Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee,
when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle. -Psalm 28:2
There comes a time in your life when you just get tired of
pretending. Get tired of wearing a mask. You know the mask I'm
talking about. The one you put on to make people think you're
fine when you're not. The mask that helps to cover parts of the
real you-the you that you don't want anyone else to even know
Fatima Adams is my name. But I have a feeling I could easily
substitute your name for mine and you'd know the story. That's
if you'd be honest and fess up. Now tell me this doesn't sound
familiar to you: you live your life hoping no one discovers the
real you, because if they did, you figure, they might surely
not care to know you. Or worse: you're afraid someone is going
to find out you're a fraud ... a fake. That you've been acting
out a script (oh, we all have individual scripts created just
for our character) that no one forced upon you, except you.
Sure, you want to tell me right now that that's not you. You've
always had it together. Or better yet: the way you are is actually
someone else's fault. Now if you are one of those rare folks
who happens to be perfect and always has been, then far be it
from me, this imperfect being, to say anything to you. But as
I stand here at the altar on this sunny Sunday morning in March
(although it's not a true altar like in biblical days), I see
at least four other people I personally know who had the guts
to come forward when the pastor called for those who wanted to
break the strongholds off their lives.
"Take off your mask today, won't you?" forty-five-year-old
Pastor George Landris pleaded. "God already knows the true
you. Don't be so caught up in what other people think that you
miss your opportunity to be set free. For whom the Son sets free,
is free indeed."
I knew he was talking to me. As I glanced at the crowd surrounding
me, it became quite apparent that I was not the only one he was
speaking to either. Who would know that I-got-it-all-together
Fatima Adams-a thirty-one-year-old Christian woman with a knock-out
body; perfect hairdo every single time I step out of my three-story,
brick house; designer labels gracing me from head to toe; incredible-paying
job that affords me the kind of money where I don't even need
a man to take care of me-who would know that I am deeply and
hopelessly in love with a married man.
"You don't have to tell me or anyone else what you've
done or are doing right now that has caused you to come up here,"
Pastor Landris said as he bounced on the balls of his feet. "God
already knows whatever it is. But this ... this is about you
getting things right between you and God."
Yes, Pastor Landris is right. God already knows. And He knows
that I'm not just in love from a distance with a married man;
I'm committing consistent fornication while my Mr. Right is committing
adultery. Look at him sitting there with his wife as though that's
where he belongs instead of up here alongside me trying to get
himself right with God!
"What's wrong with us being together?" Darius had
asked when guilt hit me after the first time we were intimate.
"I can't help it I fell in love with you. Neither one of
us sought this out. And God knows that. Besides, I'm planning
to make things right with you someday. Soon. I just need a little
Yeah, and "soon" was some three years ago. I've
tried to walk away. I've prayed so hard to God to help me. I
even managed to break it off with Darius Connors-the true classic
of a tall, dark, and handsome, oh Lord, handsome specimen of
a man. He seemed crushed but claimed he understood my convictions
and admired me even more for them.
"Fatima, I'll respect your wishes if you really want
me to leave you alone," Darius said seven months ago. "God
knows I wouldn't ever want to do anything to hurt you. Not ever."
For three weeks, like a champ, I pushed through the withdrawals
of being without him, marking off my mental calendar the number
of days behind me as each one passed. But I couldn't wrestle
thoughts of him out of my mind, nor could I manage to uproot
him from my heart. And on the third day of the fourth week, there
at my front door, he stood.
"Please leave. Please," I begged him. "I can't
do this anymore with you."
"Fatima, I will be happy to leave." He looked at
me with those eyes that always made me feel like I was instantly
melting. "Truthfully," he said, "I didn't come
My heart fell to the ground with those words. I'm just being
honest. It's okay he was honoring my wishes to leave me alone.
But couldn't he at least pretend like I meant something special
to him, make me believe this was as hard for him as it was for
After what seemed to be a long pause, he said it.
"Fatima, I didn't come here for you. I only came here
today, to get back my heart. That's it. I just need to get back
These words-I probably don't have to confess-caused me to
fall right back into his arms again.
Literally and figuratively-I fell.
But today ... today, Pastor Landris spoke about strongholds
and being truly set free. I'm tired of sitting by the phone waiting
to hear Darius's voice, practically willing the phone to ring
only for days to pass (sometimes weeks) before he could finally
"break away" to be able to call me. I'm tired of not
being able to go out in public or to popular events with him
because "word might get out" and "ruin things
for us both." Translation: mostly ruin things for him.
I'm tired of spending days upon weeks alone when I could have
someone who loves me, someone willing to pledge himself to me
and only me. I do deserve to be number one in someone else's
life. Not the spare tucked conveniently away inside some old,
dark trunk. But out front-chromed in, with, and surrounded by
the good things of life.
