The Decade in My Rearview
January 1, 2010 was a decade ago.
That was the first day of my life as an entrepreneur. At that moment in my life, Ben and I had been married for a little more than 1 year, we were madly in love, living in the 100 year-old loft we renovated ourselves on a shoestring budget, that was filled with shabby (loved) furniture handed down from our parents and refinished to suit us, and I was horrified and exhilarated as I left the safety of my day job in the cubicle to start my own luxury wedding stationery company and I called it Lucky Luxe. I had a few hundred friends on Facebook and Instagram did not exist. I decided on that day to be the heroine of a book I would be writing for the next 8 years, my daily journal, Make Something Good Today. The journal spurred me to count my blessings on the darkest days and my most fearful business moments and ultimately, kept my head above water when I realized I could look back and see my progress and the safety of what I was doing in those words I’d written down. I’ve never been very good at faith, always preferring proof, which the journal provided me—the latter teaching me the former by the grace of God.
When we were making the manuscript for Make Something Good Today, our memoir, it began with an outline that gave me a birds-eye view of our life’s events since that day, January 1, 2010. December 31, 2017 was the last journal I wrote in that chapter of my life as we withdrew from sharing so much of our private lives, 3 days before welcoming our daughter, Helen, into it. She was born on January 3, and I’ve kept private journals since then, fearful that I’ll forget that she once jumped in her bouncer 112 times in a row, or that she celebrated her 9-month birthday in New York City on our book tour, or that she first called water “wahbee.” She now asks for “Ice water, please Mommy,” which is like a miracle and also devastating that that baby word has been lost now. Our book holds all the mushy private details of how all this came to be, but here is the highlight reel:
2010 — The Year of Youthful Freedom
The early days of my self-employment and a very cold winter had me feeling expectant and nervous and excited. We took long walks around our struggling city that we loved so much. Living in the loft was a dream come true, with the windows thrown open all spring. With my own money, I bought and learned to drive my 1971 Beetle convertible, Lucky Bug. There were romantic rooftop suppers and surprises every day from Ben. I taught myself how to build a real website for Lucky Luxe. We road tripped through old Florida to Wakulla Springs + St. Augustine + Savannah. For our 2nd wedding anniversary he made me another book — from cotton.
2011 — The Boom Year
Spent a lot of time with Jim, Mallorie, Josh and Emily, living and working in our downtown lofts, thinking of how we could make it better. We took magical bike rides all over town. I started playing music again for the first time since college. Ben started to notice the first hairline crack in his life plans as student ministry started to feel like the wrong place for him. Gatsby became my most popular wedding invitation design, and we were shipping invitations to nearly every continent in the world. I did tons of pro-bono marketing and design work for downtown Laurel, got to speak at Ole Miss, and Red Deluxe in Memphis, where I once interned in college, hired me to design a series of concert posters for ZZ Top, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Huey Lewis. My mysterious illness became a worrisome character in my life. Ben built the dinner table for the house we were planning to buy—the beginning of his woodworking career. We bought the yellow 1925 craftsman cottage I’d loved since childhood and began our second renovation project together: our house. We got a great Pyrenees puppy and named him Chevy. Our niece Harper was born. Ben gave me my 3rd wedding anniversary book — made of leather.
2012 — The Year We Moved
We finished the kitchen renovation of our house, finally moved in, and hosted our family for Easter weekend. Home design was becoming a serious passion for me. Lucky Luxe was booming. We had a Valentine’s Staycation in Laurel. We got our dog Baker, another great Pyrenees rescue. Had my first hospital visit with the mystery illness. Laurel Main Street and our downtown were picking up steam with events happening every Thursday in the summer. Ben’s ministry doubts were growing since his baby brother, Jesse, graduated high school and he felt the loss of connection to being that age, to ministering to teenagers. We took a road trip through NC, NYC and Vermont for Ben’s 10-year high school reunion and his 29th birthday. Ben announced his campaign to run for Laurel city council. Flea Market Style did a photo shoot and featured our house. Ben gave me my 4th wedding anniversary book — made of floral fabric.
