Hold on

When you see the storm is coming,
See the lightning part the skies,
It’s too late to run —
There’s terror in your eyes!
What you do then is remember
This old thing you heard me say:
‘It’s the storm, not you,
That’s bound to blow away.’

Hold on,
Hold on to someone standing by.
Hold on.
Don’t even ask how long or why!
Child, hold on to what you know is true,
Hold on ’til you get through.
Child, oh child!
Hold on!

— Marsha Norman, “Hold On,” from the musical version of The Secret Garden

If you want to learn something about faith, talk to a small business owner.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to two sets of Route 66 business owners who seemed to be watching their dreams die.

When you’ve poured your time, money, energy, love, and hope into a business, only to have circumstances beyond your control tear it away from you, it would be easy to feel disappointed, frustrated, even bitter. Disappointment and frustration are pretty ordinary human responses to situations that are … well, disappointing and frustrating.

What I love about Route 66 is that the folks I meet along its shoulders are anything but ordinary.

Bill and Kathey Sivadon own the Country Store, a terrific little feed store that has been in Bill’s family for three generations and more than 50 years. Bill’s grandpa opened the business in the 1950s, when the stretch of 11th Street near Memorial Drive was still rural, before urban sprawl squeezed out family farms and replaced them with crops of Chemlawn and McMansions, neither of which requires the help of a feed store to grow. I could tell you how I feel about the greedy corporations, shortsighted developers, and mindless consumers who have teamed up to create this blight on the face of the American countryside, but after talking with Bill, I can’t really justify wasting energy on negativity or anger.

Bill isn’t mad at the megastore garden centers that have gone out of their way to cut the throats of little guys like him all over the United States. “They employ a lot of people, and they give them health insurance, and that’s a good thing they’re doing,” Bill says.

Bill isn’t mad at the developers. He isn’t mad at his creditor’s heirs, who called in a debt earlier than he expected to have to pay it — “They’re good people, and they’ve been good to me, and they helped me out as much as they could,” he says.

The drought last summer was pretty much the end of the line for Bill’s business. A good summer would have paid off his debt and kept him going. But when heat and inadequate rainfall killed people’s gardens, they didn’t need gardening supplies — so they stopped coming to see Bill. Some folks would get mad at God and ask why, in His infinite wisdom, He didn’t see fit to send a little rain to Oklahoma now and then to keep the gardens growing and the customers coming in the door. But not Bill.

Of course Bill is disappointed to have to close a business that’s been in his family all these years. And he’s especially disappointed to think about going through a summer without seeing the regular customers he’s come to regard as friends (including a certain little hippie chick from Red Fork who shows up sometime in mid-January to see when the seeds will be in and keeps coming in every few weeks to pet baby ducklings, buy collard seeds, pick up a flat of strawberries, find out how much gypsum she needs to till into the tomato beds, search for unusual pepper varieties, and take advantage of Bill’s great prices on water hyacinths for the pond).

But Bill isn’t mad about the situation. He’s not even worried about his future. “The good Lord’s taken care of me for 55 years, and I don’t suppose he’ll stop now,” he says, and he says it, as the Bible says, “as one having authority.”

Meanwhile, over in Sapulpa, the owners of Al’s Route 66 Cafe — a relative newcomer to the road that opened last spring and has acquired a nice little following, thanks to its low prices, great food, and cute Route 66-themed decor — are putting their business up for sale, because Al himself has had to contend with some pretty scary health problems this winter, and Susan is having a hard time keeping up with 10 kids and a restaurant while her husband is unable to work. The business supports itself, but asking it to support a family that big in its first year of operation is a tall order, so Al and Susan are putting it up for sale.

When they opened the restaurant — in the space formerly occupied by Rivett’s Cafe — last spring, they told me it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. They moved from Colorado to Sapulpa, having fallen in love with Oklahoma. They brought their life savings, maxed out every available line of credit, and set to work renovating the restaurant and turning it into a real treasure. Their kids — even little Mariah, who is about 6 — help with the business, waiting tables and refilling drinks and selling souvenirs like pros.

They work hard, they go out of their way to support the community, and they deserve better than to have the rug jerked out from under them with an unexpected health crisis. But through her disappointment, Susan — like Bill — remains calm in the knowledge that God is taking care of her family and will continue to take care of them regardless of the fate of the restaurant. She’s taking all the practical human steps she can think of to make the situation manageable, but at the end of the day, she places her future squarely in God’s hands and trusts that His plan for her family is the right one, even if it doesn’t seem to make much sense at the moment.

Even as she wonders whether the business will sell and whether there might be a grant or a loan that would help see her through the current storm, her faith remains unshaken:

“If it doesn’t sell, we’ll have no choice” but to keep running it, she says, “and we’ll just have to trust that God will provide a way.”

We had dinner at Al’s this evening. We talked with Susan, and I told her that her outlook reminded me of my favorite quote, which I cling to in just about every situation. It’s a truth that’s never failed me, and although I’ve mentioned it here before (probably on several occasions), it bears repeating:

Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
— Mary Baker Eddy

It breaks my heart to see my friends along 66 struggling. But their courage and faith are an inspiration to me, and their sense of perspective — of something above and beyond material sense — is a valuable reminder that “it’s the storm, not you, that’s bound to blow away,” as the song from The Secret Garden says.

I wish I could reach into my pocket and find enough money to make all their financial troubles go away. I haven’t quite reached that point of demonstration yet. But failing that, I can remember and honor the lessons my friends have taught me about faith in the face of disappointment.

It’s the least I can do — and perhaps, in the long run, the most.