Episode 016 of the Cultivate Your Life Podcast was released on May 8th, 2019. Listen here!
There’s something in your life that you need to let go of, but still, you wait. You want the perfect plan, outcome or path before taking that leap. You want assurance that you’re making the right decision, and that everything will be smooth sailing from here on out once you do.
Today, you’ll learn to let go, and to move forward, perhaps even let go of something really good, so you can embrace a whole new dream in the process.
You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them. The things that last longer than you, the things that run deeper and are more thrilling than sky diving, the things that make you come alive.
Welcome to the Cultivate Your Life podcast, where each week, we talk about how to uncover what matters to you in the big picture, and start acting like it today. Whether you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or in need of some refreshing truth today, I’m Lara, and you are in the right place. Let’s cultivate what matters together.
Welcome to episode 16 of the Cultivate Your Life podcast. Hi. I am talking to you today from an unusual location that has a little something to do with what we’re going to talk about today. I am joining you from my very professional studio in the kids’ playroom. More on that in a little bit.
But first, I have to share something a little funny with you. One of the most beautiful things about being able to do this podcast with you, it’s been truly such a blessing to me in so many ways, namely because it’s allowed me to talk with so many of you in real life. We’ve been able to have conversations about things that I’ve shared in the podcast.
I just love that. I love when things that we do on the internets allow us to have more real life connection with each other. That’s the hope. That’s the goal. Whether it’s connection with me, or your connection with your people right where you are, that’s what I hope.
I have to share some funny things. I have many friends who are in the 80 and above circuit. I don’t know why. I just really love my friends who are in their 80s and 90s, and some that are very close to 100, I have lots of mature friends around here. They’re so sweet when they talk about the podcast, and they’re so tech savvy, gracious. But a couple of my friends have said, “Lara, I really like listening to your pop tart.”
It gets better. Another friend, so sweet, she just came up to tell me how much episode eight of the podcast meant to her about numbering your days. No matter what age you’re in right now, it is never too late to number your days right and gain a hearth of wisdom.
But she really liked episode eight of the podcast, and she said, “I really have been enjoying your iPod.” Now, that’s kind of an understandable confusion, iPod, podcast, pop tart.
Either way, I’m really glad you’re listening, friends. No matter what you call this thing, I’m glad that we get to chat together.
Now, maybe in your life, there is a decision that you have been weighing that feels impossible, and it’s really hard to even considerate it. You feel stuck. It’s hard to let go. It’s especially hard to let go of something good. You don’t want to give up on something you’ve invested your time, your energy, and your blood, sweat and tears in, right? It can feel like a waste, or like you’re giving up. Sometimes the idea of giving up on something can make you feel like you’re a failure.
Here’s what it really comes down to. I know I’ve felt this way so many times. Maybe you’re right there right now. You really want these big decisions in your life, and the small ones, to feel easy, am I right? Let’s just raise some praise hands for that one. We really, we want our decisions to feel easy. Who wants it to be hard? Who wants that? No one. You don’t want it to be hard.
If you think that, here’s the trick. Sometimes you think that the right decision though should be easy, because if there’s tension, if it’s difficult to make a decision, maybe that means it’s the wrong decision, right?
Well, I can’t tell you that it’s going to be easy, but I can for sure tell you that no matter what decision you’re facing, there is a way forward. There is. It may not be the path that everyone else travels.
Let me tell you a story. I started Southern Weddings magazine late one night with a husband deployed to war and no formal training in journalism or publishing. As you remember from episode one, I have a degree in music theater. I wanted though to inspire couples to tell their unique love stories, rich with family history, and rooted in the culture of the South, where I was. This place where my grandparents had lived out their own love story decades before, a love story that changed me and my family.
Over the next many years, this dream came to life. Through Southern Weddings, I was able to tell my own imperfect marriage story. Again, go back, listen to episode one. I was able to tell my own imperfect marriage story and connect with so many of you as you stepped into engagements and weddings and so much fun life thereafter.
But also, so much hardship. I’m sitting here thinking of quite literally thousands of women who emailed me expressing deep, deep difficulties in marriage or in engagement or in any dating relationship, and getting to pray over those women and speak into their lives in the little ways I could, there’s nothing quite like that.
Couple the meaningful work along with creating beauty in a world that felt very broken when I began Southern Weddings, in that time of war with the names of the falling soldiers flashing across the screen, that’s really what pushed me to say, what if? And maybe you’re right there right now thinking, what if?
There’s this hurdle that I had to get over of, okay, I’ve got this what if. What if we created a little wedding magazine and were able to tell people’s love stories, and show them that they could actually transform other people’s lives through this gift of a wedding celebration? Through taking their guests on a journey with them, using all the things I had learned in theater, lights and sound, even a menu and music, all of those things, and telling their story.
Or writing a whole new story can be a really amazing turning point in not just a couple’s life, but in the legacy of a family. This to me was legacy building.
And yet, there was that hurdle of, oh yeah, I have no idea what I’m doing. I mean, I made that first magazine using, I shudder to say it, using Microsoft Publisher, which is like Kraft mac and cheese to a five-star chef. It is very basic.
I learned everything the hard way. I remember asking so many dumb questions. This was back before the days of Google. If you were going to ask a really dumb question, you had to swallow your pride and ask a person, and risk the stares. You couldn’t ask Google a private question and no one else would know about it.
You know why I asked those questions? It’s because this mattered to me. I had gone through so much of my life up to that point, and I just thought, why not? Why not ask the questions? You never know if you don’t ask. You never know where something’s going to lead if you don’t try and just take the next best step. Lord knows I had no idea where this was going to lead 10 years later.
One of my favorite memories from that decade was doing a photo shoot out in a working strawberry farm. Right next to the patch of strawberries, there was this giant field of red clover, and it was spectacular, just a sea of crimson. It took every part of my being not to leap into this field. Grace was very small at the time, she was probably a year and a half, two years old. I just thought to myself, ugh, there’s a little grass patch in the middle… We can just, let’s just run out there.
It is those moments of taking life by the horns that I will never forget, whether it is savoring peaches after a long shoot out in an orchard, or consuming very, very, very many biscuits. There’s a lot of food, a lot of food in the South.
