Prologue

God’s grace is freely given, who we are as faithful followers of Christ are the result of the work God does in us. We are His workmanship.

My most humbling discovery was to come to know that I have nothing to do with the acquisition of my faith. It is a gift that God freely gives. We often speak of cultivating our faith… actually our faith cultivates us!

Henri Whitfield

pexels-photo-257360.jpegMy journey of faith is a unique story of how God uses circumstances, good and evil, to establish us in His faith. By faith, God carries us through the consequences of our failures, the grind of our challenges, and the loftiness of our successes. My most humbling discovery was to come to know that I have nothing to do with the acquisition of faith. Faith is freely given in the quietness of our heart, and it is perfected by the storms that circle outside of our hearts. Like the snow that blankets a rough terrain, faith covers my blemishes, freezes our fears, and ultimately it waters and replenishes our souls as the icy disappointments of life melt away in the warmth of the redemptive presence of Christ in our lives.

 “…for by grace have ye, been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared, that we should walk in them.”[1] (Ephesians 2:8-9)

[1] American Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Eph 2:8–10.

Faith: The Fabric of Life (Preface)

In a world where the masses are falling away from the Christian faith, and many are attempting to redefine God, it is essential to present God in a way that resonates with people from every social class.  Faith: The Fabric of Life is not just a collection of words, but linguistic tools that help people to connect with God. Our faith experiences weave our lives into an intricate fabric that testifies to the presence and greatness of God. It takes God from being “The Man Upstairs” to the divine advocate and helper in all things great and small. 

Faith unites our day to day experiences like threads in a priceless fabric that protects us in storms and adorns us in victories.   Whereas many will take life’s experiences to say that there is no God Faith: The Fabric of Life reveals the presence of God hiding in plain sight. For God’s chosen, faith is relatable. It takes daily circumstances and brings them into full view showing the miracle of God’s divine presence just as he promised through the words of Christ. 

‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’ (John 14:26) 

As the circumstance of life weaves our faith into a tapestry of high value, it is crucial that we share our experiences, no matter how compelling or personal. Each day that we walk with God, faith adds color and texture to the fabric of our lives. With every encounter, we document the works of God in a generation that questions the very existence of God. Faith: The Fabric of Life is an autobiographical account of the life of Henri Whitfield who was born to an estranged mother in the hill country of East Tennessee. Today he shares a home in Texas with his wife and daughter. 

 

Like many Christians, Henri was born into a Christian family and subsequently labeled as a Christian. However, after a life of abuse, disappointments, failures and overwhelming challenges Henri Whitfield emerges with a message of faith that is a by-product of his experience of suffering. Henri became a warrior for Christ through the crucible of pain and overwhelming odds. Faith: The Fabric of Life resonates with hurting humanity and conveys a message of hope to those who question the need for faith. 

Growing as a Christian is often a series of events and moments that take us from one hurdle to the next. However, now and then we experience something that causes us to question the very existence of God. Like the Biblical story of Job, many people are experiencing agonizing pain resulting from the sudden loss of loved ones, sudden economic change, marital problems and overwhelming hypocrisy in the local and national church. Through anecdotal memoirs, this writing seeks to offer hope to people of faith who are facing a Job moment in their faith walk. 

People who are on the verge of giving up because they feel as if they are alone in their complicated lives need to know that God has a plan for their lives no matter how tumultuous. Many have grown to be faithful to the rudiments of their faith, they treat people fair, and they are genuine and good people. Despite their innate goodness, they are facing the natural growth process of their faith development. God is the initiator of faith, and He is also the custodian of faith. God weaves faith through the challenges of our lives. God cultivates faith through great victories and tough challenges. The biblical story of Job gives a clear depiction of how God uses catastrophic circumstances to compel His chosen to a life of faithful dependence on Him. The writer of Hebrew says it best. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

A life of faith is not happenstance and unplanned events. They are intricately woven experiences that shape His chosen into trophies of His grace who glorify Him in the most difficult of situations. Henri Whitfield’s life offers an alternative to becoming infidels and suicidal when life gets hard. In the life of every Christian, faith is the escort back to hope when it looks as if all hope is gone.

