‘Women of Faith’ speaker Thelma Wells explains how the healing power of music helped her recover from incredible trauma.

Interview by Sherry Huang     

With her trademark refreshing candor and humor, Thelma Wells has become a favorite speaker at the popular Women of Faith conferences. As a child, Thelma struggled with a cruel grandmother and with prejudices of the segregation era. Yet despite the darkness she faced, Thelma found joy in her childhood and grew up to become the first black woman with the title of Assistant Vice President at a national bank. In her latest book, God Is Not Through With Me Yet, Thelma shares how church and praise music shaped her as a true woman of faith.

A lot of people, even after they find Christ, even after they are able to move beyond past pain, are still scarred in some way. Would you elaborate on how you were able to get through your past without being damaged in any way?

I am the product of a crippled, unwed teenager, born in 1941 when it was not popular to be pregnant and not married. When I was born, my maternal grandmother put my mother out of the house, and she had to work in servant quarters in Dallas, Texas. Well, when I was two years old, both my mother and I were ill,but her parents would not take me. My grandfather loved me, but my grandmother did not. But we went to church every day. At church, I learned the "Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace" and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."

When we went to visit my maternal grandparents, my grandmother would lock me in a closet—a dark, stinky, dingy, insect-infested closet when my granddad went to work. I was in there all day without any food or water. I do remember being frightened in the closet. But, because I had gone to church and learned to sing, I would sing myself to sleep with church songs. I had no bitterness, no anger, no strife, no malice, and no fear.

Now, I understand that that was abuse, but because I had already accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and I had been an innocent child, I was not scarred. In fact, I didn’t even remember that trauma until I was writing my first book, "Bumblebees Fly Anyway: Defying The Odds At Work And Home." I realize that in that closet, God was protecting me and guarding my heart, my mind,and my spirit so that I would not be bitter.

It was a setup that God had for me because he knew that years later I was going to take care of that very grandmother who put me in the closet. In fact, I took care of her for 13 years.

Were you able to forgive her or reconcile with her?

Oh, yeah, I forgave her even though she never said, "I’m sorry." She never said, "I love you." But at the end of the twelfth year I was taking care of her, she said, "If anybody had told me you were the one who would take care of me, I would have never believed it." I choose to take that as her way of saying, "Thank you, I appreciate you" because she didn’t know how to express love. She didn’t know how to express herself.

How old were you when you had to take care of her?

I was in my 30s. She died in the early 1980s. I remember my mother sitting at her bedside in the year when she died holding her mother’s hand with her one good hand and saying, "Mama, I love you, I love you, I love you." I believe my grandmother died never saying, "I love you," to her daughter.

When you sing to God, when you praise him, when you worship him, God gives you peace that you can’t understand. He pours on you wisdom that you would not have had you not prayed and thanked Him and glorified him.

He gives you calm in the midst of the storm. And if anybody doesn’t believe me, they should just try it for themselves because I know what he will do.

I have been through many trials and tribulations. I lived in the segregated South and was ostracized and alienated, but I knew how to sing in my spirit. When I had marital problems, I could sing through those problems. And now, I don’t have any at all. It’s the sweetest thing I know, other than Jesus, being married to this man I’ve been married to for 46 years.

I’ve had children issues. But, I’ve learned to sing through those.

Besides Jesus, who or what gives you hope now? How do you find hope?

I find hope in the Word of God. I find hope in people who are around me who are hopeful. I find hope in the music that I listen to. I find hope in the church I attend. I find hope in my family. When I was so sick for over a year, people who came to put food in my refrigerator, there was hope. Or people who came to visit me and just sit with me. And the telephone calls, the e-mails, the flowers–all of those brought hope. You see, you can get hope in the smallest good act, in the smallest kind word, in the smallest gesture that is for your good, you know. Hope is all around us.

How can non-Christians find hope to sing in their closets of life?

