Hymns in my Heart began by accident in 1995 while living in the northwoods of Alaska. I was on a limited budget and re-washing Ziplock bags multiple time to save pennies. Homemade Christmas presents seemed like a good idea. I decided to make a packet of 10 greeting cards for my parents, each featuring a hymn verse I had learned as a child. I bought a calligraphy pen, carefully hand-printed 10 cards and sent them off to my parent’s home in Minnesota. I knew they would appreciate the sentiment behind the gift. I didn’t know it would result in my needing a business identification number.
My parents loved the cards and encouraged me to keep designing. As a result of their enthusiasm, I felt inspired to do just that. I pored through every hymn in my hymnal. I was surprised to discover I knew at least one verse—and often, all the verses—of 103 hymns. The kitchen table I had made out of leftover wood from framing the cabin turned into my office and “Hymns in My Heart” was begun.
My calligraphy skills improved and a second set of hymn cards soon followed. I mailed a batch of 24 new cards to my parents. My dad sent the cards to the editor of a small Christian publication which put a full-page ad in the next edition.
Orders started coming in from all over the country. Over the next six years, I designed more new cards and a second product called Hymn Notes was added, smaller notecards made from heavier paper.
Many of my first customers sent letters with their orders. I remember one letter in particular. It began, “Dear Sirs.” That gave me a good chuckle. Apparently this gentleman had the idea that I was operating out of a storefront with a phone, a computer and a semblance of some business savvy. What he didn’t know was that I lived in a cabin with no phone, running water or electricity. My standard business attire was three layers on top and thermal pants on the bottom. I faithfully responded to those who wrote letters and informed this gentleman that the only way to contact me was through the mail. Letters continued to accompany his orders over the years with fond remembrances of his favorite hymns.
A decade later, a move to the Midwest, followed by the adoption of four sibling brothers found me scrambling to get orders out to patrons in a timely fashion.
I entertained the idea of closing up shop. My dad wasn’t keen on that idea and offered to run the business for me, which he’s been doing splendidly for the past 16 years. With Dad at the helm, I had no intention of taking the reins back.
That is, until Mom was struck with cancer.
We all have defining moments in life—moments that cause you to stop and reevaluate everything. A two-month stay with Mom on hospice became my ‘defining moment.’
Every morning, Dad led devotion, a 20-minute peaceful regimen of pure goodness. We’d first alternately read from Laache’s Book of Family Prayer, followed by the ‘Daily Morning Prayer’ found in the front of our hymnals. The devotion concluded with the singing of ‘the next hymn’ in our hymnals, the result of Dad’s methodical march through the current season of the church year.
Mom participated for as long as she could speak and when she lost that ability, she hummed. And when she lost that ability, I’m certain she heard us and the many visitors who sang hymns when they visited, up to the very end. It is the words of hymns that carried us through the surreal chapter of accompanying her straight up to the gates of heaven. It was the words of hymns that made it impossible to feel perpetually sad:
“ Thanks to Thee, O Christ victorious!
Thanks to Thee, O Lord of Life!
Death hath now no power o’er us,
Thou hast conquered in the strife.
Thanks because Thou didst arise
And hast opened Paradise!
None can fully sing the glory
Of the resurrection story.”
After Mom went home to Jesus, there was no doubt in my mind that I would take back the reins of the business. The words of these hymns are beautiful and deserve to be brought to light. In a real sense, they are messages from God, rhythmically packaged in short, understandable bursts and clothed with indelible melodies that linger in a heart for a lifetime.
I’ve lost my hand discipline and am no longer able to create cards with a calligraphy pen. However, I now have electricity, running water, phone service and a computer. Designing with these conditions makes me feel like I’m cheating.
I credit my parents for many things in my life. Next to raising me in a Christian home, I’m most grateful to have grown up in an environment rich with hymns.
Two things will remain when I am old and gray: a loyalty toward the Ziplock brand and an enduring love for the hymns in my heart.