Recently VICE News featured an LDS couple and their courage in “bucking stereotypes” and cultural norms as the husband, Robert Wood, pursues his passion by creating $5,000 violins in a converted tool shed in his backyard.
Robert Wood and his wife, Deborah Higham Wood, have experienced many miracles as they have worked to establish a balance between faith, family, and career. Robert currently owns and operates Heartwood Violins, a violin-making and instrument-repair business that he started from home. In order to financially support their family as Robert builds the business, Deborah works full-time as a university admissions counselor. Their careers aren’t the only things keeping them busy—they also have four young children under the age of five: Gideon (4), twins Annelise and Olivia (3), and Naomi (1).
The decision for Robert to start his own business while Deborah helped support the family wasn’t an easy one, especially due to LDS cultural expectations; however, after much prayer and fasting, the Woods received several promptings reassuring them that this was the right path for their family.
Before Robert established Heartwood Violins, he worked for a prestigious violin shop. He was offered this position while still studying at a violin-making school, an offer that is uncommon in the instrument-making world. At the time, Deborah was pregnant with their youngest child and experienced complications that forced her to take more time-off from work than they had financially anticipated.
“The crazy thing about [Robert’s job offer] is that it happened the week after we were going to run out of money,” Deborah shared. “He got the job and was given as much money as I was making at my job and the same amount of hours. That was a sign that this was something that we were supposed to be doing.”
Several months later, Robert began to seriously consider leaving the shop to begin his own business.
“Faith played a huge role in all of it,” Robert says. “The decision to go off on my own in the business was obviously one of those large life decisions you have to make. The only way my wife and I were going to make that decision was going to be through prayer and also consulting with Church leaders . . . . It just felt like the right choice to get out there and take a chance.”
Around the same time, Deborah received a job offer that doubled her income and made up for what they were making combined. For them, this was another answer to prayer reassuring them this was how God wanted them to proceed.
Although Robert initially worried about this decision, he feels that it has ultimately strengthened his faith and trust in God:
“Pride [can mean] being boastful or promoting yourself in a way that makes you seem better than you are . . . but also pride can be being too timid and not accepting God’s vision for you. If we do have a Father in Heaven that sees our potential to be anything that we set our minds to, then we should also accept that image . . . [Principles] like that came up in our studies and in our prayers and urged us in that direction. So we made the leap and did it.”
Robert feels that creating violins has allowed him to better understand God’s love for His children. “As I make [violins], I always think, ‘I want this to be the very best thing because it’s not much different than my child because it’s my creation,’” Robert says. “It’s almost like I have [been given] this chunk of wood and I have this responsibility to make it achieve its potential.”
Robert and Deborah met while serving as missionaries in the Belgium Brussels/Netherlands Mission. Robert is a convert to the Church and served his mission one year after he was baptized at the age of 18. The Woods have found peace as they have applied the lessons they learned while serving as missionaries to their family life. For example, Robert and Deborah like to apply the practice of missionary companionship scheduling to their marriage. This habit has helped them to work together and stay on track as they work toward their financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual goals.
They firmly believe that their relationships with God and with each other have allowed them to find peace in their decisions and family lifestyle, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit the “Mormon norm.”
“When we focus on each other, when we focus on the goals that we’ve set for our family and for the type of lifestyle that we want to live, then it’s really easy to push off those societal and cultural expectations and really embrace the life that we feel like Heavenly Father wants us to live,” Deborah says. “If your relationship with Heavenly Father and with your spouse is in a place where it needs to be, then you can find peace in your choices as a family. And through that, you can find the path that makes sense.”
Although they acknowledge that it hasn’t always been easy, Robert and Deborah don’t allow uncertainty or other people’s opinions to discourage them.
“I think there’s a lot of fear out there in the world and I think that holds people back a lot of times, especially in regards to getting out there and trying to start a new business or pursuing something they really have passion for,” Robert says. “But I just don’t think that that’s what Heavenly Father intended for us. He gives you your talents and abilities with an expectation that you’ll develop them. So I hope [we can] encourage people to try. There are a lot of [general conference] talks about walking to the edge of darkness and taking a step . . . there will either be solid ground on the other side or you’ll learn to fly.”