Summers in Minnesota are glorious but short.  Maybe that why so many of us who live in the North country head for the lake on sunlit weekends; the "lake" meaning any stream, river, pond, beach-house or cabin.  

Last Sunday afternoon, Roxanne and Paul, two of my closest friends, invited my daughters and I to a back-yard barbecue at their home; a tidy "by the lake" rambler that overlooks an acre of rolling hills and apple trees.

As Paul piled charcoal on the grill, my two girls lounged nearby on lawn chairs, catching some afternoon rays. I drank a glass of lemonade while sitting with Roxanne at a picnic table, the two of us cutting up fruit for a salad.  The familiar summer smell of burning charcoal filled the air as our conversation turned to the economy.

There’s no work out there" said Paul as he began flipping burgers with a long spatula. Two years earlier,  he and  Roxanne had started an Electrical business.  At that time, they had used some of their savings to purchase a truck and build a pole barn on their land.  They had invested funds in marketing and advertising.  For awhile, Paul was getting lucrative bids and the business seemed to be taking off.  Then, last fall, the economy began sliding.  Almost overnight, their business phone stopped ringing.  Their fax machine went silent.  Without customers to serve, they moved their new truck into the pole barn, for storage. Roxanne, a dental hygienist, talked about how hard it had been trying to make ends meet.  "All these months, we’ve been living off my income."  She said.

I took a sip of lemonade.  "Has God been talking to you through all this?"  I asked.

Paul laughed.   "These days, God isn’t saying too much….It seems like it’s me who’s doing all the talking…" he said.

While boat-motors hummed in the distance,  Paul began telling us a story.  "Last week the phone rang.  It was a young single mom.   The electricity in her kitchen wasn’t working…"  Paul said.

He went on to say that the mother of three small children had no money to pay for electrical repairs.  "I’ve lost my job…" she told him.

Through her tears, the woman pleaded for Paul to help her.   "I’ll be there soon…" said Paul.

Minutes later, he arrived at the woman’s home and began knocking on the door.  While standing on her front porch,   he overheard the young mother yelling at her kids.

"She must’ve said the ‘F’ word twenty times."  Paul told us.

After making his way to a basement littered with dirty clothes and discarded furniture, Paul finally found the breaker box and fixed the electrical problem.  When he came back upstairs, he saw the mother doing dishes while her kids played outside in the backyard.

"I’m sorry I can’t pay you…" she told Paul as she dried off silverware.

Paul found himself praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  "The only payment I’ll ask for is 10 minutes of your time" he said.

She looked at him quizzically.  "I guess that would be alright…" she said.   They sat down together at her kitchen table.

Paul looked her straight in the eye.  "When I came into your home today, all I heard was you swearing at your children.   What do you think all that cussing is doing to them?"  He asked in a respectful, but firm tone.

The mother sighed deeply.   "I’ve been under so much stress…" she said.

Paul nodded as if he understood.  "Do you believe in God?  Do you believe he can help you?"  He asked.

For the next 10 minutes, Paul encouraged the mother, in a fatherly way, telling her that faith could transform every area of her life.    "Just pray more…ask God to be with you." he said.

When the 10 minutes were over, the woman thanked him.  "I need to remember that God is always with me." she said.

Now, a week later, as Paul set a plate of grilled burgers on the picnic table, I said:  "Maybe there’s a reason why your electrical business didn’t take off.  "Maybe God is calling you to share your faith, in homes, as a handyman."

Roxanne laughed as she passed around the fruit salad. "Think about it Paul, you LOVE to talk and you can fix anything…."   She said.

For the rest of the afternoon,   the three of us sat at the picnic table, eating our summer meal and brainstorming about ways that Paul could begin a handyman business.  "You could put up index cards at the Senior Citizen Center and network with your electrical buddies…"  Roxanne and I suggested.

"I’ll charge by the hour…a sliding scale….I bet I could advertise in the local paper…"  Paul added.

As we talked, I began realizing that sometimes, our greatest losses in life become opportunities to do something new; something beautiful for God.   That’s a good thing to remember when sitting with your best friends, by the lake, on a sunlit afternoon.

All Rights reserved,  Copyright 2009, Nancy Jo Sullivan