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.”
Thirteen years ago I was regularly submitting to magazines and anthologies, receiving just as many rejections as acceptances. Though I kept paper copies of most of what I sent, this unpublished essay somehow escaped my printer. Until this morning’s search for another file in my old e-mail, I’d forgotten the details of the unexpected gift of a computer and the fact that my young children held such strong faith while mine and my husband’s wavered. I share with my readers the original essay submitted in February 2008 so that you might garner the same lesson I did in re-reading it today. Of course, I did doubt God’s providence in the ensuing years, more times than I care to admit. But this morning’s lesson? Why? Why would I ever doubt a God who cared enough about me to provide a computer just when I needed one?
Mary Potter Kenyon 3195 182nd St. Dyersville, Iowa 52040 (319) 553-1162 firstname.lastname@example.org Word Count: 1217 words
A Writer’s Gift of Faith
By 1993 I was feeling pretty confident about my writing, enough so to consider working on a book. I’d sold a few essays and was working part-time for a local newspaper covering school board and city council meetings. They’d even given me my own bi-monthly column. In between newspaper assignments and home schooling my children, I formed a rough outline of a book about saving money, targeting homeschoolers. Time was at a premium, however, and I didn’t get very far before I gave birth by emergency C-section in October to our fifth child. David took off work to care for our other children while I remained in the hospital a few extra days, regaining strength after a harrowing labor and delivery. When he returned to his job, he was unexpectedly fired.
Suddenly, I found I had a great deal of free writing time as David took over the bulk of the child care in between his job searches and interviews. In the first month of our new son’s life I wrote the initial chapter and a book proposal for what would become the first book on the market geared toward penny-pinching homeschoolers. My proposal was immediately accepted by the first publisher I contacted, a small Christian press.
The book contract arrived in late November. As I skimmed through it, my enthusiasm and elation quickly evaporated. According to the contract, I would be required to provide the entire manuscript on a computer disk. I was devastated. How on earth was I going to do that without a computer? We were struggling just to provide for our basic needs with nothing left for extras. That night at the supper table I relayed the crucial point of the contract to my family. My husband just shook his head in defeat, already feeling despondent about his unsuccessful job search and his inability to provide for his family. My two oldest children, however, were enthusiastic in their responses.
“Just pray for a computer,” my 13-year-old son, Dan, said matter-of-factly. His 11 year old sister Beth concurred. I was slightly taken aback by their simple faith in the power of prayer. While I‘d taught them to believe that God would provide for our needs, I’d never have considered praying for something as materialistic or expensive as a computer. At that time even a used computer was well over $500.00. I briefly considered explaining to the children that there was no way God was going to be able to bring us a computer but hesitated. Wasn‘t there a verse in the Bible that promised with God all things were possible? Who was I to doubt God’s providence? I looked at my children’s expectant faces and my husband’s skeptical one. What could I say? I lowered my head, folded my hands and prayed out loud.
“Dear God, please help me get a computer, or provide me with a way to get my book on a computer disk.” The children chimed in with their “Amen.” I figured I’d covered all the bases with that additional tag line. If it came to that, I could always pay someone else to type the manuscript onto a computer disk. I didn’t really believe I would have a computer to do so myself.
My children’s faith, however, never wavered. Each night their bedtime prayers included the plea for a computer for their mother’s book, their certainty in an answer buoying my own faith. I found myself torn between the desire to believe with their child-like faith, and a pervading sense of dread at explaining why this particular prayer might bring a resounding “no” from above. As David continued his fruitless search for a job, I spent more and more of my days working on the book, while my children discussed ways that they would make use of the computer they were certain was on the way.
Considering our dire financial straits, Christmas that year could have been very sparse. Instead, thanks to some generous relatives, friends, and church members, the children had plenty of gifts to open. But the best gift of all arrived later in the day as we gathered at my mother’s house.
My older brother, Lyle, asked me how my book was progressing. I told him about impossible requirement that was in my contract. A strange look came over his face.
“So that’s why I wasn’t supposed to sell it,” he said under his breath. “Sell what?” I asked as a shiver went down the back of my neck. My children and husband were now paying attention to the conversation.
Lyle explained that he’d had a computer for two years and was ready to upgrade. He’d bought a new computer and intended to sell the old one to make some extra money for Christmas.
“Twice I went to the newspaper office to run an ad and twice I left without submitting it because I had an overpowering feeling that I wasn’t supposed to sell it. Now I know why, “ he concluded. “I was supposed to give it to you.”
