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For a long moment I stood in the quiet post office that gray December afternoon, not wanting to acknowledge defeat. Someone was pulling down a "Mail Early for Christmas" poster, and I sensed icy slush seeping into one of my worn rubber boots.
My post office mailbox was empty. I checked the last delivery time again to make sure. But the message seemed clear. What had promised to be an exciting project seemed to have gone the way of old Christmas wrappings.
It had all started two years previous when I began teaching an adult Sunday-school class at my First Baptist Church. It was the only worthwhile thing happening to me at the time. My daughter, whom I had raised alone, was off at college in Denver and planning to marry.
As a 45-year-old unemployed college teacher, I rattled around in a big old house. Teaching positions were difficult to find, I hadn't done well at real estate, and the book reviews I gave before groups barely kept the wolf from the door.
I had always loved teaching ever since I was a child conducting “classes" for back-yard playmates. So the Sunday-school class brightened my outlook. I called the 19 ladies the "Rachel Girls"; most of them were grandmothers in their 60s and 70s with a deep interest in the Bible. We began working through the Old Testament with the main goal of getting to know its characters as real people rather than a dull list of "begets."
As Adam and Eve's descendants multiplied, I thought they'd be easier to follow if we made some kind of family tree. The church janitor kindly got me two four- by eight-foot pieces of fiberboard, which I placed before the class. Then, as we'd come to a new Bible character, I'd print his or her name on a piece of paper that I'd thumbtack to the board in its proper place.
Gradually these names became flesh-and-blood human beings to us. Pointing to one group of brothers, I said, "Can't you just hear their mother calling: 'Come on Uz, Hul, Gether and Mash; get your hands washed before supper!' "
We all laughed as we thought about calling our own children in from play.
As the family tree branched out, we saw interesting family relationships. For example, we discovered that Abraham and Sarah were Lot's uncle and aunt; as he was an orphan, they became like parents to him. Thus we could better understand Abraham's concern when God threatened to destroy the city of Sodom, where Lot lived.
So much of the Bible became clearer as we began to see God's purpose in history. Finally, after months of study we could see the whole family of God on the big multi-sheet chart that traced Adam and Eve's descendants down to Joseph and Mary, the earthly parents of Jesus Christ.
"For the first time I really understand the Old Testament," said one lady.
"Yes," echoed another, "seeing the family relationships in the twelve tribes of Israel makes it come alive."
The class, which now numbered more than 40 ladies, wanted copies of the chart.
"Maybe we can run it off in the church office," one suggested. But I knew that was an impossibility. There was just no way anyone could place 1100 names with all the Scripture references onto something manageable.
I took the big sheets home and hung them on my dining-room wall. Visitors were fascinated by them. A strange excitement began to fill me and I wondered if God was trying to tell me something.
Could a chart be printed? I dared to wonder. I didn't know a thing about graphics, but something was pushing me. Even so, how many people would really want it?
After praying for guidance, I felt led to go to the editor of the Baptist Messenger in Oklahoma City and show him the family tree.
"It's fascinating, Mary Lou," he said after studying it. "What can I do to help?"
"Would you print a story about it?"
He said he would, and promised to include my post office box number in case anyone wished to order one.
Back at home I got down on my knees and put out a fleece. "Dear Lord," I prayed, "if just 24 people order this chart before the end of the year, I'll do everything I can to get it printed."
The little article in the Messenger appeared in October 1974. Each day I hurried down to the post office, but the box was empty. I was about to give up when early in November I found one envelope. With trembling hands I opened it to find an order from an Indian boy on a reservation.
A few more orders trickled in. By December 10, I had 15, and six more came in the next nine days. Then I went to Denver to spend Christmas with my daughter. We talked excitedly about the chart and even designed an emblem for what we called "The Adam and Eve Family nee."
But when I returned home on December 30 and went to the post office that cold, gray afternoon, the box was empty. Nothing had come in for the past 11 days. With only 21 orders it certainly didn't look as though the Lord wanted the chart printed. I drove home to my old house, depressed.
The next day, December 31, everyone else seemed to be preparing for New Year's Eve parties. I figured I'd make one more trip to the post office; at least I could cancel my box.
My steps echoed in the nearly deserted lobby as I approached the tier of boxes. Then I halted. There was something white in the box; late Christmas cards, probably.
I reached in and pulled out three envelopes. Each was an order for the chart. I stood breathless. Twenty-four orders!
I drove home in exhilaration. But what to do now? I wondered. Did I have enough know-how to proceed?
