MT – Day 2, Reading by Fabian Engelbertz

Day 2:  Thanks for Shelter

Melissa’s Thank – Day 2, Read by Fabian Engelbertz.

Fabian is originally from Germany and has been by inspired Melissa’s Thanks journey.

Happy Second Day of Thanks 

A few years ago, I was living during one of the best and worst of times in my life. My daughter and I became homeless and had to live within the NYC shelter system. (Although I did not know or understand the purpose of why I had to be there at the time, in retrospect, it was absolutely necessary for my character, vocational development, and God’s purpose to be fulfilled.) It was the first time that I had seen poverty rear its ugly head and understood why and how cycles of poverty were perpetuated within generations of a family.  Our shelter in Harlem had some of the most deplorable conditions of black mold, asbestos, lead-based paint and hazardous materials, which directly affected the health and well being of the clients and their children, especially the asthmatics. My first room there was mice infested because there were so many uncovered holes in the walls and floors.  We barely got sleep the first week, because “Jimmy and his cousins” decided that they would use our SRO (single room occupancy) as a playroom when the lights went out. A significant portion of the room’s ceiling had fallen and was never replaced.  They covered it with a false ceiling that would fall when there was flooding from the room above. In the summers, there was an overwhelmingly, exhausting heat because the old building had no air conditioners. In the winter, when the boiler broke, we had no water and some rooms, were extremely frozen because there were no working electrical radiators to provide heat.

One of the young girls living in the shelter kept getting bit by the cockroaches that infested her room, which was converted from a hallway closet and had no bathroom in it. Because she was allergic, her body had whelps all over it.  When her dad, an undocumented immigrant, begged for a change of rooms, he was threatened with deportation from his case worker. The manager of our hotel was a working “junkie” and gang leader who was also the drug dealer and supplier for our shelter’s residents. There were a few drug raids, one which occurred during our second week in the shelter, which involved all but two apartments on the second floor section of the shelter where Lilah and I lived. I remember asking God to always keep Delilah from seeing and experiencing anything negative while we lived in that place. Thank God those prayers were answered! She missed every drug raid, every falling ceiling, every room reconstruction, and the clearing of our room from the mold. (My friend has a jar that she puts money in for her son’s future therapy. I’m sure that I’m going to need a trust fund for the experiences Lilah did have in that place!!! LOL!)

With these existing horrible conditions, can anyone explain how the Department of Homeless services allowed this shelter to pass inspection each time? How was it possible that this shelter, like many others pimping off someone’s poverty, made $2133 per month for each room to house a family in those conditions? Market rate value for many two and three bedroom apartments in the city didn’t even cost that kind of money during the time. So, why couldn’t families in shelters have access to real apartments and affordable housing if the city was willing to pay a slumlord for them to live in a dump? (Shaking My Head!!!!!)

Living in a shelter was where I learned, for the first time, that all the statistics about starving and impoverished children were actually true.  And I was enraged!!!!!  (I fight to the death for a child!) It was where my roots as a social activist/organizer came to a full circle and I became more involved with and deeply entrenched in the issues that affected the families living in that shelter.  I would teach the families how to advocate for better living conditions in their spaces and write letters for the families whose head of households were illiterate.  I’d cook and make sure there was food and formula for some of the mothers by connecting them with a pantry who could supplement food when their food stamps ran out. Many of the families, with neonates, would get turned off of welfare and have no formula for their children.  I arranged a Thanksgiving dinner for the families in the shelter. I’d always bring back several copies of housing applications and resources for the families and the case workers to give to their clients. I connected with a local church to supply toys for all the children in the shelter during several Christmases, even after we moved out. I arranged a hair and make-up day for the mothers within the shelter during Mother’s Day weekend, which increased the morale of all the woman who participated, incredibly.  The caseworkers (except one) and staff loved me because I was basically an addition to their team.

I learned that so many myths about people who lived in shelters were untrue.  You are required to have a job while living in a shelter–no one free loads! The city/state forces you to get on welfare to live in the shelter system.  Although I did not want to be on welfare, I had to get on welfare to live there.  Can you believe that I received $15 per month of food stamps for my daughter and I to eat? If I didn’t have a job, could I have ever survived on that? Most people who know my daughter, knows she can eat that for snack!

As terrible as it was to live in that shelter and experience the horrific day to day of poverty, I had a clear understanding that my situation was different than most of the families there because that place was just a pit stop for me.  I don’t even want to  imagine what it would be like for the shelter system to be a forever station for me.  But, unfortunately, it is just that for many of the families who are there.  The bright light of hope in my eyes still managed to have a flicker and stay lit, while it had completely left many of the eyes I encountered in that shelter daily. Let’s just say that the manager, the caseworker who hated me, and the assistant commissioner of the department of homeless services were tired of me and wanted me out of the shelter much sooner than later, when I got done wreaking havoc.  I reported the shelter to HPD so many times; each time the agents came to inspect the apartments, they fined the landlord over $10,000 per room for the atrocities they found in each room  and gave him a strict deadline of when all the repairs had to be complete.  Of course, I taught all the residents how to do the same reporting. I was told by staff that the manager had a meeting with them and told them to find every possible way to get me an infraction and kicked out. But, when God has you covered, “No weapon formed against you will ever prosper!”

Delilah and I finally got our own place to live (our current domain) as an early Christmas present in December of that year (by accident). My caseworker got an anonymous call from an assistant administrator who worked at DHS one day, saying that she couldn’t reveal who she was but God had told her to call my caseworker to  inform me that I had an interview the next day for my current apartment.  She said that there was a plot by her boss to “punish me” for all I had done in the shelter that I was in. Although I got interviews for several apartments earlier (and would have been accepted), they purposely didn’t call me to let me know. Thus, I couldn’t move out of the shelter and stayed much longer than I had to. This lady said she was told to warn us so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to live in my new apartment in a new building in a great location, which would be perfect for my family.  The rest is history (almost!)

The lessons I have learned from the shelter were invaluable.  Not only did I know that everyone, no matter who they are, should have access to a decent place to call home; I learned that with some real political will they could have access to a decent place to call home. If I didn’t learn anything else, I learned that I am a survivor who keeps my joy in all circumstances!!! (I survived my own hell on earth experience!) What killed and destroyed others, emotionally and mentally, gave me the strength and determination to keep pressing towards the mark. I also learned that no one can or should be defined by his or her situation. (People will try to keep you in your past if you let them!)

I love, appreciate, and treasure my apartment. Although it doesn’t always look like it and could definitely use some cleaning and much more organization (don’t even think about judging me!)– I am always looking for volunteers to do this work—It’s ours and a really decent place to call home. Delilah and I have peace of mind. After seven years, we have never had to share it with vermin and “jimmy and his cousin” have never laid foot in it. (Thank God for angels that secure the place!)

During my time in the shelter, I was working with a group called “The Poverty Initiative,” at Union Theological Seminary (Kairos Center) which works on global projects to eradicate poverty in the world. I became published with one of my poems being selected in a book created by the Poverty Initiative called “Out of the Depths: Poetry of Poverty, Courage and Resilience.” I sold a few copies of the book to donate the proceeds back to the Poverty Initiative. I still have a few copies if anyone wants to buy them. All proceeds will go to the Poverty Initiative which is housed by Kairos the Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice (https://kairoscenter.org/poverty-initiative/). I also worked with and became acquainted with a great organization called Picture the Homeless (http://picturethehomeless.org/) and began to advocate more for the homeless and children because I realized how they were truly the voiceless in our society.

Today as I give thanks for shelter, I ask that you remember that there are millions of people who you pass on the streets, in the trains and in subways who don’t have it and are longing for a hot meal, clean clothes, a nice bath, a bed to lay their heads and a hope for a better tomorrow. Help in the small ways you can! A smile, an encouraging word, and some change go a long way, but advocating to change policy with elected officials to clean up the shelter system and provide affordable housing for families that need it is the lasting change that we need to see.

Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Melissa

 

Contact Melissa Below

 

 

MT day 30 – Reloaded with audio reading by Melissa

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.  This is the final installment of her 30-day journey, and with it she reveals new levels of vulnerability.  Her writing is powerful.  Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness.  And, of course, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.   All that follows is Melissa. 

Follow along as you listen to Melissa read Day 30.  You are invited to post your comments and contact Melissa through the contact form at the end of this reading (at the end of the page). 

Day 30: Revelation (Knowledge of God)

It’s a long, real good, going-to-make-you-late-for-everything, reflection. Consider yourself warned.

 

 

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Happy Thirtieth (And Final) Day of Thanks!

I am so thankful for revelation and knowledge that comes from God. It is truth. It’s accurate. It’s specific. It’s precise. It’s irrefutable and always brings clarity. It has been the guiding light for each stage of Delilah’s healing.

Disclaimer: This reflection is a little different (and much longer) and may be slightly difficult for some of you to understand because there will be spiritual nuances, biblical references, and foundational concepts that you may not know that concern the ministry of deliverance.  I am also admitting here that I’m a “Jesus Freak,” love to read and understand the Word of God (the Bible), and sometimes a little weird (even in my loveable-ness) by most people’s standards. And since I came to grip with my difference, peculiarity, and set apart-ness at such a young age, now it doesn’t bother me so much when others discover some of the God given qualities that give me my uniqueness too. There may also be times in this piece where my frustrations with God and/or the church (Body of Christ or People of God) as they are expressed will shock you. Hopefully, you will understand that their expression is not to cause you to judge or form erroneous opinions of God or His church, but they are just the emotions, frustrations, questions that form outwardly as one walks through a dark hour, desperately waiting for the joy of the morning to come.

From the time I was three years old, I remember God speaking to me. His method of speaking to me at that time would almost always be either through His audible voice or through my dreams. But, as I have matured in my walk with Christ, his method of speaking through His audible voice has evolved to speaking through his words as I read my Bible. God still regularly speaks to me about current or future situations, events or people and guides me through my dreams and in my prayer or meditation time.  It is through my very communion and communication with God that I have been led to parent, heal, and deliver Delilah Christina.

Part I

As I mentioned earlier, God spoke to me about the coming of my daughter, Delilah Christina, every two months through my dreams almost one year before her birth. As she was in my womb, God began to speak to me about who she was and her purpose in the earth. Thus, I have been very aware of how I raise her and the influences I allow in her life. When Delilah was about two years old, he showed me a dream of her on a stage as a young adult in a packed out stadium. As she opened her mouth to speak and sing, the range and depth of her voice was so piercing and similar to that of the late Darryl Coley (if you don’t know who he is, you betta ask somebody! He was a singer who has a killer voice and range.) that the ground under the stadium and all of Hell begin to shake and crumble. I won’t get into the full details and interpretation of the dream but just know that Delilah will slay the kingdom of darkness as she sings and worships God. 

I woke up from that dream so excited and full of hope and expectation about Delilah’s future. I had no idea that this dream would be one bread crumb among many that God would use to maintain my faith as He took us through the step-by-step dark season in the journey of her life.  I had no idea that two years later, she would become completely mute and that we would have to spend the next twelve years of her life fighting for her to learn language and to speak. I was so angry at God, especially in the moments when no matter how hard we worked, she still didn’t say a word. I yelled, “why would you show me a dream of her speaking and singing and then give me a baby that couldn’t speak? Is this some kind of cruel joke?” When I finally got my emotions in check, I realized two things. One was that I needed to use music to get her to speak. The second was that if God showed me Delilah as her older self speaking and singing, then it had to come to pass and eventually she would do just that.  I had to keep fighting for and standing on the vision that God had prophetically shown me.

A few years after battling her lack of voice, somehow, it felt like we walked a few steps out of the darkness only to be kicked back ten steps further into it. Before Delilah turned eight years old, she started having her menstrual-induced seizures. Because of my medical background, I was able to come to some conclusions about her condition, but needed some follow-up labs to confirm my suspicions. I went to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, which is supposed to be a world renowned pediatric hospital, and encountered some of the worst pediatric neurologists and horrific patient care and treatment I had ever seen in my life. I thought I was going to kill one neurologist when, without explaining or giving me a diagnosis for what my child had and without even looking at me, she started writing out a prescription to drug Delilah beyond any vegetative state I had known and sent me home to do follow up in six months. The next neurologists told me that they could not perform simple blood test to determine the root cause of her seizures, but could only do an MRI or EEG from his department. I quipped, “so you prefer to spend $2000 for imaging test that will not tell you anything about the root cause of her condition to stop it and have me running in circles for my child not to get better rather than take a $20 blood test that could reveal everything that is wrong with her?” I gladly let him know that he would not be paying for his Mercedes Benz and kid’s college tuition at the expense of keeping my child sick and left. (SMH!) I never wanted to go back to that Hospital ever again.

I looked for weeks to find an herbalist, Paakobena Korankyi, who helped to heal my sister of Rheumatoid Arthritis many years ago but, after exhaustive searching on media platforms and near the location of his old shop, came up with nothing. Delilah’s seizures, which looked like every seizure type, were coming in two hour clusters every night for whole days at a time, steadily getting worst and nothing was helping. I remember the first time that I saw Delilah almost lifeless in my arms turning blue was in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, when hardly any ambulances were being dispatched and no help was in sight. I took her emergency medicine and administered it to her, while crying and screaming for God to help her.  As she was in her post-ictal state, I was crying uncontrollably as Lilah sat in my arms and I felt so helpless to her.  Any mother knows the feeling of how you rise up like a bear or a lion to defend and protect your cubs. I was angry. I started yelling at God and asked, “Where are you? I don’t care about your glory! Why are you letting her suffer like this? How could you let her suffer like this? Can’t you see I need help? Help Me!” Every tear that I had was poured out over Lilah’s face and body that I had soaked the t-shirt that she had on. I cried so hard that night, I cried myself to sleep with her in my arms.

When I woke up the next morning, God’s audible voice, which I hadn’t heard in such a long time, told me to get up and search my computer for Paakobena again. I got up and there he was. His Facebook page with all of his information was there. I searched for him for weeks and in one moment at the instruction of God had encountered him.  I called Paakobena and told him who I was, what I needed, and asked him how soon he could come. When I told him that I had even went to where his old shop was looking for him, he told me that he now focused on home visits and got rid of the shop several years ago. He said he would come to my home the next day. He came and told me all the things that I would need to do and buy to start Delilah on her journey to healing. That very night and the next day I exhausted almost all the resources that I had at that moment to order everything that she needed and made sure there was enough supply. We stayed on Paakobena’s regimen for quite some time and through prayer, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, begin to add supplements and vitamins as necessary.  She had reached a place of stability in most of her endocrine organs, especially her thyroid, and her seizures at menstrual cycle time started decreasing.

One night, God gave me another dream, showing me a vivid image of a doctor’s name on a brown wooden hospital door and then a book with a brown cover that had the title ketogenic diet in white letters on it and told me that he wanted me to put Delilah on the diet. I had never heard of a ketogenic diet before neither did I know that it was a successful treatment method being used for refractory seizures. The next day, I found the book online, ordered it and express shipped it to my house. I also started researching ketogenic diet centers and it turned out that there was one in the Bronx at Montefiore hospital. (Go figure!) The doctor’s name that I saw on the door in my dream was the neurologist at Montefiore who ran the ketogenic center. Very spoiled by the accessibility of doctors at all levels in Cuba, I called her office several times to see if I could have a consult with her to ask her questions about the diet. She told her receptionist to tell me that she wouldn’t talk to me since Delilah wasn’t her patient. 

Since the last neurologist that Delilah saw at Montefiore scheduled for her to be admitted to run a sleep EEG, we had (and what I decided would be) our final visit to Montefiore to complete this test. On the same day that Delilah was admitted, the neurologist who ran the ketogenic diet center was on call. She was the biggest witch (I want to change the w for a b, although I never like to refer to a woman by that.) and so nasty. When she saw me, she literally said to me “you and your daughter being here is a big waste of my time! You need to put her on meds because I am not administering the keto diet to her.” (Yes, those were her exact words to me.)

I had to kindly let her know that she didn’t know who I was and that she needed to leave out of the hospital room and come back in, acting as if she knew that I was not only my daughter’s parent and advocate but someone who would write the CEO and board of the hospital, the NYS Department of Health and JHACO to report her and make sure that she didn’t have a job or a license when I was finished. (Why do some people always have to make you go there?) She was shocked as hell that I wasn’t who she thought I was. (It really messed her up when I made her address me as Dr. Barber.) I gave Montefiore three chances and their neurologists struck out every time. (I’m not that person who says “never” but I will say that hell will probably have to freeze over before I opt to ever take Delilah back there.)

At that time, I contacted John Hopkins, the main ketogenic center in the US, and their waiting list was years long.  Lilah was on her regimen of alternative medicine and I knew that I was not putting her on the pharmaceutical medicines that they were trying to prescribe because I knew what they were and I saw first-hand the effects that it had on her classroom peers, who were also autistic and in a vegetative state for most of their academic day. (Ask yourself this question. Would you give a child street narcotics? If you wouldn’t give them street narcotics, why is okay for a doctor to legally prescribe those same narcotics to them? I don’t care what anybody says, that crap destroys children’s brains way more than it helps most times. There can be safer medicines and more effective ways to help children than turning them into vegetables and damaging their body organs and giving them all of these other side effects in the process. The political will is not there to do it because people care about money and profit more than they care about lives!)

I researched everything I could about the diet, although there was not nearly as much information as there is today. I started buying all of the materials that the book told me that I would need to start preparing for the monitoring aspect of the diet. But, I still had to find a doctor (neurologist)/nutritionist team to prescribe the diet. I could have basically done everything myself, which I did anyway, but I wanted Lilah’s journey to be legitimately recognized, since everyone told me that they wouldn’t help us and that I couldn’t treat her solely through diet. (I knew what God told me so I set out to be obedient and prove them wrong.) I also needed someone to be accountable for ordering and monitoring all her labs.  It took four years to get a neurologist, outside of Montefiore, who could/would administer the diet.

We ended up at NYU Langone and seeing Dr. Judith Bluvstein, a pediatric neurologist there.  Initially, she was not very encouraging.  When I told her that I wanted to put Lilah on the ketogenic diet and that I didn’t want her on pharmaceutical medicine.  She said, “well, maybe you need humble yourself and put her on the medicines.” (Yes, her exact words were for me to humble myself.) And when she saw the Melissa death stare that burns fire through your soul and warns you that the wrath of me is coming for you and then heard me reply, “I’m going to give you a few seconds to clean that up,” she knew that it was not the best course of action to stay in that vein of the conversation. She then set out to discourage me. “Well, the diet is really expensive.” My reply, “I didn’t ask you how expensive it was. Who are you to assume what I can afford?” “Well, many of my patients have not stuck to the diet because it is very restrictive.” My reply, “my daughter is not your other patients. I’m here to put her on the ketogenic diet.”  We did that song and dance for a few more minutes until she realized all her efforts were futile. (I understand that in her ignorance, she didn’t know me well. I don’t back down from fights when I am on a mission to preserve, help, and protect my gift from God (Delilah). She didn’t know that she couldn’t stop me but I played her game for a little while to let her think she would get somewhere before I completely shut her down.) “Can you put her on the ketogenic diet or do I have to go find another neurologist?” Her answer was, “Okay. We can put her on the diet, if that’s what you want. I’ll schedule an appointment with the nutritionist.” They still gave me the run around for another two months. When I scheduled an appointment with another nutritionist in their system, who I didn’t realize was not specialized in the diet, she basically called them and asked why they had not given Delilah an appointment yet. They told her they did but I showed her proof that there had been no follow-up or anything scheduled in her patient portal, after calling several times. The ketogenic nutritionist scheduled her appointment that day.

Fortunately, because I was so well versed in the diet by the time I got to the nutritionist, I noticed all of the flaws in the delivery of care, the lack of patient education, and all of the reasons why Dr. Bluvstein’s patients never stuck to the diet.  The initial method in which John Hopkins used to start patients on the ketogenic diet would always be key in the success of the patient. They admitted the patient and their families to the hospitals for three days.  While they induced ketosis for the patient, they gave families workshops and educational sessions, teaching them to cook for the patient and how to maintain the state of ketosis. I was given two thick handouts and left to figure out everything on my own. (I’m sure this was their other mechanism to discourage me or any other patient from using the ketogenic treatment method because most doctor’s pay and incentives come from their collaborations with pharmaceutical companies.)

We started the diet. I educated all of the academic and recreational staff members who worked with Delilah about it and had them buy in to maintaining her on her diet and giving her only the foods that were cooked and sent with her, since her diet was a nutriceutical, a treatment, like medicine, to reduce her seizures. Within months, Delilah shed about 60 pounds and we eradicated the drastic water weight gain during her menses, her seizures clusters reduced drastically (I could finally get at least a 4-5 hour night’s sleep when she had her period), and the duration of her seizures reduced by half. We also saw the duration of her menstrual cycles lengthen. They went from 14 to 18 day cycles to 21-24 day cycles.  The same doctor who told me to humble myself stands in amazement at the miracle. She said, “I can’t believe how amazing she looks and how you have maintained this!” I sarcastically remarked, “So, you don’t think I should humble myself anymore?” (I was not going to let her get away with it!)”  I told her, “Perhaps, the next person who comes to you who looks like me and is just as determined as I am will get better assistance from you next time.”  Through Dr. Bluvstein, we were referred to an endocrinologist in the NYU Langone system and ended up with one of the best pediatric endocrinologist on the planet, Dr. Jason Klein, who we got to by “accident.” (If you remember Day 22 nothing is an accident, it’s God’s way of getting you to His perfect destiny for you.) We were supposed to see another endocrinologist who was triple booked with clients that day. Dr. Klein did the necessary blood testing that I was asking the neurologist in Montefiore to do and confirmed the diagnosis (I was not at all crazy!) of Delilah’s hormonal imbalance, which was the cause of her catamenial seizures. He asked if I was willing to try oral contraceptives to see if it would help to balance her hormones. We tried Yaz. (I thought that medicine was a medicine directly from hell! Delilah had her period for 4-5 days each week for a whole month. She was angry, irritable, and combative.) Hell to the no! We were not taking that medicine any more.

I called Dr. Klein and told him that we tried it and we were not doing it any more. When he heard the affects of the medicine he quickly agreed. He was a really great, young doctor who listened and was definitely not tainted by the system yet. He was such a breath of fresh air.  Dr. Klein said that every time he saw me that I reminded him of his mother (she was health professional who did alternative medicine) and thus, it made him heed to the information and education that I was giving him when I walked in his office. After two years of being with him, Delilah got so well he said, “I’m releasing her as a patient because you have done everything to get her to the perfect bill of health as far as my expertise goes.”  (I was so happy!) It was through Dr. Klein that we were then referred to Delilah’s pediatric gynecologist to handle her hormones to control her seizures.  Dr. Cardamone is one of 14 pediatric gynecologist in the state of NY. (If any of you are thinking of doing OB/GYN, there is a desperate need for more pediatric ones. Please consider this specialty.)  Dr. Cardomone agreed to see Delilah.  I called her Manhattan office to set up an appointment only to discover that the office didn’t take Delilah’s insurance. (My heart dropped!) I emailed her to ask how much a consultation would be, asked if she could do a sliding scale fee for me or let me volunteer to work off the debt in for her office (I was desperate and I asked about every possible option I could.)  She said that she had just started to work at Sunset Park in Brooklyn earlier in that month and that she knew for sure that they took Delilah’s insurance. If it wasn’t too far for me to travel there, she would definitely see me at that office. If that wasn’t convenient, she presented me the names of two other colleagues that were relatively much closer to the Bronx.  When I looked up those doctor’s patient reviews they had 3 stars and Dr.Cardamone had 5 stars across the board in all her reviews. (You know where I was going, right?) We trekked to Sunset Park for her treatment.  Since it was discovered that Delilah had significant estrogen dominance, and little progesterone receptors, we decided to try the Depo-Provera shot to see if it would help to counteract the estrogen in her body.  Delilah is a really interesting case.  The Depo has lots of progesterone in it so it works enough to stop her periods, but doesn’t have the full dosing capacity to stop the pre-menstrual symptomology of her cycles nor does it completely stop her seizures. But, it has reduced them significantly.  Because Delilah’s body quickly metabolizes the Depo medication, it only last seven weeks, instead of its twelve-week coverage. (Go figure!)

