So I am a little disappointed in this interview. Not because of the interviewee but because I wanted to spend a longer amount of time with my friend, but storm clouds cut our meeting short.
This past Monday, Memorial Day, between family fun and looming storm clouds Kyle, Zoë, Levi, and Myself swooped down on our dear friend Feleceia Benton and her daughter Zoe to have “coffee talk”. I say “coffee talk” because it was really talking over pb&j’s, if I am real honest.
I was super excited!!! Well, we all were. Kyle and I hadn’t seen her in like 2 and a half years, and our Zoe girls had never met before to play. For the sake of this interview Feleceia’s Zoe will be referred to as Zoe Benton and my Zoë as Zoë Grace.
We know Feleceia from theatre….when we used to actually participate in DFW theatre. We are old fuddy duddies now…meh…and haven’t been in a show for…a while. Feleceia is amazing on the stage and one of the best in DFW; However, that isn’t what drew Kyle and I in to be her friend. It was her heart, depth of character, and genuine walk with the Lord.
Yesterday I read her book Lessons from Five Fingers: 21-life lessons from the book of Zoe. It is a beautifully simple telling of her lessons learned as a mom from her brilliantly fun, beautiful, and fearless daughter Zoe, who is a completely normal kiddo who happens to have Down Syndrome. This book has definitely left a mark on me, but more on those gleanings later.
If I haven’t bragged about my friend enough here is her bio from the back of her book:
Feleceia B. Benton, also known as Zoe’s Momma, is a Dallas-based songstress and Texas Christian University grad with a BFA in musical theater and BS in Advertising/Public Relations, owner of Zoe Communications Agency, a brand management company, Editor-in-Chief of Elisia Magazine and radio personality at LifeChat Radio on Tha Afterparty Radio. She’s performed with almost every professional theatre company in North Texas including Dallas Opera, Bass Hall, Casa Manana, Water Tower Theater and Dallas Theater Center, and is an active choreographer and playwright. Feleceia frequents DFW stages and places that serve brunch things with her little girl, Zoe.
Seriously…you have to meet this girl, and I hope this interview will tide you over until you do. Here we go.
Me: So Feleceia, when you do drink coffee how do you take it?
Feleceia: I try not to drink coffee coffee. I just have chai’s…they have caffeine…but less. So, my favorite chai is a tall half Oprah half regular soy chai at Starbucks with cinnamon powder.
Me: Oh my goodness, you are one of those people.
Feleceia: Oh yeah, and it tastes very specific and you can tell when something is off. It’s just the right amount of caffeine to get me kickin’.
Me: Wow…so no coffee.
Feleceia: I try not to.
Me: Alright, what’s your favorite verse?
Feleceia: Proverbs 22:1. “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.”
(loud noise from the bathroom)
Feleceia: Uh oh….I heard the sound of a toilet.
Me: It could be Zoë… (my Zoë..Zoë Grace)
(Kyle comes back in from checking out the matter.)
Kyle: It is our Zoë and your Zoe is watching.
(we all start laughing)
Feleceia: That is some bonding!!
(our kiddos begin playing again in the background)
Me: Alright, when you do get a quiet time what is your typical quiet time like?
Feleceia: Um…it’s very early. I usually get up between 4 and 6…no later than 6…sometimes…most of the time around 4ish. My quiet time is usually pretty quick. I read that book that is sitting right next to you. It’s called Sanctuary by David Jeremiah. It is usually a really quick read, but David Jeremiah knows how to pin you to the core real fast. So it’s usually that…a little bit of prayin’….A LOT of thinkin’ about the day and kind of meditating and listening on what’s supposed to happen. I am honestly not a big quiet timer. I try to get in something the first of the day, but I talk to God all day long…like He is right there. Sometimes He gets all the nasty words…..like really inappropriate ones that you probably shouldn’t say to the Creator of the Universe…but He gets all kinds of words….all day. Yeah…so quiet time is not super hokey for me…if and when I get to it, its 4 o’clock in the morning…..a quick read with David Jeremiah…..I usually am listening to a book. I don’t have a whole lot of time to open a book so audible is a big friend of mine.
