“Your test results came back positive for chlamydia,” Alice, my midwife, told me.
I was eight months pregnant with my third child, and Jonal, my husband, was upset about this pregnancy too. Somehow, I’d made it to my senior year of medical school at the University of Vaughan (UV) in Miami, but as graduation approached it was time to leave the city to complete my last clinical rotation in Tampa.
Jonal still had no job. He claimed he was working on a clothing business in Haiti. I was a smart woman with ambitions to become a physician since I was a child. I loved God. I honored marriage. I’d been waiting patiently for Jonal to provide for me, to provide for our children, but instead he provided me with a sexually transmitted disease.
How did I get here? This is the story of how I lost my faith while enduring abuse. It is a story of how I navigated single motherhood while attaining career success. Ultimately, this is the story of how in order to save myself and my sons, I came running back into the arms of Jesus.
It was 1983 when I was born in Tampa, Florida. I was the first in a line of three girls. My mother had a line too. She stood fifth in a line of five girls who rounded out the Jenry family. Led by my grandfather, whom we affectionately called Papa, the Jenry family was well known in Tampa, especially within the Black community. Papa was the pastor of a large Baptist church on the west side of town. His was the era of Martin Luther King Jr., a time when the Black church was the epicenter of the political movements that would fight for equality. His father, my great grandfather, was also a Baptist minister who prior to his death led a healthy-sized congregation in the southern part of rural Georgia.
I’d never known life without church. It was my lifeblood. Every Sunday, I, along with my immediate and extended family members put on our best clothes, packed into our respective vehicles and made our way to church. When we weren’t at a Sunday service we were at Bible study. I knew all the major stories of the Bible, and when I was little my sisters and I had to memorize Bible verses. That was easy to do, since my mother quoted Scripture to us whenever we misbehaved. When we weren’t at Bible study we were at choir rehearsal. My aunts served on the usher board. My Granny taught Sunday school. My Aunt Melanie used family events to make sure everyone was saved. I often wondered why she tried to evangelize us the way she did, especially when we all heard Papa preach about the love of God every Sunday.
My father met my mother at Papa’s church. She was taken by his good looks, kind spirit and ability to take care of her. He had enlisted in the Air Force, and a relationship with him carried the benefits of world travel. She was a secretary at a non-profit organization for wayward youth, and still lived at home with Papa and Granny. Within six months my parents were engaged, and by month eleven Papa married them at his church. When I was growing up, I loved flipping through my parent’s wedding album. My mother hated the quality of the photographs because the film had been overexposed, yellowing the color of the photos. Every time we opened the album, she told my sisters and I that when we got married we had to spend the money on a real photographer and not ask a family friend to do it.
Despite the strength of Granny and Papa’s enduring marriage for more than five decades, the marriages in my mother’s line of sisters did not follow suite. Three of my mother’s sisters got married. Two of those marriages ended in divorce. The third ended in widowhood, but not before adultery and emotional abuse ravaged the relationship.
My father made good on his promise to my mother. He took her, and us, around the world and always provided for us. We lived all over the United States. My dad served in the Kosovo and Gulf Wars. By the time I reached college, my parents had been married for almost twenty years. We had resettled into life in Tampa, and my father retired from the Air Force with his mental health intact.
Several years after my Papa died, I chose to attend the University of Bath Chinn (UBC) because it was close to my parents. The church that Papa once pastored no longer felt like home so my immediate family and I began attending a different church, led by a man named Pastor Kev. I was pre-med at UBC, pursuing my childhood dream of becoming a physician, and when Pastor Kev approached me about starting a college Bible study I was all in.
At UBC’s Daly Student Center, traffic had died down and I settled into my seat, opposite Pastor Kev at one of many open tables in the food court. The smell of Chick-fil-A fries wafted in our direction. Friends on study breaks gathered around their laptops, laughing.
“Today I thought we could talk about the Fall,” Pastor Kev said, opening his Bible.
I flipped to Genesis Chapter 3 as he began reading the about that age-old serpent, the devil.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”
I looked up at Pastor Kev.
“One of the tactics the Devil uses is to completely contradict God’s word. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. The devil tells Eve the opposite.”
“Right,” I said, “and Eve is adding to what God said. God never said they couldn’t touch the fruit.”
“Uh huh. At the moment she ate the fruit and disobeyed God, that would have been a good time for Adam to get God and ask for help. But as you see in verse six, Adam ate the fruit too.”
Pastor Kev resumed reading, and I looked back down at my Bible to follow along.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”
I nodded, wondering what God thought of this blatant disregard for his instructions.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings,” Pastor Kev continued.
I turned the worn pages of my Bible, being gentle not to tear them as Pastor Kev read.
“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat? Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
“That’s kind of messed up that Adam blamed Eve like that!” I said.
“Yeah. The perfect marriage ended with Adam and Eve,” Pastor Kev said.
“What?” I said, looking up at him with surprise.
Of course there was such a thing as a perfect marriage. I had been dreaming of mine since I was thirteen. I hadn’t met the amazing guy that God made just for me yet, but he was out there. My mother said all I needed to do was pray for God’s best. He would love me to the moon and back, and we would be together forever. I would be so busy tending to his needs and wants that I wouldn’t have time to worry about mine. And I wouldn’t need to, because he would be busy tending to my needs and wants. Our relationship would be better than a TV movie.
“There is no perfect marriage today,” he repeated, “because of the Fall.”
I looked at him. I’d heard the story of Adam and Eve a million times, and no one had ever said that to me. My throat began to burn as I blinked rapidly, refusing to let tears of disappointment spill onto my face. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; I didn’t want to believe it. We continued reading.
“To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shalt not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.”
Who knew that there would be such hefty consequences for eating a fruit plate? Childbirth would be painful from then on, and Adam would have to work hard for his food. Perhaps most striking to me was the fact that Adam and Eve’s relationship was broken now. No longer equal partners, Eve would desire her husband, but he would rule over her. That certainly did not sound like the Cinderella stories I had grown up with.
After Bible study was over, I walked across campus to my dorm, grieving the loss of my dream. This couldn’t be happening. I made a phone call.
“Hey girl,” my best friend, Janet, said, answering her phone.
“You won’t believe this. I just got back from Bible study, and Pastor Kev said there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.”
“See, I told you. You want to marry Jesus – that’s just not going to happen.”
“I never said I wanted to marry Jesus. I said I wanted to get with a guy who loves Jesus, is gorgeous, and who I like being around.”
“But you also want him to not smoke or drink alcohol, be willing to wait for sex, and have money.”
“Well, I didn’t say he had to be filthy rich. He just needs to be able to provide for his family. That’s what our dads did for us! Why is that so difficult?”
I shook my head. No matter how hard I tried to get Janet to believe in the dream, she just wouldn’t. I didn’t think my standards were too high, but Pastor Kev had brought my fantasy crashing to the ground. If there was no perfect marriage, then there was no dream guy. This revelation dramatically altered my perspective on relationships and negatively changed the way I chose men in the future.