A graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Mary Potter Kenyon is a certified grief educator trained under world-renowned grief expert David Kessler, a Therapeutic Art Coach and author of seven books. She is a public speaker and workshop presenter for art centers, churches, community colleges, libraries, women's groups, grief support groups, and writing conferences on the topics of writing, couponing, utilizing your creativity in everyday life, and finding hope in grief. Her books include "Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America's Extreme Obsession," "Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage," "Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace," "Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink," co-written with Mary Jedlicka Humston, "Expressive Writing for Healing," and "Called to Be Creative: A Guide to Reigniting Your Creativity."
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Prayer doesn’t change things,” I’ve heard. If that’s true, prayer won’t change the results of my cancer surgery. It won’t affect my marriage. Prayer wouldn’t change me. I beg to differ. I don’t need to look any further than the husband at my side to know God answered my prayers of lament from years of loneliness. Our beautiful marriage relationship is a testament to the power of a husband and wife praying together.
I believe God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes it is not now. Occasionally, we don’t want to hear the answer because it isn’t what we want or doesn’t make sense to us at the time.
Patience is not my strong suit. Once I had a diagnosis, I just wanted this cancer removed. Immediately. Waiting for surgery is difficult. But God can use this waiting time, to work in me or my husband. I’m determined to get something out of this experience. Through prayer and discernment, I seek whatever that is.
When friends share Bible verses with me in cards and notes, some go next to my journal. Others find a home between pages of my bible. During those inevitable dark nights of the soul, I have helpful verses handy. One thing I’ve noticed in recent days is how lifted I feel, knowing others are praying for me. There is a power in their prayers. The power to lift, to encourage. Maybe, to change outcomes. Surely to change me.
Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I truly believe God is pleased by those who delight in Him. From the moment I first prayed with Nick on July 11, 2021, God has delighted in our union, watching us grow in faith together. After all, God had orchestrated our meeting, guiding me to pray in the summer of 2018 for a man I did not yet know, and then making it clear that Nick was that man when I finally met him three years later. (When God Writes the Love Story)
God has been gladdened by our daily prayer time, our bible studies, our commitment to HIM. He has delighted in our travel this past year and the tears I’ve shed at the beauty of His nature. How can anyone view a mountain or an ocean and not be in awe of God’s creation?
I’m not sure my dear husband quite “gets” my obsession with secondhand stores, though he has observed how my prayer life extends even to thrift shopping. Before we were married, I’d gotten as far as adding the red plates and bowls I wanted for our first home to my online Kohls cart before hesitating at the hefty price tag.
“I have a strong feeling I’m not to purchase them new,” I told Nick later that day. “And that we should check out Stuff.” (a local consignment store) Once there, I headed directly to the household section, where I immediately spotted them: a stack of six red plates and bowls. I purchased all twelve for less than the price of one new plate. Coincidence? Synchronicity? Or do we have a God who actually cares about His daughter’s delight? Don’t we as parents search for the perfect gift for our child, then revel in their joy when we’ve accomplished that purpose?
No one needs a leather jacket, it’s true. But I did want one when I saw my husband’s. Sharing my desire and the “thrill of the hunt” for a good deal with Nick, I began searching the racks at various thrift and consignment stores. Within a week, I found the perfect one, brand-new, with tags still attached, for a mere $25. After my credit at the store, I didn’t pay a penny. Neither did I need a colorful trunk to hold all my creativity workshop materials, but I like to think that God had something to do with me finding this brand-new trunk at the same consignment store. I’m convinced Our Father delights in my enjoyment of these things.
This is how God works in my life ever since I developed a personal relationship with Him in 2012. It should have come as no surprise then, when I told my husband to postpone purchasing some salt and pepper and parmesan cheese shakers for his business because God would help me find some that my next visit to the consignment store, I actually did.
