To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Thank you for giving me the gift of creative writing, for filling my head with ideas, stories, and words, for filling my spirit with wisdom and compassion, and for filling my body with strength to go forward on this literary journey. Without your love and guidance, I would be nothing.
To my husband, Donovan: Thank you for chauffeuring me around to all of my many writing events without complaint, for enduring countless hours of silence while I type away on my laptop, for listening to me go on and on about my dreams as well as my disappointments, and for praying for and with me in the midnight hours. I thank you.
To my children, Anais, Safiya, Jamal (my son-in-law), and Syriah and Jamian (my grandchildren): Thank you for being uniquely yourselves. I wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks for your artistic and technological help, your support, and your love.
To Mommy: You never cease to amaze me in your doings. You just keep getting better and better as the years go by. Thank you for always having a positive word for my soul. Thank you for continually praying for me and thank you for being an example of faithfulness I can aspire to.
To Grandma: Thank you for reading my last book in record time. I appreciate your encouragement and your love.
To Dad and my many siblings from your side of the family: Although we may not be as close as I would've liked, I love and appreciate you all.
To the McCloud family: Tamicka, Darryl, Emmanuel, Hannah, Faith, LaShydra, and Cameron: Thank you for being more than friends, more than godchildren. Thank you for being my family.
To my long-time friends: Bernadette Page (in particular), Joy Jones-Garrett, Hope Raymond, Sherri Holmes-Knight, and Alfonso Jackson: Thanks for being consistent in your support of me, from our childhood “glory days” until now.
To Leandra Goldson: Thank you for being more than family and a devoted friend. God bless you, Brandon and Breanna.
To the Franklins, Thomas, Erma, Grandma Patton, and Linda: Thank you for taking good care of my baby so I could focus on writing.
To LaToya Forrest-Heard: Thank you for being my number-one fan and adopted goddaughter. May all your literary dreams come true.
To my editor, Joylynn Jossel: Thank you for editing with both precision and the Holy Spirit. You have undoubtedly been instrumental in my writing success.
To my Urban Christian family, especially Kendra Norman-Bellamy: Thank you for being supportive at every turn.
To my literary agent, Sha Shana Crichton of Crichton & Associates: Thank you again for keeping my literary business in order.
To the Faith-Based Fiction Writers of Atlanta: Thank you for the literary sisterhood you represent.
To Tyora Moody: Thank you for doing what you do, bringing together literature and technology through blog tours. God bless you.
To Light of Joy Word of Faith Church, World Changers Church International, and Joyce Meyers Ministries: Thank you for keeping me filled with the Word of God while I do this Kingdom writing.
To my Anointed Minds students: Thank you for filling my workdays with love and laughter.
To all the Christian fiction authors, my fellow writers, bloggers, social media organizers, book clubs, reviewers, and radio hosts: Thank you for either paving the way, promoting, or encouraging me in some way.
To all family, friends, or writer-sisters who have not specifically been named, to those in Atlanta, New York, North Carolina, or around the world: Thank you for being a positive influence in my life in one way or another. If you have ever gone the extra mile for me, know that I remember and I appreciate you.
To my readers and fans: Thank you for continuing to buy my books. Thank you for your feedback, and thank you, most of all, for believing in me. God bless you all!
How could a good-looking, fairly confident, churchgoing woman like myself fall into the abyss of depression and self-loathing while she was still a newlywed and married to one of the most impressive catches of the season? I'll tell you howâwith one bad thought at a time.
One thing I've heard my whole thirty-one blessed years on this earth is that no matter what trials I may face, and I've seen a few, count it all joy. Now, I try to embrace this scripture, James 1:2â3, and truly count it all joy when I fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of my faith worketh patience. To tell you the truth, when I was walking through the fire, neither joy nor patience were on my mind.
Besides, Joshua and I were still on our honeymoon in Nairobi, Kenya, when a series of complications began to surface. I mean, we were right in the middle of a serious round of newlywed kissing when all of a sudden, a familiar gentleman by the name of Seger Abasi interrupted us. Now ordinarily, that wouldn't mean much to honeymooners, but Seger just happened to be the missionary who had more than just a friendly interest in me. Seger was a hottie too; tall and Mandingo warrior-style, if you know what I mean. Running into him at the beach was awkward because even though Joshua had only met Seger once during Joshua's brief stay in Nairobi a few months ago, I could tell my husband sensed the attraction. Not that I had a thing for Seger, because I was a happily committed woman, but the brother made it more than obvious he had a thing for me.