Charged with a Crime

Obliterate the day I was born. Blank out the night I was conceived! Let it be a black hole in space. May God above forget it ever happened. Erase it from the books! May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, shrouded by the fog, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception—the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac.  Job 3:5-10

This complaint by Job echoes the pain of men and women who have reached their wit’s end. They often grow bitter and complain about how God has allowed them to suffer. Even Jesus lamented His suffering.3 The book of Job is a poignant tale of a man going through the development of his faith. The trial of our faith makes us patient4, and it refines us like pure gold.5 Our faith is like fine linen made from the most delicate material in our lives. People of faith are often broken, mended, thrashed and meticulously put back together by God’s tender hands of grace.  Each of our lives of faith is made up of pure golden threads of pain, extreme comfort, agonizing disappointment, victorious fulfillment, sorrowful mystery, and joyous clarity. Life is a continuum of changes that prepare us for our beginning in the eternal presence of God covered by a tapestry of faith woven from the intricate details of our lives.

Like Job we too have lived through seasons in our lives we wished we never saw, only to reflect on them and understand that it was all apart of God’s plan. Faith: The Fabric of Life is a collection of anecdotal testimonials form the life of Henri Whitfield designed to encourage the man, woman, boy or girl who feels as if God is ignoring them. Worst yet, they are coming to believe that God is not there because He is not answering their pleadings. Still, others have felt the abandonment of death leaving them in a world that has no place for them. However, somehow, we find joy in the torrents of our life’s severe storms that seem to come out of nowhere.

Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, and give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a lifetime: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning.

The Psalmist declares the temporal nature of calamity while assuring the faithful of God’s eternal love. Whatever we live through by the might of God, contributes to the threads that make up His tapestry of grace in our lives. It is the covering that God weaves over our lives that warms us in the chilling stillness of inertia, and it provides during the infernos of our lives. Grace granted freely by God saves us. No matter how good or how indifferent we are God keep His chosen through the storms.

In October 2015 Henri was summoned to a local police department to face charges against him for a crime against a person allegedly committed over 13 years prior. It was set up for him to turn himself in to be set free on the same day. However, within ten days He was taken by the police in front of his home for a second time with a second charge from the same person. He was held in a local suburban police department for three days for the second charge. Within a few days, his face was on the news and the internet along with a vague description of the alleged crime/s. Like the biblical character Job, he was enjoying the favor of God on one day, and within a few hours, he was reporting to the local police department for questioning.

Much to his disappointment, instead of people supporting he and his family they seemed to avoid them. Some even took the liberty of adding to the lies that were circulating. Others who said that they believed that the charges were lies, said nothing. It seemed as if he and his family were relying only on God his immediate extended family and a few faithful friends. As things became public, a suicidal demon chased him through the day. In the dark of night, the demon of self-destruction brought along companions who vexed and tempted him in every way imaginable. What should have been a time of deep consecration and dependence on God, became a time of hauntings and temptations. His dreams were made up of dark, suffocating chasms that carried him into a cavernous dark abyss that was always interrupted with a desperate cry into the darkness. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! He would awaken with his heart racing and his mind wondering if he had died and made it to eternity. When he came to himself, he realized that he merely awakened to his mundane existence of being alone, angry, fearful and bewildered wondering when it would all end.

After two years and six months, the charges were dropped.  Henri began to try to pick up and move ahead with life, but he realized that moving on would be difficult because he was frustrated with God for having allowed him to face his worst fears of being publicly humiliated. Henri struggled because he lost so much because of the public announcement of the charges made against him. He was face to face with a Job crisis that only God would carry him through.