Which by the way, I think so much of that is because the culture of the South is built around the dinner table, around meals, around conversation. We got to savor and feature so much of that in our pages.
I have memories on the business end too of having a partnership with Southern Living magazine. I remember getting that email from Southern Living saying, I’m paraphrasing, but, “We love what you’re doing with Weddings. You’re doing it better than we could ever do it. We would like to partner with you,” and I fell out of my chair. I had to stop before I told anybody about this email and just google it, to say, is this real? Is this person that sent me this email real?
I remember this whirlwind after that of us flying to their headquarters in Birmingham and sitting around the table with Lindsay Bierman, who was their editor-in-chief at the time, who is just a dear, dear friend, and someone that I think the world of. This is where I’m going to cry. To sit around that table and to hear them say that we were making magic…
And to know how deep the legacy of a magazine like Southern Living is, I mean, my grandmother, my mother, so many generations have savored those pages. I just thought, Lord, me? How did you choose us? Just a tiny little team of women, to make these love stories come to life. How did we get here?
Then they started doing this round of introductions in this very businessy formal way, and I looked at Emily, and I think she knew what I was thinking. She knew I was thinking, “Oh, we haven’t practiced this part. Make something up. I don’t know what to say.”
But truly, it was a moment I will never forget, to say wow, and that movie in my mind just played where I was sitting at my desk with my cat when Ari was deployed thinking, what if? I’m saying the same to you. What if you took a leap of faith? What good could it potentially sow in to the hearts of people all over the world, or even just the people right in your care right now? The numbers don’t matter, the why matters. What if?
Then the flip side of that is, what if you don’t? I cannot imagine, and I don’t really like going down these trails in my head, but I’ll do it here anyway. What if I hadn’t done that? Again, I don’t know where the Lord would’ve led us, but what if I hadn’t clicked send on an email to a publishing house to say, “Hey, we just started this tiny little magazine here in Pensacola, Florida. I have no idea what I’m doing.”?
I think I actually might’ve told them that, but I said, “You know what I do know? I do know I have more passion than a hen has feathers, and I want this, and I believe in this.” When you believe in something wholeheartedly, it’s very easy for other people to come alongside you and believe the same.
Our unofficial office motto is if you’re not excited about it, no one’s going to be excited about it. I remember getting that letter in the mail from Curtis Circulation saying, “Yes, we’ve decided to put your magazine in stores all over the country.”
Friends, I’m sitting here over 10 years later, and I’m still amazed. I still pinch myself and say, “That was a part of my story? Really?” It’s very humbling.
I’m going to open up one of our issues for you right now. This is our fifth anniversary issue. We created a manifesto that I’m going to read to you now. We created the Sweet Tea Society.
We believe that one should never be too busy for a front porch chat and a serving of sweet tea. We believe in picking a wedding date based on the SEC football schedule. We believe that beautiful things have value simply because they make the world a more lovely place. We believe simple is often better.
We believe in handwritten thank you notes, and we actually sent out a handwritten note with every single issue of the magazine that went out, from start to finish, all 10 years. We just felt like, you know what? A handwritten note goes a long way.
We believe in biscuits and banjos, pearls and pecans or pecans, depending on where you’re from, grits and gardenias, magnolias and monograms. We believe graciousness will never go out of style and that manners matter. We believe our mama’s veil is better than any old thing we could buy in a store. We believe in making the effort in giving and giving, and adding a little sugar.
We know we are not the first to get married, nor will we be the last. We believe in history and heritage and honoring both by planting a deeply meaningful beginning to married life.
Most of all, we believe that planning for a wedding means planning for more than just one day, that there is nothing on this Earth more important than family. That while details are nice, true love always, always wins.
We are the Sweet Tea Society.
Those words still ring so deeply in my soul as I sit here with you many years later. So many people over the years asked us, how can we be a part of this? We want to be a part of this heartbeat behind what you’re doing.
My answer here is also still the same. You already are. You may not have realized that an email you sent us just to encourage us as a small team, helped us to keep going through so many challenges.
You may not have realized that the photograph you took for our pages, which we paired with words of truth and encouragement, brought a young woman unexpected hope, and prevented a fledgling marriage from falling apart.
You may not have realized that the time you volunteered to help us ship magazines out of my garage, that you helped a bride who was so overwhelmed by all the pressure to have a Pinterest perfect wedding, learn that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful.
You may not have realized that that handwritten note you sent us back spurred us all on to keep encouraging couples to plan meaningful beginnings to married life.
It takes courage to begin something you never thought you could do. Are you feeling that right now? Maybe you have done something in the past that you think to yourself, “Whoa, I don’t know how I did that.”
Or maybe you’re at the edge of stepping into something where you just think, there’s going to be a lot I’m going to have to let go to step into this, but there’s something that just keeps pushing me forward. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s going to take courage. It takes courage to let go of one thing to make room for something even better, and it takes faith.
At the time I was beginning this adventure of Southern Weddings, I wanted to do something with my life. I was frustrated feeling like I was not using my gifts. I didn’t even really know what those gifts were. But I wanted to use my gifts to help people cultivate what matters.
Truly, that was the extent of my grand vision. I didn’t know where my little magazine project would lead exactly, I just knew it needed to exist. I had a tiny seed, and I did a leap of faith, and I planted it. I thought this would grow into a small publication, perhaps we’d print it ourselves and put it in neighborhood grocery stores or local churches, and God had a completely different plan.
I did not, in any way, shape or form think that this would be my path. I sit here chatting with you from the play room formerly known as the Southern Weddings office, with three kiddos hanging out in the next room, a husband I am so grateful for, and 10 annual issues of Southern Weddings that have brought with them a lifetime of treasured memories.
In 2017, we celebrated our 10th anniversary of the magazine, and had our best year ever with Southern Weddings, it was incredible. And yet, we found ourselves at a crossroads. We were a unique company, with two brands under one literal small roof, Southern Weddings, and Cultivate What Matters. Both companies were making an impact on people’s lives, and they held so much continued growth potential.
