“My mission in life is not to merely to survive, but to THRIVE; and do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” – Maya Angelou
It wasn’t until my adult life (in my 50’s to be exact) that I realized and embraced my last name: SHINE. Ever since childhood, especially my school age and college years, I have either cringed or felt an “umph” in my stomach whenever my name was mentioned or whenever I had to introduce myself. As I look back as to why I “secretly” felt that way, I believe it was a combination of experiences, but mainly what stood out was that I was teased or was looked at funny during my school age years. My fellow classmates would snicker when the teacher called my name during roll call, especially when combined with her pausing while looking up at me before resuming the roll call. Then during recess, while playing jump robe with my friends, the boys would taunt us (as boys do) and yell out my name, “SHINE, HEY SUNSHINE, or SHINY-HINY” and, of course, the laughter would begin. Of course, I laughed it off, but too young then to understand, I internalized being made fun of with embarrassment and shame. It also did not help because of my stature. I was tall for my age and my hair was very course. I regretted getting my hair done – the Vigoral Relaxers, Press and Curls, the Dax grease. I was traumatized! I believe that is why I dislike doing my hair, even today. And Lord knows, I loathe making hair appointments. In addition to having to take up my entire day just to get my hair done! Uggh! Opps, I digressed. LOL! Funny, all those years, what I had perceived to be something negative or “embarrassing” was only a lie, misperception, a deception. And to know that God purposely and intentionally had a wonderful plan for my life by birthing me into a family whose last name is Shine!
On June 20, 1963, I was born to Robert and Barbara Shine. The first-born of four children My childhood life, as I recall, was fulfilling and active. Being born into a family where faith was instilled in us at a young age made us very active. For you see, my father became the pastor of a church in a predominantly white section of Philadelphia, with a small population of black people who had mostly migrated from the south. Although we lived in an area where Caucasian families resided, we began to slowly see more blacks move into the neighborhood, while our Caucasian families took flight to the suburbs.
Prior to my dad’s call to pastor a church, we attended a white Baptist church not too far from our home. Dad and mom were faithful and very active in ministry during that time. My siblings and I enjoyed attending and participating in many of the children’s ministry events. During the summer, we could not wait for Vacation Bible School (VBS), where we would invite all of our friends to attend with us. When school resumed in the fall, every Thursday after school, my mom would run us up with our friends and take us to my grandparents’ home, where my grandmother, mother, and Rev. Mary Gay would teach us about Jesus using their flannel board and hand puppet props. We would get prizes for scripture memorization and who brought the most friends. Little did I know then that the foundation of my faith was being planted and watered, preparing me for my future – God’s purpose and plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11).
To say that my life was somewhat smooth and easy because of my parents’ ministry is not exactly true. Yes, the tenants of my faith were instilled in me when I was young, yet I, too, had some life experiences that I was not too proud of, which landed me in a state of despair, bewildered, disappointed, struggling, frustrated, and deeply hurt. Yet, deep within the core of my spirit, I knew, even if my “knowing” was clouded by my circumstances that caused pain, hurt, limited to no answers, pressured by decisions that had to be made, that somehow beyond my comprehension, God would bring me through. Those scriptures memorized, thousands of sermons and Sunday School lessons preached and taught, and countless testimonies I heard, surfaced as I walked through my adversities, pain, sorrows, and losses.
I married the love of my life at the age of 27. Both of us were well known within the church community. He played the keyboards, and I was known for directing the choir (many still ask even today, do I direct the choir at my church? Apparently, I must have had a profound effect on folks who have seen me direct choirs (lol). During our marriage, we were blessed with a daughter, after losing four children due to miscarriages. That was devastating, not one, not two, not three, but FOUR! I recall the first miscarriage. We were just about to leave our home to head to a church in Maryland for a Praise and Worship Conference for music leaders. Our lives were at a crossroads: should we stay at home or go to ministry? I was at a loss and so was he. We decided to go, and so we went. I felt so helpless and bewildered. I am helpless because I could not have prevented the loss of our first child. I was helpless because I did not know how to comfort my husband. I was helpless because I did not know how to help myself. I was helpless because I could not spare my parents, especially the agony and hurt that they were going to feel when we told them the news. After all, they were going to be grandparents for the first time. Not only them, but my siblings, church members, and family and friends were all expecting and anticipating the birth of our child.