After almost four years of being on her diet, some of Paakobena’s regimen, and treatment from a book that I was given when we lived in the shelter, she has been basically stable and has never had to be on an epileptic pharmaceutical drug. Her doctors have to always prescribe emergency medicine (Midazolam given intranasally) to give to her school and nurse but, thank God, she has never had to use it. She still has one or two (rarely three) brief seizures during the week of her menstrual cycle.

From 10-15 seizures down to 1-2 seizures; from 230 pounds to a consistent 155 pounds for four years; from basal temperatures of 92 degrees and lethargy to consistent basal temperatures at 97.7 or 98 degrees; from absolutely no sleep during menstrual cycles to at least 5 hours of sleep per day, with no epileptic drugs. This is definitely what success sounds and looks like and God gets all the credit for it.  It was by His revelation that we got to each step in Delilah’s process. I’m also thanking God for the strength, endurance, and consistency that He has given me to press forward to see the fruition and the blessing of this healing process.

But, my faith and hope is not for this level of healing (partial healing). It never was! It’s for complete healing—No seizures, No autism, No hormonal or menstrual irregularities, No muteness. I want everything completely healed and whole, with nothing missing, and complete restoration of ALL the years that were lost! (It has been 12 long years of suffering that we have endured!) And just like the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years, who exhausted all of her resources, went to many doctors and healers and still was not whole, we are at that place, crawling to get to the hem of Jesus’ garment to obtain mercy and healing, because I want Delilah to be whole.  I also want complete healing because that is exactly what God told me (and many other people) that he was going to do for Delilah. And I am confident, according to the word of God, “that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) God doesn’t do partial work and His word never goes forth void; God does everything to completion and His word accomplishes ALL that it has set out to do.

I know what I am saying may confuse some of you because you can only perceive Delilah’s situation and health through your own lens and experience and by the reality of what you see. You may not believe that there is healing for autism or epilepsy because your mind’s perception can’t grasp it or maybe because you have a relative with the same medical condition(s) who is an adult and has never received healing for the same conditions. And that’s okay. I only ask that you stay connected so that when God completely heals Delilah, you see that healing of ALL diseases and conditions, as are all other things, possible through Jesus Christ.

Part II

Thus far, I have only mentioned the physical nature of these twelve years of darkness.  But, one should know that manifested sickness (ie. cancer, lupus, epilepsy, autism) almost always has a spiritual cause or root.  And the spiritual aspect of this journey has been even more fatiguing and full of much more despair. I have tried to hold on to every ounce of my faith, even in the midst of no or little shimmering lights of hope. I manage to do it, although this journey has been very hard (especially since I am one person fighting a significant share of this spiritual battle by myself).

Here is where I begin to talk about the spiritual nature of Delilah’s sickness and my observation about today’s church.  I will try to explain everything in the simplest way that I can but, as I said it will be a little difficult for some of you because some of you may not believe in God; you may not believe that there is a devil, who is the prince of this world, and a cadre of his demon spirits that inflict suffering and oppress people (even God’s children) when there is an opening for them to do so. You may not even believe in a heaven or hell or an afterlife. I hope that this helps you to believe that it is all real.

The bible is such a living word and through its study and my dreams, God has revealed so many things to me about the spiritual (demonic) nature of autism and epilepsy that I did not know before.  I gained so much knowledge about double-mindedness and schizophrenia in the spiritual/biblical context. I realize now that, although I was praying and fasting for Delilah’s healing, I was somewhat praying amiss because I didn’t understand the depth of how strongholds worked and some of the roots that allowed them to persist. I knew what a “legion” spirit was, cognitively, but I had no idea that a “legion” was operating in and oppressing my daughter until God told me so.  (Legion means “many.”  A legion spirit is one that usually has a cadre of at least 1000 demon spirits that work and are grouped together to oppress a person.)  From the time, she was diagnosed with autism, I saw different spirits manifest at different times. And it seemed like the moment I prayed against, binding and casting out one spirit, another one would appear. This happened one after another. So, just when I thought I could get a breather from dealing with the last spirit, I couldn’t rest because another spirit would appear.  We have been dealing with twelve years of not stop invasion of these spirits. We are currently dealing with the two legion spirits of rejection and rebellion.

(For those who may not understand, I’ll give an example. When Delilah was first diagnosed with autism, she had a suicide spirit that was oppressing her. It would always cause her to try to run into a huge street with oncoming traffic to get hit. Since I wore sneakers all the time and had a background in track, most times I would catch her before she got to end of the sidewalk.  One time I left her with a caregiver to make an errand, the young lady called me twenty minutes later terrified telling me that I had to come back to get Delilah because she could and would not stay the rest of her shift. Delilah, almost five years old, laid in the middle of the crowded, heavy traffic laden street on Burnside and Morris Ave, with oncoming traffic.  Luckily, my friend Raul, who knew and spoiled Lilah, saw her and the home health aide and helped.  It took four really strong men to pick her (a 4 year old) up from the concrete ground and get her out of the middle of the street.  One time she tried that on the Grand Concourse on our way home from church. When I got home, I began to pray and cast that spirit out of her. I was so fatigued and fed up with it and having to chase after her. It left. Shortly after (may be two days), we started dealing with a spirit of insomnia. And after insomnia, we were dealing with the next spirit.)

Most of my spiritual journey with Delilah’s condition has been filled with lots of reading my bible, constant prayer (in the late to midmorning hours), praise and worship, studying books on the ministry of deliverance and fasting to break the grip of the many spirits that have attacked her life. Through the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I’ve read several books in the last three years that explain how demons (and demons through people) operate, the tiers of the kingdom of darkness, and how to get free from demonic oppression. (Talk to me offline if you want to know what those resources are.)  I recommend these books wholeheartedly for those of you who want to learn more about deliverance but I have to warn you that it is a great deal to stomach them.

The other part of my spiritual journey has been filled with frustration, heartache, and disgust.  Each time that I lived outside of the US, I saw the Christian church operating in a power that the Bible conveys. There were signs, miracles and wonders; I saw people be healed supernaturally through prayer and by faith. I saw the church operating in a power that should be a natural occurrence for us. The ministers taught the word of God, and the church members were unified in a way in which God could and would command a blessing. There were actually prayer services and “shut-ins” that would give the kingdom of darkness huge knuckle sandwiches. (Shut-ins are when we spend the night in the church to have all night prayer services.)  And everything that wasn’t of God got shut down real quick.

I call most American churches, the watered down gospel (and most times would rather stay home and watch an online-streamed service of one of my favorite churches that is not in NYC than be in a church building). Many are full of ministers/pastors/apostles who don’t teach the unadulterated word of God and lack faith; they have Christians and people who are sick and dying, with the nastiest attitudes I have ever seen and attacked by demonic influence, and lack the power of the Holy Spirit.  When you read the Bible and believe what it says about our identity in Christ and how we are supposed to behave and you are a member or visiting a church that doesn’t reflect anything that you are reading in the Bible, it can be very frustrating (I’m sure devastating for those who are new Christians).  Some of you would sit in horror at knowing how badly many people who professed to be Christians treated my daughter in a church building (SMH!). The solace I have is that God was watching. And even when they tried to isolate us or make Delilah feel like she didn’t belong, I stayed right there! (How dare anybody tell me that my daughter can’t be in her Father’s house! You must be crazy! Especially when she can dance circles around of us when she gets to praising and worshipping God!) As I stayed, many of the naysayers had to watch as God transformed her.

Several years ago, years after Delilah started suffering from her seizures; God began to reveal another level of knowledge and understanding about Delilah’s medical conditions that a lab test or a doctor’s visit would never reveal.  God began to show me a series of dreams that would be followed by interpretations of those dreams to get Delilah and me closer to working toward her deliverance and the complete obliteration from her sicknesses.

One night, God showed me a dream. In the dream my daughter and my little brother were kneeling around an open bonfire in the middle of a ritual. Although they were kneeling, their upper bodies were upright and their hands were stretched upward and tied to a wooden pole.  I heard and saw drums being played and shortly after I saw this dark spirit horizontally sweeping towards them until it entered into their bodies.  I don’t know exactly how I knew the dark spirit in the dream was the spirit of epilepsy but I knew that it was. It turns out that both Delilah and my little brother have epilepsy and they both got it around the same exact age. (Interestingly enough, I had bad seizures at the age of 3 or 4 years old. After one of my seizures, my pastor, Elder Ricks, prayed for me. I felt power shoot into my body and after that day I was completely healed.) The interpretation of the dream revealed a great deal to me about how the spirit was introduced, where it came from, and who introduced it into Delilah’s life. Not only did I pray and fast heavily for healing for Delilah and my brother and against that spirit, I begin to pray cleansing prayers for my bloodline and break generational covenants and curses that were made in my ancestry.  I also became even more watchful and careful about with whom Delilah got to spend time.

The revelations continued to come.  One night, I had a dream about two cats, one black one and one white one. In the dream I was in spiritual warfare with the cats and I told them that they had to go.  Since they kept nodding their head that they weren’t leaving, I intensified my warfare and the black cat completely disappeared.  The white one still wouldn’t leave. I told it, “You are going to leave!” I intensified my warfare against the white cat and it left. But, it didn’t completely poof-into- thin- air disappear like the black cat. (In the spiritual realm, cats signify witchcraft or witches/warlocks.  Each cat dealt in a different type of witchcraft—one in black (dark) magic/witchcraft and the other in white magic/witchcraft.)  When I woke up, I asked God for the interpretation of that dream.  Several days later, I met a young lady who I didn’t know.  We started talking and somehow it came up that I had lived in Cuba for six years.  She asked me what I thought about Santeria. I was a little taken aback by her question but I told her that I thought it was witchcraft, that its evil was real and that many people used it for demonic purposes. She told me that before she could speak what she was about to say, she had to preface its context and make sure that I understood what she was going to say.  She began to tell me things she could not have known about one of my experiences in Cuba. 

The lady said, “She [meaning Delilah] is going to come out of that! Two young ladies were doing witchcraft on you while you were in Cuba.  Because they didn’t realize or understand who you are in God and how powerful you are in Him, they kept intensifying the witchcraft they were doing on you and were completely surprised each time that nothing worked. But, because you were way to powerful for it, their witchcraft bounced from you to your daughter.  Since you are raising her [Delilah] to carry your mantle, she is starting to get too strong for the witchcraft they did and it is going to break off of her life.”   The lady didn’t know it but she had given me the interpretation of my dream. Spiritually, Lilah’s medical conditions were not only the result of generational curses and covenants in my family, but the result of witchcraft also. (I may not get into this later but, you should also know that the spiritual root of her menstrual and reproductive issues is the result of her father’s open rejection of her.) What she was saying was spot on. While I was in medical school, two girls (Sophia and Mirtha) were using Santeria to try to hex me and God revealed their actions.  At the time, God told me to be in a mode of heavy fasting and prayer and I obeyed–that is what covered/shielded me from the danger of what they were doing.  After the fourth or fifth time of dealing with the two girl’s crazy, one day I got back to my dorm and commented to both of them, “My God is so much greater than that mess that you are doing! You better be real careful at who you are playing with and what you are doing. I’m not playing that game with either of you and I send back the fire of God to boomerang back everything that you sent to me.”  Shortly after our encounter, Sophia got kicked out of school.  When she arrived home a few days later, she had a head on collision with a truck and died instantaneously. (She was the black cat in my dream that poofed into thin air.) 

Mirtha either left the school or got kicked out a few weeks later.  (For those of you who did not read Day 29) Before she left, she tried to instigate a fight with me. She started screaming at the top of her lungs, which gathered a real crowd.  At that point, I was so fatigued and weary of their assaults, i drew a line on the floor and I told her that if she came passed it she was going to breath her last breath. That was the first time I felt hate, rage, and the spirit of murder run it’s course through my body and I’m sure that everyone around us could see the violence in my eyes. Everyone who stood around us, including school staff, were so scared for Mirtha, because as calm as I was in my speech and demeanor, they could see how serious I was.  In all Mirtha’s screaming expletives and vulgarities they were trying to talk her down from her demise.  I stood there still but ready to attack if she moved into my space. I also told her friends real calmly, “if she’s your friend, you may want to come get her, because I meant what I said!” After several minutes a young lady named Nadege grabbed her and escorted her from the bathroom.

Mirtha was the white cat in my dream.  I have no idea where she is and if she is still doing the same activity she was doing over 16 years ago.  What I do know is that I have forgiven her and have released her to the judgement of God. I hope that she has repented for all that she has done because if not, God will avenge what she has done to my baby.

It was now clear more than ever that I had to intensify my prayer against the witchcraft that was done towards me that bounced to Delilah and really get deliverance for her. As I intensified my prayers (spiritual warfare), one day God spoke to me and said that this was the season of Delilah’s healing and deliverance. (I was excited! It was news that had been long awaited.) Since God had told me to leave my previous church, I was waiting for Him to show me where he wanted us to be next. I was gathering a list of churches and making plans to visit them at the beginning of the month of March 2017.  I was on a phone call with a friend and began to tell her what I was looking for in my next church and she told me to research a specific church.  She told me that I should watch the apostle’s YouTube videos to see if it was a church I could see myself attending.  Several days later, I put the apostle’s name in the YouTube search and several videos appeared.  As I watched the video, there were a few things that the apostle said which really spoke to my spirit, and I said, “God if this is where you want us to be, show him my and Delilah’s face and let him know that we are coming for deliverance!” I fleeced God and said that if he did four specific things (I never give God easy fleeces; I give him the impossible), the final thing being a random woman walking up to me in the street to say specific things to me, would be the sign that the following Sunday would be the day that Delilah and I were supposed to go to the church. I told God that if we were supposed to be at that church, when we got there the pastor would pray in the three specific areas for Delilah—he would pray to heal her biologically, he would break the generational curses that were the root causes of her sickness, and then he would pray against the witchcraft.   Lo and behold the lady walked up to me on February 25th and said the exact words, the way they were supposed to be said, and we ended up visiting the church the last Sunday in February instead of March.

The Sunday we were supposed to go to the church, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.  The electricity and the internet went out in my house so I couldn’t look up the address to the church. My phone wouldn’t even work. When I was finally able to look up the directions to the church, the computer gave me the wrong directions.  While I was sitting on the bus heading to the church, the Holy Spirit told me to look up the directions again. When I realized, we were on the wrong bus, I got off and we had to walk over 30 minutes to get to the right bus.  When we got on the right bus, it was so late, I started to turn around and go back home because I thought church would be over.  I told the devil, “we are still going because I know you want us to turn back.  You wouldn’t have thrown us this many impediments if there weren’t a blessing on the other side of this.”  When we finally got to the church, the pastor had just started to preach. (We weren’t late at all that day! Imagine if we had turned around). After he preached, the pastor asked for everyone to come up to the front for prayer. When he got to me and Delilah. The pastor said “Do I know you?” I replied “No.” In front of the entire congregation, he said “You sure I don’t know you? From Facebook? I have seen you and her face before. The Holy Spirit showed me your [meaning Delilah and my] face and said that you were coming for deliverance.”  I told him, “no you haven’t met us before but that is the exact prayer I prayed when I was watching your YouTube video.”  He began to pray for Lilah. He prayed for her biological healing and to break the generational curses off of her life and walked away.  In my mind, I told God, “this must not be where you want us to be because he didn’t pray for the third thing!” The pastor walked back over to her and said, “and I break the spirit of witchcraft off of her life!” I started to tear up because God answered my fleece– there was no way that the pastor would have known to pray specifically for those three things unless by the Holy Spirit, because I never told anyone else and I never met him before. The pastor asked to speak with me after the church service.

After the service, I explained to him about me praying that God would show him our faces while I was watching the Youtube video. I also talked about the fleece and how he prayed for all three things.  I told him about our previous church experience, about Delilah and that we had come for deliverance. He said that his church had just finished a round of deliverance sessions and was taking a break and that they were going to start back up in March. He said that he wouldn’t pass me to another of his ministers, but that he would do Delilah’s deliverance session himself.  I asked him if it was okay to visit his church until they started the sessions again and he said that it was fine. Little did I know that I would spend more than a year in the church with the pastor playing mind games with me about doing a deliverance session.  After a few weeks, I asked if he was going to do the deliverance session, although he said that he was going to still do it, he completely changed his tune.  The pastor told me that he did a deliverance session with an autistic boy that didn’t go well. He said, “I can’t afford to get anything wrong since the circle of pastors that I am around now wouldn’t allow for my name to be tarnished;” and mentioned how he was speaking at Manpower that summer. (SMH! Since when was the opinions or accolades of men, greater than being on assignment, being obedient to God, or just completing a task you committed to do?) The pastor said “he” couldn’t afford to get anything wrong. (Wait a minute!  But, I’m pretty sure that my bible says that God is the healer. Men do not heal or deliver anybody; they are vessels that are used by God to do that work.) His conversations reeked with fear, a lack of faith, and, once again, pride. I went home and prayed for him, about his response (most people forget that the bible says that we will be judged for the idle words that come out of our mouths), and for the whys of it all. I said God, “why would you send us here if he lacks faith for her healing and deliverance and has all this pride and fear? (All a deadly combination to prevent healing and/or deliverance.) Didn’t you say this was the season for Delilah’s healing and deliverance?”

My new mission was to continually pray for this pastor and that the fear and the lack of faith be removed from Him. My job was not judge him, because we all have flaws, but I was very concerned that he had a large following of Christian folk with those deep issues affecting his character. Each encounter I had with him, asking if he was now ready to do the deliverance session, got worse. There was way more fear. He mentioned another case of an autistic deliverance that he tried to do that went wrong too.  I realized that he was having these “son of scheva” moments with all these autism cases because he was not adequately prepared in knowing what he was dealing with as well as not spending enough time in communication with God to be led by the Holy Spirit on what to do for the level of deliverance needed for these children. I asked him if he had done some research about autism and he said no. I suggested that it would be helpful to research autism but he said he wasn’t going to do that. Later, he tried to convince me that Delilah’s condition was purely biological and that there was no need for her to have deliverance (Didn’t he pray about the generational covenants and witchcraft on our first encounter? Somehow, now she didn’t need deliverance from those things or in those areas of her life.)  Then, just as most people do, he started using defense mechanisms to project and say that I was trying to manipulate him into doing a deliverance session.  He avoided me for weeks at a time. Each time, it provoked me to go home and pray more about the situation, asking God to guard my heart, and pray for the pastor too.

One week, after asking about the deliverance session for Delilah, the pastor got up before the entire congregation and said that the church was shifting and not going to do deliverance sessions like that anymore. (I had to chuckle at that announcement because I knew it was for me. Suddenly, after our conversation about a Delilah, the church, which was known as a deliverance ministry, wasn’t going to be doing deliverance any more. He is usually a pastor who talks to people after service. That Sunday, he bolted from the pulpit and went straight to his office.) Although I was shaking my head in amazement, I felt bad that he had cowered with such fear and shame at failure. (I later told him that he had to realize that it wasn’t him who did or would do the work.) The second to last time I met with him, I asked him if he would be willing to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit on how to proceed in doing a deliverance session for children with autism and suggested again that he read a little more about autism.  He told me that he still wasn’t going to do either. His exact words were, “I ain’t doin’ it!” I knew that Delilah and I were leaving that church but I felt sad that the children with autism in his church who remained would not have the opportunity to receive what God says is the children’s bread– healing and deliverance– because the pastor didn’t see it necessary to make time to study and discovered the tools to break that condition off of their lives.

I had to eat some serious humble pie throughout that whole experience and kept my mouth shut, because not only was I more than disgusted by his manipulation and his spirit of pride, I was actually really embarrassed for him. At times he was lying in my face when he talked to me and thought I did not know it.  One of the main reasons that I was pressing for him to do the deliverance session for Delilah is because, as he was trying to impress me in our first encounter, he said that he would do it. A pastor (or any person for that matter) ought to be a person of his/her word. And when he realized that he couldn’t do it or didn’t want to do it, he should have been honest enough to outright say that and he didn’t.  The excuses came, he did a great deal of projecting, and then I became the problem and the manipulator.  He made some blanket, erroneous statements about autism and other medical conditions not even realizing that he was talking to a doctor. (Because I’m really quiet, unassuming, and never use a bullhorn to announce my assignment or anointing in the kingdom of God or my title and accolades of the world, many people make huge assumptions about my credentials, my level of discernment and my relationship with God.)  This pastor always assumed that I would be so impressed with his title, his book deal, his being able to speak in front of large crowds, not realizing that I did, lived, and had all those things already, on a regular basis outside of the church, and didn’t care about them like that at all. While I am very happy that he has accomplished all of those things, those things were not greater than God, and he having those things didn’t mean that he could forgot about being led by the Holy Spirit.

I gave him plenty of chances and waited patiently. I prayed and asked God for the release because I knew that I couldn’t stay in that church neither could I trust the pastor with carryingout something as important as a deliverance session for my daughter. (It felt like I was in a spiritual Montefiore hospital again.) His fear and lack of faith would have impeded the deliverance from occurring in the first place.  He avoided me for several more weeks. One Sunday, I asked him to meet with me one last time after service. When I mentioned that I was a little disappointed that we would never get the deliverance session that he said he would do (He then begin to act like he would do it right then and there if I still wanted him to do it. I wanted to call his bluff but since I was already really embarrassed for him I decided to leave it alone), I thanked him for letting us visit his church but let him know we were leaving. He said that he was disappointed because he thought we were going to become members of his church.  He also said that several of his members got to know us and were already attached.   I don’t know why he could think that I would be a member of his church after going through that whole year of mind games. He never did what he said he would do.  He told me that he wasn’t willing to study about autism or pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit about how to get deliverance for Delilah. If this was my baby’s season for healing and deliverance, I need to be in a church with like-minded folk who were serious about getting me to a place and teaching me the tools to get real deliverance for her. I don’t play games with church and I do go for it to be a social club.  The bible says that God healed and delivered people from ALL manner of sicknesses; it didn’t say he was exclusive to some. To me, it meant that there was healing for autism. And since God told me that He was going to completely heal Delilah we needed to get to that place.

