My name is Elia. It’s a different name, and I hit a little bit different, but I am also like a lot of women I know. I want to share my story with you. But, in order to share my story, I feel I must tell you where and who I come from.
I grew up in a multi generational Mexican American home in the San Francisco Bay Area. In East San Jose. You may know this area as the Silicon Valley. But, when my family migrated from Texas and Southern California in the 1940s for migrant farm work and canning factories, it was called The Valley of Heart’s Delight.
My first home was my grandparents’ home. In the front house was me, mom, dad and my baby sister, Frida. In the back house lived my grandparents, aunts, a cousin, and my great grandfather, Ramon. He was a Yaqui Indian and a former child soldier from a forgotten chapter in our history. He was quite a character, and my name for him was Old Man. My grandparents were those salt of the earth, working class Catholics that made up the parts and pieces of America’s greatest generation. They threw a good party. But on most days, they worked hard, watched baseball, and prepared homemade flour tortillas to go with every dinnertime meal.
I have so many memories of those early years, living at Grandma’s. It made me who I am. On my fourth birthday, we moved from East San Jose to the downtown area on north 10th street. Not far from Japan Town. The Victorian house there was the parsonage of our Mexican Baptist Church: Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispano Americana.
At this time, my maternal grandparents were leaders in our denomination. My grandmother had been the president of the Hispanic caucus a couple of years before I was born. My daddy was not a preacher, but we learned to be stewards of the house of God. Our back gate was the shared gate to the church parking lot, which had an unfinished gravel road. Houses of worship and homes are often like the people who live there.
I was close to my Mom’s parents. They were church leaders, small business owners, and like my dad’s parents- community activists. During this time in my life, Christianity and activism went hand in hand. Something that is currently new for a lot of people.
Like many people of color, we were fighting for change. We faced a lot of discrimination in-spite of some breakthrough. Speaking out against injustices, or merely existing as we were, came with a price. My maternal grandfather, Papa Chief had many talks with me about what we now call racial profiling. He was a lifelong friend and mentor to Cesar Chavez. They were nonviolent activists in the tradition of Dr. King, and Ghandi whose principles were rooted in the Sermon on the Mount. Papa Chief was a well dressed man, a neatly groomed marine and Iwo Jima survivor with a large scar from the shrapnel in his arm. He was my favorite person growing up. He usually drove a new car, Mercedes or Cadillac and he often got pulled over for no reason other than being a dark skinned Apache in a fancy car.
My Papa had with had a very accurate gift for words of wisdom and this shaped my view of God; if I don’t know something, I can pray and God will give me wisdom.
When the Chief passed, I became very close to my Grammy. We were inseparable until I left home at 23 for the cornfields of Ohio. All three of my grandparents begged me not to leave. Their anxieties for me as a woman in ministry away from her family were great and not without reason. I was going to the Midwest, and Columbus, Ohio isn’t the most friendly with the Hispanic community.
Another way fear had directed our family was to avoid fully embracing a call to full time vocational ministry. I thought, “that can’t be me. I have to fully embrace the call to preach.”
I completed three years of Bible college, graduating at the top of my class. With several internships, I thought a job at a church would be secured. Needless to say, after graduation I hit a lot of ceilings as a brown, single lady in ministry. I was crushed. I kept volunteering, kept supporting friends. I kept processing these things with my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time.
When David and I got married in 2011, I was still trying to be a youth group volunteer, but favor was lifting. I was confused because I had a promise from the Lord out of Isaiah 8:18- “here I am and the children you’ve given me, we are for signs and wonders.” I KNEW that was a call for my life but I didn’t understand how those kinds of promises could arc over our lives at that time. Since ministry didn’t seem to be working out, I began praying differently. My new prayer was that David and I would be able to have children. We miscarried one pregnancy early on. Then we were able to get pregnant with Timothy.
My pregnancy with Timothy was rough. Morning sickness lasted all day, and despite my trying to eat healthy with a very busy job, my symptoms were not improving. During our anatomy scan, Timothy was measuring small. My husband who is very level headed, looked shocked and told me he felt something might be wrong. We made an appointment with a specialist.
A couple weeks later, Grammy passed away. We flew to California and helped to plan her service. I was sad but I was holding back my emotions as my symptoms got worse. My feet and hands were swollen, I was gaining weight rapidly, headaches, sinus infections, and bloody noses persisted.
That week during our visit to California I remember thinking, if I could just put my swollen feet in the cold ocean I would be ok. So, we drove to the beach in Half-moon Bay. I walked to the shore and let my pregnant feet sink in the wet sand, and let the waves wash over them and they felt almost instantly better; but we couldn’t stay there and by the time we got to the car, I was starting to swell again.
