October 3rd, 2017. The sky wore the faint glow of predawn light as the twilight stars gently twinkled and confidently hung onto the night before the first sunbeam danced across the frigid water of the Currituck Sound. Erica, Isabella, and I walked outside to the car, our breath creating little clouds of steam against the frosty chill of the North Carolina autumn morning. Within a matter of hours, a new human life would come into this world. This wasn’t my first trip to the delivery room, but I was just nervous as if it were. Half asleep, Isabella sat in the back next to the little car seat, which would soon carry her newborn baby brother. As we drove to the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, I reached over and held Erica’s hand. I knew she was nervous and anxious. Having a baby is a big deal and a significant life event for anyone on their best day. Still, even though we felt moments of nervousness and anxiety, we relied on God and our Wave Church family, who surrounded us with prayer, love, and support.
The car’s GPS screen said that the trip to the hospital would take about 30 minutes – I think I got there in about 20; my excitement bore down on the gas pedal like a lead weight. I took the exit ramp off Route 168 leading into the heart of Chesapeake and towards the hospital – the gentle morning light cast a soft magenta glow through the windshield and into the backseat, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Isabella had fallen asleep. “Isabella, we’re here. Time to wake up, sweetie”. Like a kitten awoken from her afternoon nap, Isabella’s nose and eyes scrunched up as she yawned and stretched, “Oh, we’re already here? That was fast,” she drowsily replied. I pulled the car up to the very front of the building and into one several parking spaces labeled ‘EXPECTING MOMS.’ “Wow, this is for real…today is the day… I’m gonna meet my son!” I thought to myself.
As the subtle chill and sweet smell of the Hampton Roads autumn danced across my face, I walked to the passenger side to help Erica get out of the car. The warm yellowish-white glow of the hospital’s entrance lights lit a welcome path for us, leading up the automatic sliding doors. I slowed my pace and looked around for a sign or clue leading to the place where all the babies are born, but Erica had been here before as part of the pre-natal hospital orientation class she had taken a few weeks prior. “C’mon guys; the elevator is right over here – let’s go,” Erica directed with a voice of military confidence and efficiency. As we stepped into the elevator, Erica reached over and touched my hand, “How are you doing, love?”; my face must have given me away because I was nervous – very nervous. “Oh, yeah, I’m ok…just a little tired…hey, I wonder what the chow is like in this place, you think hospital food still sucks? Because I’m starving, I could use a cup of coffee too. What are we here for again? I forgot,” I nervously joked around, trying to lighten the high-gravity event soon to unfold.
Once we were all settled into the hospital, the whole check-in process took less than half-an-hour. One of the nurses escorted Erica into her private delivery room, and then we were introduced to the team of nurses who would be helping deliver the baby. The lead nurse took Erica’s blood pressure and other vital signs, while Isabella and I curiously looked around the room where we’d be spending the next several hours. A few minutes passed then the nurse began the process of inducing Erica’s labor. The doctor came into the room soon after just to fill us in on what to expect. Standing in that place at that moment felt surreal. Our family had been through so much during the last 24 months. I asked the doctor what time he thought Erica might deliver the baby; he chuckled and joked, “Definitely before 7 pm because that’s when my favorite TV show comes on!”
The medication for inducing labor would take several hours to kick in, meanwhile as the morning wore on, Isabella and I got hungry. I went and picked up some breakfast at a fast-food restaurant down the street. When I got back to the hospital, Nina, one of Erica’s close friends from church, kept Erica company in the delivery room. Childbirth is a unique and emotional event for any family, even more so for ours. Although we were many miles away from biological relatives, we were never alone because we had our church family there with us. For the next several hours, Erica’s friend stayed by her side to keep her company, comfort her, and pray with her.
Soon lunchtime came around, and the nurses were checking on Erica more frequently. Based on the progress she was making, she would be going into labor very soon. Around noon, the first wave of massive contractions kicked in. The nurse called the doctor, who was in his office down the hall, and provided him an update. Based on how far apart and how intense the contractions, it wouldn’t be long before Erica would need to start pushing. As the contractions increased in intensity and frequency, the nurse asked Erica how she was feeling. Erica replied that she felt intense pressure and pain. When the nurse checked her dilation progress, she was surprised and said that Erica was ready to start pushing. Then the nurse quickly called for the doctor to come in and begin the delivery process.
Meanwhile, Nina and Isabella rushed out of the room while the doctor started delivering the baby. We had agreed beforehand that Isabella should stay in the waiting room with Erica’s friend while she was going through the actual delivery. Once the doctor arrived, he asked enthusiastically, “So, how’s everyone doing? Y’all ready to have a baby today?” as the nurses helped him put on his gown, mask, and gloves. “How are you doing, momma? You feelin’ alright?”he said to Erica as he checked the charts and vitals. Erica tiredly replied, “Yes, I’m just ready to get this done.”
“Hey, Dad, how you doin’, sir? You look nervous, come on, you’re not nervous, are you?” the doctor chuckled and joked. I smiled and replied, “I’m good to go doc – ready to do this.”
By this point, the contractions were coming closer and closer together and merged into nearly one prolonged contraction. The doctor looked at the monitor screen and waited until the next big one. “Alright, Erica, you should be feeling another big one any moment…as soon as you do, I want you to push until I say stop…you ready?” the doctor said. Before he even finished his sentence, he suddenly shouted, “NOW!!!…PUSH…PUSH… PUSH…C’MON, THAT’S IT. P-U-U-U-U-SH!!!”
