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Beauty from Ashes, Part 1

From the series Beauty from Ashes

Do you really believe God has your best interests in mind? That He is actually good? In special program, guest speaker, Ryan Ingram, answers those questions through a touching interview his mom Theresa. She shares her story of coming to know Jesus and how she navigated challening and painful circumstances by trusting in the unfailing goodness of her Heavenly Father.

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Message Transcript

Ryan: You know, as I was studying and wrestling with the goodness of God, I was talking to a friend and she said, “You know, yes, God is good even when all evidence points to the contrary.”

A.W. Tozer in his classic Knowledge of the Holy, we have been traveling through that, writes this, “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of goodwill toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

I asked my mom to join me, which is really fun. And, Mom, why don’t you come on out today? This is the first time we have ever gotten to share a stage. Thank you for welcoming her. I have this. You can go ahead and grab a seat.

A major reason was as I thought about the goodness of God, while all evidence points to the contrary, you can look back at your life right now and go, Wow, God has been so good. Four amazing kids, I might add that you had. All married. One in particular is really great. Annie, the daughter. You have twelve grandkids. God is using your life. You just wrote a book, as well: Precious in His Sight. And, yet, the beginning of your story, I would say all evidence pointed to the contrary.

Theresa: Yes.

Ryan: And I would love just for you to share your story. How did you come to know Jesus? What was a little bit of your background?

Theresa: Well, my life has been really interesting and it certainly is a lot different than I thought it would be. I grew up in a very small, rural area in West Virginia.

My mother didn’t drive, so we were stuck at home all the time. And she was a fearful person. She was very quiet. She didn’t talk very much and she was afraid to go out and do things.

In fact, she would send me when I was old enough to go and do some of the things that she didn’t want to do. So, she was a sweet, sweet mom. And I love her dearly. But she really never expressed to us outwardly in her words or with her, with hugs that she loved us. And I’m not sure why, because I knew that she did because of the way she took care of us.

And my dad, that was a totally different story. My dad was alcoholic. I would see him drinking as soon as he got up in the morning. Every morning he had to have a drink to start the day. He was very strict with all of us. There were three girls in our family and he was very strict.

Well, as I went through high school and under such a strict father who I was terribly afraid of, because he would punish us over the least little thing we did wrong. We felt like we had to be perfect all the time. And I couldn’t be. No one can be.

And so, when I graduated from high school, the first thing that I wanted to do was get away from there. I really rebelled in my heart. I wanted more and I knew there was more out there for me, but I couldn’t find it where I was. And so, I fought with my dad that he would allow me to go to college. And so, I won. And I got to go to Fairmont State College. And while I was there, I started dating a young man who loved me, or I thought who loved me. And he was what I built my whole life upon at that time.

But after we got married, I worked and he finished college. He finished college and he got a job right away. And I had gotten pregnant and about three months after he graduated from college, we had twin boys.

But my husband just was so self-centered. He was so into his life, what he wanted, what would make him happy. And he became very involved in alcohol just like my dad. And he became involved in some drugs and partying a lot. And he started going out at night and partying with friends and I didn’t feel, I didn’t feel like he really was taking care of us or that he cared about us. But my dreams were still, Oh, this is going to change. We’re just in this new season and it’s going to change and everything is going to be great.

Well, I found out that it wasn’t going to be great. When my little boys were about six months old, he packed his bags, took everything out of his closet, and he left us. He had gotten involved with another woman and I found out he had been lying to me and I found out. And I confronted him with it and he just left.

And it was just really difficult. I was devastated. My heart was broken.

And I just, I felt like my life was over. I don’t have a life anymore. And I became really, really depressed. Very discouraged. But I look back now and I see God was at work and He was searching for me and calling me all that time.

So, I went back up to the college and they had a job opening and I took it and I was able to find childcare for my little boys, because I had to work; I had no money. I didn’t have family that could help me in that way.

And so, I went back and I ended up working with the director of admissions at this college and he was a godly man. He loved the Lord. And I knew nothing about, I knew the little stories about Jesus from going to Sunday school, but I had never read the Bible, I knew nothing about the Lord. I didn’t even know what being saved meant.

And I went to work and I wanted to be strong and I didn’t share anything to anyone about what was going on in my life, because I guess I was too proud. I just, I didn’t want people to know that my life was falling apart.

So, I would go in his office and one day he asked me how I was doing and just started crying right in front of him. I thought, This is terrible. Just boo-hooing right in front of your boss. And he was so, so loving.

And every day after that, when I would go in, he would tell me about the love of God. And I heard it over and over.

