Ten Years Ago

April 1, 2019

Ten years ago today, we bought a gelato and coffee shop. 

The original owners offered us a crazy-good deal, but in some ways, the step felt just plain crazy. Still, we sensed it was an opportunity God was offering us.

A year and a half earlier, we had moved into our neighborhood with a dream of teaming up with others to facilitate Jesus-centered community here in a place where more and more people were moving into recently renovated loft buildings, right on top of each other.

The gelato and coffee shop seemed to fit in with that dream. What an opportunity it would be to have a third space to offer the neighborhood. The shop was already a cozy, inviting place with exposed brick and comfy chairs near the windows. What if we could take that existing hospitality and build on it?

So we did it. On April Fool’s Day, 2009, we assumed ownership and renamed the shop Gelateria Tavolini: ice cream shop with little tables. The name was inspired by a conversation with a friend about the café tables where he and his Italian friends would gather to talk about the stuff of life, big and small.

It was an adventure.

We got into that business to meet people, to relationally invest in our neighborhood. We met and still have dear friends from our time at the gelateria. We had customers-turned-friends who would stop by to say hello, even if they didn’t need coffee or gelato right then.

The best part was also what made it the hardest. We weren’t in it to build an entrepreneurial empire. We wanted to gather people around those little tables, make space to hear about their lives and get to know one another. It was relationally beautiful and financially stressful. We were selling small-ticket treats as our customer base was still reeling from the recession.

We tried to boost sales without sacrificing our reason for being there. We also became experts at paring down our personal budget. The combination of those things worked well enough to keep us afloat, but we couldn’t ever seem to make it beyond hanging on by our fingernails. We loved the people; we felt stuck in the circumstances.

Then the day came. There were changes in the property management (we owned the LLC but rented the building). We received new lease papers and discovered that rent was set to double over the next two years. We were expecting our first child. We knew we couldn’t make the adjustment to parenthood while also figuring out how to substantially increase sales.

Remarkably, a friend of a friend was interested in buying the business and both continuing it and making it her own, much like we had five years earlier. We worked for months to answer her questions, document systems, and sort out how to make the transition as smooth as possible. A mentor advised us not to make a big announcement until we knew for sure if the business would be sold or simply closed. The buyer continued to defer her decision.

Finally, less than a month before my due date, we reached the end of the quarter, and we knew we had to close. We had lots to do before the baby would arrive, and I wanted a clean cut-off date for the business paperwork.

Gelateria Tavolini’s last day deserves its own post. For now, I’ll simply say it was one of the most beautiful and bittersweet days of my life. All these years later, my heart still swells and aches a little when I think of it. If you were there, thank you all over again.

We’ve stayed in the neighborhood for nearly another five years. We have two sons who are answers to years of prayer. We have friendships we continue to treasure. But after several other false starts and disappointments, our main dream, our driving reason behind moving here, seems no closer to coming true than it was nearly a dozen years ago.

I’m still not sure what to do with that. I wrestled for years, wondering if we’d misheard God. That’s probably (at least) another post in itself. I don’t know that I have firm answers, but I’m finally starting to believe that God won’t let me miss my own future (and many thanks to Emily P. Freeman for so perfectly stating it, both on Instagram and in her lovely new book).

And while I’m confident he won’t let us miss it, we’re also wondering what may be next for our family. What steps do we need to take? What’s our next right thing?

We don’t know yet, but we’re starting to consider possibilities. At this point, everything is solidly hypothetical ☺ but we’ve sensed it’s time to lay down this dream. The release hasn’t happened in the way we hoped for. We dreamed of leaving something sustainable behind.

Yet here’s a beautiful thing—a “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” kind of thing--about the glory of God: it shows up in the most unexpected places. He shows up in the most unexpected of places. He uses the craziest things to demonstrate and display his goodness. What if “Jonathan and Amanda, the failures” isn’t an embarrassment to God, but an opportunity for him to show what he can do?

I’m starting to believe it . . . but I also have to admit I’m still gun-shy.

Like I said, we’ve seen prayers answered and beautiful things happen, but we’ve also had our hope deferred a lot.

As we’re thinking and praying through what may be next, a bubble of hope is beginning to rise.

But fear is right there beside it. Fear that this will only be another disappointment.

God won’t let me miss my own future.

Won’t he, though?

This is not at all how I expected my life to go. We were supposed to be “real” missionaries. The original plan was to move overseas seven to ten years ago. What about the promises God spoke to me one summer evening, insisting that the words in Isaiah 61 were going to apply to how he was going to use me? Rather than a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor, we seem a lot more like people frittering away their potential.

Why have we invested nearly a dozen years in a neighborhood that seems no better for our presence?

Of course, even as I type those words, I know they’re not entirely true. We haven’t seen the results we wanted, but I do think we’ve made a difference. Maybe it’s been a gift that we haven’t succeeded at building anything that could be mistaken for our own kingdom. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I think we have had an impact, placing spiritual bricks here and there in Jesus’s Kingdom rather than our own. 

Even so, we long for unmistakable “fruit that remains” to be born from our lives.

 On Sunday, right after communion, we sang a song that was new to me. It began:

The Lord is my light and salvation

Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid

I will wait on you, I will wait on you

I will trust in you, I will trust in you.

Then the following words flashed onto the screen, and I instinctively clamped my mouth shut to hold back a sob.

I will remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord.

My mind filled in the rest of the verse from which this line is taken: “—in the land of the living.”

After years of hope deferred, it felt—it feels—like too much to hope for. Yet during the teaching earlier that morning, I had prayed, “Lord, please, I want to experience more of your goodness. I want your gospel to truly be good news to me. I want to return to the place of walking in not just the down-deep knowledge but also a daily experience that you are good.”

I knew, as we sang, he was inviting me to place my hope in him yet again, to trust that his plans are good—that he is good.

So today, as I think back on the hard but beautiful chapter that started 10 years ago, I also look forward to what lies ahead.

We set our hope on you.

We set our hope on your love.

We set our hope on the one who is the everlasting God.

You are the everlasting God; You are the everlasting.