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 The Willow Tree Figurine 

It was time for Joy of a Child Mission Outreach again. I went to my employer and received permission to put a box at the front of his shop for donations. Much to my surprise, other contractors wanted to be involved. Some of the hairdressers put jars at their stations so people could make donations. Everyone was excited with helping out, and there seemed to be magic in the air because of it.

I was working in a very upscale salon where some of the oldest and wealthiest families from Wilmington came. A few of the customers brought in used items, and my spirit was immediately turned off. I went to the Lord about it, feeling I might be wrong, and then took what I was feeling to the core members of the Joy group. The answer came down from heaven that needy people had been given sloppy seconds most of their lives, and only new items were to be accepted.

In addition this year, the Lord had made it clear that we should add a benefit concert to raise money for Joy. The Holy Spirit had been telling me that the traditional service in my church needed a new form of worship. I was told to call forth a praise choir and introduce them at the concert, and I was obedient to follow through. Through prayer, I was given the outline of what was to happen with this concert. I was amazed that twenty-six people volunteered to sing for the cause of needy families. I got in touch with a local sorority house, and they were going to use Joy as their annual mission outreach. I brought the praise choir and the house band together, and lastly, I was to emcee the whole thing, giving a brief testimony in the very church that hadn’t wanted to hear what I had to say about my life several years earlier.

I proclaimed a three-day fast before the event and that night I drove to the church about three hours before the concert to make certain I had enough quiet time with the Lord. As I was driving across the bridge to the island, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Your soul has been atoned for.” This revelation stunned me, and I felt as though I was driving on autopilot. The work I had been doing for the Lord—the toiling and all the repenting—flooded back to my mind in an instant. I knew God had forgiven me for the destructive and apathetic lifestyle I once lived.

The pastor showed up and told me to “get the show on the road.” I looked inside the church where there were people sprinkled all around. Where was everyone? I went downstairs to the bathroom to muster my courage for what was to come. I was scared, yet told myself, “This is God’s concert that you are bringing forth, so whatever happens in regard to attendance or comments, just know it is God’s will.”

I walked back up the steps, which took—it seemed—an eternity. I was responsible for this concert all by myself. I had usually done everything in church with the youth guide, but not this time. I got to the top of the stairs. I turned my head and gazed into the sanctuary, and there were people everywhere. They were being directed upstairs to the balcony, and the side room overflowed. It was glorious. I walked to the front, took my seat, and nodded for the intro music to begin.

My heart raced. I knew the time was coming for me to give my testimony to the crowd who had shoved it under the rug as though my sin didn’t exist. This time though, the church was stuffed with people who didn’t attend there on a regular basis, and that gave me a sense of courage I hadn’t felt before, as I stood drug-free to give my testimony. The air was so thick with the Spirit you could have cut it with a knife, and I could see people were moved.

As we were packing up to leave that night, the head of the missions committee came up to me and made a single comment: “May I make a suggestion to you? Since so many people have to go to work the next day, please consider having this at 6:00 p.m. next year.” Others came to me giving glory to God for what he had done. We hurriedly tallied the money before handing it to the church secretary. That night, we raised $700 for needy families, and I was thrilled. The concert was a huge success. This was in addition to the money we raised in the boxes we had spread all over the island which totaled a little over $2100.  

After all of the hoopla of Christmas was behind us, several weeks later, I sat on the front pew of the church after the Sunday morning service exhausted hardly able to think. The previous day, I had been sitting at my nail table and started to cry from sheer weariness. I had not only put on the benefit concert for Joy but did all of what was necessary to see that numerous families were brought Christmas that year. I had directed the Christmas play again, and when I say I directed the play, I mean I went all out. Nothing was done halfway. That year, we added hair and makeup, which Dara agreed to do in addition to the costumes, lighting, and music. I placed hay anywhere there was an empty spot up front. That night, I wanted to transport everyone to the little town of Bethlehem in their hearts. I even had a real live infant, by the name of Samuel, who represented our Lord and Savior.

