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 Though I kept paper copies of most of what I sent, this unpublished essay somehow escaped my printer.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
mommytrack52040@yahoo.com
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
faith, hope, kindness, miracle

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind

In 1972 Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a noted astronomer and famous ufologist developed a measurement scale for alien encounters. When a UFO is sighted, it’s called an encounter of the first kind. When evidence is collected, it’s known as an encounter of the second kind. When contact is made with extraterrestrials, it is the third kind. The next level, abduction, is the fourth kind.

Aliens aside, these past few days I’ve been contemplating encounters of a different sort, a fifth kind; encounters between humans on this planet. Random strangers. Though, not so random, if you believe, as I do, that God delights in orchestrating many of these meetings.

We’ve likely all experienced something similar; an encounter that has stayed with us, whether it was an act of kindness forty years ago, an unexpected hug in a hallway last year, or the discovery of a kindred spirit just yesterday.

Six years ago, I wrote about this very topic in my No Such Thing As a Random Stranger blog posting. At that time I asked “What if we treated every day as the momentous event that it truly is? If we allowed that the strangers we meet each day might be the friends of tomorrow? What if we are all presented with ‘random strangers,’ ‘random encounters,’ and ‘random moments’ that are not so random?  I believe we all are given those opportunities to make a friend, help someone, be helped, to hug, to be hugged, to say ‘God bless you,’ and mean it. It is a personal relationship with God that allows us to recognize those moments for what they are.”

“Never met a stranger,” is a commonly-used phrase to describe someone whose personality is outgoing, friendly, and with an ability (and desire) to talk to anyone. My husband David was such a person. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit now that it used to embarrass me when he’d stop to talk to a stranger. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now that I’m the one who embarrasses my children by doing the same. I’m a different person than I was then; talking to strangers, reaching out to others, and glad for the change in me. My mother was also one who “never met a stranger,” which accounts for the names and addresses of several “strangers” in her old address book.

Apparently, Lyn was a man she met on the bus on a trip to Colorado to visit my younger sister. I’d love to know what intrigued her about this man enough that she requested his address. Did she notice his long hair? A tattoo? Was he carrying a guitar case? Drawing in a sketchbook? Was she the only person on that bus to truly see him? To talk to him?

What happens when we treat every day as the momentous event that it truly is? I can tell you what happened to me in the last ten years, since I look at every encounter differently, knowing the strangers I meet are not always random.

A few days ago, I had my hair done at the local beauty school. I save a lot of money there and am confident because of what I’ve observed about one of the instructors who oversees the students. Not only is Diana talented, she is lovely, glowing. That’s what I see in people who are in the right profession. Their eyes brighten when they talk about their work, their voices become animated. Their whole face lights up. I watched for this in the young student when she informed me she planned on opening up her own salon in Bellevue after graduation. I saw it in her face and heard it in her voice when she told me she’s known since she was a freshman in high school what she’s wanted to do.

While normally I crave silence while my hair is cut and dyed, when I pulled out a clipboard and started to write, young Paige settled into the chair next to me and asked what I was working on. Before long, my clipboard was forgotten and we were leaning in close to each other, deep in animated conversation about creativity, the topic of my upcoming book. I became certain there was something she was supposed to hear, that our unexpected encounter was not random. At the same time, I was struck by how differently I would have responded to her questions just ten years ago, if I’d have even bothered to respond beyond simple “yes” and “no” answers.

Time passed quickly as I enjoyed our conversation, and soon the instructor interrupted to check my hair. Diana’s fingers move fast. She has a magic touch, a skill that comes with talent and practice, but it’s the look on her face and her casual banter while she works that makes it obvious she truly loves her job. Perhaps her comments to the student are intentional, to boost the customer’s ego. I assume the young woman can learn more than simple hairstyling from her instructor’s methods.

“Her hair is fine like ours, but has wonderful body to it. It’s so easy to work with. Look how beautiful it is,” Dianna says to Paige as she deftly scrunches whipped mousse into my hair. “Look what happens when we use this product that boosts her natural curl,” she continues. I stare into the mirror, transfixed. Transformed.

Tired, stressed, and overwhelmed when I arrived, I feel lighter, happier, maybe even beautiful. I needed this. One student. One instructor. One haircut. An encounter others might deem meaningless feels otherworldly to me. Whether I was to observe someone else come alive with their passion, pass on some words of wisdom to a young person, or realize just how much I have changed, there is a meaning to this meeting, an encounter that stays with me some four days later.

Then, there’s yesterday afternoon. I have a recurring dream; a nightmare where I spit a mouth full of teeth into my cupped hand. All my teeth. I shudder every time I have this dream. I’ve given birth to eight children, undergone three caesareans, a knee surgery, gallbladder removal and hernia repair, but when it comes to teeth, I get dizzy and feel faint when I need dental work done. Imagine my horror, then, when eating yesterday, to feel something come loose, and yes, live my nightmare by spitting out a tooth, a crown, or something like it, right into my palm.  That I didn’t immediately identify it as a crown come loose, nor could I bear to look into the mirror to study the area from which it came, demonstrates just how bad this phobia is. The dentist on call must have heard the panic in my voice. He agreed to meet me at the office. My anxiety was fueled by the one-hour drive. While I was fairly certain it was a crown, what if it was a broken tooth? I’d broken a tooth before and have an empty space in my mouth to prove it. What if my teeth fell out, one by one, until I was toothless? How would I do public speaking without teeth?

