#220. He Gives Strength to the Weariest of Souls

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

As a child, we never went to church. My parents were born and raised in a coal mining community of West Virginia. They were both the product of poverty and religion gone mad. The foundation of their lives was built on a belief that true “religion” was about who could not get bitten when the rattlesnake was passed their way. Sometimes, I imagine that my parents viewed their entire life as a church service, just waiting to see which one of them would survive the poison.

I am the youngest of three substantially older siblings who were on their way “out the door” as I was “on my way in.” My parents were the owners of a donut shop, which meant they both worked from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m., so my siblings were burdened with the responsibility of caring for me and seeing that I was fed and entertained. I am certain that between my two sisters, this was not a responsibility they were happy about! So, from early on, I was left alone to entertain myself while my parents worked, slept or went out.

For my mother, daily drinking was a true way of life. A diagnosis of diabetes led her to become sober when I was about 12. Funny thing is that with that one decision to make her life “better,” it seemed as if ours became worse. Our house was never one that had a pattern. I lived in total chaos, not knowing what to expect on a daily basis, but that chaos was the only thing that I knew, and the comfort level of the craziness was, at times, the only normalcy I could hold on to. We went from weekly drinking binges to weekly AA meeting splurges, only to find that she was never ever satisfied with any of the outcomes. She was self-consumed. Eventually, I was the only one left at home, left behind to deal with her misery and anger. She had nothing of herself to give and she demanded so much from me.

When it came into my life, I’m not certain, but God gifted me with a keen sense and a creative mind, making it easy for me to be a leader. In the past, like my mother did, I have used that gift to my advantage. Not to glorify God as He intended, but to glorify myself and my behaviors. If I would have allowed God to open my eyes, I would have seen that satan had been invited into my life through the portal of nonchalance and unawareness.

Looking back over my life, I see how God protected me. Many times, in my childhood, I was in vulnerable and dangerous situations. For many years, I didn’t realize that God was my Protector, Provider and Defender. I had no clue until I heard about the Gospel. So, back then, I said it was “luck” that protected me.  I spent so many years running from everything that I knew to be “normal.” 

All of that came to a complete halt when I became an incarcerated convict in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. It was then that I was able to stop running long enough to let God get a firm grasp on me. I had the opportunity to complete a Christian program based on Bible principles in prison. We were trained in scripture so that we could apply it to our lives when were released. The program was designed to be inmate-led. All of the participants in this program lived in one dorm, and there were two female inmates who predominantly taught our classes (character and scripture memorization). This program opened my eyes to the love that God offered me. I felt acceptance from God, acceptance of who I was becoming through His word. 

God took the time that I spent behind bars to mold my soul, to create in me a love that was unfailing, unbelievable and undeniable. He opened my eyes to peace and a firm foundation of trust and calmness. So much for “jailhouse Jesus,” huh? It is real and true and I am a living testimony of His grace. But, as I received the knowledge of God, I never received His grace through salvation before I came from behind the walls. There was great wisdom within the walls. I learned so much and gleaned so much of that knowledge, but I just never accepted Christ as my Savior. Instead, my time in prison was a time of building trust in Him. Since I had never had anyone to lean on in my life, it was difficult for me to develop trust, but I was learning.

Upon my release from prison, I was quickly thrown into the reality of life. The husband that I thought would be there with open arms had since found someone else. My household full of furniture that I thought I would have available to me had been given away months before to anyone who would come and get it. And, any thought of a past life that may have waited on me while I was away was just that, a thought. Visibly there was nothing left of my former life, and as I tell the ladies that I minister to today when I speak to them, “God will remove all hindrances from you when He changes you.” He knew that if anything from my past would have been waiting on me outside the gates, my heart would immediately run back to the place that He had just delivered me out of. Not the life I would have chosen, but with separation and knowledge, I could not have asked for a better blessing. With the hard reality of being alone and still not having committed my life to Christ, I turned back to the bottle. 

My mother passed away in 2000 and my father died in 2007, so loss was not a stranger to me. After I was released from prison in 2011, my sister, whom I had not had time to make amends with, died of a massive heart attack eight months after I was released. The loss of my beloved sister was the final blow to an otherwise broken soul. Then, the only reason that I lived was to drink until I died. Days turned into weeks, and each and every day for three months, I drank myself into unconsciousness. Secluded from life, I wasted everything that I had on the bottle. I would drink until I passed out, wake up again, curse God for keeping me alive, and drink again. I knew that the Master existed, I even led my own mother to Christ hours before she died, having the faith that He existed, but not accepting His love for me personally. Not yet.

