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Finding Triumph over Trials
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Paula shares her journey of faith in Something Greater, what she calls “a love letter to God from a messed up Mississippi girl.” She details feeling led to a higher calling as a child, how she came to serve others as a female pastor, and what led to being asked to become spiritual advisor to President Donald Trump.
Something Greater encourages readers to know and understand the “something greater” that is in all of them, and will teach them how to cling to Jesus Christ in times of need and abundance.
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He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
—Ecclesiastes 3:11 AMP
As a five-year-old on a hillside just beyond my backyard, I hold a music box, knowing it is the last birthday gift my father will ever give me. Staring up at the sky I feel a longing as I watch the ballerina inside the box twirl to the delicate notes of "Für Elise," gently played on a glockenspiel.
Questions about my father's death five days ago torment me.
Daddy, didn't you love me?
Did I do something wrong?
Why did you leave me?
In the middle of this humid Memphis morning in 1971, a new reality begins to seep inside me, one that goes far deeper than the kind of rejection a school-age child might have known. It is worse than being denied or disliked; I feel abandoned. A cycle is begun where time after time the actions of those I love the most will seem to tell me the same thing: Something's fundamentally flawed with you. Therefore, I'm going to leave you.
Another occurrence this day will have a rippling impact. God starts to tug at me, even though in this moment I don't yet know His name or who He is.
Standing on that hill, surrounded by an open field that swallows my tiny frame, I talk to the heavens, believing in my heart that somebody hears me.
Thirty-three years later, I have spent my entire adulthood proclaiming God's message of salvation. The world knows my name, which I share with a thriving ministry that impacts millions worldwide. People know my fiery sermons, my smile, my shoes, and my success. Yet they don't know the deep pain and confusion I am experiencing when my life starts reeling out of control and falling apart in 2004. I'm lying on the floor of my home office, staring at the familiar sunrise with heaving, desperate cries, wondering if my marriage, my family, and my ministry have all been an illusion. A dreadful question fills my soul: If those things aren't real, then what else is not real?
This office holds many precious memories of spending hours in the presence of the Lord—praying, and fasting, and studying the Word. Still, surrounded by all the books that have given me some knowledge, I'm lost for words and see no way out. Kneeling on the rug, I face the wall of windows and catch the morning light. In its warmth I feel the Holy Spirit beckoning. This voice is crystal clear—not audible, but undeniable—and I experience it in the way I've been wooed, romanced, and corrected by God in the past. It's a knowing. Since being saved, I'd always had clarity when God spoke to me, but in the desperate days leading up to this morning I'd been struggling, feeling as if someone was scrambling those frequencies. But now the voice is strong and direct, asking me to say the things I'm grateful for. There's not much inside of me that feels grateful at this time, yet that I am so certain of this command is reassuring.
In the background I hear my children laughing, and suddenly I know. Of course, I'm grateful for each and every one of them. As soon as I acknowledge this, God whispers to me: "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
"What else are you thankful for?" the Holy Spirit asks me. A warm glow bursts over the bay, as I've seen it do hundreds of times before, but this time I feel renewed appreciation for witnessing its beauty. I feel thankful for the sun's rising.
Another scripture is whispered gently: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear."
God has given me another new day, another opportunity to begin again, and another chance to fight for myself. All I need to do is get up off the floor and believe that this season is going to change. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but in time there will be something greater in my life.
One of the positive things about loss is it forces us to look elsewhere, even if we don't realize it at the time. God watches and waits for us to follow Him.
Many people know the story from my childhood—little Paula talking to the sky after the death of her father. Very few know the truth about Pastor Paula White-Cain pleading with God as her marriage and her life in general unraveled. It was by no means just my marriage—it was me. It's a story I've carried with me for the past dozen years—a story I haven't wanted to tell. I've never wanted to hurt anybody, nor have I ever desired to relive those moments. Even just a couple of years ago, I still hadn't landed on how exactly I felt about it. I now know where I stand, and I see the purpose in sharing this story. I believe it can help others. I know I have something to say that can inspire someone and help them find their true place—their something greater—in this life.