I was invited to a church that was heavily into the deliverance ministry by another good friend. On my first visit, I saw many people being delivered there. After church, the pastor meets with all the new visitors and greets them.  There were about eight rows of new visitors.  The pastor prophesied for EVERY visitor except for me and Delilah. (SMH!) I thought to myself, here we go again.  We were completely ignored.  I was starting to see a theme and pattern, which really didn’t feel good to me.  Since I saw real deliverance taking place and demons being cast out of people,  I continued to visit the church because I knew that even if they didn’t decide to do a deliverance session for Delilah, I could at least learn some of the tools that I needed to get us closer to what God had spoken (complete healing).  Each week, I was learning to exercise my abilities in praying warfare prayers for deliverance and every day I was coming home using those tool when we got home to do self-deliverance and cast out some of the demons influencing Delilah.  One week the pastor at the new church, told me that he helped a mother who had a child with autism before.  He said that each week, God had him meet with the child and mother and he had to keep praying and chipping away at the fortress (stronghold) of demons that influenced the child until it completely broke.  (This was a long-term process and not something that happened instantaneously.)  He also asked me, “What did God say to you about autism?” When I began to tell him about what God had shared with me, he nodded his head as if I was correct. (I was on to something!)

What I noticed/realized from that encounter and what the pastor had said is that since Delilah’s healing was a long-term process, most pastors/ministries were not going to volunteer to take it on, even if they knew what to do. It would truly have to be a labor of love on their part.  How many people do you know who consistently walk out life with you? How many pastors do you know who actually walk out life with their parishioners? Was there really someone (a pastor) who would commit every day or every week to fasting and praying with me for deliverance for Delilah? The answer was no. (Not even this pastor who had told me that he’d done it before said that he would commit to help me.) I was on my own to do the work that I had already been doing.  Of course, some of that knowledge hurt but it was reality and no different than what I had already known from our twelve year journey.  So we press.

After all of the progress that we have made in Delilah’s healing, on October 6th of this year, Delilah had a really bad seizure in her sleep like the one she had during hurricane Sandy.  I was woken up suddenly at 4 am that morning and decided to check on Delilah because I heard voices and New Age music playing in house (which is extremely and utterly impossible). When I got to her room, her body was completely blue and she was having a seizure. I worked quickly to try to get her breathing because I had no idea how long she was like that. She started breathing and came out of her seizure and immediately went to her post-ictal sleep phase.  I was shook because I slipped!  I got too comfortable! I was so unusually tired the night before that I didn’t stop her from going to her room to sleep.  (I usually make her sleep in my bed during her cycle time.)

 A second more and my baby would have been dead!

After the initial shock! I was livid!  I texted every intercessor who prayed and was up at that hour and told them I need them to pray with me immediately because I wanted and needed answers as to why my baby was on death’s doorstep that morning.  I told God through my uncontrollable tears in my prayer, “I need answers now! I need revelation now! Before this day is over, I want to know why we are still here! Why is my baby still suffering like this AGAIN? I need this to break now! I can’t live like this anymore!” Immediately, at that 4 o’clock hour people were texting back that they were praying. I kept praying. When Delilah woke up, she was slightly smiling at me, although her affected voice was still very low and raspy. (My baby was alive taking another breath.) We started using the gift of song to bring her to recovery mode. We started singing and praising God and a song, “Great are You Lord,” whose lyrics were so fitting for that very moment began to play.” It was God’s breath in her lungs so we pour[ed] out our praise.  I told her that the song would be the next song to learn on her piano. (She is currently learning to play it now so that she can perform it for her spring recital.) We sang for about an hour and then Lilah wanted to rest again.  As she rested, I went back to warfare praying.

Within a few hours time, a Youtube video by a pastor named Guillermo Maldonado, who I had never heard of, popped up on my phone. The title was “Breaking Strongholds and Deliverance from Bitterness.” Omg! That video was answered prayer. Glued to principles and knowledge that were coming from his teachings, I got my notebook and basically transcribed the video.  It outlined just about everything I needed to know about the “root” of bitterness (causes, what it was rooted in, how to break it, the characteristics and behaviors of a bitter person). When Pastor Maldonado began to talk about the three main causes of bitterness (abuse, profound loss of something, and encountering, continuous, overwhelming situations or circumstances), God revealed to me that how and when Delilah was affected by each of those causes. Delilah was in a verbal, emotional and psychologically abusive environment while I was away studying. I left her in the US while I was studying and she felt abandoned and rejected by the loss of her mother. There were plenty of continuous, overwhelming circumstances but one stood out. Although I had asked my mom not to give Delilah the flu vaccine when she was little, my mom let her get the vaccine. Delilah was allergic to something in it; it caused her tonsils and adenoids to swell significantly, cutting off her airway and air supply, she had to have surgery. My baby and I were dealing with bitterness. The video also shed light on the fact that we had to really forgive some people. God let me know that I had to order some of this pastor’s books immediately, which I did, and start studying them. Interestingly enough, a day or two later, as I was studying my notes from Pastor Maldonado’s teachings from the video, I went back to find the video from the link it came from and it was no longer there. The Youtube page said “this video is no longer available” and that it was taken down by the person who posted it. (No lie! See for yourself. https://youtu.be/ZQZW7oK0eaM) God is good!

The next day when we went to church, the pastor (a prophet of God) revealed that yesterday’s attack came from Delilah’s father and asked if I knew how to send back the fire to him. (Oh it was on! The enemy and the kingdom of darkness and every person who they decided to use in their attempt to kill my baby was about to get a serious beat down in the spirit! I was and am ready for war, especially when it comes to my gift from God!

We began to pray and fast to destroy the roots of bitterness that allowed for the demonic influences to enter in and attack Delilah and my life. (Every day we have been getting free!) I didn’t know it at the time but when God asked me to share the Thirty Days of Thanks, I had no idea that he was using this journey as a mechanism and vehicle to purge me more and seal my freedom from some of that demonic influence. As we prayed and fasted, when we got to church service, where warfare for deliverance was taking place, the demons were coming out of Delilah and they grip was being broken off of her.  One Sunday as the pastor prayed for, he started praying over her ears and some of those demons started manifesting. The minister told me later that I had to continue to pray over her ears because the demons were trying to use voices to speak to her, which is why she covers her ears with her forefingers so much.   

The revelation was pouring in like a flood gate. A few weeks later another Youtube from a school of deliverance ministry popped up.  The lesson was “Deliverance from the schizophrenic pattern.” This was going to be the meat and/or hearty portion of my education.  God had revealed to me several years ago that autism was spiritually under the same umbrella as schizophrenia.  I started to study schizophrenia more to really understand all of what He met. In increments, God was revealing all of the books and information that I needed to read and study to understand more. I read the books “Pigs in the Parlor” and the author’s follow-up books ages ago and totally forgot all about that knowledge.  There I was watching the Youtube video and everything was coming back to me. The teachings in that video gave me the step-by-step manual of how to receive complete deliverance and healing for Delilah. (no lie! Step-by-step)

The presenter explained it in such a good way. He said when you think of a stronghold, imagine a pyramid structure. The ruling spirits are at the top (highest pinnacle) of the pyramid, while all the low-level demons, which are in rank (similar to an army) from smallest to greatest, make up the foundation. Since one cannot go directly to the head of the army (the ruling spirit), he has to first kill/destroy all of the lower-ranked demons and keep moving up the chain until you finally get to the top, the ruling spirit. Before you even start to attack and destroy the lower-ranking demons, you have to use the tools of binding and loosing, which God has given us as his children to stop the activity of demons. (So, just as you would bind the hands of a criminal by putting handcuffs on him to stop his activity and haul him off to jail. You have to bind, through your words in prayer, the ruling spirit so that its activity and how it operates can cease.) As you stop, nullify or bind the ruling spirits’ ability to operate, you can now attack the lower-ranking spirits without much hindrance.  Then, as you are attacking those spirits, you want to loose or release the sword of the Lord to execute judgment on that spirit to destroy it. (I hope I’m explaining this effectively through my words for you to understand.  If not, here is the video so that you can really dive in https://youtu.be/leQ4F8kyNe8 later.) Almost every night, when we get home, I have been using my step-by-step manual to break those low-ranking spirits and work my way up the chain to the ruling spirits. The three ruling spirits in the schizophrenic pattern are rejection, rebellion, and bitterness. And they each are legions with their cadres of demons.

I can’t even describe the anticipation in my mind and heart to know that we are right at the cusp of Delilah’s complete healing and deliverance and that very soon (sooner than I or you can think) she will be free, speaking (and will probably never shut up, my friend warns), with her whole mind and complete cognitive ability. She is going to be a genius! (As we have declared it verbally from the time she was little.) She will be fulfilling her task of slaying the kingdom of darkness with her voice and her words.  It’s going to be incredible! And I’m so happy that you will get to witness it so that you will know and understand just how great and amazing God really is. That day, the journey through these twelve years of darkness, will be well worth it. And I know that I will have achieved the “well done, my good and faithful servant” badge of honor from my father, which will mean more to me than anything in this life or the next.

If I ever needed any more confirmation that I was on the right track, it came yesterday. I wanted to play a song by Juanita Bynum as I was working. I put her name into the Youtube search filter and one of her sermons, “Don’t Quit! Your warfare is God’s process to promote you beyond your Imagination” (https://youtu.be/BgiZPAKFHj0), appeared. I felt led to play that video instead of the song. She was speaking my life’s story (really this whole twelve year journey). Have you ever had someone do that to you without even knowing you or what you been through?  I almost couldn’t stay in my seat. And to top it off, she declared a prophetic word that I’d see the turn around by Dec 31stof this year (meaning in 19 days). Now you know that I was receiving and claiming that word over my life from the core of my being! I’ve been fighting too long for the vision and the word that God gave me for it not to come to pass! I’ll send you my report back on December 31st.

This was an incredible thirty day journey. Thank you so much for taking it with me and sharing it with others. It was so freeing and provided the much needed healing and deliverance that I need in specific areas of my life. Based on the level of warfare and how much fighting I had to do to get these reflections to you on some days–keys on the laptop not working and having to switch back and forth from my laptop to phone; sometimes a sharp pain trying to attack my back as I would type; the shame factor of some of my reflections. You name it, it was happening—I know that some of you received the much needed blessings too, on those days of this journey.  I’d love to hear from you about how this journey has impacted you. I’d also like to know of the donations that you gave during your journey. As I said I want to do a report back and share our impacts on the many organizations and highlight the testimonies and victories received. Today I don’t feel so much led to highlight an organization for you, I’d like for you to find and highlight an organization to which you feel drawn and give to it (Yes. It can be one of the organizations that have been previously mentioned.) I’d also like you to reflect on your revelations and where they are leading you. What vision or word has God given you that you are fighting for? Make sure that you don’t give up! Your warfare is promoting you beyond your imagination.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Contact Melissa Below

MT days 26 – 29

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.

Day 26: Kind, Thoughtful, Inspirational Words

Happy Twenty Sixth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I don’t know what it is but, I have always had this special kind of mojo which attracts senior citizens to me. I’ve come to conclude that there may be a long list of things responsible for this attraction which range from my big, bright smile (which you already know radiates light) to the kind check-in on how they are or their need for some medical advice. Whatever it is, the attraction is always strong. (Now if I can just get that mojo to attract me to my amazing, intelligent, God-fearing, loving, worship-the-ground-I-walk-on chocolate prince, I’d be set! I’m just saying!)

I’ve known an elderly gentleman who works at a senior citizens center close to my job for about four years now. We met, initially, on our daily commute to work on what you know I call the God forsaken bus, the Bx19.  After seeing each other for a while and coming to the conclusion that we were basically going to the same place (our work is literally right next door to each other), we struck up whole conversations about our lives and how we were, our relaxing weekends, books that I was currently reading, and our families, without even knowing each other’s name. 

It was probably two months or more after our initial meeting that I realized, I had no idea what his real name was. (I felt horrible!) Can you imagine! I was having in depth conversations with this person everyday for months and we didn’t know each other’s name. His morning greeting was, “Hi beautiful” (it still is) and mine was “hey love” and the rest was history. I finally asked him, “what’s your name?” and he replied “Gypsy.”

Gypsy is such a sweet soul. He is really shy (at least around me) and a little anxious. He has a little feistiness to him on occasion but overall  is so unassuming and quiet that you could almost forget that he is there. He is very humble and never complains. He is very observant and pays very close attention to detail. He has such an impeccable work ethic and works so hard (like a slave), all the time, for him and his girlfriend’s dream house down south. 

If I’m being honest, I’m always a little worried about him. First, it was the chain smoking, which I always pestered him to quit. (Thank God he finally got rid of that habit!) Now, it’s more of his general health that worries me.  Each time I see him, he looks more and more fatigued and weary, although he still musters up a big smile for me. I worry that he, who is such a deserving person of a great retirement, will never get to enjoy it because he has worked himself to the bone (and probably doesn’t know anything else). 

Sometimes, I wish I had Oprah money and endorsements so that just as she says, “you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car!” I can say to Gypsy, “you get a house and you get a car and you get rest and you get retirement!” All just to ease some of that worry and weariness I see on his face. I pray for him all the time, asking God to preserve his strength and make him a Caleb so that he can see, have, and enjoy his mountain before he takes his final rest. 

What Gypsy lacks in his short stature and frame, he makes up for with his big heart, his kindness and thoughtfulness. One day for Valentine’s Day, he bought all the women at my job these beautifully hand-crafted and scented artificial roses and lunch (so sweet!). We both have birthdays in June about a week from each other. I don’t know how he knew my birthdays are so important to me, but he has never missed a beat!(He has to teach some of my other friends some things!) On my day, he is always waiting outside for me to get off the bus, and with a smile, hands me the most breath-taking, thoughtful, awe-inspiring Blue Mountain cards. (I always tell him to take back his money when I find it because I don’t want him working harder on my account.) They are amazing cards! (Whoever owns this company, i would love to buy shares!) The words in those cards speak so much life to my soul. It’s almost like the person who wrote the card had a magnifying glass to my life and new every detail about me or knew exactly what I needed to hear. And knowing Gypsy, I’m sure he stayed in the store and scoured every card until he found the “perfect” one just for me. He always has this genuine way of doing his best to make me feel special. (Some of you should take notes and learn a thing or two!) What he doesn’t and can’t say on his own, the card says for him. And his words are the most thoughtful, kind and inspirational words that anyone has ever said to me. 

For the past three years, his words (once you buy something it’s your to claim) in those cards have prophetically declared career moves and choices, provision, complete shifts in my life and the best well wishes ever. In some of the darkest moments of my life, without him even knowing it, Gypsy’s cards and words have given me the hope to endure, pierced light through the darkness and brought the ultimate joy, making me smile. Getting my birthday cards from Gypsy has become one of the most anticipated moments of my year.(I’m sure he has no clue just how much his simple gesture means to me, although I convey my thanks and try to do double for him the following week for his birthday.) Each year, I feel like a little child on Christmas day opening my most prized and desired gift, anxiously waiting to read the new card’s content. And each year’s card surpasses the last one and completely blows me away. I smile so big for weeks, knowing that someone cares that much about me to be kind and so thoughtful enough to speak life into me. (Gypsy is my unsung hero!) I’ve held on to each card like it is my most prized possession. I only hope that my presence, my words, and my acts of kindness toward him come nearly as close to the joy that his bring to me.

I give thanks for Gypsy and those like him in my life who are kind, thoughtful, warm, and awe-inspiring with their words. If you have people like him in your life, you know just how much of a treasure they are. (Make sure that you appreciate and value them. Go back to Day 15!) If they work as hard as Gypsy does, be mindful to make sure they have real rest; do your best to make sure their loads are much lighter. 

Today, I also highlight the organization, Random Acts(www.randomacts.org/), which is a nonprofit that is dedicated to random acts of kindness worldwide. The work that they do and the projects of kindness that they fund are incredible. Just reading the stories on their website of the acts of kindness that people have done through them will inspire you to do more to conquer the world with one random act of kindness at a time. Please support them in all their endeavors and donate.  If you have a cool idea for a random act of kindness, they are willing to fund it up to $499 for first time applicants. Go for it! You’ll impact a life or lives for an entire lifetime with just that one act of kindness. 

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 27: Creativity 

Happy Twenty Seventh Day of Thanks

I am so thankful for creativity and the many ideas that God has given me to financially sustain my family, bless others, and provide balance when the scientific and more analytical portion of my brain tries to encroach upon and dominate the artistic portion of it. 

I don’t know how to explain it but God created me to be both heavily scientific and artistic at the same time. When I do more of one at any given time, I feel so imbalanced and have to do the other activity to bring me back to an equilibrium. (I’m not sure if anyone else is built like that or if it’s something that’s unique to me.) So from an early age in life, not only did I create with my hands and my mind, I was also a critical thinker and heavily into studying sciences. I am always looking for ways to combine those two passions of my life. 

I have created songs, poetry, and short stories that have filled my childhood and adult journals. I created choreography for talent shows and cultural nights. When Lilah was little, I sewed her several skirts and a pair of pants by hand. (I can’t wait to take sewing lessons with a machine. Watch out world!). I create essential oil mixtures for different medical ailments.
I usually make earrings and other jewelry to match my shoes, bag and outfits or to make as birthday or holiday presents. Delilah and I have just about every craft tool and item in my house and we get busy on a frequent basis to create our own masterpieces. I created what I call a “Love Box” for married couples who participate in the “A Love Affair: The Ultimate Date Night Experience” event. I crocheted pendants for Breast Cancer Awareness for the Uniquely Abled Girl Scout Troop. Just recently, I made her a money cake for her sixteenth birthday.

One year, I saw a lady on the bus crocheting a blanket and I asked if I could watch her. She taught me the single and double stitch and I came home with some yarn and crochet needles determined to create my own scarf and blanket. I did it! (Little did I know that I picked up a skill that relaxed me and bought me so much peace of mind.) One Christmas a friend told me that her co-worker volunteered in the hospital and was collecting toys and gifts for children who had HIV/AIDS in the hospital. The young man commented  that there were always toys and gifts given for the young children but the teenagers usually went without gifts because most people didn’t donate for their age group.  So with my single and double stitch skills and no pattern, I set out to crochet several colorful bags and scarves for those teenage patients. (If I say so myself, they came out really nice. I almost wish that I had kept one from that batch just to show you how my skills have perfected over the course of time.) I was able to give bag and scarf sets to six teenagers with HIV/AIDS in the hospital that year. 

Since I only have time to crochet during the holidays, when I need something done outside of that time frame, I’ll create a pattern or design of what I want and I pay my aunt to crochet it for me. She always complains when I send her my elaborate designs and creations to crochet (and she claims she can’t do them because she wants to be lazy and give me what she wants instead of what I ask for) but her skills are ten times better than mine in crocheting and she is quicker because she has an abundance of time and is always practicing and perfecting her craft. With a little nudging, I always get her to create my designs(or should I say masterpieces) exactly the way I want them. Just last spring, she completed a line of autism awareness apparel that I created and designed for Lilah (see pics). I wanted Delilah Christina to be the first and only person on the runway to have and model her own line of crocheted apparel. I didn’t disappoint and my baby rocked her outfits on that runway so lovely. (I think God gave me a girl because He knew that I’d be so excited practicing my fashion skills on her.)

I don’t think I confessed this secret yet (y’all are making me tell all my business!) but my other back-up career was being a fashion buyer. I am completely head over heels for a great outfit that has all the bells and whistles of some great accessories to match. Yes, it has to have the earrings, the bag, the glasses and the shoes to make it outstanding. This brings me to my next confession. I’m a slight shopaholic, which I totally blame on growing up poor. Now, most times when I see something that I want or really like, especially if it is within my budget, I’m almost always going to buy it. I spent so much time hearing that we couldn’t have something because my mom couldn’t afford it growing up, that I don’t want to hear that now. (of course within reason. I am not buying any thousand dollar pocketbooks or anything crazy like that. SMH!) However, since I work hard, I want be able to splurge on what I want and like, occasionally. I also hate the regret of not having bought something that I really wanted afterwards. When I go back to buy it, 99% of the time it’s gone. That really sucks and always makes me want to stomp my feet! (Don’t judge me!)

Growing up, although we were poor, my mom always dressed us really nicely on a budget. Most people in our neighborhood were always so surprised at how nice we looked because they knew my mom was on welfare like they were; we were always impeccably clean and presentable and our hair was always elaborately braided into some unique style every two weeks. What they didn’t know is that most times my mom paid fifty cents to $1 for our tops, no more than $2-3 for our bottoms, bought our under clothes in irregular sizes by bulk (which is always cheap) and we had skippies, the fifty cent to $1 no name-brand sneakers, in every color to match our outfits.  We got sturdier footwear for school and winter but most times we had skippies. My mom dressing us the way she did is probably where my knack for matching my outfit colors with the accessories come from (in addition to me working in retail at one point.) 

In the summer and when it’s warm I like to look well put together and you see all of my creativity spill over.  (I clean up real nicely. It’s one of my things.) Most people are surprised that I like to look nice, without it being to impress a man, but it’s what I like to do for me. I love explosive colors in everything and layer of colors to complement each other. My eyewear is always popping and I love flowers in my hair because they always enhance elegance. (right, Donnie?) Now, the winter, that’s a whole other story.  Jeans or sweatpants and sneakers or boots are my preferables. (It’s too cold for nonsense!) But, I still manage to get creative for the cold. 

Today, I give thanks for creativity and hope that you are thinking of all the ways to be creative with your thanks, creative with your affection toward your loved ones and creative in your gift giving as the holiday season is approaching. I’m highlighting the nonprofit organization, Kids Enjoy Exercise NOW (KEEN USA) www.keennewyork.org/ because of their creative programming for persons with disabilities. They empower them and always make them feel welcome in the world.  They have arts and sports (baseball, boxing, swimming, yoga, fitness). Because the program director saw the beauty in some of the participants and noticed their flare for fashion, she arranged a modeling day, where Lilah realized discovered just how much she loves to model.  Please donate or volunteer to help with their many programs.

Love Ya, 

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

[Preface December 9, 2018]

I’m so excited! Can you believe that we only have two more days to go? I’ve been doing some praying about our finale. (It’s going to be big! Brace yourself!) God told me to do some specific things and I totally want to be obedient to His leading. Although Day 30 is our last day, if it’s okay with you all, I was thinking that I would send out a separate email (maybe later in the week or next week) to give a report back of all the wonderful work we did on this journey and to do the specifics of what God told me to do. I have had some great reports from some of the organizations that were highlighted during our Days of Thanks that I want to share with all of you. (If you haven’t given yet, you need to get in on the action!) If possible, I would love to give you all a chance to write some of your testimonials or thoughts to tell us how this journey has touched you, changed you, inspired you, (or even got on your last nerve!) and possibly share it with the rest of the group. (I can leave your comments anonymous if you don’t want people to know who you are.) The point is to give your testimony because we are overcome (victorious) by the blood of the lamb and by the words of our testimony. This is also an opportunity/attempt to destroy the devil by getting rid of that shame factor that has held you in bondage for so long.  Enjoy the next few days of our journey. I’ll miss you!

Day 28: Traveling

Happy Twenty Eighth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I give thanks for traveling and the memories that are forever recorded in my mind and the indelible footprints those experiences have left in my heart.

