The cofounder of Home Instead Senior Care tells how prayer and faith led her and her husband to start their company.
Oct 27, 2015
All my life I felt guided, secure in the knowledge that God had a plan for me. Then came a time in my early thirties when I wondered if I’d made a mistake, if maybe I’d completely misread what God wanted my husband, Paul, and me to do.
That day Paul came into the kitchen, his face so ghostly white I thought he was about to pass out. “Our bank account is down to almost nothing,” he said. “And there’s not much money coming in. If we don’t get more clients soon we’re going to have to close the business or move in with my mother.”
“We can’t give up. Something will come through,” I said. But I could feel a knot in my chest. Paul never questioned himself. His confidence was one of the things I’d admired most about him ever since we began dating, in college.
What if people just weren’t interested in this new venture of ours? ">We had started a service that provided families with trained caregivers who came to their homes.
“I’ve got to make some calls,” Paul said. He turned and left me with my worries. It wasn’t just Paul and me. At that time we had three kids to think about. Everything was riding on this.
We’d launched Home Instead Senior Care, our fledgling business, six months earlier, in June 1994. The idea was to provide elderly people with caregivers who could cook meals, do housecleaning, ensure that medications were being taken and provide transportation to doctors’ appointments. To give them the assistance they needed to continue living independently.
We hoped that one day we’d be able to sell franchises across the country—like the Merry Maids house-cleaning company, where Paul had spent 10 years.
We both knew what it took to run a business. After college I had opened my own modeling agency and built a successful sales career with Mary Kay cosmetics, but I’d closed the business and left Mary Kay so we could launch Home Instead.
I have always believed I could achieve whatever I put my mind to. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
I could see that in my own life, how one success led to another. I had worked hard and dealt with setbacks. But not like this. I’d never faced such an unrelenting struggle. We had printed brochures. Gone out to almost every civic club in Omaha. Church groups. Discharge departments at area hospitals. Nothing. Not even a nibble.
“Why would I hire someone to take my mom to the doctor?” people would say. “That’s what I do.” Or they’d ask, “Is this something you have a lot of experience in?”
The answer to that was no. But I actually did know something about what it took to be a caregiver. Growing up, I’d watched my mother care for my brother Jay. He was a year younger than me and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had severe cognitive difficulties and when frustrated could be aggressive.
My father worked nights as an editor with the Omaha World-Herald, so my mother was the one who had to make sure Jay took his medication, persuade him to shower, get him to bed. I could see the toll it took on her, the occasional bruises on her arms, the worry in her eyes.
But there was no thought of Jay living anywhere else but at home with us. “God chose Jay to be in our family,” she’d say. “We all help each other. That’s what families do.”
Sometimes when I was young and Mom was busy making dinner, she would ask me to watch Jay. We’d play school and I’d “teach” him simple math problems or read stories to him. Or we would play tennis or shoot baskets in the driveway. I cherished every moment we spent together.
But as Jay grew older, bigger and stronger, the challenges of caring for him got to be too much for us to handle. Because of more frequent bouts of aggressive behavior, my parents had to place him in an institution. We knew it was the right decision, but I’ll never forget the look of defeat and sorrow on my mother’s face the day he left home.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t be more of a help to her. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before Jay was able to move to a group home, where he lived more independently, and even got a job. We all shared in the pride he felt.
Still, I never thought of myself as a caregiver. I went to college, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to study psychology. In addition to the goal of earning my degree, I had another, more personal goal: to win the Miss Nebraska USA title.
I was shy and insecure. Nothing like the women I saw on TV in pageants. They were beautiful and poised and radiated confidence. I wanted to be just like them. I enrolled in a modeling school and learned about posture and public speaking, fashion, makeup and hair care.
Most of all I learned that I had to trust in my Godgiven abilities. After that everything seemed to fall into place.
My sophomore year I was crowned Miss Nebraska USA! At the Miss USA pageant, a few months later, I dressed as a meadowlark, the Nebraska state bird, for the opening Parade of States number. It wasn’t the most flattering costume, which may have had something to do with my not placing among the top 12. Still, what an amazing experience!
T wo years later I met Paul, on a blind date. He was incredibly handsome, but it was his ambition, the goals he’d set for himself, that really drew me in. He dreamed of running his own business someday—with all the risks and rewards that came with it.
Paul came from a big family whose love and support reminded me of my own family. I instantly felt accepted. After three years of courtship, we got married in 1986.
A few years later, Paul’s maternal grandmother, Grandma Manhart, began having health problems. She was 89 and wasn’t eating, barely had the strength to walk across a room.