He was a lay preacher sometimes at a Free Methodist church and he would go around to some of these little churches when they needed a pastor and he would preach. And he was preaching at this little church out in the country and he asked me, he and his wife asked me if I would go, would go with them.

So, we went to church and I sat through this church service. It was just a typical Free Methodist church service. And my friend gave the message, they sang hymns, they prayed, and nothing happened. And I was distraught. I just remember walking out of that building thinking, This isn’t real. There really isn’t a God.

And as I was out getting in the car putting the boys in their car seats and a little old lady out in the parking lot, and I didn’t know any of these people. She came up to me and just said, “Do you want to be saved?” And I didn’t know what “saved” meant, but I said, “Yes.”

And it was, to me it’s a miracle. She didn’t know what was going on in my life and God just led her to do that. And so I went back into the church and everybody in the parking lot got out of their cars and went back in the church and went to the altar with me and we prayed and I came to know Jesus that night as my Savior.

To me it’s just a miracle of the Lord that He would choose me and it’s even more of a miracle that I’m up here on this stage. And my son is sitting right here. But that’s what my early days were like and I was twenty-five when I came to Christ.

Ryan: You know, one of the psalms as we are talking about the goodness of God is, “Taste and see that the Lord is good;” that’s Psalm 34:8, “blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” And so, how in those early days and early years did you begin to taste and see that the Lord is good? You know, we’re going to sing a song after this that says you keep on getting better. And it’s not that God is getting better. We have talked about this. But the more you get to know God and His goodness, the better He becomes to you, because you’re experiencing more fully who He is. How did you begin to taste and see His goodness through those next years?

Theresa: Well, I have to say it’s a slow process, but also for some it’s a fast process. And I began real slowly that when I really grasped who God is, then it was, that was all I needed. I really grew spiritually during that time, but I have to say it was people in my life that helped me.

It was my friends who helped lead me to Christ, who encouraged me to go to church, they encouraged me to get in the Word. And they helped me, they brought things that I needed, brought food, took care of – helped me with my kids. It was people, it was the body of Christ who really loved me, that got me off in a good way. And just having that reminder, even when I didn’t want to go to church, having that reminder of someone calling and saying, you know, “We’ll pick you up! We’ll help you, but we just want you to be there.”

And so, that, I would say that was number one. And then I learned to get in the Word of God, which was, you know, God says that His Word is a refuge, that He is a refuge and His Word gives us strength and His Word gives us hope and gives us direction.

And as I began to get in the Word of God, it was like a light went on. You know, when you come to Christ and you’re saved, you have the Holy Spirit; we have Christ living in us. And it was like my eyes were opened and when I read the Bible, that it would just jump off the page and I would, God would speak to me. And it was such a precious time for me, especially in those years of being a single mom and just feeling alone and feeling desperate. God’s Word was my delight and I’m very thankful that I learned, even the people that helped me just to get going in my Christian life, helped me to get in the Word. And they spent time with me and they taught me.

And I’m very grateful for that. And I learned how to pray. The same people, I went through a prayer class early on, very early in my Christian life with a group of five ladies in the basement of a Free Methodist church.

And I learned to believe. As I watched them pray and I shared my very first prayer request, these ladies believed. They believed that when you pray, God is going to answer. And He did. And so, that was my first introduction to prayer, which has carried me through my whole life.

Another thing is that really helped me was that God just kept showing up. You know, as I was in the Word, as I would cry out to Him, He just kept showing up all over the place. I just remember a time that I had a car that broke down all the time and I was driving along and I had the boys in the back seat and my car broke down and I never knew what to do. And there just happened to be a mechanic right behind me. And he got out of his car and helped fix my car and get me back on the road.

And another time, I was so lonely on the weekends, just I had too much time to myself and I liked being busy and I could get through the weeks, but the weekends were really hard. And I was sitting on the floor in the living room one time after, it was after the boys went to bed. I do everything after the boys go to bed.

But I was praying and I said, Lord, I am so lonely. Will You please send someone to my door? And it was the most amazing thing. There was a knock at the door a few minutes later and it wasn’t my knight in shining armor. It was my friend, Edith, who was next door. And she was just a lovely, older lady. And she came to the door and we sat and we became the best of friends. And I had the opportunity later on to lead her to Christ.

And so, God just showed up in just amazing ways. I was praying for a husband, and my friends were praying that God would give me a husband, and I wanted my kids to have a dad. And so, as I prayed, my friend suggested that we go to this Navigator meeting, which was a college ministry meeting that was hosted by this Navigator group. And Chip, my now husband, was leading that group. And so, it was a Bible study, it was singing and worship, and it was just for college kids. But I went and I went just to meet him, because my friend was telling me about him. And so, I went to meet him and I did.