Me: I love that…I need some audible books. That’s how I read Lord of the Rings. (“read”) Alright, if you could have coffee with anyone dead or alive who would it be?
Feleceia: At this point probably my grandmother that died a couple of years ago. So…yeah…I was going to make Zoe’s middle name her name because she had the name also of my favorite singer. (door shuts) The Zoe’s have closed the door…. Her name is Ella. Ellawese Smith is her name, so I was going to name Zoe, Zoe Ella.
Me: So your favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald.
Feleceia: Mmhmm. So…yeah…me and my grandma. You know. When they leave, you are like wait a minute…hey…I got some stuff I needed to ask you about but didn’t. You know? ‘Cause you don’t think about asking when you are younger…or older until they’re gone.
Me: What is the greatest word of wisdom that you have ever received?
Feleceia: Oh…that’s actually a really hard question. I mean I grew up with a pastor. My daddy is a pastor, so I cling to a lot of words. Um…probably a song, “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” It’s what I cling to. I cling to a lot but that is probably the ultimate. Those words don’t become reality until you are out here…trying to do it…survive. Survive. I look at my parents totally different now than I did when I was growing up because survival is so much harder than anyone could ever really prepare you for. Yeah…Christ the solid Rock…that’s who I cling to…really.
Me: Okay, so you are saying you cling to Christ…what is your salvation story?
Feleceia: Um. Pretty cliche up until now. I grew up in the church. My dad has been a pastor since I was 7 or 8 years old…wait 9. He’s been a preacher since I was 7 or 8. So when I was a little girl…about 7…I asked my mom some more questions about salvation and what this whole thing was all about. She walked me through it. My daddy baptized me. I was the first person my daddy has ever baptized. So, you know all of that cliche stuff…I was raised in it…we did AWANA Sunday school…all of that. But my faith didn’t become super duper REAL….it started becoming more real in college when I was broke and I couldn’t pay for school and the Lord started to evidence Himself there, but it became real real REAL when Zoe was born. And not just the beautiful part of salvation like the stuff that people always look forward to but that was the part that I realized that I was like everybody else. I used to really…(Zoe Benton calls for Maaaaahhh Meeeee) Yes, my love….
Zoe B.: Maaaaahhhh Meeeee
Feleceia: Maaaaahhhhh Meeeee….come here. Come here Zoe Benton…(waits…no Zoe)….okay…it ain’t all that crucial then. Um…I was the good kid. I used to wear the badge of honor that I had done it all right. I was going to do it all right. Yeah…I was the good kid…and then I wasn’t anymore. So…yeah…that was my moment…that the Lord evidenced that I was a wretch …that there was no perfection in you sweet baby…you are subject to temptation just like everybody else…you fail like everybody else. Get that in your brain…you fail. You will continue to because you are insufficient. As smart as you think you are… you are actually Nada…nothing. It’s all me. So let’s get that straight. Ta Da!!! Had a kid.
Me: And there you go.
Feleceia: And there you go. So He proved that first and the past several years He has made what faith looks like very evident of which I am forced to live. I am forced to trust His word, and forced to go where He says go. And forced to trust when He says to stay. Forced to trust when He says to do. And it’s awesome and terrible. So…that’s my salvation story. It was something when I was 7 but it was real when I was 24…..it was super real when I was 26.
Me: Okay, so Zoe has…explain.
