I Remember How It Made Me Feel

I remember it was an Autumn day in Miami.  The humidity was low and the sky was a brilliant blue. There was almost a hint of chill in the breeze as Bill and I were driving around discovering our new city.  We thought we were the luckiest people on earth because we were living in an older resort on Collins Avenue.  The property was being renovated and Bill was selling time shares at the resort.  Our entire family was able to live in one of the condos while he worked.  We were having a working vacation and it was marvelous after having ministered in the inner city and red light districts of Orlando.

miamiocean I loved Miami more than I thought I would.  It was as if it was the capital of South America and I felt as if I was living in a foreign city.  I was on sensory overload.

The water views were eye candy to me and I couldn’t believe how many shades of blue there could be.  From our fourth floor window,  I looked out each day to the ocean and the painted canvas “The Artist” had painted for me.  My attachment to the water was almost like crack to an addict, a child to its mother or oxygen to my lungs. It completed me as I stared out at it, healing my hurts, speaking life to my spirit and telling me its secrets of the deep.

I thought the sounds of Miami were wide open loud.  You could stand on a street corner and hear three or four different languages coming from car radios.  The music was either wild and sensual or soft and sensual.  Everything was alive and pulsating, breathing and rhythmical.

The smells of Miami came in on gentle breezes and down the hallways and out the windows of Collins Avenue.  They teased you with specific scents you couldn’t quite identify and they made me hungry.  I’m sure they smelled of Cuba and Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica and little Islands whose names I’d forgotten.  They smelled of food exotica born on sea breezes and salt air.  They made their way into my conversations and manifested as spices in my kitchen cabinet.  The smells were like magic and I thought that if ingested them, I would automatically think Hispanic, speak Spanish or bleed Latina.  Sensory overload is a powerful thing.  4qn2ek6-1

I loved my new city and our new friends, almost all of them Latino.  The managers of the beach club were Puerto Rican and so were some of the other salesmen.  Many of the staff were Cuban and their parents had immigrated to the United States by boat during the 1950’s or 1960’s.  More recently, some of the younger ones had come by boat.  I was fascinated with these brave people.  One man worked in maintenance but he had been a doctor in Cuba.  He came to Miami on a boat and was so glad to be in America that he didn’t mind working well below the professional status he had enjoyed in Cuba.

We also knew some illegal aliens who lived amongst us.  Bill held Hispanic church services at the resort each week and we knew that these were good people.  They had come to the US with Visas that had since expired and were doing the best they could do to make it in America by “flying under the radar.”  We decided it wasn’t up to us to judge them but to befriend them and help them spiritually.  We even helped some of them with government paperwork so that they too,  could become legal residents.

On that beautiful Fall day,  as we were returning to the resort,  we noticed that several helicopters were flying low over the water.  We soon realized that they were news “eye in the sky” helicopters from the local news channels and that there was something news worthy happening on the beach. We quickly parked our car and ran into the building.

The first thing I saw was a line of employees on their knees looking out of the windows toward the beach.  Their mouths were moving in frantic prayers of teary Spanish and when I asked a friend standing nearby to interpret, she told me that they were praying: “Lord, let their feet touch the sand.  Let them walk up to the shore.  Keep them strong and don’t let them drown.”  Tears were rolling down their faces.

We ran out to the beach to see what could cause so much agony on the faces of our friends.  What we saw and heard will always be etched in my memory.  CG25423-001 Right beyond the shoreline,  there was a tiny boat or glorified raft.  There were what appeared to be illegal Cubans on the boat but some of them had jumped into the water and seemed to be trying to reach the beach.  A US Coast Guard boat was circling the raft and trying to do everything in its power to discourage the Cubans from jumping into the water and making it to the shore.  They were spraying the people and their boat with water cannons.  The water pressure was strong and hard to fight against. Plus, there was the terribly loud wail of the Coast Guard siren and boat horn.  The low riding helicopters also made the ordeal even more frightening.

A large group of Latino Americans had gathered on the beach, almost as if they had expected the little boat to come there onto the shore.  Like in the resort lobby, some folks were on their knees praying and some were standing right by the water’s edge, like coaches cheering their team on.  “Come on, you can make it!  Just a little bit further and you’ll be on the shore!  Don’t give up!  Don’t be afraid.” To make it even more unbelievable, there were news reporters with microphones and cameramen reporting live to their local channels or getting their stories ready for the 6:00 news.  In the chaos there was fear and hope, standing next to one another like old friends, holding hands on a battlefield.