Still not understanding and left with emptiness within, after the third miscarriage, my doctor thought it was best for the both of us to have some tests done to find out what was causing the miscarriages. My husband was extremely supportive, caring, and loving, to the point that I thought he had dealt with the loss of our children and accepted what God allowed. However, unbeknownst to me, I had no idea he was still dealing with the pain and sorrow of the loss of his three children. It was such a relief when we found out the results of the tests. At least we now have an answer, an explanation. The results found that two of my chromosomes were connected, meaning that the tip of two of my chromosomes crossed, attaching itself to the other, thereby causing the miscarriages. Hence, I had a 50/50 chance of carrying to full term. So, as the embryo was developing, it would abort itself due to the “mixed-matched” chromosomes. The doctor shared that if the embryo continued to develop and I went to full term delivering the baby, the baby would have so many deformities and health challenges, possibly resulting in death. Now that was a whole lot to take in! We were glad to finally get an answer to the miscarriages, yet we were still emotionally a wreck! So, what do we do? Do we adopt, consider becoming foster children, use protection from now on to prevent the possibility of me becoming pregnant, keep this to ourselves, share it with others, what about our parents, my parents?
I would love to share that the news of learning the cause of the many miscarriages was a total relief. No, it just provided the answer as to why I was miscarrying the babies we so desired to have. Despite again losing our fourth baby, the pain and sorrow we experienced, and the effects it had on our marital relationship, deep down inside, I came to terms with accepting what God allowed. No, he did not “allow” this to happen, as if HE (God) is mean, cold, callous, and does not care about our feelings, pains, sorrows, and grief. After all, he is the giver of life! As it is written in Isaiah 53:3 and Hebrews 4:13, God’s only son, Jesus, is acquainted with our pains, sorrows, and grief. I had to come to terms that God’s plans and purposes for my life far exceeded the loss of my four babies, but he will use the losses as a means for working everything out for my good and His glory! (Romans 8:28). And so, he did, and on October 27, 1995, God blessed us with a 9-pound, 8-ounce baby girl, Raeven Aleia Maddox!! Remember, God’s light shines even when you experience any type of loss.
How I wish I could say, “Everything was uphill from there,” but I can’t. Raeven was a year and two months old when we thought she had a bad cold and was given some medicine by her doctor. A member of our church (Tina), who called herself Raeven’s nanny, came by to check on us, prepare meals, and play with Rae while I took a nap, and noticed that something was wrong. Rae was not herself (she was a happy baby). It was a cold December afternoon, and her “nanny” insisted that I take Rae to the emergency room. At that time, we lived in Delaware. Not really knowing how to drive a stick shift, I got Rae wrapped in several blankets and jumped in the car with her in one hand (nope, no car seat, I needed her to know that mommy had her in her arms) while I drove quickly to the hospital. Upon arrival, I checked in. One look at Rae and they “whisked” her out of my arms, told me to contact my husband, and the rest was… well, let me say, I lived for four months in the hospital. I never left her side. Raeven had contracted strep pneumococcal pneumonia. It was told to us that babies do not survive with this type of pneumonia. Within just a few days at the hospital, we learned that they flew in another baby with the same diagnosis, but she did not make it. I refused to allow the enemy to whisper negative thoughts in my ear and inflict fear. I got my Bible and wrote down every healing scripture I could come across and taped it to Raeven’s bed. While Rae was battling for her life, people from around the world were battling in prayer for her healing. Yes, around the world! I don’t know how the news spread to Japan, but we got word that people in Japan had heard about Raeven and were praying. One day, after the doctors were making their rounds and were speaking to us about Rae’s condition, they said she would need a blood transfusion. Upon full explanation, we consented. I decided to take a walk around the hospital and ran into one of my older cousins who is an evangelist. I haven’t seen her in years. We both asked what we were doing at the hospital. She said she works for a temporary agency, and they assigned her to this hospital in the phlebotomy department. She said she processes the information for those patients who are scheduled to get a blood transfusion and heard about a little baby whose life is on the line and needs a transfusion. She went on to share that she had been praying for this little baby, not knowing until she saw tears rolling down my eyes that the baby, she was praying for was my daughter, Raeven! Only GOD! She grabbed me by the hand and walked as fast as we could, rushing to get to Rae’s room so she could pray! Don’t tell me that God does not see, hear, and show himself strong on our behalf!! It was a long four months, but I just want to say that God is a healer, a sustainer, and is with us during difficult and challenging times! Oh, did I mention that the church where Rease and I were helping as ministers of music paid every bill that we had? We didn’t have to worry about writing checks every month anymore!!! took care of every financial need we had!!! We did not ask at all; they approached us and told us that is what God laid on their heart to do! Even in sickness, God’s Light SHINES!
