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Joyce Barbatti

For the past several weeks, staffers, friends and family have helped Joyce Barbatti, left, prepare TJ's Christian Bookstore for its July 8 opening.

Once in a while, someone says, “It was a God thing.”

The term explains how a situation might go from pipe dream to unlikely reality, often through a series of fortunate events.

God things often start as scary ideas — unwieldy, costly and too much work. A person experiencing a God thing may initially believe herself ill-equipped to achieve the goal.

Joyce Barbatti had such thoughts as she considered her new venture, TJ’s Christian Bookstore at 1806 Waterloo Road in Cedar Falls.

In mid-March, she was on a spring break trip with her two youngest granddaughters. She saw a Facebook post from Wiley’s Christian Bookstore. In it, a photo of the store’s marquee sign read, “Thank you for 43 years — closing May 31st.”

Like many others, Barbatti felt gratitude for the years the store had been in the metro area. She also lamented the closure of the unique Cedar Valley resource.

However, Barbatti’s thoughts quickly turned to other matters.

“A voice said to me, … ‘You like books; what about taking over the store?’” she recalls.

It was a big idea — scary, too.

“I’m retired; I didn’t want to give that up,” she says.

Still, she wondered if she could find a way to make it work. Since her husband, Tom, died in October 2016, she had taken religious classes and volunteered through her church.

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“I was looking for purpose — looking for the places God needed me,” she explains. “It wasn’t like I was going to sell the house and move to Africa, but I was looking for an opportunity for mission. I kept thinking about the idea of taking over the bookstore, and I wondered, ‘Is my mission here?’”

Barbatti prayed about the possibilities. She sought friends’ reactions to her “crazy idea.” She also listed pros and cons.

Cons came easily: demands on time; lack of experience; grave statistics about publishing and small business. An item from the pros column tugged at her: She felt called to pick up the Wiley’s mantel.

She phoned Wanda Bailey, former Wiley’s owner.

“I asked her what might be possible — if she would consider selling me (the business),” Barbatti recalls. “We agreed to talk when I got back to Cedar Falls.”

More conversations followed and led to a transition agreement.

“Wanda has arranged sales meetings, introduced me to sales reps and shared her wisdom,” Barbatti says. “People have offered to help in so many different ways … and tell me they want to make sure this succeeds. God has just brought such crazy, wonderful people into the mix. It’s been amazing.”

Less than four months after wondering “what if,” Barbatti will open TJ’s on July 8.

As the store’s guiding principle, she chose Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and he will direct your paths.”

The store offers Bibles, a variety of books, gifts, T-shirts and decorations. It also carries an extensive and unique selection of religious greeting cards. Among the exclusives is the interactive Legacy Prayer Life brand and boxed set sympathy cards intended to be sent to an individual once per month for a year.

In addition, TJ’s will host special events, with themes like Bible-journaling, gardening, spa services and crafting.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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