A Summer in the Park

Yvonne and Jose Sanchez

Dr. Kathy Baker introduced me to Yvonne Sanchez; her 2011 Women Wanting Wisdom featured speaker. Yvonne settled on the couch in Dr. Baker’s office while I set up my camera and then shut the door to a record a story of God’s patient persistence.

Yvonne credits her Catholic roots for the discipline she needed to live the Christian life. Her devout Catholic parents taught her to read the Bible, pray and be faithful in church attendance. In her junior year at high school, her lifelong friend and neighbor, Annette Garcia Wells, left for a Catholic boarding school. Annette returned the following summer with an unusual zeal for God. She had been “saved” during a Catholic Charismatic meeting during the school year. The day after Annette returned home, she bought Yvonne lunch and gushed about the personal relationship she had found with Jesus. The next day, Yvonne asked Annette to tell her about Jesus again. By the end of the conversation, Yvonne surrendered her life to Christ and spoke in tongues.

Annette and Yvonne quickly became a missionary team. They invited friends to meet them at a park. Annette played her guitar and spoke about Jesus. Their friends were receptive to the gospel, and many were saved and filled with the Spirit. Under Annette’s leadership, the small group quickly grew into a two-hundred member fellowship.

“Without the guidance of a trained clergyman, a small group of teenagers started a movement in our community,” said Yvonne. “We simply fell in love with Jesus. The meetings in the park continued until the end of the summer when Annette returned to boarding school. Annette taught us basic principles, but without the structure a church offers, we didn’t have the tools to grow in our faith. When I enrolled in college, my heart was tender toward God, but I left my salvation experience in my past and stopped growing in the knowledge of God.” But she never forgot the summer she spent in the park worshipping God with Annette.

Yvonne enrolled in college intent on fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming an actress. She joined the first bi-lingual theater company in the nation where she met Jose Sanchez, who she later married. The plays they performed were often double cast in both Spanish and English speaking actors. During summer break, they toured in Mexico for college credit.

She had acquired thirty-six hours toward a theater major when she realized the necessity of a job that provided a steady income. She learned elementary education would accept her hours, so she changed her major hoping to teach theater to children while she pursued her dream. After she graduated, the only open position was in special education.

Nearly a decade had elapsed, and she was pregnant with her second child when she kept running into people telling her about Jesus. Yvonne drove her car into a grocery store parking lot and spotted a friend she had not seen for years. “How you have been,” exclaimed Yvonne.

“I am great. You can’t imagine how great. Why don’t you come to my office and let me tell you what has been happening in my life,” he replied. Yvonne followed him into a storeroom in the grocery store. She sat on a box and listened to a familiar story.

Yvonne grew uncomfortable as he talked about Jesus and how he had found a personal relationship with God. She suppressed her longing to return to the relationship she had once had with God. Her life had changed dramatically since that summer in the park. She had married her husband in the Catholic Church. They were raising their daughter in the Catholic Church. Her husband and her extended family were devout Catholics. They would not welcome her defection. She walked out of the grocery store intent on forgetting the encounter with her friend, but the subject of Jesus arose again.

A couple who rented property from Yvonne’s parents befriended Yvonne and her husband. They spent a lot of time with Yvonne’s family, which she interpreted as friendliness, but the couple had an ulterior motive. They wanted to share their faith and did so often. Yvonne felt cornered when they came to her home. Their enthusiasm about God stirred up memories of her summer in the park. Yvonne would sit as far back on her couch as possible, and then cross her legs and her arms clinging to a life she didn’t want to change.

“I felt that every time I turned around someone was telling me about Jesus. I was resistant, but my husband was even more resistant. I knew if I surrendered everything to God my marriage might end. When we moved to a new community, I knew God was chasing me. My new job assignment in special education was in an abandoned building surrounded by barbered wire. I was one of two teachers and six educational assistants. My first day on the job Sylvia, the other teacher, said to me, ‘I am so glad you are here. Praise the Lord.’  This time I was more than cornered. I was trapped. Every day, she talked about Jesus and shared scriptures and encouragement. Within thirty days, I surrender my life to God and so had the six assistants.”

