It’s early on a Sunday morning and everyone is quietly resting but there is a restlessness in me within me that has robbed me of sleep now for several months. I haven’t felt like writing for a while but this morning there seems to be an unction for putting fingers to keys in expression of those thoughts. the last two years of life, with all of the adversity and uncertainty, has brought me to some hard conclusions. There are some situations we encounter that we can easily bounce back from. However, there are some circumstances that we will spend the rest of our life wrestling with. Recovering from tragedy is never easy and certainly something you can’t do alone but the process to recovery is perhaps the most enlightening process one can ever engage in.
it all started January 26, 2015 or somewhere thereabouts. Around 6:00 p.m.in the evening we had experienced one of the greatest moves of God ever in the sanctuary of Little Zorah Baptist Church. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper and as we stood around the table, just a small group of us praying, we experienced the glory of God fall like never before. it was one of the most spiritually provocative experiences as we were given the privilege of basking in the presence of God and we witness God empower individuals who, in most instances, were usually quiet in worship pray until the glory fell. In that moment we corporately witnessed the glory of God that left every worshiper in awe. Who knew it would be the last worship experience we would share in that small little wooden church. this place had become such a centerpiece in the life of me and my family having given the last 16 years of our life to growing this ministry. This night left me with such hop as we looked toward the future. How quickly triumph can be turned into tragedy.
About 2:30 a.m. there was a knock on the door of my home and a reality that would quickly overshadow the experience we had shared several hours ago. the individual knocking on the door was in a panic because the church building was literally engulfed in flames. Immediately there was a panic in my home as we rushed to give attention to the matter. the call to 911 and a feverish attempt to run to the church to see what could be done but by the time we looked out the door we could see the church burning with flames roaring into the sky and then it hit me. it was like Job said, “The thing I feared the most had come upon me.” The flames had engulfed the church building and were quickly rushing across the street to the neighbor’s house. My son and I were doing our best to get the neighbors out of their home and out of harm’s way. When they were finally to safety we stood watching helplessly as the church building and many personal possessions that were so dear being consumed by fire. By this time several of the men of the church and community had gathered and we watched as firemen worked feverishly to put out the fire but when they were finished all that was left were ashes and memories. What a tragedy!! This was a different kind of loss I hd never experienced before and I wasn’t alone. This was devastating for our church family and community. What’s next?
This was only the beginning. How we handle tragedy will teach us a log about ourselves and much about others as well. Well, class was opened and the lessons would and are unforgettable. One does not always make the best decision when trying to deal with difficult situations and in retrospect this is the reality of my situation. I withheld pertinent information from my congregation believing that I was protecting them as pastor until I found the appropriate time to share it regarding the church and insurance. This was one of the biggest misstates of my pastorate. The other big mistake was not sharing with our leaders the predicament we were in regarding the purchase of insurance. How could I share more bad news when we have just experienced such a tragedy was my reasoning especially since we were dealing with possible arson according to the fire marshal. It’s a decision I will regret for the rest of my life. That decision would be more costly than I could ever imagine.
I should have told the congregation immediately but I didn’t and the guilt of that situation haunts me until today. God knows I tried even at every called meeting but every attempt was preceded by confrontation and argument mostly from individuals who shared no real commitment to the church when things were going along fine. This is a reality that tragedy is often Satan’s best ingredient for seasoning his brew. Most of the meetings were contentions and accusatory rather than productive which to some degree is expected when facing tragedy. Truth of the matter this was no one’s fault by my own. For years I had talked about integrity and now I was miserably failing the test. Life was falling apart and I was only worsening the matter. Thank God for conviction of the Spirit because the next few months while I was trying to shut out the voices of others I could not quiet the voice of God in my spirit. Outwardly I was trying to give the appearance of strength but inwardly I was a mess. But there came a point being right with God mattered more than how I would look in the eyes of men.
The second Sunday in the month of May 2016 was another tragic day when I sat with the men of our church to inform them of the truth concerning the insurance. As I share with them I saw the hurt my confession was causing but I had no idea of how deep that would run. You see, God was kind enough before this meeting to give me a Nathan who was honest enough to tell me about me. This gave me the courage to honestly confront myself knowing that someone loved me enough to tell me about me. What I didn’t know is that Nathan would be the first to drop me. I wasn’t expecting them to condone my behavior but I certainly wasn’t expecting them to walk away when I needed them the most. I didn’t expect them to fix this for me but it was a time when I needed. their strength nd support. Truth is I had caused them much pain and their life would be better without me. it is one of the great lessons I have learned in the last two years. it not that you are always better off without someone in your life sometimes it’s the other way around. Some people are better off without you in their life especially if you are causing them nothing but pain. This is where I was.
