For weeks, I have dreaded Fridays at the Chicago Tribune. Friday was the day that folks got tapped on the shoulder or called at home to tell them that they had been laid off. The company is going through a “reduction in force” to help keep the lights on. To pay the bills, employees have been used as collateral. So far, nearly 80 in the newsroom have been put on the block.
The fear of working with an ax over one’s head is enough to drive anyone mad. I tried my best to be a reassuring voice in the midst of it all.
We each had our own logic about how it would go down. There were talks of employees being taken to off-site locations to hear that it was curtains. Others feared that they would take an elevator ride to the balcony, be given the news, and then forced to jump.
Then it happened. I got tapped. It was on a Friday. One of the managing editors caught me while I was in the middle of editing a story for the Web. He said, “Emeri, do you have a minute?”
I knew. In one quick flash, my whole journalistic life passed before my eyes.
I thought about my days as a cub reporter at a small paper in Louisiana. I thought about how I spent my first day as a copy editor editing stories on 9/11 at Newsday. My mind drifted to the five years I spent at the Baltimore Sun. Then, I thought about how proud I was every time I walked into the Gothic Tribune Tower and how finally I was happy with my job. I loved my co-workers and the paper. I wasn’t stressed. Now, 11 months after reaching euphoria, it would all be gone.
I walked slowly to his office and took a seat. With no compassion or a hint of emotion, he looked at me and said, “Your position has been eliminated.” Just like that. I felt like I was just a faceless person on the “Older Worker Benefit Protection Act List.”
He didn’t care that I came to work nearly an hour early each day to get ahead. He didn’t know that I was the person who made that big catch in a story about a little girl’s death that made him so proud. Nor was he concerned that I worked my way up the chain to get to the mothership.
At the end of the day, I was just “Editor, Subject Asst. Age 30.” I was handed an envelope with my name on it. And, after a brief talk, I placed my badge on his desk and walked out of his office. I could take being fired. At least when you are fired, you know that you have done something wrong. However, when you are laid off without any rhyme or reason, it is much harder to swallow.
Maybe he thought I would finish my shift. I didn’t. I said goodbye quickly to the metro editor, logged off my computer, placed my nameplate in my bag, and left. Mama always taught me to never let them see you cry. I chatted briefly with a co-worker outside the building and hailed a cab. Once inside, I became human again and cried.
I informed my mother that the nightmare I had the night before about losing my job was now a reality. She reassured me that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me and that everything happens for a reason.
I got home at 10:50.
I slowly pulled out the blue folder and arranged each bundle neatly on the floor.
There was a ton of mind-numbing paperwork to sort through, and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and realized that while my position had been eliminated, I wasn’t. I had two degrees and was an adjunct professor at Columbia College. My ultimate goal was to make the transition from newspapers to academia.
I just didn’t know my path would shift so abruptly.
A simple e-mail to my supervisor at the college turned into a blessing in the storm on that dark Friday. I wrote not asking for a job, but to just inform her of my situation. She gave me more classes to teach. I guess it’s true that when God closes a door, he opens a window. At 10:15 Friday morning, my position was eliminated. By 5:30 Friday evening, my other position had expanded.
God was putting me back on track to making my goal a reality. I cried again. This time not because I was broken, but because I was made anew.
But that’s not how the story ends. God opened another door for me.
Soon after I left the Tribune, I was contacted by an editor from Microsoft. I interviewed for an editing position with MSN.com and I got the job. The folks at Columbia College were very understanding, even though I was conflicted about it. But they encouraged me to take it. So, after losing my dream job, I walked into a bigger blessing that I could not have foreseen for myself.
LIFE FROM TRAGEDY: Eli Evans, who survived his mother’s horrific murder in 1995, has found healing in his Christian faith and his athletic ambitions. (Photo: Chris Walker/Newscom)
Elijah “Eli” Evans has grown up with the knowledge that his birth was marked by murder. About 16 years ago, Eli’s father, Levern Ward, and two others killed Eli’s mother and two of his siblings in Addison, Illinois.
Eli was cut from the womb with a pair of shears. One of the killers, Jacqueline Annette Williams, had kidnapped him because she couldn’t have children anymore.
The next day, the group that would later be convicted of the crimes was arrested. Miraculously, Eli survived his violent birth and was rescued by authorities. His brother Jordan, 22 months old at the time, also survived.
In December, the Chicago Tribune wrote about the young man Eli has since become: a high school student trying to set an example for his classmates and a varsity basketball and football player with NFL aspirations. Now 16 years old and living with his grandfather in downstate Illinois, he has forgiven his father for killing his family.
“I always think God has a plan for me since he kept me here,” Eli told the Chicago Tribune. “I was put on this earth for a reason, and I’m still trying to figure out what the reason is. I know it’s going to be something good because not many people could have survived what I did.”
But this contentment didn’t come so easily to Eli. As he was growing up, he bottled up his rage, which sometimes exploded into physical fights.
