By Reba Phelps
Around the age of 5-years-old I had a new dress.This dress is still etched in my memory today, almost as if it still hangs in my closet. This floral dress was so special to me because it had an appliqué of a horse at the bottom. It was so majestic in my eyes because this horse had a mane that was made of yarn and this yarn offered hours of distraction, or horseplay, if you will.
I could run my fingers through many of them at one time and pretend I was wearing rings. I could tie the mane into knots. I could untie those knots and tug on them mercilessly until it they were barely hanging on.
The purchase of this dress was genius on my mother’s part. It kept me totally occupied while I attended court with my father.
I was way too young at the time to wonder what my dad had done wrong, why he was incarcerated and why he wasn’t coming home for a while. The only other memory I have was that community people gave our family Christmas presents. I remember thinking it was odd that Santa didn’t come that year but people did.
My dad started his criminal proceedings with a court appointed attorney who, for the life of him, couldn’t even remember his name. Sometime right after he was jailed he was randomly visited by an attorney who seemed to think he could win the case for him and have him home soon with his family. The young and fresh out of law school attorney also thought it would look really good if the children attended court on occasion during his trial. It is much harder to keep a man in jail who has small children at home.
Especially cute children, like his.
After six months in jail and a jury trial he was released from jail and we relocated to Natchitoches Parish.
One would have thought that he found Jesus in a jail cell like so many of the incarcerated do. Not my strong willed dad. He had a few more years of less than perfect choices and trying to live life on his terms before my mother gave him a chance to redeem himself for drinking away his paychecks.
My mother had been invited to church by a new friend of hers and she began attending with her children in tow. At the time the church was located in the Art Guild Building on Second Street, almost directly across from the Catholic Church we previously attended.
My dad’s only choice was to attend church with his family that day or leave the residence. He thought the punishment did not fit the crime but he reluctantly made an appearance at church on that Mother’s Day. Life for him changed that day as he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Our family never hid the fact that my dad once served time. Some years later it would become the backbone of his testimony when he surrendered his life to the ministry and became a preacher. He would eventually begin his full-time ministry in Goldonna as Pastor of River of Life Church in 1987.
There is not a Sunday that goes by that he does not thank God and give him credit for redeeming him and saving his soul.
Looking back, these events did help shape the adult that I would become. One of the first charities I ever donated to was called, “Angel Tree Christmas- Prison Fellowship”, which gives Christmas presents to children of prisoners. It took many years for it to soak in that someone purchased Christmas presents for us because our dad was in jail.
Years later while attending a fundraiser in Sabine Parish, God allowed me to cross paths with this attorney whose name I had heard hundreds of times previously. My parents always said they didn’t know if our lives would have had the same outcome had this attorney not volunteered to help my dad.
Once I saw him, I introduced myself, and followed up with, “You represented my dad when you were younger and just starting out.” He immediately remembered the case and vividly remembered my dad. I have no idea why I needed to have that conversation with him other than to thank him for everything he did for my family and thank him for believing in my dad.
I shall never forget the words he said to me. “Your dad was a good man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
I knew God had redeemed my dad and saved him but there was probably a small part of me that needed to hear that as well.
Some may read this and feel as if this was a complete overshare. My prayer is that someone will read it and know that God has redeeming power. He can forgive anyone for anything. He can use the least of them and use sinners for great things.
He can put random people in your path to help you along your journey and they may not even realize it until decades later.
He can make beauty out of ashes. I am very proud that my dad has lived a life for Christ for over 34 years now and has been responsible for leading many people to the Lord. His church recently suffered major damage due to a storm but he and his congregation are excited to see what mighty works his hand can do with the rubble.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe.” – Psalm 107:2