With each passing year the play became more real. It had become one of  the highlights of the year at our church. When I did anything for God, I did it with all the gifts and strength I had. To top it all off, I was teaching the Sunday school class called “The Mixed-Up Adults.”

But that Sunday morning, I began to cry in front of the man who had always been the other half of what I did at church—the married youth guide. I told him that I felt called to preach the gospel, not all of this other work I had so arduously been doing for the past several years. His response was, “Then why don’t you do it?”

I thought, Well, no one will give me a chance, that’s why! All I had done was work myself to death trying to please everyone while thinking it was God’s will. Christmas had indeed been a huge success, and I was left worn out. I could hardly drive home quickly enough that day because all I wanted to do was fall into bed. Was I to be so exhausted that I couldn’t function from doing the will of God?

I had been nominated shortly thereafter to be a deacon, and someone ended up telling me that I had missed being elected by one vote. The Sunday school director asked me if I was disappointed, and I told him I wasn’t, but really I kind of was. I reflected a moment and then added, if God had wanted me to be a deacon, I would have been made one; I then came to know  in my heart I didn’t need a title to do the will of God. I believed I had already been doing that.

XXXXX

Something had to give for me. Finally, I made the decision to stop teaching class on Sundays and I felt a great relief over it.  I then ultimately came to realize that it could not be God’s will for me to work so hard that I got physically sick. I started getting up and praying in my apartment instead of attending Sunday school. I felt like I needed rest more at this moment than anything else. It occurred to me, “What good would I be to anyone dead?”  Several people didn’t like it. I proceeded to tell them that I was just as effective on my knees as I was sitting in a church pew for social hour.

Then as I was going through my routine of attending church several months later, I heard the voice say, “It is time to move on.” I kept hearing the voice telling me this, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to the point of completely cutting ties with this church.

One day after contemporary service rehearsals, something happened that I knew was not right.  This incident helped me to come to terms with the fact I needed to be obedient. I was vacuuming the sanctuary in preparation for the nightly service and I was still very tired. I would only have several hours in which to go home, rest, and then return. The youth guide made the comment that I could come to his new apartment—since he had just split from his wife—and rest on his bed.

I had worked so long with him week after week over the past couple of years, and I thought I had fallen in love with him. He had already made the comment to me several weeks earlier, while his back was turned to me, that he was available. Here was the opening I thought I had longed for. I hadn’t uttered a word in response the day he remarked he was available, and this day when he offered his bed to me at his apartment, I said, “No, thank you.”

Even though he was separated from his wife, he was still married, and I would not allow myself to fall prey to temptation. From that moment, something in me started to change in terms of the way I was feeling about him and our working together at church. He was such a depressed person, and I just couldn’t let him drag me into his mess. I had worked too hard to overcome my own circumstances; I couldn’t take on his. I had already been married to Satan incarnate.

I went home after the service that evening, knelt down in front of the place I had designated as my altar before the Lord, and took it all to the only one who could help me sort out my feelings. Through intense prayer and great repentance, I came to my senses. It was what I have come to fondly call one of my “ice cold bucket of water in the face moments.” I knew that if I embarked upon this relationship, God’s call, that I felt I had on my life, would be taken from me. Yes, it would be a perfect situation to have a man who loved God and to be able to work along side of him for the cause of Christ, but this wasn’t the man and I knew it.  I settled in my heart with God the situation that had plagued me for too long now.  I knew I had been wrong.  I had committed adultery in my heart with this youth guide against heaven.

I listened to the voice that had been prompting me to move on and started attending another church. I didn’t know why I was to go there, but I knew the Holy Spirit was guiding me to yet another place of worship. I had a friend who was facilitating a class there, and she thought it would be a good idea to let me teach one Sunday. Well, as it always seemed to be, I was too “in your face” with the truth of what I had learned through the Holy Spirit. One couple did in fact come up and thank me after class that day.

Through continued prayer, I was told to intercede over the next several weeks for the pastor and congregants in this church as service was being held. With the pastor’s permission, I would arrive early, go into a separate room, and pray scriptures the Holy Spirit had previously given to me. I would plead the blood of Christ over the church and pastor, taking authority over every principality in the heavenly realms. I felt useful in a way I hadn’t before and was introduced to several nice pastors.