It was the love of my dear friend (story #219) who would ask me to go to church for a revival service. It was her love for me that kept bringing her to my doorstep to check on me, often afraid of what she might find. It was her commitment to not letting me die alone that urged her to consistently reach out, as all the others had given up hope. In one moment of strength that, at that time, I saw as weakness, I allowed her to take me to church. In one moment of time, I surrendered to the call of the Master. At that altar, I prayed that He would take my life and He, in His audible voice told me this: “I have heard your prayers and I will answer them. If you take one more drink you will die, but you will not live with Me in Heaven.” Only God knew that I would leave that altar saved unto His Kingdom and delivered completely from the horror of alcohol.

So many things I needed to tell my loved ones. My children, still angry and wounded from my incarceration, were not even speaking to me. I had spent many nights on my knees asking God to change me into the woman that He wanted me to be and that He would reunite me with the boys. Two years of praying and crying, praying and crying. “Please bring about a change in me that is pleasing to my sons,” I would beg. After two years, God granted that request with my older son. He was the hard-headed military son who had originally demanded that I seek help. He is the one who found me after a two-week drunk and had to call the ambulance. He was the one who uttered the words “Mom, the ambulance is here and the whole neighborhood is watching. Now, am I going to have to carry you out like a drunk or are you going to walk out of here like a woman?” Those were some of the last words he said to me before I went to prison. He is the one who asked to see me first when I came home two years later. I can’t explain the conversation that we had at dinner. I can’t remember the words that I used to ask his forgiveness. But I do remember this phrase, “You’re my mom, and I will always love you.”

His brother, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as forgiving. He was not ready to see me, notbecause he was angry or hurt, he just didn’t need me in his life. He had a great career, a wonderful wife-to-be and a fulfilling relationship with God. I had never been there for him, so he went on about life as if I were not involved, and I wasn’t. But each week I would message him, just to tell him that I was thinking of him, that I was praying for him and that I loved him. Three years of prayer and petition and one day, a response. At 4 a.m. on a Monday morning in July 2014, I sent the usual message. “Son, I love you and I pray for you always.” And at 4:17 a.m., the reply, “Mom, it’s time we get together for dinner. Would you let me take you out Friday?” God hears a praying mom. He would take no apology or reasoning. He only wanted to start a relationship with his mother. He wanted nothing of the past and could only focus on our future together and his upcoming marriage in August. To my amazement, he and his bride-to-be handed me an invitation. The wedding was a few weeks away, and they both graciously involved me in some decisions of food and pictures on their big day. As I left my house on the wedding day and during the entire two-hour drive, I could only weep to God, thanking Him and asking Him to allow me to sit in the back so I could watch from a distance. I asked Him to honor one more request, that I just be able to see my son’s face as he took on the responsibility of leading his new household as a Godly husband to his wife. “Just let me sit in the back. Please do not let me get in the way,” I prayed out loud as I drove. But my God saw things differently. As the pictures were finished and the wedding was about to begin, I started to find a seat in the back row. “Mom, where are you going?” I heard. “Honey, I’m going to grab a seat so I can see you.” The next words were priceless…“Mom, you have to sit up front today. That’s where the moms go.” So, my oldest son took me by the arm and escorted me to the front row. So I could see. So I could feel what it was like to be forgiven. So I could be a part of this new life. So my faith in a loving God could be reaffirmed and I could share this story with those who need hope of answered prayers.

Wrecked by Grace . . . The Adult Child of a Demanding Mother. The Adult Child of an Alcoholic. The Adult Child. Convict. Convicted. Transformed. From a family tree of addicts to the aftermath of a life of bad decisions, the season of my life has to equate with fall. From the most hardened love demands of a mother to a love that is tender and forgiving that I have with my Heavenly Father, the leaves of my life have fallen in due time. Bits and pieces of me have been scattered throughout my life. Pieces of the real me. Pieces of joy and pain, laughter and tears. Pieces that seem to have the most majestic colors in the latest season of my life. Not the soft colors of spring, nor the stunning colors of summer. My life reflects the majestic warm colors of autumn, pleasant to gaze upon and sometimes a mere wonder that the leaves survived the harshest heat of past days.

One month after God delivered and saved me, my calling to correctional ministry began. I met a woman from our church who had a ministry team that went inside the Pine Bluff Area Office of the Arkansas Community Correction facility once a month to speak words of hope and testimony to the residents. At that time, the facility was open to all ex-offenders released at least 60 days who had been given permission from their parole office to travel outside the county.

From the moment that I went into the compound, I knew that God had opened a doorway for me to minister. I felt the pull of the Spirit and heard the words “This is the reason that you have lived behind the walls — so that you can be an image of hope to these ladies.” In the coming back, I knew that my life was coming full circle. I knew that God had allowed every bad decision, wrong turn and misguided step to place me in prison. He knew I would have faith enough in Him to tell my story to those who were still battling. I was taken out of the war and now, with God’s help, I am walking back into the battle to lend a hand to others.

I am thankful that I have the opportunity to go back into prisons and tell people that God is for them and not against them. His love reaches far, further than they have ever been. As strong as any addiction or stronghold that has them unable to move, He is more powerful and can give strength to even the weariest of souls.