Erica’s squinted and winced, her face became bright red as she bore down and pushed. My hand went numb, and the blood left my fingers as she squeezed my hand until it felt like my fingernails were going to pop off. One push…two pushes, then suddenly the doctor said to Erica, “Alright mom…you got this…this is it…this next contraction you’re going to have this baby. You’re almost there. One more big push.” Then the doctor looked over at me, “Dad when I say ‘PUSH,’ I want you to tell her she’s got this… ask her to push as hard as she can.” I nodded and looked Erica in the eyes. “You got this, honey…get ready…our little guy is almost here.” I had scarcely spoken the words when Erica’s face winced up again, and the doctor shouted, “PUSH…C’MON MOMMA…PUSH!”. I echoed the doctor’s words and excitement, “Yeah, Erica, push…ya got this honey…push”.
As Erica battled with all her might, I saw the doctor quickly reach down and tell the nurses to get ready. Suddenly the energy in the room was buzzing and alive with preparation and intensity; within moments – mere seconds really – a new human soul would enter the stage of the world. One nurse stepped closer to the doctor, while the other went to check the heat-lamp, scale, and other stuff they would need once our baby was born. While I was still looking over at the two nurses setting up the post-delivery equipment, I suddenly saw out of the corner of my eye a little wet, and wiggly human being appear in the doctor’s hands. “Well, here he is! It’s a boy, dad! You’ve got a boy…oh wait, did you already know that?” Before I could entirely focus my eyes and attention on what I was seeing, a shrill yet mighty cry pierced through the moment in defiant victory as if announcing the arrival of a mighty warrior.
Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding, what we didn’t know is that Isabella had refused to go to the waiting room and insisted on standing right outside the door to the delivery room until she heard the cries of her new baby brother. Meanwhile, Erica’s friend Nina stayed with Isabella, and they stood together, just inches outside the delivery room. Interestingly, the hospital had a tradition of playing a cute and warm little jingle over the maternity ward announcement system every time a new baby was born. As the chimes and bells echoed through the hallways and room, and the nurses held my baby boy in the receiving blankets, my eyes began to fill with tears of joy. Nothing and no one will ever replace my dad Michael, my little brother Benjamin, or my precious daughter Elizabeth. But at that moment, it felt like the wounds and pain caused by their traumatic and sudden deaths were soothed with the healing touch of hope and life. In that instant, I determined in my heart that none of the darkness, trauma, and pain which I had walked through would ever touch that little boy. I looked at him and vowed that I would be by his side to love, protect, train, and develop him into a man who is boldly confident about his God-ordained purpose and destiny. I gently held his tiny newborn hand in mine, leaned over, and quietly whispered in my son’s ear, “I love you son… I’m never going to leave you…your daddy’s never going leave you”.
* * *
When my dad Michael committed suicide, he didn’t know the cascade effect it would have across multiple generations in one family – his life stolen by a sadistic and unremorseful enemy who preys on the human soul. Over about 30 years, that same enemy, who caused my dad to give up hope, continued to lurk in the shadows. It whispered wicked lies of self-loathing and self-harm to other people in my family. The enemy wasn’t satisfied with merely causing misery – no, instead, it fiendishly delighted in causing pain and suffering, all of which is part of its ruthless and cold-blooded objective – to kill, steal, and destroy.
The same enemy, who preyed on my dad’s mind, also eviscerated and consumed every ounce of my little brother Benjamin’s confidence and self-worth. It weaved a web of deception and substance abuse around my little brother’s mind, to the point where one evening, he died from alcohol poisoning two months before his 19th birthday. In the years that followed my little brother’s passing, the same enemy would end up wreaking havoc by stealing four more people within my family. Each loss echoed with the same sense of helplessness – as if those of us left behind could do nothing to stop it. It felt like the enemy told us that we had just to sit there, take it, wait, and watch as it picked us off one by one. Heartache and pain became a repeated drumbeat through my entire immediate and extended family – but for me, nothing was more personal or painful as what I had to endure in 2015 when that same vile and filthy enemy took my oldest daughter Elizabeth from this world.
Seeing my precious child stolen in the same violent and morbid way, my dad, her grandfather, was taken was far too raw, real, and personal. I knew I had to take action. The destruction had to stop. Elizabeth was just a 15-year-old girl full of life, beauty, and promise…and yet that same wicked enemy, who had destroyed and stolen the lives of so many other people in my family, took my daughter’s life too. And so, I embarked on a journey of healing, purpose, and hope. It was an active and intentional counter-offensive comprised of six lines of effort:
- Strengthening my spirit and deepening my relationship with God.
- Healing my mind from everything I had suffered.
- Sharpening my life’s vision and taking active steps to make that vision reality.
- Recognizing chronic toxic behaviors.
- Defining and setting boundaries on those who refuse to think, operate, or be in relationships in a healthy way.
- Knowing and embracing my God-created purpose and living it unapologetically and boldly.
To put action into these lines of effort, I leaned on three essential resources:
- God’s faithfulness and the promises that He has declared in His word to heal the brokenhearted and wounded, use all things together for my good, restore and multiply what has been stolen or lost, and to never leave or forsake me,
- A strong cadre of people who could speak life, wellness, strength, and help me rehabilitate my mind from the horrible things I had witnessed. These individuals are dedicated to helping me sort through layer upon layer of damage which had been caused by the dysfunction, abuse, and manipulation I suffered during my childhood.
- Fellowship with people who shared the same values of life, purpose, and faith. I became part of a family of Believers who could keep me accountable, encourage, and pray with me as I embraced life with tenacity and intentionality.
As momentum built and I advanced along my six lines of effort, I began to see growth and changes. A vision was forming, and clarity of purpose was taking shape. It meant building a legacy of excellence and prosperity in every aspect of my life – mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually – a point where God’s very best is woven into the fabric of not just my life but the lives of those who come after me. And so, my vision became plain: establish a legacy of life, promise, and hope built on the endless love of a Sovereign God.