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.

Faith: The Healing of A Provoked Generation

Hope, which is given by God, is often the key that unlocks the hidden potential of every child, and helps them to overcome the atrocities of life. Faith cultivates us in the crucible of pain!

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

Like many teens, it is sometimes challenging to hold things in check when the home is not right. Some teens are pushed into the streets, or they are repeatedly abused until they break. Hence, they become products of a provoked generation of rebellious teens. But for the faith, I could have very quickly been one of those teens. Hope, which is given by God, is often the key that unlocks the hidden potential of every child, and helps them to overcome the atrocities of life. Faith cultivates us in the crucible of pain!

When I was 15 years of age, my mother moved to the other side of town to get away from my step-father for the second time. The picture-perfect family, which was our public image, was shattered. Mom had decided that she was leaving him. While my mom made plans to separate from him, I was put out of the house after I accidentally broke a fish aquarium.

The summer was a particular time for me. It was a time of exploration and intrigue. Each day around 3:00 p.m. my friends and I would retire to our respective homes after hanging out during the morning and early afternoon. In anticipation of our parent’s arrival from work. It was customary for our family to be at home during the time leading up to dinner time. Since my mom was a school teacher the summer was a time that I would spend a lot of time helping my mom around the house and tending to my younger sister. It was a relaxed time that always ended abruptly when daddy walked into the house from work.

On this day he came into the house and in a commanding voice said “Ain’t you got nothing to do?” I nervously quickly replied “No sir. I have already done all of my chores.” He commanded me at once to go and clean the fish tank. This was a task that took time and patience. For the next hour, I would have to carefully place the fish in a bowl that was the same temperature as the tank. Next, I would remove all the aquatic plants and put them in a separate container. Finally, the most tedious task was to dip most of the water out of the tank into a bucket, carry it into the bathroom and then take the fish tank into the bathroom and strain the blue-green lava rocks into a bucket with a strainer in it and clean fish excrement and excess food from between the rocks.

“Buddy! Put that damn bucket down and carry that tank in the bathroom. Your sorry ass will be here all day dipping that water out of that tank.” Because his command was laden with insults and cussing I immediately sat the bucket down and picked up the 20-gallon fish tank that was not completely emptied and heavy. I very carefully strained and carried the tank into the bathroom to empty the water into the bathtub. “And clean that damn tub out when you finish!” He yelled as I struggled into the bathroom with the tank.

 I made it safely to the tub, I regrouped and began to tilt it forward to empty its content into the bucket with the strainer in it so that the rocks would not go down the drain. However, to my dismay, the water-logged rocks shifted forward causing me to drop the fish tank into the tub. “Whew, it did not shatter,” I thought to myself. However, to my utter disappointment, the bottom of the tank had a crack that was the length of the tank. After I collected myself, I cringed as I turned around and my step-dad was standing in the bathroom door.

 He screamed, “Did you throw that aquarium in that tub?!” I said no sir, and before I could explain what happened, he commanded… “Get your sorry ass out of my house!” I went out to the carport not fully understanding what he meant. I was 15 years old, and I had nowhere to go, so I assumed that he was just angry. He followed me out to the carport and bellowed. “I said get out of my house… You got mad because I told you to clean that fish tank and you took it in there and busted it up. Get out! Since you hate me so much get out!”

 Those words burned into my head and heart. I was afraid, angry, disappointed, and confused. With the clothes on my back, covered with water from the fish tank I went out the carport door and onto the street. I was about to cry, but my friends came and begin to ask what was wrong. I said nothing because I was embarrassed about being put out of the house. The first few hours I hung out with my friends, and as night fell, I went to my older brother’s house. My oldest brother had recently moved back into the neighborhood after going to the military, and he allowed me to come in and use the phone to call my mom.

 After talking with my brother, I was told that I was to stay there until further notice. The next day when Daddy went to work my mom delivered some clothing to me. Since I was not in school for the summer and I did not have a job I mainly stayed at my brother’s house for the remainder of the summer.

