I just kept praising, because I feared what might happen if I actually cried. I only gave myself permission to cry when I was praising God. I didn’t even know what I was praising him for — it felt like my life was over. Finally, the devil had sent a storm strong enough to destroy me, my husband, our marriage, and everything we worked for. The very foundation of my life was shaking. Would God deliver us? Would he hear our cries? Had he left us? Would my husband blame me, or worse, hate me for this?
I blamed myself for how we’d gotten here. Surely, it was my stubbornness, my constant moving from doctor to doctor because I felt each doctor was ignoring my complaints. It was my inability to be still, to just sit down, when my husband told me to quit all my activities. I was a stiff-necked (that's bible for stubborn), arrogant, rebellious daughter who learned the art of disobedience from fighting my father’s abusive personality my entire life. I’d only made it this far by forcing my way past his negative words, punches and scare tactics and yet here I was, in an impossible situation I could not fix. I hit a wall I could not scale, an argument I could not win. I was at the Red Sea of my life. I’d come too far to go back, but there was no hope the human eye could see.
Each doctor came in and out of our room speechless, unable to look me in the eye. They could not explain what happened to Sophia. All they knew was that preemies were unpredictable. Our friends came over to our home to console us, but my husband refused to throw a pity party. We only told a few people and our closest friends really loved on us in that season. Flashing in front of my eyes was the image of my daughter’s body at the morgue, because of course, some wicked person made up the rule that you have to identify the body of a baby who only lived in the NICU.
A few weeks prior, I attended my old church, Faith Fellowship Ministries, on what I thought was a whim. As I praised in the sanctuary, I felt God’s love. As God would have it, a friend of mine also happened to attend FFM that morning. This wasn’t her church but like myself, she had history there and also seemed to come "on a whim". When my friend finally saw me she didn’t say a word, she just held me. Her presence and silence ministered to me in that moment. In my hand was Emmanuel's NICU hat. It was the size of an infant sock. I held onto it for dear life, begging God to save my son.
After service, I went to the children’s ministry where I served for two years before getting married. As I rounded the corner in search of my youth pastor, I bumped right in to her. “Issata! How are you? We miss you! How’s marriage? Do you have kids yet?!?!” She was her usual bubbly self. I just stared at her as tears started welling up in my eyes. “Well”, I said, “It’s complicated.” “Wait, do you have a preemie? 23 weeks? Are you in the NICU?” There was no way she just guessed that. I hadn’t seen this woman in almost two years and definitely didn’t post about this on social media. As I explained my situation, she told me to hold on and went to call her husband and daughter. At that moment, she brought out the happiest young woman I'd ever met. “Meet my daughter, she was a 22-weeker who suffered six brain bleeds. The doctors told me she would never walk, talk, or see. She also had a brother, but he passed away. His name was Emmanuel.” Her daughter encouraged me, and told me to keep the faith. It was as though time stood still. My pastors and youth minister prayed with me and her last words to me were, “God will heal your child, and even if he doesn’t you are still going to praise him.” I received the first part and rejected the second part. While I knew that the true test of our love for God would be when he gave us a “No" instead of a “Yes”, I wasn’t interested in taking or passing that test.
God always said yes to me. I would jack things up, run and pray, and he would come through. EVERY TIME. So when Sophia passed, it felt like God left me. I felt abandoned, unloved, rejected. It felt like...my father. What I could not see at that moment, was even through the most difficult season of my life, God sent me help. My father in heaven was (and is) nothing like my earthly father. His love for me was truly unconditional. Even if I did get myself into this mess (which was the lie of the devil), God’s love still sought me out by bringing me to Faith Fellowship that morning. He knew just how to get to me, even within the storm.
Faith Fellowship always held a special place in my heart. It was the first place I experienced God’s unconditional love. When I started attending Faith Fellowship I was Christian, but hardened. My assignment there was in the special needs children’s department. 4-8 year olds seemed to be the only humans I genuinely loved being around. Life had dealt some serious blows growing up. I’d overcome childhood molestation, my entire family constantly endured my father’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse (think Joe Jackson, but with an accent), my siblings and I were constantly picked on for being African and having a sibling with Autism growing up, so we were fighters. I didn’t start no stuff, but boy did I know how to finish it (thank God for the blood). Faith Fellowship broke my walls down with love. The love I experienced through the ministers there taught me to see God differently. I never sensed judgment in that environment, they just loved me with the love of God, and the love of God changed my heart. Every time God needed to remind me of his love, he led me to Faith Fellowship. Like the samaritan woman, it was my well, my bethel, my altar.
I allowed my daddy issues to shape how I saw God. I never realized my fractured relationship with my father also caused me to see God inaccurately. In my view, God was a good good father, but only sometimes. If you cut up, he turned into Joe Jackson, let your daughter die, and allowed your son to suffer so he could “teach you a lesson”. The devil is the father of lies and that was the lie I allowed him to tell me. I didn’t understand then that God’s love was perfect. There was no mistake or error I could make that would make him stop loving me. He was a mighty God on my good days, and a loving God on my down days. He was the God who left the 99 to chase me down when I was at my worst, and his desire was to love, not punish me, into submission. He was the God who healed me from epilepsy, delivered me from 3 major car accidents, and stopped the tumor that wanted to swallow my ovaries years prior.
Like the good God he is, he also sent me a loving husband who cheered me on on my good days, and loved me on my down days. My husband, like my father in heaven, loved me into submission. And even through the entire NICU journey, my husband never once blamed or questioned me. He just loved me. I never thought God would use the NICU to prove his love to me, but somehow he did. I learned his love for me is unyielding unceasing, unchanging…a reckless love. I guess his ways are not our ways after all.
Issata O., better known as "Satta Star"is a leader, advocate, and lover of Christ. By day she is a student affairs leader in higher education, and by night she is a wife, student, and mother to a very special little boy. She believes in changing the lives of imperfect women through the grace of a perfect God. She is the founder of EZBreezy.Life, Manny's Village and a Propel Women Chapter Leader.