I have this ability to conjure people up. Former students, old friends, long lost relatives. It seems all I need do is think of them and they show up.
No, not every single time. But often enough for me to take notice.
And most of the time I don’t even know I’m doing it.
Take Faith Lane.
As Thanksgiving approached two years ago, I thought of Faith. When she was my student in about 2006, she sold sweet potato pies around the holidays to earn extra money for Christmas. She’s a single mom with five kids.
The day after Faith came to mind, she walked into the building at Luzerne County Community College where I teach and have my office. Why? She said she didn’t know. She just decided to stop by. I had not seen her in 10 years.
I asked if she still sold sweet potato pies. She did, she said, but now as a fundraiser for her church. I ordered four or five and put on an impromptu “sweet potato pie party” for my students. I bought a few apple pies and cup cakes for those who might not be into sweet potato pies and picked up soda and coffee. A student who’s also a single mom, showed up with three pumpkin pies and a treat she called “cannoli pie.” Other students brought donuts and a fellow who plays guitar and sings for a living provided music and brought a few dozen of his mom’s incredible chocolate and peanut butter candies. It was a huge hit.
We did it again this past November, not impromptu this time but equally successful. I ordered eight sweet potato pies and all were eaten, every crumb.
Well, sweet potato pies are back in my life right now and I’m wondering if this time Faith Lane actually conjured me up. My wife was watching “PA Live” one afternoon on TV last week and as I walked by, there on the screen making sweet potato pies was Faith.
She’s making them, she explained, as a fundraiser for the Living Water Youth Ministry of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Wilkes-Barre. I had to call her.
The church’s Youth Ministry, Faith said, is “trying to pick up the slack” now that so many schools have dropped music education. “We’re trying to raise money so that Harlan Cabran Jr. can start up a mini band.” She hopes to sell 100 pies at $10 each and bring in $1,000 to buy instruments.
She’s taking orders on her own phone at 570-880-2715. Today was supposed to be the last day to order, but Faith says she’ll keep accepting orders as long as the phone keeps ringing.
The church is also accepting monetary donations for the band.
I had never asked Faith how she learned to make sweet potato pies but did so while I had her on the phone. “I grew up in foster care,” she said, “from 12 to 21. I was in 13 different homes one year. A lovely woman named Josephine Porter cared for me for a long time. She taught me how to make sweet potato pies.”
I had suspected Faith’s life had not been easy but had no idea how difficult it had been. And continues to be. Her car conked out the day before I called.
“I’m so sorry, but you’ll have to pick them up yourself,” she said when I placed an order for five pies.
“Oh, no,” I answered, “don’t be sorry. I am sorry for you.”
“That’s not necessary, Mr. Ackerman,” she said. “God is good. He’s always good.”
I’ve never known Faith to complain and never known her to not smile.
That’s by choice.
“You can’t just have faith,” she said, “you have to work your faith. And that’s what I do. I don’t get upset when things go wrong. Just the opposite. I always say my opportunities are in my opposition. I don’t run away from Goliath, I run toward him.”
As of last Monday when we talked, Faith had orders for 19 pies. I’m not sure if that included my five.
“You have a long way to go,” I said, as if she didn’t know. “And a lot of pies to make if you do hit your goal.”
“I’m not worried,” she said, “we’ll get there. I’ll manage. Christ will be with me. He is the foundation of my strength. Together we’ll succeed.”
You can tell there’s not a doubt in her mind.
And that’s Faith.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.