Entering through the side door, I noticed an older gentleman seated outside of the room where the dentist was leaning over a woman laying back in the chair.

“Are you the lady with the missing crown?” the man asked. “You’re not the only one needing dental work this weekend. I’m waiting for my wife.”

I noted the obvious concern on his face, and my heart went out to him. For a brief moment, I forgot about myself and the teeth that were surely falling out of my head, one by one.

In the next instant, I felt a deep pang of sadness. This is what it is to have a partner in life. Whatever you go through, you are not alone. They are with you. David would have talked me down from the anxiety, would have driven me to the dentist office, sat there waiting. Worried about me, like this man with his wife. I had that once. Secondary loss, having lost that partner, hit me hard.

The man indicated I should sit down. When I obliged, he asked to see my crown. Confused by a stranger who was not the dentist asking to view something that came out of my mouth, I made a feeble joke. “You make me sound like royalty, wanting to see my crown.”

He introduced himself then, a retired dentist. Pulling his chair close to me, he studied the little plastic bag I pulled out of my purse. “Yes, that’s a crown. It looks good. This should be an easy fix,” he assured me, patting my arm. My heart stopped racing. I relaxed. I suddenly knew; this was no random encounter. A retired dentist waiting for his wife at the exact moment I arrived? His kind eyes, reassuring voice, the pat on my arm. This moment, this encounter meant something. It reminded me that although I might not have my partner anymore, there are a lot of good people in the world, people that care about others. Who don’t laugh at another person’s anxiety. A dentist who takes time out of his weekend to care for a patient, even when it isn’t a dental emergency. He could have told me I’d have to wait until Monday. I’ve had dentists who have done just that. A man, worried about his wife, taking the time to reassure a stranger. These were good people.

Within minutes, the dentist had reattached my crown. I stood to leave. “I hope your wife is okay,” I said, turning around to face the man. His wife sat up in the chair.

“She will be,” the dentist reassured all three of us.

What happens when we treat each day like the miracle it is, each encounter with a stranger like the miracle it might be?

everything-is-a-miracle.22-Albert-E

Which way will you live your life?

 

Angela Miller, Bible verses, book review, faith, grief, Heal Your Grief, hope, loss of a spouse, writing

Hope and Healing~

Are there books you have purchased multiple copies of, just to give away to others?  Two immediately come to mind for me; I’ve purchased extra copies of Angela Miller’s You are the Mother of All Mothers for mothers who are grieving the loss of a child, and also the Zondervan Hope in the Mourning Bible.  

hope-in-the-mourning

Yesterday’s mail brought what was probably the tenth copy I’ve purchased of this book. It seems like I’m always giving my copy away to someone I think needs it. Not only is it is my favorite version of the Bible (NIV), but the devotionals interspersed throughout are uplifting and inspiring. The only thing that would make it better is if it was softcover, because I prefer softcover Bibles.

The morning my husband died, I knew I needed two things; heart-felt praying, and God’s word. And yet, I wasn’t sure how to find either. I prayed for guidance, and God did not fail me. He brought the right people into my life; those who consistently and fervently prayed for me, and a young woman (who’s since become my daughter-in-law), who sent me notebook pages full of Bible verses. Also, just a few weeks after I lost my husband, I was asked to write some devotionals for a grief Bible. In order to write those eleven devotionals, I had to learn how to study the Bible for answers.

Bible devotional.jpg

In the meantime, I was writing and blogging about the dark path of loss that resulted in an incredible  journey of faith. Hope in the Mourning was released in 2013, the same year my book, Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace was released.

Writing, whether it was journaling, blogging, or working on articles and books, was very healing for me. I have since studied the science behind expressive writing for healing, and find it fascinating. A writer by trade, it seemed only natural that I’d chosen writing as my choice of therapy. Sometimes, I flip through the pages of the journal I began writing in the day after my husband’s death, and though it hurts to revisit that extraordinary pain I was experiencing then, I can see how the act of writing my way through grief may have saved me.

journals
James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of TX, has spent the last 40 years studying the link between writing and emotional processing. He’s studied those suffering from cancer, illness, and loss, dividing study participants into two groups: one that would write about emotionally charged topics, and the other about common, everyday things, for just 20 minutes a day for 3-4 days. In each study, he found that the people writing about emotionally-charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed, less anxious. In the months following the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. They also reported better relationships, improved memory and more success at work.

This is the research behind my two newest projects; I’ve signed a book contract for a journal for those mourning the loss of a loved one, and I’ve devised a workshop to help guide those who are just getting started in journaling, or who want to utilize expressive writing to help work their way through painful experiences. I presented the “Expressive Writing for Healing” workshop at the Heal Your Grief retreat in October, and hope to present it at other conferences. Besides these two projects, next month I’m registered to attend a workshop for those who work with the bereaved.

Because I’ve discovered something else, besides writing, promotes emotional healing~ helping others.