I love, love, love to travel! Traveling is actually in real close competition with my love for singing (and you already know how much I love singing) and fashion.  My first whiff of traveling left me so high and wanting more; it was almost like addiction.  One year, I was visiting and/or living in a new country for several weeks to months at a time. I hope to be one of those persons who can close my eyes, put a pushpin on a map, and go to wherever that place is at the drop of a few weeks’ notice. (Stop being a kill joy! It may not happen soon, but a girl can dream!)

I’m remembering the smell of salt water and feeling the hot white sand on my feet and legs, while I was drinking the water from that freshly picked just chopped coconut or licking the juice sliding down my hands and arms as I was eating that sweet, ripe, juicy mango. That is what I experienced in Veradero, Cuba, Tenerife Islands, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, The Canary Islands and Bahamas. My dream places are always hot, island destinations (it’s that 80% percent Motherland blood running through my veins!). But, I occasionally throw a couple of cold places in the mix for cultural exchange. I also love being among and fitting in with the town’s people. Since I tend to have this familiar face and have a really bright smile, I usually fit in everywhere I go. And there is nothing like learning about a new culture, its traditions, dances, folklore, and let’s not forget good food (Ahhhhh!). Oh and to add this disclaimer before I continue, there were no ignorant, rude, (privileged) “American” tourists who swear someone should bend over backwards to cater to them and their every need everywhere they go allowed.  (If you are that “American,” shame on you! And you can never come with me anywhere so don’t ask.)

I remember walking down a cobblestone street of Sevilla that led to this open space where several gypsies had settled for the night.  Surrounded by a bonfire, they had a guitarist and this beautiful gypsy woman singing in the guttural, crying sound of flamenco music. There was another lady in all these cute, colorful (I’m attracted to anything colorful), what I would call “vintage” clothes who started to dance flamenco in the street. I felt the strumming of that guitar and that women’s voice in my soul so much so that I needed to get in on that action. I didn’t know how to dance Flamenco, but since I have rhythm and can shake my hips real good, I decided to fake it and make it. The dancer slowed down just enough to show me how to twirl my hands and move them in sync with the rest of my body. (Ya’ll, I worked it out!) I was learning how to dance flamenco in the streets of Andalucia from a gypsy woman who said I reminded her of someone. (I told you I have a familiar face!)

Now, I have to take you to Cuernavaca, Mexico to the Zócalo (public square) or Cancun, Mexico where you can get the best tacos that you have ever tasted in your life. They are cooked to perfection, well seasoned with the right amount of spicy sauce and all the toppings that your heart can desire. Nothing can beat it! (I have never understood how people can ever think a taco bell would be anything close to what a real taco should taste like. Ugh!) And don’t worry if your stomach can’t take spicy or you get sick; the medicine man is in the same square or the pharmacy is selling the anti-ulcer, antibiotics, and anti-parasite medicines. If you are like me, you love to see the artisan work of ceramics and traditional clothes, and there is plenty of it. Mexico, I love for their sun and moon ceramics, color clothes and accessories, the Aztec pyramids and the hand-made wind chimes.

In Morrocco, three different men said they would offer my father several goats, cows, dromedaries and farmland for my hand in marriage. (What an honor! I almost considered it, especially since I barely get that kind of treatment at home.) We travelled through the cold mountains to find the best woven wool sweaters and clothes made from sheep and goat hair. I still have my favorite, cream-colored, warm wool sweater, whose price I bargained down. I plan to pass that down to Lilah when she gets older. (They weren’t ready for my bargaining skills! But, I knew I wasn’t walking away without my sweater.) The carpets there were so exquisite too.  I rode on dromedaries (one-humped camels) for transport for the first, which was so cool. 

And my secret place . . . It has a field of the largest growing sunflowers on the planet that I could hide in. (In case you haven’t guessed it, sunflowers are my favorite flower. Not roses!)  Walking pass that field brought me so much joy. Every time I hear India.Arie’s song “He Heals Me,” she reminds me of the love I discovered and felt in my secret place. I also remember the sun kissing my face every morning. And sometimes, I could see the sky bleeding as the sunset from a specific spot.  It’s magical and has a large body of water, where I would lay all my burdens down, to never pick them up again. That memory just reminded me that I have to plan another trip there sooner than later. (No, I can’t tell you where it is because then it won’t be my secret place anymore.)

What place have you travelled to that left footprints on your heart? When are you going back? (Better yet, when are you taking me on an all expense-paid trip to go with you? I had to slip it in. I told you that I love to travel. And I promise that I’m not that “American” and will make the trip quite pleasant.)

Today, I give thanks for the ability to travel and for the wonderful cultural exchange that goes with it.  I am highlighting the organization FLYTE (The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education), which is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences.  Please donate to them (https://www.takeflyte.org/) so the many young people in our communities have the opportunity to gain a global experience and education.  For those of you who are English speakers and love to travel, you may want to check out organizations live Diverbo (www.diverbo.com) which recruits English speakers to help foreigners in Spain and Germany practice their language skills through cultural exchanges. (Most times, you only have to pay for your flight to the country and everything else is covered.)  If you are willing to put in a little sweat equity on your next vacation in exchange for free meals and accommodations Workaway and HelpX connect travelers with locals around the globe looking for volunteer help.  Have fun traveling!

Love ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 29: My heart (of flesh)

Happy Twenty Ninth Day of Thanks Everyone!  

I am thanking God today that He was able to restore my broken heart, filled with millions of tiny pieces, and make it completely whole again. It was a very hard and long task, but because of His love for me, God never gave up on me and did exactly what he said he would do. He removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh. And as he pieced every tiny part back together until it was whole again, he was putting a completely new spirit in me. (Ezekial 36: 26)

 I was born a natural giver. I love to give and to help people.  I think that was another unique quality that God gave to me when He thought me up because I’ve always genuinely prayed that God would give me the capacity and “seed” to sew into and bless the lives of others. However, I have noticed that when you are a giver, God always blesses you abundantly. And that abundance doesn’t always come in the form of finances.  It may be an abundance of blessings in a natural gifting or talent or skill set. And this abundance ALWAYS attracts the haters, who will seek to destroy you, because they are jealous or envious. So most often, givers and kindhearted people deal with ignorant, selfish people who see their giving and kindheartedness as a weakness and will always try to take advantage. (SMH!) Givers often deal with people who use them, intentionally or unintentionally.  I’ve seen it happen at jobs, in churches, and in relationships.  We already talked about the giver (“the friend”) in relationships on Day 22 in Story 1.  You remember the protagonist who will identify the giver as “a friend” who they use for their emotional value, while dating and having sexual relations with other people, never realizing how loveable the giver really is.  (To heck with that “save the best for last” mentality! Beware of it and stay far away from it. If you are in it, break the tie and run the opposite way fast!) 

I have had more than enough of my share (actually, too many to count!) of people who have tried to take advantage of or use me. I have also encountered many of my own story 1 experiences, being both the protagonist (I never claimed to be perfect!) and the recipient. It’s okay, though, because every last one of them male “friends” regret how they passed over this fine, thick, intelligent, ‘da-bomb,’ six-foot, loveable woman right here. (Don’t hate ‘cause I’m all that and a bag of chips!) And they’re going to keep regretting it because they can’t come back. And when I was the protagonist of story 1, I regretted it and really hurt at the thought of knowing that I hurt someone that I really loved.

But somehow, the heart break of a lovership, although it hurts, has never broken me like that of friendships gone wrong by betrayal, usually due to a deep-rooted jealousy or envy of which I was completely unaware. I had an experience with a “friend” like that and it almost catastrophically destroy my entire life.  

When I arrived to medical school in Cuba, I was so excited because I was going to have one of my really good friends, Mirtha, who I had known since fourth grade, in school with me. This friend had spent holidays with my family, hung out with me and my cousins for our girls’ night outs, stayed in my home when her mom kicked her out the house, slept in my bed and even wore my clothes.  (We were that close!) She was actually the one who called me and told me when the scholarship opened for my medical school, because she knew I wanted to study medicine, internationally, especially in a Spanish-speaking country.

 I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when Mirtha quickly and completely turned on me after arriving to Cuba.  She had a new set of friends, which under normal circumstances would be completely cool, but these new friends negatively influenced her behavior.  One of Mirtha’s new friends Sophia, (the ring leader), on her first encounter with me on my first day in Cuba called me a “b—-ch” for no reason. I had to excuse her and let her know that I didn’t tolerate anyone calling me outside of my name. When I asked Mirtha, “what’s the matter with her your friend?” She said, “oh, she’s like that.” I didn’t know what was wrong with Sophia but I knew that we needed to stay away from each other because there was something that was not right with her.  Mirtha and her new friends would provoke unnecessary tensions. They stole a young lady’s (Monique) pair of shoes when I was not in our dorm and told her that I took them. Although it made no possible sense for me to steal Monique’s shoes (the young lady’s shoes were a size 4 ½ children’s size and I wear a size 10 in woman’s shoes), they drilled in her mind that I took her shoes until it provoked a physical altercation between me and Monique and several of her friends who “thought” they were going to jump me. (Never let my niceness or education ever convince you that I can’t and won’t whip some a—to defend myself! Nobody is ever going to “jump” me without me putting up a good fight to defend myself! And they ALL learned that lesson that day!) All of a sudden, Monique’s shoes suddenly appeared when Monique and I were both in class and the other girls were not.

After the altercation, Mirtha and her friends stopped going to class and held our dorm hostage to psychological warfare for several months. They stopped going to class and would play hardcore violent gangsta rap all day and night until about 4 am in the morning, knowing that those of us who went to class had to get up at 5 am. Then, Mirtha and her friends would steal my clothes and either throw them out of the window or put them in a toilet that was filled with urine and feces. (yes, you read that right.) People would ask me what I had done to Mirtha because they said if they mentioned my name around her, she would go completely mad and lose it, screaming at the top of her lungs. She once told someone that I cut all her hair off because I was completely jealous of her. She fabricated stories, telling people all kinds of ludicrous and fictitious things I had “done” to her, which I never did.  As angry as I was, I felt sorry for Mirtha because it became evident that she had given up on herself and couldn’t hack medical school.  I became her “scape goat” because she needed an excuse and someone else to blame.

During that time, God told me to stay in intense prayer and fasting and showed me that Sophia and Mirtha were using Santeria to hex me. Every time they would try a new level of their activity and it did nothing to me, they would intensify it against me.  After their fourth or fifth attempt, I let them know that nothing they were doing would ever work because I was covered by the God I serve.  I also told them that they should be careful because I was praying that all of their activity would get sent right back from where it came.

Mirtha made a nasty remark and for the first time I saw her blood-shot eyes and it was pure hate looking back at me. She was intent on destroying me. Seeing the hate in her eyes shook me. I was so distraught.  I didn’t understand how someone who called herself my friend since the fourth grade and who broke bread with me on so many occasions could look at me with such hate in their eyes. I shared everything I had with her! She was a Judas—my Judas.  She really wanted me dead and had used all manner of Santeria trying to make it happen.  It broke my heart completely. In that moment, I knew what Jesus felt. I’m sure He felt the same way when He received that kiss. Complete brokenness and heartache. 

No matter how bad things got, my loyalty to Mirtha for all those years kicked in and I told myself that I would never touch her and walk away because “nah, love wouldn’t disrespect!” But my brokenness and heartache, at knowing she was trying to kill me, unleashed anger in my core that stayed bottled up for only a little while longer.  One day, I was in the bathroom washing my face when she walked into it. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t really see her. (I rock glasses not just for fashion but because I really can’t see! -4.50 in both eyes.) She starts screaming at the top of her lungs saying, “You f—ing b-tch! When you eat and sleep, you dream about my p-ssy! I made you! You’re going to be a doctor because of me, you stupid b—ch!” She went on like this for about five minutes and I stayed there continuing to wash my face as if nothing was happening. I found my glasses on the sink and put them on my face and started to stare at her.  She continued to repeat some of the phrases she previously said between her even more vulgar ones.  Really calmly I said, “you’re saying a lot but you’re not doing anything. I’m sure you wish I was thinking about you when I eat and dream but I don’t. I’m also sure you wish you did make me, but you didn’t. God and all the years of work I put in is why I’m going to be a doctor. I’m sure you would love to take the credit, but you had nothing to do with it. You should stop wanting to take credit for someone else’s work and do your own.”

What I said must have really struck a nerve because she started screaming her vulgarities and expletives even louder and was now blocking the doorway of the bathroom so that I couldn’t get out without touching or passing her.  We were surrounded by a crowd of people who were trying to get her to calm down.  She started moving closer and put her hands up, as if to point with her forefinger, at my face, as she was screaming. Her circus act stirred the rage in me to a level of uncontrollability; I had to literally pray in my mind, asking God to calm me down, because I was ready to unleash a wrath that neither of us would come back from. The whole year’s worth of anger and retaliation that I kept bottled inside started to erupt.  I remembered all of the accusations and lies she told on me, the stealing of Monique’s shoes which provoked the first fight, the many nights for months I lost sleep, my clothes being thrown in the toilet, and so many other things that I haven’t even mentioned and now I was standing there taking blow by blow of her verbal abuse.  I took my feet and I drew a line in front of me and I said in a really calm voice, warning her. “I’m done! I told myself that I wasn’t going to touch you because I’ve known you for so long. But, I’m done. If you come pass this line, you won’t be breathing another breath when I’m finished.”  (During that time, if you ever got me to a place where I was really angry but I manage to stay calm and talk in a calm voice, you were treading in dangerous territory and in serious trouble! Thank God for deliverance from rage!)  I knew that every word that I had spoken in that moment was true and that the minute I touched her, I wasn’t going to let her go until she was lifeless. I looked at the crowd of her so called friends and said, “if she’s really your friend, you should come get her now because I meant every word I said.” (I believe in warning people when they are in danger.) One of the young ladies in the crowd, Nadege, who later said that she saw the rage take over me and the look of violence in my eyes, started yelling at Mirtha and begging her not to move closer to me. Mirtha screamed expletives for another two minutes or so. I looked at Mirtha and said, “you plan on moving closer? because I’m ready for you!” In all her screaming, she stayed very still and never dared to move closer.  Nadege finally grabbed her and escorted her from the door of the bathroom to her room. (I can’t thank God enough for Nadege being there at that moment because she really saved me from myself and a lifetime in jail for murder. She really did. There was a moment where I only saw red and my body was intensely hot with rage and I was ready to commit murder.)

Mirtha finally left school or got kicked out. (I was never interested in learning about any of the details.) But, the affects of her betrayal were longer lasting. The anger and rage and hate that I felt in my heart towards her and Sophia (who was at that point dead) invaded my heart and spread like a wildfire until it was all consuming; it caused my heart to go completely numb, turn cold and change into a stone for an entire year. There was nothing and no one getting in and nothing was getting out. My ability to trust anyone else had completely diminished.  Since Judas infiltrated the ranks of friendship, I examined all my friendships to determine if the people were exactly who they said they were.  Since my core group of trustworthy friends was at home, I remained isolated in that state for almost a year.

I can’t even begin to describe how damaging the spirits of hate and anger were to me. Those spirits replayed the level of betrayal I had undergone to fuel their power and almost destroyed my heart’s capacity to do or feel anything. I couldn’t and didn’t want to read my Bible any more. I could barely pray. There was this strong dark cloud that hung over me and was little by little sucking all the life from me. I was so crushed by Mirtha’s betrayal and actually seeing the hate in her eyes toward me.  I still couldn’t understand how and why she could/would do that to me when I had been like family to her for all those years.  

I later found out that her mom had spent years comparing her to me and telling her that she should have been more like me. All those years there was a brew of jealousy, hatred, and anger due to rejection that had been stirring, which came to a head in medical school, because she had once again been forced to live out and up to my dream and not her own. I couldn’t believe that the jealousy and envy toward me for all those years provoked Mirtha to not only hate me but attempt inflicting dangerous harm upon me.

Although I put on a façade that everything was okay, on the inside I was damaged. A year later, my friend Jimmy said that he was praying for me and could sense that something was terribly wrong. He invited me to his church and after nagging me repeatedly I agreed to go with him. I felt the power and anointing of God so strongly in that church the minute I stepped into the door; that the dark cloud hanging over me broke. The pastor was ministering and it was like every word he said was piercing into my heart; I began to weep uncontrollably.  When the pastor prayed for me, he repeated the words of Ezekial 36:26 (I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you heart of flesh) and said “you have to forgive and release that hurt” so that your heart can be set free.  Since I could sense that God had already started doing the work of restoration on my heart (the moment I walked in that church door) and I was feeling freer than I had in that past year, I asked God to help me forgive Mirtha and Sophia. I had to ask for that help to forgive every day for years before ALL of the tiny pieces of my heart were fully restored.

I never allow or will allow that level of hate and rage to steal my heart again. I’ve learned to forgive, which does not mean that I forget or that I and my offender will go back to how things used to be between us. Forgiveness means that I release the offender from my judgment and vengeance and allow God to handle them.  Sometimes forgiveness is instantaneous. But, sometimes it’s progressive and a daily process with which I have to walk out and ask God to help me until I can fully release the offender and the situation.

Now my heart has the capacity to fully love and still love, even when people hurt me. (Forgiveness doesn’t take as long to do anymore! Even asking for forgiveness when I commit the offense doesn’t take as long to do because I want my heart to be free from all the excess junk.) My heart is malleable; it’s fleshy and because I cover it consistently under the care, leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, it does a lot less of deceiving me and I can discern to do the right thing.

 I thank God for my heart and that he trusted me enough to give it back to me brand new. Now it’s open and ready to always give and receive love, the way it should be.

 Take some time to examine your heart. Is your heart a heart of flesh? Or has it become stone because of all the devastating blows of hurts, disappointments, and heartaches that have invaded it. Do you want it to be free? If so, then you know what you have to do. Forgive and release it. Go back to Day 19 of our journey of Thanks and complete the prayers of release.

Today, I also want to share with you a song that beyond blessed me. It’s called “Necessary.” I had no idea at the time why I had to live with the aftermath of that betrayal. It didn’t seem fair nor did it feel good going through any of that situation. Do I wish that I had never gone through it? Of course! But, would I know how to love as deep and how to open my heart the way I do, if I had not experienced how hate almost destroyed it? Would I know or understand the extent of God’s love and how He fought through the darkness to snatch my heart back?  Probably not. That situation made me run to the mercy seat of God and showed me just how much of a wretched person I was in need of a Savior, to save me from myself. (I was a murderer in my heart and mind and could have easily carried out the act, since “as a person thinks, so is he!”) The experience and the lessons were necessary! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3xXxXu1Kfc&index=26&list=RDT-SQFJX3Pk0

 Today, I am going to highlight the organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, (http://www.ivaw.org/). We know that the people who pay the greatest price of war are the everyday people (civilians) of occupied nations.  Please donate to them for their great work and continue to protest U.S military intervention which often exacerbates and further militarizes conflict overseas.

 Love Ya,

 Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

 

 

MT days 21 – 25

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.

Day 21: Community

Happy Twenty First Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today, I give thanks for the greatest community on this planet, the “Boogie Down” Bronx! (Don’t Hate!)

I was born and raised in the South Bronx, and am a diehard fan of my ‘hood. (Don’t you dare think about talking bad about it in front of me, especially if you are not from here!) Most of you only know us as the borough with the poorest health, environmental and educational indicators in the United States. Or, if you have been around since the seventies, you remember it as the borough that burned as landlords, hiring felons to commit arson, tried to collect insurance on their abandoned properties.  However, that’s doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of us.

Here is a little history for those of you who don’t know our origins.  The Bronx was settled by six Dutch families, who were all pastors, (one of the families was the Broncks family) coming to the new world looking for religious freedom and financial opportunity. When the Broncks family settled here there was no slaughtering or annihilation of the already established Native Americans who were present, but there was a coexistence of the two groups, where the Broncks family eventually made legal agreements with the natives to buy the land that they would possess. Our motto is “No cede malis” which translates to “Do no harm” or “Yield not to evil,” which is emblazoned on the Bronx flag and is part of the Broncks’ family arms. The Bronx flag has three stripes (orange, white and blue), a laurel wreath (denoting honor and fame), a shield that shows the face of the sun with rays rising from the sea (signifying peace, liberty, and commerce), a crest that has an eagle on a hemisphere facing eastward (representing the hope of the New World without forgetting the Old World), and our motto.

I give you that history so that you know our foundations and know why we as a people (the Bronx Community) manage to soar (eagle), persevere (the sun with the rays of light rising from the waters), defend ourselves (shield), stay famous for our creativity (laurel), and fight to the death for justice (“Ne cede Malis”). We can’t help it; it’s in our DNA.

In addition to being the only borough on the mainland of New York state, we have the largest green space in the state.  We have two of the largest national parks (Pelham Bay Pak and Van Courtland Park); we have a world renown zoo (The Bronx Zoo) and botanical garden (Bronx Botanical garden); we have some of the oldest preserved nature trails; we also have more colleges and universities than any other borough in NYC. On 169th street behind Southern Boulevard, was the home of some of the first jazz sounds and clubs in NYC. And let us not forget that we are the originators of Hip Hop! (Untouchable!) To not hurt someone’s feelings I’ll stay silent about having the better Little Italy and black-white cookies (smile!)

With that little taste of history, I can talk to you about our present day South Bronx community and specifically the unifying work of our coalition and our community land trust. We are a heavy immigrant community that has endured much to rebuild after the ashes. But, we have managed to fight to sustain ourselves, our traditions, and our values. Several years ago, our South Bronx community began a coalition (South Bronx Unite) of community members and business owners with the initial goal of protesting the relocation of the online grocer Fresh Direct to the South Bronx. The relocation was a backroom deal made between the then Mayor Bloomberg, borough president Ruban Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo without any of our community’s involvement or support.  They gave this unethical, immoral company (had lawsuit from employees for owing over 24 million dollars in pay; called immigration on their workers who were trying to unionize) millions of tax payer dollars to further pollute our Bronx community and take our last parcel of public land space which our community had already designated and planned as a future waterfront. These three crooks, additionally, decided to rush the deal to avoid Fresh Direct abiding by the living wage deal for which so many of us New Yorkers fought hard. (SMH at the level of corruption!)

The three elected officials announced the company’s relocation as a “done deal.”  However, our community had something else to say about it.  We, the underdogs, fought them for six long years in court. Although our community didn’t have the final victory of that battle, because Mayor DiBlasio sold us out, we are winning the war. We showed every elected official how we could and would go toe to toe with the giants and give them a good whipping, Bronx style, if they dared to mess with our ‘hood. (Try us!)

We established a precedence that we, as a community, weren’t backing down when it came to fighting for what was right, as it pertained to us. Our coalition organically evolved, taking on the many issues that plagued our community from environmental injustice and health disparities to anti-gentrification and real estate hyperspeculation and no new jails in the Bronx campaigns. Each of our skilled and professional community members take on one or more of the issues according to their expertise. It’s pretty amazing what we have been able to accomplish as a unified, volunteer, community-based coalition! We do environmental justice tours of our community. We helped develop the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan, and have annual waterfront festivals. We have connected with many of the local colleges and universities to engage in social justice activism. We connected with Columbia University to do current environmental (air quality, noise, and black carbon) pollution studies; we decided to make our own Environmental Impact statement since a judge decided that an outdated 22 year old environmental impact statement (after all the rezoning in our once industrial community area and new regulations of air quality standards) was still good enough for Fresh Direct to use to enter our over saturated with pollution community and further pollute it. We have had several community festivals, rallies and protest. See pics. (We definitely emulate the scripture that God commands a blessing in unity!)