Non-Christians have the same privileges as Christians do in the fact that if they praise God, that’s acknowledging God. They were born of God’s Spirit, but they are not a child of God until they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and God becomes their father. Now, the difference is that when [someone]gets to be a son of God, a child of God, there are privileges as a joint heir with Jesus.

So the first thing that has to happen to get full-fledged adoption into the fellowship of God through Jesus is that you’ve got to say, "Lord, I am a sinner, I accept you, please come into my heart, live in my heart." At that moment, the Holy Spirit of God immediately comes into your heart, into your spirit, and he brings love, peace, joy, patience, long-suffering, self-control, faithfulness, meekness, and gentleness.

What music artists and songs today inspire you the most?

I love gospel music and praise music. When Nicole C. Mullins sings "I Know My Redeemer Lives," I just want to say, "Okay, okay, rapture, come on." I also love Babbie Mason, Cece Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Richard Smallwood, Shirley Caesar, Judy Jacobs,and Yolanda Adams. I also love worship music like the Mississippi Mass Choir and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I love music that glorifies God.

One of my favorite songs that Luther Barnes has sung is "No Matter How High I Get, I’ll Still Be Looking Up To You, Lord." Now, that’s my theme song because I could just float on away from here.

You’ve talked about the bumblebee and how it’s an icon for you. How did the bumblebee come to represent your life?

I was a banker in 1978 in the day and a teacher of bankers at night. I noticed that my students had very low self-esteem. They were afraid to recite in class before other adults.So, I prayed and said,"Lord, give me something that I can leave with these people that they would be encouraged, inspired, influenced,and empowered, even after they’ve forgotten my name and my face." As I went into church one Sunday following that prayer, a friend of mine said, "Thelma Wells, that sure is a pretty bee," referring to the little bee pin that I had on my lapel. She said, "Every time you wear that bee, remember, you can be the best of what you want to be."

So I started studying about bees, and I discovered that the bumblebee aerodynamically is not supposed to be able to fly because its body is too heavy; its wingspan is too shallow. I wear this bumblebee every day to remind me that today is the day that the Lord has ordered for me to be the very best that God wants me to be for him.

In your book, you also mention seeing miracles around the world.  What is the greatest miracle you have seen?

One of the greatest miracles, and it’s a personal one, is when the Lord raised me almost from death. On Dec. 8, 2005, I had what I thought was a routine hysterectomy that turned into cancer. They [the doctors] discovered the cancer during the surgery. They took my intestines out and in the second surgery my lungs collapsed and my vital organs went down. My family was told I was not going to make it. However, I’m a miracle because despite my lungs collapsing, being on life support and in intensive care, having hallucinations and getting shingles, God has still allowed me to be here and to talk to you. It took me a little over a year to recuperate from the damage that was done all over my body.

God does not always heal us instantly the way we think. He is not a jack-in-the-box God. But God is walking with me through this. As I keep singing a song in my heart, every day I get up with peace and hope and love and joy because I know it could be so much worse.

What are your favorite Bible verses?

One of the Bible verses that I have lived on for years and years is Philippians 4:6. "Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, with prayer and supplications, with thanksgiving, let your petition be made known to God and the God of peace which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and your mind through Christ Jesus."

Another favorite verse that has been playing in my mind all year is Romans 8:16. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek, for it is in this that God is revealed from faith to faith, for without faith, it is impossible to please God."

Can you recite your favorite prayer?

The Lord’s Prayer has been a favorite prayer of mine since I was a little girl. But I don’t really have a favorite prayer because when I get ready to pray, I ask the Holy Spirit to pray in me. I pray for the blood of Jesus to cover whomever I’m praying with or for because there is chemistry in the blood of Jesus. I pray for forgiveness because all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

I even pray, "God, don’t let any airplanes fall today. Help the troops who are in the war, and don’t let anybody get killed today." I pray for protection. I pray against demonic forces. I pray for peace and strength for families. Every day, I also pray for my own family, my grandbabies, and my husband. And I ask the Lord to let the seeds of the Gospel go where they need to be in order to germinate so that this world can be better.

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