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A son shares a message to his mother from his grave

  • Written by Claudia Parker

A son shares a message to his mother from his grave

Oct. 17 will mark the eighth anniversary of the tragic murder of Arthur Jones, whom his mother, Rita Perez, of Evergreen Park, affectionately referred to as AJ.

“He died right before my eyes on a Wednesday afternoon,” said Perez. AJ was struck in the neck by the crossfire of two rival gangs. The incident took place in the 800 block of West Garfield Boulevard, in Chicago.

“He’d taken school pictures just four hours before his murder,” said Perez. “Looking at that picture is still difficult. It’s like seeing him in transition because I know it was taken right before he’s about to leave me.” He was her youngest of nine children at the time. She’s given birth to 11, who range in age from 4 to 24.

Perez said AJ slipped out to get candy from a nearby corner store with his best friend. His death marked a literal awakening in her life. “I wasn’t feeling well that day, I’d fallen asleep. I awoke to the screams of my older son rushing me to AJ’s side a block away.”

She said being at the scene haunted her.

“Had it been any other day, I wouldn’t have been home. I would’ve been off somewhere high on crack or drunk.”

Perez said it was the deep wounds of sexual molestation that began at the age of 5 by the hands of a family member that caused her to self-medicate with narcotics. AJ was taken by gun violence but five of her daughters were taken by the state as a result of that dependence.

“I didn’t see a way out of my addiction,” said Perez. “I was planning my funeral. I told people exactly how I wanted to be buried. I couldn’t stay sober for four minutes but after losing AJ, I went to rehab. I’ve been clean five years and four months. I’m a walking miracle!”

Now that she's clean, Perez said she’s dedicated her life to her faith. She worships at Maranatha Chapel at 9731 S Pulaski. She also takes part in a support group called Compassionate Friends, through Little Company of Mary Hospital, and volunteers for various organizations. “I do a lot of charity work that involves photography,” said Perez.

That’s how I crossed paths with Perez. She approached me after recognizing we have the same camera brand, Nikon.

“That’s a nice camera, I have one almost identical” she said.

I smiled. “Thanks. I enjoy it,” I replied. I thought that was the end of our chitchat but she closed a gap between us. “Mine was stolen recently. Do you mind helping me,” she asked?

I had no idea how I could possibly help but I listened further. As she began sharing her story, it became more and more intense.

“A little boy stole my camera. I saw him take it and run off,” explained Perez. She said she canvased the neighborhood until she found where he lived.”

“You did your own door-to-door investigation,” I asked?

“I was determined to get my camera back. it took me six hours but I found him,” said Perez.

She found HIM, but not the camera!

“I knew he took my camera, I saw him. But he wouldn’t admit that to me or his mother so I filed a police report.” Perez said the officer who took her information displayed little confidence of her camera ever being recovered. He also told her she would need the serial number, which she wasn’t sure how to find.

“Do you still have the box your camera came in,” she asked?

I did.

“I have my box but I’m unsure which number is the serial number. Will you please take my information and let me know which number on your box matches the number on your camera,” she begged?

“Sure,” I said. I was not optimistic she’d get her camera back but I didn’t let on. She had an immoveable faith.

“These are hard times for people. Someone is going to pawn my camera,” she said audaciously.

I admired her spunk. I called her that evening with the information, wished her the best and hung up the phone. Within 24 hours she came calling back. “This is Mrs. Perez, you won’t believe what’s happened. I gave the detective my serial number and she found my camera at a pawn shop on 47th and King Drive.”  

I was floored.

On the surface, our paths crossed for me to assist in the retrieval of her camera. But, I felt there was more so I pressed until I found it.

I discovered several news stories about AJ. “There are at least 14,” said Perez. In many, Perez told reporters, just as she told me, AJ wanted to be a pastor. Well, he has a message alright and it seems he orchestrated a way to share it from the grave.

The little boy that allegedly took Rita Perez’s camera is 10 years old and also referred to as AJ! That AJ put a series of events in motion that would lead Mrs. Perez to me, on the cusp of the eighth anniversary about the murder of her AJ.

Why?

I believe Arthur Jones wants people to know his story. Through his death, his mother reclaimed her life. He died but now she lives a life she says is dedicated to Christ.

From the lyrics of Big Daddy Weave’s song, “My Story”, he sings, “If I told you my story, you would hear hope that wouldn’t let go. And if I told you my story, you would hear love that never gave up. And if I told you my story, you would hear life, but it wasn’t mine. If I should speak then let it be of the grace that is greater than all my sin, of when justice was served and where mercy wins. Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in, oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”

Well done AJ, well done!