Then several months later, I was led back to the church where I had labored so long for God. My mother liked attending this particular church, and the instruction had come down from heaven and was crystal clear that I was to make certain she got there on Sundays. The first Sunday I took Mom back to this church, church members, feeling like I had been a traitor to them, were not particularly ready to receive me back with open arms. My heart ached. I knew I was being obedient to the Lord. My mother was the most important issue, not them, and if she liked going there, then I was going to take her, no matter what anyone said.

                                                   XXXXX

I was still cleaning the shop each Saturday to make up for my weekly booth rent. I will never forget this one Saturday after a long week, I was crying out to God, as was my custom when I was tired. I had at my disposal a little electric broom that I had been using to vacuum the hair up that had fallen in every crack and crevice of this massive hair salon. I remember sobbing and telling God, “At least if I have to continue to clean this shop, could I please have a better vacuum?”

The owner peeked in my little closet Tuesday morning and said, “Guess what I bought you this weekend?”

I said, “What?”

He said, “A Shop-Vac!”

I said, “Thank you,” as I smiled broadly. Then I thought, Oh, goody, as he turned and walked away. Sitting there I then knew it must be the will of God that I continue cleaning the shop, which was disheartening. I sat there so down in my spirit at that moment. All I had wanted to do since turning to Christ was to go give my testimony and preach the gospel. I believed for so long that I had a call of God on my life, but I felt I could never get to it. Why? What was I doing wrong? It seemed that I had such a magnificent story, yet people didn’t or couldn’t acknowledge what God had done through my life. Why wouldn’t they listen? Why didn’t anyone want me to come and tell what God had done in my life? I became so sullen in my heart that I wondered if I was falling apart again.

Shortly after that incident, the owner appeared in the doorway of my little nail room. He stated, “I have someone else coming in to clean the shop.” He continued to explain that the other nail tech was leaving and that I could move to the nice big area in the shop she had been using. Then he asked if he could talk with me outside. I was sort of in a daze as I rose to follow him. I heard the words he spoke, and yet the only thing going through my mind was, “Now what?” I knew most of the people in the shop really didn’t like me, and I would have to work right in the midst of them. Quite frankly, I didn’t know if I was up to the task. I also knew that I was barely able to eek by a living and couldn’t afford the higher rent I was going to have to pay. I wondered what was going to happen to me. The dreaded ache reappeared as we walked outside; he lit up a cig, and continued: “She’s leaving, and she would like to give you her clients, but you have to stop talking about Jesus.”

Prior to this confrontation, the other nail tech, who had been only cordial to me, popped her head in my room and inquired if I would be interested in buying her clients. I let her know I was not interested in her proposition. The owner continued, “You can have her space in the shop, but your rent will be one-fifty a week, beginning in two weeks. I will give you two weeks’ rent free.”

First, a Christian was telling me that I had to stop talking about Jesus in order to get additional clients! Second, I could stay in my little closet or have the big nice area with its own private room for pedicures, but my rent, regardless, was going to be $150! I had been barely able to clean the shop and pay the additional fifty-dollar rent. I went home that evening and went before the Lord explaining to him in detail what was now happening at the salon. I was told by the Holy Spirit not to run, but to stay the ground. When I got up from prayer I knew I would accept the proposition of the bigger area, but my stomach ached over it. I was quite aware that most everyone in that shop thought I was a Jesus freak and would have loved to see me leave.

I went there the next day to prepare. I was coming out of the closet, literally! The following weekend, I went in, cleaned, and took over the new space I would be working in. I was given a vision of the pedicure room in a dream. What I saw was an individual pointing to a tree on the wall with names on the branches. In the next few weeks, things started to come into focus. As I studied the wall in the pedicure room, I could see a tree, which I had painted. Contained on the branches were salon services I offered. I went to work, decorated the wall, and received wonderful feedback on what I had done. I kept my area clean and pleasing, and I was nice and cordial to everyone, even though I knew they didn’t care for me. Gradually, things began to change, and they all saw what a good worker I was. Little by little, they all started to come around and attitudes started to soften. Several had listened to others talk about me and had formed their original impressions based on secondhand talk. Now they were being less biased and they warmed up to me. I managed to pay my first week’s rent of $150 and never missed from that moment on. The owner was shocked. I came to know that God would always provide for me as long as I would do my part by getting up and being faithful. Also, I didn’t have to clean the shop any longer, and that was definitely a blessing. If I had quit and given up and run, it would have been all over for me as far as the path God wanted me to walk.