            God builds His chosen through the crucible of pain protected by a blanket of faith made from a myriad of threads of life. God meticulously weaves the lives of people of faith into a God-glorifying fabric. What makes up the fabric of faith are threads of difficulties, struggles, and pain. The fabric is held together by the strong scarlet thread of joy. Joy binds the experiences of faith together by weaving disjointed atrocities into safety nets of hope.

Joy is the underlying constant God uses to demonstrate His intimate involvement with us as we endure life. When we are emotionally shipwrecked, and suicide is our only logical escape, joy comes and assures us of hope. Joy is that happiness that comes as a grace gift that takes us far away from the void of hopelessness. It offers us unbridled blissfulness that cannot be swayed by the demonic minions of defeat and disappointment. Joy is the hydrocodone that makes the pain bearable. It does not cure the cause; it anesthetizes the pain granting a brief reprieve until the pain returns.

The previous story of an extremely redefining moment in the life of Henri Whitfield is the adversity that caused him to stop, reflect and begin to codify God’s sovereign reign over his life and his walk of faith. Through a life of miracles and arduous trials, God cultivates faith into a fabric of excellent value that covers us in times of adversity and honor. Faith is affirmed in the brightness of victories and cultivated in the darkness of adversity to the glory of God. Who we are in Christ is predicated on His choices for us and what we endure is because of His strength in us.  Faith is not born out of Bible Study and prayer, but Bible Study and prayer are by-products of God’s presence in us.

 

Faith: The Death of a Child

Suddenly we saw what no parent ever wants to see! Death was slowly moving over our child’s face like a skilled makeup artist. Her beautiful pink cheeks were quickly fading to a pale bluish hue.

God, through Jesus Christ, is what we hope for and His presence is the evidence, though unseen, of our eternal trust in Him.

Dr. Henri Whitfield

The birth of our first daughter was the first time I faced a significant trial after marrying my wife. The challenge of raising children has always been a daunting task. But rearing a child born prematurely with chromosomal anomalies can be incredibly taxing. Sitting at the hospital all night and getting up and functioning the next day did was tough and I did not always get the best results. The days were full of tough decisions, and the silence of the night was spent second-guessing the decisions made at earlier times during the day. When I was 32 years of age my daughter, Taylor Iman, which means “Mender of Faith,” was born on February 3. She had a chromosomal disorder, and she was born three months premature. By the time she was eight months old her little body had endured six surgeries. We were in constant prayer hoping that God would heal her of all of her physical maladies. A normal day in our lives consisted of heart rate monitors, nurse shifts and sleepless nights.

One day, I went in to check on Taylor, and to my surprise, she was struggling to breathe. I instantly called the paramedics, and then called my wife to have her meet me at the hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital, I placed a call to the assistant pastor and the senior pastor of the church my family attended. As I sat there alone, I prayed earnestly until my wife arrived. Upon her arrival, her mother and father came in with her. We sat in the waiting room awaiting word from the doctors for several long hours.

The pastors, family, and friends were in the waiting area when the nurse came and guided us into the emergency room where she lay. Our pastors accompanied us into the room. The leads and the heart monitor were all removed from her body, the monitors were silent, the breathing machine was not breathing for her, and the lights in the room were dim as if they were allowing her to get some much-needed rest. However, something was different. Our beautiful baby girl was not fussing and wiggling around on the examination table; she was still… her voice was silent. Her eyes, partially opened, stared straight at the ceiling looking neither to the right or the left. She looked as if she was about to fall into a deep sleep. I reached to wipe away tears from her cheeks that had rolled down her face towards her ears, as I touched her I realized that life had left her small warm body. Suddenly we saw what no parent ever wants to see! Death was slowly moving over our child’s face like a skilled makeup artist. Her beautiful pink cheeks were quickly fading to a pale bluish hue. As we prepared to pick her up the ER doctor stopped us. She positioned herself between our daughter and us, with an intense, tear restraining gaze, she spoke in a soft, stern, compassionate voice. “We did all we could do… there is nothing more we can do.”

