Our sons and I were on our way to Sam’s Club for groceries that day in October 2003. As usual, we were stopped by the traffic light at 183 & McNeil. And as usual, there stood a street person holding a cardboard sign. Years ago I would have rather run over him than help him. That’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s true. Most likely I would have gone out of my way to avoid that intersection all together because of the likelihood that ‘he’ would be there. But that was then. God has since removed that dark spot from my heart and replaced it with the light of Christ.
“Now, Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me. I cried out to Him with my mouth; His praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!” -Psalms 66:16-20 NIV
In my childhood, ‘way back when’ we lived ‘in the boonies’ and had one black & white TV that sat in the corner of the living room. It gets worse…We could only watch one channel! It was just an ordinary day during the 4th year of my life that I sat watching an ordinary soap opera. (Remember, we only had one channel and that was all that was on!) I began to hear the actors say that this baby they were holding was “special” because the parents who were raising it weren’t the child’s REAL parents (whatever THAT meant!) but they chose to love the baby and care for it. The baby they were holding was ‘adopted’ and that was obviously a VERY good thing! I really envied that baby! This was obviously one lucky baby! I sure never felt special when I was around the ONE playmate I had. Each time I went to play at her home I was only allowed to play with the sock monkey. (THE SOCK MONKEY! Her other friends got the Barbies!) Any way, there I sat watching and thinking. When a commercial came on I walked over to my mother while she sat reading her Bible at her kitchen table. As I stood by her right side I looked up into her eyes and asked, “Am I adopted?” She answered, “Yes, you are, but you’re still my baby.” I suddenly felt ten feet tall and I remember having a BIG smile on my face as I skipped back to the TV! I WAS special!! Who needed Barbies?! The sock monkeys and I became great friends after that! As I said I was only 4 years old then. Little did I know just how valuable that information would be to me just two years later.
As a baby I had two wonderful parents. My daddy would always push me in my swing and let me ride on top of his shoulders on the way into church each Sunday. Daddy taught me how to whistle when I was four. At the age of five he ‘broke’ my pony for me. He built little furniture for me and painted it red. Daddy milked the cow, I churned the butter and my mother made the biscuits! Life was SO GOOD! My mother would read to me from my Bible story books each day, too, and was instrumental in teaching me that I was a ‘child of God’. I understood that GOD was my Father, too. I had an ‘earthly daddy’ and a “Heavenly Father’.
Things changed dramatically two years later. When I was only six years old, Daddy’s doctor told him that his blood was
too thick and that he needed to drink and ounce of whiskey a day. We called it Daddy’s ‘medicine’ because my
daddy DID NOT drink! Not much was known
about Alcoholism in those days, but it was rampant on my daddy’s side of the
family. My adoptive daddy, whom I loved
and idolized, became an abusive alcoholic. When alcohol began to control
him, it caused a transformation in my daddy that nightmares are made of. Daddy’s addiction changed him completely. Seemingly overnight he went from being a
loving daddy, whom I could always count on to push me in my swing, into a 6ft
tall living, breathing, raging nightmare.
Life went from being ‘Heavenly’ to being absolutely ‘hellish’.
Absolutely one thing saved me in those days, I knew God was my HEAVENLY Father. I had been raised in the Methodist church and, by God’s grace, I had Sunday school teachers who reinforced what my mother had always taught me at home; that we all had a Heavenly Father who loved us very much and who would never leave us. I had always understood that I had two Daddies, one ‘Earthly’ and one ‘Heavenly’. That was GOOD NEWS to me! I knew, since I was adopted, that this new ‘monster’ in the house some how wasn’t my REAL daddy. And some how that helped.
So, at the ripe old age of 6, as far as I was concerned, I no longer had an “earthly” daddy, yet here I was; a little girl who still needed her daddy. I missed him so much! I still needed him, but he wasn’t listening any more. It’s no wonder that during those times when I needed advice from my “daddy” I would seek my “Heavenly Daddy”. (Though I have always referred to Him as ‘my Father’, out of respect.) My Heavenly Father always came when I called. Often I would go into my bedroom and shut the door to speak to Him. On nice days I would go outside, to the woods, to be with Him. My Heavenly Father was always there whenever I went to look for Him, and He always had time to listen to me. And we spoke to one another as any 6year old little girl and her daddy would do. It’s sounds ‘odd’ now, but at the time I assumed everyone did this! After all, we are ALL His children, right?