Mistress is left waiting and time was on her side

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Peephole curiosity isn’t what brought my relative to her apartment door at 3 a.m. It was the vibrations of a pounding fist on the door across the hall. Squinting to get a better assessment she recalls one hostile female (who apparently lived there) accompanied by three girls with major attitude.

From the four-letter-word threats bouncing from their mouths like basketballs, it became obvious the lease holder’s boyfriend was in her apartment entertaining another female.

The five-story building seemed to provide no way of escape for this woman. The quartet in the hall played a confident tune of patience knowing eventually she’d come out, unless they busted the door down first. It remained on the hinges but not for lack of their attempts to kick it off. The ding of the elevator opening put the commotion on pause as the ready-to-rumble crew turned to see who was coming. One of the “two” sneaker wearing women, big boned, with bloodshot eyes asked, “I’m looking for unit 504?”

“Oh? Well you must be lost ‘cause I live at 504 and I don’t know you,” the lease holder replied.

An "I’ll tear your head off and eat it for breakfast" look came over this woman, whom I'll refer to as Ms. Hennessy, as she stared down all four girls and quietly stated, “I’m fin-na knock on this door, call fa my sista and when it opens…me, her and Big Shay right here, are out! Understood!?”

Overhearing the conversation from the other side, the “other woman” slowly opened the door and they did just that. The woman presumed a goner, walked out the door without a scratch. The details of her guilt or innocence are unknown. Nonetheless, she escaped like Daniel in the lions’ den.

Her saving grace was waiting!

All of us aren’t fortunate enough to have four prowling lions standing outside the door to signify ‘maybe this isn’t the best time’ to… buy a bigger house or start a business or take that exotic vacation. So, we make our plans, put forth our efforts, and we take our seat on the plane only to find we’re not clear for takeoff.

Isn’t it only natural to have a sense of urgency for your dreams and desires to manifest? I mean, dreaming is great and all but I personally would like to wake up and experience them. I’ve had a few conversations with the clouds a time or two, “Hey God, what’s the hold up?” I ask.

But, I once heard a minister by the name of Dr. Nicholas Pearce say, “Delay doesn’t equate to denial. Time can be used to strengthen us for the difficulties that lie ahead. Some of us will need shoes of iron and brass to fulfill our true destiny. Time allows God to clear our path. Time can bring about divine intervention and supernatural connections. Waiting can be our advocate in the face of our adversary.”

Oh how true. I belted out an, “Amen!”

Dr. Pearce then led an old congregational hymn, “Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee, no other help I know…”

With that, I felt inclined to stop entertaining the seductress thoughts of impatience. To avoid my dream turning into my worst nightmare, I decided to remain faithful to waiting on God’s timing.

Death brings out the kindness of this caregiver

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

     Have you ever wondered how some people choose their career?

Home Health Caregiver, Christina Thompson of Chicago said she found a passion for her profession after two people she was caring for, as a favor, died simultaneously. Well, it wasn’t exactly at the same time but according to Christina, they passed within 12 hours of each other.

I’d say that qualifies, wouldn’t you?

We hear about these things with elderly, married couples. However, this was the first I’d ever heard of siblings transitioning together.

Jane Thompson died April, 8, 2014, at 7:58 p.m. and her brother, Jake Crone, died April 9 at 7:55 a.m., while sitting at her bedside, peacefully mourning her passing. They were laid to rest in a double memorial, April 13. That date holds extra significance for Christina as it is also her wedding anniversary. That particular year marked her and husband, Gary’s first year of marriage. Jane was his mom and Jake, his uncle.

“Uncle Jake lived in an apartment within a retirement community,” said Christina. “He lived there independently for many years until he got Dementia.”

The progression of Mr. Crone’s illness escalated to the point that the establishment could no longer maintain his safety.

“He started wandering off and being unruly,” said Christina. “He didn’t have much by way of income which meant if he couldn’t stay there, he’d become a ward of the state and be institutionalized. I didn’t want that. Neither did Gary.”

Christina said she didn’t know her Uncle Jake very well. “My mother-in-law always had Gary drive her to see Uncle Jake.  I went with him a couple of times when they visited.” She said, “I don’t know how it came out of my mouth but I just told Gary that maybe Uncle Jake needed to come live with us.”

That decision meant Christina had to quit her job. It was a ‘living by faith’ decision because it reduced their household income significantly. Christina said, “We didn’t think we’d be able to afford it but we put our trust in God that it was the right thing to do.” It proved to be a wise choice because, just one month after their Uncle Jake moved in, Gary’s mom, Jane, was put on hospice from having stage 4 breast cancer and they moved her in too.

