Her bakery struggling and she was at her wits' end when she spotted the little chapel...
- Posted on Feb 25, 2014
I reached into the sink, filled with hot, soapy water, and grabbed a mixing bowl. Started scrubbing it furiously. The encrusted dough wouldn’t come loose.
I’d meant to wash the bowl–or at least soak it–early that morning when I’d started baking the 30 loaves of bread I made here six days a week, at my bakery just off the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York.
But then I’d had to get going on the cookies. And scones. And muffins. Clean the display glass. Put down the chairs. Set everything out. Make the coffee for the customers lined up outside. And that was all before 7:00 a.m.
Clean as I go? I barely had time to take a breath. I’d been on my feet 14 hours straight, since five o’clock that morning. This was the career I’d dreamed of since I was a little girl, baking treats for my family in my Holly Hobbie oven. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea it would be like this.
I stared at the stacks of dishes that still needed to be washed. I hadn’t wanted to spend the money on a dishwasher. Or on hiring a full-time employee. I was 26, in my third year of owning the bakery. I had to be careful. I’d seen plenty of small businesses fail.
Truth was, though, I wanted to do everything on my own. I had a couple of part-time employees. But trying to show them the way I wanted things done...honestly, it was simpler to do it all myself.
Then there were days like this. No. Every day was like this. Lately I’d been too tired to even drive home at night. I just curled up on a giant burlap bag of coffee beans in the back.
One morning while baking, I passed out from exhaustion. I opened my eyes to find customers standing over me, shaking me awake, wanting muffins. I felt so hopeless and deflated.
I didn’t know what to do, who to turn to. My parents and brother, who had always been my rock, had their own business to run. I wasn’t a churchgoer or a praying person. I didn’t go out with friends. A boyfriend? Forget it.
This bakery was my whole life. I’d put all of myself into it. And the more I worked at it, the harder it was to find the happiness I’d known growing up.
I felt a swell of panic build deep within me. The bowl slipped from my hands into the soapy water. I had to get out of there. I stumbled out the door. Crossed the street and passed through the gate to the Vassar campus.
It was mid-May, the setting sun barely visible through the trees. Students rushed past. I shuffled along, no energy to lift my head or feet.
I thought of all those nights I’d stopped in front of the bakery on my way home from the Olive Garden, where I’d been hired as a manager after college. I’d dreamed that one day it could actually be mine. Then, when I saw it listed for sale, well, it was like it was meant to be.
For the first six months I worked at both the Olive Garden and the bakery, until I felt sure I could make a go of it.
“Honey, you need to hire someone,” Mom told me. “It’s too much for one person.” That’s when I’d hired the part-timers, but I knew that that wasn’t what Mom meant. Whatever. I couldn’t think about it now.
So tired. I lifted my head. Before me stood a beautiful stone chapel. A place to sit and do nothing. I opened the heavy wooden door. The church was hushed and still. The walls were lined with beautiful stained-glass windows.
I sat in a pew near the back, the emotion, the exhaustion, the pressure welling inside of me. I sank to my knees.
I can’t keep going on like this, I thought. I give up. It wasn’t a conscious prayer. I just couldn’t see any way out except utter surrender.
I looked toward the windows above the altar. The setting sun shone through them, a soft warm glow centered on the spot where I knelt. I could feel the energy from it, an almost physical presence holding me, filling me with strength. Was this the light of God? Was this what was missing from my life?
All these years I’d put my faith in a dream instead of a higher power. But this, this was a comfort I’d never known. The burden of trying to do everything myself was gone, taken from me.
I didn’t know what would happen to the bakery. To me. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was the incredible sense of peace that overwhelmed my panic.
I walked out into the crisp evening air. The next morning I put up an ad for a full-time employee. I hired a friendly, outgoing, take-charge woman two days later. She had years of experience and an eye for detail. Exactly the person I needed.
My days at the bakery were way better after that. Making cookies and pies, the room filled with that wonderful fresh-baked aroma and the sound of happy customers...it was a joy to be there. A real dream come true.
It was a couple of years later that I met Mark, a sweet, good-looking Italian guy, who managed his family’s art gallery just down the street. We clicked over focaccia and olive oil, and soon he was at the bakery every evening at closing time.
We’d take long walks through the Vassar campus. I was crazy about him, but I wondered: Was he the one? Did I dare believe that God brought this man to me? Could God really take such a personal interest in my life?
One evening, during one of our walks, Mark and I stopped in front of the chapel. The sun was just beginning to set, like on that night I’d gone in. “Oh, honey,” I said. “I love this church. It’s beautiful inside. Let me show you.”
I tugged on the handle, but the door didn’t budge. Strange. To the right of the door I noticed a weathered old sign bolted into the stone: “Doors Locked Nightly at 6 p.m.”
A shiver ran down my spine. I remembered that night, how still the church had been. But not empty. God hadn’t just responded to my cry of surrender. He was there way ahead of me, patiently waiting to let me in. He knew my heart better than I did. He was the help I needed 24 hours a day.
Today I’m often reminded of how much God has blessed me. I see it in the way Mark looks at me, in the joy I take in our three beautiful boys. And, of course, at church, where I know His door is always open.
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