© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 3: INFLUENCE OF A PENNY
As expected, Robert was faithful to the little Friends Meeting House on the First Day morning service, their way of expressing Sunday morning. Although a very small church, they were faithful to meet on Sunday mornings and to hold one or two revival meetings every year. Their small number of members and at tenders made it difficult to afford to have many services per week. As with many of the little congregations in the community, people attended their own churches on Sunday mornings and often attended neighboring churches on Sunday nights and prayer meetings nights. Robert usually attended four or five nights a week lately. He attended his own church on Sunday morning, usually Buckingham Community Church on Sunday night and since some churches had prayer meeting on Tuesday night, some on Wednesday night and some on Thursday night, Robert could go as often as five times a week if he so chose.
There were many churches he chose to attend besides his own. The Buckingham Church, about five miles away, was one of his favorites. The lady pastor was a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends. However, the Buckingham Church was not of any denomination. Robert liked the messages the fervent little preacher lady brought. He did a lot of growing spiritually at her church, usually on First Day evenings. Too, she had three teenaged daughters and a son.
As Lila expected, Robert went to Lester Chapel on the following Sunday night although he had often been choosing Buckingham for his Sunday night services. Lester Chapel was a small church where many of the Lewis aunts and uncles attended. It was a member of a denomination, but that was seldom even mentioned from the pulpit. Their sentiment was, “We’re all here to worship God so why talk about names which may tend to divide us?”
Lila knew she should not ask too many questions when Robert returned home Sunday night. He tended to keep things to himself until he was ready to share news. She was hoping her son would find someone better than Sandra for his special friend, yet she felt it was improper for her to try to handle this area of his life for him. Although no longer claiming to a Christian, herself, she did breathe a prayer on Sunday night that Robert and this unnamed girl would begin communicating.
The unnamed girl of Lila’s prayer was Penny Spangler. She attended the Bible college in Adrian, about 25 miles away and felt close to the Bill Lewis family. Bill was Chauncey’ oldest brother. Bill and Beulah and their handicapped son were members of the Lester Chapel Church, and Bill was a Sunday School teacher. Sometimes, Penny spent the whole weekend with Bill and Beulah on their farm, which was about two miles from the church.
It seemed that Lila’s prayer was being answered this Sunday night. Penny had volunteered to lead in the half-hour children’s chapel, which was just before the evening service began. As Robert always got to services early, he experienced Penny’s attempt to bring a lesson to the children.
During the regular evening service, Robert allowed his mind to wander from time to time. He was thinking of this red-haired Penny. Her red hair had streaks of blond and brown in it, making a multi-colored head of hair, but the red was most noticeable.
Penny seemed so sincere, so uncomplicated, and so pretty. Her smile was easy. She was shorter than Robert’s five foot six height; she was slim, trim and proper, and seemed so cheerful. She had obvious talent as well. She played her clarinet during the song service. It was loud enough that he could hear it clearly over the 30 or so voices which were singing. She seemed quite committed to living a Christian life.
When opportunity was given for personal testimonies, Penny was the first one to stand to tell some things about her life. One piece of information which Robert noticed in her short testimonial was that she felt a call to become a missionary, to Africa. Her college classes were preparing her for a future as a missionary teacher.
Something beautiful was happening inside the chest of the young man who had decided to quit seeing the worldly-minded Sandra. As he had told his mother only three days earlier, God has a better plan for those who want to please their Lord.
After service that night, Robert lingered longer than usual to mingle with those who were there. Being naturally timid, he was hoping that Aunt Beulah would make an attempt to introduce this redhead to him. Finally, he took it upon himself to approach Penny and try to break the ice with a compliment. “That was a good lesson you gave for the children tonight,” he began. “Oh, by the way, my name is Robert Lewis.”