By the grace of God, on August 14th 1986, I finally reached a point where I could forgive my ‘earthly’ daddy. I became able to view him, too, as a victim rather than just a tormentor. It was an ordinary day when I answered the phone and heard my daddy say, “Baby, I think all my mistakes are behind me now.” From that moment on Daddy and I began to rebuild our relationship. As I write this, Daddy has been clean and sober for almost 20 years. I love spending time with him these days. He took our boys fishing for the first time and taught me how to can Georgia peaches that came from a grove near his home. We’ve come a long way from the days of me hiding from him in a closet! We are working at replacing all of the bad memories with good ones! A transformation began that day in ‘86.
Yet understandably, because of the darkness that permeated my childhood and young adulthood, I have spent the majority of my life avoiding those whom I ‘judged’ to be alcoholics. When I would see one of these “bums” on a street corner it wasn’t just another disheveled person I saw, but I would see a living, breathing representation of a ruined life, a person who most likely had ruined not only their own life but the lives of others as well. Maybe they, too, had caused innocent children to have nightmares and to run and hide in closets. The very sight of a ‘street person’ filled me with contempt! I wept many times over the loss of a friend, a family member or a pet. I was saddened when I’d lose or break something that meant something to me. Yet for these lost souls, forget it! They didn’t even deserve SOCK MONKEYS! I was in obvious denial of the fact that Jesus died for them as well as for me.
However, knowing I was a child of God, I finally realized that contributing to the darkness in this world was not an option for me. I knew I wasn’t thinking thoughts that honored Jesus. A lot of my years have been spent praying to God asking Him to remove the intolerance I had for the street people. How could I claim to be a ‘Christian’ and yet still have those hateful feelings towards another human being? The deep-rooted pain of my childhood caused my vision to be clouded to the point where I could not see beyond their dirty appearance and their bloodshot eyes. I saw instead their shattered lives and the damage they had done to those who love them. Yet what I wanted instead was to have the eyes of Christ, to be able to view them as He does, with eyes full of compassion and mercy. I knew I had a LONG way to go and a LOT of praying to do in order to replace the ‘dark spot’ on my heart with the Light that is Christ. The roots of a weed are deep and strong!
I rededicated my life to Christ on my Walk To Emmaus No.108 in July of 1998. I knew God had been in pursuit of me for years, calling me back, now it was time for me to return the favor. The chase was on!
Now, back to October of ’03. The Lord began waking me at 4 AM each morning. This went on for WEEKS! Our Father wanted us to spend some ‘quality
time’ together. When I shared this with a fellow Covenant Group member he
replied, “That’s scary! ‘Sounds like He has something big that He wants
you to be prepared for!” YIKES! I had never really thought
of it THAT way! I began following up my Bible time by studying, “Experiencing
God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God” authored by Henry T. Blackaby &
Claude V. King.
I ‘caught’ God on Oct. 23, 2003. One morning, before sunrise, I was sitting at my kitchen table with my Bible. This was the very same table my mother sat at for so many decades as she read her Bible. I sat there just listening for, and talking to, our Lord. Suddenly He spoke to me in a voice that I am certain you could have heard had you been here with me. What He said would forever have a bearing on my life. In His calm, yet very authoritative voice (think James Earl Jones, magnified a thousand times!) He said, “When the foundation is ready I will build on it.” I immediately broke down into sobs! I am SO unworthy to hear the Master’s voice! I am SO far from perfect and yet here He was with me! He was speaking out LOUD to me!! Holy ground; that’s how I feel about my kitchen table!
I came to understand that our Lord was laying the foundation of my life; preparing me to be of use to Him in the building of His kingdom. Had I known then what I know now I would have tightened my seat belt and held on for dear life!