In 2015, several of the members of our coalition incorporated a community land trust, The Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards Inc., with the goal of acquiring land in perpetuity within our community and transforming that land space to meet the needs of our community. Our biggest effort has been to acquire the old Lincoln Recovery Center on 141st Street between Willis and Alexander Avenues and transform it into the H.E.Arts Center (see pic attached) for our community. Our hope is to make the center an all inclusive one-stop wellness center that will focus on the pillars of health, education, and the arts for our community. Having several community envisioning sessions, inviting residents, business owners and non profits working in the community, we discovered the desires and needs of our community and hope to meet them. The last three years have been a wonder to see the fruition of the vision and hard work manifested by our CLT and community residents. We still have much more work to do to acquire the land for the H.E.Arts Center and to raise the millions that it will take to renovate it. (The city agency who once owned it, left it abandoned with windows open, letting pipes bust and some mold set in and doesn’t plan to pay for the damages.) But we are staying focused and pressing towards the mark.  I told you that my community is the bomb! And it is such an honor and privilege to serve it, in this great endeavor.

Today, as we give thanks for community, particularly my community of “the Boogie Down,” I ask that you check out the amazing work that we have done and are doing at our South Bronx Unite website, http://southbronxunite.org/, and to subscribe to our community land trusts newsletter at http://sbxclt.org/. And don’t forget to donate! We need your money for the millions that we are trying to raise to get our H.E.Arts center up and running for our community.  (And although you may not be from our hood, we will not turn you away from the wonderful services rendered when we are established.) Also, as you honor and pay tribute to my ‘hood remember to listen to some old school hip-hop today, cause we are where it all got started.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 22: Unconventional Choices

Happy Twenty Second Day of Thanks Everyone!

Have you ever been on a path in your life that was clearly accidental? It was not your choice to be in that career or predicament but you ended up there and it turned out to be the “perfect fit.” And although it is your perfect fit, because your mind is so focused and has tunnel vision for your first choice, you miss that the “accident” was God’s way of plummeting you into His perfect will and your exact destiny (because otherwise you’d go in circles for the rest of your life trying to find or get to your destiny.)

I was in a little of a dilemma trying to figure out what story I would share for this particular reflection. There are two different people and two different stories that came to mind when I thought of the topic of blessings in Unconventional Choices. Since I could not decide which one was better to write, I’m going to share both.

Story 1:

A few years ago, I met a gentleman who was recently divorced at a celebration.  Throughout the night, on several occasions, I walked in on a similar conversation that he was having with different people. Each time he mentioned repeatedly throughout the night of the celebration that he wanted to be in love and experience the butterflies in his stomach that came with falling in love. I thought it was really interesting that I kept walking in on the same conversation he was having with different people throughout the night at the same exact time he was saying and conveying the same exact message. I literally had to ask God “is there a reason why I keep hearing this conversation?” (Why did I ask that question?) For the next four nights, I was awakened in the middle of the night and it was placed in my spirit to tell this gentleman something. I didn’t want to do it because I had no idea who he was and whether he would receive what I had to say. But, when I got awakened for the fifth night, I decided that he would hear all that I was told to tell him (sleep is a wonderful thing!).

The morning I met this gentleman, he had come to the event with a woman, who everyone thought was his wife. The connection between them was very strong and seemed like that of a husband and wife.  It turned out that the woman was not only his best friend but his body guard also. What I was told to tell him had to do with her. The paraphrased version of what I emailed was that he kept saying that he wanted to be in love but the reason he hadn’t found the butterflies in his stomach love that he wanted was because he had written off the person who could give that to him. That person was his best friend. 

The gentleman and I have become really great friends over the years and I know well his interactions with his best friend (who I call his wife. I don’t care what he says). She knows him like the back of her hand and is so mindful of him. She would pick him up gifts that she knew were his favorites while she was shopping.  I’ve noticed how he has a complete retirement plan in place that involves her moving (without her knowledge) to the west coast with him. (How do you plan someone else’s retirement to be with you for the rest of your life? You need to get with the program and admit that there is some love thing going on there.) She has been with him through every up and down in his life from his divorce to his mother’s death. (And his mom loved her!)  His ex-wife would have to call her to get him to do things. (Even his ex-wife realized who this woman was in his life! SMH!) Talk about (most) men always being clueless!

When I asked him why he had not considered a relationship with this woman, his typical “man” answer was I’m not “attracted” to her, which I thought was very interesting because she was a beautiful dark-skinned sister who was well kept. (She is flier than I am on any given day!) When he showed me the type of woman that he was “attracted” to, it was the typical petite, light-skinned woman with a figure eight, hour glassed body shape and long straight hair. The problem with his “type” is that he had his fair share of that type of woman and she dragged him through disaster all the way to divorce. 

Throughout my life, I have seen this scenario play out so many times with the many males that I know.  He, like most men, was/is having an emotional affair with his best friend, making her his back bone and support, taking advantage of not making a relationship commitment and assuming that she will be there for and with him forever. All the while, he was/is having the physical affair with his girlfriend or another woman. And in the present situation, he has no butterflies in the stomach love.

[Side note: To all of you, women and men, who do this, hear me as if I am yelling into a bullhorn screaming from a mountaintop. Don’t do this!!!! That’s a very bad mistake to make! You are going to eventually LOSE the game and that person. And it is going to hurt you worst than you think, and sometimes it will be a hurt or lost with damage that is irreversible. I say this from experience. So, if you have learned to trust my honesty over the time of our journey together, trust this advice too.]

All I can say is that he, like, you, have been warned. Stop rejecting the unconventional “choice” that God is presenting to you. God’s will is always good, acceptable and perfect for you. God is so in love with you and ultimately wants to give you the desires of your heart. Just because the package is different and it wasn’t your first choice does not mean that it lacks your ultimate, unconditional, butterflies in your stomach, love. (Remember Auntie Phyllis and Uncle Freddie? Go back to day 4.) If your desires are butterflies in your stomach love, you have to trust God’s choice because it will be just that. 

Story 2:

So the next story is about another friend that I have. I love all things him and he is one of the only white men that I know with some serious SWAG. He is the most amazing special needs teacher on this planet! He has taught more children with special needs to read than I can count. With his back problems, he would be on the floor doing OT (occupational therapy) and PT (physical therapy) to make sure that they would get their daily dose of services that the Board of ED was skipping out on. He would spend his own money for countless supplies for his students. He was a no nonsense but fun-loving teacher who had the students on a regimen. He was that father figure to Delilah who got her through the changes of her menses at eight and nine years old, even though he was completely freaked out about it. (LOL!) With every seizure, he was checking on her in the evening to see if she was okay. He is beyond amazing!

Now if you know me and how much of a thinker I am, you know that I always challenge those in my sphere of influence to critically think as well.  You also know that it is not uncommon to get a random email/text at whatever time of day asking a question that makes you use every one of those brain cells that you have in that head of yours.  One day I sent out a question that said something like, “what would you do if you were not limited by fear?”  He replied with this elaborate response that he would start a charter school for autistic children that had all of the bells and whistles in it to guarantee the student’s complete success. (This was years before an autistic charter school even existed!) I thought that this was such an amazing idea; I told him that I was going to be a complete pest (which I totally still am) about him writing the proposal to actually make the school happen. He would be the perfect person to do it! (He said that I would have to be on his board when he got the school up and running because I wasn’t getting away with not having skin in the game!)

I sent out that question years ago and until this day, several times a year I bug him about why I still lack a proposal in my hand/email for the school that he is going to build for us. (Notice how it became a school that he is building for me too?)  Just last week, after being the usual pest about the proposal, he said to me, in his frustration with teaching, that he doesn’t want to do the school because he’d have to go back to get certifications and licensing. He fell into being a teacher by “accident” but the career doesn’t have the same respect that it once had.  He said that he has all the money his daughter needs for college and now he wants to pursue his life-long dream of being an auto mechanic and will start taking classes to do that this month in the evening.

Can you believe that he became a teacher by “accident?” Didn’t I tell you at the beginning of the story that he was beyond amazing? There goes God again, plummeting someone into destiny without them even knowing it. After all of these years of the amazing work he has done to produce successful special needs pupils like Delilah, he thinks it is not a special calling from God but an “accident.” (SMH!) 

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for pursuing life-long dreams and I think he should definitely pursue being an auto mechanic. (After all, that will provide the money for him to do the foundational work for our school.)  But, how do you convey to someone that the pursuit of that first choice is not going to give him the butterflies in one’s stomach fulfillment that he thinks because it is not his destiny like being with children is.  From my vantage point, it is almost like you seeing your friend walking into danger and you are trying to caution him. But, you almost have to let him travel down that path, which will eventually lead him in circles, just so that he can discover for himself that the first choice is not the “right” choice for destiny.  I can let him go down that path of pursuit also trusting and knowing that God will ultimately bring him in a circle (40 years in the wilderness for a few days journey!) to get him right back to the place that he should be. And I will, lovingly, encourage him while he is on that pursuit; still pestering him about his original destiny and purpose (the special needs school). Because that is what real friends do when they love you!  They support you in every endeavor but remind you to pursue destiny.

 

Today, as we are thankful for and celebrate the “unconventional choices” that are God’s packaged blessings of our destiny, I would like for you to think about all (or some—I wouldn’t want you to get overwhelmed) of the “unconventional choice(s)” in your life, whether in the form of a partner, career or idea, that you have rejected or are rejecting because it doesn’t meet your (or a societal) “standard” of beauty or success. Take that unconventional choice and pray or meditate about it. Sit with it and ask God about its purpose and value for you and incline your ears to see and be in tune with what God says (not what you say!). Then write and let me know what you have discovered.

 

Today I want to highlight an amazing organization in Brooklyn, H.O.L.L.A (How Our Lives Link Altogether) https://holla-inc.com/ that is doing a wonderful job helping young at risk youth of color find and connect to their destinies and their power through love, healing, community organizing and relationships built on trust. The founders thought of this organization while they were in prison and built the ideas and principles of the organization based on their life experiences.  The wardens thought it was crazy to let them pursue the idea, but it was so great and would have such lasting impact on youth in communities of color that the founders decided to pursue it and establish the organization.  Talk about unconventional paths and choices! Please check them out, donate to their cause, volunteer if you can and send youth that you know to them to participate in their activities.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 23: Great Teachers

Happy Twenty Third Day of Thanks Everyone!

 I am so very grateful to the wonderful, gifted, overworked and underpaid teachers in institutional setting that take the time to ignite a fierce fondness for learning, for academic excellence and for a particular subject matter. Most of them have also taught us to develop a standard of presentation, character, and professionalism, which endured much longer than their physical presences in our lives.  Lilah and I still stay in contact with all her amazing teachers (We will forever be grateful to Ms. Stevens who taught my baby how to say her name (without music). We will forever love all things Mr. Joe! And to Ms. Gabby and Ms. Allison who taught her to also love all things girlie about herself!) May they always be revered and celebrated for how great they are!

 Mr. Alvin Shields was not a traditional teacher in any sense of the word. He was a tall, black man who wrote theater scripts, wore a pony tail, biker clothes, a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle to our Catholic school in the South Bronx. He rattled us on our first day of class as he threatened to start a new academic grading system, failing all of us if we didn’t get 100% on our class work, quizzes and test. We thought he was absolutely insane, not realizing that there was a method to his madness. He taught English and had us reading and dissecting the classics as well as many modern literary works. He taught our young minds to critically think and analyze text and real world scenerios. We had to read the newspaper every day and choose a story on which to report. We had surprise grammar quizzes (who gives surprise grammar quizzes?) every week. There was never a dull moment in one of his classes.

If I am being honest, I was a terror and always gave him a run for his money. But, it was only because I admired his stubbornness, consistency to his crazy methods, and unwillingness to give up on me. (As much as I argued him down daily about my interpretations and analysis of a text, he thought I was definitely in line to be a lawyer.) Mr. Shields spoke into my life in the way that most great teachers do. He said that he would never accept anything less than excellence from me because he knew that I was destined for greatness. I have no idea what “greatness” he saw then, but he was maturing, developing, and fine-tuning my character and potential. In spite of my strong will, he taught me to write clear, concise sentences to express my thoughts on all my “masterpieces” and would punish me by minusing points if I forgot to speak with proper English. (I’m almost certain he’d be so proud that these reflections are a product of all his efforts!)

The English grammar and writing skills he taught me in junior high school have stayed with me my entire life and have proved effective for college and medical school applications, my academic coursework, recommendation letters that I have written for my students and colleagues, as well as the letters I have written to advocate for myself and others. I’m so grateful for all of the academic and nonacademic lessons that he taught me in those years.

 After reading an article in the Indypendent about me and my medical service after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he contacted the journalist, told her that he was my former English teacher, and asked if she could pass on his contact information. When I contacted him and told him who I was, his first comment was “I told you that you were destined for greatness.” (I had to smile.) It turns out that he and my other junior high school peers had developed a Facebook page several years earlier and were wondering the outcome of the “overachieving” (chuckle!) class valedictorian.

I’m happy that Mr. Shields and I stayed in regular contact from that time. It made a big difference to me that before he transitioned from this life a little over a year later, I was able to thank him for teaching and believing in me and convey just how much he had influenced and impacted my life. (I also promised him that he’d be in the acknowledgement section of one of my future books. Make sure that you all remind me to do so, if/when it ever happens.)

To all of you great teachers (you know who you are!) in my and Delilah’s life, who have inspired our love for learning, today, we celebrate you. Although teaching is not a profession that is revered as it once was, we still thank and are grateful to you for your service. We salute you for the countless hours of effort that you give to your students, the constant repetition of corrective behaviors, and the personal money you’ve spent to meet needs. Thank you for being amazing!

Many of you know that our public schools severely lack the funding necessary to get many of the supplies needed for a classroom. Luckily, there are several organizations that allow folks to sponsor or adopt a class.  Today, we highlight Mrs. Olan who is an amazing high school special needs teacher and her class  at PS 176X at Truman High School (donorschoose.org/mrs.olan) and ask that you give generously so that her students can benefit greatly from your donations.  Mr. Joe Olivet (who we love) is an amazing, retired Airman and teacher of a special needs class at PS 352X @ PS 424 on Hunts Points. He mentioned that his school is in serious need of new computers and printers to make their (teachers and administration) lives so much easier in providing lessons for the students .  Since I believe in asking when there is a need (“ask and ye shall receive”), especially for children’s sake, if any of you out there have the resources to sponsor a computer or computers, a printer or printers for this school, please buy and donate those materials to them so that the children and teachers benefit. When you do buy the materials, let me know so that I can put you in contact with Mr. Joe.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 24: Freedom

Happy Twenty Fourth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I give thanks for freedom today—freedom from physical, mental, and spiritually shackles that are sometimes self-implemented but, often are those imposed by society and abusers.

I have an amazing twelve year old goddaughter, Kamora Lee, who Delilah and I met several years ago as she was admitted into a pediatric psychiatric ward. (For those of you who don’t know the beautiful story of how we met, I can send it to you later.) Somehow, when I met my precious baby girl, Kamora Lee, I inherited her whole loveable, yet dysfunctional immediate and extended family. (SMH!) The first time Lilah and I went to visit Kamora’s family in Brooklyn, we had an adventure of a day. It ended with Kamora’s mom passing me the phone to talk to her uncle, Raymond, who I didn’t know but was asking to speak to me. (Who asks to speak to people on the phone that they don’t know? I should have known he was in jail.)

I don’t know who Raymond thought I was but I had to shut him down real quick when his conversation, quite asinine, was way too immature for my brain activity. I asked him, “what kind of foolish little girls do you know and talk to that tolerate your kind of conversation? You shouldn’t ask to speak to people until you get your mind right and learn how to talk.”  Kamora’s mom quickly grabbed the phone, before I really hurt her uncle’s feelings further, and told him “no, she is not one of my street friends.” He asked her to pass me the phone again so that he could apologize. I accepted the apology and gave her back the phone. 

About twenty minutes later, Raymond told Janet to ask me if he could write to me. With my eyebrow raised, I asked, “he wants me to be his pen pal?” Janet started laughing because she thought I was making fun of him but I wasn’t. “Why?” I told her to tell Raymond that he didn’t want me to be his pen pal because it would require him to put in a great deal of work that he wasn’t used to doing to be a better person and a better man. Our conversations would be God and Bible centered, very thought-provoking, require him to critically think and analyze things and completely focused around his transformation. And since he already demonstrated that his conversation left so much to be desired, I didn’t think he wanted or could handle it. He told Janet that he was willing to do it.  I brushed him off.

A few days later, I got a call from Kamora’s mother asking me if her uncle could call me on the phone. I said, “why in the world does your uncle need to talk to me? Girl, I don’t have time to be paying for collect calls from a jail cell!” She taught me that my traditional view of calls from inmates was outdated; they had their own pre-paid calling cards which they used to call friends and family from jail.  She said that he wanted to call to get my address so that he could start writing his first missive. (What in the hell did I get myself into?) I laid out the guidelines and he was ready to accept them and do the work. I couldn’t back down now.

He called and got my address and we began our pen pal journey.  I told him about my standards and expectations of authenticity and honesty when I welcome people into my life. I laid out the guidelines once again and let him know that if he didn’t and could not adhere to them our journey would be completely over in quicker time than a heartbeat. He confirmed that he was clear about my standards and expectations and said he would start writing when he got off the phone.

In our letters, we introduced ourselves, talked about our upbringing, and our journey to our present lives. Then I started to give him questions, activities, and scripture that would start the fundamental process of transformation (or at least get him thinking about it.) I couldn’t tell him all of the details about how I met Kamora Lee because her mom didn’t want Raymond to worry about her, since he took to being a father figure for her. Raymond had a wife, who he married while in jail, and a step-daughter. The majority of the men and woman in his family were also in jail or had frequent visits there. He told me that he knew and believed in God; (he was raised Catholic). I told him that I’d believe he knew God when he was on the outside of a jail cell, with all the liberties and freedoms, and still choosing to know and serve him. (I wasn’t convinced since most people I knew who served time in jail found God or Allah there and when they got out of jail didn’t remember their God anymore.)

He had been in jail since he was nineteen years old and on the twenty seventh year of his bid. (Yikes!) He explained that he was a major drug dealer, who met with the heads of cartels, and at the time he was caught, he was accused of also murdering someone. He said that, although he didn’t commit the murder, in his line of work you didn’t snitch on who did, so he took the fall. (Twenty seven years of losing his life for someone else! SMH!) He explained how he realized that his time in jail was God saving his life.  He knew that as crazy as he was in his earlier years and with the depth to which he was in the drug dealing game, he would have already been dead. He also said that, although he had not committed the crime he was charged for, he was really paying for the crimes that he did that he didn’t get caught for. He sat through several parole boards in which he was denied his freedom because he would sit through them denying that he committed the crime for which he was charged and never taking the onus of responsibility for why he was in jail in the first place. He said that along the journey of his bid, he found a mentor who took to him and helped him to realize the accountability that he was avoiding; he needed to see the damage that he had inflicted upon other people, whole communities, and his family by selling those drugs.

For almost two years, we wrote each other. Within our final year of pen paling, Raymond was given a chance to go before the parole board again. I tried to prepare him as best I could for his parole hearing with questions that I would ask if I were a person on his board.  I asked him questions about what his future goals and plans were for living on the outside and how he planned to implement them. I asked him what type of skills sets did he have or was he acquiring to get a “real” job when he came home. I explained to him the advancement of technology and how much the world depended on it and a computer to run. Was he prepared with basic computer skills? How would he answer questions about his character? Was he the same person? Had he changed and how could he prove it?  I drilled him with every possible question I could think of. I even helped him with his parole packet.

One month before his parole hearing, he asked if I could write a letter on his behalf to the parole board. I told him that I would. I prayed over all the copies of that letter so many times before I mailed it.  I asked God for his supernatural help, sending angels to minister to Raymond during the hearing and to grant him freedom. I sent the letters through confirmation receipt so that I would know that it reached each recipient. Two weeks later Raymond called me excited. He said the warden had read my letter and told him that my letter would get him parole. (I said, “from his mouth to God’s ears! Amen.”)

He sat for his parole hearing and did well. I was very proud of him. (I always wonder if Raymond knew, on our first encounter, that I could be trusted to help him to get through and overcome the parole process.) They released him a month and one half later in June 2017. He had served 28 and one half years of jail time for his crime.

Raymond has been out of jail for a little over a year.  He started out very strong, interviewing for and receiving a good job. However, I heard that recently he was having some trouble with his wife that almost landed him back where he started. Every few months, I send him a text message just letting him know that I am praying for his success and well being. I don’t hover much because I know that since his mind is only nineteen years old, it will take some time for him to mature and adjust to having to catch up for the twenty-eight years that were lost. Kamora’s mom is angry at him that he has not done more to reach out to me now that he is on the outside. I had to let her know that she shouldn’t be angry (especially since I wasn’t) because some relationships are only for a season. If my knowing Raymond was only to prepare him for the next phase of his journey than that was all I was supposed to do and I fulfilled that purpose. I gently reminded her that Raymond, after two years of knowing me, was very clear about what my standards and expectations are; he knows not to violate them. I also told her that I trust God to lead Him and guide Him the rest of the way onto real freedom.

Just because someone gets out of the prison that they are/were in, it doesn’t always mean that they are free. Freedom is a process that requires them to not only shed the physical situation but the mindset that went with it. I truly hope that Raymond finds freedom.

Today I highlight one of my favorite non-profit organizations, A21 (Abolish Slavery in the 21st century).  Working with governments and volunteers all over the world, they do amazing work to rescue victims who are/were human trafficked, restore them to freedom, through love and extensive counseling (aftercare) at one of their many rescue centers and equip and empower each survivor for a completely new life. Please donate (https://www.a21.org) all that you can to make sure that we are saving one life from the grips of the abuse of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 25: Healthy Births, Healthy Babies, SisterFriends & Safe Birth Kits

Happy Twenty Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I give thanks for healthy births and heamlthy babies and the tools and people who support their becoming. 

I’m sure everyone who is reading this has felt the joy of welcoming your, a friend’s or a relative’s new, healthy baby into this world. They are so soft and cute. They have the tiniest hands and feet, which still manage to have the strongest grip around your finger. Once they are all cleaned up, they smell like the creamy Johnsons & Johnson’s baby lotion. And let’s not forget the cheeks of all chubby or chunky babies…They are to die for! (Ahhhh! Pure bliss!)

But, all too often, here in the good ole’ United States of America and around the world, Black and Brown women (families) don’t get to share in that same bliss.  Our babies die! They die at a rate nearly 2.5 times higher than that of white babies before their first birthday. (Yes. You read that correctly!) Black and Brown babies die at a rate nearly 2.5 times higher than that of white babies before their first birthday! According to the CDC, in 2016 the infant mortality rate in the US was 5.87 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and ranged from 3.47 in Vermont to 9.03 in Alabama.[1] The higher rates of infant mortality were seen in southern states with two states, in addition to Alabama, having outrageously high rates–Arkansas (8.02) and Mississippi (8.67). (SMH!)  We live in one of the richest countries in the world and for some reason it is okay for a significant portion of our babies (especially those that are non-white) to die at alarming rates, before they even have a chance at life. Talk about one knowing the health status and political will of his/her nation by how well the nation takes care of its women and children! (That is a damn shame!)