God, please ... please, God-You have to help me. Please. You
just have to!
Personally, I don't think I am totally responsible for my
present condition. I have determined-although for the life of
me I can't get a doctor to confirm this or agree with me-that
I have a serious allergy and my problem stems merely from an
I'm allergic to meat, starches, and sweets. Whenever I eat
any of these things, my body begins to blow up like a balloon.
And since my alternatives for food consumption are vastly limited,
my body has no alternative but to continue to manifest this reaction.
My dilemma originated with my smoking. Now I'm a constant
eater instead. My stronghold seems to be that I must have something
in my mouth at all times to be content. The pattern has held:
when I smoke, I don't eat much; when I eat, I don't feel the
need to smoke.
You should have seen me when I was a chain smoker. I was top-model
thin, but of course, that was way back when. Then I started seriously
considering what cigarettes were doing to my body, and I said,
"Desiree Houston, if you don't love yourself enough to put
an end to this, then who will?"
Boy, did I sound just like my mother when I heard those words
come out of my mouth. I'd seen this woman I'd known growing up,
all hooked up to a tank she had to carry around with her everywhere
she went because she'd smoked. I realized if I continued to smoke,
that might be my fate. It hit me like a ton of bricks how cigarettes
were actually killing me, and I had somehow become an unsuspecting
accomplice to the plotting of my own murder. Yeah, I could blame
tobacco companies for adding addictive additives in order to
keep me as a profitable customer (for as long as I lived, that
is), but that was too much of a cop-out even for me to go out
So I turned my attention to food, and not just any kind of
food either. Maybe it's just me, but I happen to like the kind
that tastes good. Why is it the foods that taste the best also
happen to be, most times, the ones containing megacalories?
Yes, I know all about calorie counting, glycemic loads, fat
intake, carbohydrates, and the benefits of fiber. If there is
a diet out there, you can believe we've probably met. Let's see,
there was the Cabbage Soup Diet (yeah, that one makes you want
to run right out and sign up for membership), the Lazy Zone Diet,
the Atkins, Scarsdale, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Hilton Head,
South Beach (which was a lot like Atkins only this diet says
to lay off the bad fats as opposed to piling them on), the Two-Day
Diet, the 3-Day Diet, the 7-Day All You Can Eat Diet (now you
know I tried this one!), the 3-hour Diet, the One Good Meal Diet,
the Chicken Soup Diet (sure, you can eat whatever you want for
breakfast but it's chicken soup, their recipe of course, for
the rest of the day), the Metabolism Diet, the Russian Air Force
Diet, the Grapefruit or Fruit Juice Diet, the Amputation Diet
(don't ask, I wasn't even interested enough to look into that
one further, although I do believe in stripping down to the bare
essentials before stepping up on anyone's scale), the low-fat,
no-fat, low-carb, nocarb diet, and my all-time favorite-the Chocolate
Did you know on the Chocolate Diet you can have pasta and
popcorn in addition to eating chocolate? Breakfast is always
fresh fruit and fruit salad (sounded like the same thing to me,
but I worked with it), shredded wheat with nonfat milk and strawberries.
Morning snack is popcorn and fruit. Lunch is salad, pasta salad
(low-calorie dressing, which goes without saying), and spaghetti.
Afternoon snack is popcorn, vegetables (they suggest cutting
them into sticks-don't even ask me why), and a fruit smoothie
made from blending one half a frozen banana, a half cup of frozen
peaches or whatever fruit you like with one cup of nonfat skim
milk. Dinner is fettuccini with garlic tomato sauce (I'm getting
hungry just thinking about it), whole wheat pasta primavera,
salad, and steamed vegetables. The evening snack consists of
popcorn and (here's the best part) up to one ounce of chocolate.
And on all the diets, I can have all the water I can (and can't)
stand to drink.
So here I stand in front of this preacher with dreadlocks
feeling drawn to bring my true burdens to the Lord and leave
them. That's one of the reasons I grabbed my husband, Edwin's,
hand and dragged him to the altar along with me. Cause and effect.
My husband (the cause) actually drives me to smoke or overeat
I know you think I'm playing the blame game here, but it was
Edwin's actions that caused me to start smoking in the first
place. Okay. See, he's an obsessive gambler, bets on everything
from the office pool to the lottery (there's no lottery in Alabama
but that doesn't stop him and a slew of others from crossing
the state lines to get tickets).
We've been married for twelve years, and of those twelve years,
he's left me almost every night, including our honeymoon night
on the cruise, for some kind of gambling event. No, I am not
exaggerating: every night. Mondays through Thursdays, he goes
to the dog track; then on Friday nights, he catches a bus down
to Mississippi to the bright lights casino and stays until Sunday
afternoon. Most of the weekend, you can find him at either the
blackjack table or pulling on some lady luck's steel black arm
trying to get three things to come up a match so he can win some
money-big or small.
