Authors: Stacy Hawkins Adams
Tags: #Religion, #Inspirational
the winds of change series
a novel by
stacy hawkins adams
This book is dedicated to you, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances.
May you not only be entertained by this story, but also inspired to recognize and embrace the blessings borne from your life’s broken places. May your soul be refreshed and your spirit filled with peace.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him… . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
John 3:17, 21
Shiloh Wilson Griffin blew into the delicate instrument one last time, and its mournful notes curled through the air like white smoke snaking its way into oblivion.
The music flowing from the recorder was hollow and wistful—a perfect reflection of her emotions today, and every year on this date, August 13. “Her Song,” as Shiloh had titled the piece, wasn’t long. It was a repetitive melody she played over and over, until it seeped into her soul and settled in her bones, where the pain had been lodged for what felt like forever. In many ways, eighteen years could be considered forever. So it caught her off guard when she stumbled over a few notes this morning. That had never happened, not once since she wrote and played this song on the first anniversary of this date. The simple mistake rattled her.
Shiloh lowered the instrument to her side and peered into the inky darkness of her backyard. Minutes later, she turned away from the wall of windows and laid the recorder on an ottoman that doubled as a coffee table. She glanced at the small round clock hanging above the entrance to the sunroom. Great. She had fifteen minutes before alarms began pinging and chiming, feet hit the floor, echoes of “Mommy” or “Mom” filled the house, and everyone simultaneously needed her.
Shiloh sidestepped the ottoman and knelt in front of the sofa. She lowered her head onto her clasped hands. Her shoulder-length, charcoal black hair swung forward and framed her round ebony face like
a stage curtain. She wanted to pray but couldn’t focus. The familiar questions kept intruding.
Will this be the year I stop feeling guilty? Or lose the shame?
Shiloh sighed and silently answered herself in the same breath:
No, and no.
No matter how much restitution she paid with every word and deed, her blood-stained hands could never really be clean, even if no one else knew they were dirty.
First she had stumbled over the notes to “Her Song.” Now, she felt tongue-tied. What could she pray differently, or more persuasively, this year than she had all the years before? Did she really have the right to be burden-free—forgiven for her ancient decisions? The answer came as readily as it should for a preacher’s wife and pastor’s daughter: God forgives any sin that one is truly sorry for committing.
Her heart wanted to accept that truth, but her mind kept circling back to the reality that life, and a person’s choices, didn’t always yield cut-and-dried conclusions.
What if I knew I was wrong? What if I didn’t care about anyone but myself?
Those questions looped through Shiloh’s mind, and no matter how much she willed the words that matched her persistent regret to flow, they eluded her. Shiloh rarely noticed the tick-tock of the clock, but this morning, it sounded like a gong, pressuring her to hurry. In five minutes, the once-a-year opportunity she gave herself to plead for God’s peace would be a wrap.
Before she could nudge herself into action, the faint beeping of one of the boys’ alarm clocks forced her surrender. She lifted her head, sat back on her heels, and scanned her surroundings to pinpoint everything she needed to tuck away. The recorder had to be put in its case and returned to the corner with her flutes; the candle must be extinguished and placed in its usual spot on the kitchen counter; and
the three-by-five frame next to the candle, which bore seven words she couldn’t risk anyone else ever reading, should be hidden until this time next year, when she pulled it out for the nineteenth annual commemoration.
Shiloh pushed herself up by the palms of her hands and swiftly put things away. Within minutes, she’d have coffee percolating and oatmeal simmering for Randy, various cold cereals on the table for her four hungry boys, and a cheerful smile fixed on her face when all of them came trotting downstairs and delivered the hugs and kisses she demanded. Good thing they couldn’t see her heart this morning; it would give her away. Her silent tears would go unnoticed, as usual, and she was thankful.
By the time Shiloh shooed Lemuel, Omari, Raphael, and David out of the house and to their summer camp carpools, she had decided what to wear to breakfast with Dayna.
She placed the last bowl from the boys’ morning meal in the dishwasher and grabbed an apple to stave off the hunger her rumbling stomach announced. Usually, she ate with the family; if she didn’t munch on something now, she’d be gobbling up everything in sight by the time she reached downtown Milwaukee.
