We'll be moving in September and planning a grand opening for October 5th (Fall Gallery Night). Though mostly we're just thinking right now about packing boxes and picking out paint chips. We did get in today to install some windows for the summer. Sachi's in charge of the two little windows on Johnson Street and I think they will be fun art installations for her.  Her first window is based on West Side Story: "something's coming, something good." She hand painted the balconies and fire escapes so you'll have to make sure to stop by and check them out.

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Meanwhile I went with lots of green for growth. I had lots of fun cutting out shapes of leaves and even using up some scraps of green painted paper that have been sitting around for a while. I ended up using a credit card and painted the backdrop of the sign. So fun - I have to do that more often!

 

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Lily made us a little cut-out Totoro and hopped in the window.

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Which brought me back to 10 years ago when we used to set baby Lily in the window. 

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Can hardly imagine what the next 10 years will hold!

 

 


Jesus' trick coin

I know I talked about this a month ago during the time for children and I promise I won’t only repeat myself, but I want to delve deeper into the idea that Jesus has a trick coin. I think we are all familiar with the idea of flipping a coin to answer a question. The question has to be kind of simple though, right? The answer is only going to be “heads” or “tails.” I think this appeals to many of us because it presents a simplified view of the world, that things can be broken down into only “yes” or “no”. No maybe or grey or sometimes or perhaps or if only.

Just one side. Or the other. 

I’ve created my own coin, we’ll call it the surprise coin. One side of the coin has an open eye, the other side has a closed eye. Only two possible answers.

Eyes closed: Surprise! You weren’t paying attention to what was around you, were you? You might as well have been asleep. Whatever comes along is unexpected, and there’s no way that you could have planned for it. It is probably so far out of the realm of possibility that you can’t even conceive of it.

Eyes open: you see what’s coming. You are not surprised, are you? Based on previous experience, you can make assumptions about what is going to happen next. You packed the sweater and the sandals. Your eyes take in all of your surroundings and learn from them. You are Ready.

And I have to admit, this is how I usually think of myself. Growing up, our mom planned out the meals for the whole week, so I know I come by it honestly. I spend a lot of time looking ahead, thinking about possible outcomes, watching and listening for cues that tell me what to say or do. I feel pleased with myself because I accomplish what I planned to do. It is common for Tuesday dinner conversations to center around what to eat on Thursday and Friday. 

I am Ready.

In fact, I am so ready, that I wouldn’t mind if this was my trick coin. There’s an open eye on both sides. Every time, no matter how it lands, the answer is eyes open. You see things clearly, you KNOW things. You are ready.

But this was the trick coin that Jesus was constantly pushing against. It is true of his time, it is certainly true of ours. We walk around knowing and we forget how much we don’t know. We walk around planning and thinking for the future, and we forget to be in the moment. We walk around with our eyes open, but our eyes are only open to that which we know and have experienced already. Sometimes with our eyes open this way, they can be shut to so much else. Sometimes when we are focused on what our eyes see, we forgot what our other senses are telling us.

Time and again, Jesus comes across people who are operating with this trick coin. Every time they flip it, they KNOW what the answer is going to be. Who knows the most, is it the grown-ups or the kids? Who has the best ideas? is it the men or the women?

Who can be most helpful? Someone we know who is a neighbor to us? or someone we don’t know who came from far away and we’re not really sure we ever liked them? Who is best? the people who have money and power? or the people who have nothing?

In a lot of cases, the answers were always the same: the men, the leaders, the people with power, the people we know, the people who look the way we look, the grown-ups.


Sound familiar? Painfully so, to my ear, but that just gives credence to the timelessness of Jesus’ message.

Because Jesus challenges us with a new trick coin. Jesus’ trick coin has eyes closed on both sides. I would argue that this new trick coin is at the core of the reason for Jesus here on this earth.

Jesus says: your eyes are closed to the possibility of everyone around you. Every single time I ask the question, you give me an answer that shows me that your eyes are closed to surprise. 