"You don't have to pull an arm on a machine anymore,
Baby-cakes," Edwin said one day when we were discussing
this. "Now you can push a button on the front of the machine
and it does the same thing."
"Whatever, Edwin! Pull, push, it's still gambling, and
it's still a sin," I said.
"That's commandment number what?" he said, folding
his arms across his chest as he smiled. "Show me chapter
and verse where it says gambling is a sin. Show me."
I stood with both hands on my hips and just stared at him.
He knew he had me; we had been around this mountain several times
before. I'd searched the Bible and even posed the question to
several preachers for some biblical assistance, to no avail.
There was one preacher who took a scripture out of context and
tried to make it work for gambling. That dog wouldn't hunt in
my sight, and I was an easy mark. Another preacher talked about
how the Roman soldiers gambled (cast lots) for Jesus's robe.
That was his feeble attempt to make it fit the bill. And yet
another preacher pointed to a scripture, making the claim that
we're not supposed to receive something for practically nothing.
"You can't, can you? You can't show me anywhere in the
Bible where it specifically states that gambling is a sin,"
Edwin said as he smirked. "Now, smoking on the other hand,
which literally destroys the temple-your body-and gluttony of
food, again which can destroy the temple-your body-are different
matters. I can prove those."
"I've quit smoking and you know that," I said, letting
my hands hang limp by my side, a clear admission of defeat.
"Yeah, and when you finally did stop, you seemed determined
to eat us out of house and home, as if-no matter how hard-it
would be the last thing you'd do."
"Edwin, don't you dare harp on my weight! I declare,
I'm not in the mood today."
"So I guess that means you've either started another
grand diet or just finished one?" He opened the refrigerator
door. "What's the name of this one, Baby-cakes?"
"Edwin, don't try to change the subject. We were talking
about your gambling problem." I watched him as he took out
the strawberry cheesecake I'd pushed all the way to the back
of the refrigerator so I wouldn't be tempted. He took it out
and practically whizzed it around the room like it was his dancing
partner, making sure he passed my way twice before he did a dip
with it. "Besides," I said, "you drive me to do
what I do."
"Oh, so now it's my fault?" He sliced the cheesecake
and placed it in a saucer. When he placed it in his mouth, he
made a moaning sound. "Baby-cakes, you know you can outdo
yourself. This has got to be the best strawberry cheesecake you've
"And you have the nerve to ask how it's your fault?"
I walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, took out some prepackaged
carrots and broccoli florets, and proceeded to chomp unenthusiastically
"Yes, how is it my fault? I don't force you to smoke
or to overeat. You just need a little willpower, that's all.
You can't blame me because you don't have any."
"Willpower, huh? You mean like you don't have the willpower
to stop gambling?" I said. "That's how you force me
to smoke and eat. You're gone practically every night, Edwin,
and most of the weekend. I'm here all alone with nothing to do
but watch television and think. My nerves are practically shot
from worrying about bills that keep piling up and seemingly getting
further and further behind."
He placed another fork full of cheesecake in his mouth and
closed his eyes as he shook his head and smiled. "Well,
I bet you I can stop gambling anytime I choose to. I just have
never chosen to."
"Yeah, well, I can stop smoking and bingeing whenever
I choose to, but I-I-I ..."
"I what, Desiree?" He looked up at me and grinned.
"I guess, I guess ..." I felt a tear stinging my
eyes. "I guess-you know what, Edwin? I don't care anymore!
Keep gambling! Forget the fact that you're taking money out of
our home and losing it or that you're leaving me home all alone.
You don't care? Fine, I'm through talking to you about it! You've
never won any great amount of money, yet you keep thinking and
believing you're going to hit that 'big one' because you were
'so close' the last time. But you never do! Okay, fine. Have
it your way!" I looked at the remaining carrots and broccoli,
threw them in the garbage can, and stormed out of the kitchen.
So here at the altar, Edwin and I now stand, holding hands
like everything is peachy-keen between us. Suddenly, I realize
his hand is clammy, and it's at this precise moment that he gently
squeezes my hand with three gentle pumps. And I, understanding
this unspoken message, can't help but to smile.
Desiree grabbed my hand and started for the front of the church
before I could protest. I might have put up a better fight, but
she caught me totally off guard. Although in truth, I was already
debating whether or not I should go up there. Normally, I wouldn't
have even been at church, but my money was acting funny for the
bus trip down to Mississippi this weekend. I hung around Birmingham
and went to the dog track instead of my usual three-hour ride
to the bright lights of the casino.
Excerpted from Strongholds by Vanessa Davis
Griggs Copyright © 2008 by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Excerpted
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.