As the reality of her death began to overcome us, the doctors, nurses, and our pastors held us up. Consumed with inexpressible grief, we gasped, the air left the room at once, and everything in the place went blank, the dim lights in the room faded to nothing, the noise of a busy hospital emergency room suddenly hushed, the voices in the room became nothing but blurred tones that were momentarily indistinguishable. What began as a typical day in the life of our family since the birth of Taylor suddenly turned into a day of emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. Together we imploded collapsing almost hitting the floor. The picture was one of total and unimpeded collapse. As we were kept from falling to the floor by our pastors. As they picked us up, we began to breathe in deep gulping breaths. Upon regaining our composure, we instantly filled the room with cries and tears of total grief. We clung to each other trying to comprehend the sheer horror of her death. Within that instant, we were on the brink of insanity. We wept bitter, agonizing tears audibly in each other’s arms. As parents, we would not give up! Had we failed because we were not able to keep her from death? For eight months we hoped against hope that God would heal her.  I reached out and touched her and prayed that God would perform a miracle. Even though the doctors had affirmed that she was physically deceased… we prayed for a miracle. Our inner spirits jettisoned to the spirit realm, and we screamed blood-curdling screams that shook the gates of heaven.  We had abandoned our surroundings, and at once we wrestled, thrashed, and fought with God’s angel of death. Together we wrestled with God. Then God answered us… In an abrupt commanding voice… He said no! Like an earthly father helping his children to understand that he means no to their pleadings to have things their way.

As a father, the guilt of having lost a fight for our only child was devastating. In that instant, we came to ourselves, and we prepared to leave the hospital. Like pouting children, we refused to speak to those around us. In fact, we could not talk, each time we opened our mouths, weeping and wailing escaped from the depth of our beings. Like the women in Egypt, during the slaughter of innocent children, there was no comfort for us. Our wailing soon gave way to a rebellious silence. The noise of our silence was impossible to pierce as we made our way home. We were empty of words, solemn with anguish, and weak from existing in that moment and the earlier hours. These were the moments when our hope was gone; we were momentary infidels. Who we were in Christ was not even a consideration. Disillusionment was quickly grasping at our hearts; our belief was suddenly becoming unbelief. Our daughter’s name means “Mender of Faith” …we believed that God gave us her name… but where was the mending or the faith?

Suddenly, faith seized us immediately ending our turmoil as we walked through the door of our home. We found our way to our bedroom, and for the first time since her birth, we slept without any interruptions. No more monitors were beeping in the night and no more cries for comfort from an ailing child. The house quickly filled with concerned relatives and friends, but we retreated to our bedroom and closed the door. Sleep came to us as a soothing gift. In our sleep, we remembered her birth and all the victories of our lives together. We instantly knew that God had, in fact, mended our faith. Faith is not praying and receiving, but it can accept the will of God in life. God taught us that His faith is what we should take no matter how bitter the taste.
By the time the funeral arrived I was prepared to preach, and that morning God gave me peace. My message was a simple one; “God is Still Good!”, By faith, I learned that it was an honor and a privileged to endure the death of a child because it gave me an inkling of what God experienced when He freely give His only begotten son for us. The only difference was our child was not given willingly, God gave His son willingly! The parallel between God and my wife and I made the message of Christ’s death relevant to me as a minister of the Gospel. More importantly, we learned how to suffer through the challenges of life. Though her death seemed cruel, we accounted for it as a blessing because we now understand the sacrifice that God gave for us by grace. He gave the precious gift of His son so that we might know Him.

As I completed the eulogy, I said these words for those who were seeking ways to help us get over Taylor’s death. “We will never completely heal from the gaping hole in our lives because of Taylor’s death, but by the grace of God, He will shape our lives around it. And in the days ahead we will visit with Taylor in our hearts until we meet again in Heaven.” These words have been said countless times as we have ministered to parents who have endured the pain of parting with their child through death.