We flew home to Ohio the next day and I was getting worse. I could feel Timothy kicking and then dropping during our flight home. The turbulence continued to become increasingly worse. I was so scared and started having asthma attacks on the flight. I couldn’t find my rescue inhaler so I drank black coffee to try to open up my lungs. I tried waking up David- who was having some health issues at the time that we didn’t know about. I couldn’t wake him up.
By the time I got the flight attendants’ attention, I could barely say, “I’m having a hard time breathing.” But was told there was nothing they could do. Once we landed, Dave and I were the last to exit the flight. I was upset and angry at the flight attendants lack of compassion and willingness to help us. They were making mean comments, trying to rush us out of the plane and when said “I said, I’m pregnant, I don’t feel well, and I just buried my grandmother”, one of the looked at me and said curtly “well, feel better.”
The following week, David and I went to the specialist appointment; we thought it would be a “routine” check up so we made plans to register at Babies R Us when we finished the appointment. Except we never made it to the store because
that day, we didn’t leave the hospital.
The doctor put me under observation for preeclampsia and when it was confirmed we began to be prepared for what to expect from an early delivery and about NICU. I was 25 weeks pregnant.
I had people praying for my supernatural healing, but I knew I had to deliver this baby. My only prayers for him and I were: “I will live and not die and declare the word of the Lord.” “God is not a man that he should lie.”
My mentor’s word to me was, “is there anything too hard for the Lord?” I clung to these seemingly small words as the life giving word that was going keep me.
Later I would find out my personal survival chances were 50/50. Timothy’s were fewer. On the operating table, as my baby boy was being delivered, I had an asthma attack. I heard him cry which was a miracle with regard to lung development -and I remember seeing the tiniest nose possible.
“Here he is! We are taking him immediately to the NICU!”
Gasping for air, I was put to sleep.
When I woke up I had been in recovery for five and a half hours. I had asked my mom to please go touch my baby for me. She was the first family member to touch him and they still have an amazing bond. When I was finally able to get to his incubator, I was shocked to find that he was alive, could be held and that he might in fact survive the craziness that is extreme prematurity.
He was 1 pound, 5.6 oz and 12 inches long. He was born at 26 weeks, 4 days but was developmentally the size of a 23 weeker. The bonding hormones began to kick in as I held my son, who was the size of a small stuffed animal.
The bumpy ride that was our NICU experience was 93 days long and included stomach infections, blood transfusions and infectious disease outbreaks. Because of the fragile nature of his health, we had to wash in and out, sanitize in, gown, glove and mask, sanitize out. Sometimes I would take a disposable shower cloth and do a hospital shower in his room, in order to hold and do care times with Timothy. He had minor surgeries. But, a host of preemie complications. And, many risks.
Once we were discharged we had to keep Timothy home for 6 months to ensure his health during the long Ohio winter cold/flu season or in preemie speak, RSV season. That’s a total of a 9 month quarantine. And so quarantine life became our prayer closet. I was still working part time when we brought Timothy home. I was sleep deprived, gaining weight, pumping, keeping the NICU schedule at home. Timothy was still having trouble breathing and I just felt alone even though I was not alone physically. My family was there. Doctors and especially nurses were there. A very few friends were able to visit and God was with me. But, it take me another few years to figure this out, as I pressed into His Presence daily.
I made any place my prayer closet during the first three years of Timmy’s life. His room in the NICU, the waiting rooms when we were out, Target (oh Target,) the hospital bathrooms (lots of tears shed there), the break room, I mean desk spot at work. I remember crying into my spaghetti during my 10 minute break when I was calling around for a pediatrician and found one. Praise Jesus! My coworker Matt looked at me like I was nuts.
Honestly, I wasn’t feeling great about myself the first couple of years of new mommy-hood. I was experiencing a lot of mom guilt. I was trying so hard to not have PPD, and someone close to us had told me my husband would view me differently if I became depressed. He never did.
Each time my doc asked me how I was feeling, I would say I don’t know if I am depressed but I feel really angry and tired. I was hyper vigilant about everything, and sort of had to be for Timothy. But the hyper vigilance continued for myself at work as well. Barista jobs were competitive at this time and I was short with a lot of people whether they meant well or not. At work, at home with Dave, with my other family members, with my friends. Sorry for what I said when I was scared for my life!