Flip this coin, Jesus invites, and no matter how many times you do, my answer is the same. 

Flip this coin, Jesus challenges, and you will think about answers in ways you never thought of before. 

Flip this coin, Jesus entreats, and I will show you all the ways that your eyes are closed to surprise.

Flip this coin, Jesus dares you , and you will not be satisfied with the answers that were simply visible.

Every single time. Every single question. Your eyes are closed. You cannot see everything.

What if you see the poor? the people you don’t know? the powerless? the women? the children? What if you saw the grace that is in sorrow and in pain?

Why do you close your eyes against these sights?

The disciples argue amongst themselves. Who is the best? It must be the one who knows the most or talks the most, right? Jesus calls over a little child.

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

A large crowd of people gathers, and you know some of them were wondering what they were going to eat for lunch, how impossible it would be for so many people to walk away fed. But there were loaves and fishes, there was abundance and generosity. There was the easing of hunger.

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

A man was traveling to Jericho when he was set upon by robbers. Who would help him? Would we extend our hands to help those we do not know, to those who might generally despise us?

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

And then of course there is Easter morning. The women go to Jesus' tomb. They already know what to expect. But our eyes may as well be closed because what we see we cannot believe. 

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

Now, honestly? I don’t like surprises. Or, I don’t think I like them. Who wants to walk around with their eyes closed? I like to think that I am prepared, that my eyes are open. I like to think that I’ve taken everything into careful consideration and thought of all the possibilities and all the responses to those possibilities.

I am as likely as anyone to look back 2 years, 10 years, or more, to ask myself how that history shows me what works best, what brought success.

I am just as likely to see a person through the lens of people who came before them, who maybe looked or acted similarly, to base my interaction on history rather than on present. It’s not laziness, really, but there is carelessness in the simplicity and ease of following established patterns.

And yet, my work as small business owner has shown me that there is grace in surprise and that even unpleasant surprise can have deep and heartfelt reverberations.

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges of being an introvert with my job is being on the sales floor 6 days a week, not knowing the people who come to me, what pain or sorrow they carry with them. Time and time again, I find out that where I thought my eyes were open, they were actually closed. 


One example can be found in our table filled with political buttons, a feature since the Governor first took office. The importance, to my mind, is the way it prods us to invite an opening of eyes and hearts, just as Jesus reminds us of the ways our eyes are closed and all things are unknown. The button table is our connection to connect with each other.

I am well aware of at least some of the people who are displeased by our politics. They don’t usually yell at me or storm out, but there’s a certain undertone of distaste that I can often pick up on, a glare shot my way, an under-the-breath comment about the lack of All Lives Matter buttons. So, it is tempting to divide the world into people with buttons and people without. To declare that my eyes are open to people’s motivations and lives, that I see them, and know them, based simply on the presence or purchase of buttons. Hmm. that sounds dangerously close to the Star-Bellied Sneetches, doesn’t it? That story from Dr. Seuss which ended up with those poor Sneetches being completely fleeced by the con artist who persuaded them there was value in separating themselves by stars-on and stars-off.

It is true that when someone walks through the door wearing some of our buttons I do relax my guard a bit. Rarely are we in 100% agreement with each other though - like the people who buy buttons but drip coffee on paper goods. Or the people who agree with me about civil rights but unfold all the t-shirts. And then there are people who might not agree with me about the Governor but we find common ground in our love of this state, or maybe it is just that we both like stickers of cats dressed up as food. Sometimes the surprises and the connections are the smallest of things, but isn’t Jesus prodding us to explore that which our eyes were previously closed to?

What if where we think we see anger, we open our eyes to sorrow and pain? What if where we think we see bad manners, we open our eyes to the multitude of demands on our attention and  the ways we can’t always keep up? What if realizing the ways our eyes are closed helps us to open them?

