Moving 1,000 miles away from home to attend medical school was an exciting experience for me and my little family. As I wrote in a previous post, I had worked dilligently over several years to achieve that goal, and I felt so thankful to have achieved it. I was grateful to the school officials who had considered and ultimately accepted my application, grateful to the many teachers who had seen my potential and had taught and prepared me, and grateful to be on this journey with my wonderful wife who had helped immeasurably to keep my motivation and spirits up. But most of all, I was grateful to God, who had made it all possible. Before me I could see the path ahead, and it led to an honorable, prosperous, and stable vocation providing a necessary service in society.
There was just one problem: all of this was in my future, far in my future, and many years of toil and sacrifice separated me from the ultimate goal of being a medical doctor. At that time I didn’t worry so much about the toil and sacrifice, mainly because I didn’t really know how much I had signed up for, but I was keenly aware of my lack of prosperity. As I was to learn, prosperity was a promise not to be delivered until the entirety of the next 9 years of my training were complete.
At that time we had no financial reserves, no rainy day fund, no real assets or savings. I had a credit card, but it was already maxed out by our recent move. A single large expense would have ruined us.
“We need a futon,” Marisa said. She might as well have punched me in the gut. “My mother is coming to visit us, and she needs somewhere to sleep. We don’t even have a couch.”
“How much to they even cost?” I asked, starting to feel sick.
“I don’t know”
“There’s no way we can afford anything like that right now.” I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it. How could I agree to do something that I couldn’t deliver on?
But she was right, of course, and I knew it.
Progress, Sort Of
A couple of weeks later we found a slightly bent metal futon frame that someone had left by the dumpster, and dragged it home.
“See?” Marisa said. “This is a sign. We really need a futon.”
“Yeah, alright,” I said, warming up to the idea. I managed to unbend the frame with a ratcheting tie-down strap.
This seemed like the hand of Providence, getting us halfway to our goal.
“I’ll go out and look for a futon mattress on Saturday,” I said.
I first went to all of the second-hand stores on that side of town. This was before GPS machines were readily available, and before smart phones with searchable maps were even invented, so I visited them one by one, orienteering with a paper map through an unfamiliar city and following the addresses listed in the yellow pages. After some hours of this I found that none of them had anything that would work as a futon mattress.
My next stop was a mattress store, where the sales clerk showed me what he had in stock. They ranged in price from about $150 to nearly $1000, and I could easily observe from inspecting the options that you get what you pay for in futon mattresses; the affordable options were only arguably adequate to the task of being slept on. I could imagine my mother-in-law feeling the bars of the metal frame through the thin mattress, and I knew that this wasn’t really an option.
I thanked the sales clerk and told him that I would think it over, then went out to the parking lot. The way forward was not at all clear to me, and none of my options seemed favorable. In retrospect this was a minor problem, but at the time it felt important. Here I was, a new husband and father, tasked to provide for my family but lacking the means to do so. The keen perception of my inadequacy humbled me.
In that parking lot, sitting in the driver’s seat of our family vehicle, I started to pray. I told Heavenly Father about my concerns, listing my options one by one and describing their relative merits and demerits. My main object was to ask the Lord for direction and help.
When I had finished my prayer a thought came to me. I looked at the yellow pages again and discovered that there was one more second-hand store that I hadn’t visited yet, and it was only a couple of miles away. I resolved to visit it first, and if there wasn’t anything there then I would go back to the mattress store and buy whatever I thought I could afford.
I drove to the nearby store feeling hopeful, and went inside. In the front of the store was the check-out counter, followed by the clothing sections. At the back of the room I found the furniture, and in a row of couches I found a nice wooden frame futon with a thick mattress for $100! This was better than what I was looking for, and it was less expensive than the cheapest new mattress!
And it was no less a miracle that it fit in the back of my minivan.
Later that night as I walked around the apartment complex to put my baby to sleep, I reflected on what had happened that day. I remembered walking into the apartment triumphantly to announce my victory, and the joy of sharing my happiness with Marisa. The futon looked pretty good in our living room, although it took up a large share of the floor space. Later I took the metal futon frame and donated it to the second-hand store.
As I walked I sang to my baby to help her go to sleep. I sang hymns and children’s songs that I learned in church when I was a kid. This music filled me with love and gratitude, especially as I thought about the immediate goodness of the Lord that I had received that day.
When I sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” I remembered my own petition to the Lord, making “my wants and wishes known,” and how in my little season of “distress and grief” my soul had found relief. But when the song was over I wanted to keep singing. It felt like the song was missing an important message, that prayer is a way to give thanks to God. So I wrote another verse to the song:
Sweet hour of prayer
Sweet hour of prayer
When God did all my wounds repair
I sang through thee my song of praise,
Acknowledged him in all my ways.
And ever when he blesses me —
When lame, I walk; when blind, I see —
My love and joy through thee I’ll share
In gratitude, sweet hour of prayer,
My love and joy through thee I’ll share
In gratitude, sweet hour of prayer
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is currently working on a new hymnbook, and asked for submission of new songs and lyrics for it. Last week I submitted these words, so I have been thinking about when and why they were written.
Epilogue and Final Thoughts
After nearly a decade of faithful service to our family, including three moves and heavy abuse by the children, we gave our futon away to our friends who needed it for their visiting parents to sleep on. The father of this family was at the start of his residency while I was finishing mine. Marisa described what it was like to give it away: “I was emotionally attached and didn’t really want to let go of this proof of our charmed and blessed life. She looked at me after I explained its meaning and asked sympathetically if I was sure. I was sure that I wanted to bless her with it, so I insisted she take it.” Our futon was used for many years by this new family.
Looking back over the years I can see a clear pattern of blessings from the Lord in time of need. Sometimes these blessings have been temporal or financial, like the futon story, and other times they have been spiritual or emotional. Through the ups and downs of my life — the joys and burdens of parenthood, the pressure cooker of medical education, the learning experience of serving in the Church — God has always been there for me. And so I offer a prayer of thanks to him again this day, and every day.