God came near again a week or so later, only this time He snuck up on me! I had finished my study time with the Lord. It was 6:30 AM, on an ordinary day. As usual I got up from my chair at the table and began preparing to set the table for breakfast. Suddenly, and without warning, a tsunami of sobs overcame me! They seemed to have come from nowhere, yet here they were, gushing up from the deepest part of my soul! The sobs were absolutely uncontrollable! I found myself weeping harder than I have ever wept in my entire life and more than I EVER want to weep again! I stood doubled over, with one arm wrapped around my waist and the other gripping the counter top so I wouldn’t hit the floor! I cried out, “FATHER!! Why is my heart breaking so?! FATHER, WHY?! I don’t understand what is happening to me!” That’s when I SAW the ones I wept for! I saw a man with a cardboard sign! I was weeping for the STREET PEOPLE!! My heart was so broken with sorrow and compassion for them I could hardly bear it! I cried out, “O NO, FATHER!! NO!! NOT THIS!! NOT THIS!! NOT THEM!!” But weep I did, as I do now; just recalling the pain I felt, and still feel, for these lost ones. (I immediately think of Jonah each time I recall this episode!)
After my weeping had subsided I had to dry my eyes and blow my nose, and try to compose myself before I went upstairs to awake our boys for school. I may have appeared to be the same on the outside that morning but I was forever changed on the inside. I knew the Lord had laid His first load of bricks onto my heart and a heavy load it was! I was going to be built upon for the street people, like it or not! That’s the day ‘Bags of Grace’ really began.
It was after this episode that I saw the fellow that day at McNeil and 183. I had nothing to give him but money, yet I could NOT pass him by! Not now! Not ever again! I reached out my hand to give him the only $2 I had and I was MUTE!! Not only could I not utter a single word, I couldn’t even open my mouth!! (That’s right! We’re taking about ME!) Here stood a man the likes of which I had, just a short time ago, been weeping bitterly over and now all I could do was LOOK at him?! As my eyes met his I remember thinking, “Please don’t think badly of me because I can’t even utter a “God bless you!” As I drove away I silently asked, “What’s up with THAT, Father?! Why couldn’t I say anything?!” I drove on and I still could not speak. (I think my sweet husband actually doubts this portion of the episode!) As I drove I prayed, knowing it was truly the Lord who had shut my mouth. I wondered about the reason behind it all. By the time we got to Sam’s I understood that HE wanted to speak and I was to listen. I did my best to quiet my mind and focus on listening rather than speaking.
As we began shopping at the wholesale club I heard the voice of the Lord. From right beside me He spoke to me saying:
"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me."
Then the righteous will answer Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?"
The King will answer and say to them, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." Matthew 25:35-40
AH-HAH! A light bulb moment! (Or was that a burning bush??) I said, “OK, Lord, I get the ‘water’ part, but show me what else it is that You would have me give to them. Thy will be done through me,” and the Lord ‘took me shopping’. Christ chose every item that goes into a Bag of Grace!
So that’s the story of how ‘Bags of Grace’ came into being. It was all God’s idea, not mine. I truly had nothing to do with it other than allowing my heart to be open for Him to work through me; I am only clay, He is the Potter.
I realize now that it wasn’t only Daddy who has gone through a transformation but I, too, have been transformed by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. He has brought me full circle. I now seek the ones I once avoided. I run ‘to’ the things I once ran ‘from’. I have gone from preferring to ‘run over’ the street people to wanting to save them! Only God can bring about that type of change in a person! Only God is worthy of any praise!