When I went to the Lord in prayer the thought came: You have come to depend upon Me, Mary Lou, for your daily bread; it will be the same with knowledge. You will be given just what you need to know each day.
The first step seemed logical. I turned to the Yellow Pages and looked up printers. By now I had learned that the largest sheet of paper that could normally be printed measured 38 by 25 inches.
But, after making calls all afternoon, I found only four printers in Oklahoma City with presses large enough and able to do four-color printing. Two said the job was too complicated. Then I learned that before the chart could be printed I would have to have someone do the typesetting and artwork. I took bids from firms and settled on Ed-Be, Incorporated, run by Glen Behymer and Jack Clady.
I showed up at their plant early in January with my hand-lettered sheets, afraid the typesetter would demand typed copies. But Glen Behymer knew the Bible intimately and said he'd use them just as they were.
All through January and February I worked with the typesetters, carefully cutting apart the thousands of printed names and references and pasting them on the master chart. We worked from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, and by evening we'd be dizzy from the strain. When I confessed that as yet I had no money to pay, Glen laughed: "I knew you were doing this on faith, Mary Lou, but I didn't know it was on my faith, too!"
In the meantime I had written paper houses for samples of their toughest, most resilient paper. The one I liked-Quintessence-turned out to be most costly. I was about to pick a cheaper grade when I remembered God telling Moses to use only the finest materials in His tabernacle such as gold, silver and bronze. Wouldn't He want the best for His family tree?
On March 21,1975, a delivery-truck driver staggered into my living room under a bundle of 1000 charts. "Where do you want them, lady?"
"Oh, uh, put them right on the floor." After he left I stared at them for a long time, feeling panic rise in me. What was I going to do with them all? I had requests for only 68, including complimentary charts for the Rachel Girls. No more orders had come in the mail.
I ran upstairs to escape the sight of the big brown-paper package. On my knees at my bed, I confessed my dilemma. "Father, I owe the printer, the typesetter and the paper company. I don't know a thing about selling these charts. Please help me."
A few days later a friend mentioned that she knew someone at Associated Press wireservice. "Why don't you call their religion editor, George Cornell, about your chart?" she suggested.
I was reluctant. Why would a newspaperman who covers national and world religious news be interested in a Bible family tree? Yet, it was the only suggestion that had come, so I phoned him. He did seem intrigued.
A few weeks later a story about the family tree appeared in newspapers across the nation. Mr. Cornell described the chart and wrote that I taught at First Baptist Church.
The day it appeared, I was in our church office when the secretary said I had a long distance call. I picked up the phone, concerned that something might have happened to my daughter who was now married. Instead, I heard a stranger in North Carolina say that he had read the news story and wanted to buy a chart.
Finally, I tied to install a phone-answering device in my house to handle incoming calls. Orders came from Bible-college professors, rabbis, ministers, schools and libraries. Within a month all the charts were gone and I had to have more printed.
Again, as He promised, God led me step by step. Every day I learned something new, including postal-mailing procedures when orders began coming in from all over the world. The whole ground floor of my house became a warehouse and shipping area.
Recently, a little girl came with her mother who wanted to see my homestyle packing and mailing operation. Afterward, she looked up at me and said: "You keep saying 'we' all the time. But you are just one person."
I puzzled for a moment and then smiled. "No, honey," I said. "There are two of us working here. God is in charge of this place, and He tells me what to do each day."
Six years ago when the Lord made it clear that I should produce and print a large quantity of my “Adam and Eve Family Tree" Bible genealogy charts, I was scared.
Me, an out-of-work schoolteacher, asking a printer to trust me for all that money to produce 1000 charts? I didn't have a cent to pay him at the time.
But, as described in my Guideposts story last November, a little announcement about this chart that I had made for the "Rachel Girls," my Sunday school class, had appeared in a church magazine. And I had promised God that if just 24 orders came in from that announcement I would consider that His sign to have the chart printed in quantity.
Well, 24 orders did come in by the deadline I had set-no more, no less. Thus I stepped out on a shaky limb of faith and had 1000 of the 38- by 25-inch four-color charts printed, showing family lines and relationships of Old Testament characters, emphasizing the Messianic line from Adam and Eve to Jesus. Later, an Associated Press news story about the chart appeared, plus an ad I ran in the Christian Booksellers Association suppliers' directory.
In the years that followed, I mailed out some 50 charts a month to customers, most of whom had heard about it from other people. I did all the packing and shipping from my house. The small income from it helped pay my utility bills and other expenses.