I saw him and I was really, really attracted to him and I thought, Oh, maybe he’s the one. Maybe he’s the one God has sent here for me because I haven’t met anyone else. And so, the next week, I thought, Well, I’m going to go back, because who knows what God is doing. And I really believed in the power of prayer. And so, I took my little boys with me. So they were babies. They were, like, two years old and I took them in their little pajamas with feet on and, I mean, that have the feet.

And so, we walk in this rally with all these college kids and, you know, I just sat down and act like I’m a part of it and have these two little boys and because I thought, If he’s the one that God has for me, he needs to know I have kids.

And so, then he didn’t pay much attention to me. I think he might have said hi or something, but he didn’t particularly notice me. And so, I went home that night and I was so distraught again. And I thought, This – I’m not going back there. And that was the first time in my life I surrendered something to God.

And I remember sitting on my bed that night and I just put out my hands and I said, Lord, I’m not going back there. And if he is the one You have brought here for me – and, see, I still was thinking that – then You bring him to me. I’m not going to do anything. If You want him to come to me, You bring him to me.

And so, you know, a few weeks went by and nothing happened. And I just thought, Well, you know, nothing is going to happen. But then one night, Chip called me and he had been thinking about me this whole time and he went through the pages of the – they had a roster where people that would come would put their names and their telephone numbers just so they could keep track of who was coming.

And he flipped through the pages until he found my name and he called me. And that was the beginning. I was in shock. And that was the beginning of a relationship that grew into just what we have shared for the last forty-three years. And then he became the father of my children and then we had two more children. And that was just one of the most amazing answers to prayer that I ever had.

Ryan: You’re speaking about prayer and I just can tell you that my mom is a prayer warrior. And one of my fond memories growing up as a kid is I would wake up in the early mornings, you know, to have to go use the bathroom. And she would always be up and she would be on the couch and the lamp would be on and she’d have a hot cup of coffee and she would just spend hours in the morning with Jesus.

And it has been said that God doesn’t have favorites, but He has intimates. And you are an intimate. And I think that model for me was always so powerful in a picture. Sorry, I don’t mean to make you cry. And I love the psalm, Psalm 73, where it says, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

And then when it’s talking about the goodness of God, you see this repeated is that when you really believe that God is good, you make Him your refuge. You make Him, He is the true safe harbor. And so, instead of trying to navigate on your own, you run to Him. And I think that’s the story that I have seen over and over is that the nearness of God is your good. And you have made Him your refuge. Just because you have learned that intimacy with Jesus. How did that foster? How did that develop?

Theresa: I think it happened because I was desperate, and I needed God at a time when I felt like I had nothing to give, that He came to me. And I learned that I could pour out my heart to Him and He has carried me through all kinds of trials of life and we all have those. But He is with us all the time. And He cares.

And I have learned that He listens. He cares about what we say; He cares about what we think. And He wants to hear us. He wants us to talk with Him and He wants to speak to us through His Word and through nature and through people and He speaks to us in many ways to give us hope and encouragement. And so, I think I was really blessed that it was through difficulty that I came to know the Lord, because I realized that He was all that I needed. And one thing I have always thought about is when you realize that God is all you have, then you realize that He’s all you need in whatever situation that you’re going through.

So, that’s how it all started and then the hunger, you know, for God’s Word as we are in His Word, that hunger develops and you develop a relationship with Him. And it’s a treasure, those treasured times to be able to spend in God’s Word and prayer.

And when I was a single mom and I was hurting so badly and I was learning to pray, when I would come home from work, the first thing I would do, because I was hurting so much, and I had read in the Bible, that well, you don’t have to do this, but I thought you did, that you go into your closet and pray. I took it all literally.

And so, I would run into my little closet. There was hardly room for me to get in it it was so tiny. But I ran in there and I’d get on my knees and I would just pour out my heart to God. And He met me. And I have spent my life, fortunately, with a wonderful husband, to be able to express to other people that God has the same for you. That when you cry out to Him, He will meet you in your need. It doesn’t mean everything will change, but He’s with you and He gives you all that you need in that moment.

So, I think for me, God became so real that it was like He was my friend walking beside me. Just, as we are talking about the goodness of God that verse that most of us know is that all things work together for good to those who love Him. And I can verify that, that we may not see it all in this life, but whatever we go through, that God is working for good in our lives.