In December of ’04 I got a call informing me that my daddy was in the ER in Bainbridge, GA and things didn’t look good. My son, David, and I drove 15 hours straight to get there. After spending time with Daddy I went to the hotel room, laid down on the bed, hugged my Bible to my chest and began to pray. But I soon realized this was a ‘get down on your knees’ time to pray. I knelt at the end of the bed and BEGGED God to be merciful to my daddy. “Please, “Lord, take him if you will but be MERCIFUL to my daddy! Please don’t let him suffer!” As I prayed God showed me a ‘picture’ of myself as a little girl praying for my daddy, only THEN I was praying that he would be killed before he got home and terrorized us! How my heart broke! Our Lord had brought me full circle indeed! I cried so hard, begging for forgiveness for my self and mercy for my daddy! In February of '05 my husband, children and I were in Georgia to be with him, as we knew his time was short. We arrived on Valentine’s Day. Daddy fell into a coma two days after we got there. None of us could understand why Daddy didn’t just rush into the arms of Jesus. He told us earlier that he was the lucky one. We had told him to go and we’d see him later, so why didn’t he? I had to finally admit that maybe our presence in his home was what was keeping him from leaving. We left Bainbridge, GA on Thursday, certain that Daddy would be gone by time we got to the end of the dirt road his house sits on. But no..still he waited. As was my custom each time we left his home after a visit, I phoned several times along the way to let Daddy know where we were and that we were OK. I did so this last time, too. (I was amazed each time I called and was told that he was ‘still hanging on’). The sad difference was, that on this trip, I had to ask a friend to tell Daddy where we were and that we were OK. We got back to our home in Austin Friday evening around 8:PM. I called and spoke with a friend, Dana, asking her to, “Tell Daddy we’re home safe and now he can go Home, too!” The phone rang not twenty seconds after I hung up. I answered the phone only to hear Dana screaming, “He’s gone, Rita! He’s gone! I told him what you said and as soon as the word ‘too’ left my lips he left!!” I was crying and laughing at the same time! My daddy…As always, because he loved us, he couldn’t rest until he knew we were home safe and sound! It was one last thing he could do for me to prove that he still loved me and cared for me, no matter what! My daddy met Jesus face to face on February 18th 2005. It was a ‘good Friday’, because my daddy went home to be with the Lord. While Daddy knew about the mission work the Lord called me to do, I felt I could never allow him to read my testimony for fear it would hurt him. But I believe that he now sees everything clearly and everything has been revealed to him. Now, more than ever, each ‘Bag of Grace’ is a tribute to my daddy, Ben Thurman.
I love you, Daddy, and I always will.
We are all reflections of God’s grace in our lives. But how do others see us? Ask a friend to tell you what they think you’re most passionate about and what do you think their reply will be? What you are most passionate about will reflect your main mission in life. Your main mission will reflect your greatest love.
God’s assignments come to you on a daily basis. He will never give you an assignment that He won’t simultaneously enable you to complete. God does not call the equipped, He equips the called. But we’re always asking God for ‘road maps’. Yet Abraham didn’t have one, neither did Moses. Probably a good thing, too, otherwise they may have run screaming! If they had known what the road ahead looked like I believe there’s a chance they would never have said “Yes” to God’s will for their lives.
God tells us that we don’t need a road map, all we need is Him. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I AM the way, the truth and the life.” We’ve got to switch from saying, “Give me a map, Lord,” to saying, “Take me by the hand and lead me and I will follow.” It takes faith to step out of the boat.
Henry Blackabky writes, “If we live in accordance to God’s will for our lives we will be in the center of His will. And when HE decides the time is right to give you a special assignment you’ll step right out! God is more interested in a love relationship with you than what you can do for Him. He wants you to love Him with your whole heart. And when you do, His presence will fill you and HE will guide you to do things. But as you do these things He will be the One at work through you to accomplish His purposes. He is all you need. The Christ in you is your ‘way’. He is your ‘map’. When you follow His leadership one day at a time, you will always be right in the middle of God’s will for your life.” Amen, brother Henry!
Below is a prayer I read not too long ago. I believe it applies to anyone who has a desire to live anew for Christ. Won’t you read it in earnest now? I pray you won’t wait another moment to grab our Heavenly Father by the hand and allow Him to use you for the purpose He created you for. He’s waiting for you to make the first move! Please pray this prayer daily, with an air of expectation, as you look forward to what God will do through YOU to help His beloved children who are the last, the least and the lost!
Lord, I know I am too comfortable with life as usual. Forgive me. God, You have an assignment for me that is God-sized. To accomplish it, I must have faith to make the adjustments You require in my life. Show me how. I am willing, Jesus. You may change my circumstances. You may change my relationships. You may change my way of thinking. You may change my commitments and priorities. You may change my actions. You have permission to change my beliefs, even those I have so proudly held on to for these many years. Change whatever is necessary for me to carry out Your assignment. I surrender to You. I depend entirely on You. I wait for Your call to action. I want to think Your thoughts, act in Your ways, and focus on Your purposes. Make me ready to obey. I want to experience You. Thank You for caring enough about me to want to change me. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Co-Founder, Bags of Grace Ministries
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