Just two months later, they were both gone.

“I expected my mother-in-law to go but not Uncle Jake,” said Christina. “We thought we’d have a few more good years with him.”

The story that Christina shares surrounding his passing sent chills down my spine.

“We had a picture of Jesus up on the wall above my mother-in-law’s bed. She loved that picture because her sister had painted it for her,” said Christina. “Uncle Jake would look up at it sometimes and holler, ‘Oh I don’t believe in Him. God doesn’t care about us!’ He just wasn’t the religious type.

“But on the day he died, he was sitting next to Jane’s bed, she had already passed, staring at that picture. It was unusual because Uncle Jake was always restless. I called for Gary to come from the other room so he could see it for himself. I said, ‘Gary, you’ve got to come and look how peaceful Uncle Jake is right now.’ Then, I watched him reach up toward that picture of Jesus and take one big deep breath.”

The coroner’s report listed his death as natural causes. 

The trauma of losing two family members simultaneously, before her eyes was extremely difficult on Christina. “I beat on his chest and screamed for him to breathe.” She said, “I was finding fulfillment in caring for him. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself after he died.”

Attempting to resume the life she led prior to taking them in, Christina returned to working in a factory but after two short months, she resigned stating, “I just didn’t feel like I was being useful.”

Feeling emotion was something Christina said she relearned to do. In previous years she’d struggled with a drug addiction that left her unaware of how anyone was feeling, including herself.

“I’ve been clean for 10 years,” said Christina. “I feel like I was lead down this path to learn about myself. It’s taught me that I’m capable of handling more than I ever thought I could.”

Christina has been working as a fulltime home healthcare worker for over a year now. She says she enjoys caring for adults that aren’t able to care for themselves. “I want them to have their dignity. I want them to know I’m here for them because to me, they’re family.” 

I Claudia -- Heading back to school

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Claudia-NEW

I went back to school.

“College? you may ask?

Nope. Elementary school!

On Aug 3 I became the communications coordinator for the Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124.

I’m super excited but I’ve already ran into an issue.

I don’t know what to wear to work. I’m used to throwing on whatever is near me when I drop my daughter, Donae, curbside at school.

“Mom, why do you always wear sunglasses in the morning-even when it’s cloudy,” she asked? I did not respond. I think she’s on to me.

     “Bye. Have a great day!” I say before nervously driving away, hoping not to be seen. The bus picks up my second daughter, Rhonda-Rene, from our house shortly thereafter. It’s not so easy to dodge them, seeing how I have to help her on the bus.

“Morning,” I shout to the driver. Once Rhonda-Rene’s touched that top step, I flutter off like a butterfly.

I’m usually embarrassed by my disheveled appearance.

When I enter the premises of my new job this year, I hope to appear more appropriate. I’ll be in and out of all five schools.

It’s great that I get to write since it’s like breathing. If I couldn’t do it I’d wither like an unwatered plant. It’s also fun that I get to take pictures seeing how I’m ridiculously addicted to photography. You should hear my husband Don, “You paid how much for that lens?”

This position is perfectly suited for me because of the kids. I love being able to engage the youth in my community. I believe the biggest impacts are made on small levels. I find it crucial that we seek to establish genuine relationships with all children, not just our own.

I started volunteering in D124 two years ago when Donae entered kindergarten and Rhonda-Rene, preschool. I was a fulltime stay-at-home mom who wanted to be hands-on in partnering with the school for my kids’ education.

But after the first class, I began to bond with all the kids. I found them to be inquisitive, intelligent and funny, very funny! One preschooler said to me, “What? Are you one of those good moms or something? Is that why you’re always coming here?”

So preschoolers can quantify what being a good parent is? Well, in this little girls mind, a present parent is a good one.

Not all of them were easy on me though. I got put in check on a day I felt inclined to provide a reinforced directive the teacher had given.

“Come on guys, time to clean up.” I said to two little boys that continued to play against the teacher’s request. One of them looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh no. You’re Rhonda-Rene’s mom!”

In other words, you don’t tell me what to do Mrs. Parker! He sure told me! I got a little chuckle out of that one.

Someone once told me I should have been a teacher and that I’d missed my calling.

Ta!

I disagreed totally after seeing what teachers actually do in the classroom. I have huge respect for teachers and the stamina it takes to engage, teach and direct an entire class of 20 plus students. Nope, that’s a calling I do not possess. It’s hard work being a teacher that’s why as a parent I provide as much support to them as possible. It’s not all their responsibility to teach my kids, it’s a collaborate effort.