Back then when life held me hostage, like a thief coming to steal my joy and rob me of my purpose, I always hoped that the pain and the bad memories wouldn't overshadow the whole picture, because there were many wonderful things happening in my ministry—lives were being transformed and souls were being saved. The picture is a lot clearer now that so many of the shadows have drifted away. I have enough clarity about that time, and feel strong enough, to revisit the end of our marriage and my life as it once was in a purposeful way. The scars are still there—and, believe me, I will always carry them with me—but the grace of God is covering them.
In the midst of earth-shattering brokenness, we are often reminded there is more. I didn't know God as a child, didn't know anything about Him, but I knew that I "heard" His voice. I didn't know what He was doing when my life was spiraling downward in the mid 2000s, yet I always knew I was heard. My life story is about how that young Mississippi girl became that wounded woman, and it's about how those wounds helped her become a warrior. It's also about how God was there for everything, and how He still uses those experiences for more.
If you want to know the heartbeat of my story, laced within the details I'm finally sharing with you now, it's simply this: my life is an amazing love story between me and God. I promise to reveal all the Paula parts—the fragments of a broken childhood and the lunacy of becoming a commodity—but the heartbeat of my story is our Almighty God, from beginning to end.
Like a tide rules the sea, all of us have this pull to something greater in our lives. The greatest blessing in my life is that God loved me enough to allow me to be broken, and in that brokenness I found true joy, love, peace, and purpose.
A Good Girl
I feel the sway, the steady, soothing rhythm of motion married to words. She rocks me and prays aloud in a cadence that sounds like celebration. I am safe, loved, and completely known. The words spoken over me linger like soft, bright clouds and will forever cover my life despite what storms come into view. These prayers never die; throughout my life they will wait in silence and then startle me when they're heard.
Spiritually, no one comes from nowhere; there's always something in your bloodline. Someone's prayers are going to produce a promise. For me, those prayers come from my great-grandmother, Momma Annie. This woman, who receives much rejection and unfounded hatred from some family members and complete adoration from others, is given the role of my caretaker from my infancy. And she lifts me up to the Lord without my knowing it. Her words are not only heard and answered by God, but they also become the music that fuels my life's ministry. Although during my childhood my faith journey is not guided by anyone, there's no doubt in my mind now that Momma Annie planted the seeds.
Momma Annie is frail, one hundred pounds at most. For much of the first five years of my life she is my primary caretaker, living in our home and watching me during the day while my parents work. Despite her tiny frame and arthritic joints, she holds me all day long. And by the time my parents return in the evening, I smell more like Bengay than baby powder.
The rocking lounge chair moves back and forth while Momma Annie holds me and speaks over me for hours. I'm spoiled, kept on the bottle until I'm five years old with rotted-out teeth. For years I grow up thinking Momma Annie is simply mumbling and making noise while she gently rocks me to sleep, but as an adult I will learn more about what she was doing; she was speaking in the spirit. Momma Annie shapes me more than she might have predicted. But in her arms all I know is one thing: love.
Memories of Momma Annie are some of my first, and of a time when I felt unconditional and devoted love all around me.
Mom says I came tumbling out of the womb. As quickly as I learned to walk I also began to do cartwheels, and by the time I was two Mom put me in dance classes. I was born with this energy; my parents know I can be a handful. And I'm the sort that as a kid would clap my hands for others and encourage them to greatness.
"Come on, we can do this! We can change the world!" I proclaim.
"What are we changing it to?" they ask.
I laugh. "A better place. We can do this!"
For years I question where this sort of passion comes from, but when I learn it's from my father, I'm not surprised. His name is Donald Paul Furr III. He's nicknamed by his family Peckie, or Peckie Lee.
As a child I like to watch as my dad finishes a work of art on my breakfast plate and then pushes it back across the table so I can see it. I look at the smiley face of maple syrup on the pancake and let out a high-pitched laugh. I don't know what I like more: seeing my father's playful creations or sitting across from him during our regular morning breakfast.
Daddy makes me laugh. I look up at him and see a larger-than-life figure: strong and tall and handsome. I don't know what it's like not to feel loved, not to feel protected. And my love for him is fierce and boundless.