My husband’s mouth dropped open in disbelief and the shiver I’d felt turned into a warm glow. My children cheered out loud. I couldn’t believe it. My brother was going to give me his computer? He hastened to add that it would likely take a little work to get it working correctly again, but I barely heard him. If God could provide a computer, he could certainly provide some money to get it repaired.
On the way home that night, the children couldn’t stop talking about the amazing way God had provided a computer, and the fun games they could play on it. My husband remained silent and thoughtful. I knew he was taking in all that had transpired that day, just as I was. That night he confessed to me how he’d lost faith in God the last few weeks as he searched for work. Now, because of the gift of a computer, he wondered it God had planned for his job loss all along so that I could complete my book. I told him I’d been wondering the same thing.
When my book advance arrived less than a week later we used $60.00 of it to repair the computer. Within a few months I’d completed my book and was able to provide the completed manuscript on a computer disk. It would take my husband nearly a year to find work. While stressful, those months provided me with the gift of time to complete a book. Eventually we used that same computer to hook up the Internet and open up a whole new world for my writing and my children’s education.
That generous gift of a computer meant much more for our family’s faith though. For my children, it was an answer to heartfelt prayers. To my husband, it was a renewal of faith. For me, God’s provision of a computer meant the beginning of a new way of looking at my writing. I felt humbled, and realized how God had been blessing my endeavors, guiding my writing and providing me with ways to use the talent he gave me.
I can’t remember where I heard about the practice of choosing a word for the year, but I’ve done it every year since 2011.
Until 2020, that is. Rereading my journals this weekend, I noted the last time I’d chosen a word for the year was January 7, 2019, when I chose Selah, which means pause. I never did settle on a word for 2020. Maybe because there would be no word for the year we’ve had.
For those who are new to the idea of choosing a word, it is basically a meditative practice. By asking God to reveal the perfect word for the year, we then spend 365 days pondering its meaning in our life, a form of Lectio Divina that we can employ as we study, listen, ponder and pray while also delving into God’s Word.
I take this process seriously, as I have seen the difference in my life since I began the practice. Over the next few days I will be taking time to pray, ponder, and prayerfully discern what word God wants me to concentrate on in 2021.
As part of that process, I re-read Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word, taking copious notes.
This wasn’t my first exposure to the book. In fact, I can tell you the exact date I first read it, because I blogged about it on March 8, 2012:
“Yesterday my daughter Elizabeth called her house shortly before noon to inform me that the surgeon had, indeed, found cancer in Jacob’s lung. No bigger than a lima bean, the cancerous growth meant that, just six months after his treatment, Jacob’s Wilms’ tumor had returned. He will now be facing additional treatment that likely involves a stem cell transplant and stronger chemotherapy drugs.
Time stopped as I stood there holding the phone, long after Elizabeth had hung up. I was startled out of my reverie by a slight movement from the couch. I looked down at the little boy staring up at me; my three-year-old grandson, Jo-Jo, bleary-eyed from having abruptly woken from a nap by the ringing phone. As if in slow motion, I sat down beside him, pulled him close and sobbed quietly into his back. He struggled a little against my tight embrace, and I loosened my grip, kissing the top of his head. “I love you,” I whispered hoarsely, and a little voice whispered back “I love you, too.” Then he pulled back to look at my face, and I forced a gentle smile, lightening my tone, “So, how about those corn dogs Grandma promised? Should we go get them?” He nodded his head, jumped from my lap, and ran to get his shoes.
I remember not wanting to face David, knowing how close he and Jacob were. I wanted to give him just a few more minutes of not knowing, to protect him from the news for just a little longer. Instead of heading home, I drove to my sister’s consignment store.
There was a parking space right in front, and I couldn’t see any shoppers through the window. Jo-Jo was quiet as I pulled him from the back seat. Stepping inside the doorway of the store, I saw the two smiling faces of my sisters Denise and Pat as they looked up from their lunch. “Mary!” one of them called out in welcome.
“It’s back. The cancer is back.” I blurted out, and they left their chairs to come hug me. Joseph, clinging to me like a little monkey, was hugged inside their embrace. Joseph, I thought to myself as I buckled him in again. Nearing four years of age, and facing weeks without his mother as she stays in the hospital with his older brother, he’d suddenly become Joseph. It would forever be the first time he’d told me he loved me. It would also be the last time I called him Jo-Jo.
The library was our next stop. Joe still clung to me, uncharacteristically quiet. The stairway down to the children’s room seemed longer than usual, and I prayed my sister had returned from her lunch. Angie, who had become Angela and my best friend after our mother’s death, came around the corner from her office area. She knew as soon as she saw my face. We hugged, and again I began sobbing; poor Jacob. Poor Elizabeth. Poor Ben. Poor little Joe, who silently observed the adults around him crumple one by one.