Tragedy does not always bring people together and that’s a reality. the tragedy of January 26, 2015 marked the beginning of a season of loss that has resulted in more than I could have ever imagined. . Truth is none of us are perfect and God is kind enough to keep the worst of some people out of public sight. I became the talk of private conversations and public scrutiny by many who called themselves friends. I had quickly become like some dreaded disease. Here’s the irony, many individuals who I had given much of my life serving had become my critics. And instead of telling me how they felt there were talking to others about me. Many of whom I had walk with through some of the greatest tragedies in their lives. Some I know their secrets but never became their judge and accepted them with all that I know about their private lives. I surely thought that those who were my colleagues would be there in my greatest time of need but a lot of the chatter was coming fro the clergy circle. Thank God for those who remained supportive through the difficult times because I don’t think I would have made without their support. But let me tell you that preachers can b vicious. I had a message sent to me by a preacher to tell me to stop burning down churches. and, this was from someone I consider a friend. To this day I my perception of this young man is that I believe he is one of God’s gifts to the body of Christ and certainly one of the most gifted preachers of our day. Here is a reality, tragedy is like being put on a diet by God but He is the only one who knows how much weight you need to lose to be spiritually fit.
God knows we need the comfort and touch of humans to get through difficulties and He surrounded me with some individuals for whom I will be forever grateful. But even with those individuals around the brokenness and pain over the situation did not dissipate and having people around does not dispel the reality of loneliness. Swept away by the reality of how much pain I had caused others life or ministry didn’t make sense anymore. Preaching was no longer a passion but more therapeutic and pastoring became tedious because I just didn’t want to cause any more hurt. Isolation was the remedy for protection from more loss and hurt but it also became the prison where the voice of guilt was louder than any other voice. I was really beginning to realize why people were better off without me. There is nothing that wrangles the soul like come to the realization of how much of a disappointment you have become to God and the people you love.
In the background of all of this self-imposed chaos our family was struggling with another private mater. Chantrell was fighting for her life suffering through idiopathic primary pulmonary hypertension which doctors declared incurable and the impending danger of death at anytime. Trell was diagnosed as having the heart of a 90 year old and night and day we watched her struggle just to breath. On more than one occasion we thought we had lost her but she had a determined kind of faith in God that I have never seen before. There were several things she wanted to have happen in her life and she was not going to let anything deter her. her faith and determination gave me the courage to keep on fighting. What I was facing was nothing compared to what she was going through. One of her dreams was to finish college and thank God in December 2015 we watched her cross the stage to receive her degree in business management. What a glorious Day!!! Things were looking up. Her previous three doctor visits had gone much better than expected. They were even discussing taking her off the medicine. But there were those days when we saw the worst of that disease and the struggle that Trell was really going through.
She and I talked often about the future and what she was hoping to accomplish. She shared a deep love for working with children which she inherited from her mother. While working in the school system I witnessed the excitement and joy it gave her to work with special needs children. But there was something she desired more than anything. She wanted to move back to California and she was intent on doing so. California became the subject of many family conversations and much prayer in seeking the direction of God. Although we were confronting the issues relating to the church following the will of God was most important. Our family had suffered much because of the tragedy at Little Zorah. People had become very vicious. And in one incident we had someone who, in a conversation with Trell, talked about how much they loved her but despised her father. People can be cruel. My family had to listen to the unwarranted accusations and even for the it was getting to be too much. While praying for God’s direction about the future of our family Trell and I had a conversation that was the turning point. During that conversation she said to me, “Daddy I do not want to die in Louisiana.” And in conversations following she repeated this statement that would send shockwaves through me every time she would say it. She was intent on returning home to California. In hindsight I can only believe that she know something we were not aware of.
After much prayer and discussion, as a family, we felt the leading of God to return to California in July 2016. She was home and I hadn’t seen her this happy before. It looked like life was beginning to make sense again. yes, we had given up a lot and we had lost a lot. Leaving the church families was difficult and leaving my mom was even more difficult. this decision was the right decision.we were still experiencing more loss. But the one thing that made me smile and gave me some hope is that my children were happy again. Life has a way of taking and giving and you have to trust God through it all. Even our departure was filled with experiencing the love and hatred of people. Some were kind in expression of love for us but others sought still to punish me. For ten months I served the Little Zorah church without receiving a salary in the hopes of helping to rebuild. But at our departure celebration people I served faithfully for 16 years only had unkind words. Maybe they were justified but it further evidenced the need to move on. The last thing I and my family wanted was to be a hindrance to anyone and that’s what we had become. As difficult as it was for us to depart we wanted to follow the Lord’s directions.