After breakfast, Daddy often takes me to the country club. I assume this is his office. I don't know that he just plays golf and rummy with his buddies here. Later he'll take me to one of the two toy stores my parents own. My mother runs them while my father sees them as a Christmas tree that's full all year long. I know Daddy also owns restaurants and a seafood business, but those things don't really matter. What matters is when he introduces me to his friends or business colleagues.
"This is my baby girl, Paula."
Life isn't a struggle. How can it be when my father only knows one word: "Yes!" For the first five years of my life, I know a father's love. The kind that makes me feel like a princess, that never abandons me. My father's extreme love and how he doted on me will never fade from my memories. Everything I want in my life, my dad gives to me; I know without a doubt I am the apple of my father's eye.
Considering what happened to my father, one might think my view of God the Father might become warped and bad, and while there are some issues I would need to address, the exact opposite is true. After accepting God into my life, I will also easily accept the unconditional love He has for me as His daughter.
My father is from the third generation of wealth in his family. His grandfather was an electrician by the time he was fourteen years old and went on to help pioneer electricity in Mississippi. In my childhood, Dad is pretty irresponsible while living off his family's wealth. I never question why Dad always has new cars and how he can afford to give me all sorts of new toys.
I know someone's always going to be there for me regardless of what happens.
The same sort of charm that makes me adore Daddy so much is the kind that wooed my mother. I can already tell Mom and Dad have their differences, but it's very apparent that Mom completely loves him.
"Did you know that your mother was Miss Mississippi Southern?" Daddy asks me. "And she won a bunch of other pageants."
"Miss Water Valley and Lady of the Lake," Mom quickly adds, "and I was runner-up for Miss Mississippi."
I'm not surprised by any of this. My mother is beautiful. Yet the first thing I notice about my mother isn't her outward appearance—it's her inner strength. She's a businesswoman, with a tenacious work ethic and drive. She was raised in an entrepreneurial family. My grandpa owned a construction business, so life was always feast or famine. One minute they would be out skiing on the lake with their new boat and the next they'd be going to my great-grandfather's grocery store for food.
"Your mother was also the head majorette at school," Daddy says with a big grin.
"Not only that, but I was also the featured twirler," Mom informs me. "There's a big difference. The head majorette only does the marching and heads up the band, but the featured twirler gets to take center stage and show off all their talents. That's what made him fall for me."
"That's right," Daddy says. "When I saw your mother on the field that evening, I said, 'I'm going to marry that girl in one week.' So ten days later, we married."
"Three days late," Mom jokes.
"She couldn't resist my charm."
I already see my father's charm in his warm and loving personality, and that he's the life of the party. But what I don't know until later in my life is how my half brother, Mark, whom my mom had with her high school sweetheart, played a key role in bringing my parents together. When my mom, Janelle, first met the young man everybody calls Peckie, she was wooed by his adoration of Mark. This was one way he wins the heart of my mother—that, along with his irresistible charisma, sweeps my mom off her feet.
The problem with charming dreamers is eventually their feet need to be planted back onto the ground. My mother learned that deep in his heart, my father was a good guy, yet he was misguided in the belief that he was exempt from playing by the world's rules. You can only be an undisciplined playboy for so long. Eventually, you have to grow up.
My father never lived long enough to do that.
But in the short time I have him Dad is there for me in memorable ways. One night I'm rushed to the hospital with a 103-degree fever. Daddy's gone, traveling for work throughout Mississippi. I start to feel dizzy and warm, and by the time Mom takes my temperature again, the fever has spiked so high that it breaks the mercury thermometer. Putting me in a cold bath doesn't help, so I have to be taken to the hospital. When I wake up sometime early the next morning, I see my father by my side. All I can think about is one thing.
"I want bacon!"
The nurse overhears my request and shakes her head. "We don't have bacon."
"I need bacon," my voice, weak but persistent, calls out.
"It's two-thirty in the morning," the nurse says to us. "We're not getting bacon right now."
Daddy doesn't hesitate for one second. "My baby wants bacon, she's getting bacon," he says as he takes off.
I'm just a sick little girl, wanting something for comfort and trusting Daddy will get it for me. And he does. It's such a simple thing—bacon—yet the fact that he provides it pours intense love into my growing and open heart.
I'm his princess. Daddy's going to take care of me.
