Do You Not See It?

Do you not see it? It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. This is where we found ourselves back in 2000 with minuscule faith and only the tiny whispers of God to guide us. Up to that point we’d spent most of our lives tuned out. But you’d never know it; we were successful, working and traveling in the fashion industry, quickly climbing the corporate ladder and acquiring the top five on the “Am I successful?” list: a house, new cars, a golden retriever, 1.7 kids (fortunately we managed to have 2.0 – a girl and boy), and a retirement plan. Layer on our mutual passion for all things fashion and wine and we had the perfect recipe for glamorous happiness.

Like Pavlov’s classical conditioning these surrogate markers of success kept us salivating for completeness, that feeling or state of lacking nothing. That feeling, also known as peace or contentment was, and sometimes still is, a real addiction. And when it fades a massive pursuit for those markers resumes. For us, we only need look back at our roots, to our upbringing, and realize the trailhead formed there. That place where our well-intentioned parents set up camp and determined we have endless opportunity to be educated and more successful than they were simply because that’s the course they rode out from their own Ziploc-saving, Great Generation parents.

In my case, I was actually one of the first in my family to graduate college and was fixed on micro-managing myself, making every opportunity count (“waste not, want not”), and keeping my nose to the grindstone. I was already willingly deep in the trees; whatever earlier impartation of faith I received was rejected. The discipline of focusing on the details, instead of the big picture, became the norm, the pattern, and that’s where my success spun – in the thicket.

Today, staying out of the thicket is tricky. It’s so easy to get sucked back in. The trees today don’t look like the trees of yesteryear. The trees back then were more identifiable – mostly hindering mindsets and habits, all one needed was a good read of The One Minute Manager or the The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People and the forest came into binocular focus. But todays trees have morphed into physical Pavlov triggers that result in unfulfilled ambitions and dreams stunted by smart phones, social media, television, tablets and computers, and news that make us salivate for the promise of constant communication, secure relationships, relief from pain or the fear of missing out, immediate gratification and other welcomed distractions from the daily pressure and stress of trying to keep up with it all. These triggers push us deeper into the trees, into the thicket, until ambitions and dreams plunge underground, buried, forgotten.

Back in 1989, before we had kids, we moved into one of two newly built homes, just eight feet away from one another, in Huntington Beach. When prospective buyers came to look at the other home we happened to be out on our balcony when they ventured outside to see the view and we struck up a conversation. Jim and Janice were just a few years older than us, both professionals, educated (in fact she eventually earned her PhD just a few years later), owned nice cars, had retirement plans and 2.0 kids – a boy and a girl. And, lo and behold, a golden retriever! To make a short story shorter, they bought the house. We had much in common with them, especially enjoying wine and great food, and our friendship continues to this day. But still there were some things that we didn’t have in common. Although they were super busy like us, and successful, they seemed to always make time for opening their home to others; whether it be inviting neighbors, family or friends to dinner, or leading youth group meetings in their living room, or inviting visiting, traveling missionaries or pastors to stay at their home – they were the epitome of hospitality. Jim frequently traveled overseas on mission trips and volunteered his time in the community while Janis invested her time with the local youth. Today, as COO for the Orange County Regional Center, she exemplifies her commitment to helping others by serving people with developmental disabilities for their entire lives by securing funding and supports. For the next nine years, the two frequently invited us to their church, especially on Christmas or Easter, but we politely declined the invitations preferring more “relaxing” pursuits like reading the LA Times cover to cover, watching football, doing brunch on the patio, and running with the dog on the beach.

After our second child was born I reluctantly quit my career and, in 1996, became a stressed out, stay-at-home mom. Frank was promoted to Vice-President, got a big raise, and was traveling coast to coast for weeks at a time. Without a career to validate me, and having yet another child with colic, I felt chased out of my comfort zone. I no longer saw the trees let alone the forest – everything that made me feel secure and successful was a blur. I was always the picture of health, strong and resistant to all the illnesses going around, but I began to lose sleep, get weak, and pick up every single cold or flu that was going around, to the point that I finally got Pneumonia – twice. During this time our neighbor Jim started working from home and offered to take one of the kids off of my hands for several afternoons. I’d eagerly hand over the youngest. This arrangement bought me time to deal with the unsettled turmoil in me, allowing me space to inventory my life, think, reflect and discover that I was being called out of the thicket into something much greater.

I wasn’t sure if my way out began in childhood when a neighbor lady invited me to sit on her porch swing while she read me the bible or if it was it in middle school when my parents got up each Sunday to five reluctant teenagers and invited us to church but we were either still asleep, or made up lame excuses to not go, and they’d say, “We’ll pray for you”, and off they’d go? Or if it was the young, beautiful, co-worker, Rebecca, who, after we’d leave important business meetings that ended in sheer disappointment, would play inspiring messages on my car stereo? Or, maybe it was the young mom who saw me with my son in a park, as he was having a grocery-store-style meltdown, and she invited me to her new moms support group? Or, was it finally, after nine years of Jim and Janis inviting us to their church and us finally saying “yes”, that we found an awesome teacher of God’s word, a pastor named Gary, who guided us in seeing God’s plan for our life – a plan that had already begun? A plan that, just 24 months later, pulled us out of the palm trees and into the Ponderosa pine forest.

In 2017 we celebrate all of the people: friends, family, our wine club members and visitors, who’ve been on this twenty-year journey with us – a journey that continues, by the grace of God, as we walk by faith and not by sight – for that is the forest that revealed what God had already begun for our impossible dream called Narrow Gate Vineyards. We are so grateful that we finally saw it.

“For I am about to do something new.
See I have already begun.
Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

We look forward to seeing you at the winery or at one of our food and wine pairing events throughout the year.

Cheers! And blessings in the New Year with eyes wide open,
Frank & Teena Hildebrand



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