My journey of pain started early. Granddaddy took me from my parents who were both heroin addicts when I was a toddler. But Grandaddy died when I was six and his wife kept me. The lady I call Mama was my grandfather’s third wife and 25 years his junior. From day one she instilled in me that nobody wanted me. She was all I had. It was all so overwhelming and seemed hopeless for my little self.
Mama drank Christian Brothers from the pantry and ruled with her mouth and the extension cord. Sometimes her mouth hurt worse than the whelps on my face and across my back. But God sent a blessing to my home one day, Grandmama Julia, Mama’s mother. She came on a mission to save her grandbaby. She declared to her daughter, “That baby needs to be in church!” After the long argument, Mama called me into the room and I was told that I was going over Grandmama’s house for the rest of the weekend, Mama looking all defeated, “You going to church with Julia,” she mumbled.
That became my ritual every Friday night, Grandmama’s house. It was a sanctuary of sorts from Mama’s understanding of what it meant to raise a child, but most important, it was a conduit to my faith. On Saturdays I'd help Grandmama with the laundry and chores. She'd cook big juicy burgers and hand cut fries topped off with fresh squeezed lemonade. At night she'd kneel with me as I said the Lord’s prayer that she had taught me. We started every Sunday with Gospel music playing on the radio then we'd make our way to the Old Ship of Zion M. B. Church. Everybody was so nice and the music just took me to another place. Church was wonderful. There was no name calling or hitting. Rev. Otis Anderson always had open arms for me. So one day when he opened the doors of the church, I marched right up there to give him my hand.
Christian family but it seemed like a much better family than what I had. Church was my one safe place. I didn’t understand at the time, but it was truly my refuge. And each Sunday I gained just enough strength to go back home to Mama and endure whatever came my way.
It was the foundation of a faith and relationship with God that would sustain me through years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. When I look back over it all, it’s amazing that I never lost my mind. Yes, today I know that I never would have made it. Even living with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19, I know that I never could have made it if I was the only actor in my life.
But sometimes living in the present you forget your history with God. So Wednesday after having a very difficult conversation with my doctor about my health, I was overwhelmed with sadness. There are some realities here that I must face. I have advanced AIDS. I do. There is absolutely no way around it. Years of a failing immune system and toxic medications has taken a toll.
As I was making my way back home, a sadness consumed me and all I could see was darkness. And then from nowhere, Marvin Sapp’s song, “Never Could Have Made It,” starting playing in my head. It has stayed with me all week long. I believe that it's God’s subtle way of reminding me that He’s got this. That we have history. And God’s history as the director of my life is proven. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed with the right now of our pain, we forget that God has never faltered or failed. He is as constant as the stars in the sky. So, today I am reminded of my past as a way to understand that my future is standing on a firm foundation. It is so true, I never could have made it...
Post Script: When I was 11 years old, Mama and I moved to the suburbs and I switched churches. I hadn't seen Rev. Anderson in years. Then when I did the first person news reports for CBS News in Chicago he saw me on TV and called the station. Rev. Anderson had not seen me in over 30 years, but he never forgot me.