So our first few days of matrimony had its challenges, with my fine, caramel-honey husband looking into Seger's smooth, Belgium-chocolate face, sizing him up like brothers do. I don't know how I survived the shock and the evil glaring. Now you know a sister had to put on the ever so humble wifey role, reassuring my husband again and again that he was overreacting, that Seger was nothing more than a friend, and that my husband was the only man for me, ever. In my world, this was the truth because I was paying Seger no attention. I'd worked too hard and been through too much in the last year to mess up this relationship. Eventually, Joshua realized I was right and was able to put Seger out of his mind. Then remembering that I was his sexy new bride, he kissed my face and neck, massaged my back, and gave me every reason to thank Jesus over and over again. Yes, I was in heaven.
Kenya was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, which is one of the reasons we decided to honeymoon there. We enjoyed stunning landscapes, beautiful wildlife, age-old architecture, enchanting beaches, sleepy coastal towns rich in culture and history, and impeccable hospitality. Everywhere we went the natives were so friendly and eager to help. They were also excited to show us many of their traditional customs, like their tribal dances. There wasn't enough time to explore all I remembered from my missions trip so many months ago, but I was content just hanging out with my handsome new husband.
Besides our frequent romantic lounging, we had time to hit a few of Kenya's hot spots, like the Kenya National Museum, The Kenyatta Conference Center, and The Nairobi National Park, which was only fifteen minutes from the center of Nairobi. My favorite was one of the five restaurants at the Safari Park Hotel where we were staying, The Nyama Choma Restaurant.
There, we enjoyed a five-course meal where the main course was nyama choma, which is grilled meat. We were surrounded by waiters who carried skewers of sausages, beef, lamb, pork, crocodile, alligator, and chicken. This reminded me of a Brazilian steakhouse. While we were eating, we were entertained by a musical theatrical show called the Safari Cats. Then the band played and took requests while some people actually danced around the restaurant in a chain fashion. Joshua and I, although we were in a festive mood, decided not to participate. Instead, we spent the rest of the evening holding hands and staring into each other's eyes.
Later that evening we were rolling around on our bed in the hotel room, laughing, talking, and playing the way lovers do.
Suddenly Joshua became serious. He sat up and took my hand. “I'm glad we're married.”
“So am I, especially since we almost weren't,” I said, sitting up also.
Joshua looked into my eyes. “What do you mean?”
“We came so close to breaking up after all I put you throughâ”
“Shhh. Nonsense.” Joshua put his finger over my lips and shook his head. “You're worth anything I ever had to go through.”
“No, really. I should've never kept such a big secret from you.”
“I didn't make it easy for you to tell me with my bad attitude. I was so judgmental about the abortion issue back then.”
“You had a right to be. Delilah was your wife. She had no right to do what she did to your child, and to think she had no intention of telling you.” I shook my head, imagining the pain he had experienced.
“It's amazing that I was never supposed to find out, but I guess she never planned on dying in the process.” Joshua took a deep breath. “But the wages of sin is death.”
“And I should've learned from her mistake that keeping secrets doesn't work. I should've never accepted your proposal in the first place without telling you what I had done. I was just so afraid of losing you, and hiding it was tearing our relationship apart.”
Joshua held me against his chest. “Yes, but all of that's over now. You're my wife. You're never going to lose me, and the best is yet to come.”
I laughed, happy that the mood had lightened again. I certainly didn't want our future to be tainted by the past. “Go ahead, Deacon.”
“I'm the happiest man alive.” Joshua wrapped his arms around me.
“No, I'm the happiest woman alive.”
“All I want now is to make beautiful babies with you,” Joshua said, stroking my hair.
Now that is when the conversation really went wrong. I cringed at the idea, a little uncertain about all that would mean for me and for our relationship. Something about this just didn't seem right. A new baby, along with my stepdaughter, four-year-old Lilah, the child we planned to adopt from Kenya, Kiano, plans for graduate school in the spring, and working in the ministry were a tall order for any new bride. Then there was that lingering question of whether I could even become pregnant.
Yes, I had issues with that too, thanks to an abortion I was talked into almost eleven years ago. It had stolen every ounce of dignity away from me until I was delivered from the spirit of condemnation. Jesus cleansed me of all my sins, that I knew. But would my uterus be as forgiving?
The infection had been terrible. Blood everywhere. Unimaginable pain. It sure felt like my uterus was damaged. If my body had sustained at least half the damage that my soul had, I knew it was over for me. My poor lost twins. Gone forever because of youthful ignorance.
Maybe I'd be able to have twins again one day. My thoughts threatened to overwhelm me but the sound of Joshua's voice brought me back to the present.
Joshua shook me a little. “Babe, are you okay?”
“I'm fine, but don't you want to wait awhile?” I sighed.
“Nope. I want to get started on making a son, an heir to the Benning estate.”
“Benning estate? Now you sound like your parents. Don't you think that's a little premature?”
“Premature?” He kissed my cheek. “No.”
“But we've only been married three days. Can we give it a little time at least? Besides, we're already starting the process for an international adoption. I mean, we don't want to take on too much at once.”