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

Our store recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and I have spent a lot of time looking back to 2008. I had a customer come up to me once and tell me: I can’t believe I am wishing for Tommy Thompson days. Whoever saw that coming?

I can honestly say that I couldn’t have predicted that I would be at this exact place in my life. My path has had some unexpected twists. The world has taken some unexpected twists. It’s inevitable, right? Don’t we all have Tommy Thompson days that have some element we find ourselves wishing for? Think back to who and where you were 10 years ago. Is everything exactly the same? Have there been any surprises? Of course there have been. Some of the surprises have been bad, heartbreaking, yet even those have brought unexpected moments of grace to life. Joy AND sorrow have opened your eyes in ways you couldn’t expect.

Even if you could, would you give away surprise and unexpected connections in exchange for certainty? Would it have been somehow better if you had known all the events in advance, prepared for every one? Is there nothing that would have been lost in the absence of surprise, if your eyes had been open to everything? It turns out, I am not so averse to surprise as I thought.

Jesus invites us to the awareness that we cannot know all the answers, conquer all the surprises. He scolds us with our preoccupation with power and wealth and shows us that these measurements are meaningless in the realm of God, that it is the least among us who have the most. He reminds us that our eyes are closed in so many ways but invites us to open them to the magic and mystery of the world. 

Jesus flips the coin, and the answer is surprise. Amen.


a shopgirl stuck in Genesis

Last night I was at our church, the Madison Christian Community, to present a talk for the Women's Salad Supper (which, by the way, was delicious). This is an annual event that showcases the amazing women of the congregations, and that's just the audience. This year, the focus was on women entrepreneurs and I was asked to give a presentation. As per tradition, the speaker gets to choose the recipients of the free will offering and (as per Anthology tradition), I selected two local non profits focusing on youth arts in our community: the Teen Bubbler program at the Madison Public Library and the Clare Aubrey Roberts Scholarship Fund at the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center.

Anyway, here it is:

Everything starts with Genesis. And, to be honest, it doesn’t go much further than that, despite the best efforts of Dan Schmiechen and Andrew Rogness and countless Sunday School teachers here at MCC. The idea of people created in the image of a creating God is central to my idea of why we are here and what we are called to do. We are called to be creators.

Creativity is so fundamental to my sense of self that I honestly hadn’t given it much thought until my late 20s. It is just something you do (or, rather, something you make). It isn’t necessarily a job. Running next to, and not especially overlapping, was my career in retail.

My work in retail began right out of college in the handbag department at Boston Store. Later there was Itchin’ to Stitch, a quilt store in Sun Prairie. But the biggest step on this journey came when I saw an ad for an assistant manager job at Little Luxuries, just as I was finishing my master’s thesis. It had always been one of our favorite shops and I decided to apply. I honestly think that working in retail, owning your own store, is an easily-visualized career. I’m pretty sure that my sister and I weren’t the only little kids who had that little cardboard cut-out grocery store that we often played with. So in some ways, I was just returning to a career we had been practicing since childhood. 

What started as working for a small independent business quickly turned into a desire to own it. My sister joined me as co-manager, and I began to envision our career as store owners. I was 32. At the time, I imagined our boss close to retirement, choosing to pass the mantle of gift shop ownership on to us. It was presumptuous, certainly, but that was the path I thought I was on.

Through this time, however, there was building in me a desire to incorporate more of my own creative work into my career, but also a sense that too many people were dismissing the creative aspects of their own life. “Oh, I’m not creative,” is something I hear all the time. Stuck in Genesis as I am, you can see why it might drive one crazy to hear that from children made in the image of a creating God. To have time to create is a critical part of my well-being. 

I imagine likewise for all people, as children of a Creator God. Whether we garden, paint, sing, connect people, build places, we are acting in God’s likeness. In our own little ways, we create the stars and the seas, we create light where once there was nothing.