I encourage all parents to volunteer in some capacity. The schools could really use your help.   

I’m looking forward to getting to know the students as I go back to school myself.

 

This church gives me joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

Claudia-NEW

 

    Many churches have left a need unmet for those of us who have children with disabilities.

I’m not leaving my church!” I thought to myself as my social worker, Jane Schmit, suggested I visit First Church of God in Oak Lawn, at 4600 W. 111th Street.

     Jane was just trying to help after I expressed my frustrations over not being able to take Rhonda-Rene, who has special needs, to church. My husband Don and I have tried everything short of a dog and pony show to keep her still and quiet. Her disruptions left me so embarrassed; I’d break into a cold sweat.

Our remedy for the past two years has been to leave her home with a respite care provider. However, as of July 1, respite was suspended due to the Illinois state budget crisis leaving us unable to go at all.

 Leaving Rhonda-Rene home never sat well with Don anyway. “It’s not right to exclude her from the family like this! You and Donae go. I’ll stay with Rhonda-Rene.” He’d say.

So, off to church I’d go, oftentimes alone. 

How could a Sunday morning worship service be the cause of division for a faith-filled family?  We decided to take Jane’s suggestion. 

Dan and Nadia Marler of Oak Lawn have been pastoring First Church of God for 22 years. Dan said he actually grew up in the church. He and Nadia have been married 30 years and have two children, Rachel (26) and Taylor (24). “Our kids were raised in this church as well,” said Dan. 

There are about 300 members divided among two Sunday services and in each, there’s a visible presence of various ethnicities of people with different needs. And, to our delight, we found them to be very inclusive of those with special needs. 

 “Our mission is to help hurting people.” Dan said, “We try to be a place of accepting anyone that’s hurting.”

Perhaps their hearts are full of compassion for those hurting due to their own pain.

“I was DES exposed. It’s caused lots of medical problems throughout my life.” Nadia said, “I was told I couldn’t conceive. Rachel was a surprise, a miracle to us. I had a full term baby, whom, at first, seemed healthy.”

DES was the first synthetic form of estrogen. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, those exposed to DES are associated with reproductive complications as well as increased risk of certain cancers.

Dan and Nadia explained, as Rachel began developing, they noticed she was delayed.

“People don’t realize how hurtful their curious inquiries are,” said Dan. “I had become so uncomfortable with their line of questioning I stopped wanting to respond.”

Rachel was almost nine when she was diagnosed with Smith–Magenis Syndrome (SMS), a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. The major features of this condition include mild to moderate intellectual disability, distinctive facial features, sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems. Each person with SMS is affected differently, with Rachael it’s also manifested grand mal seizures, that are being controlled by medication.

The first time I met Nadia, I was dropping off Rhonda-Rene in their children’s ministry. I was a little nervous about leaving her because we’d only left her in a church ministry twice in her four years of life.

The first time it went well. The second time, not so much!

“She has special needs. She may have trouble staying seated and she’s unable to speak. Is this going to be a problem?” I asked.

Nadia smiled. “Not at all!” she said. I was shocked Don and I were able to sit through a service together, uninterrupted and still had a happy child upon retrieving her.

Was it beginners luck?

We decided to go back, several times, and by golly, they’re consistent! It wasn’t just Nadia with the special touch either. Andrea Rodman of Gary, Indiana, is the children’s ministry director.

“Andrea loves children,” Nadia said. “She has five of her own. It’s her and our volunteers that keep our youth programs going.”

I could tell when I met Andrea that, that was true. She told me, “Rhonda-Rene is fine. We’ve got her. Don’t worry.”

I almost cried. I do worry. I don’t want her to be a burden to others.

Dan’s sentiments were, “We don’t have a special needs children’s ministry, we have a children’s ministry. We want all children and all people to feel accepted and welcome to worship with us.” 

Don and I are enjoying worshipping at First Church of God. We’ve been members of our own church for nearly 20 years. However, for the sake of our family staying together, perhaps, with prayer, we may consider changing.   

I hadn’t thought of how Rhonda-Rene felt about going to church before. I just wanted a place to take her where she wouldn’t feel rejected.

But after visiting First Church of God again this past Wednesday for Bible study I got a sense she liked to worship. Nadia said, “She was really humming and singing along with ‘Down in My Heart’ she even continued long after we finished.”

Sure enough, Rhonda-Rene, in her own word approximations, sang, “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart,” the entire car ride home.

Nadia had me in tears. She told me, “God has a heart for all kids. Keep bringing Rhonda-Rene to church. God has a purpose for her too.”

For information about First Church of God and their services visit http://www.visitusonline.org/