Paul’s mother, Catherine, moved Grandma Manhart into her house. Everyone—Grandma’s 12 children, 50 grandchildren and 51 great-grandchildren—pitched in to care for her. We cooked healthy meals and sat with her, reading and knitting, sharing family stories. Every day one of us drove her to Mass and helped her into church, where she said her Rosary.
Slowly Grandma Manhart regained her strength until she was going for walks around the neighborhood. The love of her family—dozens of dedicated caregivers— made all the difference.
Around the same time, Paul was ready to start a new business, as he’d always dreamed. Merry Maids’ corporate headquarters was moving to Memphis, Tennessee. We wanted to stay close to our families in Omaha. Why not set our own course?
Paul had researched franchise opportunities but nothing seemed right. Every one of them required a major upfront investment, and we didn’t have that kind of money. Paul was usually so pragmatic, but now it seemed as though he was grasping at straws.
“I don’t want to hear another one of your ideas until you’ve prayed about it first,” I finally told him.
A few weeks later, Paul took me out to dinner. I knew from his expression that something was up. “Now hear me out,” he said. “What about starting a business that makes it easy for people to hire professional caregivers? They’d help with the same kinds of things we’re doing with Grandma Manhart. There’s a real need for a service like that, don’t you think?”
A flood of emotions rushed through me—excitement, joy, doubt and apprehension all at once.
“I’ve prayed about this one,” Paul said. “And it just feels right to me.”
There in the restaurant I felt the same sense of assurance that Paul felt. This was the perfect idea for our new business!
When we told our families, they were supportive, but cautious. “Why don’t you work out of my living room?” Catherine said. “That way if it doesn’t pan out you won’t have spent a lot of money leasing an office.”
It was true that we didn’t have any experience with this kind of business. We imagined it would be like Merry Maids—only with caregivers. How hard could it be?
Now, with Paul’s report on the sorry state of our finances echoing in my mind, I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. Would we have to sell our house? Should I start looking for a job? How could something that felt so right turn out to be such a struggle?
A few mornings later, driving over to our office at Catherine’s, I cried out to God, “Is this truly what you mean for us to be doing, Lord?”
I heard a voice, quiet and calm, but with a kind of steely determination. Lori, he has been chosen for this. Get out of his way.
That moment was a turning point and gave me confidence that this was our God-given mission—to serve seniors. There was no assurance that things would go more smoothly. No indication how long we’d have to struggle to find our footing. But the message was crystal clear. This was the path that had been laid out for us. There was no turning back.
I thought of others who had answered God’s call. Abraham. Moses. Jesus’ disciples. Not that I was anything like them, but they’d all struggled mightily, hadn’t they? Following their purpose wasn’t easy. Their path was filled with tremendous obstacles. Yet good—blessing upon blessing—had ultimately come from it.
That was what the Lord promised in my favorite verse from Romans.
This is what it means to truly love God, I thought. To trust in him above all else.
We redoubled our efforts, went door-to-door around our neighborhood. Spoke with people at church. Still there was little interest. Our finances got even tighter. We lived on macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and tuna casserole. Whenever I felt down I sat with Grandma Manhart and listened to her stories about living through the Depression. Stories of persevering.
Finally, months after we’d started Home Instead Senior Care, we saw our client base begin to grow. An elderly woman who lived down the street. A retired U.S. senator who just needed someone to cook meals for him. We hired my mother for that job. She had a love of seniors, and being a caregiver was second nature to her.
At times we had more clients than caregivers. A man called wanting someone to sit with his mother while he was out of town on business. We didn’t have the staff to cover all the shifts, so I pitched in.
It was late evening when I arrived. I was nervous, having never worked as a caregiver. It didn’t help that the woman was Latvian and didn’t speak English. I sat beside her in her tiny living room. We smiled and nodded at each other.
When it was time for her to go to sleep I helped her to the bathroom and then to bed. I pulled the covers up and squeezed her hand. She squeezed back. No words were needed for me to know how much she appreciated my being there.
Relief and gratitude swept over me, like you feel after a long journey. I knew that this was where I was meant to be, that I’d been led here. I’d come to lend a hand, but I was the one who had been blessed.
Today, Home Instead Senior Care has more than 65,000 professional caregivers in all 50 states and in 14 countries. Their dedication and hard work make it possible for clients to continue to live independently and for their family members to get some much-needed relief from the efforts of caregiving.
I see the difference our caregivers make in people’s lives, the hope that they provide. By any measure our business has been a success, one neither Paul nor I take much credit for. We couldn’t have done any of this without the One who called us to care.
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