Little Luxuries already had its vision, created by the owner. Our specific areas of interest and expertise didn’t particularly mesh with that vision. My creative life was still mostly separate from my professional life. Then came 2007. Our boss started talking about restructuring the business and our jobs, in no way towards the creative element that I so wanted. I started to feel like the goal of owning the shop was getting further out of reach, started questioning all the time I had spent on the path, even questioning my own worth and ability. I started to feel that there was no place for me in this place that I considered mine. I was stuck for a long time in my expectation that I would be store owner of that place. Since the option seemed to be closing to me, I felt closed off from my own possibility.  

A friend later shared with me a cartoon that she shares with her business classes. In the first frame, a terrified skier is looking down a steep hill. But then the picture pans out and there is a bear charging from behind. She tells her students: this is what becoming a business owner is like, at some point, it is more terrifying to stay in place than it is to go forward.

Well, I spent most of 2007 stuck on the top of a hill with a terrified face. I can see why having faith is such a big test. During that time, I can’t really say that I had faith in the process. I am thankful that I had people around me who had faith in ME, who saw value in me even when I felt devalued.  It is only in hindsight that I can say those difficulties were setting the stage; that I had to go through that time in order for any other risk to seem small compared to the risk of staying where I was. But in the middle of that, there was a lot of crying and a lot of second-guessing, wondering if years had been wasted and what I was actually going to do with the rest of my life.

And then there was light. Specifically, around 6 am the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2007. I woke up with such a clear vision: My sister and I would open a store! It sounds like should have been a foregone conclusion given how much I had talked about owning our own store. 

Perhaps there is no way for me to adequately convey how deeply I had connected being a shop owner to being at that specific shop, and how I had almost given up on being a shop owner simply because that particular path was closing to me. At that time, I found the passage from one of my favorite authors, Brian Andreas:

"I don't know how long I can do this, he said. I think the universe has different plans for me & we sat there in silence & I thought to myself that this is the thing we all come to & this is the thing we all fight & if we are lucky enough to lose, our lives become beautiful with mystery again & I sat there silent because that is not something that can be said.”

This passage resonated with me because I felt like most of the year had been a battle with trying to keep myself at my job and when I gave up on that idea, suddenly a whole new path opened up to me. It was suddenly less terrifying to ski down the hill than to stay in place. 

And that’s just the beginning. We opened Anthology in March of 2008.

Life might have been beautiful with mystery but it was also really stressful and filled with long hours, hard work, low pay and a tremendous sense of risk.  Both of our parents worked for the UW and we didn’t have a lot of experience with small business ownership. I remember a friend of mine told me that it was going to be a LOT of work and in my mind I kind of blew him off: “maybe it is for some people….” But, yes, it is a LOT of work. We wondered if we would be able to even reach minimum wage for the hours we were working. I cried over the phone to the IRS, and I cried in the car when I had an unexpected $25 co-pay for a doctor’s visit. I contemplated getting a second job stocking shelves at the grocery store at night. Yet I also felt that I had no time or energy to spare since it was all dedicated to Anthology.

However I came to see that the flip side of that risk is tremendous reward. I felt everything so much more deeply - the risk and failure, but also the success. Even though there was stress and worry, there was a feeling of giddiness, of joy, that our time and energy was being welcomed by other people. Every single day, someone comes into the store, compliments us and thanks us for our work, whether by their words or their deeds. Something even as simple as buying a postcard is fraught with gratitude. Yes, it was scary, and not just because of the money. So much time and energy was going into it, it was hard not to take rejection of the store and its goods as rejection of myself.

I am thankful for the advice of a college professor. His advice was geared towards us as women in the male-dominated field of geology, but it holds across fields. He told us to start a "warm fuzzy file," into which we would put letters of recommendation, awards, other compliments. Then, when we were doubting our ability or our direction, as would inevitably happen, we could open the file and affirm our path and our selves. At Anthology, this takes the form of a little notebook into which I record overheard and compliments about the store. Whenever I'm feeling unappreciated or that my effort is coming to naught, I only have to open this little book and I can see all the ways that I have had effect in the world. I cannot recommend this approach enough.