Feleceia: Yes. Zoe was born with Down Syndrome. Trisomy 21 and also no fingers or digits on one hand. Down Syndrome we speculated when she was about 6 months old (in utero). Apparently, one of her kidneys was dilated and the other one was not and apparently that’s a trait of a person who might have Down Syndrome. So, we went through genetic counseling and they asked me if I wanted to do an amniocentesis…and I was like…Nah. And they said if that’s the case we will monitor you for the next several months and see what happens. They monitored her…her kidney went back to normal and they said that everything looked okay and that everything was fine. She looks like she is going to be fine. So, I thought she was going to be fine…(seeing that Zoe has her phone now)….and now she is taking selfies…..ready set…bye…So…she was born. She was 2 weeks late. She was born at 42 weeks. They tried to take her out three times….did three rounds of pitocin injections and she wasn’t budging. So, finally, Sunday, September the 20th I went to Baylor hospital and they said she is coming out one way or the other in the next 24 hours. So…if she doesn’t come out by tomorrow we are going to do a c section. So, they didn’t have to worry about that. They put all of the stuff on me. They gave me more pitocin….a heavier round that time. At 6 o’clock in the morning her heart rate dropped at the same time I was having a hard contraction so like 8 people come into the room. I was out of it. In 7 minutes or less I was prepped for surgery. My parents weren’t there yet. My oldest sister was there and that was it. And my oldest sister had sworn that she was not going to be in the delivery room, and she did not have a choice because she was the only human there. I felt them cutting me open. I can’t see anything. They wrap her up…show her to me. And then she was out the door. I remember seeing her, but it was so fast…they wrapped her…showed her to me…and then she was off to the NICU. I remember her being born with no digits on her hand and saying don’t worry I think they’ll grow. That’s how I was. And here we are…5 years later.
Me: I know that being a mom has changed your life, but how has being a mom to a special needs child changed your life?
Feleceia: Yeah! We live triple by faith because we don’t live with anyone…it’s just me and her. Um…so…It’s different because I didn’t read books to learn about Down Syndrome. I did that on purpose. I didn’t want to know. The best thing that we did was that she started therapies very early. Speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy…we went through therapy very early so we were able to get on the positive side of a lot of things. Um…so…it’s different but not that different. She’s pretty regular. The neatest thing is that she is a regular kid.
Me: What do you want your legacy to be?
Feleceia: Her. I don’t want Zoe to feel like she has to work at McDonald’s and live in a group home. I want her to be self-sufficient. I want her to be able to live on her own, have a family, have a husband, have whatever and to live as normal of a life as possible. I want her to work somewhere where she’s proud of and somewhere where it feels like it belongs to her. So, that is 100% the reason why the companies are named after her. I want them to be hers.
Me: Tell me about your Savior.
Feleceia: (chuckles) That’s a big question. My Savior is very real to me. He’s not just the guy that hung on the cross…you know? We lose that story. It’s really easy to lose that story because it is so distant and so far away. But if you allow Christ to be real to you and you pay attention to who He was and who He is it’s a lot easier to…..live. It’s a lot easier to go day to day. If you watch how He did it…pay attention to it and try your best to do it like that…life is just a lot easier. We trade it. I trade my crap life for His awesome one. Which from the outside looking in could look very weird ‘cause every day I don’t know where my money is going to come from. Every day. I live and stay in that space of HOW ARE WE GOING TO SURVIVE TODAY? I don’t know!! (chuckles again) I’ve lived this life long enough to know that He has proved it too many times, so at this point I am too far along to NOT believe. I’m too far along. He’s proven himself too much for me to not. I wish people…I wish…that’s why I try to develop relationships with people because if you didn’t grow up with even the foundation of that then Christ is a foreign concept. He and Christianity is a mean religion as opposed to a life that makes day to day easier to do. You know? We get to rest in something. We get to rest in the fact that we’re gonna be okay. Whether we are over here or over there. We get to rest in the fact that…we good…someday the student loans will disappear. Who cares? You okay today? Good!!! Let’s do today. Let’s be good with today.
Me: What are His loving words that He is speaking over you right now?
Feleceia: Yeah. That’s the ultimate. Not just like sleep rest but…
Me: Rest in Him.
Feleceia: Yeah. You are good…you’ve always been good. There’s never been a time that I haven’t taken care of you. Rest in Me. Am I ever going to get married? Who’s going to ever want to come into this? You know? That’s not total chaos but it is not traditional by any stretch of the imagination. Who’s gonna understand me? ‘Cause I am…complicated. (chuckles)
Me: Wonderfully complicated.