Shiloh trotted upstairs to her bedroom and, mindful for the second time this morning of the ticking clock, strode to her closet to find the dress she had in mind. Dayna probably had a marathon slate of workshops and receptions to attend, and Shiloh had no doubt that the eldest Wilson sister would be looking her best. Her personal status of stay-at-home mom, part-time flute teacher, and Baptist church First Lady didn’t require tailored business suits, and Shiloh feared that her Sunday best might be out of place in a corporate setting. Even so, she located her tried-and-true black sheath with cap sleeves and grabbed a pair of black, two-inch heels from her shoe rack.
After a quick shower, she pulled her hair up into a long, sleek ponytail and stepped into the knee-length dress. Her full hips and rounded backside caused her to tug a little, but according to Randy, there was nothing to complain about. As if on cue, he entered the bedroom while she was trying to zip the back of the dress with one hand.
“Well, where are you headed this morning, Mrs. Glamorous? You can’t be meeting with the ladies from the prayer ministry, dressed like that.”
He approached her from behind and finished the job, then encircled her in a hug and kissed her neck.
“Watch it, Reverend,” Shiloh teased. “You’ve already got four sons to send to college.”
The joke she uttered to keep things light between them stung, given the anniversary she’d commemorated before sunrise. She forced herself to focus.
“Breakfast with Dayna, remember? She flew in last night for the hospital association conference I told you about.”
“Remind me why she isn’t staying with us?”
Shiloh shook her head.
“Too many meetings to commute out here. She has a full schedule, which is why I’m going downtown to meet her. She may try to sneak away tomorrow evening to come out and see the boys, though.”
Randy released his grip.
“Well, tell her I said hello, and welcome to Milwaukee. I’m heading over to the church. Got a meeting with Vic in an hour.”
Shiloh peered at him through the dresser mirror, but his expression left her clueless.
Randy shrugged. “Same as usual. He doesn’t like being second in command or being told what to do, instead of doing the telling. I keep reminding him that we are working on the same team, for the same God.”
Shiloh stretched past Randy to grab a coral shawl from a nearby chair, and patted his arm. Who knew competition like this existed among pastors, especially two who were supposedly leading a congregation together? Daddy had pastored his church in Atchity, Alabama,
for so long, Shiloh couldn’t recall him feeling threatened or challenged by other ministers under his charge. Randy kept reminding her that despite their nearly two-year tenure at St. Stephens Baptist Church, he was still considered “the new guy.” Vic had an advantage as a lifelong Milwaukee resident and member of St. Stephens Baptist. It didn’t seem to matter that Randy had overseen long-awaited renovations or that since his tenure as senior pastor, attendance and membership had increased significantly; some in the already-large congregation were still upset that their beloved Vic remained the full-time second in command.
“Hang in there, babe.” Shiloh kissed him before grabbing her purse off the bed and trotting down the stairs.
“You do the same,” Randy called after her. “Don’t come home after breakfast wanting to change who you are. You are perfectly fine.”
Shiloh didn’t respond, but she cringed at the realization that Randy knew most of her insecurities well enough to head them off before they took hold of her. She appreciated his support, but what if he had seen her this morning, before sunrise, trying to pray away her demons? She had a feeling if he knew about that Shiloh, he wouldn’t be referring to her as
The words that he’d likely use instead made her want to cry again.
Minutes later, Shiloh headed south on Interstate 43 and maneuvered her silver van through a steady stream of traffic. The drive was punctuated by fits and starts, stemming from pockets of congestion and the three accidents she passed along the route.
“Thank God I don’t have to navigate this jungle every morning,” she muttered, only to acknowledge seconds later that the traffic was a good distraction. She’d rather focus on the road than lose herself in her thoughts, ambling down the trail her memories liked to travel.
Dayna texted her just as she pulled into the Frontier Airlines Center parking garage.
On 1st floor, near section C. In café called Birdie’s.
Shiloh backed the van into a parking spot and turned off the engine before responding.
There in 5 min.
When she strolled into the cozy restaurant, Shiloh immediately spotted her sister sitting at a small round table, chatting with a waiter. Who could miss her? Dressed in a black pinstripe suit that looked as if the material had been cut to her frame, and wearing tasteful yet
dramatic makeup and a flawless smile, Dayna appeared ready for a
magazine cover shoot.
Dayna had worn her hair in a short, layered ‘do for years, but this new, chin-length bob made her look younger, and prettier, Shiloh decided. Marriage was definitely agreeing with her. No fifteen pounds after the wedding for her. And since she and Warren had decided to devote themselves to raising his twin boys rather than having a child together, no baby weight, either.
