faith, homeschooling, hope, prayer

A Gift of Faith, 1993

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 Though I kept paper copies of most of what I sent, this unpublished essay somehow escaped my printer.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
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 would never doubt His promises again.

the book that was written on a gifted computer
homeschooling, learning, writing

My Summer of Content

You might think I’ve been on an extended summer vacation, considering how little I have blogged the last month or two, but other than our single dismal camping experience we have not taken a “summer vacation” per se. What has been a vacation for me
has been the respite from homeschooling and all that it entails. While we lean towards a more relaxed type of homeschooling, there is still the planning for each day, and the implementation, and I am the one who has always been responsible for that. David and I expect that this year will likely be the same except that more of the implementation will be on him while I pick up additional writing projects.

This summer, the summer of 2011, will go down in the book of my life as my summer of great content. Not content, as in what it contained necessarily, but content, as in very happy and fulfilling. After a long winter of discontent; grieving my mother and having my grandson diagnosed with cancer, it is a much-appreciated change to experience a summer that I will always be able to look back on and say, “Now that was quite a summer.” Besides the obvious; Jacob is nearing the end of his cancer treatment, David getting an all-clear at his five-year-checkup, and me learning to live without a mother while discovering I carry a part of her inside, there are these reasons for my joy:

I’m now writing features for the local newspaper, and find that I actually enjoy interviewing local residents and business people. When my innate shyness gets the best of me, I do something fairly odd, but that works for me: I pretend for a moment that I am either my mother, or in the case of interviewing five residents of a nursing home, that the interviewee is my mother. I’m not sure why this helps me but I always loved drama and acting and it is easy to pretend for a moment that I am not myself, but the curious and outgoing enigma of a woman that was my mother.  She loved meeting and talking to new people. On her infrequent bus and airplane trips she’d come home with new friends she added to her address book. With this practice in my secret arsenal of social tricks (I also take off my glasses before I do public speaking because then I only see blurry friendly faces) I find myself relaxing and enjoying the interview after that initial ice is broken. Now I look forward to meeting new people and finding stories behind the stories.

I’ve also nearly completed my book this summer. The final two chapters are the two that should have been the easiest to write; one profiling interesting couponers and the last chapter which sums up the “how-to’s” in coupon use in case readers are intrigued enough by the history of avid couponing to want to take it up themselves. I would be fine with leaving that chapter out entirely since others do such a good job of teaching couponing (see Jill Cataldo’s Super Couponing website) but somehow the book doesn’t seem to be complete without at least an overview of couponing. The profile chapter has turned out to be more time consuming and maddening to write than I ever imagined. There is no dearth of couponers to choose from anymore. Just Google the word “Extreme Couponer” and dozens of news reports about couponers pop up. However, my goal is not to feature “extreme couponers,” but instead, a wide variety of avid couponers who have worked couponing into their life in a less extreme manner. I feature rich couponers, middle income couponers, females, males, and several coupon users who have developed an important part of their life around couponing.  Those two chapters are still in the rough draft stages but the rest of the book is mostly complete. (I say mostly because changes in the world of coupons are happening every day, and I am working those changes into the manuscript, and because a publisher is likely going to want further edits.)

This was also the summer I had three essays chosen for publication in the fall; two for future Chicken Soup books and one for a new series God Makes Lemonade. I have submitted other essays and entered several writing contests this summer, as well. In other words, I have really been writing. And that sure feels good.

And then, who can forget the experience of my first writing conference in June, the Cedar Falls Christian Writer conference? I had no idea what I’ve been missing. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing-wise, this has been a very productive summer for me.

And it all ends in one week, when school begins.

Not really, of course, but I can’t help feeling a small, but looming dread of a new school year and the mornings that will no longer be mine.

Homeschooling is a lifestyle, I quote another homeschooling mother in an article for next week’s paper. I have to remind myself that it is a lifestyle that includes a lot of flexibility and creativity, and what better way for a homeschooling mother to
show her children that learning is lifelong, than to practice that herself? This summer my children observed me scouring the Internet for pertinent facts and figures to insert into my articles. They’ve watched me juggle bylines with household tasks. They’ve seen me be what I want them to be: creative. And those creative juices won’t just shut off like a switch on August 17th when another school year begins. On the contrary, I’m in the process of organizing a winter writing course for young homeschoolers and will continue to write for the newspaper and finish up my book. One of the greatest things about homeschooling (and having a husband home), is the inherent flexibility that will allow me to leave home a few afternoons a week to do~what else~but writing.

Words of wisdom from my mother’s Memory Book:

Try lots of activities and work when young. Find out what you like to do, what you are good
at and get into doing that- even if it doesn’t pay well. Use your talents.”