The downside to this insane amount of love I feel from my father, combined with my age, is that I can't see the dysfunction in our family. My father is the caretaker while my mother is the worker and the disciplinarian. My father's job is always "new" while my mother's is always "steady." I have this frail and crippled great-grandmother praying over me, yet I also have a grandmother, Mary Ruth, my father's mother, who clearly doesn't care for me and who is jealous of the affection my father shows me. Her rejection of me from the very beginning only grows worse over time. But I also know love with no boundaries. Therefore, my early life breeds some confusion in me about love.
The story of our childhood is a budding flower that blooms throughout the rest of our life. The older we become, the more we understand as we see it revealed in all its glory. There will be many things about my father that I won't learn until much later in life. Like why we moved from one house to another so many times. At the time, I simply thought it was cool and something very normal. I didn't realize that not only did Dad's inability to hold down a job cause us to keep moving, but also after his trips to Vegas we're suddenly forced to move or sell off a car.
Just before I turn five, Mom decides she's put up with enough of my father's irresponsibility. Peckie is drinking heavily, and the final straw comes when he takes whatever little money my mother has saved for our family. The milk money is squandered away, money that my mother earned through hard work. She is too prideful to keep going back to my great-grandparents, the source of our family wealth, to ask them for help. This is Mom's wake-up call. Taking Mark and me to Memphis isn't a decision to get a divorce, but it's simply an attempt to try to break up the craziness surrounding our lives, from my father's recklessness to the controlling relationship he has with his mother, Mary Ruth.
None of us can imagine he will die four days after my birthday.
There are things that will always remind me of that night. Like the sound of a steady rainstorm outside in the pitch black. They'll bring me back to this place time and time again.
The sudden knock on our Memphis apartment door on April 23, 1971, sounds different. When my mom opens the door, I hear conversation and feel a brief surge of excitement.
The voice I run to sounds different, and when I reach the doorway to see his face, Daddy looks different, too. Maybe the dim light is playing tricks on me. Maybe the shadows are hiding his smile. He greets me with a hug that feels strange; it reminds me of the way I cling to my teddy bear when I'm carrying him outside and don't want him to get dirty.
My father looks disheveled and distant, but I don't quite understand why. He's not acting like himself, nor is he talking like the kindhearted man I know him to be.
"Paula's coming with me," he says to Mom.
Something dangerous lingers beneath his words, something I've never quite heard before.
My mother moves toward the door. "Get out of here. Go back home."
"You're being ludicrous!"
"And you're drunk."
I'm in the middle, lost and wanting simply to make peace. I'm fine as long as they're going to come together and talk things out. I can be here and do this if they need me to. I just want them to stop.
Mark stands and watches as their voices continue to get louder. Soon I'm being pulled by my arm, Daddy urging me to come closer.
"You can't keep her from me!"
His voice sounds like thunder erupting in the room. My mother reaches out and grabs my wrist and jerks me toward her.
"You can't have her. Now get out of here."
Mom's voice is ferocious, her eyes full of rage. My heart races while my arms are tugged in opposing directions like a Raggedy Ann doll. I want to tell them both to stop, but I can't utter a single word. I don't think I can breathe.
For a moment, I'm jerked back and forth. Then my mother starts to scream just before my father releases me and strikes her in the face. I see those big hands of my father's—those beautiful, loving hands that have held me and comforted me—shoving my mother's head and then pounding it into the wall. I've never seen violence like this. I've never even seen my father frustrated before, so this…
What's happened to him?
"Mark, call the police," Mom shouts.
I hear my brother's footsteps running to get the phone while I feel the big hands clutch my arms.
"Give me Paula or I'll kill myself," the desperate voice says above my head.
Time seems to stop for a moment. I'm no longer five years and three days old. This figure isn't my father. He's not the man who makes me laugh and makes smiley faces on pancakes and waits for me to pick out a favorite toy.
My mother remains on her feet, defiant and undaunted from my father's blows. She covers me, shielding me from him as she continues to argue and negotiate with this stranger until there's another pounding at our door. Two police officers arrive and instantly seem to know what's happening.
"We'll keep him overnight so he can sober up," one of the men tells my mom.