I knew what I had seen but I didn’t know what the laws were pertaining to the “mess” we had just witnessed. I went back to my condo and did some five minute research on my computer.  I found out that there was a policy in place that made that  scene on the beach a legal one.

It was called the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. President Clinton had made an agreement with Cuba’s Fidel Castro to help regulate the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States on boats.  If the immigrants were deterred by the US Coast Guard and not allowed out of the water onto the shore, (wet foot) they had to be sent back to Cuba unless they had reason to file for political asylum.  If they made it to the shore on dry land (dry foot) they could stay in the states and proceed with becoming legal US residents.

None of the Cubans made it to shore that fateful day.  The story broke on the 6:00 news and by 11:00 that evening,  the Cuban American population in Miami was showing its displeasure and agitation at the US government. In an effort to show solidarity, hundreds of them and others in the Latino community went down to the bridge that stood beside the US Coast Guard building and lay down side by side across the expanse shutting down the bridge and blocking traffic for hours. I can only tell you how it made me feel.  The whole scene had made me heart broken and sick on the inside.  I almost had Bill take me down to the Coast Guard Station so that I could lay down next to the Latinos.  My heart was on emotional sensory overload.Oh, I knew that laws were laws and  policies were policies, but to get so close to your goal, your destination, only to be thwarted by intense water pressure wasn’t fair.  I could have sworn if you cut me I would have bled Latina that week.

P1010503 A few months later, the Elian Gonzalez story hit the news.  Remember the six year old little Cuban boy found floating off the coast of South Florida in a small inner tube? He, his momma, her boyfriend and eleven others had set off to “look for America.”  The aluminum boat they had crowded into capsized  off Florida’s coast and Elian’s mother and ten others drowned.  The INS sent him to stay with his father’s  relatives in Miami but Elian’s father wanted him to be returned to Cuba to live with him.  It was an international custody dispute but in the end, Elian’s father won.  He was sent back to Cuba.

I thought about his mother and her sacrifice to give Elian a better life in America.  It was her desire that he live in the US.  That wish had cost her everything. Yet, laws are laws and they are made so that our country can stay strong and powerful.  But the little voice in my head said over and over,  “No, laws are made to be broken.” What kind of American citizen was I becoming?

I looked out to the sea a lot during my time in Miami after what I had witnessed.  My dependance on its ever changing colors and movements kept me fascinated  but it held secrets that it no longer told me.  How many had died in its watery arms as they sought a life their mother country could not give them?  Embarrassed by the tragedies, it danced along the thin slice of sand that could give illegal aliens freedom, pretending nothing had happened.  I stretched out my thin arms as if to embrace it; to tell it that it was not its fault.  There were laws…  immigrant

Now, I know that there are children being sent from Latin America, through Mexico, to the American border.  I hear that their parents pay thousands of dollars to put their beloved children on a bus and send them to seek a better life than they can give them in their mother country.  The parents know that the chances are slim to nil that they will ever see their children again.  They know that if they make it to the American border, the welcome mat will be rolled out for them. It makes me wonder,  should the sacrifice of their parents  be honored and our nation embrace the children and absorb them into our culture.  Do the foreigners believe in America more the the Americans do?  On the other hand, is it child abuse to put your children on a bus and put their lives into the hands of others in a different culture?  Is it child abuse to put your unsuspecting child into a boat and send him to a foreign land when the chances are slim he will even make it to the shores of that land alive?  Oh, the questions adults must agonize over to consider laws!

I just remember how it made me feel when I think back to the day I saw the illegal Cubans off the shore of Miami Beach,  humiliated and broken in the water.  There was a breaking in my soul and the soul of a city that day. I feel that breaking again as I view the pictures of the illegal Latin American children laying on pallets as they sleep,  somewhere in Texas, awaiting their fate and trusting the friendly Americans.  Something inside me, I don’t know, maybe the Latino blood I acquired fifteen years ago in Miami,  as I ingested the magical Hispanic spices and listened to the rhythm of their sensual music, did something to me.  Maybe the friendships I made in Miami made me have an affinity towards these brave, happy people.  And if I could, I would  go and take my pallet to lay down with the scared, homesick children who have found themselves miles away from home and tell them that “It’s OK. Everything’s going to be alright,” even though I would have no assurance that would be true.  Then, I’d stretch my arms over them and tell them, “It’s not your fault either.  There are laws.”