God used this circumstance to mend our faith in the crucible of grief. In our grief, we experienced unbearable pain. God, by faith, carried us through the dark corridors of trouble and He delivered us safely to the brightness of Hope. We did not get through that moment because we were faithful but because He is faithful. God is the giver of faith. Our trials are used to cultivate our faith. Once cultivated it prepares you to continue with God even when logic tells you that there is no God. However, when we walk blindly, due to dark uncharted circumstances, God orders our steps. God, through Jesus Christ, is what we hope for, and His presence is the evidence, though unseen, of our eternal trust in Him.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Faith: Alone But Centered In His Will

I was alone and I was content. Many of my friends pitited me because none of my family was there but I was happy in knowing that God had guided me to the hour of graduration. I was godly proud of my accomplishment and I did not feel the sting of loneliness.

     “The safest place in the whole wide world…. is in the will of God. Though trials be great and the way seems hard it’s in the will of God… The safest place in the         in the whole wide world is in the Master’s hand.” 

As I look over my faith journey, the words to the song. The Will of God, by Karen Clark Shears, are words of affirmation.  Being in the will of God has proven to be very important when the family is not there. No matter what the reason for their absence.

Parents, grandparents, step-parents, and others gathered to celebrate and honor their graduate. Many had come from New York, California, and some as far away as the Bahamas.

The campus was abuzz with excitement. People from all over the world gathered on the campus of American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. It was graduation day, the sun was beautiful as always. It was the day we had all worked towards. The faculty and staff were on their best behavior making sure that the school looked inviting to the next generation of students.  The smell of the fresh cut grass filled the air… 

Six years had passed, since the death of my mother and I was graduating from college. Even though my immediate family did not attend, I was excited about the fact that I had done what my mother dreamed that I would do…I graduated from college.

After the ceremony was over, I patiently waited until the right time, and I prepared to leave. Since I was working in Nashville at the Spencer Youth Center, I went home and got ready to go to work. There were no parties or celebrations nor was there money or gifts. But I was content with knowing that I was right in the center of the will of God. Faith and circumstances had guided my life to this point.

I was alone, and I was content. Many of my friends pitied me because none of my family was there, but I was happy knowing that God had guided me to the hour of graduation. I was godly proud of my accomplishment, and I did not feel the sting of loneliness. Instead, I rejoiced along with everyone else. From hindsight, it seems sad, but at the moment it was a great day of achievement in my life. I was alone but centered in His will. 

 

Faith: Guiding Me into My Destiny

“I’ll tell you what….” Taking a deep sigh and compassionately looking into my eyes… “I will give you a C for a grade if you will promise me that you will change your major…But if you insist on doing this, then I will have to flunk you.” I said give me the C at once.

Within a year after I announced my call to ministry, I was guided to enhance my studies as a minister at American Baptist College. While at the University of Tennessee (UTK) one of the most disappointing, but humorous moments I endured led to my exit from UTK. At the time I was taken aback, but as soon as I reflected on what God was doing, I recognized His purpose.

That morning the recital room was cold, and the only heat in the room was emanating from me as I nervously prepared my end of semester recital. This recital was to represent the sum of all I had learned during the semester. My music instructor began playing and motioned to me to start singing. When I started to sing she stopped me and said you are off key! For the next few moments, she worked with me to find the right key. Once I began to sing, she exclaimed loudly, “beautiful!” As my confidence grew, I went off key again. She asked me “What Happened!” After making another adjustment, I was singing again. I could tell by her expression that something was wrong, but she kept playing and said…,
“Don’t you hear that?” Before I could make the key adjustment, she slammed the piano cover closed and looked into my eyes and said, just below a scream and definitely loud enough for me to hear, with a frustrated near angry tone. “I’ll tell you what….” Taking a deep sigh and compassionately looking into my eyes… “I will give you a C for a grade if you will promise me that you will change your major…But if you insist on doing this, then I will have to flunk you.” I said give me the C at once.