A familiar jealousy trickled through Shiloh’s veins, but Dayna’s warm response staunched its flow. She rose from her seat and gripped Shiloh in a long hug.
“How are you?”
When Dayna released her, Shiloh smiled to indicate that all was well. “I’m fine, Dayna; how are you?” Shiloh slid into the seat across from her sister, hoping she looked more composed than she felt.
Dayna settled in her chair and placed a cloth napkin across her lap. “Doing well. And excited to see you, since it’s been a minute. How are Randy and the boys? Are you guys liking Milwaukee?”
Shiloh hesitated. How much did Dayna need, or even want, to know? That it had been a challenging twenty-one months since her family left Atchity for Randy to lead one of Milwaukee’s historic Baptist churches? That she was still finding it tough to make friends and call the place home?
She couldn’t tell the well-traveled Dayna that she was homesick for their native Alabama. Dayna already considered her a country bumpkin clone of Mama. Why contribute to that notion?
Shiloh summoned a smile. “It’s going pretty well. The boys are doing great in school and have friends in our neighborhood. I love the house. It has a spacious sunroom facing the backyard that I use for teaching flute lessons—and sometimes just to hide out from all of the
testosterone in the house.” Shiloh chuckled and took a sip of the water the waiter placed in front of her.
“You’re teaching flute lessons? Good for you,” Dayna said. “I know you loved doing that back home. I’m glad you’ve been able to pick up some students.”
They each ordered an omelet and coffee, then Shiloh turned the conversation to Dayna. “How’s married life treating you and Warren, and the twins? How’s the new house coming along? Are you building it to be hurricane proof?”
Dayna smiled. “I don’t know if anything is really hurricane proof,” she said. “But when you live in central Florida, you have to at least try, so yes, we’re adding some beams and other building materials to the frame to strengthen it against high winds. That’s all you can do.”
Shiloh nodded. “That’s smart. Always good to be prepared. The house you’ve lived in for years isn’t far from the hospital; where will this place be?”
“It’s on the outskirts of Calero, but it’s close enough to Chesdin Medical Center for Warren and me to get to work within fifteen minutes,” Dayna said. “The good news is that it’s nowhere near Calero’s tourist community. The bad news—or at least it sometimes feels this way—is that Warren is serving as the general contractor for the house. He’s driving me crazy.” Dayna sighed. “Even worse, he’s driving the workers crazy! He leaves the hospital three times a day—that I’m aware of; could be more—to drive by and monitor their progress and to make sure they’re not cutting corners. I told him I’m going to change his title from vice president of marketing for Chesdin Medical Center to chief button pusher for the Florida Home Builders Association! I guess it’s good to be so involved, but if he gets them to add one more thing, or change one more thing, I may give up and lease a three-bedroom apartment instead.”
Shiloh laughed. She couldn’t recall the last time they’d chatted so
freely, and it surprised her how pleased she was to see Dayna happy. “Looks like you sold your house too soon, huh?”
Dayna took a few seconds to swallow the sliver of omelet she had just popped into her mouth. “I still drive by my old home sometimes just to wave at it,” she said and laughed. “I loved that place! But I love being with my honey and the boys even more. There’s actually enough space in Warren’s house for us to comfortably stay there; we just think an important part of solidifying our new family structure is to start building memories together in a neutral space—one we’ve purchased together. We’re hoping that once we move into the new house, his current place will sell as quickly as my home did. My house was only on the market for two days.”
“In this economy? Wow,” said Shiloh. “Well, it will happen at just the right time for Warren’s place, too. Did he skip the conference because of the house?”
Dayna took the final sip of her coffee.
“Our boss decided to send just three of us to Milwaukee because another important conference is taking place in Vegas next month. Warren gets to go to that one. I’m here with a colleague who works in accounting.” Dayna peered over Shiloh’s shoulder and grinned.
“Well, look who I talked up!”
Shiloh turned in her seat. She smiled as a petite, cinnamon-hued woman with flowing hair and a protruding belly waddled toward them. Dayna’s colleague paused dramatically when she reached their table.
“Whew, that was a long walk from the registration area. Good morning, Mrs. Avery! Is this your baby sister?”
“Yes, this is my sister Shiloh; but she’s my middle sister, remember? Our sister Jessica is the baby of the family.”
Dayna shifted her gaze to Shiloh. “This is my friend and coworker, Audrey. I’ve mentioned you and Jessica to her over the years. As you can see, she’s expecting!”
