Bag after bag of groceries poured into their home in Ohio where she lived with her mom and five siblings. Phyllis remembers that day with vivid clarity. That’s when the miraculous hand of God moved in answer to her Momma’s cry to God for help to feed her children.
The night before, young Phyllis had sat on the floor outside her Momma’s bedroom door listening to her pray. She was certain she could hear her Mother’s tears hitting the hard, wooden floors as she pleaded with Jesus to feed her children. Phyllis’ dad passed from cancer when she was just three years old. In the short time that her parents had together, her father did all he could to prepare Phyllis’ mother to raise their children. Money was tight. But then that day happened, and there was more than enough for everyone pouring through the front door from a person they had never seen before. Jesus had heard her Momma’s cry and Jesus sent help.
Jesus was Phyllis’ hero.
Phyllis had heard about God and his son, Jesus, at her grandmother’s church. It was a little Baptist congregation that her great-grandfather founded in Meridian, Mississippi. Ms. Kelly, the Sunday school teacher, introduced her to Jesus. Phyllis still sings with passion the song she learned that day, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Now, with a full belly and laughter replacing the tears of her momma, she knew it was true.
Phyllis soon learned that being loved by Jesus did not equal an easy, trouble-free life. Her young adult years were wrought with heartache and tragedy. Her sin and the sin of others had hurt her. Repeated sexual abuse, the loss of a marriage, shame, and constant judgment from a biased, racist culture. Ignorance, selfishness, and greed seemed far more powerful than her prayers. So much in her life, and even in her experience of the church, said to her, “You’re disqualified. You have no permission to be a minister of the Gospel.” It all became too much.
Putting it behind her felt good, so she said “yes” to Oregon when the opportunity arose. She was married for a second time, managing a blended family, and hoping for a second chance at happiness. Phyllis buried Ohio deep within her and vowed to move on. But God had a different plan.
To her surprise, God led Phyllis to Beaverton Foursquare, a predominantly white church where she began attending after moving to Oregon. She dove headfirst into working and raising her family as church increasingly became an important part of her life. She volunteered, prayed, tithed, read the Bible, and attended regularly with her kids. It was through the community at Beaverton Foursquare that the Lord continued to show her His great love. Even so, the nagging sense persisted that she lacked qualification and permission to minister.
WATERING HER ROOTS
Upon hearing of the Rooted 10-week, small group experience, excitement stirred in her spirit and Phyllis immediately became drawn to it. She felt the Lord gave her a word concerning her Rooted experience. That word was “intimacy.” She had a sense of what that meant, but the Lord had more in mind for her than she realized.
When her group was finally formed, Phyllis dove into wherever the Lord wanted to take her in the readings, the questions they raised, and the community she shared in Rooted. Very quickly others in her group were experiencing what they described as “awakenings” and “encouragement” in their faith journey. There was real intimacy shared among these women who Phyllis describes as pillars of faith. They were hungry for more.
Phyllis, on the other hand, was hit with a ton of bricks as the group’s journey progressed. There was still more
Phyllis had always considered herself unqualified. She never believed she was good enough to represent the church or share her love for Jesus with someone else.
Continuing through Rooted, her roots began to dig deeper. The Lord was also uprooting weeds that would spring up to discourage her: “You can’t go deeper!” They would sneer. “Your past disqualifies you!” “You have no credentials or spiritual gifts.” Despite the kindness and confidence in God’s love that she displayed to others, Phyllis thought that being a minister in the church was reserved for others who were more righteous and trained for ministry—but never her. She didn’t doubt God’s ability to use her outside the church. But at home, with her church family, she felt unqualified.
CONNECTING MORE INTIMATELY
Not long after her Rooted revelation, a petite, woman that Phyllis calls “Dee” came into the VA Hospital where Phyllis works. During her 27 years as a sonographer, Phyllis had met dozens of broken and weary souls who come for heart scans. Dee told Phyllis that she had been given conflicting diagnoses, but that there was no hope for her. She was going to die soon, with or without surgery. Phyllis explained her instructions were to scan Dee’s heart in preparation for surgery, not fatality. Dee was rude and seemed fearful. She was bitter that she had lost everything—everything
Phyllis had always felt God use her in these situations, so without hesitation, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, she took a deep breath and apologized to Dee. Dee was confused, and asked, “Why are you apologizing? You didn’t do anything.” Phyllis humbly acknowledged, “Because I am the Church.”
The deeper she dove in Rooted, one by one, the tragic memories and mistakes that had trapped her were released into freedom by the security and acceptance in Christ Jesus.
Dee paused for a moment, recognizing her vulnerability, and then told Phyllis about the pain the church had caused her in the past. Many women had been judgmental and catty to her, and she felt rejected over and over. Phyllis realized that the word God gave her, “intimacy”, wasn’t just for her. It was for Dee too. God had trusted Phyllis with Dee’s story, and her pain. He knew Phyllis had tasted that alienation herself.