The turning point that led to my departure from the music program eventually was very humorous to me. However, my exit from the music program forced me to focus on ministry. The second semester at UTK I took only core classes. The following fall I enrolled at American Baptist College where I remained until graduation.

Faith: A Memory of Mom

Faith personified as peace, gripped me just before I descended into insanity’s bliss of nothingness. Had I gone there I would have never returned. Peace captured me and held me until I fell asleep.

Leaving Savannah was a mix of melancholy and anxious excitement. God navigated my return home to Tennessee where He launched me into my life’s calling. Until now my calling to the ministry was in word only. I did not have a definitive plan to accomplish my lifelong dream. Within a month of my arrival in Morristown, I was attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in vocal and instrumental music. The transition to the university went well. However, with Thanksgiving arriving soon, my heart and mind carried me back to the many family Thanksgiving gatherings over the years with my extended family. This would be the first Thanksgiving Day without my mother. The reality of her death seemed to suddenly become real to me.

I sat near the window of the student union building gazing out over the horizon towards the beautiful Smokey Mountain Range. The autumn sun was a burnt orange much like our school colors at UT Knoxville. The trees were wearing their late fall colors. Some of the trees were almost barren while others had different shades of brown and orange leaves clinging to their branches. The evergreen trees were beautiful casting long shadows over the mountains and the valleys below. I sat alone in the Baptist Student Union reflecting on my 19 years of existence. Tumultuous as they were, I did not dwell on the horrors of my childhood. My only concern was that I missed my mom. After drifting into a deep sleep, unattended sorrow awakened me as I began to weep. Since there was no one around, I turned my face towards the window facing the snow-capped mountains and swallowed the sounds of my grief. The previously contained tears exploded from my eyes in steamy geysers. They were hot against my face as they made their way towards my chin. Sweat formed on my brow as my body heated up from my inner turmoil. My shirt stuck to my chest due to the endless river of sorrow. After accepting the fact that I could not control the overwhelming pain, I curled up in a huge lounge chair, closed my eyes and cried. The soothing glow of the full Tennessee moon embraced me and my unbearable agony. As I drifted deeper and deeper into my sorrow, I was lonely, depressed, and bewildered. I would soon approach the next step in my emotional decent… insanity.

Night had fallen, the room was still, the smells of late autumn filled the room. It was a week before Thanksgiving. I was staying in the dormitory during the Thanksgiving break because I felt I had nowhere to go. The foreboding quietness brought with it a substantial enveloping presence that attended to me. Suddenly, as I had experienced before, peace came to me. It grabbed my heart, then chased my mind down and calmed me with a firm yet gentle grip… one moment lost in unbearable anguish, and the next, I am in the bosom of God. Faith personified as peace, gripped me just before I descended into insanity’s bliss of nothingness. Had I gone there I would have never returned. Peace captured me and held me until I fell asleep. A few hours later, I awakened feeling as if I had spent countless days with my mother. Faith had intruded into my sacred chamber of horrific memories and pulled me to safety in the bosom of peace.

 

Witnessing Spousal Abuse

God is not the author of trials, temptations, and vexations but He uses them to refine His chosen into trophies of His grace.

Henri Whitfield

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Jas 1:12.

After my grandmother’s death, my mother’s relationship with my step-father began to change. What was once a great story of overcoming abandonment gradually turned into a tale of victimization, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse? During those days, none of us thought to call the police or try to get help. Shortly after my grandmother’s death, I heard the meanness of my daddy and how powerless my mom was against him. In an unforgettable event, I sat in my bedroom as I listened to his menacing voice….

“Your mom is dead now so who you gonna run to now?!” Shut up before I throw you and you damn kids out of my house!!!

Those words were heard through the whimpering cry of my mother pinned to her bed as she tried to get free of him. Something had to be done! But what?!? Philippians 4:12-13  became our constant mantra.

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”