Lament and Missed Birthdays

The Long and Twisty Road
When I met Sonya and Darius, they weren’t homeless – yet. They lived in a two room “apartment” they rented by the week and they were 4 weeks behind. Through a long set of unfortunate events – a lay off, a bureaucratic snafu with the unemployment commission, an unscrupulous pay-by-the-week car dealer and a series of health problems – they were evicted the week after I met them.

They packed their worldly possessions and a black mutt named Midnight into the back of a taxi and moved to a Motel 6, where they paid by the day and, when Darius could get work, by the week.

We spent the next few months working to overcome the barriers they faced. We helped them get a George Foreman grill and a microwave, so they were no longer at the mercy of the fast food restaurants. I used my discretionary fund to get them some work clothes and bus tickets, so they could find meaningful work. Along the way we got Midnight the wonder dog to the vet, because when you feel all alone in the world, I’m not going to be the one to say your dog is an unneeded expense.

After several months of this, Sonya was hired at Waffle House, and I put out a cry for help. You responded in a big way, enabling them to get a used car and move into a new trailer on the outskirts of town. Darius was still working day labor, but got on a series of long term tickets, where he was assured of a paycheck for weeks at a time – as close to security as you come in the world they live. They were regular attendees at our small chapel service we do on Sunday afternoons. Life was good – or at least, as good as it had ever been for them.

It was July of last year when things got… interesting. Sonya, after a lifetime of being told she was infertile, became pregnant. While we all agreed that while keeping the baby was hardly the right economic choice, now that they had a community of people around them, it was do-able. She was glowing – life could get no better.

Over the next nine months, she was the model mother-to-be. She was militant about her appointments, took her pre-natal vitamins and planned the layout of the nursery. At four months, they painted the nursery, at six months, they started stocking up diapers and wet wipes. If you went to their house, you would be subjected to photos from the last ultrasound, including her pointing out the “man parts” (she would always blush after saying that) that proved he was a boy.

Darius’ street name (in a former life, he was a gang-banger) was Chi (pronounced ‘shy’), so they decided to call the baby CJ, for Chi Junior. Today, March 2, 2012 was her due date.

On the 18th of February, my friend and volunteer extraordinaire Sarah got a bunch of ladies from our chapel and the various congregations that support our work and threw her an over-the-top baby shower, with games and decorations and cupcakes and gifts and on and on. Sonya was elated.

The following Monday, I had a crazy day and got home about 8:30, exhausted. My battery was dead on my cellphone, so I put it in the charger and changed into sweats, gearing up for a long night of returning email and getting caught up on several writing commitments I had made. Then I got the call.

It was Darius, who had been trying to reach me for several hours. They were at the hospital, because Sonya had noticed earlier that day the baby was no longer moving. They rushed to the hospital, only to have their worst fears confirmed – CJ was dead.

I got to the hospital 15 minutes later, where I would spend the next three days or so. Late Monday night they induced labor, and she endured more than 30 hours of that, knowing the reward at the end was a baby she could not take home. Those three days would be the longest I have ever experienced in five years of doing this work. While waiting for CJ to be delivered, Sonya and Darius experienced the full range of human emotions – they cried, they ached, they moaned, they cursed God.

And I sat with them, telling them it was ok to curse at God, as God was big enough to handle it. I talked them down when well-meaning friends told them it was all part of God’s plan; over and over I gave them permission to be angry, permission to hurt, permission to scream. I told them that God had no part in this – that CJ had died because bad things happen in this world – no one plans it, and certainly not God.

Wednesday morning, Sonya delivered CJ – 5 pounds, 7 ounces, 18 inches long. The next few hours are a blur – holding the baby, taking pictures of them holding the baby while tears streamed down their face, saying prayers for them, saying prayers with the nursing staff, holding Darius in the hallway as heaving sobs came from his chest. And in the midst of it, planning what happens next.

Over the next three days, Sonya stayed in the hospital due to minor complications, Darius sat by her side and I made the arrangements with the funeral home- filled out the paperwork, wrote the checks to the crematorium, picked up the ashes, bought a small marble box to hold all that remained of the hopes and dreams of a couple for whom nothing had ever went right.

Had everything went according to plan, today would be CJ’s birthday. Instead, I am busy planning a memorial service for tomorrow, where with family and friends, we will commit the ashes of CJ to God and seek some sort of meaning to this tragedy, and along the way, try to find some way to move on. And on Monday, they both have to go back to work since the bills don’t quit coming just because your baby dies.

# # #

This is what we do out here – we aren’t a feeding ministry or a clothing ministry or even a homeless ministry. We are a relational ministry. Your financial support made every part of the relationship with Sonya and Darius happen. Without it, none of that would have been possible.

In fact, without your support, I wouldn’t be able to be a minister to people like Sonya and Darius. That I get to do this work is an incredible gift from all of you. I love my job, and I love getting to be a minister to people everyone else has given up on.

So, if you support our work, Sonya and Darius and I all thank you. You have made so much good possible. If you don’t support us yet, I hope you will click here and consider doing so. And if you pray, I hope you will pray for Sonya and Darius. Truth be told, I hope you will pray for me too. God knows I need it.

Hugh Hollowell

About Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA and based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes. He likes peanut M&Ms.
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6 Responses to Lament and Missed Birthdays

  1. Theresa says:

    Thank you for stating so clearly that “God does not plan this.” A few years ago, I decided to reject the common Christian belief based on 139 that God plans out every moments of our lives before we were born. If that were true, there would be no need for thinking, freedom or choices. And most of all, if that were true, then God would plan events like this. NO WAY! My condolences to Sonya and Darius. I pray you get another chance to be parents. You set a wonderful example of persistence, hope and love, and I hope you get to teach that to your children.

  2. MattF says:

    Thank you for continuing to post these stories in spite of your busy schedule, Hugh. We need to be reminded, over and over and over because it is only too easy to forget, that there is real suffering out there — no matter how loudly and how frequently political voices may screech and seethe that it is all the fault of these people caught in unfortunate circumstances, or how often they insist that they ought to be able to work themselves out of their situation, and or how frequently they repeat that it’s okay that they suffer while they struggle for as long as it takes (as long as they don’t take my tax money).

    You’re doing amazing work. I can’t thank you enough.

    With that in mind, I assume the required email I had to add to put in to post will be sent to you. Please contact me. I only had the chance to work with you once or twice, and don’t know how else to contact you, and would like to try to lend my support again.

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  4. Bill says:

    Thank you for all you do. You are an inspiration to me.

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