Despite all we experienced, our love and faith in God were intact. Again, I am grateful for the foundation that was laid. I heard time and time again of God’s faithfulness, his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, his patience, his kindness, and let’s not forget about his longsuffering, which he daily bestows upon us. As a Christian, we are to walk by faith and not by sight. When we say we trust him, do we mean it? The testing of our faith is never handed to us on a silver platter. It’s never the “warm and fuzzy” moments. It’s when we find ourselves in vulnerable, challenging, difficult, heart-wrenching, bellyaching, teeth-clinching, jaw-dropping moments. And the question that whispers in our ears is, “Do you, and will you trust me?” In the most embarrassing, shameful, “how could this happen to me?” moments, “Will you trust that I will be here with you to see you through this?” I have experienced that no matter how ugly the situation may be, no matter how much of a struggle and stressful the situation might become, God does not want us to go through it alone. There’s a passage in the Bible that each of us should be reminded of daily, and it’s found in Isaiah 43:2-4 (The Message Bible): “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.” When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—because I am God, your personal God. ” I can attest and bear witness that God is a personal God.
It was in 2012 that my divorce became final. Twenty-one years of marriage came to a shattering end. No one escaped unscathed and scared in one way or another. wounded and despondent. If you ask anyone who knew us, it was a complete shock. There were no “winners.” I made the choice, even while going through the divorce, that I would respond (with God’s help, overriding my human abilities) by still respecting and honoring him as a man and a father. That meant there would be no “baby momma drama” nor “being an angry and scornful black woman.” Truth be told, that would be so out of character for me that I would mess it up by trying to be something I am not, or act in a particular way that is so foreign to me. Staying true to my own commitment to God and myself, and respecting my husband, daughter, and extended and church family, I did just that. Was it challenging at times? Yes! Was I upset and hurt? Yes! Was I resentful of what led to us divorcing? Yes! But somehow, I knew, that inner knowing that I spoke earlier about, that God was going to take this “mess” and turn it into a message of hope, healing, and restoration. At that time, I had no idea, but I can share with you that he did! It wasn’t easy, nor comfortable, nor did it happen overnight, but HE did it, and much had to do with me being truthful and vulnerable, but most importantly, my willingness to submit to God’s plan, which included a lot of “stripping way,” facing my own idiosyncrasies, attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, and fears.
I will share that many of those within our extended families, friends, acquaintances, and church family did not know that I was divorced. Why? Because I choose, as much as possible, we will continue to function as a family as much as we can. That means, holidays, family functions, church, and some events, we will continue. Now you may wonder, that makes no sense. And of course, you are correct, because that is not how the “world” functions. And as a matter of fact, the Lord spoke to me very clearly, Robin, that this journey that you are now treading upon has NOTHING to do with making “sense” but has everything to do with “making faith!” I was reminded of a song sang by Vanessa Bell Armstrong that often reminded me about faith. The lyrics go like this:
“FAITH THAT SEES THE INVISIBLE, EXPECTS THE INCREDIBLE AND RECEIVED THE IMPOSSIBLE. FAITH THAT CAN CONQUER ANYTHING.