Penny’s winning smile removed the apprehension he had felt earlier about trying to meet her. Her smiling reply was clearly heartfelt, “I tried to bring what I felt God would help them to remember and use. Beulah says that some of these children seldom come to services so I wanted to give them something useful.” Continuing, she asked, “Lewis? Are you related to Bill and Beulah Lewis?”
“Yes, Bill is my dad’s brother.” Stammering a bit, Robert nervously went on, “So that makes Bill my uncle, yep, Uncle Bill and Aunt Beulah. I’m their nephew.”
Robert immediately realized that he had said nothing really profound in all his stammering. Feeling embarrassed, he suggested, “Maybe I’ll see you on prayer meeting night?”
“Usually, I don’t come during the week, being in college and all,” Penny explained. I need all the time I can find for my studying; I’m not a straight A student. I have to work hard for the grades I get.” Seeing what seemed like disappointment, Penny added, “But, I’ll have to see about Thursday night. If I’m caught up on homework, I may ride along to church with the pastor. No promises, though.”
“Sounds fair enough,” answered the young man. “See you Sunday night if not Thursday, OK?”
“I’ll be here if I can,” Penny answered as Robert headed toward the door. “Keep looking up. That’s where our help comes from. ‘Bye.”
Robert felt like flying, or screaming, or something to reveal his heart’s lightness. It was a short drive home.
Robert’s eight-mile drive to work each day was usually a time of devotion for him. He often reflected on some of the Bible verses he’d read before leaving for work; many times, he sang some of the old songs of the church as he drove.
The next few days, however, were different. He found himself thinking a lot about the young lady he’d talked to on Sunday night. His thoughts were sometimes light and hopeful as he recalled her cheery spirit and light way of expressing things. Sometimes, though, he was remembering her testimony about a call to service in Africa. Once, he found that he had slowed the car down to almost creeping speed. He had been so engrossed in thought about Penny that he was not paying enough attention to his driving.
Of course, on Thursday night, Robert was a Lester Chapel early. That was not unusual, though. He often had been a bit indignant that he got to the church before anyone else and sometimes waited in the car for a half hour or so before the regulars arrived. They were farm people and knew the church would be there when they arrived so they were never in a hurry to get there. This was upsetting to the punctual Robert. Usually, the pastor was the last to arrive as he drove 25 miles as he, too, was a student at the Bible college in Adrian.
This particular Thursday night, Robert wished the pastor would be early, but he was not. As usual, the song service was delayed because everyone felt they should wait for the pastor to be there before starting. Everyone, including Robert, was inside when the pastor finally arrived. The pastor came in, followed by his wife who was carrying their one-year-old son. She closed the door and came to the second pew from the front, her regular spot.
Robert’s heart sank. The excitement he had allowed to build up inside him was now ebbing away. He had hoped that Penny was as excited about the prayer service as he was and that she had applied extra time to her studies the last couple of days so that she would be free to come to the service on Thursday, but apparently, she had more to study than expected, or even worse, she’d not thought about him.
The, something thumped against the church door, and it opened. There was Penny, carrying her Bible and her clarinet. The clarinet case had bumped the door as she tried to turn the knob.
Energy pumped back into Robert, replacing the sense of depression, which had begun building when he thought that she had stayed behind at the college. The long wait for the church people to arrive, and then for the pastor to arrive, the long wait was now worth it - - he got to see Penny tonight!
Robert decided to try to ignore his natural timidity and have a more pointed conversation with Penny after the service ended. Going against some of his own principles, he spent a lot of time thinking during the service, thinking of how to open a conversation with Penny and thinking of what to say once the conversation got started. He even prayed silently that God would help him become acquainted with her. Surely, God would be pleased for him to at least try to get to know her better.
Actually, Penny made it easy for Robert. After the service, she approached him, asking, “Do you make music? I bring my clarinet every service; how about you, any instruments or a good singing voice?”
“And you do a good job on the clarinet, too,” Robert jumped into the conversation. Continuing, and answering her queries, “I took lessons on piano and was in the school band for a year, playing trombone. I don’t have a trombone, now, though, so I can’t bring it.”