Yvonne waited for an invitation to Sylvia’s church. When she didn’t receive one, Yvonne invited herself. “We have services on Wednesday night and Sunday,” said Sylvia. Yvonne knew she could not attend on Sunday. That day was reserved for her Catholic church. She jotted down the address to Sylvia’s church and decided to visit on Wednesday.

That evening she approached the subject with Jose. “I feel God is calling me to him. Do you want to go to church with me on Wednesday night?”

“No,” said Jose. “But you do what you feel God wants you to do.”

By the time Yvonne checked her girls into the nursery, the service had already begun. She heard music as she approached the sanctuary. She walked into the small sanctuary and felt like she was in the park with Annette again. Immediately she lifted her hands to worship God and spoke in tongues, which she had not done since the summer in the park. “I surrendered my life to Christ, and that is when my Christian walk really began,” said Yvonne.

Yvonne returned home enthusiastic about her renewed relationship with God. With Jose’s consent, she continued to attend the interdenominational church on Wednesday night and the Catholic church on Sunday. As Yvonne had feared, her divided commitment produced marriage problems. The tension steadily increased until Jose contacted an attorney to file for divorce.

The following Wednesday, Yvonne went to the pastor’s wife and wept. “My life is falling apart.”

The pastor’s wife replied, “The Bible says to seek first the kingdom of God and all his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. It does not say these things will be taken from you.” She brought Yvonne to the front of the church and invited the congregation to join her in prayer. Suddenly, the pastor’s wife said, “It’s done.” Yvonne walked back to her seat wondering what was done.

That night, she slipped into bed still pondering her pastor’s declaration. A few minutes later, Jose walked into the bedroom. “I am so sorry, Yvonne. I was going to make a very big mistake. You can go church wherever you want, and take the girls too. I don’t want a divorce.”

Yvonne had returned to her first love, and God had spared her from divorce, but a long walk through a desert lay before her. Yvonne and Jose attended different churches for many years. They moved to Laredo shortly after Yvonne renewed her commitment to God, where she joined Church of the Crossroad. Jose found a Catholic church to attend. On occasion, he attended an early mass, so he could join Yvonne at Church of the Crossroad. He also assisted her when she wrote and directed plays for her church, but he remained committed to the Catholic church.

Yvonne experienced a crisis of faith the day she answered her phone and heard, “He’s dead. He’s dead.”

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

“Your father is dead.”

Yvonne’s father had conquered insurmountable odds most of his life. The tenth of thirteen children, he quit school at thirteen to help support his family. In 1964, he started a business in South Texas when there were few Hispanic business owners. He was a successful business man until the oil bust of the 1990’s. He hid his depression as business dwindled until the financial pressure provoked him to take his life.

The tragic death of Yvonne’s father left her in shock and questioning God’s love. “I could not imagine any emotional pain could be that difficult,” said Yvonne. “I was extremely confused when I returned home from the funeral. I had been a Christian for several years and thought I had an intimate relationship with God. When I opened my Bible and read ‘All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose’, I said, ‘How are you going to work this for good?’”

Yvonne had reached a crossroad in her relationship with God. She believed he was a loving God who protected her family, but he didn’t stop her father from committing suicide. She faced a difficult choice. Believe God’s word is true. Turn her back on God forever. Yvonne prayed, “I don’t know how you can work this for good, but that is what your word says, so I take you at your word.” That day she began a journey of surrender.

Daily, she awoke to surrender her life to God during endless days of emotional pain and depression. She often took her children to school and then returned home to lie on her bed until time to pick them up. She arrived at the school dressed and smiling as though she had been an active member of society that day.

