Faith: The Fabric of Life (Intro)

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 are not just 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 the daily circumstances and brings them into full view revealing 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.

As with 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 for those who question the need for faith.

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 marying 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 maliadies. 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 curling 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 wreseled 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. No 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 demise of Taylor refined us into people who mirror the image of God because like God we know what it means to lose our first born. The only difference was our child was not given willingly, but 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 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 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 in 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.”

The Grace of Faith

During life God affirms that He is intimately involved in our lives. He is not just a belief, concept or idea. He is a person upon whom we can depend who comes to us and stands with us in our darkest hours. It’s the ministry of HIS presence!

Henri Whitfield

Second Baptist Church

We knelt to pray beside of her bed, as we often did, suddenly she fell to the floor clutching her Bible. As she lay there in her favorite blue-green night-gown she pushed her Bible into my chest, her arms fell limp, and she slipped out of consciousness. I called out to my step-father who came and grabbed her away from me, he yelled her name, Maggie!!!! Mag!!!! And then he rushed to the phone to call an ambulance. As I sat there alone confused, bewildered and afraid a few moments later I watched as white foam began to flow from her mouth, I realized her life energy was slowly fading from her. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the divine comforter,  had come into the room. She was no longer gasping, struggling, and clinging on to life. She was suddenly at peace, and I too was suddenly at peace…it was a strange kind of peace.

What should have been a devastating night of horror was a night of affirmation. It was a night of proof that God truly is intimately involved in the lives of His chosen. It was the first time in my life that I realized that God was not just a belief, but He was a person upon whom I could depend. That night in November of the eighteenth year of my life. I realized that in my darkest hour He came and calmed me. He stood with me as they carried her….my mother… from the room and rushed her to the hospital.

Hours later, as I waited at home alone with my younger sister, who slept through all of the commotions, the door to the carport opened and in walks my step-dad. After a dramatic pause that seemed like an eternity…  he told me “Your mom just died.” Subsequently studying his face, I noticed that he had been crying, at that moment what I already knew was confirmed. I immediately pushed past him and ran into the night. I ran only a short distance into the crisp, fresh Georgia air gasping for breath, screaming, crying and struggling trying to fully comprehend what had just happened, my 44-year-old mother had just died. Slowly I came to myself and returned home to find that our neighbors had begun to gather into the house. This was the night that my mom’s life ended. In fact, it was the end of a lot of things… but my belief catapulted into faith! I had no choice, I had been taught to believe in God, but I had never depended on God. Until now there was no need…. Mom was there. That autumn night in the eighteenth year of my life, in Savannah, Ga I learned that I had been chosen by God, everything that I had been taught crystalized into a solid, though small,  foundation of faith that would carry me throughout my life. 

With my world collapsing around me, I stood firm on the faith that I had seen develop in my mother. Through all the disappointments and the troubles of our lives, we learned to trust God. My mother was no saint by the stretch of anyone’s imagination, but she eventually learned to embrace what Gods’ will was for her life. With 20/20 vision I know that her purpose was inextricably tied to getting me here so that I might fulfill the legacy that has been started in my family. We are a priestly family, and we have a mission which is to show the love of God to a shadowy world that has no true concept of love.  By faith, I set my sights on going forward and becoming what God called me to be.

“…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 afore 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.