But like I’ve written about in both of my books, you can only grow so much in one space. If you grow too much, even good things, they start to take nutrients away from each other.
At the rate both brands were going, supporting two companies at the same time with the same small team of, I think it was eight ladies at the time, it started to become unsustainable. I thought to myself, okay, at this point, I realized that exponential growth in a business sounds like a really good problem to have, and I’m going to give you a but, but for us, the most important profit is the profit of people.
If growth pulls us away from being able to care for people, well, not just the people that we are selling products to or have in our readership, but the people in these walls. When that starts to wane, we know that there is an opportunity as we call it, we look at challenges and see them as opportunities, we know there’s an opportunity for really good change, and for pruning.
In a nutshell, our team was constantly being stretched.
Those of you who know how this story ends might be thinking, why not just do it all? Why couldn’t you just hire more people? Why couldn’t you adjust to the growth? How could you let go of something so good?
We’ve thought of all those things too. We talked about them. We wrestled with them. We sketched them out over and over and over. We discussed and debated and ran numbers and spun out scenarios, we prayed, literally on our knees prayed over and over and over and over. We met with business leaders. We got wise counsel. Took many months to just listen. We listened and we waited for the plan to be revealed.
Let me just throw this out there. Waiting is not fun. It’s just not. I don’t want you to hear me say, “We waited,” and think, okay, maybe that’s easy for you, but it’s not for me. Oh no, I am right there with you.
Waiting, it is often… I don’t like saying this. It is often the place where I learn the most though. Waiting is a time of ripening. It’s just like when I look out at my garden. The time when we are waiting for flowers to come or fruit to come in the garden is actually the most wonderful time. It’s a time we notice growth.
We’re not distracted by the blooms. We’re noticing that stalk, little by little, inch by inch, become strong enough to support that bloom. Those roots grow deep into the Earth and soak up enough nutrients to make that bud unfurl into something of the marvelous.
There was no lightning bolt in the waiting that I remember. It was just this slow, steady, gut-wrenching at times, yet freeing process, of waiting for the answers to come. When God finally did give me clarity on moving forward with closing this chapter of Southern Weddings, what gave me great peace was that he gave the exact same clarity to the rest of the team too. Many times cultivating what matters means making hard decisions. Sometimes it means letting go of good things, to make room for even better things to come.
As you might know, the 10th anniversary issue of Southern Weddings was our last. We announced in June 2018 that we were closing this chapter on Southern Weddings. Times of waiting for answers can be times of ripening. In the wait and in countless conversations, our team grew closer as we wrestled with this decision together. How can we let this go? What would that even look like? How can we best serve people in this?
Therein lies the entire mission and heartbeat of what we do. Living on purpose often means making hard decisions for the greater good. We are just a handful of women. We want to have a profound impact on this world though, while maintaining the quality of life that is so important to our team and families. That means being all-in wherever we are.
For me, the real rub happened when I thought, you know what? I’m moving into a season where I know God is telling me to home school Grace. I know that that in my life is where he wants me to plant seeds.
If we are going to keep both of these businesses running, I’m going to have to hire an entirely new team, which we could’ve done. We could’ve done that. I could have said, “Everything’s growing, let’s keep this growing. Let’s just multiply this by 100. Let’s hire a whole new team on this side. Let’s just go full force into it.”
But you know what that would have done, not only for my life, but for everyone else in their personal vision of where they wanted to be when they were 80 years old? It would’ve spread us so thin.
If you’ve known me or any of us for any length of time, from a day to a decade, you know that our heartbeat is to help women uncover what matters most, help you uncover what matters most, and then intentionally live that out. We heartily embrace the truth that we cannot do it all. But we can choose to cultivate what matters right where we are.
We had to make this hard decision to let go of Southern Weddings so that we could put our whole hearts into helping women, not just in a marrying stage of life, but in any stage of life. That is a decision we made about the profit of people.
As we got closer and closer to this announcement, I really felt the Lord saying, “You know what? This isn’t… “
Do y’all hear this? Do you hear my kids laughing? I mean, if that isn’t a little piece of fruit from this decision, I just don’t know what is.
Where was I? As we got closer and closer to making this decision, I really felt like the Lord was saying to me so clearly, “You know what, Lara? This is not you closing a chapter. You’ve actually… ” I’m in tears. This is why I didn’t want to record this episode, because I knew I was just going to cry the whole way through it because it means so much to me. “Lara, you’ve actually completed the work I’ve given you to do.” It was at that moment I felt like, “Okay. Thank you, Lord.” And I felt like it was okay to move forward.
Lots of friends have asked me and maybe you’ve thought the same thing, what has this looked like since then? What was the announcement like? What happened after that? How are things now?
The actual announcement was an affirming and joyful day, as strange as that might sound. We had prepared for months, months with military precision, working to get ahead of every eventuality, to make all of our stakeholders, our advertisers, our vendors, our partners, hundreds of thousands of people, past team members, industry supporters, family members, helping everyone that we knew felt so deeply connected to this work, just like we did, helping them to feel seen and heard and appreciated and taken care of. We knew this was going to be a shock. It was like we were preparing for a doomsday scenario. That’s really how it felt like.
Then when the day arrived, perhaps thanks to some of our preparation, but also so much as a gracious gift from God, the response was overwhelmingly supportive and understanding. We were gifted words of appreciation and shared memories from people whose lives have been changed by Southern Weddings. We received the confirmation that we so desperately wanted, that our mission would live on.
June 5th, the day of our announcement, was a solidifying and meaningful day for us. But the year that followed has been the hardest our team has ever faced.
You might think, as you are considering a leap of faith yourself, we want these things to be easy. We think, when we make the right decision, everything will be wonderful after that. Well, transitions like this don’t always have bows on them.
People often say to me, I just had it happen last weekend multiple times over, they say to me, “You must have so much more time now. Your life must be so much more simple.” To which I say, “No.” Cutting off an entire side of our business for one was a huge adjustment for us financially.
