Chip and Joanna Gaines have made a name for themselves as renovators and 'house flippers' through the HGTV show Fixer Upper, but reading their book The Magnolia Story one glimpses a little bit of what underpins their remarkable creativity and surprisingly resilient relationship.
Joanna was a conservative introvert, who was financially cautious and liked that which was stable, safe, punctual and traditional.
When she was 23 her life plans were turned upside down by a 'chance' meeting with Chip Gaines, a talkative, unpredictable, people-loving, hard-working dreamer who had very little regard for closed doors, expectations, or budgets.
Their relationship got off to an inauspicious start when Chip was 90 minutes late for their first date. He also didn't apologize, had no idea where they should go and was beet-faced from working in the sun all day and bald from shaving his hair off for a good cause!
But in the middle of that date, when Joanna was tuning out of Chip's verbal onslaught and thinking he must be crazy, she heard a voice in her head that said, "That's the man you are going to marry."
"Honestly, if it wasn't for that voice, I'm not sure I would have stuck it out through all the ups and downs of dating a guy like Chip," she admits. She knew it was the still, small voice of God.
Joanna had grown up going to church every Sunday and learning all about God but didn't really enter into a relationship with Him until she left home.
"From the age of five to about twenty, religion to me was a matter of 'you do this, and you don't do that, and you do your best to walk the straight line'. I was good at that. I'm good at following the rules – most of the time," she grins.
But then she moved to New York to pursue a TV journalism career and "once I was on my own my faith became something very personal," she shares. "It was no longer about what my parents knew or what my pastor knew. I came to think of God as more of a gracious friend who was accompanying me on this journey, a friend who wanted to carry my burdens and speak into my life and shape me into who I really was and who I would become."
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voice”That gentle voice that guided Joanna into a relationship that was in equal parts exciting, terrifying, exasperating and energizing, was to speak to her again, a few years later, with words that were just as challenging and unexpected.
At the time, Joanna and Chip had been married a few years, flipped a couple of places already and had two children, Drake and Ella Rose. Joanna had a little business called Magnolia that sold unique interior design items.
"I loved that shop. I loved being there every day. Yet once I was pregnant with Ella, I heard the same voice. But this time it was saying, 'Jo, it's time to stay home with your babies'."
Even as Joanna obeyed, locking up for the last time with tears rolling down her face. She kept asking God, "Are you sure this is the right move? If it is, why does it seem so painful and hard?" Then she heard Him again. "Joanna, if you trust me with your dreams, I'll take them further than you could have ever imagined."
That promise was mightily fulfilled years later in October 2015 with the opening of Magnolia Market at the Silos – sixteen thousand square feet of space that is constantly filled with customers!
In January the year before, Joanna had been spending some time journaling when she heard that voice tell her; "It's time to reopen your shop."
Again, it was an out-of-the-blue and life-changing idea, that she knew didn't come from her own mind. "Are you serious?" she said out loud. "I have four kids now, a business [house redecorating and remodelling with Chip] to run, and a television show. How on earth could I do that?"
"There is always a peace when I finally decide to obey that voice," Joanna writes. "Although I may wrestle with Him at first like a little kid, in the end I always know that He knows best.
"He turned my little mustard seed of faith into all this. Not even a decade after I made that difficult decision to close my shop ... God delivered on the promise of making my dreams come true in ways that were bigger than I ever imagined."
Joanna and Chip's journey, with each other and God, is ongoing and they have recently entered a new phase of life by deciding to stop filming Fixer Upper in order to focus on their family and their other businesses. Besides the Market, they have: paint, rug, wallpaper and furniture lines; a quarterly magazine; a real estate company; a luxury vacation rental; a soon-to-open restaurant and now a recently released second book, Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.
From what she has learnt so far though, Joanna closes her book with this advice: "Don't quit, and don't give up. The reward is just around the corner. In times of doubt or times of joy, listen for that still, small voice. Know that God has been there from the beginning – and He will be there until the end."•