Presence of Holy Spirit offers strength, courage


By Judith Costello

Washington, D.C., is an overwhelming city for country folks like us.

Going there made me feel a bit like those hillbillies-go-to-the-big-city TV shows of the 1960s! It’s a place that defines worldly success.

There we were — Peter and I — staying at the University of Maryland, where 36,000 kids attend school, riding the high-speed Metro, seeing the monuments. Peter, age 13, was in the nation’s capital to compete in National History Day.

There were spiritual lessons for us on this trip (there are always lessons, aren’t there?) A big one was to recognize where success comes from. The second was a lesson just for me.


Before going to D.C., Peter won third place in a regional competition and then first place in the state competition for his performance about James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball. The story he told is about Naismith’s strong faith background that infused his ideas about sports.

The process of putting together this performance took a full year out of Peter’s short life. The urge to quit crept in often. The work was tedious at times. And he wondered how the judges might react to his “sermon” scene. Would that turn them off?

Prayer became the scaffolding around the building of this project. Without that support structure, the project would probably never have been completed. God was the builder. Peter was the vessel.

At the national competition we prayed often. Peter shined. He made it into the finals and placed 13th in the nation. He also received an Outstanding State award. It was exhilarating for him to achieve a measure of success in a competition he didn’t even know about last summer.

Then came the hard part for me. His dad showed up at the last minute. After taking me to court every year for eight years, while ignoring all of the children’s projects and accomplishments, the kids’ dad decided to come for the big event.

As he walked along beside me at one point he said, “Peter gets his creativity from you. But, his poise under pressure — that must come from my family.”

I surprised myself by answering calmly, “His poise comes from the Holy Spirit.”

I’m glad I said that rather than something mean-spirited. I didn’t realize the truth of it until the words came out of my mouth. It’s the presence of the Spirit that gives strength and courage. It’s the Spirit that allowed me to stay calm even though I was in emotional turmoil on the inside.

Peter grew in stature in his dad’s eyes because he was in D.C. And that’s good. It will make it easier for Peter.

But we need to remember that the success we really should strive for isn’t worldly. The goal is to keep that scaffolding in place and clear a space inside our souls. Then the building that goes up is God’s design. Not our own. Whether the building is a masterpiece according to worldly definitions or not, is not the point.

I’m glad I’m not in D.C. often. The small town life makes praying come more spontaneously. But the building of Peter’s life is underway. How the construction goes is in God’s hands.

(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her Web site is

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