This is the part of the story that’s very difficult for me to tell, because to walk you through step-by-step how devastatingly difficult the financial aspect of letting go of that was is a hard thing to explain. Because again, why make that decision then? Why walk into losing a whole side of income, and then trusting that the Lord was going to even things out somehow? It doesn’t mean that he was going to provide that same amount of money in the other side of the company, but just being obedient. It’s not easy all the time.
I think we often confuse obedience with a guarantee for provision on the other side, and it’s just not true, but obedience is a guarantee for grown faith. It is a guarantee for good things ahead, even if they’re not here on this Earth. All of our faith grew.
I’ll just tell you. The day before, I knew we were going to be, and it’s a little complex to explain, but the Cultivate side of our business, because it’s eCommerce, because there’s so much product tied to it, because we’ve had so much significant growth, it means you have to pay a lot of money for products before you actually sell them, months and months and months in advance.
At the point where we would typically have had a big influx of income from Southern Weddings, that was usually the point where we were making that mass payment for products, and we had lost that. It wasn’t to say that the income wasn’t going to come at some point, but in that crucial moment of needing that then, and the day before we were about to get to zero dollars in the bank account, ugh, I just remember throwing my hands up and thinking, “Lord, you led us here. I have clearly no control over this. I have no idea what we’re going to do. We are a debt-free company. Father, I don’t know.”
I remember Ari and I were on our way to take the kids to a local farm. I looked over at him and I tried not to freak out as I was telling him this, that, yeah, we’re going to be at zero dollars tomorrow, and I don’t know where the money to pay that big amount is going to come from, I remember just trying to stay calm as I said that, knowing, knowing full well that God had done impossible things for us in the past, impossible, I can name you hundreds of things just in that year that he had done that I said to myself, “Well, that was clearly God. I have no idea where that came from.”
The next day, in the morning, a very close friend called me. She said, “Lara, I don’t know, the Lord just prompted me this morning, knowing that you guys have had a rough go of things financially lately,” she kind of knew a little bit about our situation, but she certainly did not know that that was the day that we were going to need it the most.
She said, “I have all this money sitting in my bank account from our business, and I’m not making you a loan. This is not a loan. But I would like to bless you with this knowing that you are going to get it back. I would be so grateful if you were, it would be a joy for me to be able to place this in your hands.”
She just kept making it clear, “This is not a loan, you do not owe me interest on this. This is a blessing for me to give this to you, to place this in the Lord’s hands and see what he does with it.”
I have my jaw wide open right now, just still in awe. Clearly I broke down in tears and I just sat there dumbfounded, and you know, we throw that word awesome around a lot, but truly the only thing that is awesome, awe inspiring, that leaves me speechless, is God’s power.
It’s like you and I talked about in episode one. You know that phrase, she believes she could and so she did? Over and over, the Lord has taught me, she believes she couldn’t, and so God did. God provided when I… the day, the day we had to make a payment, the day, the day. Just in awe still of his goodness.
Obedience does not mean that he will always provide exactly what you need when you need it on your schedule. It does not mean that. But sometimes he provides far more than you could ever ask or imagine. Right at the moment, not too little, just enough. Not too much, just enough to build your faith. Obedience doesn’t always make things easier, but it means he gets the glory.
The other part of this is, one bow I really wanted on this, something I really wish we had in this story of Southern Weddings was a buyer, that as we chatted about what are the possibilities, what if we were to sell this company to someone who shared our heart, and I thought to myself, I don’t know how we’d even find someone who really had the same heart for meaningful beginnings to married life that we did. What if, what if, and we went down that road, and we explored it.
I though, I really, when I thought deeply about that season, I really wanted a buyer so I could say, “Look, see? They’re going to take this and they’re going to run with it, and not only will you the reader be happy, but you’ll see me with business success, having passed this on to someone else.”
It was like a two fold thing. I really wanted this mission, this heart to live on, and I also thought, this would be a much easier story to tell. So many times, things that are in God’s economy, like us, letting go of Southern Weddings, this thing that was making an impact in the world that was financially sound, why do that?
It’s so much easier to explain, “Oh, well, we’ve got a lot going on, and so we decided to sell it to this great company,” the end. It seems like that would have been easier. And, we had many interested parties, and months long in depth conversations with several very large publishing houses about acquiring Southern Weddings.
As anyone knows, in publishing, there is a lot of red tape with media conglomerates. That part of the waiting for us was very frustrating. I think it always makes us, when we interact with some of these larger media companies, always makes us so grateful to be small, because we get to be nimble and make a quick decision. If we want to start a project and push it through to completion and put it out there to the world in one day, we could do that. You can’t necessarily do that in a large company.
I remember the day that we made the announcement, we had, I think probably 12 emails within the first hour from people who were interested in purchasing the company. Some people we knew right off the bat were probably not going to be the best fit to carry on this mission. We just put all of those on hold.
It’s not to say that we didn’t have a lot of interest. We’ve had some incredible interest from people. And we still consider it at this point, if we found the right fit.
But one corporation in particular was just a perfect fit for us, or at least we felt that way. We felt like this corp, it’s probably not the one you’re thinking in your head, but it was a perfect fit for us, and for just these minute technical reasons, it didn’t work out.
I will add a filter to that to say, for God’s reasons it didn’t work out. He wanted me to be here right now with no bow on the top of the story except trust him. That’s it. Trust him.
There might be something in your life right now where you feel a restlessness, you feel like, I do need to make this decision, or I need to say no to this, or I need to take this leap of faith. I don’t know what’s on the other side of it. You know what? I didn’t know what was going to be on the other side of this either. But obedience always produces fruit.
Typically, it’s not the shiny type of fruit, and this is a really good parallel to this. You know in the grocery store, one way they make fruit appealing for you is they put a little coat of wax on it. They do all kinds of things to make you buy that fruit. This is pure organic right here, friends. No waxes. No nothing. Typically, most sweet fruit does not have the most beautiful cover.
I mean, I think about my peaches this year. We have had a peach tree for seven years, ever since Grace was born. I remember my mom taking me on road trips to Alberta, Alabama, and through Chilton County, and for all my Southern friends that know those places, you know the magic of Chilton County peaches. We used to this place called Peach Park, which I still hope someday I can take my kids back there. But I have so many memories of road trips there.
