Letting go of the Prize

image0Bill Stacey knew he wanted to go on a mission for his church from the time he was a small boy. His father hadn’t gone on a mission and hadn’t really seen the importance of it, but his mother’s faith was strong enough for both of them, and she breathed faith into her sons as they grew to manhood. There was no question in their minds what they would do when they turned of age.

Bill was the first. He grew up during the Great Depression, and by 1937 when he was entering his last year of High School, he knew there would be no money. None of the boys in town had money. Few of them planned on a mission. No one in Woodruff starved, but there wasn’t one cent in town to spare among all the townsfolk together.

He thought for a long time about what to do, and Someone very well acquainted with Fred Stacey whispered in Bill’s ear the solution: Work for your dad for two years. If Fred Stacey promises to pay for your mission to compensate you for two years of work, he’ll keep his promise no matter what happens. So Bill worked it out with his father, and worked faithfully for the two years with the promise he would be supported on a mission.

image1Fred needed the help. It can’t have been easy for him to make the promise because times were hard, but he knew it was the right thing to do for his son. Nevertheless, when the time came to make good on his promise, there was no extra money in sight. He had no reserve. He honestly didn’t know how he would give up that money every month. But he had promised, and Fred Stacey never went back on a promise.

As soon as the financial backing of his mission was secure, Bill turned to something else worrying him: Velma Dickson, his sister’s best friend. Bill’s mother had originally suggested he consider dating Velma. They had spent much time together in the past two years, and Bill didn’t want to lose his girl. He could see other guys who didn’t plan to go on missions waiting patiently for him to leave town. How could he think he could leave the prettiest girl in town and have her waiting for him when he got home? Bill knew exactly what would happen when he left. But he had faith to leave it all in God’s hands and think about God’s work for two years. “I’ll worry my head off if I think about it,” he said. “I’ll just respond in a Christ-like way and go on my mission.”

At least he could write to her. Velma was a sensible girl. She would not forget him if she received a letter every week. And not only did she receive letters, she also wrote them. Certainly she didn’t forget Bill, but she also dated almost every other boy in town. The Cox twins asked her out. Even Bill’s best friend and uncle, Ray Cox, asked Ruth if it would be all right if he asked Velma out. Ernest Ravelli, Thomas Ashton, and many others asked her out a lot. She had a wonderful social life while Bill was gone, and he knew it.

image2But Bill didn’t make any demands of her. His mission president in the in had already warned him. “Some of you have a girlfriend,” he said in a meeting. “I know you’re worried she won’t be there when you get back. Well, I’ll alleviate your fears. I promise you when you come home she’ll be waiting for you—with her husband.” Somehow Bill let it all go and concentrated on his mission.

In February, 1942, Bill was released after serving two years in Duluth, Minnesota and Fort Williams in Canada. It had been a wonderful experience, one he would never forget. But as his release date approached he began to think of Velma. “What right do I have to expect her even to care about me when I get home? She has been dating Thomas Ashton, the ladies’ man at school. He’s handsome, nice, personable, and fun, and I know he must be in love with her. After all, she’s the smartest, most beautiful girl in town.” He almost didn’t dare think about her.

Meanwhile, Thomas knew Velma was holding back, and he thought he knew why. The night before Bill was to come home he came to her house. “Velma, I’m quitting you.”

“Why,” she asked.

“Because I’m not waiting for you to quit me tomorrow night when Bill gets home.”

image3She never dated anyone else again. Bill greeted his family, borrowed the car, and was at Velma’s the night he came home. She was ironing and innocently thinking of what she would do when Bill Stacey came home from his mission the next night. When she saw him at the door she couldn’t believe her eyes, but she also couldn’t believe the old dress she was wearing. Never mind. He kissed her anyway, and it wasn’t just any kiss. He had known how all the time, but hadn’t let on until he came home from his mission. They were engaged soon afterward. She even persisted when her mother said, “You have to be careful when a man who didn’t know how to kiss a girl has learned that much while he was away from her.”

Thomas never married. He came to Velma’s mother’s funeral many years later, perhaps to think of old times and wish he had been the one coming home from a mission that February day in 1942.

Sometimes when we’re willing to give up the very thing we want in order to accomplish what we know we should, we gain the reward. For Bill, the prize was great, and he never in his lifetime made a decision which wasn’t in favor of God and obedience.

The bonus was: he got Velma too.