2013 — The Hardest Year
My brother Clark, and his wife, Amanda, decide to adopt and Jim and Mallorie were pregnant and I began to really hear my biological clock. I wasn’t ready for babies, but I wanted to be so badly. It was a major internal struggle for me that year especially. Ben made built-ins in our house and his confidence as a woodworker grew. I had the biggest sales day in Lucky Luxe history. We were working HARDER THAN EVER on the campaign, ministry, & my company. On a trip to Lake Junaluska, NC I had my worst sickness episode ever. Doctors kept guessing wrong and I felt hopeless about finding a cure. Ben’s first debate, and soon after, election day. We lost. It was devastating. He got 44% of the vote. I met my friend Lisa, who would become a mentor and role model for me. I gave myself a pep talk about my parenthood/childbirth fears. I learned I might never be able to have children because of my sickness. I was sick all the time. Ben lost so much confidence with that election. He felt unmoored and aimless. Martha Stewart Weddings commissioned a Lucky Luxe invitation design to feature. My mama, Adam Trest and I made the children’s book: I Live in Laurel. We made another NYC trip w/ a Martha Stewart Weddings meeting. We celebrated Thanksgiving with two babies added to our family for the first time ever. Ben gave me my 5th wedding anniversary book — made of wood.
2014 — The Year HGTV Found Us
Lucky Luxe had its first BAD month in January, which was typically our boom month. I was so worried and prayed intensely about my business and my illness, which seemed to be inflaming one another. I had an emergency exploratory surgery on Valentine’s week, and they sent me to an oncological surgeon in Jackson because my internal organs were covered and bound by scar tissue. They found the cause of my illness—a partially ruptured appendix, removed it and the scar tissue and I was finally healed. The Martha Stewart feature about my invitations was published, but still, we saw no change in business. My nephew’s adoption was finalized on April 10, and it felt like while my business was showing signs of floundering, we were feeling hopeful about things. Ben was setting up his first woodshop with Josh in the basement of a building downtown. I realized if we couldn’t have children because of my sickness, I would be happy to have just Ben. That we would be enough. In June, Southern Weddings published an article about our home renovation and being newlyweds. Ben finally broke down about feeling ready to leave ministry. We had the epiphany that he would just take over the financial and administrative work of my company so I could focus on being creative and he could do woodworking part-time. We were thrilled. On July 27, 2014, Ben wrote his letter of resignation, sealed the envelope, and we got an email from Lindsey Weidhorn at HGTV who asked if we’d ever thought of doing TV just hours later. Because she found the Southern Weddings article. It felt like an affirmation. Ben resigned from ministry officially, we made a sizzle reel for HGTV, took a trip to meet Lindsey in NYC with Jim and Mallorie and on the way home… Lindsey called to tell us we were getting an HGTV pilot. Ben gave me my 6th wedding anniversary book — made of iron.
2015—The Year I Turned 30
We started the year in deep prayer with our friends and partners in revitalizing our city. My grandmother moved to assisted living and I mourned her leaving her house. We went to Waco with Jim and Mal to meet the Gaines who dispensed the wisdom they’d picked up after making 2 seasons of Fixer Upper. The possibility of us getting a series seemed so remote, we did not have our hopes up. As my wedding stationery business declined, we began to think of new ways to make money during the slow months and Ben made small wooden goods and furniture, I sourced vintage pieces and we made an online shop called ErinAndBen.co. This was the seedling that would become Laurel Mercantile Co. We filmed the pilot for Home Town in the summer of 2015, over 6 weeks, and our friends Ross and Laura Tew were the homeowners. Filming wrapped in July and then we waited through months of radio silence, assuming the pilot may not even air, as is often the case with pilots. I was turning 30 in August, and that number loomed so large and heavy on me—I just knew my chance to have a baby was passing me by as every day I still didn’t feel brave enough. Ben surprises me on August 1 with a book about the 30 things we would do for the next 30 days leading up to my birthday on the 30th, to remind me that age wouldn’t change who I was or what I loved and it was the best month of my life with a surprise trip to New York for my actual birthday, where we spent it beside the sea with Lindsey Weidhorn and her amazing friends. By December, I had mostly given up hope on the show… When Lindsey called to tell us “They’re going to air your pilot in January! Get ready!” Ben gave me my 7th wedding anniversary book — made of wool and copper.