When I first started my garden, I went to a local nursery here, For Garden’s Sake nursery here in Durham, and I saw that they had an Alberta peach tree. Now, that has nothing to do with Alberta, Alabama, but at the moment I thought to myself, this would be such a great reminder for us of the legacy that my parents left us, and taking us on those sweet road trips.
The interesting thing is, when you grow organic fruit, the outer coating of that fruit tends to not look so pretty. In fact, it would most definitely not make it to your grocery store.
Sometimes the sweetest stories, the most beautiful leaps of faith, do not have a bow tied on them. What is it for you? Where are you feeling restless about a decision, or a leap of faith?
I’m going to give you a few tips to help you work through this, things that we did. I will say though, overall, really this whole thing was on God’s timing for us. This is not the only big decision that we’ve had to make in business, much less in life, there’s so many things that you and I have had great conversations about. But I’m just going to give you some practical tools and tips, ways to sift through your thoughts.
Because for us, that’s really a lot of what this was, was a process of sifting through our thoughts, sifting through the emotions and the memories. And also, in this process, it was really allowing us to grieve the loss of one thing so we could open up space in our hearts to welcome something new, even something that we didn’t know exactly what it was going to be yet.
Number one, what is the thing in your life that you know you need to do something about? It might be something very small, or seemingly small. Maybe it’s where to go on a family vacation. Maybe it’s something really big, like letting go of a dream. What is it for you? Where have you felt restless? Maybe a job change, or a new city that you’d like to explore and live in, or taking a leap of faith to grow a relationship.
Or maybe it is a literal leap of faith, of growing your faith, of digging into the Bible, maybe for the very first time. Let me just stop and say, that is probably the very best leap of faith you could ever take. I know the Bible feels overwhelming, it’s a big book, but you know what? God gave us a big book full of lots of stories because he knew we would need them.
Every time I think to myself, “This is so overwhelming,” as I’m reading through, I think to myself, “You know what? I’m so grateful that God didn’t just give us Job, or one story.” He knew that you would need more examples and more teaching in your life. If you’re right there right now, I just want to encourage you with that.
Number one, name that thing. What is the thing that you feel like you really need to do something about? Just write that out in your own words on paper right now.
You know you and I have had great conversations about the power of handwriting, about how when you get something out of your head on paper, it changes you. You might be doing your exercise right now, or out taking a run, that’s okay. When you come back though, just rewind to this part, write it down. What is the thing that you know you need to do something about?
I will tell you, this was probably the hardest step for me. I honestly can’t even remember the moment itself, but I do remember vocalizing even this thought to Ari, of, “I’m kind of getting this feeling, this… I don’t know, something from the Lord, that maybe it’s time to do something different with Southern Weddings. Or maybe this is coming to a close.” I couldn’t even say the words, it was so difficult.
I just want to encourage you. If you are feeling that right now, of, I’m not sure if I want to write that thing down, just remember, you’re just writing. That’s it. You’re just writing. You’re not doing anything. You don’t even have to do anything about the thing you write down.
But I want you to consider this. What if you don’t take this step forward? What if you stay stuck where you are? How’s that going to feel?
Really, that’s one of the things that drove us forward. We just kept feeling like, we’re not exactly sure how this decision is going to pan out. We didn’t even know how we’re going to announce this or what it’s going to look like. But we’re just going to take the next best step, and the next best step, and then the next best step after that. This might be your very first one. Write it down.
Number two, write down… just define for yourself why haven’t you made the decision? What has been standing in your way? What has been blocking you from being able to decide? What has been blocking you?
Don’t judge your reasons here. Maybe they are really real, legitimate reasons why you haven’t moved forward. Write those things down. Just put them in black and white, or pink and purple, whatever you got, you know I like color. List the roadblocks. What has been preventing you from making the decision? This might illuminate for you some places where you can dig in a little bit more.
Goodness, I remember so many conversations, but one in particular, we were actually having a team retreat. We were at a local place here called Fearrington Village, which, if you’ve never visited Fearrington Village and you live anywhere near Chapel Hill or Raleigh, North Carolina, go visit. They have the cutest beltie cows, they look like ice cream sandwiches, they’re so cute. They have just a magical space there with gardens.
I remember we had this team summit where we were having these discussions, really very in depthly for the first time as a group, and sharing our honest thoughts, and really just being sad together. Like, yes, Lord, we believe that you’re in this. We believe that you want us to move forward somehow. We can’t do it all and do it well. But this is sad. This is hard.
I remember us talking about some of the roadblocks on why we felt like we couldn’t make a decision then, and how freeing that was in the end. I’m here to tell you, it was hard when we were hashing through it, but I’m so grateful we went there.
This is your invitation to go there. It’s just you and the paper and God, you and the paper, but just go there on paper right now. What has been holding you back?
In that, you might consider getting old school, make yourself a pro and con list. Here is where we’re going to start to cultivate. In making a pro and con list and your decision, ask yourself the golden question again. Where do you want to be when you’re 80 years old? Where do you want to be in the big picture? What’s going to matter to you then? What’s not going to matter to you then? That might help you to make the right pro/con list.
When you consider where you want to be in the big picture, what is it that is warring against that? That might go on your con list. What is it that will actually help you in this decision? If you were to make this decision, is that going to help you to get to where you want to be when you’re 80 years old in some way? Write that down.
Something we considered a lot in the process of uncovering where we were going, what direction were we going to take, were we going to… I’ll just tell you, there are so many directions we considered. We considered just slowing down with the magazine. We actually considered doing more magazines. We went across the board, so many considerations. We considered doing two issues a year. We considered just spending a quarter of the year. We went everywhere.
I’ll tell a little side story here too. I remember one of the hardest parts about this was telling our circulation agent. This is the company that was in charge of getting us into all book stores, everywhere. They were our distribution agent, Curtis Circulation. I love them dearly. They were the ones that first took a chance on me.
I think out of everybody that I emailed about this decision, the person that I did not want to email, out of everybody, was our agent at Curtis. It’s making me teary eyed just thinking about it again, trying not to cry here, got to get through the story.