The two soon found themselves rather isolated toward the back of the church and very much interested in sharing information about each other. It was easier that Robert had expected. Surely, God was answering his prayer, enabling him to get more acquainted with Penny.
The pastor finally interrupted, “Penny, I hate to spoil your fun, but I really have to be heading back home. Maybe you two should get together sometime outside of church - - no one to rush you. Just a thought.”
“And a good one, too,” Robert seized upon that opportunity to try to make a date with her. “Between my full-time job and my part-time studies at the community college, I’m kind of busy, but I know I could find time to drive over and see if you had time for a Dairy Queen. You think there would be any interest?”
“There’s always time for ice cream, Sir,” teased Penny. “I happen to know it’s about mid-term time, and by Saturday I should have an hour or so of free time.”
“Great! Here,” handing her an index card he’d stashed in his Bible, he suggested, “write down the address. What time? I’ll be there!”
Returning the card on which she had written an address, she said, “Not early. I sleep in every chance I get. Why not try around noon.”
“Noon it is. Have a good night...and a safe trip home.”
Her return trip to Adrian took around 35 minutes, riding back with the pastor and his family. Robert was home in less than ten minutes. How he wished it could have been a longer trip so he could spend time thinking, and yes, and praying a prayer of thanksgiving to God for helping with arranging the date with Penny.
Since Lila and Chauncey both worked second shift, Robert had the rest of the evening to go to his room and rejoice. Ben and Kerry were engrossed in the TV in the living room downstairs. They hardly noticed that Robert didn’t even stop for a night time snack but went straight upstairs to his room.
The next morning, Lila was up before Robert left home for his job and then to school for the Friday session of an education course he was taking. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were longer days for him, with the work and the late afternoon class at the community college.
Lila sneaked glances at Robert as he had his breakfast and got ready to leave for the day. She really wanted to know if he and this girl at Lester Chapel were showing any mutual interest in getting acquainted. She felt she knew her son rather well, although he tended to be quite secretive at times. She wasn’t sure but felt that perhaps she was seeing more grinning on Robert’s face this morning. How she wished he would talk sometimes, but she knew better than to pry into his personal life.
“Mom, I’ll be going to Adrian Saturday for a few hours, just thought you’d like to know,” Robert awkwardly announced. “I want to go see someone there.”
“Anything you want to tell me about it, Robert?” asked Lila, knowing it was futule to ask. She knew he would tell her what he wanted her to know, but it would be in his good time.
“Maybe, sometime. I got to get going, now,” was the brush off she received; she had expected that type of response. Robert would tell her more quickly if she just remained patient. Any nagging or prying would surely cause him to become much more cautious about revealing his thoughts.
It seemed like a long time from Thursday night to Saturday morning. Robert was busy enough with the job and his college class along with chores at home. Still, Friday night was not a church night except when one of the local churches happened to be in revival meetings. This was not the case this week so Friday night seemed long to him. Some time of reading, some praying, some sleeping , and a lot of daydreaming helped the night to finally come to an end.
Saturday morning, at last. Robert had hoped that his mother would sleep in this day, but she was up rather early, considering she had worked Friday night and did not get home until after midnight. Often, she and Chauncey both slept later on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Today, however, it was only Chauncey who slept late. Robert was uncomfortable, not knowing whether or not to tell his mother the purpose of the trip to Adrian today. This type of talk did not come easy for him.
Again, he felt lucky when Lila said that she had to go to town to get some groceries and some of the things they would need to get a room ready for Grandma Sullivan to move into. This news removed his obligation to do more talking than he wanted to do.
“I’ll be gone when you get back, Mom,” the relieved Robert said. “I should be back long before time to do the milking.”
“All right, Robert,” answered Lila. “Have a good time.”