FAITH THAT UPROOTS MY PROBLEMS, FAITH THAT GOD CAN SOLVE THEM, FAITH THAT I CAN SEE MY FREEDOM, AND I HAVE FAITH THAT I CAN CONQUER ANYTHING.
FAITH, TO REACH THE UNREACHABLE, FAITH TO FIGHT THE UNBEATABLE, FAITH TO REMOVE THE UNMOVABLE, FAITH THAT STANDS AGAINST THE INVINCIBLE, FAITH THAT CAN CONQUER ANYTHING!”
Losing our home in the suburbs and having to move back home with my parents with a teenager who was about to start high school was humbling. I recall that when I informed Rae that we were going to move in with my parents, I also said, “I don’t know how or when, but we will have our own place.” I repeated that to her time and time again. I kept telling her that the Lord would bless us with a place of our own to live in. And when that time comes, we, along with everyone else, will know it was God. I continued to trust God. I now live off my income, have accumulated debt to pay back, pay for on-going car repairs, and just basic living expenses. I will never forget one evening when my phone rang, and I decided not to answer because I knew the purpose of the call and that it was on my schedule to call the person the next morning to inform her that we were all set for a scheduled meeting. Well, the person was persistent and kept calling until I finally answered. While she was telling me why she was calling, I was telling her that we were set for the meeting. We were both talking at the same time. I finally stopped talking and she said, “that is NOT the reason why I called.” The reason why she called and was persistent was because she was sitting at her table praying and asking God who she could offer a consulting contact to for a short-term project and my name kept coming to mind, so that was her reason for calling me. I propped myself up and wanted to be clear about what she was saying. She responded by saying God told her to offer me a contract for a large amount of money to take on this project. She told me that if I accepted, she would send me the contract, make it effective immediately, and send me a retainer check! I was speechless, to say the least, while tears were running down my face. She had no idea of my situation, but God knows. I could not wait until the next day to share with Rae that God saw our need, answered my prayer, and that we could begin looking for a home once I paid off my debt!
I thank God for the type of parents I have. Even while going through the divorce, they never spoke ill of me or my husband. As a matter of fact, and even to this day, he is still engaged and is viewed as part of the family. There were a lot of losses and heartaches going through a divorce, but I can say we are friends and I never interfered but supported and made sure that he continued to be engaged in Raeven’s life. Even to this day, now that she is a young adult. We made it known to her that just because mommy and daddy are no longer married, we both still love you and will parent you until death do us part—LOL! Nope, no playing one parent against the other (she tried but found out quickly that it was not going to work! LOL).
Over time, God restored those things that I lost. I believe he honored and favored me because I trusted HIM and demonstrated my trust by responding appropriately. We are still living in our home. My ex-husband and I are still friends, and we continue to schedule time with the three of us. Even going through separation and/or a divorce, God is still with us. Remember, God meets all your needs according to HIS glorious riches! While we are trying to figure it out, God has already worked it out. He uses people, and not always the people we know personally. Is there pain in the suffering? Yes. Is there heartache, hurt, disappointments, fears, confusion, questionings, bewilderment? Yes! But know that your journey will include all of this and more…detours, delays, denials…but know that your pain is preparing you to pursue the purpose God has for you, if you just trust His process and carry out the plan HE has for your life!
As you look back and reflect upon your past, thank God. As you look forward, trust God. As you look around, serve God. Always look within and find God. ”
As women, we visit our doctor(s) at least once a year to get our check-ups and screenings. I had a routine by scheduling my yearly appointments, exams, and screenings. Each time I went, I basically received the same results, except for my gaining a few pounds here and there – lol. But that was not the case on February 26, 2018. This time, I was told that I had breast cancer. I will never forget that day. My mother was with me when my doctor informed me of my diagnosis. When she confirmed the test results, we were silent for a second, and then I immediately, without hesitation, asked if I could pray for her hands. She consented; I began to pray. While praying, God had me pray not only for her hands but for her mind, the knowledge she obtained back when she was in medical school. I asked the Lord to bring back everything she studied, information that she obtained from medical conferences, seminars, research studies, and conversations with her medical colleagues. I thanked the Lord for all her planning that had led her to this point. After the prayer, my mother asked her if she was a believer in Jesus Christ, and she said she was a believer. (Leave it to my mother, the church missionary. – LOL) I then said, “Let’s schedule the surgery.” And so, we did.
