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God’s Love to a Prodigal

Sherry Thomas Whatley

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. I am Sherry Thomas Whatley, the oldest child of Bro. C. Parker Thomas. Some months before my father went to be with the Lord, he asked me to prayerfully consider writing my testimony. I told him I would and actually began writing it but could never seem to get it finished. In my feeble attempt to complete it, I pray that the Lord will help me to express His great love for me so that it will be a blessing to His people.

I grew up in a God-fearing home where our first priority was Christ and His work. I dare say that I attended church more than any other child in the world until the age of 20 when I married and moved away. Much like the prodigal son, I was determined to go my own way and do my own thing. In 1965, I married a young man, John Whatley, who was not a part of our local church. For the next 20 or so years we traveled around the world with the Foreign Service, working in U.S. embassies in Brazil, Liberia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It was an exciting life and we saw many beautiful places.

Our first two sons were born overseas and a third son was born in Northern Virginia. During most of their growing-up years both my husband and I worked. In retrospect, I would give anything to have that time back and spend it at home with my children. Perhaps the heartaches and misery we experienced by our sons’ drug and alcohol dependencies could have been prevented. On the other hand, it was through these tough times that we realized how desperately we needed God and His guidance in our lives. We tried everything and nothing worked. Thank God he finally brought us to the end of ourselves.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I am so thankful that Christ knew us before the foundation of the world. As I look back over my life, there have been so many instances where his angels protected me from harm. The first two instances occurred when I was quite young. As a matter of fact, my parents told me many times about the time I was nearly eaten by a huge hog. I was just a toddler at the time and was with my Dad who was feeding the hog when I fell into the pen. Had he not been there and kicked the hog off of me, my life would have been short-lived. In the second instance, I was nearly killed by a car when I darted into the road. The car skidded several hundred feet before coming to a stop.

Three other situations that come to mind occurred after I was married. One was during a flight from New York to Atlanta when we ran into a severe thunderstorm and the plane was struck twice by lightening. It dropped several hundred feet and everyone on board thought it was the end. It was a very frightening experience. Another time I was caught up in a stampede outside a soccer stadium in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa. Before I know what was happening, a local native man had jerked open my car door, knocked my glasses off my face, grabbed my arm from the steering wheel, and was screaming in my face that I had tried to run over him. As I protested, hundreds of the local folk gathered around my car and I found myself literally at their mercy. Of course my immediate thought was, "Oh God, I need your help here." Suddenly a policeman appeared (or was it an angel?) and took control of the situation and assisted me in getting away.

Another time I was involved in a head-on collision which could have been life-threatening. As a matter of fact, it was thought at one point that the vehicle was on fire and I was pinned in unable to get out. Thank God it was only an electrical fire and the rescue personnel were able to get me out with the jaws of life. God has been so merciful to me. I certainly have not deserved His mercy. If I received what I deserved, it would be damnation. I am so thankful that my salvation is not based upon what I do or don’t do...it is strictly on what Christ has done. The price has been paid. Praise His precious name!

In 1985, my husband and I ceased our travels and settled down in our home in Manassas, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Our two older sons were beginning to give us some problems but we had no idea that they were into drugs and alcohol until later on. We attributed their acting out to puberty. We decided to put our youngest son, Philip, into a private military school, hoping this would keep him on the right track, so to speak. He did well and excelled, however, at age 14 he decided he wanted to go to public school and we eventually agreed. It was the beginning of his descent into a drug-infested hell on earth. He was never able to fit into any group at school and eventually tried punk, head-banging, white supremacist, and God knows what else. He was so miserable. He began to ingest anything to get high to escape reality. He tattooed his arms and fingers, pierced his ears, self-mutilated and whatever else he could think of to do.

We immediately got involved with the juvenile authorities and he spent many months locked up in detention or in drug treatment programs. At the same time, we were still having problems with the two older boys but their problems paled in comparison to Philip’s. We spent many sleepless nights just watching Philip to make sure he didn’t die from an overdose or commit suicide.

One instance that comes to mind is one night when we were awakened by the screaming of a young man who was spending the night with us, saying that Philip was trying to kill himself. When we rushed into his room, he had cut his wrists and there was blood everywhere. It was horrifying. When we attempted to get him into the car to go to the hospital, he bolted and we finally found him half frozen laying under the bushes of a neighbor’s house as it was in January and a freezing rain was falling.

Nothing we tried worked. Desperate, we realized we had to get help from a higher source and that source, of course, was God. We picked Philip up from juvenile detention the day before we left Virginia for Florida. I distinctly remember the feeling I had as we traveled south -- such relief -- I was finally going home where my Father was waiting and I knew there was help and hope.

As soon as we arrived in Florida, we began attending church regularly. God began working in our hearts and lives and we were ministered faith by the anointed word. With faith came a peace that God was in full control and we needed only to submit ourselves to Him and become clay in His hands.

God also began working in our sons, especially Philip. We saw him rush forward many times under great conviction during the services. He told me that I need not worry about him because he knew he was saved and in God’s hands. However, the battle continued and at times Satan overcame him and his desire to serve the Lord. He had tremendous Godly sorrow when he failed and Satan, of course, condemned him continuously... the accuser of the brethren.

There was one occasion when Philip said he really wished the Lord would take him on to be with Him because the fight was never-ending and he was so tired. God granted that request on May 25, 2001, when at the age of 27 he was hit while crossing a busy street in Jacksonville, Florida, and was instantly killed. His death, of course, was devastating to us but God was so faithful to come in His people and comfort us in our great sorrow. Now my husband and I are able to see the Lord’s goodness, mercy, and everlasting love towards us and Philip. Everything God does is right and for our good. I have no doubt that I will see Philip on that beautiful shore when my time on this earth is ended.

I request the continued prayers of God’s people for my other sons. They continue to struggle but we know nothing is too great for our Creator, Savior, Lord, Deliverer, and Hope. Praise the Lord! He is so worthy of our praise and adoration!

Sherry Thomas Whatley
October, 2007

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