Tragedy struck Celeste House at the age of nine when both of her parents were killed in a car accident. Over the next twenty years, life threw her one hard punch after another. Determined to have a better life, each time she was knocked down, she stood up and reentered the ring.
Although she was working three jobs, she teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Celeste and her seven-year-old son, Henry, lived in a rundown apartment in a bad neighborhood. This prompted her to pray every day for God to help her provide for her son. Henry also prayed every day for his mother to be happy. None of their prayers, however, had been answered.
While eating a TV dinner for her Thanksgiving meal, Celeste reached her breaking point. Defeated, she realized that only a miracle could turn things around. Frustrated, she went to her church and asked God why he had not been honoring her requests. This time God spoke to her, but it was not the answer she had expected.
The morning sun shone into the church through the magnificent stained glass Catherine window, illuminating the sanctuary with an iridescent hue of colors. The large, round window derived its name from Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was a princess, the daughter of a pagan king and queen. At the age of fourteen, she converted to Christianity and was sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel. The attempt failed, and Catherine lived, leading hundreds to Christ. Eventually, she was tortured and beheaded for not renouncing her faith.
The colored light from the window glistened on Celeste's face as she gazed at its beauty. It was Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving. She was in the balcony of her church, her favorite place to pray. The balcony was illuminated by the Catherine window that was directly above and behind it. Her head slowly turned to the front of the sanctuary, where her eyes were instantly drawn to the large wooden cross that hung above the altar. With the warmth of the sunlight on her back, she breathed in the familiar smell. It seemed to her that all old churches had the same smell, the smell of time. The window, the cross, and the smell heightened her senses and helped her mind to focus on the great history of her faith.
Bowing her head, she began to pray. "Lord, please help provide for me and my son." Frustrated, she stopped her prayer. A year earlier, she had promised God and herself that she would be a prayer warrior, praying faithfully every day. Being a single mother with a seemingly endless work schedule left her with little spare time, but she had honored her pledge.
After a year of devoted prayers, however, the unfortunate truth was she felt farther away from God, not closer. She thought, Lord, why are You not answering me?
During her shift at work the night before, she had overheard two customers talking. One of them had said, "If you want to improve your friendship, you have to stop talking and start listening." Celeste contemplated their conversation and resumed her prayer. "God, you must be sick of listening to me. I'm so sorry that I haven't listened to you. Please forgive me!" She pulled her small Bible from her purse and randomly opened it to Romans 5:2–5.
" ...through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
Celeste closed her Bible, then reopened it. The first words she saw were the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Celeste immediately resumed her prayer, saying, "God, I heard You loud and clear. I should have prayed not to have You eliminate my problems, but to use them with Your help to build my character. Also, Lord, I'm sorry I have been begging for things that You have already promised. Thank You for giving me the wisdom to see my error. You have restored my hope."
After praying, she pondered its implications. I understand God's message. I think I can endure the sufferings and, with God's help, turn them into character. Then she thought about Henry. My sufferings are Henry's sufferings. How much character should one expect from a seven-year-old? It only took a minute for reason to outthink faith. As her mind waged the doubt-faith war, Celeste glanced down into the church and was startled when she realized she was being watched.
After being diagnosed with a juvenile form of Macular Degeneration, Paul Paprocki became legally blind at the age of sixteen. As a Christian, he prayed for guidance and wisdom to live a productive life. Forty-three years later, Paul shares God's answers in a fictional novel.