In other words, I was anxious! And, I wrestled with hope. Was it ok to be hopeful, was it ok to be realistic? In the word of faith movement where I received a lot of ministry training, there is a lot of rejection of facts. You must only speak faith. I was speaking faith. You must speak healing. I was speaking healing. I had some really hard issues to attend. Where was God in the middle of that? Should I go back to my Baptist roots? So tired, I attempted to go to a smaller country church but things didn’t work out there. I didn’t fit in and that is ok.
As Timothy slowly progressed into toddlerhood, he had many delays and bouts of asthma. Lots of infections, lots of follow up appointments. We were all working hard to do our best. At each appointment we would go over medical history and my chest would start to tighten. I would flashback to the NICU. Beeping, flashing lights, cords, gowns, gloves, masks, and the smell of the hand sanitizer.
Then there was the discussions about family background during those visits. Weird questions about being poor and hispanic. Did I need a translator? No thanks, English is my first language although I was bilingual. I was born here, yes. Actually I did graduate from my college with a 4.0. More tightening. Some anger, breathe Elia!
I’m so thankful for our pediatrician at that time. He really kept me going. I told him about the negative interactions at some of the follow up appointments with Children’s hospital. He was on the board and was a great ally. As preemie parents, we received a lot of reading material that you do not receive with typical babies and toddlers. I started to feel empowered in a way that I hadn’t experienced since the time I felt like I was walking in my calling working in a church. This confidence I was regaining helped me to embrace my motherhood in a more grateful way, instead of feeling guilty about having to deliver much too soon. We decided as a family that it was time to take a risk in me quitting my job to be a full time SAHM.
I thought maybe we should try to have another baby. We miscarried again, for no particular reason, nor anything related to my medical history. But, I felt like this was not supposed to happen. My heart was crushed, I fell to the floor and cried out to God. I asked the Lord, where are you right now? I heard that still small voice say, I’m in your tears. It’s ok to let go and grieve. So I released my baby to Jesus, next to the couch in our walkup apartment on a cold late winter day.
And peace washed over me.
The next time we tried, David and I were able to get pregnant and I was happy but fear was trying to hang on from our time in the NICU.
One day, my friend Lisa who was also expecting at the time asked me how I was doing. I was honest and told her about being afraid. She and her husband, Germaine sent me a verse that has been my weapon against fear and anxiety. It was this: “The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1Samuel 17:37 NIV)
After they sent me this verse, I had an encounter with God that was life changing, and life giving. In an open vision the Lord showed me a spirit of death locked up. Angels were dispatched to attend to my family in this encounter. And, the Holy Spirit downloaded strategy to me that I’ve been walking out for the last six years. It was a deliverance encounter, where God shamed and embarrassed the oppression in my life.
I have never been the same after my friends sent me this scripture that led to this landmark change in my life. I was delivered from the uncircumcised Philistine of premature death.
Remember those moments I talked about when my chest would tighten with anxiety? What was the root of that? It was the fear of death and the close calls I’d had.
At first when Gena asked me to share, I thought back to this pivotal moment. But, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on a journey with you all to ask how I had gotten there as a Christian, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share what kinds of encounters with God I’d had. When Gena and I checked in with each other, I was getting confronted with the lie that we didn’t need to hear my story about being afraid to die of asphyxia and asthma attacks.
Do you see how we need to stay in truth? There’s a pandemic that is a respiratory virus, and a threat to Black men who are crying out, “I can’t breathe.” “The declarations over myself and my family- I will live and not die and declare the works of the Lord” are becoming your’s today.
There’s an anointing from Jesus to destroy the works of darkness and to have a culture of life and that more abundantly.
In fact, the very names and character of God have to do with life and breath. One of the names of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is the Lord, the Giver of Life. In the Old Testament, He’s called the ruach hakodesh; meaning the breath of God..
In Bible college, my theology paper for doctrines class was in pneumatology- the theology of the Holy Spirit. The word pneuma is Greek for breath/spirit/soul. It can relate in context to God’s spirit, the human spirit, spiritual beings, and the mind or soul. In all of this, the attacks on life, breath, health, spirit, children were only roadblocks to my destiny in God.
I was created to partner with God in breathing life on the dry bones of humanity with the power of words. I believe God wants to breathe on your life today. I want to pray over you today:
Heavenly Father, we come to you in the name of your Son Jesus. The Christ and his anointing, who was made manifest to destroy the works of darkness. He came to give us life and that more abundantly. We break all agreements with the spirit of death and we say Holy Spirit- The Lord, the Giver of Life, breathe on us today. Wind of God, breathe on these slain that they may live. Settle and dwell in our homes and in this nation. In Jesus Name, Amen.