Sensing the Father’s heart for Dee, Phyllis carefully chose her next words. She explained how the Church is a lot like a hospital where broken and hurting people are looking for healing. She shared Romans 8:28, that God works all things for good, and underscored that promise with her own testimony. Phyllis encouraged Dee to believe that the true Church, as God intended, only works when we allow grace and mercy to abound, with the full assurance that God is conforming each of us to the image of His own dear Son. When we accept each other with all of our flaws, all it takes is two or more—just as they were that day, at the hospital— to have Church. Dee softened and shared that her story included painful memories of assault and sexual violations while serving in the military. She had been gang-raped one night and became pregnant with a son—the same son who had recently told her to be euthanized.
Both women shared streams of tears, even as Phyllis examined the image of Dee’s heart on the sonogram screen. Phyllis saw nothing on the scan that indicated Dee was going to die. She needed bypass surgery, but her chances for survival were good. Phyllis asked to pray for her and explained that sometimes God heals people when we pray for them. Dee agreed to be prayed for and Phyllis prayed over her, out loud, in the hospital room. She prayed
The two women parted both knowing their story was just beginning. Phyllis knew without a doubt that Dee’s soul had been shriveling for a while now and she was thirsty for God’s presence and purpose. Phyllis shared at church the mighty things that God had done for Dee. One of those she shared with was a staff leader in Women’s Ministries, Kimberly Pasley. Kimberly suggested that a prayer shawl from the Prayer Shawl Ministry might be a blessing to Dee. She helped Phyllis sift through the different colors but neither woman had an idea which to pick. Praying, they finally selected one, and Kimberly wrapped it beautifully for Dee.
At her next appointment, Phyllis gave Dee the gift in a shopping bag. She was overwhelmed with delight, though she didn’t immediately open the bag at the hospital. Only later at home did Dee find when she opened the bag that it was her favorite color. “How did you ever know my favorite color is turquoise, my home is covered in turquoise!” She exclaimed to Phyllis, “I feel covered!” Phyllis assured her that God sees her and that He knows her. As the Lord used her to reach Dee, Phyllis also realized how deeper intimacy with God always leads to great blessings for others. But her confidence in being used by God still dwelt more easily outside of the church.
CALLED AND COMMISSIONED
She finally decided to confess these thoughts to her Rooted group. To her surprise, not a single person agreed that she was disqualified to minister within the church. In fact, her new friends boldly told her that she was worthy, and should have confidence in her testimony and her calling. They celebrated all that the Lord had done for her, all she had been through, and her passionate heart for Jesus. No book, Bible study, theology degree, hours of service, or microphone on a Sunday was ever required in order for God to use her life. She was forgiven. She was healed and redeemed, and her hopeful heart, trusting in the work of Jesus, was more than enough.
Phyllis realized that what she once thought was required to help others with their faith was not living a perfect life, but rather living in God’s perfect love. She began to see that without having experienced the pain in her life, she might not have drawn near to God at all. She saw clearly how God had used her tear-filled circumstances to bring her even greater joy than she thought possible. Things began to change.
Along with her group, Phyllis’ Rooted experience culminated in a celebration. All of the groups got together for a delicious dinner, worship, and a final evening of fellowship. But the Lord had more for Phyllis than just a pleasant evening. Before the night ended, Pastor Randy addressed the entire Rooted cohort. He told them that they were all ministers of the church and he was going to commission them. He led them through a series of questions that released the gathered group members into ministry.
“If someone is sick, you can pray for them and care for their needs. You don’t need to call the church. If someone you know needs support for their marriage, you don’t need to call the church. You can pray for them and help.”
The pastor’s words crystallized all that God had been doing in Phyllis’ heart. She was called and commissioned by her Father in Heaven as part of the local church to be a minister. She didn’t need a degree, an office, or a title. She heard her Father’s words in the voice of her pastor. And it was enough. Her’s wasn’t the only heart that was healing.
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
Dee’s surgery was successful. There were no signs that her heart disease spread beyond repair. In due course, Dee had returned home, healed, and has become whole in more ways than she could have imagined. She told Phyllis that because of her kindness, she is reading the Bible again, sometimes falling asleep in her chair, then waking up and reading again where she left off. Dee is learning what the Holy Spirit wants to teach her about God. He’s showing her that while churches can be lovely gathering
Phyllis continues to minister to many, like Dee, who need redemption and revival in their hearts—things that cannot be revealed on a sonogram scan, but only through her sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Through Rooted, God revealed strongholds in Phyllis’ life that were hidden and in need of his healing touch. “Never again will I believe the lies Satan told me that I am insignificant, unqualified, and disqualified to help others. My Rooted journey taught me that God is never done with us. I realized that my whole story is a crucial part of the Church.”
Phyllis reflects back 53 years ago to the song she learned in that small Southern Baptist church in Mississippi, how those words are so true. “Yes, Jesus loves us, the Bible tells us so...and when we are weak, he is strong.” When we invite Jesus into the ruin of our sin—to the places we are most vulnerable and weak, he becomes our common strength, our mighty healer, our revival of heart.
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