He intended to do just that, have a good time, a good time with a pretty young lady, a good time that would honor God as well. He felt sure that there was a world of difference between Penny and the worldly Sandra, and for that he was thankful.
Robert was somewhat early arriving ad Adrian. It would have been out of character for him to have been late. It always irritated him to be late for anything. There had been times in the past when he had driven 40 or 50 miles to go to a special revival meeting or a missionary service only to notice , upon checking his watch, that he was a few minutes late. In some such instances, he turned the car around and returned home rather than go into the service late. Punctuality was almost an obsession with him. Too, today he wanted to be sure he could find the right house.
Penny was staying with an old friend of the family who happened to have an extra bedroom in her home. It was less expensive than staying in a dorm at the Bible college. Robert had no trouble at all finding the correct house, but he drove on by and parked a few blocks away to wait. After all, he was early, too early. It wouldn’t do to look too eager.
Penny, though, was still not ready at the appointed time. Actually, she was in character to not be punctual. Her rather carefree nature was not fond of schedules and timetables. When Robert knocked, the older lady with whom Penny was living answered and asked him in and entertained him for about fifteen minutes until Penny finally presented herself.
Robert learned a few things while waiting. The older lady explained a few things about her relationship with the Spangler family. She also inadvertently revealed some things, which Penny may or may not have revealed for quite some time. Robert figured that Penny would sometime get around to telling him, herself, but for now, he would just allow himself to enjoy the afternoon with her and learn all the good things he could about her.
They did go to the Dairy Queen, where Penny ordered largely. Robert had said that she should order anything she wanted. He was surprised, however, at how much she ordered and that she ate it all. How did she stay so slim?
After the meal, the two decided to go to a shopping mall just to have a comfortable, air- conditioned place to walk and talk. They both enjoyed the two hours they had together. Neither of them actually asked for much personal information, just general areas of mutual interest, which was largely in the area of Christian living and general thoughts as to what the future may hold.
Penny shared that she felt a missionary call, probably to Africa. She talked about some missionary books she had read. This opened the conversation to some of the reading, which Robert had done.
“Have you read Have We No Right?” Robert asked her. “I found it recently and am really concerned about some of the thoughts in it.”
Penny answered, “No, I usually read about missionary experiences rather than introspective books. I like the action books. One of the men I’ve read about a lot is Hudson Taylor.”
“Oh, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. That was quite a book. Did you like it?” queried Robert.
“No I haven’t read it. Tell me more about it so I can decide if I want to read it.”
“It’s about his experiences in China, of course. I like how he tried to allow God to meet all his needs. If he needed something, he prayed and did nothing to make the thing happen himself,” said Robert. “Like once, he needed money to pay his rent, and his employer had forgotten to pay him, which seemed to be a regular pattern. Instead of telling his boss he needed the money, he asked God to remind him. Just in the knick of time, He did, too.”
“Do you really like that kind of thing?” Penny asked. “I prefer to just tell people if they owe me something, not take every little thing to God in prayer.”
“Don’t take me wrong in what I’m about to say,” began Robert. “I feel worship is more important than service. I think we need to be in an attitude of worship all the time, even if we are not doing some kind of Christian service. I think Hudson Taylor felt that way, too.”
“Maybe, but it’s not how I see it,” countered Penny. “I see service as an expression of worship.”
This conversation was the nearest thing to a disagreement that the young couple experienced during the entire afternoon.
All too soon, Robert had to offer to take Penny back to where she was staying, explaining that he had chores to do yet that night. Penny also felt she needed some time to get things done for the next week’s studies.
On the way back to St. Leon, Robert had a lot to think about. He wished Penny had felt like telling more about herself as he wanted to know a few things but realized that it isn’t proper to be too inquisitive.
What a great day this had been! God surely understood Robert and knew exactly who to bring into his life to bring joy. “Surely, this is the beginning of something outstandingly good,” thought Robert as he neared their farm near St. Leon.
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