Sundays With Rae

a blog for women by a woman who is trying to get her life together while still loving Jesus

Grieving During the Holidays

Here are 4 tips to get you through Christmas as you grieve.

1. Breathe

Something so simple can have a major impact. We can spend so much time trying not to cry, trying to smile, trying not to feel, we forget to simply breathe. When you find yourself almost consumed by the sadness, take a deep breath. Then, take another. (You can find more about breathing, here)

2. Cry

For some, this may seem counterproductive (it certainly did to me) but bottled up tears don’t just disappear. Give yourself space to cry. Whether you do it when you first wake up and that aching hits you in the chest or after you make it through the day as you realize time didn’t stop because your loved one passed. You may have to go in the bathroom in the middle of the festivities and that’s okay. If you feel like crying, cry.

3. Fake It

This may sound contradictory to the above but stay with me. Maybe you have kids and a family depending on you to prepare Christmas dinner or maybe you’re in charge of organizing the annual family talent show. Maybe you have to go to work and literally can’t afford to stay in bed like you want to. Your responsibilities don’t care about your grief. Fake your way through it. If you have to put a timer on your phone to go to the bathroom every hour and give yourself a five minute check-in, do that. If you have to spend your lunch break crying in your car, do that. And the rest of the time, smile even though it hurts. Try to muster up the strength to find a joke to tell. You may look back and realize this wasn’t a very happy Christmas, but you did what you had to in order to get through the day. 

4. Talk 

Grief can feel like our dirty little secret. We don’t want anyone to know we’re struggling. We are held captive by our own emotions. It doesn’t have to be that way. Find someone who you know will be supportive and tell them how you’re feeling. Tell them your mad or you’re sad or you don’t feel anything. Tell them you can’t wait for the day to be over. Tell them you tried to fake happy and just couldn’t. And after you’ve done that, talk to God. Even if you’re mad at Him, even if you don’t think He can hear you, do it anyway. 

Psalms 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (NLT)

December 2020

To read more about my grief journey:

Good is Coming

My dad dying was like God taking my favorite vase and dropping it on purpose and the shock of it all left me speechless. But I let my silence speak volumes, because I had nothing to say to God. As far as I was concerned, He’d made a mess and left me with the broken pieces. I know the Bible says all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord but maybe I didn’t love the Lord because surely no good could come from this.

Those were (sometimes still are) dark days. I’m grateful I’ve grown to a place where those days are few and far between, but when those bad days come, sometimes it’s really bad, making the good seem nonexistent. And it’s a pity, because there’s so much good. So much, that even if I tried to hide from it, the good would find a way to me. And maybe this seems impossible to believe right now. Maybe you don’t have dark days, but you have dark weeks and it’s been months since you said the word good and meant it. Misery may love company, but you’re doing just fine all by yourself. I know that feeling.

Grief is difficult. It just is. There are no shortcuts. You are where you are. Other people may not understand it and they don’t have to. You don’t have to see it right now, you don’t have to feel it, and I’m somewhat tempted to say you don’t even have to believe it (although, it helps if you do), but know that one day you will be able to genuinely smile again. You won’t measure time by loss. God will be friend to you instead of betrayer. He won’t just be seen as taker, but giver. One day, your bad days will be few and far between because good is coming to find you.  

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Enjoying the good (November 2020)

Allow Yourself To Be

October 2020

One of my absolute favorite things to do is laugh. So much so, when I was a member of an acting group in college, they nicknamed me “Te-He” because I laughed so much. I laughed so hard at a funeral, people thought I was grieving (not my proudest moment). My younger sister and I bond over finding humor in situations that no one else seems to notice. It’s a gift, really. But after my dad died, it was difficult to use this gift without it hurting. It was painful to even smile. Earlier last week I could feel this familiar feeling settling in. I did everything I knew to do to make it go away. I read, I wrote, I talked, I slept, I prayed, I listened to music, I did it all. After a couple of days of this, I had enough and scheduled an appointment with my therapist. The appointment wasn’t for another three days but I figured I’d just suffer through. Then something happened.

I had the opportunity to do something for someone I love. Not because they asked me to and not because they needed me to (in fact, they refused… I did it anyway though), but simply because I wanted to. Being able to show one act of kindness put the biggest, pain-free smile on my face. I felt better that night than I had all week, probably all month. I was able to just be who I was without the pressure of trying to force myself to not be sad. As much as I want there to be, there is no time limit on grief. You don’t get to decide how long you feel how you feel, but you do get to decide what you do while you’re feeling it.