And yet, I was surprised. In fact, I may have gasped in awe when I spotted two new packages of parmesan cheese shakers and a new package of glass salt and pepper shakers. I mean, come on, what are the odds? Within a day or two of confidently assuring my husband God would provide those items, He did. Not only that, but my Goodwill stop netted the exact type of backpack my husband had suggested I get for our future trips, in lieu of carrying a purse. One of my favorite brands, and in my signature leopard print! A Relic backpack for $6.00? The stationery sets and leather book of prayers for my husband were just icing on the cake. Not pictured are several items I purchased for Christmas gifts.
This doesn’t mean I get everything I want, any more than we as parents should fulfill our child’s every desire. But it does mean that because I am open to God’s guidance, sometimes I feel led by the Spirit to stop at a certain store, pick up a particular book, or reach out to a perfect stranger.
And sometimes, God surprises me with more than I ever hoped for or imagined. Like Nick.
Cancer. The word no one wants to hear. I was in the vehicle with my husband when the doctor gave me the news. My first thought was “Poor Nick,” because his previous wife had died from cancer. Fear hit sometime the next day, after a night of tossing and turning. I reminded myself that fear is not from God and asked my husband to pray with me.
Much of this past year has been about prayer as I reveled in my first year of marriage with Nick, and for good reason. It was prayer that initially connected us. We began each of our dates with prayer and have continued to pray together daily. I credit that practice, along with our daily Bible study, for a marriage relationship that is unlike anything we could have hoped for or imagined at this point in our life.
I began praying in all things, big and little. approximately ten years ago, involving prayer and discernment in what books I read, movies I watch and even what journals I use. I get a little thrill choosing a new journal from the huge stack I store in a cupboard; little journals, big ones, wire bound, hardcover, paperback, colorful decorated pages or quotes interspersed throughout. Always lined, sometimes with a ribbon marker to keep my place.
Which journal do I pick? I asked on September 1st. It would be journal #14 since I began utilizing expressive writing as a healing tool in 2012. I caressed each cover lightly, flipping through pages, before landing on the colorful hardbound journal with Proverbs 31:25 She is clothed with strength and dignity on the front cover. Nick and I had just begun a Bible study of Proverbs a few days before. We were learning about wisdom and listening as it applies to marriage. What better journal to begin my second year of striving to be a Proverbs 31 wife to Nick?
I don’t journal every day. I’d only gotten a few pages in when I was diagnosed with cancer on September 13th. Writing out a prayer the next morning, I took great comfort in the bible verse at the bottom of the page.
I read the intro to the journal for the first time a couple of days later, in awe of how fitting it was for the situation.
Let His presence cast out any weakness and guide you through every circumstance and decision you face. Be strong in the Lord, and may His unfailing love guide your heart into a fearless future. I turned to the back cover and noted the quote by one of my favorite authors, Holly Gerth. God’s love is what we need to carry on and will carry us when our strength feels small. Ah, yes, this spoke to my heart too.
I’ve journaled nearly every day since the diagnosis, as I waited to see an oncology doctor, facing a surgery that will determine the stage of the cancer. God already answered two appeals I dared to convey; instead of the 5-12 days I was warned I could expect before hearing from the oncologist, the call came in just three days, when I was informed the consultation would be September 30th. September 30th, a day we would be in Iowa City anyway for an appointment my husband had made with a rheumatologist two and a half months ago. My oncology appointment in the same town scheduled for the exact same day, and with enough time between appointments? What are the odds? I will tell you; not likely.
God went before me. God knew in July when Nick’s appointment was scheduled that I would be diagnosed with cancer and need to see an oncologist. He orchestrated events so that the timing of our appointments would coincide. While I thought I was choosing a journal to help me be the best wife I could be for Nick (with strength and dignity), God knew better. Months before I would need it, God drew my attention to the colorful journal on the shelf of a thrift store. Yes, God goes to Goodwill with me. Because I ask for his guidance even in the little things, of all the journals I had to choose from in my cupboard, he knew which one I would need for this journey with cancer. He knew which bible study Nick and I would need right now. And if God cares about those little things; the timing of appointments, the right journal or bible study, I have no doubt God cares about me in this big thing, this cancer. God is in this too. He will use it for good. He may have work to do in me, in Nick, or in our marriage. I will face this cancer with strength and dignity. I will be strong in the Lord.