Here’s your song…  


My Bill Done Bought Me a House

“He makes his home where the living is best.” Latin proverb

I grew up with dreams of getting married, having children and buying a home. In 1979, Bill and I got married and six months later, at the age twenty-three, we bought a house in Tarboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t an extravagant house by any means. It was a small, white, wood frame, two bedroom home with one bath and a floor furnace in the hall. It cost us $23,000 and to me, it might as well had been the Taj Mahal. We did what many couples seem to do; we got a nice dog named Muffin. Every day, Bill would sing this song to her: “Oh do you know the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl…Who lives at 1100 Chapel Street?” Our mansion. Our dream.   It was time for a baby.

John was born three years after we were married. I quit my job so that I could be a stay-at-home mom and all of a sudden, finances got pretty tight. We sold the house for $29,000 to pay off our debts and moved into a nice rental home on a pretty street with brick homes. Life was good! We then got pregnant with Natalie and moved into the house next door because we needed more space. Once again, we were renters.

When Natalie was almost two years old, we left Tarboro so that Bill could pursue Christian Education Administration at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We put everything we owned into a U-Haul truck, said good-bye to the corporate world and went out on “Bill and Donna’s Excellent Adventure” to see where God would take us. In Virginia Beach, Bill got his education and Donna got another baby, Stacey. What was next for this family of five?

New Orleans! We lived in three different abodes, one a pretty little town home set in a garden courtyard. The courtyard had thick, jungle-like greenery and trees I had never seen before, making up a type of exotic forest. Everything about New Orleans was different. The people talked like they were from the Bronx and they had Mardi Gras! The food was fabulous and I learned to cook Cajun delicacies. But I felt as if I was in a different country! My fourth child was born there. Jeremy. I think some of the music from New Orleans seeped into his soul. We always left each city with a piece of it in our hearts.

In Atlanta, we stayed in a Christian retreat center just outside the city. We had rustic rooms that looked like kid’s camp bunk rooms. The children thought that they had died and gone to heaven. They could jump on all the beds and run and play all over the expansive property.  We were the only ones staying there for months. It was almost like a vacation.

Orlando was our home for nine years and we lived in eight different places. At first, we lived in a condo on beautiful Lake Lotus. This was my first Florida home and my best remembrance of it is looking out of my sliding glass doors on the first morning up and seeing the mist rise out over the lake as a tiny boat sat on perfectly still water.  Some snowy white birds were on the shore and I thought to myself, “I live in Florida.” I smiled to myself for weeks, thinking I was the luckiest girl on earth.

We moved our growing family and tribe to what we called the “blue house.” It had four bedrooms that were filled to the brim with life. The first morning we were there, the older children went to school and by the time they got home, I had the house entirely decorated. Pictures on the walls, my cross stitched master pieces prominently displayed for all to see. I remember that Natalie walked in after school, looked around and said, “Momma! You put up our ways on the wall.” She automatically felt like she was home.

When we got married, I began cross stitching. I decided not to read as much (I was an avid reader) but to do something during my spare time that showed the work of my hands. During my pregnant and nursing years, (eleven or twelve years) I was a cross stitch artist. I spent so much money on custom framing that I could have made a down payment on a small house! Bill was always fussing about it, but I decided that my artwork would be a legacy for my children. No matter where we lived, that art decorated our walls. The day my last child, Cody was born, I stopped doing it and began to read again.

My last two children, Isaaca and Cody were born when we lived there. They were rare, Florida natives. Our family was complete. One dream accomplished!

Later, we lived in two other nice homes on lakes, one of which I actually caught my boys playing with baby alligators at a retention pond in the neighborhood. Next, I got to live out another dream of mine by living in a log cabin. We weren’t in the mountains but in Florida! I thought it must be the only log cabin in Orlando. The neat thing about it was that Bob Ross, the artist on T.V. lived next door. He was the kindest man. He took care of wounded squirrels and birds. One time, he showed Bill and me his basement studio and his 19th century art collection.  I know you’re jealous! It was so cool!

For me, the best thing about the house was the front yard and porch. I planted beautiful fern and caladium beds flanked by multi-colored impatiens in the front yard in the deep, green shade. I loved to drive into my driveway, sit in my car and look at that loveliness and from time to time, glance over at Bob Ross’ house. It satisfied me.

Of course, I’ve written about the apartment complexes we lived and ministered in. That certainly satisfied our desire for adventure but it also taught us that no matter where you live or who you live around, you find that people are just people. I recall that our son Jeremy made friends with a Haitian boy, Marcus, in one of the complexes. They played together every day and made a fort on the corner of the property with trash they found lying around the neighborhood. It was probably nicer than some of the temporary homes in Haiti. I hated that someone tore it down one day. There were two broken-hearted little boys!