                                                         XXXXX

Christmas 2004 was upon us. Willow Tree figurines were becoming quite popular, and one of my customers gave me one as a gift. When I opened the box, I was a little stunned but thanked her nonetheless. This particular figurine was of a girl holding a cat. I had grown up with dogs all my life and I hated cats. Who would give someone anything with a cat on it without knowing if that person even liked cats? I didn’t have much in the way of knick-knacks, so I accepted it with thanks and placed it on the ledge that separated my kitchen from my dining area.

Dara and I weren’t living together, but having her right around the corner from me was the next best thing. She stopped by one afternoon to get her nails done and all of a sudden, I heard her gasp. I said, “What’s wrong?”

She said, “It’s a sign!” as she pointed to the figurine.

I thought, What sign?

She said, “Mom, that figurine is a sign that you need to bring the cat that has been hanging around the apartment inside. I remarked, “It is not a sign. If God had wanted me to bring that cat in, he would have told me. It is not a sign.”

There was a cat in the neighborhood that had been coming to my front door for several months. It seemed to appear out of nowhere and would come and stare at my front door. She would curl up on the porch chair at night and go to sleep. The neighbors all told me I should take her in, and I would think, You have no idea who you are talking to. I have a call of God on my life; I do not have time to take care of a cat. I hardly had enough money after paying my shop rent to feed myself, much less a cat. I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to take her to the vet. I emphatically said no to everyone around me who asked me to become this cat’s owner.

One evening it was raining cats and dogs. The thunder and lightning were horrific. Usually when it would rain, the cat would come up on the porch and hover. I had made her a makeshift lean-to as a shelter, but this evening, she was not under there; I couldn’t find her anywhere. I was very concerned about a cat I didn’t even like!

Immediately, I came inside and knelt down on the floor at the altar. I began my explanation to the Almighty: “I repent to you, God, for not taking the cat in. If I was being disobedient by not taking this cat in, I repent. If you will just bring her here safe, I will take that as a sign you want me to keep her.”

Exactly fifteen minutes later, I heard a knock at my front door. There stood my next-door neighbor with a soaking wet cat in her arms. I said in a somewhat shaky, deep laugh, “Welcome home. Come on in.” God had spoken.

There was a girl who lived across the street in the upstairs apartment who I discovered worked for a vet. On an earlier occasion, she had taken the cat, had it spayed, and made certain she had all the necessary shots. She was even on flea treatments that were very expensive. On top of that, my neighbor brought over that same night a litter box, cat litter, and other necessities. I was all set; I was a cat owner, and it hadn’t cost one thin dime. My daughter had been right, and the figurine was a sign after all.

A couple of months later, I received the lesson I was supposed to learn. My heart, over the years, had become hardened. This cat needed someone to love her, and I too needed someone to love me unconditionally—without any strings attached. I didn’t love myself. The things I had done were so deep and sinful that I was never able to forgive myself. She helped soften my heart so I could truly be able to love fully and openly again. I was a nice person, I had done many good works in the name of the Lord, but I had built a wall of protection around my broken heart without even realizing it. I told my daughter the revelation I had received from the Holy Spirit, and she was in total agreement. Kit is the name I gave my cat. She is ten years old now and has been “Living the life of Riley” with me for six wonderful years. If anyone had told me I would someday be a cat owner, I would have called them crazy. The Lord does work in mysterious ways his wonders to perform… Who would have guessed that God would have used a figurine to get me the truth?  Of course, he spoke through a donkey once to accomplish his will, so who am I to argue? 

 

 

Molly Painter Ministries  P.O. Box 16491
Wilmington, NC 28408



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