Talking about timing, well, can I share that my pre-operation was scheduled the day following Rae’s spring break from college? You see, she was in her last year of college, and on that snowy Thursday night, I picked Rae up from college. My plan was to break the news to her as we were traveling home, but that did not happen. As soon as Rae got into the car, she shared with excitement that she had been accepted into a sorority. She was overjoyed! There was no way I could mention my diagnosis and date of surgery to a college student who had just gotten accepted into a sorority! Lord, this timing is not going well, I whispered. What do I do? I must be at the hospital at 7:30 in the morning! I was at my wits’ end, to say the least. Well, after another hour or so talking about her acceptance and all the things she needed to do to get prepared, I finally shared with her that I had something very important to share. Let’s just say, once I shared the news, she went from being happy and excited to immediately shocked. Tears rolling down her eyes so fast that her face was wet, her body started shaking. All I could do was to hold her tightly and hum while praying for God’s help! I did not know what to say or do. Then, in a still small voice, the Lord told me to call a therapist who was on standby. I had forgotten that I had called her and asked for her assistance if needed when I was to tell Rae. My therapist friend immediately picked up the phone and spoke with Rae, while I was holding onto Rae tightly. Once the call ended, I told her God was going to heal me. I kept telling her that God is still with us and will see us through.
I came through surgery fine. My parents, Raeven and Rease, were with me. When they were rolling me into surgery, one of the staff members was a young lady who I knew from church. Once again, God made his presence known. I had my cellphone talking to two friends, laughing, and reassuring them that God was with me, and I would be OK. The nurse took the phone from my hands, applied oxygen over my nose, and off to sleep I went.
It was a long, painful, life-staring-death moment, but God told me, “You are not going to die, but live to declare the works of God! This pain is creating a platform that will bring you before many people to inspire, empower, and offer hope. You will be a light shining in many spaces and places where there is hopelessness, darkness, and despair; where people just need to know that they matter. ” That all sounded great, and I looked forward to what was said. However, I had to experience something on my road to recovery. Chemotherapy and radiation caused my breathing to be labored. It was very difficult to move around or walk. I was out of breath even trying to get out of bed. I spent most of my time in bed. I was extremely weak; I could not even eat anything. Everything I attempted to eat or drink (water, even Ensure) tasted like metal. Yet God once again was with me and showed himself as a healer and provider. Can I testify? I wanted for nothing! Every need was supplied! I experienced so much support and love from so many people. My daughter was able to pledge the sorority. She never missed any of her classes and graduated on time. Still recovering, I made sure she was celebrated; I was asked to post a video about the importance of health insurance and did not realize over a thousand people watched the video on a social media platform; I was interviewed by one of the oldest newspapers in Philadelphia; I was the recipient of the PINK Ribbon Award presented by the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and now was asked to serve on their board; and one of the greatest highlights is that during my recovery in 2019, I hosted my inaugural conference, SHE SHINES!
So, you see, no matter what the adversity, challenge, or loss, God has kept his promises. He is there with us through it all. He takes a mess and turns it into a message of hope and inspiration so that we can let our light SHINE!!!
Keep moving forward while you are in pain, until your pain becomes your past. In pain, you will discover how strong you are and how God will grant you the strength you need for every step of your journey. Your past creates a platform for you to propel forward with courage and the ability to inspire, help, and offer hope to others, while experiencing the blessings and favor God. SHINE YOUR LIGHT BRIGHTLY, and just in case your light gets dim, flicker, or goes out, quickly strike a match, light a candle and SHINE!!