A Blessing in Disguise
By then Ashley's failed bids had attracted the attention of a couple who introduced themselves as Carollynn and Ed Suplee and announced, "We want to help your girls buy a pony!" Surprised and embarrassed, the Szymanskis refused.
"You don't understand," Szymanski recalls the woman responding. "I had a brain tumor. I didn't think I would live. Then God sent me signs in the form of feathers." Actual feathers would appear in strange places or she'd read about them at surprising moments. During a visit to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and its Grotto of Lourdes -- a replica of the French pilgrimage site -- Suplee looked at a Bible there and found it marked at Psalm 91:4. "The text said that the Lord would cover me with feathers and protect me," Szymanski recalls Suplee saying. To Suplee, the message was that despite her cancer, she was safe in His care. She was granted such grace she wanted to give in return and had gone to the pony sale with that in mind. Then she pointed to Shannon's T-shirt with its Native American-style feather design. When Suplee saw it, she said, she knew it was a divine message. "He wants me to buy this pony for you," she insisted.
Szymanski and her husband were at a loss. "Then suddenly I was hugging Carollynn while she and Ed helped my children bid $1,000 on a tiny brown foal," Szymanski says. "Then he turned, and we saw a white feather-shaped patch on his neck!" The pony, dubbed Sea Feather, joined the Szymanski family.
As the years went by Szymanski saw Suplee return annually to the auction to pick a girl to present with a pony. In 2003 Suplee lost her battle with cancer, but Szymanski was determined to keep the dream alive. She and Ed Suplee created the Feather Fund (www.featherfund.org).
Girls who win a pony are transformed, Szymanski says. One mother told her, "My daughter's friends are chasing boys, but the man in her life lives in the barn!" Szymanski says she thinks of Suplee every time she sees a feather on the ground or floating on the breeze: "She is looking down on us and smiling."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2008.