As Yvonne learned to surrender, God surrounded her with the love of her family. One day, she picked her children up from school and brought them home to stay with the housekeeper while she ran an errand. Her five-year old son sensed her distress and refused to leave her side. Knowing there were no words to comfort his wife, Jose often sat on the bed reading a book, while Yvonne wept her pain into submission.

“God taught me that surrender is a song to him. Regardless of the circumstance, surrender is the appropriate response. Life is not fair, but we serve a God of justice. Through that experience, I began to write vignettes about people who faced difficult circumstances and surrendered their lives to God.”

On Mother’s Day, twenty years after Yvonne’s first act of surrender to God, she was dressing for church. “I am going to church with you today,” said Jose. Yvonne was thrilled with the wonderful Mother’s Day gift her husband gave her.

The following Sunday, Jose said, “What time do we leave?”

“Are you going again?”

“Yes,” said Jose.

The next Sunday, Yvonne was afraid to ask if he planned to attend church with her again. She waited to see what he would do. Once again, he dressed and attended church with her. Ten years later, Jose continues to attend church with Yvonne.

Yvonne published Fingerprint: Uniquely Marked for a Purpose, her vignettes of surrender, with Authorhouse, January 2011.

Keep the Change

I opened my Facebook page. One message. A pastor’s wife enjoyed having dinner with us and suggested we meet for dinner again. I quickly responded, “Yes.” I owed her husband a copy of Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot for contributing “It’s Not What You Can Do: George Zanca” to the book.  My husband’s rotating two weeks of day shift, two weeks of night shift work schedule made finding a time to meet for dinner a challenge. We offered to visit their church and go to lunch after the service.

Before we left for church that morning, I asked my husband to put a box of books in the trunk. I walked into the church with the complimentary copy for Pastor Zanca in hand. As soon as I stepped in the door, a woman who had read my first book and loved it wanted to purchase the book in my hand. I had more books in the car and service had not started yet, so I sold her the complimentary copy. While waiting for her to find her wallet, another woman asked to purchase the book. I waved to my husband. “Go to the car and get two books, please.”

Service had started by the time I sat in the front row seat reserved for me by a friend. During announcements, Pastor Zanca said, “A famous author is visiting the church today.” Embarrassed by his confidence in things not yet true, I elbowed my friend to stand and take a bow. She did. We laughed. Pastor Zanca invited me to the pulpit to say a few words about the book. I wasn’t prepared to speak. I returned to my seat, trying to recall what I had just babbled. Three people tapped me on the shoulder to purchase the book. During the five minutes of greeting one another that followed, I told Pastor Zanca I had more books in the car for interested purchasers. He relayed that information to his congregation.

At the end of the service, my husband brought the box of books to the back of the church. I had not planned to sell books and was not prepared with change. The first man handed me a $20. “I’m sorry. I don’t have change,” I said.

“Keep the change,” he responded. I was selling the book for $15. It retailed for $16.99. Why would anyone give me an extra $5 for a book swirled in my mind unable to take root and send a response to my mouth. The man tossed the $20 into the box of books, took the book out of my hand and left. That scenario happened four times, except for tossing the $20 in the box. By the third time it happened, I resigned myself to accepting the extra $5.

When the last person paid for her book, I paused to ponder why people gave me $5 above my asking price. Then I heard, “How much for the book?”

I looked up to see Sister Mac smiling at me. “Fifteen,” I responded. Her smiling face fell in disappointment. I’d met Sister Mac twenty years earlier. She was widowed and caring for her adult handicapped son. He had recently died, and she was living alone on half of her former income. That is when I knew why people were paying above my asking price. God had paid for Sister Mac’s book.

Passage to Purpose: Welcome to Marketing

I opened the email titled “Welcome to Marketing.” The nine months of labor producing Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot had given birth. I might add that was nine months working with the publisher. Four years of talking to people about their faith preceded the labor pains. Anyhow, the official release date was set for September 2012, but books could be purchased from the publisher and the author. I put the link to the publishers purchase page on my website and ordered books.

