I never cease to be amazed by the goodness of God. Not only did He bless me with the gift of writing, but He made it possible for me to share this gift with the world. If I thanked Him every minute of every day, it still wouldn't be enough. “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness!” I would like to thank my family for always encouraging, supporting, and believing in me. My mother, Myrtice C. Johnson, always has been and continues to be my biggest cheerleader and best friend; my sons, Shannon and Trey, who give me purpose and bring so much joy and happiness to my life every day; my father, James L. Johnson, Sr., who challenges me in ways only he knows how; and my siblings, Myrja, Matthew, and Jay, for continuing to believe in me and be supportive of my endeavors. You are all such a blessing to me.
I would like to thank my friends Deirdre Neeley, Lola Oyenuga, and Theresa Tarver, who not only ride with me when I have book signings, but “ride or die” for me on a daily basis. I couldn't love any more than I do now if I tried. I would also like to thank my writing sisters: Traci Smith Williams, Melissa Jones, Keisa Jones, and Crystal Pennymon. You know I couldn't have finished this book without your help! I'll be the first one in line at your book signings!
Thank you to my play brothers Demetrius Hollis, Scott Harris, Daniel Dukes, Quinterrance Bell, Douglass Smith, Adrick Ingram, Damon Wilson, Van Miller, Tony Richards, and Ryan Golphin, who are always there to lend a helping hand, sound advice, or a friendly smile. I love you, guys! A big thanks goes out to Mychal Epps for all the laughs, good advice, and countless text messages. I have no words to express how wonderful you are! Our friendship means the world to me.
To my Virginia College crew: Shameka Powers, Rashada Ross, Lisa Gibson, Tammy Dunlap, Ronda Shirley, Brian Harmon, Marie Grove, Baron Samuels, Melissa Jones, Mel Lotson, and all of my wonderful students and other faculty and staff members, thank you for making it a joy to come to work every day. A special thanks goes out to Andrea Mitchell for giving me such an awesome book title.
To the best publicist in the world, Dee Stewart, thank you for always having my back and being so patient with me. Love ya, chica! I would also like to thank my fabulous editor, Joylynn Jossel-Ross, and the entire Urban Christian family for your continued support.
Thank you to all of my Beulahland Bible Church members and Pastor Maurice Watson for continuing to be supportive of my writing. I promise to make you proud! Also, thank you to Macedonia Baptist Church, Pat Henderson, and all of the women's ministry members who continue to pray for me and choose my books for your reading selections. You have no idea what your support means to me.
I would like to give a special thank you to my radio family at 97.9 WIBB, especially Ronald “Dirty” Jackson, Rod English, and Thomas Bacote, for always coming through for me whenever I ask. You're the best!
Thank you to all of the book clubs, loyal readers, Facebook friends, book reviewers, bloggers, and everyone else who has had a hand in my success. There would be no me without you. I appreciate you giving of your time and talent to support my writing career. Be blessed and continue to be a blessing to other authors.
Last, but certainly not least, thank you, Dwarka Jackson, for just being you. How blessed are we to have found each other twice? I'm so glad you're in my life.
If I left anyone out, please charge it to this book deadline and my head, not my heart. Happy reading!
All scriptures referenced are from the NIV.
“How did we get here?”
Lawson Kerry Banks
Lawson Kerry Banks looked around at the four women sprawled across her living-room floor. The idea of starting a new women's outreach ministry had brought them together that cool afternoon in February, but as they pondered the new group's mission and purpose, one question loomed over all five of them. Lawson was the only one bold enough to ask it. She took a deep breath and wondered aloud, “How did we get here?”
The question was met with immediate tension and an uncomfortable silence as the women squirmed nervously where they were sitting. Lawson's best friend, the beautiful and sophisticated first lady of Mount Zion Ministries, Sullivan Webb, simply shrugged her shoulders and passed her hand over the growing belly bump peeking out from underneath her tunic. She had no answer. After all, Sullivan was four months pregnant and didn't know if she was carrying the only begotten child of her esteemed husband, Pastor Charles Webb, or the lovechild of her twenty-five-year-old lover, Vaughn Lovett. If she couldn't even vouch for her child's paternity, how could she account for anything else?
Angel King drew her knees close to her chest and fiddled with her engagement ring. The group's dedicated and kind-hearted nurse didn't have a response either, although she would've loved if someone could explain to her how her pending remarriage to ex-husband Du'Corey King led her to the brink of an Internet affair and a pornography addiction.
Kina Battle tossed her head back and stared at the ceiling. She fared no better than the other ladies. After losing her abusive husband to a bullet fired by her twelve-year-old son and ending a relationship with her lesbian lover, “How did we get here?” was a question Kina simply couldn't answer.
Lawson's younger sister, Reginell Kerry, or “Juicy” as she was known on stage, found it best to stop seeking answers. Working as an exotic dancer had stripped the twenty-three-year-old of not only her clothes, but also her self-worth, faith in God, and the man she loved. At this point, the “how” and “why” of it all didn't matter much anymore. After leaving a music video shoot gone wrong, Reginell decided that making sure other young women didn't fall prey to the lure of the sex industry was more important than trying to figure out why she did.
Not even newlywed Lawson, who posed the question and who usually had all the answers, could properly address the question. She was certainly in no position to advise anyone. She was still reeling from her groom's confession of an extramarital affair less than a year after they'd exchanged vows. She didn't really know how she'd ended up there. Understanding how her husband ended up in another woman's bed was hard enough.