Just that, because I knew it was going to bring a flood of tears as I expressed my sincere gratitude for them taking a leap of faith with us, me, and my cat, and my little apartment, with a big dream. They believed in us. They believed in what we couldn’t see. They helped us to get this mission out.
I remember sending that email, and got the response back that I didn’t want to get, which is, “We’re devastated, please reconsider. You have such a great title. We have all these other ideas to make it work for you,” and of course, we were flattered by that response, but it was so difficult to get that response, because they continued to believe in us. We actually had talks about even doing a different kind of magazine, which is still on the table, who knows? Maybe in a future season.
But back to this. Number three is to think about the big picture. The reason I was able to send that email is because I just kept thinking, this is about telling your story, Lord. It’s not mine. You’re the one that made this happen, not me. I’m going to send this email even though it’s painful, even though it’s hard for me, even though I know I’m probably going to get a response back that is sad.
For you, think about the big picture. Where do you want to be in the big picture? Is there something ahead for you in the next season that might actually be better to get you to where you want to be when you’re 80, 90 or 100 years old?
Number one, what is the thing that you’ve been restless about? What’s the thing in your life that you know you need to do something about?
But for some reason, you’ve been held back. So number two, why have you been held back? What has been holding you back? What are some of the roadblocks? Very real things. Just write those down.
And number three, write down, where do you want to be in the big picture? You and I have had, again, lots of conversations about that question. You may have already answered that before.
I would encourage you to answer it fresh again. This is the question that every time I answer it, I always come back to it multiple times a year, every time I answer it, my answer grows. It changes, just as I do. You should invite that change. Maybe the words are a little different for you this time. Answer that question.
Where do you want to be? What will matter to you in the big picture? What won’t?
Also, highly encourage you to go back to listen to episode eight. If you’re going to listen to any episode on this podcast and rewind, listen to episode one, but definitely listen to episode eight, How to Number Your Days. I think that will give you some really good perspective, and help you to make that decision that’s on your mind.
Question number four. You’re going to walk each of these options out. Perhaps, like us, there were multiple scenarios. This is probably one of the hardest exercises for us to do, but it was very fruitful and very revealing. We walked out all of the options.
We talked out, okay, if we were to go this direction, what could potentially happen? And you know, we’re not mind readers, we can’t predict the future, only the Lord knows. But we, to our very best ability, we try to walk out what some of these scenarios might lead us to.
Walk each of your options out. Do they lead you to where you want to be in the big picture?
For us, we thought, okay, if we were to… let’s just take an example here, keep on keeping on. If we were to keep on keeping on, and as these businesses continued to grow… and again, I know that sounds like a good problem to have. It’s not. You know what it does? It spreads you thin. It causes you to have to grow.
It’s like, my tomato plants, as they grow, I have to stake them up. As these businesses were growing, they were getting to the point where they required some major staking, meaning new employees. For me in that season, I wasn’t willing, and as the other team members felt the same way for various reasons in their own lives, we weren’t willing to grow so fast like that.
We knew we had something special. We wanted to keep that something special, that smallness, we always say small is the new big. Small is nimble. Small is able to have one-to-one relationships with people. One of our core values is the power of one, and we didn’t want to lose that.
If we were to keep on going the way we had always done, we would most definitely be spread thin at this point. I would’ve had very little time for my family, I would’ve been stressed out. I can’t even imagine what else would have happened.
But I just knew in walking that out, okay, that was not an option. I need to look at the other options. It might encourage you as you do this, you walk these hypothetical scenarios out to have the motivation to step into some different options, because you know where you’re not going.
Number five. Perhaps my very best tip for you is to get counsel. Don’t just keep these thoughts in your head. I don’t know what your particular scenario or situation is. Perhaps it’s something that’s deeply personal.
For us, this was very deeply personal. Even though it’s business related, it wasn’t something that we could discuss with anybody, especially people with weighted opinions in various directions.
We had to seek out trusted counsel, mentors, family members, and really every team member discussed it with their family members too. Trusted people, and especially the people that we knew it would affect, we asked for counsel, for wisdom.
Proverbs is filled with verses to encourage you in this direction. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in an abundance of counselors, there is safety.” Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisors, they succeed.” Proverbs 19:20, “Listen to advice. Accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
Every month for the last two years, I have spent one full day out of the month meeting with a group of fellow Christian CEOs, and we meet together to learn, to grow, and to give each other counsel. It is so my favorite day every month. I love it. There is something so powerful about spending time in the Word with others.
Also have to just put a little note in here that I am the only lady in that group, and I love it. I love bringing my lady perspective to the group.
But really, it has become my favorite day of the month, because we have such a close-knit bond, because we’re opening the Word together. These are very seasoned business owners, I mean, huge companies, some far beyond me. I remember bringing this issue to our group many months ago.
Their advice was surprising. Again, some of them run enormous corporations. I remember some people saying, “First of all, Lara, you’re crazy. Why are you not selling this business? Why are you thinking about just closing this thing? You have this incredible asset here. Seek someone to buy this,” and so that’s when we did start the process of exploring it. We actually moved our timeline back by three months to explore it.
We were actually set to make the announcement like three days later, and I remember texting my whole team and saying, “Well, I just met with my group, and they gave me all these pieces of advice, and they’re right. We should at least explore this. Just give it a moment, and see where it goes.”
I’m so grateful we did, because we ended up making some really great relationships in that time with these people that we explored it with. You just never know. You never know how those seeds that are planted, even in something that doesn’t go the way you hoped it would go, you never know how those seeds will grow.
Of course, the best place to get counsel is from scripture. Just open the Bible. There’s so much wisdom on business, on money, on integrity, on obviously how to treat people. People always ask me, “What do you think is the best business book?” The Bible, hands down.
Now you know the first five questions. There’s one more. Let’s just review. What is the thing that you know you need to do something about? What has been preventing you from making that decision? What has been standing in your way? Then, think about the big picture. Where do you want to be when you’re 80? Number four, walk some of those options out, just explore them. You might see some roadblocks or opportunities in those options as you explore them. Number five, get counsel.