2016 — The Year Home Town Became Real
The pilot for Home Town aired on January 24 to 2.2 million viewers and was the highest rated pilot in HGTV history. We were greenlit for season 1! Shortly after it aired, we were lucky enough to score an endorsement with Bank of America who sent us to California for two weeks to film commercials where we were treated like movie stars living in a Santa Monica hotel by the ocean. It was the greatest trip of our life so far, and we felt so undeserving. Still do. While we were in California, Lucky Luxe was struggling to operate with my team running things without me at the wheel. It felt like a sign from God, and it was a bittersweet feeling of sadness and relief the day we closed the shop and I shipped the last order on August 5. We also knew that running ErinAndBen.co while filming a show full-time would be nearly impossible, and brought on our 4 best friends as business partners in our new store: a revival of the Laurel Mercantile Co. which operated in Laurel from 1901 to 1930. We found a building and began its renovation that summer to open in time for the holidays. Season 1 felt like camp and our film crew became close right away as we made 10 episodes, restoring 10 old houses in our beloved Laurel. We called it Camp Home Town and were sad when the season wrapped filming that November and the circus disbanded and all was quiet again. We opened up our store on Pancake Day, December 3, the biggest Christmas celebration day in Laurel. We celebrated with Martinelli’s sparkling cider after we counted our first day’s earnings from the cash registers and felt like we were living in a dream. Ben gave me my 8th wedding anniversary book — made of linen and bronze.
2017—The Year I Was Pregnant & We Wrote A Book
Season 1 premiered in March and we spent that spring in a media storm promoting the show, which was the 2nd highest rated series launch in HGTV history. One week in May was especially crazy. Within 7 days: we did a pop-up shop for LMCo. at a statewide market, the next day, Ben and the boys went to Talladega to cheer on his new friend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., as he won his first NASCAR race, we were on a plane the next morning for NYC where we were on the TODAY show and met with Simon & Schuster to sign a book deal, came home from NYC in time for Mother’s Day, unusually exhausted when I took a test that Sunday morning and found out… We were having a baby. Season 2 was greenlit and kicked into ULTRA high gear in which we would renovate 10 houses in 4 months instead of 6 because we had to finish before the baby arrived. I cried every day from my crazy hormones and schedule and Ben took care of me and doted on me like I was his treasure, nonetheless. We began a renovation on our master bathroom that ultimately took 6 months because it felt like this would be better timing than with a newborn or toddler. I was so relieved to know the baby I had prayed for and waited for all those years was on the way. As we slaved away on season 2, we were also writing our memoir, together: Make Something Good Today, to be released October 2018. We've never been so exhausted as we were in 2017. Not even the campaign of 2013 could compare to the work we put into that year. Ben gave me my 9th wedding anniversary book — made of willow wood.