 God kept me through the crucible of the hell hole that was my home. My father was overtly cruel, and my mother was powerless against him. My favorite childhood song was a song we sang at church every Sunday morning, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear, What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”[1] Although it appears that I was in pain my entire childhood it should be understood that my Daddy and mom’s actions were typical for me.  As a result, I was not sad, feeling as if I was singled out and mistreated, I was actually a friendly and somewhat happy teen who was everybody’s Buddy. My nickname was Buddy because I was friendly to everyone I met… including daddy.

God had already anticipated this because my brother had just moved back into our community and my mother had a contract on a new house that she was awaiting the final approval on. When I was pushed out onto the street, my mother began to execute her plan. She contacted my older brother and made arrangements for me to stay with him until we moved. During that time we visited on a regular basis, and it was during this time that we began our weekly prayer time together. Within a few weeks, my mother called all of us together and announced that we were moving to the other side of town. None of us questioned her move we just loaded up the cars and a borrowed truck, got our things and moved. 

[1]What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is a Christian hymn originally written by Joseph M. Scriven as a poem in 1855 to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada.

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.

 

Morristown College

At the summit of the hill, about 100 yards beyond the canopy of trees, a narrow rocky trail led up to the beautiful, stately, institution of Morristown College. It was one of the first institutions of higher learning dedicated to the education of Black men and women in the entire State of Tennessee. It was a remarkable majestic sight. The shadow of the college cast an academic spell on my cousins and me. It made us educational sponges. We all excelled in our educational pursuits. Some were honor students in high school and college. In several cases, we completed advance Master and Doctorate degrees.

MC4

The rich legacy of Morristown College[1] established by Dr. Judson Hill and those that followed him defined the school as a significant place in our family. My grandmother was extremely proud of the fact that we lived nearby of such a substantial college for our family. However, due to racism, changing times and fate the school is now leveled. This was a landmark in my life. What happens when markers move?

 

[1]“City takes next step toward Heritage Park at college site.” Citizen Tribune. Retrieved 2017-01-20 Morristown College was an African-American higher education institution located in Morristown, the seat of Hamblen County, Tennessee. It was founded in 1881 by the national Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The school was renamed Knoxville College-Morristown Campus in 1989 and closed in 1994. Before the civil rights movement, the college held the distinction of being one of only two institutions in East Tennessee for African-Americans, the other being Knoxville College, founded in 1875. The 52-acre (210,000 m2) campus was perched on a hill in the middle of Morristown and surrounded by five distinct neighborhoods. Seven of the college’s nine buildings were on the National Register of Historic Places. After operations ceased, most of the college buildings fell into disrepair, succumbing to vandalism and neglect. Minus a few structures, the campus was demolished to make way for a city park.

 

Morristown, TN

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.    (Psalm 127:1)

Branner Street

Looking through the front window from the back seat of my mom’s car during the steep drive up Branner street seemed as if the road led straight up to heaven. All I could see was a cloudless clear blue sky. As a child, I would sit anxious and silent until we neared the crest of the hill where the ground leveled out. As soon as we hit the level ground, I was boiling over with excitement. To the left of the car… there it set… grandmother’s house! It was a light brown brick colonial style house with different dark speckled brown shingles that fit perfectly on the roof. Next to it was my Aunt Irene and Uncle Robert’s house nestled under a dense green canopy of giant maple trees. The tree line casts a shadow of security over the homes while creating a natural boundary that separated my family’s property from the meadow that flowed upwards to the summit of the hill.

The was the pace my journey of faith began. The beauty and the reality of this place will always be etched in my heart. It was the one place that I went to and I found true love. Grandmother, Mom, Aunt Iren and Uncle Robert where the guardians of my soul. What ever I came to believe about the world was always based on my experiences in Morristown, Tennessee.

By Faith, God ushered me into life with a foundation of security and love.