But, as the Apostle Paul tells us, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard ... the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." (I Corinthians 2:9)
And then the story appeared in Guideposts.
My phone began ringing day and night. Folks called from all over the United States, some for prayer for problems and illness, others to say how my step of faith inspired them. "I was so despondent and discouraged," wept a woman who said she was my age, 55, "but your story helped me trust in God again."
A man phoned from a highway telephone in Kansas City. "I read your story in a Guideposts I found in my hotel room in San Diego. I'm driving to New York and figured I'd phone you for a chart from here since it would be the closest I'd come to you."
In a few days my post office box, Drawer N in Norman, Oklahoma, couldn't hold the inquiries. A high school girl came in after classes to help. But when I returned to the post office, the man dragged out a bulging canvas bag. I stared at it in despair. How could I cope with this kind of response?
I thank the Lord that the University of Oklahoma is nearby. I told the wife of the Baptist Student Union director about our predicament, and "help wanted" signs sprouted on dormitory bulletin boards.
Soon my basement and living room clattered with typists answering letters from some 30 mailbags stacked like wheat sacks around the house.
Letters streamed in from Sunday school teachers, ministers, and rabbis, from as far off as Australia and 30 other countries. They came from bank presidents, racecar drivers, judges and beauty-shop operators, some with orders amounting upwards to $250. One man requesting information said he wanted a chart "if it didn't cost over $100." Some trusting souls asked us to fill in their blank checks, saying, "We don't want to wait."
Often I would see a typist wipe away tears as she read a letter. A 72-year-old man reported that he was mounting his charts on beautiful walnut panels and donating them to churches. "I give a talk at each church, telling how the chart came into being," lie wrote, "and I plan to do this for 200 churches."
This included a sixth-grade Sunday school class in Illinois, which sold dozens in a shopping center every Saturday as a church project.
By December, thousands of orders had poured in. Many people, even those writing as late as December 18, wanted their charts for Christmas. Twenty people were working in two shifts from eight in the morning to eleven at night, including Christmas Eve. But we couldn't keep up with orders. Laboring mightily with us were two Laotian refugee women who couldn't speak English but did a beautiful job in rolling and packing charts.
And all the while, we would exclaim and weep over the letters, praying for the writers and often sending charts at no cost, such as the hundreds mailed to prisons in answer to requests from chaplains and inmates.
In turn, people blessed us, such as the Chinese woman in Houston who sent a $50 check "to help in your ministry."
And then there were the strange ones. Some people wrote claiming the chart was a hoax. "There's nothing to it, just a bunch of legends," wrote one man who signed his letter "Jehovah."
One local woman phoned to ask where the chart was developed. "Well, with the help of the good Lord, I developed it," I answered.
"But are you sure it wasn't developed in the East, in Chicago or Philadelphia?" she pressed. I smiled, thinking of the old words that "nothing good can come out of Nazareth" and "prophets are without honor in their own country."
An orthodontist sent his order on a prescription blank. "Would you trust me to send the money?" he asked. "We're living in an age when nobody trusts anybody anymore," he mourned.
"Dear Doctor," I wrote on a note with the chart, "brace yourself; we trust People."
One mother sent money folded in a wad of Kleenex for a chart to be sent to her seminary-student son. "And when I can afford one," she wrote, "I'm going to get one for myself." She received one in the same mail. Included among the many who will benefit from the chart are the elderly and infirm in my First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Some of the proceeds from sales have gone to an elevator fund so these folks can ride to the sanctuary and fellowship hall.
Our little business, which we call the Good Things Company, continues to bustle. However, now we've simmered down to ten people. But even last spring, on a typical day, we received as many as 300 inquiries. As one correspondent put it: "I was away and got behind in reading my Guideposts."
The United Parcel Service and the Norman post office staffs, now all old friends, tell us that we are one of the largest shippers in town, next to the university. In December I wrote a postage check for $1400 and paid U.P.S. almost $2000.
What is the future for Good Things Company? Right now we are trying to develop a new kind of helpful and interesting Bible-study guide. And, of course, I'm waiting to hear from the Lord on this. If He speaks as He did on the Bible chart, we may have to put on that extra shift again. For, as one woman wrote regarding the chart, "It just shows that God can use anybody."
Oh, yes, I also have received letters proposing marriage. One man phoned to suggest that I needed someone to look after me. I told him that I already had Someone Who is looking after me very well.
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For Questions, Please Contact us at Good Things Company
P.O. Box 'N'
Norman, Oklahoma 73070-3290 USA
THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS!
BLESSINGS TO YOU!