2018 — Helen’s First Year
My water broke on January 3 at 6 am and we rushed to the hospital. Helen was born, not quite 6 lbs., at 10:25 am, via c-section. There are not words to explain the way it feels to become a parent, and so many have been devoted to that subject. It is earth-shattering and normal and precious. It was so cold and the worst flu-epidemic in years had closed most hospitals to visitors so we lived quarantined in our house those first freezing 6 weeks. We were so alone, burrowed like animals together in our house that felt like a glowing lantern in an unusually snowy, icy month. On the way to an early well-check visit for Helen, I heard this Jimmy Eat World song on the radio and sobbed through the roller coaster of my post-partum hormones that were still melancholy at best:
It just takes some time
Little girl you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything everything will be just fine
Everything everything will be alright
As she began to sleep through the night at 6 weeks, I began to feel like myself again. Turns out I just needed sleep to feel normal! In March, we lost our dear friend Brandon Davis who was part of our film crew, but mostly—part of our downtown Laurel family. That month we also traveled to Virginia to execute a licensing agreement with Vaughan-Bassett who would mass-produce Ben's designs and sell it in stores across the country. By May, she could roll over by herself and we began filming season 3 and I had to learn how to become a working mother after a 5-month leave. We felt so deeply lucky to have those 5 months at home with her and even more lucky that my childhood babysitter, Misty, came into our lives again as Helen’s nanny when we returned to work. I struggled with how quickly the milestones in Helen’s life came, that replaced the milestones that mattered in my own life. Now, her life was ours. And every night we’d lay her down for bed and she woke up someone new—older, different. Her shoes were shrinking and it felt so hard to leave that baby behind a little each day. Still does. Helen was baptized by Ben's parents in the dress my mother made from her wedding dress on Father’s Day weekend, the same weekend we met Chris Stapleton’s family at his concert in Brandon, Mississippi, that became the start of a very special bond between our two families. In October, we went on the book tour with Helen, my mama, and Misty from NYC to Austin, TX to New Orleans. By December, she was 11 months old and took her first steps on December 16 while Ben and I were in NYC again for Good Morning America and she was on my parents’ living room rug. December was testy for Helen, she was ornery—wanting independence but not yet strong enough to walk on her own. She fussed during the day and didn’t sleep well at night. Ben gave me my 10th wedding anniversary book — made of tin.
2019 — The End / Beginning.
Helen turned 1 and got a stomach virus for her birthday that was so heartbreaking. It was her first time to ever be sick and we were green, not knowing how to make her comfortable but trying our best. January was awful. We lost our dear friend and Laurel Police Chief, Tyrone Stewart. We lost our dog, Chevy. Our roof leaked until our kitchen ceiling caved in and we did the massive renovation we’d been talking about for a couple years since the first kitchen refresh was an $8k band-aid for bigger issues that needed fixing. Helen had tantrums through that winter that gave way to a sweetness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Soon, she was picking up her toy guitar and playing the piano in my office all day. She loved Elvis and Nacho Libre, carrots and raisins, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Natalie Hemby, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, The Rockettes, her books (Goodnight Moon, The Little House, Eloise, The House in the Night, and Jesus Calling most of all), bluegrass and swimming. She started to speak and I couldn’t get enough of her tiny voice and her many words. We made plans to launch a new company wholesaling wooden products as we filmed season 4 of Home Town, this time with 16 episodes, but soon learned that HGTV was sending us to another struggling small town to help them revitalize it for a 6 episode mini-series. With that on the horizon, we stepped away from the plan to start another company knowing we couldn’t be as involved as it would require. We learned to set limits, we learned to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to great things. A tornado hit our neighborhood the week before Christmas but the efforts to rebuild were underway by daylight. The end of the decade is the beginning of our lives as Mama and Daddy and it feels so good to be where we are as a family, as a couple, and in our work. Ben is currently working on the 11th anniversary book, and they're all still my most prized possessions.
This decade taught me that the missteps of one day do not amount to a misstep in the long run. I saw the good in it all, and that it takes time to build the life you want. There is a Jason Isbell song that goes, “Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?”
That was my decade. Making that very important distinction between choosing the life I wanted vs. letting it choose me.
It was unexpected and scary and wonderful. It was the difference between being newlyweds and newly parents. The difference between nervously writing ‘self-employed’ at age 24 for the first time on a doctor’s office form and self-respect when I learned at age 34 to ask for what I need.
This decade taught me to expect that God has a way of making sure the world will always right itself instead of fall apart.