For about sixteen years, I have been part of a sisterhood (and brotherhood) of fabulous women who are on a mission to save our Black and Brown (and all other) babies and bring the joy of welcoming them into the world back to our families again. Our sisterhood is the Underground Railroad for New Life and we stretch from Mississippi to Malawi, with over one hundred stops on our railroad, saving one new mother and baby at a time. Our gifts to mothers (and babies) are SisterFriends, amazing and loving women who will mentor, coach, support, and encourage them throughout their entire pregnancy and up to one year after the birth of their babies. For thirty years, our little engine that could organization, The Birthing Project USA: the Underground Railroad for Life, has been saving thousands of babies with our method not only here in the US but around the world.

My mama and mentor, Ms. Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (also known as Mama Katt), after working for the Department of Health in California and seeing the cost of how much it was to care for sick and dying babies, had the initial goal and mindset to find a way to save the state some money. (Money, unfortunately, is always the bottom line! So, we have to talk their language to do what we need to do.) Along the way, she saw how the state of California was going to cut the care for one of her little Black baby boys who was fighting for his life. The same day the state was planning to terminate his care, the little warrior (soldier) gave up his fight, rested his soul, and went to be with the Lord. And she, angry and heart-broken by his lost, “accidently” (You remember what I said about accidents? Go back to Day 22.) started the Birthing Project with ten other like-minded folk.

In our birthing project models, we have programming that addresses the family. With “the Barber Shop” model, we teach our young men, through different fatherhood initiatives, how to be men who are supportive to their partners while she is pregnant and present for their babies. With “the Beauty Shop” model we teach teenage girls empowerment through education, entrepreneurial skills, and personal development.   Our birthing project even has baby showers for mothers, babies, and families through the Angels for Babies project.

Our prize gems are our SafeBirth Kits, which was developed by Zubaida Bai. The SafeBirth Kit is a small pouch (cute accessory! See pic of model holding the pink SafeBirth Kit) that contains all the essential medical supplies (a plastic mat, gloves, soap, razor, and clamp), which allow women, in the most rural places of the world where there may be no doctors or hospitals, to have a clean, safe, childbirth.  Through collaboration with Ms. Bai’s company, AYZH, we are able to sponsor a mother in the world getting one of these SafeBirth Kits for $5.  “Why is this a gem”, you ask? Because every 2 minutes, 60 woman die in childbirth due to unsanitary conditions and infections. (Yes. In the time it is taking you to read this reflection, over 60 women in the world have already lost their lives.)  And I have experienced in the hospital setting and in extreme natural disaster situations, the lost of babies and mothers. It’s absolutely devastating and rips into your soul.   Do you see why the work of my sisterhood is so important and why we dare, every day, to save mothers and babies from that fate? (Now you know why I will drop everything to be by the side of a mother in distress. It saves her and that baby!)

I am excited! In the future, I will be creating another stop on our wonderful railroad in the South Bronx, the best community on this planet, for our HEArts Center, (See Day 21 of our Thirty Days of Thanks).  It’s going to be amazing! (Wait and see!) We will be loving on a whole bunch of Black and Brown mommas and getting to kiss the cheeks of a whole bunch of beautiful, healthy Black and Brown (and all other) babies. (Yaay!)

Today, I am more than excited to give thanks for healthy births, healthy babies, SisterFriends and SafeBirth Kits.  And I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that today I’m highlighting the organization, The Birthing Project USA: The Underground Railroad for Life (https://www.birthingprojectusa.org/intro.html). Give every penny that you can possibly pour out of your pockets today to save our mommies and babies around the world.  Today, instead of that cup of midday coffee that you buy from Starbucks or in the street, save a baby’s life with that $5 by sponsoring a SafeBirth Kit.  Your heart will love you. (Just think of all the cute, chunky babies that you get to save.)

Please share today’s reflection of thanks with everyone that you know. My hope is to get at least 100 people to sponsor at least one SafeBirth Kit today.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

 

MT days 16 – 20

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.

Love ya,

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.

Love Ya,

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.

Love Ya,

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.

Love ya,

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.

 Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

MT days 11 -15

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 MELISSA’S THANKS

Day 11: Support Groups

Happy Eleventh Day of Thanks Everyone!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (Anti-Imperialist) celebration. Lilah and I had an amazing time, honoring the Lord and giving thanks for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.  

I am so very grateful to the support groups in which I participate.  They have saved me from the mental house, the jail house, and from committing homicide. (And that’s the real truth!)

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I know who attempted suicide.  As I sat in the hospital talking to her after the attempt, she explained why she did it.  I asked her why she felt as if she couldn’t reach out for help during the really low moments. Her response to me was that the woman in her mother’s generation and older were so strong and had managed to do everything (ie. be single parents, work, hold down their families) by themselves and she wanted to be strong like they were. She, also having a child with special needs, confessed that she saw how “strong and successful” I was at handling the pressure of raising my special needs daughter by myself and thought she had to follow suit.

I have to be honest and say that her words felt like someone was kicking me in the chest.  I could have lost her because she had this false notion that our parent’s generation was “strong” and that I was “handling the pressures of parenthood by myself.” All I could do was shake my head, think oh my goodness, and quickly proceed to set the record straight for her. I had to explain to her that many of the women in her mother’s generation and older had some very unhealthy ways of dealing with, “numbing,” and handling their pressures.  Most of those women were severely depressed, on drugs, alcoholics, gamblers, or addicted to something else.  I also had to share with her that I, on more occasions than I could count, almost lost my mind because (1) Delilah’s 10-15 cluster seizures per day during her menstrual cycles had me worn out and lacking in days without sleep; (2) Delilah had done something as it related to her being autistic that could have caused both of us severe harm; or (3) I had to find the money to feed her and provide all her supplements on this new expensive ketogenic diet by myself.  And it was only through the help of my support groups (and support system) that I had managed to still have my sanity.

A few years ago, my daughter met her bestie through a music program that she was attending. Her bestie’s mom and I, through our two daughters, developed this authentic, blessing of a relationship that will thrive forever. Her mother, in addition to being the most outstanding, awe-inspiring, home-schooling parent I have ever met in my life (who I know is the next Ashoka Fellow, Mama), co-founded with two other women the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle.  This support circle has changed and saved my life.  I now know that I am not alone and that there are tons of others, like me, who are struggling and trying to conquer parenting a child with special needs. (Sometimes a good day is that no one got hurt or died and no one went to jail! Right?) The circle allows all the parents to freely talk about their issues, confidentially and without judgement.  All of the parents share information and their resources so that all of us and our children are benefiting from the information. We have received some of the best workshops that have taught us helpful tools to manage many of the situations that we encounter with our special needs children.  Additionally, the parents have also been taught to focus on our own well-being too.  We do date nights and hang out together as well.  Our last gathering was at a new restaurant that opened near the meet up location. We have really become a family unit of love and support and have, among ourselves, created many of the necessary supports, teams and programming that each of us needed for our children.

Last year in 2017, I started my own Year of Yes (Thanks Shonda Rhimes!), which included having to treat myself to something monthly, with my limited budget, (even if it was an ice cream or a walk in the park) and hanging out more with friends.  The Mott-Haven Mommas “support group” was what I wanted and needed all wrapped in one.  Once a month, the mothers in my neighbor get together at a local spot and fellowship.  We eat, we discuss some of the important concerns that are plaguing our lives, we give some suggestions and helpful tips to the newest moms, if they need or want it, and form a comradery among ourselves.  It was in this group that I got to discuss my crazy encounters with perimenopause, got the courage to continue battling with my daughter’s father for child support, created my new business idea “A Love Affair: The Ultimate Date Night Experience” and got reaffirmed by all of my sister-mommies.  They are incredibly, amazing women!

Because Lilah’s food is so expensive and I’m working with a limited budget, God provided Lilah an angel that takes care of some of her food and supplements (so that I won’t have to sell myself or work myself to the bone more than I do now trying to get those funds.)  I have my close friends to whom I can vent when life gets a tad hectic.  I had respite programs which allowed me to get free time to run errands, take care of domestic work, and go on dates.

The young lady was astounded as I laid out all of the support that I receive, which makes my life a little easier and saner.  I emphasized repeatedly that I have never ever done anything on this journey of life by myself.  In addition to God being with me, he has always sent angels to join me along the way.  If you find yourself completely overwhelmed and in need of help and support, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you or connect you with others who can help.  Your life is so valuable and important. After all, “why are we all here? To help each other get through this thing we call life.”

Today, as I’m thankful again for sanity and sound mind. I too am grateful for the support systems and groups that I have in place that help to provide that sanity and sound mind.  Please, please, please share information about the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle (http://bxpasc.org/) with any family you know who has a loved one with special needs and on the Autism Spectrum.  Not only will they have great love, support and a connection to resources, we need them to share their testimonials and resources so that all of our families can receive the blessing.  The group meets at Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) on 14 W 170th Street (Jerome Ave. is the cross street) in the Bronx every second (2nd) Tuesday of the month.  We are on Meetup and Social Media as well. Consider giving a donation to this wonderful organization so that we can extend our programming and workshops to and for all the families we help.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 12: Accountability

Happy Twelfth Day of Thanks Everyone!

For the past several years, I have always done my thirty day of thanks journey with God in secret. (It’s my thing that I do with God to be grateful for all that I have been blessed with and to financially bless organizations that are a blessing to others.) So, it was definitely surprising when God flipped the script on me and told me that this year I needed to share my thirty days of thanks with others. Do you know how nerve-wrecking it is to be vulnerable and expose all of your business to others, when I enjoy being a behind the scenes person for just about everything? (Most of you don’t know this but I’m really a very shy person at the core of things.) I do all of this prefacing because today, I will be sharing something that has left some real scar tissue on my heart and soul, although forgiveness has been established. I share it not for you to judge anyone but for you to understand my hurt, my anger, my frustration, and empathy for anyone who has had to endure the same experience. I also share it because I am grateful for accountability, because it has allowed me to continue supporting my daughter and get her to the place of physical health and wellness that she needs.

In October 2016, my daughter’s paternal grandmother came from Grenada to NY and asked to personally meet her, after not reaching out to know her in fourteen years. I took my daughter to her grandmother’s cousin’s house so that her family could meet Delilah for the first time.  The exchange between her and Delilah was very pleasant. During the course of the night, as Lilah was in the kitchen eating, one of the cousin’s asked me how Delilah’s dad was doing. I told her that we don’t speak and that he doesn’t take care of Delilah. Her mouth stood wide open and she said “what?” When I repeated myself and she discovered that her cousin was among the men who are considered “deadbeat dads,” she told me to come into the living room to observe her conversation, without saying a word.

Within the next few minutes, I had discovered that my daughter’s father had been living in Florida for the last five years (when I thought he was in Grenada) with his wife and a five year old son that he was supporting. I stayed completely silent but my blood began to boil. Here I was struggling to take care of our special needs daughter and he was taking care of another family with no issue. (Smh!)When I had moved back to the states ten years earlier, I offered to do a paternity test to clarify any doubts in her father and his family’s mind about my daughter being his child. When he declined the test, I asked him if he was sure because I wasn’t going to revisit what I thought was a very disrespectful topic in the first place, in future years. He said he was sure because he knew me enough to know that I wouldn’t lie to him about the issue.  Then came all the statements about how he wanted to be in our daughter’s life and promises of how he would support her when he got on his feet. I patiently waited but none of those statements or promises came to fruition. Finally, when our daughter was about 7 or 8 years old, her father resolved that he would not take care of her at all because I would not marry him to get his US citizenship papers and demanded that he now wanted and needed a paternity test (which he also wanted to use to advance his pursuit for those citizenship papers). I was so disgusted and done; I severed all communication with him for several years. Though his sister and I had always remained in contact and did play dates and exchanges with our children, I never asked about her brother’s whereabouts. (I’m grateful for aunts, like mine and her, which still do the right thing!)

Since I believe that no one should have to chase an adult to take care of their responsibilities, I left him alone and committed to doing the best I could to support my daughter as a single parent. It’s been very difficult but I have pressed through it. In earlier years, thinking that he was still living in Grenada, I did not pursue child support, because I only had a number and an email; I didn’t know exactly how to find him, location wise, or think that the US would enforce the case.

When I left his cousin’s house that night in October, I wrote my daughter’s father an email letting him know that I was aware of him living in the states for the past five years, outlined the expenses that it took to support my daughter and keep her healthy each month, and let him know that he needed to figure out how he would pay half of those expenses. If he didn’t, there would be a judge that would help him to figure it out.

He began his usual tirade of verbal abuse, and told me not to threaten him, mentioning his desire for the paternity test. When I gently reminded him that I was not threatening but speaking the truth to him and clarified that I now welcomed the paternity test for which he needed to pay, (since I would need it for the child support case too), he was shocked that I called his bluff. The lack of a paternity test would no longer be the crutch that he could use for not financially supporting our daughter.

My email caused a family scandal and he spent the next few days writing me all these nasty emails attacking my character, and claiming that since he was in school he couldn’t support Delilah. (He made sure that he let me know he wasn’t financially supporting any of his other children, including his wife’s son, so I shouldn’t expect that he would do it for Delilah.) He claimed that his family was going to pay for the paternity test and all the other things needed. (Interestingly enough, he called me a day later, with his father secretly on the call,  to ask me to pay for the paternity test that he wanted since his father told him that he wasn’t going to pay the $500 for the test and his flight to NY.)

Since he thought I was joking and had done what he thought was a sufficient amount of verbal bullying and character defamation, he was completely taken by surprise when he received the petition order to appear in court. At receiving the court order, his mother also decided to step in to harass and bully me into not pursuing the child support case against her forty plus year old son. She wrote me an email, attacking my character and saying some choice words about my daughter, particularly not being a part of her. (Thank God that he reveals who people really are. Just a few weeks ago she was hugging my daughter and now had lots of choice things to say about her.) In her email, in addition to justifying her son’s lack of responsibility, she told me that I should leave her son alone so that when he “felt like” being part of our daughter’s life when she got older, he would do so, like her paternal grandfather had done. She was also using God in many of her references to persuade me. (You have to love religious folk! Most times they will tell you that God told them to tell you to do something to get you to do what they want you to do. It’s called prophe-lying and you should be aware of it, especially if your spirit is not in agreement with what is being said.)

As frustrated as I was with what I had read thus far of her email, I was still trying to be objective and understand her perspective. But, then she struck a nerve by putting in her email, “what kind of mother are you? That you would drag your poor child through the legal system.” (For those of you who have never seen my other side, which gets really angry, brace yourself.)  At that moment, I was about to get on a plane to Grenada to whip this woman’s ass, real good, like I know how, South Bronx style!”(Excuse the language!) This woman, who struggled herself as a teenage single-parent, had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was.

She didn’t know that I was the kind of mother that lost countless days of sleep and work nursing my epileptic ridden, autistic baby girl back to health after every 2 hour cluster seizures had plagued her from 11:30 pm to the evening of the next day during every menstrual cycle, which was 14-21 days. I was the mother who spent months at a piano and singing scales, teaching my aphasic child how to sing words to develop speech. I was that mother who, with the little financial resources I had, was trying to keep us out of the homeless shelter system again while paying all the bills and for all of Lilah’s food and medicines that health insurance doesn’t cover. I was the mother who because I loved my daughter so much decided to sacrifice my dreams and put my career goals on hold to be the mother that she needed me to be. And this lady had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was. She did not know that she had barked up the wrong tree!

She not only made me angry but her comments wounded my soul. I never thought I’d ever experience another older woman (besides my mother) at this stage of my life attack my character in that way, especially since I do so much to build up and encourage women and young girls on a daily basis. It took me a week to calm down enough to address her sufficiently (in a professional manner), making sure she was smart enough to never send me another email like that a day in her life. (And yes, she got the message!)  But, unfortunately, the woundedness of the entire situation did not end there; the court appearances were worst.  My daughter, in open court, heard her father completely denying and rejecting her. She, along with the judge, bailiff and stenographer heard him defaming my character as well.

 I found out the depth that some men are willing to go to avoid the responsibility of taking care of their children. After our first court case, he quit his job so that he would not have to pay child support. I found out that he had another child outside of his marriage that he was claiming to support but really didn’t. He was usin the fact that he had other children to support to minimize the amount of support that he could give to Delilah. He had several high paying jobs, which afforded him the comfort to address the responsibility of caring for ALL of his children over the years but chose not to do so. He went back to school to become a doctor as well. (I now understood why he had emailed me on so many occasions before to tell me that it was such a pity that I had to sacrifice my career to care for Lilah.)  He hid money on his taxes and withdrew about ten thousand dollars in an IRA to avoid appearing to make sufficient money to pay child support. He researched and was happy to tell the judge that Florida state law only dictated that he would have to financially support our daughter for only two and one half years more, until she was 18 years old. (The judge quipped that New York State law dictated until the age of 24 if our daughter was in school and gently reminded him that since Delilah had specials needs, he would probably need to support her much longer.) 

When the test results came back, proving that Delilah was 99.99% his child, he still was trying to deny the test. After the judge mentioned the confidence of the test after 95%, my daughter’s father was too embarrassed to keep denying the trustworthiness of the test. When the judge then asked him what he was willing to pay, he said that his wife would pay his child support bill. (A complete and utter shame it was to hear him!) He mentioned  that he considered having to pay child support punitive and that he had come to the USA to create a better life for himself. He also told me and the judge flat out that we would see him in Grenada because he wasn’t going to pay anything.  The judge, disgusted with him, began to tell him about a interjurisdictional law, which allowed the US to enforce child support in Grenada as well and that he would be paying. He went a short while thinking that he could avoid paying child support, but according to him, in Florida they took away his license and threatened to throw him jail if his arrears weren’t paid, immediately. (Nothing like good ole accountability!) Now, I receive regular financial support.  At this point her dad is supposed to help pay 56% of her medical expenses, which he doesn’t pay. When I sent him the first round of receipts, he complained and said to not contact him anymore. So eventually, when I get some time, I’ll have to do another round of court petitions and appearances to collect the money for all of Delilah’s medical expenses. (What a hassle! But, I have to do what is necessary to ensure that Delilah has everything she needs.)

I never imagined in a million years that I would have to undergo such a degrading experience. (Believe me when I say that I haven’t even mentioned some of the worst parts of it.) Wounded and full of battle scars, yet again, Delilah and I survived this experience too. If I feel the way that I do, I can only imagine what she must feel being rejected openly by someone who should and is supposed to care about her. I also learned later that her father rejects her because he is ashamed of her autism. (It is his lost because my baby is absolutely, wonderfully made and there is nothing about her existence that is shameful!)

Although there is a level of accountability that guarantees a minimum level of financial support for Delilah now, I left this experience completely flabbergasted and still feeling like so much was lacking. Making a missing parent pay 17% of his/her income is nothing, when all of you know that most of us parents spend way more than that on our children in a given moment. (The majority of us parents pay more than that in babysitting fees.)  In the court system, there was still no real accountability for reconciliation, guaranteeing that the missing in action parent would learn to bond and connect with his/her child. There was no mandate for them to have partial custody and really share the load of responsibility to care for the child(ren) in question. Delilah, like many other children, still grow up in a single-parent household and never know who their fathers (or mothers) are. (Not that I’d really wish that for her at this point!)  Clearly, in some cases, its best to keep a child away from an abusive or negligent parent, but if a parent is clearly capable of being responsible for their children; why isn’t there a standard or mandate for the missing parent to have an equal share of responsibility? Why isn’t there a mandated parenting class or courses that these missing parent are required to attend that will empower them to see the importance of claiming their children and being active in their lives. The task of parenting goes way beyond just providing financial means.

Part of my life’s work in the this next phase will be to develop a parenting (fatherhood) initiative that encompasses just that, empowering absent parents to reconcile with their children as they learn key tools and skills, through dynamic courses and workshops, to equip them to be better, present parents. I believe to make better communities we have to address every aspect of the family. So today I highlight the organization, Strong Families Commission (https://www.thestrongfamiliescommission.com/), whose mission is to advocate for a greater father involvement in the lives of children and families. Please consider donating to this Philly based organization that is doing great work.  On a personal note, if any of you who are reading this happens to be a missing in action parent to any of your children, no matter what age they are,  don’t wait until it’s too late to make things right. (It is never too late to make things right with your soul!) You owe it to yourself and to your child(ren) to ask for forgiveness, attempt reconciliation, and start taking on the responsibility of parenthood (or if your child is an adult, perhaps a friend). If not, you will reap the unfortunate consequences of neglecting those parental duties.

I know today’s reflection was very long; I thank you for allowing me to bear my heart, for staying the course and for reading to the end. I apologize for the expletive as well. It was the only way to truly convey my sentiments at the time. I am grateful today for accountability and the owning of one’s responsibility.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Day 13: A Child’s Laughter

Happy Thirteenth Day of Thanks!

I give thanks for and celebrate the ability to see a child’s joy.

One of my favorite things in the entire world is to hear my daughter laugh.  When she does it, It’s a sound that comes from so deep within her gut and radiates joy like I’ve never experienced before.  Her laugh is so contagious and makes me smile and laugh, even if I don’t know what she is laughing about. Her eyes light up, you see all of her pearly whites, and this melodious sound springs forth as if she is being permanently tickled.   It’s a sight to see and hear her.

I wasn’t even aware that I was experiencing such a gift because it was so naturally occurring and common place for me to witness it.  Unfortunately, you and I take for granted several gifts in our lives until someone makes us aware of it.

Delilah and I were on the train headed to church one Sunday. After singing one of her favorite songs, we were reading one of her scripture lessons in her Veggie Tale’s bible and one of the characters said something funny. When I explained it to Delilah, she burst out laughing. Her laughing was so guttural, and joyous that several of the passengers sitting near us took notice and began to smile as well.

I guess one of the gentleman on the train had been observing our interaction for quite some time. After several train stops, he walked up to me and said “You are a really great mother!” I looked at him with a puzzled face and said “Thank you.” In my head, I’m thinking I don’t know this man at all, how would he know that I am a great mother.  As if he was reading my mind, he began to explain. He said, “ma’am, I am in my sixties now and I have not seen a young child your daughter’s age smile and laugh like that in so many years. The light and joy coming from her eyes is so unexplainably free and happy and content.  Kids today are so hard and so burdened; I haven’t heard or seen the beauty of their laughter in ages. When we were young, we had that all the time. But children today don’t have that like your daughter does.  In order for her to have that light and joy and laughter, love can’t be missing.  You have to be a great mom if she has joy like that.”

Talk about someone bringing to your attention how you take for granted a blessing that has been given to you! What he said made so much since. I had met so many children Lilah’s age and younger who had experienced so much dysfunction and abuse in their lives that they had contemplated or attempted suicide.  Many of the young people I knew who were Lilah’s age told me that their parents didn’t hug or kiss them and they were rigid and hard with brokenness.