Suddenly Joshua squinted his eyes and stared directly into mine. “Are you saying you don't want to have my baby?”
“Of course not. I want nothing more, but can we just please get back to the U.S. first?” I playfully pushed him to lighten things up. I didn't want him to think for one second that I was anything like his deceased wife, the one who never really wanted kids in the first place, the one who broke his heart.
“Sure, I'll let you get back on American soil, but after that, it's on.” He wrapped his strong arms around my waist. “And still, there are no guarantees on what might slip through the cracks, even here in Kenya.”
I giggled, but I popped my birth control pill into my mouth happily, knowing I didn't want any slips until the time was right. That had been my whole reason for getting the new prescription from the clinic in the first place. This was the first time in years I had to use a contraceptive. I was a married woman now, and those last four years of abstinence, hallelujah, were over.
Early the next morning, I woke up to the sound of running water. As soon as Joshua stepped out of the shower, I went in and showered quickly. When I came out wrapped only in a hotel towel, Joshua wrestled me to the bed and smothered me in sweet-smelling kisses.
Finally, I was able to glance up at the wall clock.
“Oh, look at the time. We're not going to make it if we don't hurry,” I exclaimed.
Joshua looked at the wall clock. “You're right. Let's get going.”
After quickly dressing, we went down to the U.S. Embassy to start the process on our international adoption, a vision God had given me when I visited Kenya the first time. Back then, during a time of temporary estrangement from Joshua, I was able to clear my head and subsequently hear God's voice. After several weeks of simultaneously working on a public relations assignment and in missions, I renewed my vow to work with children. Joshua, who wanted me back, was happy to agree to the idea. He would've agreed to anything at that time, including sipping my bathwater.
Down at the embassy, Joshua and I scoped a list of various attorneys and chose one from the list. We were blessed that he was able to meet with us immediately. Mr. Nyuoso was a short, wide man with a wide face and big features. His office was neat and functional, but quite plain compared to the American lawyers' offices that I was accustomed to.
“I tell you that Kenya is very strict now about you Americans adopting our children and taking them out of our country. There are new laws,” Mr. Nyuoso had said with a very heavy Kenyan accent.
Although he spoke English, it was a little challenging to understand what he was saying.
“Okay. What do we need to do?” I listened intently.
Mr. Nyuoso spoke slowly. “Well, the process is a very complex one, but you can overcome it if you are serious.”
“We're very serious.” I punched Joshua in the ribs.
“Yes, we're dedicated,” Joshua said.
“Good. Good. It's not that our government is totally against the international adoptions, but there have been so many bad things that happen to our children. They are very cautious now.” Mr. Nyuoso began to take papers out of his desk.
“I understand.” I turned to look at my husband.
“Yes, we understand,” Joshua said, on cue.
“The government will want proof that the two of you are authorized and recommended as morally fit and financially capable to adopt a foreign child. Subsequently, you'll be required to prepare a dossier. I will tell you everything that is required for it.” Mr. Nyuoso handed me an envelope full of papers.
“Anything to ensure the welfare of the children.” I nodded my head in agreement.
Protecting the children, was, after all, my main interest.
We spent an hour with him as he explained the requirements for getting Kiano back to the United States. He told us how we'd be required to live with Kiano in Kenya for at least three months before the adoption would become final to ensure bonding and security for the child. He explained many other procedures as well, how we were no longer able to apply for an immigrant visa for the child to enter the United States, that the entire adoption process had to be completed in Kenya. He told us that we had to be sponsored by a local child welfare agency, that the agency had to complete a home study, take our fingerprints, and do a criminal background check. He also told us that bank references and an income-tax assessment would also be necessary. Then he started detailing the fees involved, starting with the application and filing fees. All that information made my head hurt, especially the expense part. With Joshua's school loans and other debts from his glamorous deceased wife, we could barely afford it. That was why Brother and Sister Benning stepped in and volunteered to help out with Kiano's adoption. But they hadn't written the check yet. So Joshua and I handed over a very small deposit with the promise that the remainder of the funds would be forthcoming. We shook his hand and left Mr. Nyuoso's office hopeful.
The next step was to go visit Kiano, whose name meant full of joy. His full name was Kiano Adoyo. He was the child I'd developed the most special bond with during my original visit here a few months back. He was the one Joshua and I had talked about, prayed about, and had decided that we would welcome into our new family. Yet Joshua had never met him.
Kiano lived in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi. His parents and grandparents were both killed in a brush fire when he was very young. Now that he was six, an impressionable age, his curiosity often outweighed his sense of good judgment. He was a strong, happy-looking boy, despite the hardships I knew he faced daily. Although I loved all the children in the orphanage, he was the boy with a special place in my heart.