Number six. I’ve been sitting here for a few seconds waiting on my kiddos to stop making noise in the background, but just listen. They’re actually laughing. It sounds like screeching, but they’re not. I was thinking, this is actually really appropriate, that I can hear my kiddos once again and their sweet voices in the background.
Question number six is, what’s your new dream? I’m imagining you right now, sitting wherever you are, or walking or running or doing the dishes, and I’m really asking you, what is your new dream? What new dream becomes possible once you make this decision?
Perhaps you’re like me, and you think to yourself, the word dreaming, I don’t know about the word dreaming. Dreaming, that sounds like I’m going to be adding something to my already full plate, or dreaming sounds like fluff in my mind. What if it doesn’t come true? Why even go there? Why even tease my heart in dreaming?
I want to encourage you to do what we call cultivated dreaming. Cultivated dreaming is looking at the big picture. It’s looking at what will last. What will last longer than you? Looking at the legacy that you want to leave behind that will grow into something that spans generations.
I think about, I think you and I have chatted about this before, about the Angel Oak tree in South Carolina. It has a wingspan if you will of over 150 feet. It’s huge. But you know how it started? Just one little oak seed, one little acorn. Squirrel food.
That’s what I want to encourage you to think about now, is, what if you dreamed in a different direction? What if you dreamed toward what lasts? Instead of just the fluffiness that people usually envision when they dream, go there for a minute.
Go to the picture in your mind’s eye of where you want to be when you’re 80, 90, 100 years old. Imagine you at that stage. If the Lord allows you to live to that ripe old age, imagine yourself then. What will matter to you then? What won’t? What will you look back on and think, “Man, I am so glad I spent more time on this,” or, “I’m so grateful that I didn’t spend time on this”? Maybe that will help to inform your new dream.
I will say that this is probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s hard for me to do. You know what it takes? Faith. It takes believing in what you can’t yet see. Believing in what you can’t yet see, but sometimes, you have to plant that seed before you see that tree.
Even if the thoughts in your mind aren’t perfectly formed, or you have some fear and hesitation about it, or you think, “Well, I don’t know if this is going to come true. Why even go there?” Just go there for a minute. You can’t go somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. If you’re not clear on where you’re going, how are you going to get there? Give yourself some clarity right now. What’s going to matter to you in the big picture? What is the new dream?
For me, the new dream wouldn’t come until I made space. Sometimes you do have something in mind that you want to work towards, and sometimes you have to clear things out before you can plant new things. That’s what it was for us. I did not know exactly what the future was going to look like, but I knew where I wasn’t going. I kept praying, “Lord, I want to go in your direction.” I’m just going to pray that right now with you and for you.
God, please, we want to go where you’re going. We don’t want to know where you’re not going, God. Please guide us right now as we are here together, we ask you to guide us in your direction. Help us to make the decisions that point to you, that point to eternity, that point to what lasts far longer than us. Only you know those things, Lord, and I pray that you give us clarity on what those are.
Help us to be brave. Help us to be bold. We stop right now and just acknowledge that you have done far greater things before. You have made the impossible possible. We praise you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
My friend, we have talked about a lot today. I know that you might be feeling some fear still, some hesitation. I want to tell you that that’s totally okay.
In fact, it’s good. Many times when we feel nervous or we feel fear, it’s because we’re considering something that really matters to us, and we don’t want to make the wrong decision. We want to make an intentional decision that’s going to lead us on the best path forward. If you’re feeling fear, if you’re feeling hesitation, just know that that’s okay. The very best way to move into that, to move through it many times is to take the first step. Take whatever for you is the next best step.
Maybe it is literally going through the steps that you and I have walked through together here. Maybe it is simply writing down the thing that you know you need to make a decision on. Take the next best step.
Plant a seed, even though you can’t see that plant fully alive yet. When we were considering adoption, it was so scary for us, and we thought, “We are not equipped to do this. Only superhumans adopt, right? How are we talking about adoption?”
A friend of mine said, “Just take the next best step forward, and then take the next one, and the next one. You don’t have to say yes, we’re adopting, but just keep taking the next step, see where it leads you.” I’m going to encourage you with the same. Take the next best step.
It doesn’t mean that you are going to go in that direction, especially if you work through exploring some of your scenarios and playing those hypothetical things out. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go do those. Allow yourself the freedom to mentally walk through those things.
For us, we just took the first best step, which was to send a single email to an adoption agency to ask about where we start. That was it. That was our first step. That led to the next, and led to the next, and now my sweet girl is part of the laughing crew downstairs right now.
How do you avoid failure in all of this? As you feel some of that fear, how do you avoid making the wrong decision? Here are three ways to help in that discernment process.
One, a huge one for us, was to try to take the emotion out of it. That’s not to say the emotion was bad in our decision making, it meant, give it a good place. Give the emotion a place.
We intentionally decided as we began these team wide conversations about making these transitions with Southern Weddings, I just knew, I was like, I know I need this, I imagine the rest of the team needs this. We need space to talk about it.
Every week, we would get together and we would say, “Okay, this is your time. How are you feeling about this?” We would intentionally practice listening to everyone, exploring, and not trying to give advice, not trying to fix each others’ feelings or pad them with encouraging thoughts for the future, but really just to give us space.
I encourage you to do the same, whether that is through conversation with someone else that you trust, through journaling… journaling is a great way to get your thoughts out in a safe space. But give your emotions a place to live. Because as we explored these decisions, I think our emotions got the best of us many times.
And again, emotions are not bad. But in order to make the right decisions, we needed to allow the emotions to have a place first, let those emotions work through us, and it helped us come to a better place of decision making.
Number two. Keep exploring. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking wisdom. Try not to stew. Now, this is a really easy way to get stuck. One of the biggest ways to avoid failure is to try not to stay stuck. Even if you feel like there’s no way to make a final call on your decision at this point or in this season of life, keep exploring it, whether again it’s going back through these prompts and journaling about it, or talking to a trusted friend.
As you wait on the Lord, as you wait for that answer, don’t rush it, but keep asking questions. Like, okay, what if we explored this? Or, what if we explored this path?