Such were the lives of lifelong friends and Mount Zion Ministries members Lawson, Sullivan, Angel, Kina, and Reginell. Their bond of friendship had expanded over a number of years, transcended socioeconomic status, and forever linked them together in sisterhood.
“Well,” continued Lawson, “somebody say something!”
After thinking over Lawson's question, Reginell cleared her throat and revealed her answer in a small voice. “No man has ever told me I was beautiful before. I think that's how I got here.”
All eyes darted toward Reginell. “Are you kidding me?” asked Lawson. “You've got men spending their rent and child support money for a few minutes with you. Of course, men think you're beautiful!”
Reginell looked down at the floor. “Yeah, I get told that I'm sexy or fine, but I want to know what it feels like to be
, you know? I don't want it to have anything to do with sex or my body. I want someone to look inside and see the real me and match the beauty of what they see on the inside with what they see on the outside. I just want a man to think, despite everything I've done, that I can still be beautiful.”
Sullivan touched her hand. “You
beautiful, Reggie, whether some guy tells you that or not. You are beautiful, and you are worthy. That's why I give you such a hard time about stripping and some of the questionable men you've dated. I want you to know you're worth so much more than that.”
“That's easy for you to say, Sullivan,” Kina told her. “You've always been beautiful, you've always had the best of everything, and men have always been naturally drawn to you. Ever since we were kids, you could get any guy you wanted. It's not that easy for the rest of us.”
Sullivan huffed. “You think just because I'm pretty or because I've always had a boyfriend that I don't know what it's like to want to be loved? I've craved real authentic love my whole life, but I was never shown how to give or receive it. I was only taught how to use and manipulate people. My mother convinced me that my worth was tied into designer labels, who I was sleeping with, and how much money he had. You talk about when we were kids, and I can't even remember what it felt like to be a child. My innocence was taken before I even knew how to value it. I've told you all a lot of what I've been through, but if I told you all of it, it would blow your mind. Frankly, I'd probably go somewhere and blow out my brains if God allowed me to remember all that mess.” Sullivan let out a sigh. “Do you want to know how I got here? By having a selfish, sadistic mother who taught me how to search for love in all the wrong places and the right wallets.”
Angel shook her head. “You know you can't blame Vera for everything, Sullivan.” She pointed at Sullivan's stomach. “You got into that jam all on your own.”
“I'm not blaming Vera for this whole Charles-Vaughn-Baby Daddy disaster, but I do think I'm the way
am because of the way
is. Do you know what scares me more than anything?”
“What?” asked Reginell.
“Every day when I look in the mirror, I see my mother looking back at me, taunting me, telling me that I'm just like her. She's in my blood.”
“The blood of Jesus is stronger than Vera's,” Angel assured her.
Sullivan lowered her eyes. “I know, and I remind myself of that when I start hearing those voices. But whenever I do something stupid or have a wrong thought, I feel like I'm becoming her.”
Lawson looked around at all of them. “You know what breaks my heart? I look around this room and all of us, with the exception of Angel, have some deep-rooted issues with our parents. I think that's why we have so many issues with the men in our lives.”
Angel stopped her. “Even though both of my parents were great, my relationships have been just as screwed up as everyone else's, so I don't know how big of a role mothers and fathers play in it.”
“In my case, not having my father played a huge role,” admitted Lawson. “Reggie's and my dad was hardly ever around, and I hated him for that. I resented him for all the times he never walked me to school or tucked me in at night. Lord only knows where he was when it was time to take me on my first date.
“I think that's why I am the way I am sometimes. I know I'm too hard on people, and I expect too much. I try way too hard to be perfect. It's all because I want to be far removed from being lazy, undisciplined, and irresponsible as I can. I'm trying to be everything my father wasn't, and I don't want anyone around me who has those same qualities that remind me of him. As a result, I end up driving people away, especially the ones I love. I guess you can say that's how I ended up here.”
Reginell squeezed her sister's hand, understanding.
“Looking back on my life, I've always been a victim,” admitted Kina. “I think that's how I ended up here. In my house growing up, you didn't talk too loud or make too much noise because you didn't want to set Daddy off. He was such a cold man. He provided for us, sure enough, but nothing beyond the basics. In fact, he would tell us, âI'm doing what the law requires.' He was cruel to my mom too. He'd hit her; he'd hit us. My brother Kenneth couldn't take it anymore. I think that's why we ended up losing him to the streets. The worst part of it all is that I married someone just like my father and continued that same cycle of abuse.
“When E'Bell died, I finally felt free and in control of my life for the first time. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes and hurt people in the process.” She glanced over at Sullivan. “I went from being the victim to victimizing other people. I don't want to be that person anymore.”
“You're not,” Reginell assured her.
Lawson turned to Angel. “What about you? How'd you end up here?”
Angel exhaled. “I think I ended up here because I've spent my whole life trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be. I don't even think
know who the real Angel King is. My parents were great, but they set an impossible standard for me to live up to. I was expected to always get good grades and get into the right schools and be this perfect daughter. I think I carried that mentality over into my relationships. Even with Duke, I bite my tongue when I don't want to, I put up with a lot of things I probably shouldn'tâanything to maintain this image I've worked my whole life to create. But now, the cracks are starting to show, and it feels like my life is falling apart.”
The ladies huddled around Angel, holding her and holding each other. With their marriages, relationships, and families all hanging in the balance, they were all bonded by the knowledge that God and each other were all they had left.