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.

 

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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.”

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.

A Father Who Provokes

Fathers, do not provoke your children so that they will not lose heart.  Col 3:21.

… Somewhere in the course of time, he became indifferent towards me and I towards him. This was noticed by my mother and my siblings, who made light of it at times. Once my relationship with “Daddy” began to spiral downhill my mother spent a lot of time keeping me away from him. I never bonded with him. My attempts at bonding with him were horrible failures.  All efforts were met with disillusionment because of his dark, twisted hostility, and senseless abuse. One memorable event when I was 8 years old sums up how I was treated by him.

I always sat to his immediate right at the dinner table. From time to time he would play and hit me jokingly, so I thought. This time he hit me, and I laughed and playfully hit him back. In a flash, in an unexpected turn of events, with no time for thought or action… all I saw was his huge black hand splitting the air towards my face. At that moment, he had backhand slapped me so hard that I fell back from the table with my mouth bleeding. I was embarrassed, hurt, disoriented, and filled with rage and disappointment. As these emotions battled within me. He sat towering over me… and in his “Bama, drill sergeant, menacing voice” said don’t ever hit me back when I hit you!” As I attempted to crawl from beside the table, my brother and sister set silently, frozen in fear. “Nate!” My mom screamed… “That was not even necessary.” Unable to collect myself from beside the table my body immediately jerked and heaved, and everyone gasped in disgust as I instantly vomited my meal of rice and gravy, green beans, pieces of chewed beef, bread, and red Kool-aid on him and on my place setting. As I attempted to make it away from the table, I was aided by my mother who had rushed from the other end of the room and began to help me from the table. My brother and sister thought it was funny after they realized what had happened.  My mom ignored him as he commanded… “leave his sorry ass alone!”

The fact that I ruined his meal was poetic justice because of his assault on me.