There was something special about Donna, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. Donna was both my hairdresser and my manicurist. She worked in a shop in our small town in north central Texas. I sat in her chair once, maybe twice a month, for years, regaling her with tales of my latest travel, newest purchase, or whatever exciting thing was going on in my life at the time.
A Rocky Year. Donna always remembered what was going on with me from one visit to the next. I enjoyed our time in the shop, and sometimes I popped in just to say hey when I was out and about in town. To put a time frame on this, the year was 1986. I was thirty-two years old and had been married almost nine years to a man I was crazy about. Over the course of our fifteen-year relationship, we had our rough spots, but we always got over them. And when things were good, we were just nuts about each other.
But approaching Thanksgiving of that year, things got really rocky. The word divorce was mentioned for the first time. I was in disbelief. As the holidays came upon us, it seemed we couldn’t patch the unraveling that had begun. We fought and we discussed. He said he just didn’t want to be married anymore. He still loved me, but being married was causing him to miss out on what life had to offer; he wanted out. My head was spinning as my world crashed in around me.
One day around this time, I was at the beauty salon getting a manicure. Donna noticed how sad I looked and asked what the matter was. “Sam* wants a divorce,” I said, “and I don’t think he will listen to anyone who might try to reason with him.” We had tried talking to his parents, but not even their advice helped. Donna had my hand in hers, filing away at my fingernails. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “Honey, you need the Lord.”
“We Need the Lord.” I was speechless. What was she saying? She had never talked about church or her religion before. I hadn’t been to church myself for nearly fifteen years. I was raised Catholic, but as an adult, I had pretty much stopped going to church. Without waiting for an answer, Donna began to tell me a little of her story.
She had converted to Catholicism from a different tradition. I was struggling to take in her words. Why was she talking to me like this? Did she say she converted to Catholicism? In my ignorance I didn’t know people actually joined the Catholic Church; I mainly thought they left it. She was talking about things like “inviting Jesus into your heart” and “giving your life over to the Lord.” This was all so foreign to me. I believed in God and I prayed when I needed to. Who was she to tell me I needed more than this?
Nevertheless, Donna’s words stayed with me, and I found myself telling Sam soon after to look at our friends. Couldn’t we put them into three categories? One group couldn’t ever seem to pull things together. Another group was like us: riding along smoothly until they hit a major bump. Then there was a third, more stable group. No matter what life threw at them, there was no unraveling, and they were always concerned about other people. Something about them was different.
Sam just stared at me; we were both crying. I said to him, “Your parents and our friends in that third group—they all go to church. We need to go to church; we need the Lord.” I forget what he said in reply, but it sure wasn’t, “You are absolutely right, Honey; let’s go right now!” He just walked out, leaving me to think about those words, still echoing: We need the Lord.
Greeted by My Father. I began visiting churches in my city. I also kept talking to Donna. She asked me if I was going to revisit the Catholic Church. I hadn’t entertained the idea. I had left Catholicism many years earlier because it had offered no meaning to me. Donna said that, in all fairness, I should give the Church of my youth another look. She invited me to attend Mass with her one Sunday. “I certainly have nothing to lose,” I thought. So we went.
That Sunday I had one of my first conscious experiences with God, my Father. I was nervous when I walked into the church building. There above the altar I saw a huge life-sized crucifix. The world stood still, and somewhere deep in my heart I heard, “Welcome back; I’ve been waiting for you.” I began to cry. It was a prodigal son moment.
A Future Full of Hope. I continued to attend that church, and some of Donna’s friends invited me to attend a prayer meeting with them, so I went. I also attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar that they organized and held at another Catholic church. That’s where I invited Jesus to guide my life. I met with Sam one more time and told him I had found the answer—if he would just open his heart too, he would see how different things could be. He declined the offer. At that point, I knew this was the end of the marriage, but I also knew that I had a future full of hope because Jesus was in it.
Donna, her friends, and my pastor counseled me through a very difficult and emotionally draining time in my life. No one ever told me that the Lord would save my marriage if I gave my life to him. But they did say that one thing was for sure: God wouldn’t just leave me stranded. My life still has its ups and downs. But even during the hardest times, the Lord has supplied and will continue to supply grace, strength, and good friends. I’m grateful for the words of life that Donna shared with me: a distraught soul in need of much more than a manicure.
Eileen Pizer lives in northern Virginia. *Name changed at author’s request.