The man was right!  My baby experiences love in every love language from this lady right here! Lilah gets kisses on the side of her chin that wake her up out of the bed in the morning (now in her teenage years, she complains “stop, leave her!”) and gets told that she is loved several times a day.  She is showered with a million hugs at home daily and intentionally made aware of my love, support and encouragement for her.  She not only gets the necessities, but she gets foot, hand and leg massages, manis and pedis, and held on those days where she is hurting and just needs to cry things out.  

She can laugh and has joy because she is loved and experiences love each day!

Today as we give thanks for a child’s laughter and joy, I want to suggest that you continue to do the extra special things in a child’s life to show them just how much you love and care about them so that they can continue to have laughter and joy in their lives.  As Lilah was growing up, we used to watch Smile of Child TV (Smile of A Child TV) , which is part of the TBN network. It shows great wholesome programming for children between the ages of 2-12 years old twenty-four hours a day and teaches both positive spiritual and social skills.  Please give the gift of Smile of a Child TV to your little ones.  Please consider donating to TBN network (TBN) as they continue expanding their programming for children and/or the nonprofit the Comedy Cures Foundation (Live. Love. Laugh.) which brings joy, hope, laughter and therapeutic entertainment to patients and caregivers worldwide.  (https://www.smileofachildtv.org/ and http://comedycures.org/)

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 14: Health

Happy Fourteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!

A few months ago I was doing a group activity with several friends that involved us moving ourselves in a particular area of the room if we had a specific health ailment. While everyone had moved multiple times, I stayed flat footed in the same position during the entire activity. I had never had a surgery (not even giving birth), sciatica, back problems, arthritis, broken bones, diabetes, hypertension and several other conditions that were mentioned. (And I pray that I never have them!)

Everyone looked at me in amazement and commented on how lucky or blessed I was. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in the perfect bill of health. (My immune system is probably rock solid because I was always sick as a child, according to my mom.) However, towards the end of last year things began to change significantly. My feet started to swell up (imagine the elephantitis that pregnant women have. Yes, mine was that bad) and I could barely walk on them. I started taking my vitals and blood pressure. I was thinking to myself, neither my heart nor my kidneys are in bad shape so what is happening?  I’d get these severe migraine headaches over my right eye that stayed all day for days (I’m still searching for that red pill!), this woozy feeling that I couldn’t shake for as long as I had the other symptoms and my metabolism was slowing down. I had gained almost 50 pounds and i wasn’t eating more than what I usually did (the belly bulge and love handles are a real thing ya’ll!) I could feel fatigue like a sac of bags on my shoulder; the cough, laugh, sneeze and pee syndrome was in full effect along with all of these menstrual irregularities. 

Perimenopause and Menopause are real! And no joke!

I was talking to my aunt about all that I was experiencing and complaining that I was way too young for all this. She said, “we get menopause early in this family. Mine started with hot flashes at 35!” I felt duped! Now why didn’t someone think to tell me that, so that I could have prepared myself mentally and my body for the onslaught of these changes? Smh! The symptomology had gotten so bad that I went to the doctor to follow-up and check on things. And he said you look great, absolutely amazing, you just need to get rid of some of the weight.

The next day he had the nurse call me to see if I was okay because I should have been passed out somewhere unnconscious. My blood sugar (even having eaten) which has never been anything but normal was at 35 mg (normal values: 70-90mg). That was the woozy feeling that I kept getting. The fluctuation of my hormones had my body completely out of whack.

For the next few months, I was on a crusade to find out everything I needed to know about how to balance these hormones better.  I researched like crazy, getting literature from different sources. I even talked to all of my older friends/peers/colleagues and asked them what they did to control their symptoms. I made a thorough plan based on all the research I had done to whip my body back into shape and minimize all of the symptoms I was undergoing.  I exercised in the morning for at least 45 min; I walked a track across the street from house religiously. I started eating regimented like a diabetic (6 times a day), keeping a snack on me just in case my blood sugar decided to take a nose dive, fasting intermittently and ceasing to eat after 8pm. I also started taking several supplements which are hormone stabilizers. Within two menstrual cycle periods, I had lost more than 15 pounds, had no more migraines and saw no swelling of my feet. Since body fat feeds estrogen shifts, the weight loss had kept the shift at bay. I was sold!!!! I’ve been trying to maintain the plan. However, with the cold, rain and snow I haven’t been going out as much. I’ve been doing the walking with Leslie Lansone videos until I can make room for and buy elliptical.

I learned some valuable lessons about not taking my health for granted.  What’s interesting is that If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I would have never known or seen just how much God was keeping me “from dangers unseen.” I could have been in an early grave with blood sugar levels that low. Without that knowledge, I would have kept doing the normal “pushing through” that we all do as we go through the new stages of life (ie. Pre-menopause-post), and try to “balance” our lives in the best way we know how. I realize now more than ever that as my destiny is unfolding and my purpose is being made clear, I need to take care of myself even more. I’ve also been on a mini crusade to have heart to heart conversations with the younger women in my life about just how real menopause and the phase of life leading up to it is and sharing the tools that I’ve received with them to ease the stress of that phase of their lives when it comes.

Today, I am more than grateful to have my health and be alive with no hotflashes, migraines, swollen feet etc. (God is good! Now if I can just get the diligence to work on this belly!) Several years ago in my research, as I was dealing with my daughter’s hormonal crisis of estrogen dominance, I found some great books and informational resources from Dr. John R. Lee about every type of hormonal crisis and cancers. The information he shares in his books is invaluable. Please check out his website and his materials (Official Website of John R. Lee, M.D., Expert in Progesterone and HRT). They will be of great help and benefit to you (men and women!)

I’d also like to highlight two organizations. IFCO/Pastors for Peace ( IFCO/Pastors for Peace)  facilitates and sponsors a scholarship program to send young black and brown youth to go to medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine, in Havana Cuba. These students scholarship stipulation is that they will come back to work in medically underserved communities throughout the US. By donating to this organization, you will help us to support some of these young doctors while they are in medical school as well as when they transition back to the US to work in our low resourced communities. Trust me when I tell you that these young folk are desperately in need of your financial support and are deserving of it.  They are going to be our future doctors.

Obesity Action Coalition (Home Page – Obesity Action Coalition) is doing some great work to help those living with obesity. Through education and advocacy, they are helping those living with this disease work towards a healthier life. Please donate your time and resources if you can.

Love ya,

Have a happy day of thanks!

Day 15: Appreciation (Being Valued)

Happy Fifteenth Day of Thanks Everyone! 

It is so exciting to be at the half way mark in our journey. (Yay!)  I hope you are being blessed and inspired by each day’s theme and then being a blessing to others.

I give thanks for appreciation and being valued. It drives me to keep doing what I’m doing.

Several years ago, one of my mentors died unexpectedly. It was a tremendous blow to me and the organization that he oversaw for more than forty years. There was so much chaos in trying to figure out how to proceed because my mentor had the finesse to always make mountains move in getting things done and finding sources of money to support the many projects and the organization’s programming. The institution recruited an interim director until they could find someone permanent. Because the interim director created such a financial disaster of the organization in her time as overseer, the permanent director had excessive damage control to do when she came on board.  All the while, the organization still needed someone to run the programming and no one was stepping up to do that. Since I was volunteering and doing some part-time work for the organization, I had first-hand insight on the internal turmoil taking place.  I would pray for the organization’s security and for the help that they needed to come. (Why in the world did I do that?)

In one of my prayer sessions, God told me that I was to take over the scholarship program that they facilitated. I thought God was bugging out! Working for this nonprofit would mean that I would be making less than one-third of my previous earning, I’d be putting in 50-70 hour weeks to get this program into shape and maintain it, I’d be dealing with way more headache and having to eventually travel more than I could. The list of things that did not work in my favor and the sacrifices that needed to be made to do that job were way beyond any sane person’s capacity to agree with. What was God thinking? How would I support myself and my family on the salary they were offering me? (Of course, God was not concerned at all about my questions or my hurt feelings; I was expected to obey what I was told to do.)

The permanent director and I took over our positions and were overwhelmed with burden. No one knew that, because of the financial crisis we inherited from the interim director, we were working without receiving paychecks for several months and trying our best to keep the doors open and our mentor’s legacy alive.   Not only were we plagued with the question of how do we get finances into the organization, we had to figure out how to walk into the shoes of a great legacy and transform it to be our own and relevant for the times? (Not at all an easy task!)

It has been an incredibly hard journey to complete that task. With a four-membered full-time female staff we try to move mountains every day. We have had to give from our own pockets on more occasions than I can count because we are in deficit. I spend most days trying to encourage one hundred and seventy five graduates of our program (many of whom are now making over two hundred thousand dollars per year without medical school debt) to give back to the organization and the program and trying really hard not to get discouraged when the majority of them don’t. I have seventy five amazing adult students (“my children”) who are in medical school who are always somehow needier than my 16 year old and seem to want all my time and attention too.

On so many occasions when I was ready to quit and get me a “better job” that “appreciated me” and where I wouldn’t be “overworked and underpaid,” I’d get these wonderful reminders of why I needed to do exactly what I was doing.  My students would write me emails like this:

Dr. Melissa,

Wow, I literally cannot believe it! This is so surreal! I was honored for the opportunity to just be among the students that were invited to orientation but to actually be chosen..wow. There are no words that can describe this feeling, only emotions. I’m used to seeing stories like this on TV or hearing about them on the news not ever thinking that something of such great magnitude could happen to someone like me. I’m in a state of disbelief, my family is in awe and my community is still waiting to hear the verdict. Just by them seeing me accomplish this is just..wow. This is so much bigger than just me..wow. I really don’t know what to say. Thank you and the entire ELAM committee for this opportunity. You not only changed my life, you actually saved it.

This was from a first generation black male college student from the back woods of the South and counted out by academic professors He was told many times that he would never get to his dream. Just recently one of my prospective students burst in tears during her orientation exit interview. This was her email to explain the emotion she was feeling afterwards.

I realize that in many ways, this program is something I have been searching for. This realization was very overwhelming. I have never personally met so many Black and brown doctors, and I have never personally met so many doctors who were Black women.  The ice-breaking activities during the retreat, and the in-depth discussions about the realities of the ELAM program made me feel like people who looked like me were truly supported. I have very rarely experienced this in an academic program. At the same time, seeing so many successful Black and brown doctors has helped me recognize my own potential. For me, becoming aware of my own potential is very scary. But most of the fear comes from 11th hour self doubt, even though my life experience and my academic career have prepared me for this amazing opportunity. This orientation/retreat process has helped me see what a successful medical career could look like for me. Regardless of the final decision of the selection committee and the ELAM program, I am extremely grateful to have met so many amazing people over the past 3 days.

Imagine that! The work that I do is appreciated and valued and being recognized by these young people, whose futures I get to change and be part of every day. I may not make the millions of bucks, and, yes, most days are extremely hard to press through as I try to shape the conscious minds of these young people and prepare them to be future doctors in our underserved and poor communities. But, it’s all well worth it to see the light in their eyes as they realize there is someone who loves them and is showing up for them to have wonderful, better and brighter futures.

Today as we celebrate giving Tuesday and being appreciated, open your pockets real wide and give my organization, IFCO/Pastors for Peace (www.ifconews.org) some of your green (money not vegetables!) to support the wonderful programming that we do for these young folk (future doctors).  If you know someone who is interested in attending medical school, is between the ages of 18-25 years old and has the pre-med science curriculum under their academic belt, send them to the website to check out our medical school scholarship program to see if they are interested in a future career as a doctor serving underserved communities throughout the United States. And last but not least, if you have not let the people in your life (spouses, children, colleagues, employees, employers) know just how much you appreciate them when you know that without them you don’t have a penny and a prayer, (shame on you!) Get to calling, emailing, texting and whatever it is that you have to do to let them know that they are loved and appreciated.  And then go out and do something for them because words without actions are dead!

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

More to COME!!!!

 

MT days 6-10

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 MELISSA’S THANKS

Day 6: Gift of Song

Happy Sixth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Move really, really close so that I can whisper it to you. My back up career choice was to be a background singer. I love to sing until my heart is content! I’m not just one of those sing in the shower people that pretend they have a microphone in their hand and let the acoustics of the bathroom create a false reality that they are good. I’m that person who sings and praises my way through the morning and the evening, through the good times and the bad times, and even through the makeups and breakups of relationships. I’m also sure I’ll be that person who sings as long as I have breath in my body.

I give honor and thanks for the gift of song, today, because it has forever impacted and changed my life. I have been singing in choirs and chorales just about all my life. And there is nothing like a song that can speak to the core of your soul by telling your life’s story! There are songs that tell of your joy, reveal your pain, speak of your need for liberation, cry for justice, and make you want to make babies (you know that’s the truth!).  I know as you read this, your favorite song or songs are being brought to your memory.

So, you are probably asking by now, why is the gift of song so important to her and how has it impacted her life. Well here is the story…

After my freshman year of college (which is many, many moons ago now), I had the opportunity to participate in a summer medical enrichment program at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, Case Western was piloting a music therapy program for several of their pediatric patients and researching the impact music was having on the ability of these young patients to heal better/faster or respond to treatment. As I was on my rounds with the physician and music therapist, I saw the miracle and bribery of music and how the children responded better to treatment when they knew their reward was music and the gift of song.  They were totally captivated by the music; even the evils that had been working in those children prior to our visit managed to be placated by the music. I remember thinking to myself: I’m going to figure out a way to use music and my ability to sing in my future practice.  Little did I know that I would use music, my voice and the few scales that I could play on the piano to change another child’s life ten years later.

For those of you who know me, you know or know of my mini-me, Ms. Delilah Christina, my daughter. When she was a little over three, she completely stopped speaking.  My perfect, typically, developing child went aphasic and no one knew why or how.  My mother called and told me, “After she got that shot, she hasn’t spoken anymore, she is just staring at me when I say something.” Many of the doctors thought she may have had a stroke and ran all kinds of imaging test, hearing test, and every other test to find out what may have occurred. Shortly after she went aphasic, she started to develop all kinds of sensory issues, cognitive delays and a host of affectations that were very pronounced.

Since Lilah has always been a musical child, listening to symphonies, opera, jazz, rhythm and blues and gospel from the headphones wrapped around my belly when she was in there, I chose to do what I have always done (sing), use the tools that I learned in every choir I had joined and the instruction at Case Western to teach my baby how to speak again. That Christmas, we started a new tradition; Delilah received the first of many musical instruments (a keyboard), and we got to work.  I played scales and taught her how to vocalize vowel sounds. Once she mastered vowels, we added consonants to the vowels until she could sing a whole scale (ma, me, mi, mo, mu).  Luckily, she is musically inclined and has perfect pitch because it made her a quick study. Within a few months time, I would make up songs with catchy melodies so that she could learn words. We had a song for everything, even to say Good night!  It was funny and interesting at the same time that she would sing a word or a sentence but not speak it. (Until this moment, she will sing whole songs but will only speak three to four word phrases.)  Her teachers thought it was the most interesting thing that she would not understand them or carry out a command unless they put the command into a song. A song made her brain’s cognitive switch turn on.  We continue to implement music in her everyday life to help her learn new words, sing her way out of sickness or despair, and put a smile on her face.

At every emergency room visit, due to one of her seizures,or at home, we would sing and praise her back to health. It was even in one of those hospital visits that a song “Oceans” drew a lonely, bad-behaving, young lady, (Kamora Lee) to us who has been my goddaughter and her god sister for the past three years. The “word” she spoke when she started speaking again wasn’t even a word, it was a song. She sang the song “Happy Birthday to Lilah” with Dora the Explorer. Unlimited tears were flowing from my face that day when I heard her voice again for the first time. And as you all know, she absolutely loves birthdays and people singing the happy birthday song to her in every language on her day.  (If you missed singing and submitting your happy birthday song for her sixteenth birthday yesterday, you still have time because we celebrate for the whole month. We’ll be waiting.) On her birthday, we listen to the songs throughout the day. But the exciting crescendo moment is when, right before she goes to bed, we listen to all the happy birthday songs in every language or form (our elder whistles her happy birthday song every year) that come in and she feels the love everyone has for her and she remembers the significance of that song to her. It is one of the happiest moments of her life and puts the biggest smile on her face as she goes off to the lala land of sleep.

Now, Delilah sings to her own beat (even more than I do). She has been learning to play the piano and is getting really good at it. (One day maybe she will be the background singer or headliner that I dreamed of becoming!)

With my complete thanks for music and the gift of song, I want to highlight an amazing organization—Upbeat NYC.  This nonprofit gives the gift of music for free to my child and children in the South Bronx.  They take students from the age of four years old and teach them to play just about every instrument (the cello, the piano, violin, trumpet, drums). They have an awesome orchestra and jazz band. They hold recitals and concerts for the neighborhood where the children can shine musically. They don’t currently have a home but are using one of the local churches to teach the students instruments. (Hopefully once we get the H.E.Arts Center, which you will learn more about in a later reflection, they will have a permanent home.) Please give a financial donation to UpBeat NYC (https://upbeatnyc.org/) so that they can continue to expand their programming and give the gift of music to our children. If you or anyone you know has any working, unused instruments, consider donating them to UpBeat for a child to have an instrument on which to practice. Feel free to donate sheet music and Hal Leonard music books as well. They totally deserve all of the resources that you can give them. And if you are feeling even more generous, along with your gift to UpBeat NYC you can sponsor Delilah’s next musical instrument since her birthday and Christmas are rapidly approaching, so that she can become this amazing musician with every instrument she has.

Love ya!

Have a great Day of Thanks!

 

Day 7: Sound Mind

Happy Seventh Day of Thanks Everyone!

 After all that I have been through, I’m praising God and giving thanks that my mind is still intact.

 If you have been reading the reflections since the first day in our journey of thanks, you know that my life has not been an easy walk in the park and that somehow I have always inherited the longer, harsher, narrower path in life. (I used to think I was Job incarnate and wondered when the double for my trouble part of the story was coming!)

On Nov 8th, I was waiting for what I call NYC’s forsaken bus (the Bx19) to get to work. There was a mentally ill homeless man, waiting for the same bus as well. He had tons of soiled sheets and bags of clothes stacked on a wheelchair. He was flinging mucus from his nostrils onto the sidewalk, spitting, and shouting obscenities from his mouth. He had a hygiene mask hanging from his chin.  The prospective passengers were all watching, in wonder, to see just how the gentleman was going to manage to get on the bus with his load.

When the bus came, two women were laughing as he struggled to get on the bus. My regular bus driver (a very cheerful and pleasant gentleman) helped him to get settled in his seat. But the driver got angry when the man started yelling at him and the soiled sheets dropped and fell on his head. Several people started to get off the bus when the men was settled in his seat because he had an unpleasant stench that burned and saturated the hairs in our nostrils.

I watched the mentally ill man, empathizing, and thinking, that could have been me. I have had several seasons in my life where I felt as if I was walking on a real thin tight rope, trying to hold on to every ounce of sanity that I had left. During those times, I had to talk myself “down from the ledge” of mental breakdowns.

One month after I had my daughter, I had to return to medical school, without her, to finish that school year. I had a month’s worth of academic work to catch up on plus final exams.  I missed my daughter like crazy and hated the fact that I had to leave her with someone who I didn’t trust enough to take care of her and love her the way I would. Before going back to school, each day I debated with myself and struggled to decide whether I should leave medical school in Cuba to start all over in the US just to be with her. But under the direction of the Holy Spirit, I was told to go back to school and to trust that she would be okay. But, while in school, I worried and thought about her day and night. I also kept all of my bags packed in the corner near my bed just in case I decided to change my mind and go home.

On top of that stress, I had a physiology teacher who was determined to fail me (that is another reflection for another day) because I was the one chosen in my group to relay the message that her teaching style and skills were extremely lackluster and caused the students much confusion. (Of course, the group chose me and left me out to dry. Cowards!!!!) I also had some female students in my delegation in the medical school who were purely evil and would send me all kinds of hateful messages and do some of the meanest things to me while I was in that sensitive state—one day someone left me a group anonymous card on my bed telling me that I was an awful mother because I left my child and quoted bible scripture to tell me.

Every night, I cried with my med school books in hand studying. I got to a place where I caught up on and submitted all the work I had to make up; I took and passed all of my exams and had just one left–physiology.  But, that same physiology teacher wouldn’t let me sit for my first physiology final exam “el ordinario” because I had missed too much class, taking the 3 ½ weeks off to deliver my daughter at home in the states.

In my medical school, if you couldn’t take or didn’t pass your first final exam, you ha a second chance to take it (el extraordinario) a week after the original exam.  If you fail the extraordinario, you forfeited your summer vacation and had to take the “mundial” exam in August. There were no more chances after the mundial; you had to repeat the year or you were terminated from school.  

I automatically had to go to the extraordinario for this class. When I took the exam I felt pretty good about it. Our exam was composed of seven sections; I had to pass 5 sections of the seven to pass the exam. Do you know that demon-possessed lady had the nerve to fail me even though I passed the test?!!! Receiving a two (“2”) grade is failing with an F. When I saw a 2 by my name for the exam grade, I marched to her office and asked if I could go over my test so that I could find out why I failed. I got fives (100% on four sections of the test) and she gave me a “2.5” grade on the last three sections of the test. I asked her (in the nicest voice that I could) what did the 2.5 mean and why did she give me that grade instead of a 2. Then I asked her for the answers to those sections. Lo and behold, I got the right answer in those three sections too.  She said that although I had the answers correct, she decided to fail me because I had not thoroughly explained the answers in the depth like I did for the first four. She had a huge smirk on her face and started laughing and said since you didn’t give me “5” point material for those sections, I thought you deserved to fail.” (What do you when do when something like this happens and she, being the head of the entire physiology department, knows that no one on her staff will defy her or make her accountable for her actions?)

In that moment, I saw red and felt rage bolt through my body and had to hurry to leave her office because I was about to commit homicide with my bare hands. This lady could not have known how close to death she was or that I cried every night to see and hold my baby again, and with her malicious intent to fail me, she was revoking my right to see and be with Lilah for the summer . I would now have to stay in Cuba to study for and take another physiology exam in August. I remember my head feeling like it was going to explode and a sharp pain shooting through and burning my heart.  

I left the school campus to check my email at the nearest hotel so that I could process what was happening and to calm down. On my way back to the school, while I was on the crowded 420 bus, my eyesight started to fade. The colors and people I saw around me faded into a blurry grey then went completely black. I couldn’t see anything and I got so nervous. I had to follow the voices and feel my way off the bus to the front gate of the campus. When I felt the pillar at the front gate of the campus entrance, I sat down near the steps of the entrance of the door and told the female security guard that I had loss my sight while I was on the bus and couldn’t see anything. Tears were pouring down my face because I didn’t know what was happening to me or why. The security guard asked me if I had taken any drugs, drank, or had undergone any trauma. When I said “no” to each question, she got nervous and called the ambulance to come pick me up and take me to the school’s clinic. Since the same doctor had followed me for my prenatal care, when he heard that something happened to me, he rushed to my side to make sure it had nothing to do post delivery complications. After the doctor did his history, he told me that he wanted me to stay in the hospital to relax for the night. I sat in the hospital for several hours before I got my sight back. It was during that quiet moment, I decided that I had had enough and was packing all of my stuff and going home. Overwhelming stress is no joke! All of that mental stress was manifesting as biological symptomology.