In a phone interview with UrbanFaith, Eli shared how his Christian faith has led him to overcome his anger and forgive his father. UrbanFaith also spoke with Eli’s grandfather, Sam Evans, about how the family learned to trust God after tragedy. Eli’s brother Jordan prefers not to talk to the media, but Eli said his brother is a major role model in his life.
‘Why Would God Do This to Me?’
From a young age, Eli wondered why God had taken his mother and siblings from him. When he was 6 or 7, he lost his great-grandmother, too.
“I was thinking to myself, why would God do this to me?” Eli said. “Why would he take away the one person who was a mother figure to me?”
After his great-grandmother’s death, young Eli started running through his neighborhood and ended up at his church. There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot, and the doors were unlocked, so he went in. He dropped to his knees inside the dark auditorium and finally let everything out.
“I looked up at the cross and just screamed out, and I was crying,” Eli said. “I was just yelling at God and saying, why would you do this to me? Why would you take away my grandma, everything I got?”
But then Eli remembered that he still had his brother Jordan, who could have easily been killed along with the rest of his family, and his grandfather.
“I felt that God was saying, ‘Hey, your brother is still here and you’ve got your grandfather,’” Eli said. “They’re my family, I love them and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
The Evans family had recently started coming to church based on Jordan’s lead, and Eli noticed that his grandfather was happier. Sam Evans had been raised by a preacher, but after his daughter died, he had stopped going to church regularly.
“If it wasn’t for God, I’d never be able to get through the funerals,” Sam Evans said. “Picture walking into a church and seeing three caskets, not one: your oldest daughter, your granddaughter and grandson. I wrestled with God about that.”
Overcoming Pent-Up Anger
When the family started coming to church, Sam Evans started doing Bible studies with his grandsons and showed them verses about handling anger.
For years, Eli got into rough fistfights because he couldn’t control his pent-up anger. Kids at school knew his family’s history and would sometimes use it to taunt him.
“I had a couple of kids who I fought who said they’d kill my family like that, like my mom was killed,” Eli said. “I always told myself, if I could go back in the past, I could stop it all by fighting them off. But when someone threatens my family like that, it brings up stuff.”
Over the years, Sam Evans helped Eli work through his anger, and he realized his grandson was bottling everything up. “He just wouldn’t talk about things,” Sam Evans said. “You could just see it building up in him.”
Together, they turned to Scripture, and Sam Evans showed him how Jesus was violently abused but chose to model love and forgiveness.
“If someone hit me, my grandpa would always tell me, ‘You’ve got to turn the other cheek, just like Jesus did,’” Eli said.
As he matured, Eli found another outlet for his anger: prayer. He poured his anger out to God instead. By high school, he had grown spiritually and stopped fighting.
“That was my new way of letting it out,” Eli said. “Fighting wasn’t working, because it still made me angry in the end.”
FAMILY TIES: Eli was raised by his grandfather, Sam Evans (left), a part-time preacher who grounded his grandson in the faith. (Photo: Chris Walker/Newscom)
Sam Evans said he has enjoyed watching Eli grow into a mature young man.
“It’s kind of cool when I get a call from a teacher saying, ‘He doesn’t let people pick on the underdogs,’” he said. “There is a sense of pride there. It’s like, ‘Wow, he’s taking a stance.’”
Eli harbored anger against his father for years, but around age 11, he decided to forgive. Now, he can talk about the tragedy without getting angry.
“It was a hard thing, a long process,” Eli said. “But as I got older and more spiritually developed, it got easier for me.”
Eli’s father, Levern Ward, was sentenced to life in prison; the other two convicted killers, Jacqueline Annette Williams and Fedell Caffey, received death sentences that were later commuted. Williams has sought release from prison, and Caffey has been hoping for a new trial. The Evans family hopes they’ll stay locked up, but Eli said he’s not going to allow the outcome to affect him.
“I’m not going to lose sleep at night, and my family shouldn’t lose sleep either,” Eli said. “I let that stuff go a long time ago. I put it in God’s hands and that’s what I want to do again. Whatever happens, it’s in his hands, not mine.”
Eli believes it would have been right for the killers to be put to death for their crimes. But since they’re still alive, Eli has thought about eventually meeting his father.
“I wouldn’t go see him at this age,” Eli said. “If I did go see him, it would be with my brother, we’d both be older, and it would be a decision we both made.”
Sam Evans is interested in ministering to people coping with tragedy, who sometimes reach out to him after hearing about what the Evans family has been through. He’s ordained and preaches occasionally.
“I want to encourage people to look to the Lord for comfort,” he said. “If I can do that for somebody, I’m willing and able.”
Here’s a compelling feature story from the Chicago Tribune on the challenge of overseas adoptions and how perspectives and approaches on the matter have evolved over the years. According to the article, Americans have adopted a half-million children from overseas in the last 40 years. In the early days of international adoptions, many parents believed their children’s lives would be easier and they would face less prejudice if they shed their native culture, but today that mindset has shifted 180 degrees — which has led to a new set of challenges.