New Year’s Eve

Fireworks explode in the neighborhood as the clock struck 12. I walked into this evening with the utmost trepidation. Like Cinderella waiting for her beautiful dress to turn rags and her carriage to collapse. I, on the other-hand, was not wanting to catch a prince, or concerned with the fraying of an outfit. I was worried about the fraying of my soul. Walking into another year is painful.

Every New Year’s Eve for the past three years I have had company— whether I wanted it or not. It’s the company of my own grief. It sits with me latching on to my heart as the minutes climb closer and closer to the new year. It sits silently but ever so deafening. It weighs on my heart like a millstone. Tugged me down to a place I would never tread if it were my own choosing.

New Years is supposed to be a joyous time. But for me, it just represented the glaring unwanted fact that my Dad is one more year farther away from me. The only thing I could think to do to escape this night was to go to bed early and try to make the best of New Years Day. But it all hurts. Every year I wish I could rewind to a moment with him. Like last his last Father’s Day. He was so thrilled with the tools we gave him. And he couldn’t get over the fact that my sister and her husband had given him the trip to Grenada to see my brother. He never made it down there and he never used his tools.

For me, New Year’s Eve just makes another gash at my already wounded heart. This day, just uncovers the gaping hole in my heart that I normally cover up with a smile or a helping hand. But New Year’s Eve reminds me I can never outrun the pain. Part of me is dead and can never be revived.

But, tonight, I faced it. I acknowledge the pain and my unwanted companion. For the first time in a long time the tears flowed … and flowed steadily revealing the fountain of loss that will, in fact, always be there. And, as I sit on this hard floor wiping snot on my nightgown, I know my Dad would be proud. Because he never ran from pain or opposition. He took it head on. So, whatever your New Year’s Eve looks like, don’t be afraid to face it head on. To be fully alive means to fully feel. Which also means to fully grieve.

Dad:

I don’t even have the words to express the emptiness now in my heart. I miss you so much. But, you’ve left me a heck of legacy to follow, and for that, I’ll plod on. Happy New Year. You’d be proud of the sibs and mom. We all miss you like crazy, but we are pressing on. Grandmom celebrated a milestone birthday… and get this… the Dolphins beat the Patriots last week! And Ezra got married. It was a great way to finish the year. Love you so much, Padge. Don’t have too much fun without us— just kidding I know you already are 💕!

Discovering Dimple

Beyond the cracked sidewalk, and the telephone pole with layers of flyers in a rainbow of colors, and the patch of dry brown grass there stood a ten-foot-high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint. There was a small shrine at the foot of it, with burnt-out candles and dead flowers and a few soggy teddy bears. One word of graffiti-filled the wall, red letters on a gold background: Rejoice!

The girl took two steps back, wiped the sweat of the late August heat and the salty tears of her eight-year struggle off her face, and admired her work. The words glistening wet in the afternoon sun and trails of red paint ran slowly down like blood – the fresh, healing, life-giving kind – staining the bears and flowers. It made sense to her now, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a hint of a smile and she stared at the stuffed animal, Binky, that she had laid there years ago, a symbol of the death of her innocence and carefree childhood. Its pink furry head had been dabbed with drips of paint over the years, but this red was its crowning glory and her latest declaration to life. From this moment on, she would still cry, still scream, and still beat the walls of her bedroom and the door of heaven, but like a defiant battle cry against despair, she would also choose to rejoice.

Her new family stood behind her in silent solidarity, her parents, Rainbow and the kid who was now a man. He stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder. He didn’t have to say anything, for his motion spoke for the whole group and was understood by all. They knew what it cost for her to write that word; they had known the same loss, walked through the same valleys, and fought the same fight together, and they had agreed to this same conclusion. Life was worthless if they could not find joy and purpose if they couldn’t see beyond their pain. This lesson was not one that they accepted easily or naturally but through the extraordinarily faithful and loving examples of others.

There are three main reasons children are placed in foster care: abuse, neglect, or abandonment (voluntary or involuntary). For her, it was neglect. She’d been in and out of foster care due to her mother’s negligence. That is, until one Christmas Day when her relationship with the state was solidified. Twenty years ago, the Department of Children and Families found her sitting alone in her soiled outfit, murmuring and moaning for sustenance. She had been locked in an empty apartment. The apartment was so bare even the walls remained empty. Despite the smell, one would never know that this apartment was someone’s home. To this day, DCF is unsure how long she had been alone. She was only four at the time.

It took her nearly two years after that Christmas Day before she began to speak. When she did, she quickly gained the nickname Dimples from her caseworker, for she had the most adorable dimples on both of her cheeks. It took her years in therapy and a steady home for her to find out what “family” actually meant. And there was one special person with one little creature who’d be just the right duo to help her with the loss of her mom and her childhood.

The kid was also an only child but his home was a happy one. His grandparents died before he was born. And although his Dad worked very long hours, leaving lots of time with his mom, they both loved him dearly. He and his mom were two peas in a pod. His mom walked him to and from school each day. One day right before the school bell rang, the principal called the kid to his office over the loudspeaker. He never got in trouble so he wondered what this call meant. The principal’s

bewildered face told him that whatever words he heard would not be good ones. His mom has been struck by a car while walking in a crosswalk. His world came crumbling down.

At the hospital, while his dad was trying to finalize the paperwork and getting information about his mom, his dad collapsed. A nurse ran to his side to check his vitals. She quickly discovered his thready pulse and called for more assistance. In a matter of seconds, his dad was rushed into a makeshift room, the kind where there’s only a curtain separating patients in need. An oxygen mask was put on and tests were run… the staff did as much as they could. In the middle of the chaos, a nurse turned around, looked at the boy, and said to her colleague, “get that kid out of here.”