Of course, I know that I won’t please everyone; I don’t expect everyone to buy something or even “get” what it is our store is about.  At the same time, by putting so much of myself into our shop, when people DO respond positively, it acts as an affirmation of my work and of my very self. This acceptance of self brings a deep sense of satisfaction and joy, and it comes only by taking the risk of sharing my true self with others.

On a side note, I don’t know how familiar you are with the Myers-Briggs tests, but one of the qualities is a scale from extrovert to introvert. I am about as far over into introvert as one can possibly be. So, yes, there is something in me that would be very happy to just sit at home in my cozy little studio in my flannel pajamas. It takes a lot of energy for me to be on the sales floor six days a week, to be nice to so many people I don’t know. Yet I am fueled by the overwhelmingly positive reaction, to the business, and, by extension, to ourselves.

And so the first few years of store ownership passed. My sister and I settled into our strengths, which truly complement each other. People often tell me that there’s no way they could ever work with their sister and I won’t claim to have the secret to eternal sisterly bliss - we definitely have our old baggage that might not make the best partnership. Perhaps this is just my bias as the bossy older sister, but I think that our strengths fill in really well for the other’s weaknesses. When one of us is feeling nervous about finances, the other is usually feeling confident. My sister delivers excellent customer service; my excellence lies more in accounting software. She does the hiring and training; I do scheduling and payroll; we split the ordering pretty evenly, though I do all the budgeting. I think that stores can distinguish themselves most readily if customers are allowed to hear the creating voice of the owner, and I think it is to our advantage that we have two voices setting the tone.

We certainly weren’t done learning and growing. There was a lot of work to be done in terms of balancing work with the rest of life, but I had strengthened my faith and trust in process and in the rewards that accompany risk. I am so grateful for the tremendous support of our customers and the Madison community. Our business was continuing to grow and I could see the path ahead for us, selling note cards and wrapping paper and locally made crafts. We made buttons for Obama’s first campaign but mostly considered ourselves an apolitical paper and craft shop.

Which brings me to 2011. mid February to be precise. 

It’s a funny thing - the world of the small business owner seems so independent, almost American cowboy-ish in its mythology. There’s that notion that you are taking tremendous risks and going out on your own, making your own way without the support of a larger system of a corporation or a department. Yet one of the biggest things that being a small business owner has taught me is our utter dependence upon each other. I could work every hour of every day, and that work will come to nothing if not for the work of my sister beside me, if not for the many artists, if not for our customers. That starts a cascade of dependence, upon employers, employees, family, students, delivery guys, artists, taxpayers. There’s no end to it, of course. That’s the point.

So when the Governor first introduced his budget, my objections were on behalf of those we depend upon. The budget went against what I see as the role of government, it went against how I think Jesus wants us to be at work in the world. Before we owned our own business, I took politicians at their word when they told me what small businesses wanted. Yet this obsession with taxes is completely at odds with my own experience. I don’t want lower taxes - I want all the things that taxes pay for. Our well being depends completely on that of our customers, and this budget didn’t seem helpful at all. So, yes, we were feeling mad and scared, unheard and upset.

It’s weird though, because there’s this idea of neutrality in the business world. That because you would take money from everyone, you have to represent everyone’s views, or at least stay neutral to them. I find that disingenuous. We only have to dig a little bit into trade organization lobbying and super PAC donations to see that business is far from neutral. Certainly the way politicians portray business needs is not neutral. I was disinclined to let others speak on our behalf. Add to that the existing lessons about risk and reward, and we were not poised to stay silent.

It did feel like we were breaking some unwritten business rule, but it also felt that there was no other option than to stand in solidarity with teachers, with public schools, with state workers, with state parks and public resources. First the UW Students marched to the Governor’s office to deliver love letters in support of programs he would underfund. Then the rest of the protestors arrived. So we wrote on our sandwich board and hung signs in our windows, we went to the protests, we watched as people streamed by our shop on their way to the Capitol. We felt that it was important for us to participate and to be witness, but we didn’t really expect this to be a money-making moment. 