Once my eyesight came back, I begged the doctor to let me go to my dorm room to sleep. But, I knew that I was going to my room to pack my things. I was having a real crisis of faith and angry at God too. I shouted at God, “you told me to come back to this place and I obeyed you and you let this happen to me! You let that evil woman do this to me! I have served you all my life and have done everything you have asked me to do! You better do something about this and prove to me that you are real or I am done with believing in you forever! I’m done!”

Have any of you had a moment like that with God, where after going through so many trials and tribulations, every belief that you have ever had about your religious faith lay in the balance? It becomes a life or death situation and God is on your judgment seat and you are asking with everything in your soul, “are you real or not?” and want answers now. I was at that moment and, although my mind was on the verge of completely shutting down, I was still fighting to hold on to it.

After my tyrant rants and packing my things and command that God prove himself to me, it was 3 am in the morning.  I decided that I would go and call my mother to ask her if she could loan me the money and buy me a ticket to come home. As I walked down the stairs to go outside, the dorm’s receptionist told me that I should stay in because there were some really dangerous winds outside at the time.  I told her that I had an emergency phone call to make and that I would be careful. She was right (and I should have listened) but I was on a mission to get out of that place. The sky was a grayish color that I had never seen before and the winds were pushing my 175 pound frame around like I was a feather. As chaotic as that wind was, I managed to walk the half mile to the phones and call my mother. When she answered the phone and I told her that I needed a ticket because I wanted to come home, she told me that it was 3 in the morning, to call her back in the morning when I got some sleep, and hung up the phone on me.

Walking the half mile back to my room, I saw the sky put on a theatrical performance that I had never seen before. The lightning was flashing and crackling in the grey sky; the winds were still tossing me as if I was a paper weight, and I was seething with anger at God.

I got back to my dorm and fell to sleep until I received a knock at the door at 10:30 am.  One of my country mates said that my physiology teacher had requested to see me in her office. I did not want to see that lady because I knew that I couldn’t muster up an ounce of professionalism or kindness to address her. I was beyond disgusted and everything from verbal and nonverbal communication would reflect that. So, I ignored her initial request. She sent another person to tell me to come to her office immediately.

I got dressed and went to her office. I didn’t extend her any courtesies and asked, “What do you want?” She looked at me and knew that I was not in the mood to play any games with her so I asked her again, “what do you want?”

She began, “last night the strangest thing happened to me.” I gave her a look as if to say, “do I look like I care about what happened to you last night.” Since she knew I was angry at her and justified in my anger, she spoke soft and patiently and continued her story.

“I was in bed sleeping, and a voice told me to get up and grade your paper again.  Since I had no intention to do that, I stayed in my bed. The voice got progressively louder each time it told me to get up and grade your paper correctly.  Since I wouldn’t do it, the voice got so loud that it drowned out everything to the point that my head was in excruciating pain from the sound of the voice and then I felt a huge push that completely knocked me out of the bed. And the voice said, I said to get up and grade that paper correctly. I got up from the floor and went to sit at my desk. I still didn’t want to correct your paper. The voice said, “grade it properly now.”  I still had to cover my ears from the loudness of the voice but said “okay!”

In the most humble voice, she told me “I graded your paper again. Since you did get the answers to those last sections correct, I gave you the proper grades for them. This morning, I resubmitted your score to the academic office and you have officially passed your physiology exam.” I asked her two follow-up questions; at what time did she have to re-grade my paper. She said, “It was a little after three in the morning.”  I looked at her and said, “so, you had a chance encounter with “a voice”, who was protecting me from you, that knocked you out of bed too? Who do you think that was?” I was slightly mocking the known atheist now.  “Perhaps that was the God that you claim you don’t believe in.”  She said I can’t explain it, “but there was a voice and it made me re-grade the paper.” Before leaving her office, I said “God is real! And you and I both just discovered that fact for ourselves.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how that moment created a shift in my entire life. The Creator, God of the Universe stepped in and came to my rescue, when I was at my lowest moment at that 3 am hour, ready to give up on Him, my faith, my purpose, and shut down my mind completely. God also had this woman tell me this story (I can’t imagine how humbling that had to be for her to have to look completely crazy in front of me) so that I would never forget that in the midst of that grey sky, those flashes of light and that heavy wind, He was speaking in a loud, clear voice doing his best work to save me, defend me and keep me.

So today and every day, I give thanks for having a sound mind because I remember how close I was to losing it. When I am mentally fatigued and overwhelmed, I remember how God defended me so that I could keep my sanity, which means He intentionally gave me this mind to function for a purpose. So, I quiet my spirit to receive the intentional peace, love and sound mind that comes in and from God.  

What do you do to keep your mind sound? How do you make it through some of the most overwhelmingly stressful times in your life? Today, as we give thanks for sound mind, think about the many ways that you can quiet your spirit and keep your mind healthy. Implement a life plan that involve positive outlets and supports that are unique to and for you that you can refer to when you are in those low places. (For me, this includes meditation on Bible scriptures, prayer, singing, participating with my support groups, celebrating myself at least once a month.) Some of the supports can and should include seeking professional help from a counselor or a trusted pastor with capabilities in deliverance.  Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you are feeling down or at a low point so that they can help or connect you to the resources that you need, if they cannot. Today, we highlight a great organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.naminycmetro.org/) that helps individuals and families affected by mental illness to build better lives.  Please consider volunteering your time, giving financially, or even checking out one of their support groups and events that are available to all.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

 

Day 8: Friendship

Happy Eighth Day of Thanks!

 

I give thanks for and to all my besties who teach me how important it is to have love, support, encouragement, and good ole fashion laughs and fun! They have forever raised my standards in how I choose my friendships and have truly taught me that “A friend sticks closer than a brother.”

I have been beyond blessed to have a ride-or-die, loyal, faithful, soul sister, bestie for over 20 plus years. (And she ain’t going nowhere!!!!) My life has been incredibly enriched because she is in it.  She is my go to for just about everything. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine my life without her in it. She means so much to me that my daughter is even her name sake (Christ in her!). We have been through every up and down you can possibly think of; we have outlasted distance as we’ve lived in other countries and states, communicating at least once or twice a week by email, sharing our experiences. (I was so happy a few years ago when she moved 45 minutes to an hour away from me. Yaay!) We have financially supported each other as we were both broke college and medical students who lived off of ramen noodles and prayers. We have encouraged each other to press through the many disappointments of life as we’ve witnessed dreams deferred, denied and delayed. We have celebrated each other’s every victory, knowing that it was each of our personal victory too. We have travelled long distances to show up to each other’s graduations, ceremonies, and events, knowing that the day would not be perfect without the bestie there.

We sang together in gospel choirs, danced together in talent shows and other performances (where we kicked butt), and enjoyed concerts (Joe was awesome!), plays, and puppet shows together. We’ve shown each other the dances (Brown skin), songs, and comedy skits that we created that the outside world would never see. She even played the role of Bonquisha for a skit that I created for my analytic chemistry class in college and played the heck out of the character!!! (I still chuckle to this day!) We’ve exchanged clothes and shoes (‘cause she is always fly!).  We’ve had stimulating, intellectual discourse and debate on just about every topic. We have stayed on the phone for hours until one or both of us have fallen asleep on each other. When I moved back to the US, she introduced me to one of my favorite artist, Lizz Wright (Girl, I surrender! Whew! LOL) That concert in Philly was out of this world! She has always dropped an encouraging word or scripture into my spirit at the right time. We each have done those late night and mid-morning intercessory prayers for solutions to health, financial, and family crisis in our lives. We are so connected that we each know when something is great or wrong with the other without even speaking.  

She has checked me when my attitude was out of control, realigned and set the standard for my moral compass when I was in deep, eye-brow raising nonsense, and changed so much of my perception about how I viewed life’s circumstances. She’s seen me cry through the many challenges of life and parenthood.  When Delilah and I were homeless, she and my other 20+ year bestie were the only people who offered us a place to stay. Faced with decisions about who would care for Delilah in the event of my death or incapacity, she agreed to care and be responsible for my daughter when I asked her if she was willing to do it.  A few times, without us ever speaking, I’d get a deposit of money into my bank account, when the funds were way too close to empty and I was worried about how I was going to get Lilah her food or pay a bill. Sorry in advance to our future husbands (if they exist), but we already made the decision years ago that there would be a permanent room or guest house in our places for each of our families to stay. When you marry one of us, you are marrying the other’s whole family too! 

When we were younger, everyone thought she was the more refined, polished one of the two of us (which is definitely and totally true!).  However, if she heard someone talk about me or if someone did something to me, there was a whole other side to her that would get straight “gangsta” (for real ya’ll!). She’d be ready to come for you to protect me, her bestie. And as for me, don’t even think about messing with my friend unless you want to encounter a good tongue lashing and a beat down! I mean that. She has always loved me, unconditionally, through every good thing or mistake I have ever made, and lovingly, lets me know that she will be here for me no matter what.

One of my besties’ biggest flaws, though, is remembering birthdays, which are very important to me. A few years in a row, she got the side eye for it.  So one year, she made sure that she put it in every calendar and wrote me an ode for my birthday, using one of our favorite Stevie Wonder songs. Come on now, you know that’s love! She did all that work and used Stevie too (just because she knew how much it meant to me).

My bestie is one of the most intelligent, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and talented persons I know! (For all you wonderful men out there, she is single. But, you must have your act together because she does not play!) The first 20 + plus years of our journey together has been incredible. She is a God send to me and sets the standard for ALL my friendships. (If you are not like this, now you know why we are not my friend.)  I look forward to the day that we are both in our 90s, seeing our great grandchildren, still rocking fashionable outfits and our heels, reminiscing and singing (or should I say harmonizing) to some Fred Hammond. (You know we are! LOL!)

As we give thanks for and celebrate friendship, tell your besties just how amazing they are and just how much they mean to you. (Don’t take them for granted!)  Today, we highlight an organization, Friend to Friend America (https://friendtofriendamerica.org/), which recruits and matches volunteers to visit (one-to-one) with elderly and disabled persons living in nursing, mind assisted living, retirement, and adult family homes for the purpose of forming friendships.  Please consider volunteering your time with this organization or for the price of a cup of coffee ($5) donate to help their cause to give seniors and uniquely-abled persons the opportunity to have friends.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 9: Wisdom

Happy Ninth Day of Thanks!

I am so grateful for wisdom! It has allowed me to set necessary boundaries in relationships, avoid the consequences of making foolish decisions, which create irreversible damage in my life and to “let go.”

Earlier in the year, I read this incredible, mind-blowing, life changing book called “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the Boat” by John Ortberg. It is a must read for everyone. But, I have to warn you. Read it when you are ready to do some real clean up in your life. While I was reading the book, I committed to answering at least one of the questions posed by the book each day. (Not at all an easy task!)  There was nothing superficial about any of the questions and sometimes it took me days to scour my soul. One day I came to the question: “what is your most painful limitation?”

I started to think about all my limitations (and there are many) to figure out if they were actually “painful” or detrimental to me in a life or death kind of way.  My mind started perusing the usual list of suspects: sometimes procrastination, lack of wanting to do domestic work, being a shopaholic, hoarding, lacking in more self-care.  None of them are that detrimental or painful, I thought to myself. As I searched myself deeper and thought longer (it took two days), I finally had a eureka moment and I had to sit with the painful blow of my limitation. “I have a hard time letting go.” Not as much with things but with relationships and people. It has always been a very hard thing for me to do. Most times God has to step in the middle of things, with his stern, loud voice and say, “LET HIM/HER/IT GO!” or “MOVE ON!” It’s usually pretty hardcore because I have never wanted to feel like I am giving up on someone or something.

 As I reflected on this question more and reminisced on the many deadbeat relationships or friendships I’ve had, I realized how much pain I’ve put myself through, tolerating people’s selfishness or holding on to something that just was not meant to be. I slept with men that I had no business sleeping with. I had boyfriends and friends who loved me the way they imagined love to be but not how I needed. I had a mom who continually told me that I’d never be anything, manipulated me, and took me through emotional rollercoasters that left me feeling worst than the scum of the earth. I had a biological father who rejected me to my face. I had friends who used my kindness to get what they needed only to leave when they got it or when they thought they would never need me again. I had work relationships where I was a superwoman and got used until I was completely dried up. I completely shake my head to all of the craziness I put myself through because of my lack of boundaries, because of listening to what someone else thought I should be doing,and because I was scared to let go.

 I am happy to report that I am not that person any more. I am so much wiser now in how I choose my friendships and relationships. I can’t say that it is still not hard for me to let go anymore. That would be completely lying and falsifying facts. But, when things get one-sided or there is no mutual benefit in a relationship, I loosen up the reigns and tell the other party (parties) know that since I can’t be in a relationship by myself, it is time for me to say good-bye. In most situations, I’m less quick to pour out all of me without little in return. One of my new mottos is: “stop investing into thing and people who don’t invest into you! Always make sure there is some kind of a return on your investment.”

 I have spent the last few years getting rid of unhealthy relationships and implementing necessary boundaries. For those people who you can’t necessarily get rid of, I’ve set healthy boundaries that they cannot upset or cross. And when they cross them, our relationship shuts down until they can get back on track. No if ands or buts.

 In the midst of ridding myself of bad and unhealthy relationships and setting boundaries to establish new and healthy ones, I’ve learned about what I need to feel loved and cared for by others. I also take the time I need to shut out all of the “outside” noise and hear myself think and process situations for myself. I do not rush into situations anymore, without a thorough analysis of knowing what I will be getting myself into. I’ve learned to be content where I am and not thinking I should have or be doing what someone else thinks I should have or be doing.

Several years ago, I learned that my twin love languages (Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) were quality time and physical touch (I love hugs!!!) So, I don’t just accept anything from anyone anymore. If I can be mindful enough to fill someone’s love tank, surely they can take the time to fill mine too. Now, in ALL relationships, I establish and require what I need to feel loved. And I’m unapologetic about it. For those who can’t handle the requirements, I politely say “good-bye” and wish them a happy and incredible life (without me!).

 I’m still a work in progress and this is still new (even after a few years of implementing it) because every person and situation has been different. But, I remain adamant about having people respect my boundaries and my ability to feel loved and respected in any given situation. I’ve welcomed some new people in my life who join the already great people who are here based on our mutual respect and love. And as I have been working on eliminating this “painful” limitation from my life, it has kick-started the need for me to start working on some of the other ones I mentioned as well. (Pray for me!)

Today as we give thanks for wisdom, I am highlighting a virtual, international, nonprofit organization called One to One Women Coaching Women (https://onetoonewomen.org/), which provides 26 week of confidential, intensive, pro-bono life coaching skills to women and veterans emerging from whatever challenging circumstances. Sometimes, we all need a little boost/help in getting our lives back on track and getting rid of old unhealthy patterns of how we do/did things. Please pass along the information to all the woman who you know could use the service and donate to help them expand their realm of help. Since most men often don’t talk about or seek outside help for some of their issues, I am suggesting that you pick up a book called He Motions by T.D. Jakes.  It has been a great resources to many of them to whom I have gifted it.

Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Day 10: Mentorship

Happy Tenth Day of Thanks! (And Happy Thanksgiving or as most of my people say Happy Anti-Imperialist Day)

Today we give thanks and celebrate mentors and mentorship.  Where would we be without mentors and the people who showed up for us? I would surely be lost because all of my mentors literally became my moms and dads. And because they all did such a great job mentoring (parenting) me, I pour out, show up for and do the same for all those I consider my “children” too.

I had the privilege of attending a private, Methodist rooted, international boarding school in Kingston, Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen for high school. It was by far one of the most unforgettable, eye-opening, wonderful experiences in my life.  (I would have definitely sent Lilah there too if she were able to go!) The high school had a mixture of day and boarding students from all walks of life, but was dominated by students from really wealthy families locally and internationally.

My mom (Ms.T) is an old-fashioned Polish woman who taught photography and was the dorm mother in the woman’s dorm for more than twenty years.  She fancied arguing with the girls in our dorm about behaving like young ladies. (I still hear her now in her thick Polish accent, “You must be a young lady!) Although she seemed tough and real strict to most of the girls in our dorm, she had the warmest heart, wanted the best for us, and loved us so much.  During my high school years, my home life was in crisis mode and purely dysfunctional. Because my mom, who was a single-parent, wasn’t working at the time, I had taken on several babysitting jobs with a few of the families on our campus to support my basic needs, while in school. I got paid monthly from the families since the teachers got paid monthly.  But, sometimes in that long stretch of waiting for my pay, I wouldn’t have enough money to wash my clothes in the washing machines or buy some of the basic hygienic necessities.  So when everyone would be completely asleep, I’d sneak to the bathroom after “lights out” with my loads of laundry and hand wash all my clothes.

One day, while I was washing my clothes Ms. T caught me. When she asked me why I was handwashing my clothes in the middle of the night, I had to admit to her that I had absolutely no money until I got paid at the end of the month. She looked me dead in the eyes (she was not letting me escape telling her my whole truth) and asked me why I didn’t tell her or the other dorm mothers my situation.  I started to cry and tell her that I was too embarrassed and ashamed. She told me to put my dirty dry clothes back in the laundry bags and the wet clothes in the bucket and to follow her down to the basement where the laundry machines were. She said, “if you had told us that you needed to wash clothes, you could have come down to wash your clothes for free. We have the keys for the machines.” She created a safe, loving space while she helped me wash my clothes and began to probe more into my family life and what was happening.  With no judgement and much love, she hugged me and let me pour out my troubles.

From that day, she told me to come by her apartment every Saturday morning.  She would check in with me to let me talk out all my problems and frustrations (I had my own pull-out couch to lay on as well!) It was on those Saturdays that she created one of the best and warmest home environments I would ever know.  She taught me how to create and make the best cakes (any and every flavor) and other baked goods from scratch.  We would make different polish and European cuisines and try out some American dishes too. Those moments are where I developed my love for cooking and baking. Until this day, for me, home is the nostalgia of smelling baked goods or food emanating from an apartment or house. Ms. T didn’t stop her lessons there, though. She would talk to me about character building, instill in me the need for academic excellence, show me how to sit up straight (like a lady!), walk in heels, sew by hand, put on make-up, teach me about photography and counsel me about healthy male-female dynamics and relationships. She gave me all the things that my mom didn’t and couldn’t during that time in my life.  It devastated me to know that I was graduating and would have to leave her.  We both cried so hard on my graduation day. Almost thirty years later, we still keep in touch and talk by skype. She knows my Lilah and is happy that all the things she taught me are being passed down to my daughter.  When I renew Lilah’s passport, we will be taking a trip to Poland in the near future to see her.
Also during my high school years, I met one of my friends for life (Bonz!) and her family. Her mother and father became my mother and father and we had the wildest, funniest, and greatest times as a family unit. (I still chuckle to myself at some of our adventures.) They even came to visit me in New York and took us all to see Bring In the Noise, Bring in Da Funk.  My dad, a five foot Jewish, Einstein-looking, doctor, would always puzzle people when he introduced his six foot black daughter, Missy, along with my other siblings.  He came to all our basketball games, took me to my Franklin & Marshall college visit, because he was determined to get one of his daughters to go to his alma mater, and encouraged me to be the doctor that I wanted to be, just like he was. (In the medical field of nephrology, his private practice made great breakthroughs for that region of Pennsylvania.) He was an amazing dad and mentor to me!

My mom, who was a sassy Italian woman, loved to cook and was very artistic. (She drew and designed her own dream house that my dad built for her! Until this day, my dream kitchen has the same island and trinkets in it.) She was one of those superwomen–she worked as a nurse, held her husband and family down, and still found time to do all these other amazing things. (I asked her recently, “mom, how did you manage to make parenting look so easy?” She sucked her teeth to that one.) She not only showed me how to cook and dream for a great future, she showed me how to have a healthy, open mother-daughter relationship. That was invaluable and I am so grateful that my daughter reaps the benefits of those lessons. Of our family, I was the no nonsense big sister, and therefore the lookout and protector –my sister could not go on any outings or long distance trips to see boyfriends without my accompaniment. (Dad was not cool with the boyfriend business!) I also know that no matter what color families are of how much money we have or don’t have, we struggle with the same issues and are all dysfunctional in our own right. 

Mom and dad also came to my rescue financially. When they found out I wasn’t go to my senior prom because I didn’t have enough money to buy both a graduation and prom dress and pay all the associated fees for these events, they stepped in and made sure that I looked like a princess and celebrated me. Mom took me shopping for my prom and graduation and made sure that I had all I needed and even showed me the required table etiquette. The entire family came to my graduation and shouted as loud as my biological family as I took almost 98% of the awards at the ceremony. They, just as Ms. T, were in all of my family photos. After moving on to college and medical school, dad always checked on me and wanted to know where I was and what I was doing. Dad passed away this summer. Before he died, he made sure that my sister called me to tell me what was happening and to make sure I was there to sit Shiva with them. I remember all the life lessons that he taught me and hope that I am still making him proud.

My other mothers and mentors I meant in medical school–interestingly enough they are both pastors. One has her own house church in Cuba and taught me everything about being one of those old mothers of the church who had a direct connection to God and could pray down an answer from heaven. Fasting and intercessory prayer are a lifestyle for her and she would slay the kingdom of darkness and doesn’t play when it comes to being holy before God. She taught me everything about and equipped me for ministry and planting a church. My other mother is a world changer in the field of maternal infant health and dares, every day, to save black and brown babies and shows me how to do the same.   She is a God send and has been my life line on more occasions than I can count.  She is a doula, is a wife, moves mountains and is a strong advocate for the “right way” to do maternal-infant and public health on several continents in many nations. She even convinced some people to build her a clinic (our H.E.Arts center is coming too) to take care of the women and children to whom her nonprofit catered.  I want to be just like her when I grow up and she pours into me to do just that!

My last mother and mentor is a brilliant SHERO who was the first Puerto Rican woman in the Bronx to have her own construction company and build many great projects in the Bronx.  With her four-foot something frame and doctorate of economics, she can dance circles around any administrative task and turn any business upside down and inside out for the better.  When I say she is intelligent, creative, has a gift for business and administration, that numbers and strategies come so easily to her and that she makes the best cranberry sauce in this side of the world (where is my thanksgiving cranberry sauce, mom?), it’s an understatement. I have had the privilege to be her understudy on so many occasions and she has opened so many doors for great opportunities that have blessed me. She teaches me her business savvy, about her naturally occurring talents and shows me how to be a great mom and grandma.  I love her so much and want to be just like her too.

I have so many more mentors and so many more stories but I’ll rest there. 

I know that I am not alone. There have been people (mentors) who showed up for you and invested in your life in significant ways, which has impacted who you are and have become. And just as they did for you, you are now obligated, required, and mandated to do the same for someone else. Most of you do not have to go very far–Pookie and them live right across the hall!  There are children in your schools, in your churches, in your neighborhoods who need you to show them that you are invested in them and willing to take the time to love on them, even when they are not excelling. Today we highlight the organization, MENTOR, (MENTOR promotes, advocates and is a resource for mentoring) that is a great resource for connecting youth to quality mentors to impact and change their lives.  Please consider donating your time and your resources to help expand their work and reach the lives of young people.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!

Next installment, days 11 – 15.