faith, love

Finding God in Goodwill

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, faith, Holley Gerth

The “C” Word

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.

dating, faith, grace, love, marriage, prayer, wedding

When God Writes the Love Story

“Can love really happen like that?”

I’d noticed the young girl’s sad demeanor even before I settled into the chair. For a split second, I was irritated, not wanting anything to mar the joy I felt at finding love after nine and a half years of loneliness. I’d asked for a more experienced student at the beauty college. Why did I have to be assigned to one who evidently had some personal issues to deal with when all I wanted was to look good for my wedding?

She’d done well faking through small talk until that moment when her voice lowered with intensity after I announced I was getting married and began telling her about the whirlwind romance, our certainty in our love and the quick engagement that would result in marriage a month and a half after our first meeting.

“Can love really happen like that?” she repeated before adding “Because I thought I was in love for two years and he just broke up with me. It turns out he wasn’t who I thought he was.”

I paused, silently uttering a prayer that God would give me the words she needed to hear.

“Yes, it can happen like that, if God is in it from the beginning. We pray together before each of our dates.”

She was silent as she worked the color through my hair. I wondered if I’d said the wrong thing, bringing up prayer and faith.

“He never prayed with me,” she finally said, so softly it was as if she was talking to herself. Our eyes met in the mirror. “I asked him to, but he wouldn’t,” she continued. “He wouldn’t go to church with me, either. I used to sing in the church choir, loved singing worship songs.”

Loved, as if there were no more worship songs in her life. We both fell silent until she continued.

“I wrote a prayer to my future husband once. I even wrote out a list of what I wanted in the perfect man. I thought I’d found him. But he wasn’t who he pretended to be.”

What were the odds that I’d end up in the chair of a young woman who had done what I had done? I was convinced. I wasn’t there for the haircut and color. I was there for her.

I told her about God asking me to pray for my future husband in the summer of 2018 because the man God had in mind for me was going through something rough. How I’d followed that prompting, transcribing a prayer in my journal so private, I’d covered it up.

I told her how I’d wonder in the ensuing three years if I’d imagined the prompting as I waited for the man God had promised me. That I’d also made a list of all the qualities I wanted in a man. I told her how Nick’s wife died in the spring of 2018. “That summer was one of the hardest times in his life,” I said, choking back tears. Her eyes widened. “He has every quality I asked for: the kind eyes, the broad shoulders, the desire for holding hands and hugging, all the way down to the neatly trimmed goatee beard he’d begun sporting shortly before I met him.”

I went silent as she worked intently on my hair. What else could I say to this wounded girl? I closed my eyes, praying.

“Will you do me a favor?” I opened my eyes and saw her nod in the mirror. “Next time you begin a relationship, will you ask him to pray with you?”

Tears sprung to her eyes as she nodded again.

“And this time, if he says no, run the other way?”

“Do you think I can have a love story like yours?” her voice was husky with longing and unshed tears.

“I know you can. And I want to hear about your love story when it happens.”

“I think God put you in my chair today,” my young friend said.

“I think so too.”

We hugged before I left.

I immediately called Nick when I got into my car.

“How did your hair turn out?” he asked.

“I don’t know, because I don’t think I was there for my hair,” I began crying as I related the encounter. My cries turned into sobs, and I could barely speak past the lump forming in my throat.

“Just think; this is what our life is going to be like together, as long as we put God at the forefront. Random encounters that are not random at all, as we grow in faith together. God brought us together and God can use us together in so many ways.”

On August 23, 2021, three years and one day after the day I wrote down a prayer for the man who would someday be my husband, I married him in the woods I’d found solace in during the pandemic, the land where I grew up that my son now owns.