We did that a lot. There was so much waiting, and such a long period of not knowing what the final answer was, waiting on that proverbial bell to ring, for us to know where to go next. In that time, we tried to, in any way we could, keep exploring the options.
Number three. Once you’ve made a decision, go for it. Don’t spend your energy second guessing. Don’t get stuck there. Spend your energy on making the most of this new path.
You also, as we’ve talked about together today, you have to give that new path time to take root, because it may not have a bow on it. The moment you make that decision, life may not just snap your fingers, magically change after that. It certainly did not for us, and has been a process over these months.
I have to say, I am really grateful for that process. Wasn’t grateful for it while I was deep in it. You may be there right now thinking, “I made the decision. It’s still hard.” You know what? Hard things, man, good things come out of hard things. Over and over, God keeps teaching me that. It’s not the lesson we like to learn, but it sure is a fruitful lesson. Good things come out of hard things.
Once you’ve made that decision, go for it. Don’t spend your time second guessing, because it really truly is going to be a waste of time. Don’t look back. Keep your eyes on the prize, moving forward, and keep your eyes on what matters.
If you don’t make a decision, you might continue to feel stuck. You might miss out on the potential that’s waiting for you on the other side of a yes or of a no, or the potential that’s waiting for you in the wait. There was so much good for us in the wait.
But if you do move forward, and moving forward doesn’t mean making a final call, it means just exploring these things. If you do move forward, it might be hard, we’re not promised easy, but it’ll be worth it.
Well, this episode is unofficially sponsored by Kleenex. I got through this with only one box of tissues down. I first of all have to say, thank you. Thanks for walking this with me.
This was probably the hardest episode for me to record, because it’s hard. It’s still very bittersweet to look back on one of the most beautiful decades of my life, and it wasn’t without hardship. Of course, all good things have companions of hardship alongside them, but that’s really what makes those seasons so sweet many times.
But looking back on that beautiful decade, it’s still bittersweet to think about letting go of it. At the same time, I have to flip the script here and say, man, I’m so grateful I got to live that decade.
The same will likely be true for you. Perhaps it’s closing the door on a season for you. Perhaps it’s taking a leap of faith into something new, which means inherently that you’re going to have to say no to something else. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something better.
Now you know, you can have more than one dream in a lifetime. I thought that you could really only have one, and I thought, “Well, this is my thing. Southern Weddings is the thing that brought my talents and my gifts to surface. How could I have another chapter of my life?”
You can have more than one dream. It’s okay to let go of one dream to make room for something else, even, and sometimes especially, if you don’t know what that thing is yet.
It’s okay to not be able to do it all. You can’t do it all and do it well. But you can choose to cultivate what matters. Now you know that you can do hard things, my friend. If you are listening to this episode with me, I know that you can do hard things.
You, my friend, are a cultivator. You know that tilling up the soil, digging in, muscling into it is the way you prepare for new growth ahead. You can do hard things. Good things come from hard things.
You can write a new story. You can grow something that lasts longer than you. It might just start with a tiny seed.
The best part is, now you know you’re not making this decision alone. You have access to far greater resources and wisdom than you have on your own through God himself. Just ask him. It could be as simple as saying a prayer, “God, I don’t know which way to go. Please, show me the way.”
Now you know endings can be new beginnings.
Where do you start? Where do you start with all this? You start where all good things begin, of one small step. Just do this. Start here. Name the thing in your life that you know you need to do something about. What do you really want? Be specific. Give yourself permission to do some cultivated dreaming.
Now, I can’t end this episode without saying thank you. We call ourselves a small business. We are, we’re a small team. There are currently nine of us on our team. But we really are a large business. You know why? Because we cannot do anything that we do without you.
There have been countless, and when I say countless, thousands of people over the years that have poured their hearts and souls into this work right alongside us. Don’t look at us and think we are the only magic makers. You have made this magic happen too. This is not just my story. It’s your story as well.
It makes me want to sing, because I’ve had the time of my life. No, I’ve never felt this way before. Yes, I swear, it’s the truth, and I owe it all to you. Now I’m going to break into a dance party.
But seriously, so many memories. From packing magazines in my garage and boxes all over my living room and launch parties and photo shoots, farmers market stands, and hugs and hellos. The last decade has been a gift.
You can find all the show notes from this episode, so many fun things we chatted about, at CultivateYourLife.com. Highly encourage you to go to the Cultivate shop at CultivateWhatMatters.com, and grab yourself a set of sixth month undated PowerSheets. Here’s why.
If you want to uncover what matters to you and walk through this decision-making process with clarity and ease, the PowerSheets will guide you there using a three step process. You’re going to uncover what matters, you’re going to make an action plan, and then you’re going to live it out, little by little, like we do here.
Best of all, use code CultivateYourLife for 10% off your order. Go to the Cultivate shop right now, it’s CultivateWhatMatters.com, use code CultivateYourLife for 10% off your PowerSheets goal planner.
Next on the podcast, we have so many fun things to look forward to. I’m going to be having my long time coworker Emily Thomas on the show next week. We’re going to be chatting about 10 things we made happen, and some we didn’t, on purpose. We’re going to pull back the curtain even more on our business. I hope it helps you in your life to discern what to say yes to and what to say no to, and how to make those decisions. Look forward to that episode next.
You know, there’s one person that I have yet to thank in this Southern Weddings journey, and I have to tell you a little story. Do you know who the writer of all of the real wedding stories was in our first two issues? Do you know who that was?
No, it was not some famous copywriter. It was not me. It was not Emily Thomas. It was Ari. Fun fact, friends. He was our first writer. Because as you know, it was just me, Abby Kitty Pants, and yours truly, Ari Isaacson.
On that note, Ari still brings the magic around here. A little fun from my husband. I’ll see you next time.
Ari : Cultivate Your Life with my wife Lara Casey Isaacson, we’re not quite done, and this is the outro in case you didn’t know. Don’t forget to rate it and review, rate it and review, and you can do it. Tell your friends to listen and subscribe to be notified when a new episode drops. Now Cultivate Your Life with my wife, Lara Casey.
Was that okay, babe?