On Thursday of the budget week, a regular customer came in and said: “where are your buttons?” On Friday, an old school friend and union member commented: “You must be selling buttons like crazy! Union people love buttons!” I told her that we were still on the fence because even though we felt strongly about the issues, we weren’t sure if it was opportunistic to make buttons. She said: “Make those buttons, girl!” Since that week in February, we have sold over 60,000 buttons. Our Dad regularly tells us that we should send a thank-you note to the Governor. Instead we send proceeds from our button sales to the public school foundation and the many other programs who funding he has diminished.

There were plenty of times that I felt overwhelmed with anger and frustration, times when I worried about how our shop would grow when paychecks were shrinking, times when I feared for our state. It did feel like we were taking a huge risk to speak out as business owners. Many other businesses were quiet. It is to the credit of our upbringing in the Madison Christian Community that we were not. In hindsight, taking such a stand in the liberal hotbed of Madison wasn’t that much of a risk but it felt like it at the time. 

I remember once there was a man lingering outside our store for a really long time. I started to wonder and worry, was he going to get a bunch of friends to block the door because he disagreed with us, would he try to smash the window or come in and yell at me? I am not immune to flights of fancy that take up way too much energy preparing for things that never materialize. But I try to refocus my mind. There are buttons to be made, after all. There is comfort and action to be found in the work of creation. Ultimately what I object to in others was the way they allow fear and anger and pain to set the tone for their lives. That is not the life I want to live. These are not the offerings that God asks of us.

There is a wonderful piece of text from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves. I recommend looking up the whole thing, but in one part, she writes:

"There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate."

Yes, it is a constant challenge not to pull out a chair for sorrow and anger, to instead embrace the fear that comes from risk, knowing that it will be overcome by reward, that there is connection that I cannot allow anger to sever. I believe God wants us to take risks, to be daring in our expressions of love and creation. And if you are stuck like I am in Genesis, you know that there’s only one way through anything, and that is creation. Can you find a way to make an offering of your joy and love and creativity? Can you turn your anger and pain and fear and sorrow to creation? Oddly enough, making buttons began a new phase of my offering.

I am filled with gratitude that we took that risk, that we participated in that moment. The button table was often surrounded by people – they were laughing, they were sharing their stories and pains, they were chatting about clever signs they saw. So many people came to us who had never stepped in our store before. There was a strong sense that we were all overcoming feelings of being alone and being powerless. I grew and so did the store. 

We forged new connections to people and businesses; there was a lasting sense of togetherness and power. To my great joy, I was reminded that Creation prevails. The turmoil and anger was met with such creativity –  screenprinting, hilarious signs, chalk writing, decorated cars, t-shirt making, singing and songwriting... and yes, buttons. It made me proud to be a Wisconsinite, to be among Creators, and to be a child of a creating God. It has given me a lasting sense of solidarity, a keen awareness that the worst of the troubles usually start the second you start thinking that you are alone.

And yes, I will confess to a sense of deja vu and tiredness as we see this all repeated on the national scale. My objection remains the same, to those who would cede life to fear and anger, view the world with rigidity and an idealized past, to those who are unwilling to face pain and sorrow but instead distract themselves with rage, closing their minds and hearts to other ways of being and doing and connecting in the world. 

That is not the life that I want for myself. That is not the life that God calls me to. That is not the life of a Creator child. 

I draw my comfort and strength from the risks that I take and the rewards I am met with, the way that being a store owner allows me to constantly connect with other people, and to meet the world with love, acceptance, fluidity, and with courage to face pain and sorrow with a heart and mind that are open. 

I draw my strength from the way I enable myself and others to fully meet our potential as creators living the Creator’s likeness. I'm sticking with Genesis.