God’s character is fully merciful and compassionately just. He does not waiver and He cannot be manipulated. That is the best part of the Grace of God. In reality, justice sets us free. Justice is the blend of the strong hand of the Lord because He loves us, the repentance that draws us closer to Him and the ability to forgive ourselves of the past through His strength.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. — Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NKJV

#208. Purposeful Design

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Years ago, God gave me the opportunity to be on the board at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. I was also involved in discipling men. For about 15 years, I led Bible studies at Wheeler. Often when I was there, I would ask the men how they were doing. Over and over the answer was “I’m looking for a job.” I must have heard that a hundred times. I had sorrow about this and wished I could do something to give them a job. I decided to ask God about this. I prayed, “What do you say about this God?” Some other men friends of mine began to join in that prayer also. 

One day I was doing something on the internet and I ran into the idea of taking shipping pallets and turning them into furniture. I wondered if we could sell the furniture and create a revenue stream to cover the cost of wages. So we did an experiment and started small. We used shipping pallets and started making beverage carts. Pretty quickly we figured out shipping pallets weren’t the way to go. A local business donated lumber and we began making furniture and selling it to friends and family. That’s how it started.

We hire men and train them to make beautiful handcrafted furniture. Now over 90% of our operating expenses are covered by things the men make themselves. Everything is custom made. We sell to a lot of commercial enterprises. We make a lot of conference tables and shelves. We make tables for restaurants, school cafeterias and some residential furniture. The first year we had $37,000 in sales, which was a great blessing and beyond our expectations. Last year we sold $1.4 million in furniture. While the finances are important and we are very grateful for the business, our primary mission is to hire and train craftsman and see lives changed. Our organization, Purposeful Design, has two components. 

One part is a training program called the School of Woodworking and Discipleship and the other part is the business where we hire people to work making furniture. Even if we don’t hire people to work for Purposeful Design coming out of the school, we have a network of other employers who offer job opportunities. All the those we serve come from places where they struggle with addiction, incarceration or homelessness and otherwise would have difficulty finding a job. 

We have partnerships with ministries and relief organization that send people to our school. The trainees are exposed to woodworking, job readiness and discipleship training. We start each day with prayer and have weekly Bible studies. We have about 40 volunteers from the community who do the instructing. They come in to teach and add their own stories. They are loving and build relationships. One of our partnerships is with Purdue University. They helped us launch the training program and sent us two professors to teach the trainees how to work with wood. This whole ministry is really a walk of faith. A lot of people who serve have a background in business. My own background is in business.  But I had no experience with woodworking or running a nonprofit. Our business is a registered 501c3. God has provided so much for us. We depend on Him to show us our next steps and to provide the resources, people to help us, and customers. It has been amazing how the Lord has helped us and provided. 

The second part of our organization is the Purposeful Design furniture business. We have 16 full-time craftsmen. It is a delight to see them grow. They are not all believers. But we expose everyone to the Word of God and flood our place with love and encouragement. We strive to strengthen everyone and help them succeed. We are like a family. We want to keep it a walk of faith. It has been a joy to see where God has brought us. We didn’t plan any of this, and now we find ourselves in a niche that sells to many large institutions like big hospitals, universities and banks. All of these organizations have their own mandate to do good for the community. They desire to do good for society, and they also need furniture, which makes our products a perfect fit for them. 

As long as the Lord keeps opening doors, we will keep running as hard and fast as we can to help more people. We provide on-the-job discipleship, beginning each morning by circling up and praying together and sharing a bit from the Word. We have a lunch Bible study every Monday. 

We are getting ready to launch a campaign, “Turning the Tables on Poverty.” To prepare, we have run some statistics and have found that in our six years, we have saved the taxpayers $2.3 million in what it would have cost to take care of those who were homeless who are now employed. In addition, our employees have paid about $350,000 in taxes. These folks have changed from being totally supported by taxpayers to now contributing their own taxes to our city. We also see our neighborhood changing for the good before our very eyes. Healthy people make healthy neighborhoods. Most of us live about a quarter of a mile from Purposeful Design. We are available to help each other and encourage each other. We see marriages restored and kids reunited with their fathers. God is truly amazing. 

As we have seen God at work, there are three things we have learned: 1. It is good to pray. Purposeful Design is the result of prayer. 2. We have all tried life our own way, and it didn’t work out. God’s way is better. 3. Jesus really, really does set people free. We have absolutely seen the transformative power of God at work. We have seen a 17-year heroin addict set free. Another guy told me he hadn’t been sober a day in his life since he was 14. Now he is sober and can be spotted walking his children to the park. He is loving his wife, and he is one of our most loyal and trustworthy employees. 

My own heart tends toward prideful thinking. In our early days I would think, “Haven’t we done well!” The Lord has now shown me my need for humility. Now, I go down on my knees and thank the Lord right then and there when something good happens. Our success is not from me. God’s hand is at work here and our success is from Him.