One day I retired after 30 years of teaching, and the next day I stepped into the office of my husband’s business, Athletic Decals, during a turbulent and frightening time in our lives. Faced with an expensive and unfounded lawsuit, I feared for our financial future every time I wrote a check from our personal checking account to cover the legal bills.
How did we get there? My husband Bill and his friend Chris decided to start Athletic Decals after ten years of being either unemployed or underpaid. Prayerfully, they had quit their jobs at a company that sold decals to sports teams — decals they contracted out for printing to another company. Bill and Chris felt they had the expertise to do the printing themselves and started our company in Houston in 1999.
The first year was successful. But in the second year, their previous employer filed a frivolous lawsuit against them for unfounded reasons such as stealing the customer list, artwork, and color formulations. Chris had already earned the nickname “Dr. Decal” in the industry because of his reputation for creating high quality decals, so word of mouth prevented any need to steal a customer database. The accusation of stealing color mixes was also unjustified: Bill and Chris had avoided even the appearance of wrongdoing by using a completely different ink system, making the ink formulations from their former company useless to them. The other facets of the lawsuit were equally baseless.
For two years, we were consumed by this lawsuit. As Chris didn’t have the financial resources to help defend the company, Bill paid all the legal invoices.
I experienced firsthand every arrow of injustice as the situation grew darker. Our largest customer faced buyout, temporarily ending payments to us, and our sales reps countrywide were lagging in sales, partly due to our decision not to produce decals featuring professional sports teams without a license, a common illegal practice for decal companies at the time.
Where was the justice of God? Prayerfully, we had taken a step of faith by starting a business. We had tried to do what was right every step along the way. I found myself doubting: Did God really have our situation under control? Did he hear our prayers? Did He really love us? Through this trial, I read my Bible using a daily reading schedule. On the days when I felt the greatest despair, God often surprised me with a passage that had remarkable parallels to my current crisis. I read about his sovereign control over all situations in stories of the history of Israel, his compassionate listening ear in Psalms, and his love through Christ in the books of the New Testament.
Still, our situation felt perilous. We tightened our belts again when Bill and Chris stopped paying themselves salaries in order to pay their employees. I vividly remember the day Bill admitted if the situation didn’t change in three weeks, he would have to close the company. I faced many fears: my husband’s unemployment in his 50s, the loss of our savings, personal debt from a failed company, and my inevitable return to a consuming career I thought I had left behind.
One day I read the story in Exodus in which the Israelites were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. They stared annihilation in the face, unable to move forward or retreat. That’s exactly how I felt. Yet God showed me in this story that he had everything under control, no matter how it may have appeared to the Israelites and no matter how it may appear to me.
Just as God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, God graciously brought deliverance to us. After spending a significant sum on legal expenses, the lawsuit was finally settled. Our biggest customer started to pay their very late invoices. And Bill and Chris hired a new group of sales reps who began sweeping in sales. Today Athletic Decals is 22 years old and employs Bill, Chris and 16 employees.
Sometimes in this broken world God does allow battles to be lost against injustice and for bank accounts to run dry. Our bleak business story had a good ending. But the greatest good is God Himself. During those lean years wondering how we would pay the bills, I clung to the steadfast love and power of God. The God who said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” also said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:5,8).