All he could hear was “1, 2, 3, CLEAR” *shocking sound* None of this made any sense to him. He stood aimlessly and completely shell-shocked in the long, sterile, uninviting hallway, waiting for news of his dad. He started to feel faint, so he found a corner to hide in… First, his mom; now, his dad.

An hour passed and still no word. He didn’t hear the chaos anymore and one by one the medical team left his dad’s makeshift room. No one came to talk to him. He felt that if he moved everything – including the hospital – would collapse around him. If he could just get as small as physically possible and stay like that, he might be okay. That’s until a nurse spotted him. Their eyes locked. He didn’t want to talk to her. He wasn’t strong enough to hear more bad news. Maybe it would be good though, he tried to convince himself, but the sinking feeling in his stomach was relentless.

That day was a blur. He was taken by DCF because he was officially declared an orphan. His Mom and Dad had died within 6 hours of each other. He woke up that morning to what he thought would be a normal day, only to be completely abandoned by evening. He was not able to go home that night because there were papers to process. He was, officially declared, a child of the state. Little did he know; the state would be the only family he would know; unless someone intervened.

Over the next 10 years, he’d be in over 25 foster homes, multiple schools, and nowhere that felt like home. He felt like an unwanted vagabond, a nomad with no roots. No one to check in with or to check on him. His heart always ached for a longing to belong and be seen. There was a throbbing wound in his soul. He missed his parents and had no one with whom to remember them.

Never once was he the only foster child in a foster home. The state had too many kids. So, he was always thrown into a mix of other kids, most of which had lots of behavioral issues. He pretty much kept to himself. He carried so much pain he felt like if he opened up, a dam would break loose and he wouldn’t be able to contain his emotions… so he remained silent.

There was only one girl he’d met along the way that was as quiet as he was. They called her Dimples. She didn’t say much but would often find the kid and sit beside him. They both knew they had a lot of pain, but having someone to sit with in the pain was a strange comfort. After about six months, of being with Dimples and that family, he had to move. That’s just what the state decided.

Since no one ever chose to adopt him, the kid would age out of the system at 18. When he knew he’d be aging out, he figured out how to support himself. While in foster care, he saved up enough

money to get a car by 16, just shy of his 17th birthday he began delivering pizzas. He had a good boss who was a kind man and took him under his wing.

He rang the doorbell and savored the warmth of the pizza box on his hand while he waited. He heard laughter from inside, and a lady with a ponytail and designer workout clothes opened the door. “Oh great, pizza’s here everyone!” she announced, and several childish voices cheered from behind her. The kid could see over the lady’s slender shoulder that the house was full of kids, parents, and grandparents. A giddy little boy came tromping toward the entrance, riding on the shoulders of a man who had a beard and a balding spot on top of his head… possibly from where the boy was bopping him constantly with his palms.

“It’s our son’s 8th birthday,” the fashionable lady explained as she took the pizza boxes. She passed the boxes off to her husband who paid her with a flirtatious peck on the cheek. She giggled. “And here’s a tip,” she said as she smiled and held out a crisp five-dollar bill with her soft, manicured hand. The kid forced a smile in return, stuffed the cash in his pocket and quickly ducked back into his car.

His heart was pounding and as he turned onto the main road, he turned up the radio and pushed his sneaker hard against the gas pedal. Houses, trees, and mailboxes flew past, but the images remained – burned and taunting in his brain. They looked so happy – a mom, a dad, a son… For his 8th birthday, this kid had been shuffled to a new foster home and no one knew or acknowledged that there was anything to celebrate. His parents had been dead for 3 months by that time. And while that was almost ten years ago now, the pain still seared white-hot. Anger and pain forced him to blindly drive on and on until he came to a dead end on an abandoned street. He parked and turned off the radio, breathing heavily and beating the steering wheel. When would this grief end? When would the sight of a happy family stop breaking him into pieces?

Then the kid heard a faint rustle and realized he wasn’t alone. He got out of the car and cautiously moved to a pile of rubbish in the shadows. There he found a young cat that looked almost dead – almost, but not quite. She was shabby and skinny and appeared too weak to stand up. It cried pitifully, barely loud enough to be heard at all. The kid knelt beside the creature, and she blinked its dimming eyes at him… eyes that told him she knew what it felt like to be abandoned, helpless, and alone. The anger that consumed him just moments before swelled into a passionate urge to do something good. “I’m gonna help you,” he whispered, and he gently scooped the creature into his arms. “You’re not alone anymore… and neither am I.”

With that, he put the cat in his car and slowly drove home. He left the radio off, and all he thought about the cat beside him. It didn’t have anything… no family, no home, not even a name. Maybe he could provide all three? “Rainbow,” he called her out loud. Between her calico fur, her deep and iridescent eyes, and the hope that she somehow offered to him, the name seemed to fit. He smiled to himself and nodded, “Rainbow.” She watched him for a minute, then rested her head on his leg.

When the ride ended, she was lifted again. The kid slid her body onto a soft pile of clothing among the boxes in the garage. He pulled an old coat over the top, creating a cave that emanated the sweetness of old ladies who frequently powdered themselves—a light rose motif that played

ironically well in the deep recesses of Rainbow’s ancestral brain. The pizza kid lifted her head to help her lap water from a hubcap. He broke bits of pepperoni and crust into bite-sized pieces and left them where her tongue could reach them. Much later, she heard him practicing his orations like songs. Like monks chanting in the distance, they were a comfort.

The kid had almost forgotten the orations his mom gave him to help him fall asleep. His mom was a public speaking tutor. She used to recite all the great speeches to him from “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King to the “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln. He’d almost forgotten how hearing his mom recite speeches would lull him to sleep. The weird thing with grief is sometimes you block memories. If you remember them all at once, your heart couldn’t take it. Speaking to Rainbow not only was a comfort to him but also her. For the first time, he began to see what healing might look like.

It was a Friday night. Rainbow had grown a lot in the last two months, and so had the kid. They were best of friends. For the first few weeks, Rainbow was so weak, she had to be held in order to fall asleep. Her fragile body was not producing enough heat to keep her warm on her own. Rainbow went everywhere with the kid. And for the first time in a very long time, the kid, although an adult in the eyes of the law, didn’t feel alone. He found a place where he could talk about the pain of his childhood, missing his parents and aimlessly wandering through life trying to make heads or tails of it. Whenever he would get sad, it was like Rainbow knew to snuggle next to him. He’d almost forgotten what the goodness of life looked like until Rainbow reminded him. It was about relationships.

Dimples spend most of her growing up years in therapy. Never knowing her biological dad, losing her mom to drugs, alcohol, and men; and, then being found by perverts, not to mention being moved constantly by the state, kept her on a regular schedule for her therapist… although, even the therapists would frequently change. Her life felt like a revolving door; people in and people out, leaving as quickly as they came. Steady was not a word she could easily describe.

It was a Thursday night in the middle of a hot summer. The humidity stuck to him like saran wrap. Every time he’d step out of his car to make his next delivery he felt blanketed with a hot rag that inevitably fogged up his glasses. He wiped off the fog, check the house number again, popped the trunk and pull out the pepperoni pizza. And then, as he did every time, after ringing the doorbell, he’d look back to see if Rainbow was still waiting on him.

Two little ears popped up in the passenger side window; smiling, he turned back to the door that was now open in front of him. But this time, instead of a stranger, he saw Dimples.

“Dimples?! Hi! I didn’t know you lived…” before he continued he re-evaluated what he was saying. Of course, he wouldn’t know where she lived, she was in foster care, basically a homeless person staying with strangers for a while.

“I, uh, how are you?”

“I’m alright… You…” she paused as her attention was drawn toward his car. “Is that a cat?!”

“Yeah… you want to meet her?” he said.

“What’s taking so long?” They both looked inside the house, where the impatient voice growled. Panic filled dimples eyes as she turned back to look at the kid. Concluding that it was the foster dad, the kid quickly finalized the transaction and said, “Here’s your change, ma’am,” as he quickly scribbled with his pen on the receipt. Glancing down, she saw that he’d circled the number to the pizza joint. “Thanks,” she said. Her eyes relaxed as those faithful dimples slowly reappeared as she smiled back a goodbye.

The rest of the night, the kid couldn’t stop thinking about Dimples. It wasn’t in a way that a guy pines over a girl, but in the way, a brother is protective of his sister. Of all the kids he’d met in foster care – and there were many – Dimples was the only one he felt a kindred-ness with. Their unspoken pain and their ability to just be present with each other even in silence bonded them in a way neither one expected. For some reason, they felt safe with each other.

A busy week went by at the pizza shop. His boss was out of town for a family emergency and they were already short-staffed. The kid would oftentimes find himself scrambling around in the kitchen, then ripping off his apron to run the deliveries, and then jumping back in the kitchen again. Although the week had been a long one and he was tired, he was grateful for the extra hours. He’d been saving money to get a place of his own.

“Hey, kid! It’s for you,” yelled Pablo, the assistant manager.

Forgetting about last week, he wondered who’d call him.

“Hello?” he said with mild curiosity.

Someone sniffled on the other end. He immediately pressed the phone closer to his ear as he frantically searched for some privacy in the walk-in pantry.

“Dimples? Is that you?” he asked, knowing how often she used to sit by him with tears streaming down her face. He never knew what to do with them but he’d always find something to help her dry them. A couple of times he had to use the sleeve of his shirt.

“Yeah,” was all she could seem to muster.

“Are you okay?” he asked gingerly.

“Not really,” she said as she tried to pull herself together.

“Listen, I get off in an hour, I think I still have your address from my last delivery.” He said planning as he was speaking.

“I’ll park at the neighbor’s house and if you can sneak out, there’s a park not far from there.” “Okay…” she said weakly.

He was about to say don’t worry but realized that’s impossible for a kid of the state. Most kids have parents to do the worrying for them. Foster kids don’t have that luxury.

“See you tonight,” he said as he hung up the phone.

The kid plowed through the rest of the orders, deliveries and the closing checklist. He scrubbed the floors with the built-up aggression of what he had suffered, and the continuing suffering he saw in Dimples and other kids like her. He thought things might get better for her after they’d parted ways. The family they had both been assigned to was one of the better foster homes he’d encountered. He wondered what had happened. Yet there was something inside him that was troubling: the tone in the foster dad’s voice when he delivered the pizza.

Under the cover of darkness, she slipped into the passenger side door of his car. Silence hung between them. It had been years since they’d last seen each other. She wondered if he was still safe. A sudden movement in the backseat had Dimples spinning around in a panic until she saw that it was the sweet kitty that she wasn’t able to meet last time. She’d forgotten all about it. “Can I hold it?” she barely whispered.

“Of course! She’s good company,” he said. Rainbow went to her easily, nestled right up to Dimples, and fell asleep.

Since Rainbow was more than content in Dimples’ lap, the kid decided to park the car in the parking lot just outside the park. “She’s a really good cat. I’ve never been an animal person, but when I found her, I couldn’t leave her. I didn’t know if she’d make it, to be honest. But she has, and I’m better for it.” He thought about asking her what was going on, but the knot in his stomach deterred him. He had a feeling he already knew and wasn’t sure he could handle hearing the ugly truth.

She’d never spoken to anyone about this, not even her therapist. She’d mentioned to her therapist some of the things she’d experienced, seen and lived with. But for some reason, she knew she could trust him with what she was about to share. Life has taught her that if you can trust someone with your pain, you can trust them with your life. “I guess you might be wondering why I called…” her words trailed off as her brain searched for the words to tell him.

“Listen Dimples, you don’t have to tell me anything,” he said reassuringly.

“I know, but I’ve got to tell someone and I don’t know who else to tell…” The tears slowly began to roll down her face. “I’m pregnant.”

The words hit him like a bombshell. He wasn’t expecting her to say that, but he tried to keep a poker face. Why had she called him? What could he do? He lived in a garage with his boss. Who was the father? Questions flooded his mind. Dimples wasn’t the little girl he had known; she was a woman and was in desperate need.

“It’s not my fault.” For the first time in her life, she actually believed herself when she said this. Every other situation she’d blamed herself: her mother abandoning her, the state constantly moving her, the gossip from the other kids, the lack of friendships, but this… this was something different. “I was raped.”

Another bombshell. He didn’t want to ask, but he couldn’t keep it back any longer. “It was him, wasn’t it? It was your foster dad.” He asked but couldn’t look her in the eyes.

Her head sank as low as it possibly could… her shoulders higher than her head. “Yes, it was him.”

The next eight months were full of doctor appointments and meetings with her social worker. The kid and Rainbow were with Dimples every step of the way. For the first time since his parents died, he was finally able to see someone else’s concerns above his own. The loneliness was still

there, but it had diminished greatly, first by Rainbow’s need of him and now by Dimples. He began to see that his pain had a purpose. His pain was like a radar for other people’s pain.

Dimples had been placed back with the foster family where they initially met. The family had gotten out of fostering, but after being asked by the state, they said they’d be happy to open their home to Dimples. The foster mom was a nurse, so she could monitor Dimples’ health during her pregnancy. Although it was hard on so many levels, Dimples handled her pregnancy with grit and grace.

The day came when Dimples gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she named Andriette, which means “strong, brave, and fearless.” Dimples knew how cruel this world was and she wanted to remind her daughter every time she wrote her name of what she needed to be and could be. Then a caseworker walked into the room.

“Are you ready?” Inside Dimples was screaming.

How can you ever be ready to let go of a child? How did my mom let go of me…? She stopped herself from going there.

“I guess I have to be,” Dimples said.

Andriette was placed in the arms of a young woman who was unable to have children. Her doting husband had his arms wrapped around his wife and she had her wrapped around Andriette. Dimples felt a warm sensation slide down her cheek, but she quickly wiped the tear away. She signed the remaining papers and asked to kiss her baby one last time. The grateful parents agreed and then looked up with tears in their eyes, thanking her for her sacrifice. All Dimples could do was half- smile and nod her head. Her heart was broken yet again, but this time it was different.

It had been several weeks since the kid had seen Dimples. He’d lost track of time. He wanted to let her recover, but this seemed a bit long. He finally decided to show up with pizza after one of his shifts. He knew her foster parents would welcome him and Rainbow with open arms. His concerns were accurate; she was suffering from postpartum depression, and the hardest thing was that she didn’t even have a baby to hold. After he got her to eat something, he decided to leave a little helper behind. Rainbow had helped pull him out of a dark place, and he had a feeling that Rainbow could do the same for her as well.

Each morning, Rainbow would wake Dimples up by massaging her face. At first, Dimples was irritated. She was not a morning person and it felt like a cloud had parked over her and covered any glimmer of hope. For the past 9 months, she kept fighting because she had to for Andriette, but now Andriette was gone.

Little by little, Rainbow worked her way into Dimples heart again. The kid came by faithfully every couple of days with pizza. Those first six months crawled by. Dimples had a lot of grieving to do, and thankfully her foster family gave her space and the freedom to do just that.

At the one year mark, Dimples decided to honor and grieve her daughter, and also honor and grieve her own childhood. She knew just the place to do it. A ten-foot-high concrete block wall, caked with dozens of coats of paint situated by a patch of dry brown grass. There were all sorts of things painted on that wall: people, words, symbols. It was chaotic, much like her own childhood. She decided to place a candle and a small teddy bear: the candle for the flame that slowly was returning and the teddy bear for her sweet Andriette Joy.

Year after year, she’d come back and place another candle and another teddy bear. She didn’t know what to do to celebrate such a bittersweet day. So many emotions were running through her the day Andriette was born. She was conceived in a horrible way but it did not make her any less of a gift, but that gift had to be given to someone else. This day was always hard, and not only was it hard because it was her daughter’s birthday, but it was also hers.

Slowly, Dimples got stronger, her disposition lifted little by little. She worked hard at ending the legacy – or lack thereof – that her mom left her. The kid and the foster parents poured into her. He and Dimples put themselves through college and remained study buddies, pizza lovers and the best of friends. Of course, Rainbow was their noble steed and their ever-faithful third wheel.

Just shy of Andriette’s eighth birthday, Dimples received a call from the adoptive parents, asking if she’d like to see Andriette. They told her all about how amazing her biological mom was. Tears poured out of Dimples eyes, not only during that phone call but also when she saw her baby girl again. She had dreamed of this day every day since Andriette was born. A huge piece of Dimples’ shattered heart found itself a home. For the first time in Dimples’ entire existence, she was able to taste a glimpse of what it meant to be whole.

On that late August afternoon, sweat was dripping down her face and paint was dripping down the wall, some falling on Binky, the stuffed bear she placed there on her daughter’s 1st birthday. She looked up again at the word “Rejoice,” knowing Andriette was not lost to her and that she’d actually be able to have a role in her life. She didn’t know how to do it then, but through the help of her foster parents, Rainbow and the man-kid, she learned to appreciate the struggle of life… because with it came some of the most beautiful relationships one could ever dream of.

Written by: Christine F. Perry

What are we building?

I was listening to someone speak about giving. Those messages are always fun, right?!

As the man went on he made a big deal about building the church. As he was speaking I had an epiphany. We (the people) are the church. You’re probably thinking, you just figured this out? No, but in the aspect of building the church — yes. If we are the church, we are supposed to be building it, right? I know this too, but I saw it in a different way.

I have nothing against buildings. But, sometimes, I think we put too much of our resources, time and energy into a building rather than people. What would it look like if we spent more of our time and energy pouring into each other? As I sat there contemplating this, I thought of a verse that says, “build each other up”. I decided to google it and suddenly, I found lots of verses on this; take a look:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Romans 14:19

…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:12

From Him the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Ephesians 4:16

This then reminded me of what our BSF group just went over:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Acts 2:44-46

Their property was secondary to the people. What a foreign concept to us living in an “American Dream” society. I’m not saying we can’t have nice things or even nice churches. I’m just asking myself and the church to take note of our priorities. To take note of the people in our lives. Are they okay? Are they weary? Do they need encouragement, hope, practically help? Do they feel like giving up? We/I should check and be looking after the people in my life. We have to. Because when we are being poured into and vice versa, the world takes notice.

I had the privilege of growing up in a small church where the roof may have leaked a little more than we would have liked. The women’s bathroom had a habit of overflowing every few weeks. There were marks and dents on the walls from the kids flying around playing tag. We had more holes in the wall for different signed we put up for different events we’d partake in our community. But the people inside those walls, did a good job taking care of their people and building each other up. Sure there were some quarrels and differences, but the people within those walls were treasures.

They stayed ready to serve and give. They stood by my family through our darkest days. When our life got put on hold they choose to put theirs on hold to serve us. They brought us meals and poured into us and still do. When you build into each other, you don’t have to face crisis alone. When you build into others you don’t have to celebrate alone.

So, as I walked out of that service my heart was full thinking of the amazing church God has. Being in that service also challenged me to pour into and foster and learn from the newer relationships God has placed in my life now.

I know the church gets a bad rap and gets really messy at times. And I am well aware that oftentimes people within the walls of the church building can break you unlike anything else. But the beauty far outweighs the broken. So until Jesus comes back, let’s look out for our people and build them up.

Growing Pains

Perseverance and discipline have been on my mind the past few months. It’s easy to do something a few times. It’s a lot harder to maintain consistency. My weakness is never starting something new. My trouble is finishing what I start. Discipline and perseverance are a huge part of that. My prayer has been, “Lord, please help me to love discipline.” Because the Bible even says, “He disciplines those He loves.” ( Heb. 12:6).

I heard a message by Elisabeth Elliot in which she said, “If I didn’t practice discipline, I wouldn’t get much praying done.”

While on my journey to be more disciplined I came across these verses:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness.

2 Peter 1:5-6

I decided to delve into these verses a bit more. I looked up the characteristics in Greek. This is what I learned.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness [virtuous thought, modesty, purity, moral excellence];

and to goodness, knowledge [general knowledge, understanding];

and to knowledge, self-control [the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites];

and to self-control, perseverance [steadfastness, constancy, endurance, in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings ; patiently, and steadfastly

a patient, steadfast waiting for; a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance];

and to perseverance, godliness [reverence, respect piety — FERVER, OBEDIENCE, DEVOTION— towards God, godliness];

Is it me or do these things get harder to do?

Goodness

Knowledge

Self-Control

Perseverance

Godliness

Each characteristic seems to be the foundation for the next characteristic. It reminds me of Romans 1:17:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Each characteristic is a step of faith. Seeking goodness in a world that feels so dark and evil takes faith.

Searching for the knowledge of God in a world that wants nothing to do with Him takes faith.

Self-Control in a world where everyone self indulges takes faith.

Perseverance regardless of the results takes faith.

Godliness in what often feels like a godless culture takes faith.

So, if you find yourself with growing pains, take heart. We might just be going from faith to faith. It reminds me of the song that says:

“We will go from faith to faith until we see you face to face”

If you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. Colossians 1:23

I know what I’m doing

The fears you have are because you’re human.

The courage I give is because I’m God.

You and me, we are a team.

You offer surrender, I bring the dreams.

I move the mountains. I part the streams.

You sit back— watch, you’ll see!

With your meager talents, I’ll multiply.

I’ll add depth and wisdom that outstretch the sky.

But beware, there are many who won’t understand.

They will joke, laugh, and throw you on a witness stand.

Look at Noah, David, Joseph and my son, Jesus.

Scoffers laughed at the boat, while in the caves, at the dreams, and at the cross.

Until…

The rains came…

The crown came…

The leadership came…

The tomb was rolled away…

Scoffers ran or stood silenced.

This faith walk will test every fiber of your being.

You will either stand for Me or fall for everything.

My plans are not easy or conventional.

But they’re absolutely providential.

I created water from a rock.

Provided fish to fishermen who just were weary for the dock.

I raised the dead.

I raised a lame man from his bed.

But each person has to come to Me empty— putting their plans aside.

Knowing that their wills with Mine they’ll have to align.

Sometimes things ended in heartbreak and death.

But each of My disciples knows that I take and give each breath.

When you sign up to do things My way… Things won’t always make sense.

But one thing you can always be sure of is My presence.

I go before, stand beside and guard behind.

It often feels like you are going blind.

But suddenly after time you’ll look behind…

And you’ll see a beautiful life that I have intricately designed.

I don’t ask you to do anything I haven’t already done.

I set the example and in the end I have already won.

So don’t grow weary scoffers external and internal.

The path you’re on begins here but is eternal.

I created you, I know you, and I know how to make beautiful things.

Scarcely Living By Faith

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

I was doing a cool down walk after a quick run to get some of my frustration out. It was the type of frustration you feel when you know where you want to be, but you have no idea how to get there.

Frustration is a part of life. There are women who desperately want to be a moms, but their bodies are unable to have children for one reason or another. Or there is the frustration of wanting a different relationship status. Or, there is the frustration of a mom who desperately wants her kids to do well and the she’s not seeing any progress. Or the frustration of a man (or woman) who has massive dreams in his hearts but he don’t know what steps to take next or how he will end up there.

It can often feel like we are banging on doors that just won’t open. That’s how I feel. The two doors that I’ve been knocking on have not opened.

So, after my cool down, and after making a pit stop at the newly named nature preserve in my neighborhood, I looked up at the sky. It reminded me of how small and limited I am. And how my limited view is often what I project on God. Immediately a word of truth, from a message I had heard a few years ago, came to mind.

“God is not a God of scarcity.”

You see, recently, I was presented with two amazing (or so I thought) opportunities. After the initial introduction to both opportunities, I said to myself, “This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” The knocking began immediately after. “Yes, Lord, please make these things happen”.

Trouble is, the doors have not opened. They have hardly cracked. I’ve been asking and asking and asking for them and praying and praying and praying for them. But, the only answer I have right now is wait. Each day that goes past without a yes or a no brings me closer to discouragement. I don’t know if these things will happen and I want them to so badly.

Walking (also translated living in Hebrew) by faith doesn’t mean open doors. Sometimes it means waiting and waiting, and waiting some more; without trying to manipulate whatever I want into being.

Trusting/Living by faith means knowing God knows what’s best even if it doesn’t make sense. It means trusting when I feel behind, or out of place. It means trusting Him to be steady enough for you when I feel unsteady and very uncertain. Trusting means waiting on Him to act and not take matters into my own hands. Trusting means knowing that God, regardless of what I want, is good enough and will always be good enough.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 84:11 which says:

“For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD gives grace and glory; He withholds no good thing from those who walk with integrity.”

If God says no to these two scenarios that I’m praying for, it doesn’t mean He’s withholding good from me. The times in the past when God told me no, I wasn’t any less crushed. But, eventually I saw those no’s were actually for my benefit and or for my protection. Many times, God’s no’s only make sense in hindsight. Other times His no’s will only make sense from heavenly viewpoint— one we can’t see this side of eternity.

Either way, I am called to live by faith and not by sight. This means things won’t always make sense to me, but this is what my God asks of me. He sacrificed so much more for me than a few opportunities that I think are perfect. So, I don’t think He’s asking too much of me to trust Him. He knows how to get me where I need to be. And make me into who I need to be.

So, as I stared up at that sky feeling very small, I thanked God that He had countless opportunities even though I could only see two.

Two Words To Keep You Going!

I was sitting outside reading a book about how life rarely turns out as we plan.

When I couldn’t help but tear up. I wanted to pray, but at this point in my life, it’s still a challenge. If I am being honest, praying biblically hurts too much.

I remember praying hard for a specific thing several years ago. It ended with me sobbing in my closet. I met someone that I thought would be the guy for me. He was everything you would want in a husband. But, I knew the Lord was telling me, no. Why? I wish I could tell you. To this day, I still don’t know why God said no.

I wish I could tell you I understand it, but I don’t. So, asking God for something along the same lines, is a challenge. Why? Because I know if it’s a no, it will be one more thing to grieve. Can I be honest? I’m really tired of grieving and I don’t get much better at it as life goes on. In fact, it gets harder — not easier.

Occasionally, I think about getting a tattoo. I used to never care for them. But, then, after I lost my Dad, I’ve contemplated getting one.

To me, it would symbolize the tattoo that will forever be in my heart this side of eternity. I already have a mark on my heart, I might as well have a mark on my body. Since I love words, I often think what words I would get as a tattoo. Last week, I had two pop into my mind. I put them together and I realized that is the essence of the Christian life— no matter what the circumstances.

The two words are:

Persevering Faith

Life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t slow down in the good times and it doesn’t pick up in the bad times. It just keeps moving at the same pace it always has, and it always will.

In life, we have to keep persevering. It may not be pretty. In fact, we may stumble through it, but we cannot quit. Coupled with perseverance, is the need for faith.

Picture perseverance as your legs and faith as your mind. When you run, you need your legs and your mind to run a race. The mind will keep you going even if your legs feel like quitting. The same in true for our spiritual lives. We will hit walls that will feel like we aren’t going anywhere and other times, we will feel like we are going a million miles an hour.

So, whatever you may be praying for and holding out for, keep persevering and keep hanging on to faith because no matter what you may or may not have, you will be able to finish your race with those two things.

Life doesn’t always have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean we cannot finish our race strong and encourage others to to finish their race as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Be still… Stay Silent… A Psalm of Trust.

I was called disrespectful.

I was called untrue.

I was called untrustworthy.

I was called a manipulator.

I was accused of being a seducer.

I was accused of being an adulterer.

I was said to have no friends and said I’d have many problems in the future.

I was accused of being a helpless victim.

I was verbally flogged.

Each word hurt more than the next

“You’re undermining me”, “You’re Judas to me.” The painful words flowed as each one ripped into my deeper into my heart and soul.

I am not perfect, but I meant no Ill will. I repeated to myself.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” was my echo trying to figure out why I couldn’t keep it together anymore.

Everything was unraveling… I’ve failed… I’ve corrupted all of this… Maybe I am cursed… Maybe I will always end up in these situations… Maybe this is why I’m not married… Maybe all these problems are because of me…

I questioned myself over and over and over again… I’ve failed… How could I not have prevented this? How could I not see myself as all these things? “You are wicked” I condemned myself… as I was being condemned…

Such hopeless days… I spent more days in tears than with a smile…

When life as I knew it was falling apart… I was being held… So close was His touch, his heartbeat, his whisper…

“This is not your battle… Let me handle it…”

Be still… Stay silent…

Don’t retaliate… Don’t talk back… So, I held my tongue…

Accusations still flew… Lies spoken over me… Physical reactions became undoubtably noticeable…

Be still.. Stay silent…

I cried night after night…

Be still, stay silent…

I packed up my life… Tears pouring out of my eyes… no clear direction to be seen…

Be still, Stay silent…

Friends started calling… Be still stay silent…

Until a call… A safe place for me to share my story… Stay still… BE honest…

I cried and nearly trembled as I shared … recounting the stories… Watching the dismay on the man’s face… I couldn’t read it… Maybe he thought I was making this up… My emotions had no where else to go… I felt torn apart… so vulnerable no longer knowing how to protect myself.

I finished and waited for his response…

“You did nothing wrong… I hope you walk out of here with your head held high…”

Words can pierce so deeply and heal profoundly… the same area damaged by the reckless words of an unstable person, began mending through a stable, faithful, kind man…

Words can tear apart a soul. Words can mend a soul. It can filet a heart beyond recognition , and yet somehow make it stronger than ever before. The deeper the wound, the greater capacity for compassion…

To the one who broke me— I don’t ever wish to see or hear again… But I am grateful for all the damage… because through it… I learned to be still to be silent and hear the One whose words spoke over me are more powerful than yours. And it is His words, not yours that brought me back to life.

He was still and was led silently a sheep to the slaughter… so that when He had defeated the grave… His words would hold the power of life and death… He speaks life… He hates death…

Elaina’s Story

In mid-2011, I moved to Virginia. I found a church but it was larger than the video and website lead on. I went week after week and met no one.

One day, I went to a church connecting event and sat across the table from this couple. “Hi, my names is Elaina. This is my husband Asquith or A.Q.” Once we started learning about each other, we became fast friends. There was also another couple in our church. We became a close group of 5. Standing outside of church well after service dismissed talking about theology, or life. Sitting at the coffee bar hashing out ideas. It was a highlight in my life for sure.

Life slowly changes for all of us. Elaina and AQ were called to another church. Then, I moved, then the other couple moved. However, Elaina will always be the type of friend anyone would wish for. She is fiercely loyal, straight to the point and eager to seek God’s will in any matter. It is truly an honor not only to have her as a friend but to be able to have you hear from her! Without any further ado, here’s Elaina’s story.

—————————————————-

My husband and I met in Miami while working for a community development ministry. After a year of friendship, we choose to commit our lives together before God and our families. Now if you knew me, you’d know I wasn’t the type of girl who longed for marriage or children. I never saw a healthy marriage and used my parents’ divorce as the picture of what the Lord called it to be. I was also told it would be extremely hard for me to get pregnant. I believed what the doctors said over what the Lord could do in my life. And because of all this, I made it very clear to my husband that children were not going to be in our future. I’m sure God laughed at me because He had some very different plans for us.

 

In November 2011, only 1.5 years after we’d been married, I found out I was expecting. I couldn’t believe it! Even with the fear and ‘what ifs’, I could feel the Lord working on my heart, filling me with a desire for children. I was reminded of something a dear friend said to me. She heard from one of our professors at Moody that, “Children are the best form of discipleship.” Those words rung in my head until I finally realized I was both happy and humbled that my God saw it fit to make me a mother.

 

I wish I could say the story ends here with a happily ever after, but it doesn’t. The day before Thanksgiving I felt some deep pain in my stomach, and my husband rushed me to the ER. After some testing and being able to hear the baby’s heartbeat, the doctors were convinced that I was ok and sent me home. I went home relieved and thanking God. The doctors weren’t right. The next morning, I woke up to find blood on the bed. Once again, we rushed to the ER. I remember the hours spent waiting were torture. I prayed and cried out to God in agony, begging Him to save both of our lives. The only option to stop the internal bleeding was to complete a D&C. I had lost my baby, and everything was a blur after that. People kept telling us you’ll get pregnant again. Another person asked me what sin I was in (*that was cruel*). A brother at the time encouraged my husband and I to get away, so we went to D.C. and stayed with a friend. It was a refreshing time for me and my husband to reconnect, for us to cry out to God. The thought of children was pushed to the back of my mind, AGAIN. But God had other plans.

“Meanwhile, my insides were screaming with pain and guilt. Pain from losing my daughter and guilt for feeling angry towards a loving God. I buried my feelings deep down and never talked to anyone about it.”

Our miscarriage made me numb towards children. My heart was cold towards God, other women who were pregnant or any person that mentioned they wanted children. Meanwhile, my insides were screaming with pain and guilt. Pain from losing my daughter and guilt for feeling angry towards a loving God. I buried my feelings deep down and never talked to anyone about it. We were serving in a church at the time that did not welcome showing any form of weakness. They thought Christians should bring it to God, leave it alone and NEVER speak of it again. Nobody asked me about the miscarriage, and I never brought it up.

 

Fast forward three years, and I found myself pregnant again. This time I was so careful. We didn’t tell anyone until I was about 20 weeks. It was an easy pregnancy considering I was a high risk due to my age (38), but when it came time for me to deliver, there were a few complications. Again, I found myself crying out to God to save this life He gave me. After 32 hours of labor, 3 epidurals that didn’t work, 2 rounds of Pitocin, my blood pressure continued to be too high. I was on the verge of having a stroke, and my son’s heartbeat was dangerously low. They rushed me back for an emergency cesarean. Within thirty minutes I was able to see my son and hear his first cry. I don’t know who cried more… me or him! I kept thanking God for this healthy baby boy, Asquith Malachi Thompson. In the hospital I felt good. There were nurses and doctors everywhere to help, and I had a room filled with family and friends.

 

But things changed when I went home. For the first two weeks I couldn’t walk because my legs were extremely swollen due to medication and the fluid I retained. I was unable to hold Malachi without my husband handing him to me. Nursing him was a struggle. Sleep was a struggle. I was tired all the time, and my son had his nights and days confused. It was overwhelming, as I battled with my own healing and taking care of my son.

 

I knew a week into being home something was wrong with me. When I looked at my son while breastfeeding, I felt nothing. No goo-goo ga-ga. No joy. Nothing. All I felt was sadness… all the time. And I couldn’t focus on anything. I went weeks and months feeling like I didn’t deserve to be where I was. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like I couldn’t care for him the way someone else could, and I couldn’t be a wife the way my husband needed. I feared if I shared my feelings with anyone, social services would take my son away, and my husband would leave me because he would think I was an awful mom. On top of everything, my grandmother was going through cancer, and I couldn’t be there to support her. I felt useless, fearful, anxious and panicky all the time. I questioned God for every emotion or lack thereof, and then felt shame for questioning Him. The cycle was endless, and it was exhausting. I remember several times sitting in the car, with my son in the backseat, thinking he’ll be ok with someone else. I’ll just drop him off with a friend and go end this pain. But the wrestle was always, “I’m a Christian. I’m in church leadership.” And even though we had changed churches and the leadership was very different, I kept telling myself I still shouldn’t be feeling this way.

“…this was going to be the day. After the appointment I was going to drop my son off with a friend and end it all. I was going to walk away from my life because I was sure everyone would be better off without me. But my good God had other plans.

One day I was headed to Malachi’s appointment and decided this was going to be the day. After the appointment I was going to drop my son off with a friend and end it all. I was going to walk away from my life because I was sure everyone would be better off without me. But my good God had other plans. As I was driving to my friend’s house after the appointment, for some reason He reminded me of a task my Pastor asked me to do. I turned around and headed back home. I’d do this final task and then go finish my plan. While I was completing my task, my husband called to check up on me. Before he hung up he said, “Babes, I love you…very much.” After we hung up I wept so hard. Face down on the floor. “Why God? Why have you given me so much pain? Why is this happening to me?” I cried myself to sleep on the floor, with my son in his swing. I woke up to my son crying, and as I breastfed him, I looked down at his face and cried some more. All I wanted to do was cry the pain away. When my husband got home from work that day, I said nothing to him. I couldn’t bare the shame of telling my husband I was set to walk away from everything and end my life.

 

A few weeks went by and my pastor called to see if I had sent an email to a couple at church. I told him yes, and he asked me to forward it to him. When I went to forward the email, I saw it sitting in my inbox… it had never been sent! I broke down sobbing. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me! I was constantly forgetting things, unable to finish tasks on time. Afterwards, I called my pastor and told him what happened. He asked to meet with me that day, and as he came to my house, he gently asked, “Is everything ok with you?” I broke down and confessed I was struggling with postpartum depression (PPD), and I needed help.

 

At first, as the words came out of my mouth I felt like I was being a false Christian. Was I betraying God? My family? My friends? Was everything I knew to be true about God a lie? How could I even feel this way? No good Christian should feel “this way.” Christ had done so much for me… My head was a fog of lies that I had believed for almost an entire year. As my pastor listened, he suggested I step down from my role at church and focus on getting healthy again. I was open to ALL help, whether it be medical or spiritual. I met with a biblical counselor, and she told me to try the counseling for three months and if at any time I wasn’t getting better to go see my doctor for medical help as well. She also connected me with another lady who was going through PPD. Together we started reading a book called Depression: Looking up from Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch. That book gave me categories for my depression. It gave me hope when my life seemed so dark and lost. Counseling, my local church, a community of patient sisters and, most of all, the Word of God helped me face many struggles and lies. God used a misplaced email to help bring my depression into the light. And I was brave enough to cry out for help. The grace of God kept me alive, and the grace of God keeps me fighting for my life every day. For me bravery is confessing… Confessing shame, guilt and my hearts darkest fears. Most of all, as I acknowledge my need for my Savior, my courage grows.

For me bravery is confessing… Confessing shame, guilt and my hearts darkest fears. Most of all, as I acknowledge my need for my Savior, my courage grows.”  

I still struggle with my depression, but I have been shown healthy ways to live with it. It is a temporary form of suffering I endure on earth that daily draws me nearer to Jesus. Each day I have to speak Gospel truths to myself. When I start believing lies and I begin feeling my depression, I have to reach out to others. I am grateful for our church and the security I feel within. We have a saying we live by, and it can be found here: Gospel, Safety & Time.

 

Throughout it all, depression has brought me into a deeper faith and trust in my Heavenly Father. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Elaina has been blessed with a wonderful, patient, loving, humble husband; Asquith (AQ) Thompson and a very vibrant, intelligent and energetic son Malachi. They are truly the best gifts her Heavenly Father has seen fit to give her. She received her Masters of Urban Ministry from Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago in 2008 and soon after moved to Florida to serve as a Community Development Missionary in Miami, where she met her husband while serving together. Their family now lives in Newport News, VA, where she is currently studying for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Certification. She also serves as the deacon of hospitality at Hampton Roads Fellowship. Asquith & Elaina desire to grow in the knowledge of the Gospel, church planting and the importance of the local church.  They hope to plant a church in 2021 in Barbados. To connect more with Elaina contact her through Facebook @facebook.com/elainav.