“Nice to meet you, Audrey, and congratulations on the baby; have a seat.” Shiloh motioned toward the third chair at the table.
“Thanks, but I’m fine,” Audrey said and patted her stomach. “Baby here was hungry first thing this morning, so I ordered room service before coming over. I just wanted to stop by and say hello, because Dayna told me you live here and she was excited about getting a chance to see you. I’ll catch up with you in the session, Dayna. Nice to meet you, too, Shiloh.”
Dayna and Shiloh watched her disappear around a corner, her purple dress swaying with her shifting weight.
“She seems nice, and she looks cute pregnant.”
“Yeah, she does,” Dayna said. “She got married seven months ago to a great guy who works in my office. This baby is her and Chas’s honeymoon gift. First child for both, and they’re thrilled. I’m thrilled for them, too. She’s getting big, but as you see, she’s not letting it slow her down.”
Shiloh smiled. “That’s really nice. Still don’t want any babies yourself?”
Dayna raised an eyebrow. “Thanks, but raising Michael and Mason is job enough, with girls calling, sports practices every day, and all that. My hat goes off to you, having four! Plus, I’m sure I’ll have my chance to babysit for Audrey and Chas; that will fix any maternal longings that sneak up on me. Any more for you?”
Now it was Shiloh’s turn to look incredulous. “David is nine, girlfriend; if it ain’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna happen. He will remain the youngest child.”
They laughed and settled into an easy silence while they finished what was left of their meals. Her initial twinges of jealousy had dissipated, and Shiloh was enjoying this time with her sister. She and Dayna hadn’t been this comfortable with one another in a long time—longer than she could pinpoint. She wasn’t sure if it was because Dayna was in
such a happy place with Warren and her stepsons, or because they were away from their parents’ critical eyes. The resentment that usually emanated from Dayna for reasons she didn’t understand wasn’t palpable this morning.
“We’ve got to bring the boys to Disney World. I keep saying that, and I mean it. Lem will be a senior next year, and I want to come before he goes off to college, while all of my boys are at home.”
“Definitely,” Dayna said. “The house should be ready in a couple of months. Maybe you all can come for Christmas? Or the boys’ spring break? Michael and Mason want to know their step-cousins better—the soul side of their family.”
“How have they adjusted to introducing you as their stepmother? Do their friends think they’re joking?”
Dayna smirked. “Their friends seem okay with it; it’s the friends’ parents who struggle with this tall black woman showing up to cheer them on or pick up two blue-eyed, freckled-faced Caucasian teenagers. More than once, I’ve been asked if I’m the housekeeper or the family’s driver, since the boys are too old for a sitter. Michael and Mason seem to take it in stride, though. They love me, and I love them. Warren has done a good job with them.”
“And the whole interracial marriage thing—that hasn’t caused any issues?”
She and Dayna had never been the kind of sisters to dish like this, but for the first time ever, Dayna seemed open.
“Let’s be for real, Shiloh; marriage is hard work, period. We’ve had to adjust over the past two years to living together, co-parenting, merging our finances, and learning how to keep communicating when we hit a rough patch—all those kinds of things. That needs to happen in any marriage. Add race to it, and it’s just another bridge we’ve decided to cross together. We don’t let it become an
issue between us. Warren and I know that Mama and Daddy aren’t comfortable with him being white, so we don’t go to Alabama that often. We also don’t hold a grudge. His parents, on the other hand, have embraced me, so we see them regularly.
“We just deal with life as it comes. The most important thing we’ve decided is to do it together, and I can honestly say that the work and the challenges that have come with this new role have been worth it. I’m very happy. No—I’m very blessed. Great husband, who happens to be fine, too; great kids who love me; a career I love …” Dayna sat back and smiled.
Shiloh leaned forward and mirrored her sister’s expression. “You are glowing. I’m happy for you, Dayna. You deserve it.”
Those sentiments were heartfelt, so why were they accompanied by a swell of resentment? She had her own handsome husband, four loving sons, plus a beautiful home and no need to work outside of it. What gave?
Struggling for an answer right now would be a waste of brainpower, she decided, as would comparing herself to her superstar big sister.
Despite the devastation of a long-ago divorce and their parents’ reservations about her interracial marriage, Dayna clearly was choosing to live on her own terms. Shiloh’s heart quivered. Did this mean her own existence could be considered little more than tracing the dots of a pattern someone else decided was her best fit? She fixed a smile that she hoped looked more authentic than it felt. Pretending to be content continued to be hard work.