Feleceia: I am compliCATED though. There is nothing black or white about me. I’m very complicated and my life is complicated. Most men probably look at me and think…Felecia is ultimate independent woman, and they don’t know that if I could just give it to somebody else and…clean the house, and do homework with Zoe, and make sure you had breakfast before you left? COOL. That’s awesome good with me. And work all this on the side and build it and not stress out about it. I’m not so overwhelmed with wanting to be super independent career woman as I am with wanting my child to live in a way that is most beneficial for her. But that’s hard to see from the outside looking in. ‘Cause I work very hard. But I work very hard so that she can eat. That’s it. It’s complicated. She has Down Syndrome, but she is the most regular kid I know. You write that down on paper that your child has Down Syndrome and your child…
Me: Then all of a sudden they get labeled.
Feleceia: Yeah. All of a sudden. You know. You get to meet her for 5 seconds and you are like…oh…this is Down Syndrome?
Me: Yeah. Zo (my Zoë) is in there playing with her like she is any other kid. And nothing.
Feleceia: Yeah…nothing. Nothing. She might have some questions later on.
Me: Probably not.
Feleceia: Maybe…maybe not. For the most part…Zoe’s in a regular Sunday school class. She is a regular kid, but dealing with all that and the concept of life…you know and those other questions…they get clumped in. But a lot of things are coming back around. I really feel like I am living in an outer body experience…I feel like I am outside looking in. So…
My Gleanings (pb&j talk)
When Feleceia said, “Um…I was the good kid. I had three sisters and they all made stupid mistakes in college and they had all been havin’ sex…and all of that stuff and had made really obvious mistakes. And I used to wear the badge of honor that I had done it all right. I was going to do it all right. I was gonna be the redemption of the Benton children. (laughs) Yeah…I was the good kid…and then I wasn’t anymore.” That hit a chord with me.
You see I was that kid, thinking they were the “good kid” and the redemption of all. Almost declaring myself Savior to my family and friends around, but then realized I was just like everybody else. I don’t have the exact same story as Feleceia but the Lord brought me to this realization with a series of other misfortunate events in my life. We all come messed up to the Father…it is just not okay to stay that way.
I also took away some new wisdom when it comes to leaving your legacy. Feleceia said she wanted her legacy to be “her”…Zoe. She didn’t mean it in a helicopter mom kind of way where she wants her daughter to be put on a pedestal and spoiled. Which are often the intentions of parents who want their children to be their legacy. Quite the contrary. She is intentional in using her today for the next generation. She is building a future and paving a way for her precious child to make the biggest positive impact in this world as possible.
David did this. Rather, the Lord put Him in position to do this for Solomon. David wanted to build the temple, and he had all the plans to prove it. When the Lord told him to not build it and rather let his son Solomon build it, do you know what he did? He got his feelings hurt and stormed off and threw a pity party for himself that the Lord wasn’t letting him do what he wanted right? NO!! He changed his heart and plans and gave them to his son. Then on top of it he went out and started collecting the supplies and resources that Solomon would need to have in order to build the temple. After all that David said to his son in 1 Chronicles 28:20, “Be strong and of good courage, and do it; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God–my God–will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” Our intentions as parents should be that of Feleceia and David. What we do here on the earth and for the kingdom is to pave the way for our children to do even GREATER things for the Lord. May our ceiling be their floor.
Then there was this gleaning when Feleceia was talking about what the Lord is saying to her right now and that is to rest. “We get to rest in something. We get to rest in the fact that we’re gonna be okay. Whether we are over here or over there. We get to rest in the fact that…we good…someday the student loans will disappear. Who cares? You okay today? Good!!! Let’s do today. Let’s be good with today.”
I have enough grace, faith, and energy to do today. The Lord wants me to do today. Not tomorrow. Not 5 years down the road. Not 5 years in the past for that matter…our past is a time that we like to reflect on that keeps us away from living in the now. He wants me to do TODAY. That is IT!!
My gleanings (her book)
There are so many gleanings from Feleceia’s book Lessons from Five Fingers but I have limited myself to two, and will just quote them straight from her book. They will speak for themselves and I have nothing to add to them. All I can add is that you need to read her book!!
“Proving your priorities is a sacrificial act that requires extreme trust. We can’t get back the missed trips or the missed dinners around the table or the missed custard explorations. Make the time for your children- there is absolutely no substitute for time. And they’ll likely like you more in the long run.”
“Your child will pay attention to the voice that cheers for them the loudest, even if it’s not the winning team. Yell. Loudly.”