They allow him to say goodbye to me. Daddy's hug is fierce, enveloping me in a way that makes me believe this is just temporary, that he will be back soon. I notice the policemen on each side of my father, leading him out the door. Somehow, deep inside, I already know the truth. I see his head and back turned as he walks away. All I want to do is sprint and catch up to him and take his hand and not let him go. I want him to stay, because I know he's never coming back. I know he's leaving me forever.
I wish I wasn't right.
As the darkness turns to dawn that morning, there is a phone call, and then the moments and seconds become vivid snapshots I'll forever carry with me. I pick up the phone and hear the officer's voice asking for my mother, and I already know what he's going to tell her. I hand her the phone and watch her face. With the sound of the rainstorm continuing outside, Mom is white and speechless as she holds the receiver to her ear, not seeming to even realize tears are streaming down her cheeks.
The truth comes like a freight train. There's been an accident and Daddy's dead. They put him in a drunk tank but for some reason he was let go.
Peckie was driving back to Tupelo when his car veered off a sharp curve and crashed into a deep embankment.
He did exactly what he said he was going to do, the very thing he threatened earlier the night before when he demanded to take me with him.
Suddenly I know what a hole in my heart feels like.
"I want to see him!"
It doesn't matter that Daddy's dead. I want to be able to see him just like everybody else will at the funeral. After causing a commotion in the car, I climb out the door and rush into the tent to look at him, but the casket is closed. I'm quickly escorted away.
Trying to picture Daddy's funeral is like seeing through a thick morning fog. I believe my brain and my heart have probably blocked out much of that day; trauma can wash away memories just like it can warp them. I do know Mary Ruth tells someone to take me to the pond so I won't see the ceremony.
When the sea of black suits and dresses descend on the gravestones in the distance, I can only watch with a babysitter who is nearby to make sure I stay away. I see the casket being lowered into the ground and wipe the tears off my cheeks. It's unfair and wrong that I can't be up there watching with everybody else.
My eyes survey the pond next to me and spot a duckling moving between two ducks. It makes me picture that horrible scene one more time, with Mom on one side and Daddy on the other, both of them yanking me and yelling at each other. I want to shout at them and tell them to stop; everything inside me wants to help them settle down and settle this. But I never say anything. It's amazing how the girl stuck between her parents becomes a woman who remains in the middle.
For the first time in the midst of this tragedy, without my realizing it, something becomes deeply embedded inside me, something put there solely by a loving God. It will be part of my destiny and my purpose.
- Pain and brokenness cry out in all of our hearts for relief, for healing, for a reason "why," and for a new day. Something Greater tells a compelling story of a southern girl from Mississippi who knows the pain and horror of abuse, loss, betrayal, and more. Most who walk this road break-they give in or give up. Paula looked up. She developed a tenderness toward God and a fear of the Lord. She truly believes God is there and that He cares deeply for us. And as a result, God has and is continuing to do a refining work in and through her that we get to learn about in Something Greater-a vivid reminder of God's steadfast love, grace, forgiveness and mercy.—Tim Clinton, President of the American Association of Christian Counselors
- Authentic and transparent... Paula White-Cain reveals her deepest hurts and highest victories in Something Greater. We believe Paula's personal story can be a tool to encourage those who have been wounded, to drop the mask and step into the destiny God has planned. We encourage you to get your copy of Something Greater, you will not want to put it down.—Marcus & Joni Lamb, Founders of Daystar Television Network
- One of the great joys of my life these last three years has been getting to know Paula White-Cain. I am so glad she has written this account of her remarkable life story in her new book Something Greater. Anyone who questions whether they can ever overcome their past mistakes or present hardships will be encouraged by Paula's fresh reminder of God's remarkable power to redeem and transform lives.—Dr. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas
- Something Greater is a heartfelt, emotional rollercoaster that takes you through a young girl's journey of heartbreak and perseverance which eventually leads to her steadfast walk in faith where she finds her true Father. Even as her husband, I can say it was truly a read I could not put down. I believe her story serves as an inspiration to the world: how one can overcome tragedy and setbacks in life and turn it around to inspire and minister to others around the globe.—Jonathan Cain, keyboardist for Journey and member of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
- On Sale
- Oct 13, 2020
- Page Count
- 288 pages