Love that Brings Joy
November 2019 Issue
by Elizabeth Skenes Millen
Photography by Christian Lee
“You know, my life is so blessed, I don’t even know what to tell you,” Ifetayo White said in voice so calm, so wise I could listen to her all day.
As we settled into the sunroom of her St. Helena home, where a wall of windows overlook her lush Lowcountry backyard, Ifetayo made a comment about the massive Live Oak she notices me gazing at with adoration. It’s easy to tell it’s sacred, with its lumbering limbs lovingly outreached as far as it can cradle. The tree is one of the reasons Ifetayo chose this house, although she says it chose her. It is tucked away down a winding dirt road deep within the spirit of the land of Gullah that thankfully hangs onto the edge of America.
“I call the tree Grandmother Oak because that is her energy for me. She reminds me there is a power much greater than me to support me,” she said. It is in this greater power that Ifetayo has connected with her innermost self. “My whole journey has been about healing myself—mind and body—to become a whole person. I unbound myself when I moved out of being afraid of God and felt for the first time that God doesn’t hold anything against me. To feel that unconditional love meant I didn’t have to look outside myself. I came to know God in me, God in you, the good of God,” she explained.
Ifetayo changed her name when an African healer renamed her. It means “love that brings joy,” and she lives in the positive vibration and energy of this name. We are not victims in life. We all have circumstances. How we choose to respond is always our choice. I have a choice, and I take responsibility: These are two of the most powerful ways of consciousness I know of,” she said.
Getting to this place of peace has required an adulthood of inner work and disciplinary practices. Getting from point A, when she was a new college graduate from Howard University with a major in Russian, to point B, living an intentional life, was a long journey. Her faith did not preclude her from the usual life experiences: Marriage, career, motherhood, divorce, but it guided her through it all and gave her the confidence to to rise no matter what.
All she ever wanted was to be was a mother. She has fulfilled this want to the brim in both traditional and unique ways, exploring every aspect of what it means to mother. From honoring her mother in spite of a cold relationship, to being a mom of two girls, to helping troubled teen girls find their way, to being a doula and birthing more than 100 babies, to being a mentor, a healer, a teacher, a Reiki Master and a grandmother. Ifetayo naturally found a way to be a mother in everything she did. “It is quite a blessing to do this. I have so much gratitude for the way Spirit leads me in how to share my gift and essence. Growing people is really my passion,” she said. She is the human twin of that Grandmother oak, as her motherly spirit reaches far and wide to cradle those who cross her path. It is no coincidence they found each other.
Amongst Ifetayo’s greatest powers is gratitude. “If there were only one thing, I would teach gratitude. It has the power to change lives. You can’t stay in self-pity or sadness when you practice gratitude. It is the portal—the open doorway—to more and more blessings in our lives.
This story has been 18-months in the making. It is important to know that when I talked to Ifetayo the first time, I ask her what’s next. “I’m waiting to hear (through meditation) about starting a mentoring and apprenticeship program. When I recently spoke with her, she told me things have blossomed and shifted. After 13 years, she retired from her Doula duties, and she is in full swing of her mentoring and apprenticeship program. This is what happens when you set intentions, take on life open to all possibilities and listen with complete trust.
Many of her mentees get to see the grandeur of Grandmother Oak in person because Ifetayo has turned her home into a part-time retreat center. “My Airbnb bookings are off the charts, too!” she said. Living where I live is one of the most nurturing environments. I have great health and joy. I’m 74 and not on one medication.
Nonetheless, she still embraces her age by being in tune with the different cycles of life. At my age now, I no longer have the desires to be the biggest or the best. That is now for my wonderful daughters. I accept this is how I am now, how I look, how much I weigh, and I am joyful about it. As I age, it’s only natural to adjust and accommodate my capacity,” she said. “I am now a mentor—a mother to the motherers, and all I ever wanted to be was a mother.”
Strength: Even though her mother never showed her any affection, Ifetayo slept with her mom for three months while she was dying and gave her last rites. “She was icy, standoffish and she died next to me. It was a beautiful death.”
Courage: She became a Doula when she was the executive director of an alternative program to lock-up for girls ages 11-18, who were involved in the sex trade. The girls experienced horrific things (child pornography, being sold, the worst of the worse) “Most of the girls couldn’t break the negativity. Being a doula allowed me to help them through the trauma of teen pregnancy, being there for them the whole time.”
Nature: Ifetayo has 2 tortoises—Baby and Halo. “‘Turtles’ lives are guided by intuition. They teach us to ‘feel’ our way through life.”