It was difficult not being with those you had built relationships with. Life was different now. Jen, my wife, was no longer working with children she was so passionate about. I had no place to serve the people of god. we were two individuals who now had no purpose. More loss.!!! We had no church as a family we were now the visitors, life was different. But in the midst of this, the children were excited about their future. Trell and Gabriel were looking for work while continuing their education an Jordan and Julena was in the perfect situation at their new High School. Surely things would turn around soon. Jen was adjusting to taking care of her mother. I know it was time for her to be with her mother. Although I was feeling like a man without a purpose the joy of my life was seeing my family happy.
After a few months things were settling down and we seemed to be finding our way. In the latter part of September Trell took a trip with her aunts and when she returned she had a different glow about herself. this was the trip of her life. She was where she wanted to be. Who knew what was to come in the next two weeks. I believe she did. On October 10, 2016 we shared a family day and we had gone out to eat dinner. Jen and I noticed that Trell didn’t look the same. And, because of our concern, we inquired several times if all was well. Her response each time was I am ok. I had to prepare for an exam for a job the following day so I followed our usual routine we would go through each night making sure she was okay and I went to bed. About 5:00 a.m. the next morning got up to get ready and this will be the day that will forever be etched I my memory because I awakened to find her struggling for her life. Without going through the details because it is still too painful October 11, 2016 Trell suffered severe heart failure. We called the ambulance who rushed her to the hospital. But I have to thank God for my son’s girlfriend Reneisha who did all that she could to keep her alive until the ambulance came. We love you and will be forever grateful to God for her. For the next eleven days we stayed in the hospital watching her fight for her life. On 4 occasions she coded and they revived her. Trough this ordeal I saw the strength of my wife and children and the faith they have in God. For those eleven days we held out hope believing that God would restore life to Trell and send her home with us. surrounded by family and a very dear friend, Angelnetta Williams, we prayed believing God.
There are times when life thrust you into difficult situations which you cannot escape and that’s where I found myself. The decision had to be made to take Trell off life support and it was left up to me. Of all the decisions I have had to make why this one. For those eleven days she had rested quietly. But do we leave her on the life support and cause damage that could result in uncontrollable seizures and further damage. Did I want to put her through that and did I want to put the family in the situation of witnessing that? Making the decision to take her off life support was extremely difficult but watching her slip away into the presence of God was even harder. Nothing we lost before compared to losing Trell. I write with tears flowing as I relive those moments. Remember this reality, tragedy does not always bring people together. And, we do not always make the best decisions when facing tragedy. it’s been five months now that Trell has passed and each day Jen and I wake up with the expectation of seeing her in the morning. We have not adjusted to her being gone. It’s a loss we will never recover from.
I want to share with those who may face tragic loss in their life this truth. Everyone doesn’t know how to handle your hurt. You see, Jen and I lost our daughter but we lost something else in the process. There were some individuals we spent our life serving in ministry. In the times of their tragedies we walked with them and made great sacrifices to help them on the road to recovery. What hurts is that in our time of tragedy we have not received so much as a phone call or a card. Thank god for those individuals who cared enough to remind us that they were there even if they couldn’t see us or touch us. Experiencing loss will teach you a lot about people. We have had to learn how to walk in forgiveness while dealing with loss because what we discovered is that everybody is not designed to handle you in your pain nor can everyone handle the pain you are experiencing.
here is the realities of life for those experiencing loss. (1) God is faithful in that He will make a way to escape so that you can bear it. (2) Sometimes God uses tragedy like a diet to help you become spiritually fit which means He knows the weight you need to lose. you may not like and it may not feel good but He knows what’s best. (3) god knows how to surround you with the right people during your difficult times. We have some people in our life, and they know who they are, who we are deep indebted to who are willing to stick around even when they see your weakness and vulnerabilities. When people can handle your infirmities they don’t become jealous over your strengths. (3)God will close doors you need not try to open. I have had individuals who have said to me during this time of loss, “I am here for you whatever you need you can count on me.” Some have kept their word in abundance and have been a tremendous blessing. THANK YOU!!! Jen and I will be forever in your debt. Some will leave you hanging without even being courteous enough to say no I can’t help or I don’t want to help. Consider that a door closed by God and move on. Remember, relationship are more important than things. (4) God loves you too much to leave you broken. I don’t know when things will turn around but I know they will because God cares. Weeping may endure for a night but… you know the rest.