Bolsteredby the collective strength of my sisters, I was ready to face David. But he must have already known.
My husband stood on the porch. Joe ran ahead of me into the house. David held his arms out to me, and we clung to each other for a few moments.
I don’t remember either one of us saying anything. What could we say? David’s agony was palpable as we embraced, mirroring my own. Having gone through cancer treatment himself, David and Jacob were comrades, sharing a special bond. David retreated to the back yard and began raking. I retreated to the house to watch the children. The sharp pain David began experiencing in his shoulder that night never did abate, and would eventually move to his chest. We would later learn the shoulder pain was likely the first in a series of small heart attacks, not muscle aches we attributed to the yardwork. But we didn’t know that yet.
I just went through the motions the rest of the day, unable to stop thinking of Jacob, Elizabeth and Ben. Katie, at 12, seemed to intuitively know what I needed; she made Joe’s corn dogs and pizza rolls for the girls. Emily kept hugging me. Even Matt, 18, hugged me several times. The girls played as usual, Joe joining them. Several times throughout that afternoon, I picked up a pen and pad of paper to write, but to no avail. Words wouldn’t come. Instead, I picked up a book that had been recommended to me by a friend that very morning. I began reading Debbie Macomber’s “One Perfect Word.” The book pulled me in, despite, or maybe because of, the anguish I was experiencing. In it, Macomber discusses how concentrating on one single word each year has become a tool for God to work in her life. In 1999, her word was BELIEVE. She shared how belief can become a lifeline when grief or tragedy strikes. I read those passages several times. Macomber uses C. S. Lewis as an example. While grieving the death of his wife, Lewis wrote about belief in the face of fear in his book, “A Grief Observed”:
‘You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it…Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.‘
I had to ponder this for awhile. If I believe, truly believe, that God has a purpose and a plan for everything, then this trial has to be for a reason. My marriage has never been as good as it has been since David’s cancer, my faith never as strong as it has been since my mother’s death. But to know a child, an innocent child, is facing something that knocks grown men to their knees! What purpose could there be in that? I continued reading, searching for answers.
I found an answer I needed in the story of Annie Beiler, founder of Aunt Annie’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels. Annie had tragically lost her nineteen-month-old daughter in a farming accident.
Anne coped with the loss of her beloved daughter as best she could, but inside, something cold had begun to grow. Depression set in, and with it, a crisis of faith. In an article she wrote,‘Had it not been for God’s grace and mercy, and the wonderful godly husband who loved me as Christ loves him, I never would have climbed out of depression. I believe Angela was sent to me and my family for many reasons, but a key purpose was for me to become the kind of person that Christ wants me to be.‘
Even before Elizabeth and Ben returned from Iowa City, e-mails were arriving in my inbox: family and friends asking what they could do.
I think of that rope that C.S. Lewis mentions, the one that Elizabeth and Ben must hang onto in the coming days. I think of the friends, the loved ones and even the strangers who care about this little boy and his family. I think of the little boy himself, who wakes from surgery, pulls out the IV lines, and even amidst his pain, asks when he can buy his sister a toy from the gift shop. This little boy who trusts with a childlike faith, whose life is the epitome of the goodness we all search for. I look to my family for assurance that they will be there, and they protectively circle around me, embracing me. I turn to friends, and their answering prayers are lifted to the heavens. In the darkness of these days, I reach out and feel the rope. It feels thick and strong. I tug tentatively. Why, Lord? Why this little boy? Why?
I step out in faith, and the rope holds.
When I wrote those words in March 2012, I had no idea how much I’d need that rope twenty days later, when I would discover my husband had died sometime during the night, three days after coming home from the hospital following heart stent surgery, or again, in August 2013, when we lost Jacob.
Now, just days before the end of a year that has been tough on everyone, I am reminded of how One Perfect Word was the one perfect book for me to have on my end table that fateful March day when we’d discovered Jacob’s cancer had returned. How it helped tremendously to know parents who had lost a child survived, and eventually thrived. To read words from C. S. Lewis that I would turn to repeatedly in the coming months, that I still turn to when facing tough situations. It was no coincidence that Debbie Macomber’s book was sitting there, waiting for me. It was exactly what I needed.
It is no stretch of the imagination then, to believe that a God who cares enough about me to guide me to the perfect words back in March 2012 can lead me to the perfect WORD for 2021.