In June 2013, our family became first-time business owners of a local country store in our community. After a month of repair and renovations, we opened as a combined restaurant and grocery store.  This was not an overnight decision. Looking back at my life’s journey, there is now more clarity of how God was shaping me as His child to be in this place today.

Seed Planted Early

I grew up watching my grandfather host annual community fish fry events. Occasionally on Saturday mornings, he would cook a pot of chili for the locals in the back of the community’s gas station. People here along the river called him “Preacher” or “Brother Ledbetter.” It was said he would give a man the shirt off his back.

As a family, we loved to celebrate around the table feasting on catfish from Granddaddy. Many days, with the gift of invitation, there was an extra place set at the table. His voice giving thanks still rings in my ear. “Lord, send someone today that we can be of service to.” As a kid, I had no idea the legacy my grandfather’s actions were imprinting on my own soul.

And The Legacy Continued

Becoming a mother of five over a span of 10 years gave me my own opportunity to develop a similar legacy of service with my own children. Depending on the ages of my children, our adventures included a wide array of service projects including, but not limited to, babysitting for tired moms who needed a break or allowing the neighbors’ kids free access to our food and home as their own parents struggled to break addictions. We served our neighbors and community as a family.

As the children matured, the Holy Spirit gave us even more creative ministry ideas. As the Father began to slowly expose the need to be intentional in my community, He revealed opportunities for us to be the hands and feet of Christ. We started with creative arts summer camps held annually in our front yard. As the circumstances of life changed, this transitioned into a Christmas outreach at the local YMCA for kids in the after school care program. We embraced these venues as opportunities for our family to serve together.

Yet, when hard times hit, like they do in most families, it became difficult to remember that legacy of service. Many days were lost in emotional pain as the effects of childhood sexual abuse, a failed marriage, and becoming a single working mother of five consumed even our day-to-day lives.

First Comes Pain

From ages 7 to 17, I was sexually abused. Although I had years of counseling, the shame issues resurfaced when my marriage ended. It seemed I had mistakenly sought my identity first through promiscuous relationships and then through my marriage. I was looking for someone to rescue me. When my marriage ended forcing me to return to work to provide for my children, there were some hard questions to answer regarding my purpose and value as a woman as well as the goodness of God.

Then Good News

In the middle of the pain was a steadfast faith that was growing as I encountered a love relationship with God over the next 10 years through Bible Study Fellowship. It was clear that I could please the Creator of the universe even when it seemed I could please no one else.

I became more acquainted with the nature and character of God, and healing began in the deepest places of my being. Then, the longings to make a difference in my home and my community surfaced again. After attending a national Mom Heart conference in Charlotte several years ago, I returned home and began a local Mom Heart group to disciple moms in the biblical design of motherhood.  This was something the Lord had put on my heart for years, but I simply did not believe I was hearing clearly from God. The enemy hurled accusations at me such as, “Why would married women listen to a single woman exhort them to be Godly wives… or a parent listen to a single mom share Godly counsel about discipleship in the home?”

During that conference in Charlotte, it became clear the Father wanted no more excuses. I was His girl, and this was what He had for me. It is with gratitude I say today there are three local Mom Heart groups that have grown out from that initial group. The Lord has blessed this ministry.

Taking His Love Across The Ocean

The awareness of how to live out redemption brought peace and joy to a new level in my life, yet God had even more blessings in store. In the summer of 2012, I was privileged to travel to Uganda for 14 days with a team that included two of my children. Part of my contribution on the trip involved teaching the women in the churches of Kisoro about what? How to be a godly mother and about discipleship in the home!

It was so clear that the Father takes the most broken places and uses them for His honor and glory as we depend on Him and trust Him with our lives. Most of the women in Uganda have been abandoned in their marriages and live a life of financial poverty. Guess what? So do I. For two weeks, I had the privilege of sharing the hope of Christ and the faithfulness of God with hurting women.

Honestly, my cup had been so very full for so long, I had simply spilled over with gratitude. But there was more to come.

Coming Full Circle

Working in town while ministering in the country presented challenges. Not to mention all my children needed rides to their activities and help with homework, but there were no local jobs available. So I stayed put. The Lord had stirred in me the desire to own a business in my community, but the time had not been right with regard to finances or building availability. Eighteen months later, a storefront went up for sale right near our home. I sensed this to be God’s timing, so I fasted, prayed, waited, and trusted.

The community has responded favorably to our little place of rest. “Graves Grocery, A Community Rest Stop: A Place to Satisfy Your Hunger and Your Heart” not only serves breakfast and lunch, but seeks to share a lasting message of hope whether it be through a kind word or deed.

Over the summer, as I transitioned to local business owner, the Father opened my eyes to the connection between my Africa mission trip and my home mission work. Just as the African ladies sought creative ways to earn a living to meet their families’ needs, the store opened up an opportunity for Mom Heart ladies from my local group to volunteer. They are receiving not only business skills but are also making connections in the community.

I was a child who grew up insecure and struggled in seeking my identity in inappropriate ways, but God has used the store to heal up some of my deepest wounds. The positive feedback, return customers, and encouraging words have met many emotional needs as the store has become our family’s primary source of income. Honestly, being at the store feels like something I waited my whole life for but didn’t know I was waiting for it. It is a daily challenge as I learn new things and manage my many responsibilities, but it brings great satisfaction at the end of the day to know I’ve had an opportunity to impact another’s life.