An acquaintance purchased the first five books via the publisher’s website after some initial difficulties.  The website would not cooperate. I called the marketing representative that had been assigned to me by the publisher. He promptly called my friend to take her order.

Since that first order, the marketing representative came to my rescue more than once rectifying minor glitches. He is professional and quick to respond to my concerns. On one occasion, he was trading emails with me at 8 p.m. I heard and read via the internet negative things about Tate Publishing. I have been dealing with them for a year. Not one of those negative comments has proved true.

I questioned that anyone would spend money on something I wrote. I was surprised that my first sell was not one but five books. The second sale was to a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University. He was in town conducting research for a book. A pastor gave him my name. I met with the professor to give him more names. We discussed people I had interviewed. He bought my book for his research.

Delivering a complimentary copy to everyone who told me his or her story was first on my marketing agenda. I started by making appointments with people who lived in the same area of town. The Northshore Literary Society met the second Sunday in July. I made appointments in Kenner, Metairie and on the Northshore but things did not work as planned.

First stop, Betty, the subject of Never Too Old. I drove into the parking lot of the assisted living facility. Collected the complimentary copy and the extra copies she wanted to buy. Betty met me in the foyer. “Come up to my apartment and we will talk,” she said. I would have loved to, but had another appointment in less than an hour. We sat on two comfortable chairs next to a Grandfather clock that chimed on the quarter hour.

For the next thirty minutes, I received a reality check on aging. A was a woman who had lain on the floor for three days before she was discovered near death. The incident prompted the residents develop a system of cards that hung on the door. If the card stayed out too long, someone would check on the resident. Then someone complained about the invasion of privacy, and the system was abandoned. Betty pointed to a device her daughter made her wear. If Betty fell and could not get up, she pushed a button on the device to alert her daughter. I wondered if I would live long enough to need a device.

A woman approached us. “Is this a private conversation?”

“No,” I said. “Join us.”

Betty showed her a book and explained that I was an author. I don’t really consider myself and author, but I suppose I am. The woman politely looked at the book and returned it to Betty. The automatic door opened for a man to exit. He failed to exit fast enough. To our horror the door shut pinning the man immobile. I arose to rescue him.  The motion sensor picked me up and opened before I save the day by freeing its captive. The man shuffled out the door as though nothing had happened. “Happens all the time,” said Betty.

The woman departed, and Betty launched into a discourse about the religious wars that had decimated her Bible study. A Baptist minister criticized the Catholics. The Catholics responded by removing religious flyers announcing Protestant events. In the fray, four Catholics stopped attending Betty’s interdenominational Bible Study. I swallowed my distaste for organized religion and reminded myself that church is where spiritually immature people belong. The clock chimed, rescuing me from expressing opinions better left unsaid.

I drove to a bookstore café to meet with Kathy Frady, The Creative Dramatist. By quarter after three I wondered if she forgot. My ride to the Northshore would arrive in fifteen minutes. I felt my cell phone vibrate. A text from Kathy said “On the way home. Waited in the bookstore and did not see you.” I was sitting in the café. My first lesson: be specific when meeting in a large building and call if the person is ten minutes late.

My ride arrived for a soggy forty minute drive to St. John’s Café in Covington, where I had two deliveries. The rain had stopped by the time we parked at Café.  My phone vibrated. The voice mail requested directions to Joe’s Café. “Who is this and why are they asking me for directions to Joe’s Café? Wrong number,” I said to my friend. I put the complimentary copies and a few extras in my brief case for Pam Harrelson, Make Me Ordinary, who wanted to purchase a few copies for her family.

I delivered a complimentary copy to Pam Ewen, Faith, Trust, and Reason and then promptly sold every book in my briefcase. Pam Harrelson walked in. I had told her Joe’s Café. She was the supposed wrong number. She patiently waited while I returned to the car for more books. Lesson number two: double check my information before sending it to people.

When dealing with people being specific and accurate is important. After doing seventy interviews, I thought I was diligent about such things. Apparently, not!