Branner Street Morristown, TN The Beginning of My Faith

Faith begins in the privacy of our hearts, and it is cultivated by grace through adversity.

Henri Whitfield

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The weather was always perfect there. The mornings burst with a rainbow of bright colors… violet, white, and pink honeysuckle flowers hung from emerald-green vines that lined the wooden fences that separated the houses from the woods. The fields cascading down from the edge of the college property ignited in the spring and summer with, deep yellow sunflowers, rich blue wildflowers, pink, yellow, and orange dandelions that yawned and basked in the warm rays of the sun. On windy days the tall grass would bend with each gentle breeze casting dandelion seedlings all over the land. We spent days hunting for beetles, butterflies, and moths just to watch them as they busied themselves throughout the day. We sought after chances to hold friendly ladybugs, and when we finished, we lifted them up above our heads watching them fly into the wind.

“…See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” (Matthew 6:28)

It was as if angels attended to each of us as we started our day. The morning sun gently touched my face with its warm, soothing fingertips awakening me to the sounds of birds chirping, hummingbirds hovering over the honeysuckle vines, and bumblebees flying from flowers and plants in the garden, around the houses, and the surrounding fields. We all busied ourselves tending to the garden with our grandmother. After completing our chores, the meadows, the properties surrounding the college and the houses were our playground. Each day we played until time for dinner. Chasing June bugs during the late afternoons and in the evenings during the warm spring and summer months was our favorite pastime. Capturing fireflies in jars and sitting in the dark each night, fascinated by their illuminating ability to light up a dark room was intriguing.

Winters were indoors near Uncle Robert’s enchanted fireplace, or at grandmother’s feet waiting for hot chocolate, made with real chocolate and fresh milk. The atmosphere of our existence atop Branner Street hill at grandmother’s house was serene. It was a haven for our family, a summertime retreat from the storms of life, and a place we went to rejuvenate from exhausting troubles of life.

How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the LORD, For He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me.

Psalm 31:19-21

When the snow came it either crept in during the silence of night or as a blistering winter storm. No matter how it happened, the effects were always the same.  It lay a thick, soft blanket of pure white snow over the houses and the meadow. Every blemish on the landscape became a perfect ice menagerie. The old houses turned into warm, cozy lodges. The college became an immaculate ice palace. The broken down “outhouse” became a place of nostalgic beauty. The rusted car hidden behind my uncle’s house became a perfect remodeled ice mobile. The scrap wood piles, the rugged rocky hillside and everything that was unsightly became beautiful. It was smooth, pure white, glistening and reflecting the light of God. It was a glorious redemptive sight that transformed our existence into paradise. However, when the sun raised the temperatures, it converted the snow and ice into nutrient-laden water that nourished the land and made the garden grow. The surplus of water that came from the melted snow replenished the ponds, streams, and the local Mayes Lake reservoir.

Just Believing is not transforming Faith… Transforming Faith is more than Simply Believing! It is trusting Him!

Peace that surpasses all understanding demands an understanding. It barges in unsolicited, uninvited but yet it is a welcomed intruder.  Peace is mobilized by God through faith. It is not self-generated… it is a gift of God!

Faith is the vehicle that we ride through the darkest of nights into the presence of God. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him! Hebrews 11:6

Dr. Henri Whitfield

We knelt to pray beside 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, or clinging to life. She was suddenly at peace, and I too was 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 indeed 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. It was the peace that surpasses all understanding. God, through faith, stood with me as they carried her… from the room and rushed her to the hospital.

ambulance

 Philippians 4:7 says “And the peace of God, which passed all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”.

The peace that surpasses all understanding demands an understanding. It barges in unsolicited, uninvited but yet it is a welcomed intruder.  Peace is mobilized by God through faith. It is not self-generated… it is a gift from God.[1] The struggle and the anxious hours of awaiting the outcome of her trip to the hospital gave way to hours that vacillated between hope and futility. During that time my mind drifted back to the beginning of our journey… back to Morristown, Tennessee where it all began.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9