By Nancy Karpenske
I had an appointment to get my hair cut. During that session, I intended to dissolve a friendship. But God had other plans. This is a drama with three characters: myself, my friend and hair stylist Donna, and the Holy Spirit. The three outcomes, if you don’t care to read the whole story: I am thrilled by my friend’s transformation; I am caught again in my own judgmental small-mindedness; and I am astounded by the Holy Spirit working in ways that aren’t mentioned in Bible college.
Lonely, Angry, and Bitter
It was the cussing, really, that got me to the end of my rope. Donna had been my beautician for more than 20 years (Guys, do not stop reading. This is not a girlie article). She was also a friend, a member at my church, and had been my neighbor. Soon after meeting Donna and her husband, I recruited them to teach in the 4-year-olds department. They joined a small-group study and became very involved and grew a lot in their faith. Then her husband left her.
I was a young mom at the time. Donna lived right down the street. She was my first friend to go through a painful divorce. She called me every day, sometimes two or three times. I was clueless about how to help her. But I prayed for her and listened and encouraged her.
She was lonely. But she and her young son kept coming to church. She kept trying to rid herself of anger and bitterness. She looked for friendships with guys. Mostly she looked in places I didn’t approve of. This season of her life became a series of bad relationships. Once she even married a guy she barely knew. He turned out to be a con man. The marriage lasted only a few months.
She still kept coming to church, but only the worship service. No Sunday school class, no small group. She slipped in and out, hoping people wouldn’t notice her. She couldn’t seem to get out from under a heavy load of shame.
So you can imagine that getting my hair cut every month was not the typical “relax and feel good” session that most women pay for. As Donna cut and snipped, she would report the latest episode in her life. The never-ending financial woes of a single mom. The exhausting routine of raising a son alone and juggling more than one job. The hopeful descriptions of new boyfriends. The raw loneliness. And quite a lot of anger, mixed with some expletives.
Vulnerable, Needy, and Changed
Some days I’d sit in the chair, praying that my hair would come out mostly even. As I would get in my car to drive away, I would ask myself why I kept coming back. My hair did mostly turn out great. But her burdens exhausted me. Her words made me wince.
Didn’t I deserve something better? But what would happen if I ditched her and looked for someone else to cut my hair? Would she quit coming to church? Would she give up on God? (Yes, I now recognize my arrogance.)
In the end I put my own comfort above Donna’s. I had decided that when I went in for my January haircut, I would tell her I wanted to make “other arrangements.” As she snipped away I tried to decide how to best word my announcement. Here’s what came out of my mouth:
“Donna, we need a change for you. I’m offering you two choices. You can either join a Sunday school class, or you can come help me with our ministry to single moms. You’re not ready to be a mentor, but you can come and talk with the women while we are eating dinner. You have something to offer them. You pray about it and let me know which one you want to do.”
I got in my car, and said, “Lord, where did that come from?”
Donna called me a few days later. “Nance, I’d like to try helping you with the single moms. You know I’m not perfect—far from it. But if you think I have something to offer, I’d like to try.”
Our series of dinners and discussions started a few weeks later. We served the dinner, got acquainted with the moms, listened to a speaker, and had discussion and prayer time.
As we were finishing up, Donna came to me and said, “Do we have Bibles to give away? Some of these gals don’t have Bibles.” Hmm. No one in our leadership team had thought of that. Then she said, “How about those devotions? Can I get some out of the rack and offer them? They are the perfect length to help them get started with a daily quiet time.” I pointed Donna to the cupboard with the giveaway Bibles and agreed she should raid the devotions rack.
Stunned is not adequate to describe my feelings that evening. Wow. Donna met our “students” and immediately knew ways to enhance their lives and meet their needs. She connected with them almost instantly.
The next time we offered our series, Donna agreed to give her testimony in front of the group. She wrote and rewrote it and practiced so it would be the desired 8 minutes in length. She delivered it in 2, and afterward couldn’t remember a word she had said.
When that series ended, she and another mentor agreed to continue meeting weekly with the group of a dozen single moms. The goal was to transition them into a Bible study and teach them to pray for each other. Donna and her coleader had been in small groups before, but never tried to lead one, especially one whose members were all vulnerable and needy and mostly young in their faith.
Now it became almost a treat to schedule a hair appointment. Besides Donna’s weekly phone call to me to report on the current session, while she trimmed my hair we would talk about how to help a particular mom, what Bible verses would be most meaningful, how to be encouraging. I wondered if the other beauticians in the shop were as amazed as I was in Donna’s transformation.
Nobodies, Failures, and Weaknesses
We began the next session of our series for the single moms. This time Donna agreed to accept the role of a mentor. As the team reviewed our topics, Donna suggested a presentation on car care. “Most of these gals can’t afford to take their car to a mechanic. We could teach them basic maintenance that could save them some money.”
Then Donna volunteered to lead that session herself. She had been part of the pit crew for local stock car races and had won some powder puff trophies herself. Her presentation was one of our best. And this time when Donna gave her testimony, she filled her entire time slot. She spoke about extending forgiveness to her ex-husband. She described her recent Thanksgiving dinner, where she cooked for herself, her son, the ex-husband, the stepsons and their families, and several of the ex-husband’s ex-wives. She wasn’t describing a bizarre dysfunctional group, she was sharing what the power of God’s love and forgiveness accomplished in her family.
If you asked Donna how she survived during the tough times, she would say, “Remembering that God is always with me, giving him the stuff I couldn’t handle, which was mostly everything. I prayed a lot, and read my devotions book almost every day so I would have a verse to hang on to.”
What impact has Donna’s role in our single mom ministry had on me? I am humbled to realize how close I came to giving up on her. Only by God’s intervention in my plan did a friendship change course and a new leader emerge. Her contribution to our ministry has been priceless. Her personal growth as she invests in these single moms is tremendous. She has insights and action plans that no one else could imagine.
So don’t underestimate your friends, especially ones you’ve known a long time. Don’t overestimate your own spiritual maturity. I assumed my life would improve if I got away from a “negative influence.” I was merely ducking responsibility to speak the truth in love. And since I wouldn’t, God intervened. His plan was vastly different from my selfish agenda.
Don’t underestimate the difference that a simple invitation to get involved can make in dozens of lives. And remind yourself that God uses nobodies and failures and weaknesses (especially my own) in more powerful ways than we can imagine.
Nancy Karpenske, a contributing editor with CHRISTIAN STANDARD, is director of women’s ministry at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado.