My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which she shares her reflections on her life. It is with her permission that I have created this blog post. Her writing is powerful. Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness. And, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.
Welcome to MELLISSA’S THANKS:
Day 16: Smile
Happy Day of Thanks Everyone!
I’m so grateful for the ability to smile.
I have no idea why but I love to smile. I smile for just about everything too, even when I’m going through some of the darkest moments in my life. Smiling is so contagious and all consuming. You can’t do it and be sad or sorrowful. For some reason, I have always felt as if my smiling into whatever situation was bringing sunshine and joy to it. And a few years ago, a photographer showed me just how much my smile radiates light, verifying my theory.
I never thought it was possible, but a little over three years ago I meant someone who smiles way more than I do. She is one of the most beautiful spirited young ladies (I really should say diva!) that I’ve met in my life. She hails at about 3 feet tall, has the littlest hands and feet, and strength, resilience, and personality that are out of this world. She was born with Peter Plus Syndrome, a genetic condition that is characterized by eye abnormalities, short stature, cleft lip and/or cleft palate, distinctive facial features, and intellectual disability.
Cele, as we call her, is the younger sister of my goddaughter and, thus another inherited goddaughter. She has had more surgeries in her young life than any of us would have in a lifetime just to create the ability to have normalcy and a smile. And that she does so beautifully! After all that she has endured in her young life time, she still finds time to be a girlie girl, twirk, put on makeup, and smile real big.
I don’t even need to mention the advice that Cele’s mom received as she was developing prenatally and after they detected all of her malformations via the amniocentesis and ultrasounds. When Cele was born, her cleft lip and palate were so extensive doctors were not even sure if after many surgeries, they would be able to reconstruct it. But her mom, as the doctors did, pressed through every surgical reconstruction to make her smile brand new and perfect. The light of her smile and personality are one that blesses me every chance I get to see it.
Each year, a pediatrician friend of mine goes to Latin America with a team of doctors to perform reconstructive surgeries on children with cleft lip and palate. Their service guarantees that these children all over the world will have a sense of normalcy and be able to smile and show their lights to the world. If you ask me, that’s pretty amazing of them to give such a beautiful gift to children and their families. They are forever changing and impacting their lives!
So, today I am so thankful for smiles (and their light!) and my ability to have one. I have attached some photos to this email of Cele and my friend on his medical mission trip with their permission. Make sure that you bless someone with the light of your smile and capture the rays of someone else’s. (I attached a pic with a big smile and my pearly whites just for you.) If you can stretch and share a little more, please find it in your heart to give to the two organizations, Smile Train (https://www.smiletrain.org/) and Operation Smile (https://www.operationsmile.org/), who I salute and have highlighted for giving children the ability to smile, through the corrective surgeries necessary to repair their cleft lips or palates.
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 17: Food
Happy Seventeenth Day of Thanks Everyone
I give thanks for food and the full cabinets in my house that store it.
In the early 2000s, I began my journey of living in Cuba, which in terms of resources is still considered a developing country. It was an interesting experience that has forever shaped my life and taught me so many invaluable lessons. It was the first time that I got real worldview lessons on how nature, politics, and political will affect the conditions and economy of a nation.
During my first year of living in Cuba, we had a hurricane that wiped out over 70% of the crops that the country used to sustain itself. Since food is rationed for every family in Cuba, the destruction of these crops would mean that food would still be rationed but that we’d just get a lot less of it. Standing on the cafeteria lines for meals, we could see how the beans had much more aguita than frijoles and how the portions of rice, meat or vegetables had significantly lessened too. We took what we could get because that was all that there was.
It was the first time in my life that I had truly experienced hunger, coming from a first world country where there was an infinite supply of pantry, government food when there was minimal resources in the cupboard, and infinite supply in the supermarket. I went to bed with silent tears flowing from my eyes because I had hunger pains in my belly that could not be squelched. I was reminded of the late night commercials I’d see of children in African countries with swollen bellies from malnutrition and wondered if we were all destined to be in that state. (Clearly, my mind went to the extreme because the anxiety of not having enough food was plaguing me as I felt my belly tie in knots.) Each day, we were all on a search for food and hoarded the little we could gather to help each other during the troublesome nights. Peanut butter became the mainstay on the top of our survival food list. And we all became a collective source of sharing so that we all survived the food drought.
Luckily, after several months, the nation started to see a surge in food production and things started to get back to normal. However, I was forever impacted by the anxiety of what it meant for anyone to live with lack of food and thus I always make food or a home cooked meal available to anyone who wants and/or needs it. (My neighbors and friends will tell you that you can pretty much knock on the door at whatever time and food is available to you.) Years later, I could have no money in my pocket or in the bank, but I’d ensure that I had a completely overstocked refrigerator, deep freezer, and kitchen cabinets with food. (Isn’t it interesting how having food, financial, and housing security become unconscious themes that are ever present?) That was my mode of operation for a long time until one of my friends, after being in her prayer time, said that she felt led to tell me that I could calm down and stop worrying about not having enough food because God would make sure that I never lacked in that area of my life again. Of course, she had no idea that I held that anxiety because of my former experiences. I relaxed for a long time.
Four years ago, that same anxiety started to creep back into my mind. Delilah started a dietary treatment (a ketogenic diet—a modified atkins), instead of pharmaceutical medicines, for her seizures. The diet has done wonders for her. Those 10-15 seizures that you have heard me talk about have been reduced to 1 or 2 during menstrual cycles, her hormonal imbalance have shifted closer to normalcy, her 80 pound water weight gain has completely ceased. (Her doctors are beyond amazed and impressed!)
However, the foods of this diet are extremely expensive. I have to pay $8 for a tiny loaf of bread; $2-3 for a 7 oz bag of no carb shirataki noodles or rice (faux spaghetti or rice) and $3 for a 1 oz bag of her chips for snack. Her medicines and supplements are a whole other story (Yikes!) During the first year of her diet, I had to minimize (greatly) my food supply in order to ensure that she could eat, have her food and supplements. I was really stressed out because I didn’t know if I could financially maintain the diet, although it had done wonders for her health. And I was hungry too—I didn’t dare touch her food supply because I never knew when there would be more money to buy her another supply. I also had to find extra time in my days to cook and do meal preparation. She can only have 10 grams of carbohydrates per day which means that I have to prepare and make ALL her meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) to go with her wherever she goes. In those beginning years, it was so tough and stressful (thus my drastic weight gain) but, things started coming together. For those of you who know me, you know that I am the queen of bargain shopping for quality products. I researched the best quality supplements and food sources at the lowest prices for her. I was able to save about $100 per month on her supplements. (If anyone knows a good brand of CBD oil that is not totaling $300 for 100ml (3oz), let me know. I’m still searching.) I now have an angel that sponsors some of her food each month and that child support, which takes a great deal of the financial pressure off. I now get to eat better too.
I am so grateful for the food that nourishes my and Delilah’s body each day because I realize that there are so many people, most of whom are children, who don’t have it or live in jeopardy of not having it on a daily basis.
Today, I’m highlighting a nonprofit organization called Price-Pottenger Nutritional Foundation (https://price-pottenger.org/) which focuses on teaching the value of traditional diets for achieving optimal health in the modern world. Through their library of research and educational materials, they provide concrete, trustworthy and reliable information about the importance of nutrient-dense traditional whole foods for achieving optimal wellness. If you know anyone who suffers from food insecurity, you can connect them to a local food bank in your area and they will provide food for anyone who needs it. There are also many churches in local communities that serve delicious meals throughout the day to those who need food.
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 18: Embracing Diversity & Differences (with Childlike Innocence)
Happy Eighteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, i give thanks for the embracing of diversity and differences in the way of childlike innocence and curiosity.
By now, all of you who have been part of this thirty day journey know that I have a wonderful, intelligent, diva-licious sixteen year old daughter who is autistic. Delilah is minimally verbal, stems and often makes noises when she is in what I call her other world. Most times, when she does these things people stare, make fun of or laugh at her (Ignorant!)
While we were in church one Sunday, several of the children were making fun of her as she belted out one of her many echolalic phrases. As I watched the children for a little while, I noticed that one of my friend’s grandsons, who was about seven or eight years old, started to ask his older cousins some questions about Delilah. He asked his cousin, “Do you know what she has? Why doesn’t she talk?” More concerned with having laughs, his older cousin brushed off the questions. The young boy looked so unsatisfied that he hadn’t received any answers or responses to the questions he had just posed.
Half hour later as we were all walking to the bus, he came beside me and said, “I’m not trying to be rude. But, can I ask you something?” I said, “Sure.” He began, “why does your daughter make noises and doesn’t speak? What does she have?” I asked him if he had ever heard of autism before and he said no. Then, I begin to explain in the simplest, three minute, child-like version what autism is. When I was done, I asked him if the definition I gave was sufficient to his level of understanding. He said, “Yes, I understand it now.”
Then, with such innocence in his voice, he said, “Do you know what eczema is?” I replied yes. Lifting his hand and his arm, he showed me the scares of the eczema on his body and said, “this is what makes me different. My grandma gave me this [holding a small tube of organic coconut oil] to help me.” The little boy was so absolutely adorable; I wanted to just hug him. Clearly, this was a young child who was teased for being different and having his own unique condition. Knowing what that felt like, made him much more empathetic to not join in with the other children to laugh at Delilah but to explore further her uniqueness and difference. (I love child-like innocence!)
That moment reminded me of just how innocent children really are. They are not mean spirited; they don’t know to hate, compete, or discriminate. They don’t know or understand any of the racism, sexism, and the other “isms;” of our world. We (adults) teach them that. They have a natural curiosity to detect and learn about difference. How much better would our world be if we learned to embrace diversity and differences, respecting each other’s uniqueness?
So today, I am thankful for and celebrating ALL of my differences and uniqueness and encourage you to do the same! Get to know or talk to someone who is completely different from you, using love as your guiding light to accept, embrace and cherish them. At the core of things, you may just realize that you are more alike than you are different. (Try it!)
I am also highlighting this wonderful organization called Border Crossers (www.bordercrossers.org) who does fabulous workshops and conferences for parents and educators to talk about race with children. If you can attend one of their conferences, you should definitely do so. I also encourage you to donate to help them expand their programming and influence throughout the many city schools and communities.
Have A Great Day of Thanks!
Day 19: Forgiveness
Happy Nineteenth Day of Thanks Everyone
This reflection comes with a disclaimer to it. It is going to be long (so brace yourself) and the content discussed is pretty heavy and may be controversial for many who read it. If it’s too much, take a breather. I’ll even understand if you can’t proceed because of the content’s emotional weight for you. I share my story and experiences, not as a means to judge anyone else whose ideas and choices are/were different than mine or for you to judge anyone, but, to let you know that you are not alone. I know that the enemy tricks us into thinking that we are the only ones going through major life crisis and that when we make certain decisions or there are certain outcomes, there is no coming back from it. There is life beyond our decision making. There is forgiveness for us, if and when we need or want it. And there is always redeeming grace in God for whatever choices we make.
I grew up not really wanting to have children until after about thirty (and definitely before thirty five). Growing up with a chronically stressed and depressed, financially-struggling, undiagnosed, mentally-ill single parent did not leave me wanting or desiring to take on the task of being a mom at an earlier time. My mom was emotionally and psychologically unstable and really mean sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great parent considering all the things with which she was dealing—we always had the necessities of food, shelter, clothes and education (we lived in our local library and we’re taught to excel in school). She also tried to give us as much of her time after her daily double shifts as a live-in home health aide because she knew that we had no babysitters and were raising ourselves. Although I honor her no matter what because she gave me all of what she could give and because it is one of the commandments with a promise (Honor your mother and father so that your days will be long on the earth.”), I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into this world, not giving it more than the stability I had. Besides, I also wanted to be this international medical missionary who’d always be traveling the world and would only have time to come home (the USA) to be the cool auntie who dropped off presents and said hello to my family for a short moment’s time before I got whisked away to another mission.
Can you imagine the anxiety I was feeling when I had my fourth vivid dream (at that point, they were coming every two months) of me holding this baby in a yellow crocheted outfit without a husband, let alone a boyfriend, in tow? I literally had to tell God, “I have no idea why you keep showing me with a baby when I don’t even have a boyfriend?” The crazy thing about that last dream was that when I woke up, my roommate at the time, Sully, told me that she had the same dream that night of me holding my baby, who had lots of hair, wearing a yellow suit. (That was way too freaky!) A few weeks after that dream, I had another vivid dream with a man in it who I didn’t know or recognize at the time. It turns out that I would meet that same exact man from my dream a few days later at an airport in Havana, Cuba. In the long run, he would turn out to be my daughter’s father.
I always say that my daughter was really a gift from God and that he wanted her here in the earth more than anyone else. She was conceived on February 16th, 2002, in spite of all my birth control. Since I was faithfully on birth control and went several months getting regular menstrual cycles, there was absolutely no reason for me to think I was pregnant. (I wish I knew then what I know now! My daughter even metabolizes a twelve week Depo shot in seven weeks.) However, one morning between a sleep and semi awake state, I felt something move really quickly from the front of my abdomen to the back of it, as if with the notion to completely hide (it is still my daughter’s nature to be sneaky today!). The movement startled me and shook me awake. I got in the shower and quickly got dressed for class. (My mind was still farthest from a pregnancy.) In the next week, I had developed this incredibly strong craving for tea biscuits and coconut ice cream throughout the day, which was still not a trigger for me to think of pregnancy because I love all things coconut and ice cream was a mainstay in the hot tropical climate of Cuba. It was not until one day that I had this overwhelmingly nauseous feeling, as if to projectile vomit, on an empty stomach after the common lunch hour and went to the doctor. At that visit, I discovered that I was almost 12 weeks pregnant.
I was completely numb hearing that news. I needed to finish the next three weeks strong, studying for and completing my medical school exams. Delilah’s dad was graduating that same year and going back home to Grenada so I know he was not going to be around. I had all these anxieties about being a mother because I didn’t want to screw up a child’s life, I didn’t want my dream of becoming a doctor to be forsaken, and I definitely was not in a position to financially support a child. Although I was in my mid twenties, I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to tell my family that I was pregnant.
My medical school was in a place where there really are no secrets. By the day’s end, many of my peers managed to find out that I was pregnant, without me ever saying a word to them. It was quite annoying because I needed my own time to process how I felt and what I wanted to do, rather than receive all of the judgments, comments, stares and low whispers that I got. You’d be amazed how so many people make being pregnant out of a scarlet letter experience, especially when you are not married. I understand that being pregnant out of wedlock is not an acceptable ideal according to most religious standards, but the inability of people to be kind, gentle, or loving with someone who is/was in “error” is also not biblical. Some people bring a whole new meaning to cruel and unusual punishment and treated me like the scud on the bottom of their shoes. It was pretty horrible how they made comments about me being “knocked-up” or condescendingly made it a point to say as loudly as they could that the would never be in my situation. I got anonymous cards on my bed taunting and making fun of me that didn’t stop even after I gave birth. I also had two young women who were openly doing witchcraft on me as well. But, thank heavens for real friends and a support system, a God who never forsakes and my fortitude to press through every situation that would arise from that moment.
Although many wanted me to feel like a “knocked up”, “rejected” individual who was alone or isolated, I knew better. My famous saying at the time to those who were making the comments was “the only difference between you and me is that I decided to have mine!” Most hurt people don’t realize that they mimic the same patterns that were done to them. The only reason why they wanted and needed me to feel ashamed was because in my same circumstance they felt and were made to feel that way. And more than ninety percent of those people who boldly declared that they would “never” be in my situation, ended up in the exact situation months to years later. (Never say never!)
I kept telling myself that I would just focus on school, get through the next three weeks of my exams and then figure out what I wanted to do with the pregnancy. I started all of my prenatal care right away just in case I decided to be a mother. Since my daughter’s father lived about four hours away in another province, and we were both at the end of our semesters and focused on exams, we didn’t really communicate or have that much interaction during that time either. After I passed all my exams and got my plane ticket home, I began processing and thinking about the pregnancy. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it before I talked to myself and God because I didn’t want any outside noise to infiltrate my decision making. (I know that some of my godmothers, Nia and Peaches, were hurt at me shutting them out of my initial decision-making process but that was how I always do and have done my important decision making—me and God—because I had to be able to live with my choice.)
I toiled for days with the decision because I didn’t know what to do. I, along with the voices of so many people in my head, had convinced myself that if I had my baby my life would be completely over. (Of course, that was farthest from the truth.) I researched at the time the cut off time for abortions and in NY state, a woman was allowed to have an abortion until 20 weeks. Although that fact was really scary to me, because I knew how developed a fetus is at that time and because of my protestant upbringing, that knowledge didn’t stop me from being objective enough to still consider abortion as another of my options for this pregnancy. I remember my last sincere prayer, “God, I’m so scared and I don’t what to do. You know how badly I’ve always wanted to be a doctor and I don’t want to mess up this child’s life. But because you know me and what I can and can’t handle, I ask that you take over and let your will be done.” I cried so hard (tears are falling as I type, remembering what I felt at that moment) because I never thought I’d be facing that kind of decision and be choosing to opt for the abortion. It was against everything that I knew to do or was raised to believe.
The next day, I went to the clinic on a mission. But somehow, everything was spoiling it. I remembered the conversation with a young lady who got pregnant very shortly after her “forced” abortion when we were teenagers. When I asked her why she got pregnant again she told me that no one had ever told her that she would have recurring nightmares about dead babies after the act. There was a lady two block from the clinic who I did not know but stopped me, looked me dead into my eyes and told me that I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t do what I was about to do. (How did she even know what I was about to do? Did I have something on my forehead that said it?) I started to turn around but talked myself into making it into the doors of the clinic. When I got to the exam room, the ultrasound tech accidentally forgot to turn the sound of the monitor off. I heard this wonderful, strong beating heart that arrested everything inside the core of my being and melted away all of the objectiveness in my mind. I hadn’t noticed it before, but right there in that exact moment, i realized there was a little mini-me life with a really strong heart pumping inside of me. And she was fighting to survive. After hearing her heart beat, I could not go through with the abortion. And even if I thought about proceeding, it wasn’t going to happen. Although Lilah was only 14 weeks, somehow in the ultrasound, she decided to appear as if she was 21 weeks old and the doctor said that the abortion was not going to be an option for me. (Whew! What a relief!) Luckily, in the exam room I decided to claim Lilah as mine because hearing that news, without having a concrete decision made, would have created another type of disaster.
Since I decided to keep Delilah Christina (interestingly, she had her name, which is another reflection for another day, the same night I received the news about my pregnancy), I went to a hospital the next day and signed up for a maternal infant program that guaranteed the continuum of my prenatal care and financial supplementation for food and formula. Guess what the ultrasound in the hospital the next day stated–Delilah Christina was exactly 14 weeks old. (Didn’t I tell you she was sneaky and that she was a gift from God that he wanted to be here in the earth?)
The weight of that decision left me for a short time; I relaxed and was able to sit with the idea of motherhood for a few moments, since it was, ultimately, the choice that I made (or that was made for me). I began to strategically plan and write out the next stages of my pregnancy and how I wanted/needed everything to go so that I could also finish medical school. Then, I submitted the plan to God in prayer for approval. However, although my plan was approved, it did not mean that I wouldn’t go through a few more “hell on earth” experiences in the months and years to come. I went back to school to finish the first semester of that year. At 39 weeks and 5 days, I started my leave of absence to come back to NY to deliver my baby. (Papa was nice enough to extend the offer for me to have Delilah in Cuba if I wanted to and I will forever appreciate that since the rule was that I couldn’t.) Because of delays with the flight, I didn’t get home until after midnight of the next day. I remember landing in Laguardia telling Lilah, “okay we are home, you can come now.” (She was born the next day.)
My mom was not at all fond of the pregnancy but I asked her if she would care for my daughter while I finished school. Honestly speaking, I did not want her raising my daughter but I didn’t feel as if I had any other options at the time. She agreed to help me at that 14th week but somehow managed to change her mind, as she frequently does, at the last minute. Delilah was born exactly the day of her 40th week. My mother told me that neither I or my daughter could stay in her house. She called all of my family members, particularly the paternal ones who were my support system all of my life, to tell them that I had better give my baby up for adoption because she wasn’t helping me anymore and that we would not have a place to stay. She told the social worker in the hospital the same thing, thinking that it would get the child services agency involved. My paternal uncle and aunt were calling me crying wondering why my mother would behave in that way, because they never saw, knew, or encountered the regular treatment that my sister and I endured growing up. My uncle, a hard-core bachelor, told me that he would take and raise my daughter for me because he wouldn’t ever allow me to give her up for adoption when we had a blessed family who could help me. My uncle has basically been a father to me all of my life and my daughter is his biggest fan! Ultimately, he didn’t raise my daughter but visited and checked on her as his daily routine for the three and one half years that I was away at school. It’s so wonderful how they love each other and she lets everyone know that he is her “unc” or “uncle Thumper!” I had three weeks left to figure out where Lilah was going to live before I had to go back to school. But, the more I spent time with her, the more I didn’t want to leave her, and the more I was coming to the conclusion that I should probably leave the medical school I was in to restart in the US just to be with her. I spent those three weeks laced in prayer, asking God what I was supposed to do and if I could forfeit on the previous plan that I had submitted for approval. God answered me and confirmed it with three prophetic people that I know; I was to go back to school. Two days before I was supposed to leave for school, my mother miraculously came to herself and decided that she would now help me.
Completely stressed out and trying to focus on finishing that first semester when I returned to school, I tried to always have enough money to call home each week to check on Lilah. (Thank you Mama for giving me the funds that one time to call home. It saved me from having a nervous breakdown!) I had established some traditions, always sending Delilah tape recordings of my voice to let her know how I was doing. I also made elaborate colorful cards or designed projects that I would do just for her. I had to make sure that she remembered me and she always did. I would come home and she would wake from her sleep the minute she heard my voice. When I was home, we had our own bubble, whose space no one was allowed to invade. Our time together was always so magical for the both of us. We would come together in our bubbles every few months or as necessary, according to the new crisis that arose in her life. However, I remember the first time my daughter was aware that I was leaving her. I prepared her a week ahead letting her know that I had to go for a little while again but that as always I would come back for her. She was so devastated and looked at me as if her soul was saying “why in the world are you leaving me here again?” Although I hugged and kissed her good-bye at the airport, she would not hug me back, which brought me the biggest heartache and left me crying for many nights afterwards.
Several months later, I received a call and email from my mother saying that my daughter had stopped talking and would blankly stare at her as if she did not understand anything. I dropped everything to get home. Initially, doctors started doing all manner of testing to figure out what happened to her and couldn’t find anything. My mother said it was right after she had received a vaccine that her speech and behavior had changed. I couldn’t stay in NY until the completion of all of her exams and follow-up appointments. However, a few months later I received another email detailing that my daughter had not recuperated her speech, was now dealing with sensory issues and had been officially diagnosed with autism. That diagnosis was a real kick in my face. My friend Nowa tried to comfort me at that moment but there was nothing he could say that helped the pain I felt reading those words. How did my perfectly healthy baby, who was speaking normally and fine, suddenly go mute, have such issues with feeling fabric on her skin that she had a repulsion to wearing most clothes, and was now lacking in social interaction?
I spiraled into depression and denial for several months trying to figure out how to help her. My pediatric attending was also the head of the autistic institute in Havana and I picked her brain for everything. I also knew a lady who worked at the Carlos Finlay Institute in Havana, where they were studying the effects of diet on autism at the time, and I would ask everything and anything about her research and the results they were getting. (She gave me a usb detailing all the foods in the diet and the research but when i got to NY, I discovered that a virus had corrupted the USB.) Both women helped me tremendously during that early stage. But there was still this gnawing voice in my head that told and convinced me that Delilah having autism was my fault and my punishment. I started my prenatal care at eleven weeks. I had spent several weeks while she was in my womb contemplating abortion and went to the clinic to actually do it. (How could I think about doing that to my precious baby?) Several times, I had left her with my mom to go back to school even when she was begging me not to leave her again. I had abandoned her for school. I left her in an emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive environment. I wasn’t there to stop her from receiving any of those vaccines, which harmed her. I wasn’t there to observe her meticulously and immediately reverse changes that were occurring in her speech and behavior when they were happening. When Delilah was younger, my mother and all her religious friends told me that she would be cursed because I gave her that name. Did I really curse my baby and give her autism because of her name? At that moment, all the tormenting thoughts, things that happened and words spoken about her from her childhood began to plague my mind and make me so mentally fatigued. I would go nights crying, completely depressed and ridden with guilt about everything concerning Delilah and wonder why this had happened to my daughter and to me. And no matter how much I prayed at that time, there were no answers to be found about why (until many years later) this happened to Delilah and why we had to go through the pain and suffering that we were enduring. So the guilt stayed with me for months. One day at three am in the morning, as I was crying out to God and asking him to forgive me for everything I allowed to happen, I finally felt that heaviness of guilt completely lifted from me. It was a freedom in my soul that I don’t even have the words to describe. And literally that night I dreamed of a hand with crystal clear water completely and thoroughly cleansing Delilah, in a clockwise motion, while she laid in her crib.
After my crying session with God and thatdream, it was as if I shifted into the last phase of my grief of Delilah’s diagnosis. I came to a place of acceptance about it. Acceptance allowed me to be more action oriented, trying to decipher the many ways in which I could help her heal and progress. I taught her how to speak again using vocal scales and through singing. I always made sure that she had a soft furry layer of clothing under everything she would wear so that her skin could tolerate it. But, the minute she got home we’d go to work on craft projects that helped her muscle strength, coordination and sensory. We work tirelessly for her healing and progress.
Delilah’s rendezvous with autism has been a very long twelve year journey and that with epilepsy a nine year one (she just had a seizure a few hours ago). We have fought so many powers that be, have had so many doors slammed in our face, and on many occasions have been treated so unfairly, but we continued pressing forward (trying to keep our joy). And in that constant grind, I had no idea that along the way, the constant bombardment with overwhelming circumstances had left us harboring unforgiveness in our heart and a root of bitterness in our minds toward so many people (including each other!). I was angry and bitter for a long time at God, at my mother, at Delilah’s father, at the people who wronged me and were condescending to me during my pregnancy, and to Delilah. The list went on. And I could only imagine how Delilah felt toward certain people (especially me!) because she was actually getting the direct brunt of their words and treatment and she had known what abandonment and rejection felt like at such a young age. One day, I walked passed two signs on a wall that said “Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace” and “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and realize the prisoner was you.” I realized that Delilah and I deserved peace in our souls and that we didn’t want or need to be prisoners to anger, guilt, regret, resentment or shame any more. And that kind of real freedom would not come unless we forgave and released all those who had wronged us and ourselves. So, in prayer and in our session, we started with ourselves and forgave ourselves for the mistakes that we made. Then, I begin to ask Delilah to forgive me for all the times that I left her and she felt abandoned, uncovered and rejected, for all the times I didn’t get parenting right, and for exposing her to a world of things (ie. shelter system, my mom’s instability, paternity test,) that no child should ever have to face. We wrote and sent letters to many people that we thought needed to be released from the grip of our unforgiveness and judgment for vengeance. (It’s still a work in progress and we still have more people to write.) But, each day we are freeing ourselves a little more and opening the door to access God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15) and deliverance.
My journey has taught me a level of compassion and empathy for the many adult women and men, young adults, teenagers and pre-teens who find themselves in a situation of having to decide whether they want to bring a child, which they have conceived, into this world. It’s not an easy decision to make, although many individuals on the outside of the situation, judge, dictate, and determine that it is. I think that I have also learned some dos and don’ts that I think are noteworthy to mention here. If you are part of the support system or know of a person(s) facing this type of situation, be kind, loving and gentle at all times. If you find that your belief system is not in agreement with what the situation entails, be honest with the person and let them know that you do not feel comfortable being part of their support system in this type of situation. (In the long run, it will benefit you to remove yourself from being a support in the situation.) Please allow the party (parties) involved to make their own decision. Do not tell them what to do in this situation because the person(s) must be able to live with their own choice! Most times, the parties involved deal with shame and guilt, as i did. If you feel comfortable and the person believes or has accepted Christ, pray with them and minister to them with scriptures. Remind that they don’t have to live in their past and that there is forgiveness in God to wipe away all the shame and guilt that is plaguing them. After all “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).
Today, I will not highlight an organization as I usually do. But, I will ask you to make this day a personal day in which you invest time into yourself and give your own thanks for forgiveness. Think of all the many ways that you have messed up on something and in your relationships with other people and how you were forgiven and given another chance to make things right. Just as you received forgiveness, now you must extend forgiveness to someone else. Think of all the many people who may have hurt you and that you need to forgive and release them from your judgement of vengeance. Don’t forget to include the people who have transitioned from this life, your relatives, spouses or ex-spouses, children, parents, etc. And meaning it from your heart, say, “I forgive (name)_ for (what they did); I release them from my judgment and I repent for harboring unforgiveness in my heart towards him/her/them. As I release them and this situation, i release peace and freedom over my life and receive them now.”
Thanks for staying on this reflection’s journey until the end. Thank you for forgiving yourself and all those who have hurt you. Most importantly, thank you for receiving and embracing your new found peace and freedom.
Have a great day of Thanks!
Day 20: Justice
Happy Twentieth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, I give thanks for Justice. In this world of corruption and brokenness where we often see so little of justice served, it is refreshing to know that, ultimately, the wicked do not prevail and get their just reward. (Proverbs 11:21 states Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.)
One year after we moved into our apartment and a few days before Christmas, Delilah and I came home from a stay in the hospital, due to one of her seizures, to a three day notice of eviction on my apartment door. After leaving the shelter system, since having housing security for us was so important to me, I made sure that I paid my rent each month several days to a week in advance. Thus, I had no idea why there was an eviction notice claiming that I owed over ten thousand dollars in rent.
I called the Section-8 coordinator, Ms. Odesy Vinas, several times but she would not pick up or answer my phone calls, in spite of her colleagues saying that she was in her office. I immediately went to the Wavecrest management office on the second floor of my building to find out what was happening. The representative in the office asked, “don’t you have section-8?” I told her yes, produced all my rent stubs and ledgers of payment in full, and asked her to please find out what was happening. I told her that I called the section-8 coordinator but that she was ignoring my calls. The representative, looking quite disgusted, made a round of calls to several of her colleagues asking them to tell Ms. Vinas that she was trying to contact her. Finally, Ms. Vinas answered her call and told her several things. When the representative got off the phone with her, she told me that I needed to go down to Gold Street and find out about my Section 8 because according to Ms. Vinas, I didn’t have it and now owed all of the money that the subsidy didn’t pay.
I can’t even begin to describe the ball of confusion and emotions that started to overwhelm me at that moment. All I could ask myself and think was: What in the world happened to my rent subsidy? I had sent in all of the paperwork on three different occasions and verified that Ms. Vinas received it. Where was I going to get over ten thousand dollars in three days, especially days before Christmas? Where would Lilah and I go if we actually got evicted a few days before Christmas? Why was this issue of housing instability plaguing us all over again? I thought myself into such a huge migraine with neck and back tension that I had to calm myself down through prayer.
I spent the next few days, missing work, to run to every rent subsidy office in the City (HPD, NYCHA, etc.). Each one was saying that my name was not in their system but I had legal papers with office letterhead stating that I had Section-8 when I moved into my apartment. After days of running around and getting nowhere, I went back to the management office to ask the same representative what I needed to do because, although I had my proper documents, every subsidy office could not find me in their system. She suggested that I go to the welfare office and ask for a one shot deal. She explained that a one shot deal was a process in which they would give me the money I needed to pay the large sum of money to my landlord. I told her that, although I did not understand why I owed my landlord any money, since I had paid all my rent, I would go to the welfare to see if they would help me.
I got to the welfare office and waited for several hours. When I finally saw one of their representatives, he, initially, treated me like the scum of the earth, while yelling and condescendingly speaking to me. He asked me why I didn’t pay my rent. I told him that I did pay my rent and gave him all of the proof of my paper work. He then looked just as confused as I was and said that he needed to get his supervisor. When his supervisor came, she thoroughly reviewed my paperwork and said, “someone in your management office is trying to take advantage of you. You don’t owe them any money at all! Do you realize if we give you a one-shot deal to pay them, you would have to pay us back all that money, and you don’t even owe them money.” I explained to her that I was so confused and didn’t even understand what was happening or why I was at her office. I told her my story from the beginning and asked her if she had any suggestions for me since Ms. Vinas would not take my calls and my buildings’ management representative’s only suggestions was that I get the one-shot deal and pay the money. I needed my apartment and I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. She suggested that I go back to Gold Street to HPD and talk to one of their supervisors to see if they could tell me what happened. I left the welfare office and went to Gold Street and discovered that the head supervisor who could help me was on vacation and would not be back until after the New Year.
I began to talk to everyone about my situation and got helpful suggestions from so many colleagues about to whom I could talk and receive help. A Ms. Rosenberg began to tell me about the corruption of my management company and all of their dealing throughout the city and gave a suggestion to hire a lawyer. I thank God right now for a strong community (this is another day of thanks) of skilled professionals who loved me, rallied around me and stepped in when I was mentally fatigued by this whole process. My friends hired and introduced me to my “kickass” lawyer who has also been a faithful friend since the ordeal. As I wrote letters to and called my congressman’s and council member’s office, they connected me to the community liaisons they knew at those offices. I emailed the head supervisors of the department of homeless services to verify if my papers for my section-8 were authentic. I finally got the contact information for and emailed the head supervisor at HPD to ask her about my section-8 documents and if I could schedule a meeting with her when she returned from vacation. I called Wavecrest Management’s lawyer to ask him why he was taking me to court if my rent was fully paid. As he checked the ledgers and verified that my story was accurate, I was suddenly placed on hold and hung up on. I called the CFO of Wavecrest Management, and pretty much got the same response from her too.
My friends went to the housing court to pick up documents for me because I had to work. With everyone’s help on the case, the councilwomens offices’ personnel began to conduct a full on investigation of what was happening.
You would not believe what I discovered! Although Ms. Odesy Vinas had collected my section-8 paperwork on three different occasions that year and verified via email that she had received it, she never submitted it to HPD. I also discovered, at the time, several employees of Wavecrest Management Company dealing with my particular complex, Bruckner By the Bridge, were selling apartments in my building illegally and under the table. They were evicting families who had subsidy apartments through Ms. Vinas’ method, by not submitting their Section-8 paperwork, and then sending these families eviction notices, which were then followed by legal proceedings in housing court, accusing them of owing catastrophic amounts of money which they could not pay. I found out that Ms. Vinas had done this same thing to ten other families prior to her doing it to me. Unfortunately, many of those families ended up getting evicted, which means they were headed back to the shelter system. Some of them, not having the same legal representation to which I had access, had even signed agreements to pay back those large sums of money, which they didn’t even owe. (I can’t even imagine how people sleep at night knowing they have done such evil things to undeserving people!)
Councilwoman Arroyo had an amazing community liaison, Ms. Blake, who kicked butt advocating for me, her constituent. When she reviewed all of my paperwork and the emails I had received from Ms. Vinas verifying that she had obtained my documents and was taking care of my paperwork, Ms. Blake made a call to Ms. Vinas. Ms. Vinas snapped at her and told her that I never had section-8. Ms. Blake asked her to explain why I didn’t have section-8 when she had received my documents on three separate occasions and was responsible for submitting it. She then told Ms. Vinas to schedule an appointment in her calendar that would involve her and all her bosses to meet with me and my lawyer, Ms. Blake, and the head supervior of HPD. (Talk about justice about to be served!!!!) Ms. Vinas got scared and asked why I was bringing legal counsel. Ms. Blake kindly let her know that we were about to set everything right, since there was a great deal of things that were unjustly done to me in this ordeal.
Can you believe that although Wavecrest falsely accused me of owing them money, which I didn’t owe, we still had to show up to court for the charges to eventually be dropped and I now had a housing court record because of them, without ever having done anything wrong?
Being slick and not wanting her bosses to know the depth of her corruption, Ms. Vinas asked to change the location of our meeting from the Wavecrest office in Queens to Councilwoman Arroyo’s office in the Bronx at the last minute. She also showed up without her boss, even though it was requested that she notify them to come. I spent the morning being calmed by my lawyer in preparation for our meeting because I thought the moment I saw Ms. Vinas, I would rip her throat out and dismember her body. (Not just for me but for the ten families with children that didn’t get their own day in court or justice! I know some of you think Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek to give someone the other cheek. But, at that time, I wasn’t trying to be that Christian; I was angry and wanted my piece of flesh in vengeance, wanting her to suffer the same way she made us families suffer. I preferred to be the violent that taketh by force Christian! and pray those fire prayers against her and the enemy using her as a vessel to come against me and others. My thoughts were, she tried me and now she is going to feel my wrath!)
I actually thought I was going to do serious bodily harm when she sat before the group of us, smiling and batting her eyes, and said, “I would never try to put a family on the street” when it was quite evident that it was exactly what she was planning to do to mine. I yelled at her, “So how do you explain you trying to do that to my family days before Christmas? You know how many days of work I had to miss for this nonsense?” My lawyer had to nudge me gently under the table because by the sound of my angry voice it was clear that I was about to go for her jugular.
Ms. Blake and the head HPD supervisor made it clear to Ms. Vinas that they were aware of what she had done and asked where her boss was. The HPD supervisor had informed us that since my paperwork had never been submitted in the appropriate time frame, I had lost the possibility of receiving my section 8 voucher because HPD did not reissue vouchers for old projects. (She said that she would remember my case if it was ever possible to grant me the Section-8 voucher in the future.) In the meantime, my lawyer had drawn up an ironclad legal agreement for all parties to review, guaranteeing that my rent would be at the section-8 value of the rent or thirty percent of my income for as long as I or my descendants lived in the apartment. Additionally, the agreement would withstand changes in management companies as well as landlord ownership.
(I and the generations of my family are planted and have the stability of housing security in a prime real estate location for the rest of our lives. Justice served!)
Since she complained that she had to show the agreement to the management lawyers, Ms. Vinas said that she would sign and get the agreement back to us. But, of course, she had no plans to do so. After one week of giving my lawyer and me the run around, we carbon copied and involved all parties that were in our initial meeting on our emails to her. After Ms. Blake inserted her request for the document to be sent “immediately!” my lawyer and I received the long awaited document signed by Ms. Vinas via email several minutes later.
I’m not sure if Ms. Vinas’ bosses knew what she was doing or had done. Nor am I sure if the level of corruption that was taking place in the company was authorized and approved by them. (I find it very hard to believe that they weren’t aware of what was happening.) But, seven years later she was still working for the management company and they had assigned her to work with me again and request my documents to be submitted for my new lease. (Can you believe it?) That did not sit well with me (as it wouldn’t with any post-trauma victim).
I let the management company know that I needed another of their employees to handle my paperwork since she had already proven her lack of trustworthiness. Since they decided that they weren’t going to give me another employee with whom to work, ignoring the fact this woman lacked ethical and professional standards and had done me a huge injustice previously, I decided that I would expose her secret. (I realize that people who operate in secret and not exposed continue in their behavior with no accountability.) I let everyone know who Ms. Vinas was and how she worked. I put all of the previous information of my case seven years ago out for display to all of her bosses, who happened to miss the meeting seven years ago, her fellow colleagues and all the company’s lawyers. (And no you don’t have the right to judge me right now!)
It must have been a complete and utter shock for Ms. Vinas to have to deal with everyone knowing what she had done, if they even cared. (I’m not sure if I had forgiven her at that point for what she had done, but I was determined to let her know that I had not forgotten and since she still sat in her position and had the ability to still do what she had previously done, I was determined to make sure someone would make her accountable.)
It was time to renew my lease and the management company was trying to ignore our legal agreement, sending me a lease for market value rent. The company was also trying to buy time to let my lease expire, without me having a new one in hand. I called for several weeks and wrote emails carbon copying just about everyone in the company and my lawyer. And for weeks, I still had no new lease. The typical response was that they were working on it. The next round of emails included Ms. Blake, the HPD supervisor and the Wavecrest Management company lawyers. I called the management company one day and spoke to someone in the leasing department and she said, “everyone in this entire management office is trying to figure out and working on your case.” I asked her, “Ma’am what exactly is there to figure out? The legal agreement states what my rent payment is supposed to be. Why is it taking so long for the company to send me my lease?” I imagine they were trying for those weeks to figure out a masterminded plan to excuse themselves from the legal agreement but, not encountering any solutions. Finally, the company had Ms. Vinas request my yearly income to determine my rent. I submitted the paperwork the same day, carbon copying everyone in the company. However, they were still playing the waiting game after many days. On the following Friday, I sent another email asking why I still hadn’t received my lease even after the submission of the requested documents.
A few minutes after my last email to them, my lawyer, disgusted by their behavior, interjected a reply all email and said, “Melissa if you do not get your new lease by the end of the day today, let me know because I have some time tomorrow morning to get to the courthouse to file a petition so that we can be in court with them on Monday.”
I got my new, corrected lease at 4:25pm that same day via email from Ms. Odesy Vinas, who did not even work in the leasing department. There was justice! The underdog (me), whom the management company considered counted out and worth ignoring and bullying, through the help of all my angels, served them a hot plate of accountability and got justice. I don’t know if Ms. Vinas still works for the management company (perhaps, I’ll find out when I renew my lease again next year). However, if she does, the stain of what she did to those families will stay with her, unless she repents.
It took me a long time to forgive her. What she did to those families, especially those children, made and still makes me very angry. Every time I thought about the situation, I had to ask God for his supernatural grace to forgive her because I wanted to see her get the “punishment that I thought she deserved.” (As if I have the power to take away God’s job and determine what punishment someone else should have!) I wanted the punishment of her iniquity to be received by the third and forth generations of her family and for her to experience the homelessness she had inflicted on those ten families, joblessness and complete poverty .
Thank heavens I know better than to wish that on someone else now! While there is a level of “righteous” anger that we ought to have for the level of injustice done, I repented about the unforgiveness in my heart towards her and released her to the vengeance of God, which is greater than any vengeance I could ever give. It also freed me from the grip/destruction/harm of the root of bitterness that had settled in my heart after the trauma of the situation, which most post-traumatic sufferers encounter. I hope that all of you who are reading today’s reflection, waiting for justice in a particular situation, understand the importance of having a clean, forgiving heart while you wait for justice to be served. The trauma of the situation and the waiting in the meantime can cause just as much destruction (root of bitterness) in our hearts and souls if we are not mindful to release vengeance for God to handle.
Sometimes there is no reasonable explanation for why we face or encounter certain situations. (I have no idea why this or many of the other things I have been writing about has happened to me. I told you all I felt like an incarnate Job for a long while.) But, deep in my heart, I hope that I went through that situation to expose the level of corruption that was occurring so that it would end. (There were definitely changes in how things were done in the management company after this whole ordeal.)
Not only do I give thanks for justice, but i am thankful for those advocates, activist, liaisons, and lawyers, who everyday fight tirelessly on the front lines to make sure that the “voiceless,” the “forgotten” and children in our society are protected and receive the justice necessary in all circumstances they encounter. I want to highlight the organization, LAWG (https://org.salsalabs.com/o/625/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=15539) who has been doing some amazing work concerning the migrant caravan and helping many of the migrant families at the Mexican-US border. You may not be able to go and help but you can be in solidarity and send the people who are on the front lines and available to go. I’m sure you, like me, watched in horror as many of these families were sprayed with tear gas. (Never in a million years is that acceptable!!!) We must advocate for us to do better as a nation to those seeking asylum and help. Please pray for all the families who had to experience that trauma and for us as a people so that we can do better at loving and respecting each other.
Have a great day of Thanks!