Orlando entertained us all the time. In one house near Kissimmee, every night at 7:00, you could see the fireworks from Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was the Fourth of July every day! At the apartment complex in “the hood,” you could see helicopter light shows all the time. They always flew low over where we lived, seeking out car thieves, drug dealers or murderers. We were Christian adventure junkies!

Miami was interesting! We lived in a condo at a resort right on the beach. Bill sold time-share out of it by day and did Spanish speaking church services at night and on the weekends in the conference rooms. Our apartment had two bedrooms and a sun room. There were eight of us and most of the kids slept on pallets on the floor. We felt as if God had given us a year’s vacation! After that, we got to stay for several months in an apartment in a flower nursery. That was odd, but hey, the place was loaded with nature’s colors and beautiful birds lived all around us too! It was so tropical. Plus, there was a great Cuban restaurant across the street at the gas station. Did I tell you Cuban food was one of my favorites?

I loved Miami! It was blue and aqua and green and white and it smelled of all kinds of foods and it was the only place where I had ever been where you could stand on a street corner and hear car radios blasting in at least three different languages at one time. Sensory overload! It was glorious!

The next place we lived was Alabama, God’s Country! We lived there for nine years and served in a church with the loveliest, kindest people we had ever met! We lived in one house for eight years, the longest time we had ever stayed in one home. The kids really grew up in that house and over time, it became a showplace to me. I planted rose gardens and dug flower beds in red clay, as hard as cement. I added truckloads of black, rich soil to the red dirt and mixed it with my hands every year and miracle of miracles, the flowers were stellar! My pride and joy! My little bit of heaven!

I had an artistic friend, Candice, who came and painted in free-hand, lyrics on my walls. I had a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Our House,” painted all around the house, over the fireplace, the piano, dining table and chair railing down the hallway. It was our mantra. It made us all happy to see it and we smiled every time we walked by the beautiful, free flowing words. That house held so many dreams in it…It was a magical house where our kids came to live there as young children and left as adults.

The children all moved to Nashville, Tennessee because music was calling and they had dreams to live out. When that happened, I had a breakdown. We were leaving Alabama too, and they were all in a new town without me. I felt as if my life had been pulled out from me. My life was a beautifully, set table and someone yanked the table cloth out from under it.

But God had plans for us. Bill and I went to Sneads Ferry, North Carolina to work, after twenty eight years of ministry life, at my cousin and her husband’s real estate company, Treasure Realty. Our lives had completely changed and in my heart I thought it was only temporary. Bill and I desperately wanted to be in Nashville. We made plans pleaded with God to let us go…open the doors…get us near our children. They were our home. We just wanted to be near them.

And somehow, it didn’t happen. Nothing worked out for us. There was not even a crack of door opening anywhere. So…

We lived in lovely places in Sneads Ferry. Twice, we lived in condos on the beach. For a little over a year we lived in a garden home and since last March, we’ve lived in my cousin’s downstairs apartment in their home on the Intra Coastal Waterway. Not too shabby! God always gives us the best places!

We’ve been here for three years now and I have to tell you, after a while, we just chose to be happy.   I can’t tell you the day I decided to do that but we thought, “At our age, we need the stability of work. Also, we are celebrated here and people love us! We have other family members near us. What’s not to like?”

Little by little, I began to see myself in Sneads Ferry. Bill and I started looking for a house, not to rent but to buy! I must announce that we found one.   We saw it on a Sunday and within a few weeks, it was our house! We are over the moon ecstatic about it! After thirty-two years, we are home owners again!

We are having the inside painted now and we will move in a few weeks. I can sit on the front porch and actually hear the ocean roaring from a half mile away. When we lived in Alabama, we lived right off of Interstate 20 and at night I would lie in bed and hear the big trucks rolling down the highway traveling to and from Atlanta and Birmingham. They sounded like the ocean’s roar to me and I would pretend I was at the beach, going to sleep under the oceans hypnotic spell.

I don’t have to pretend anymore! It is the ocean and I have a big front porch! Come and sit with me and let’s visit!

My brother-in-law, Keith used to always tease me and ask, “When are you guys going to stop renting houses and buy one?” I’d always answer back, “Don’t you worry about it. My Bill is going to buy me a house one day.” It became a family joke and as some of my Southern friends would say, “Donna’s Bill done bought her a house!” I just may have to have Candice come up and paint some free-spirited words on my wall or just put the old ones back because: “Our house, is very, very, very fine house.”

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Oh, and by the way…Nashville is never out of the picture! One day, Nashville. Me and You…Just you wait and see!



Here’s a couple songs….enjoy!





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