It’s important to have coping mechanisms (I read and write and talk and pray and sleep and listen to music). They help us deal with our feelings, not get rid of them. I’m an advocate for faking it until you make it. Sometimes you do have to smile to keep from crying and sometimes you should hang out with a friend even if you don’t feel like it. But I’m also an advocate for allowing yourself to be where you are as long as you need to be there. I struggle to practice the latter consistently because I’m terrified that I’ll get stuck there. I don’t want to be sad forever! But time has shown me, I won’t. After I decide to be okay with not being okay, it frees me up to just be. I can be sad. I can be unhappy. I can be lazy. I can be helpful. I can be thoughtful. I can be kind. I can be generous. I can be loving. I can even be happy. I can be everything I am when I choose to allow myself to be.

I could have cancelled my session with my therapist but I’m glad I didn’t because she helped me connect the dots. She reminded me I could still laugh through pain. She gave me that word “allow,” and I plan on applying it more frequently. Being sad doesn’t have to stop you from being who you are. You’re allowed to be it all.

Psalms 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (NLT)

If your inability to function (be all the things) starts to negatively impact your health (physical – not eating, losing/gaining weight, or mental – suicidal thought, etc.), job (not showing up, getting fired, etc.), or family (physically or verbally abusive, neglecting children, etc.), I would strongly recommend seeking out professional help immediately. https://openpathcollective.org/

Hope Through Thorns

Death always has a way of shaking my faith. Even before my father passed, I can remember being broken up when the singer Aaliyah died and crying real tears when my college professor’s father died. These are people I’d never met before but their deaths, along with many others, always made me give God the side eye. How were those closest to the deceased supposed to do life without them? Even before experiencing my own greatest loss, this seemed like an impossible task. And after living out the impossible daily, my faith is still shaken. Not broken, just shaken. This may be the thorn in my side and I’ll live with it, knowing God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 9:12).

So this week I’ve been waiting for the latter part of what Jesus said in that verse, for His strength to be made perfect in my weakness. A gifted producer and songwriter named LaShawn “Big Shiz” Daniels died in a car crash on September 3, 2019. He was not someone I knew personally, in fact, the only reason I knew of him was because my sister made me watch the show “Tamar and Vince,” and he made frequent guest appearances. I had recently stumbled across his Instagram and marveled at him and his wife’s love for each other. It’s what I love and hate about social media: it gives you access to people’s lives you wouldn’t regularly have access to, which most times brings a smile across my face. However, on Wednesday instead of bringing a smile, it brought tears I refused to cry in the middle of the day but would eventually let flow like a leaky faucet. It brought uneasiness and a restless night in which I tried desperately to find sleep. Every post I saw spoke so highly of LaShawn and how he brightened every room he walked into. He was unapologetically himself no matter what crowd he was in. If any good could come from the past five days, it’s that I am encouraged to be who and how God made me, wherever I am.

This wasn’t really my loss but I grieve the suffering those who know him are experiencing. It was their loved one this time, but it could very well have been mine. None of it makes sense and it doesn’t seem fair, but as believers even when faced with such pain, we still choose to trust God. It’s been hard to say that these past few days. Literally, bringing tears to my eyes because my heart and mind don’t believe it but my soul knows it’s true. I have hope and I pray LaShawn’s wife, children, family, and friends find a way to have hope too.

Romans 8:24-25 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

August 2019

I’ve Seen Us

I watched 29 minutes and 13 seconds of the first part of Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us.” That was all my soul could bear. I could not watch it for the culture. I could not mentally and emotionally prepare myself to watch over 3 more hours of a story in which I knew the ending. I have read countless articles about this miscarriage of justice but I cannot bring myself to view the very real images that the words of these articles illustrated. I am aware that I can turn off my TV but Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise can not turn off the nightmare they endured, and my soul cries for them and the many others who go unseen.

I am forever grateful for the work of Ava DuVernay. This series was not meant to entertain but it was meant to tell a truth that many knew nothing about. I had the wonderful pleasure of working with black boys involved in the juvenile justice system. Boys who most of the world wouldn’t see as beautiful. Boys, who were in fact, boys. Boys living with parents with little money who worked long hours and wanted the best for their sons. Boys who spent a lot of time being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Boys who may not have done everything right, but were at risk of being wrongfully accused of crimes they knew nothing about. I’ve spent many hours in their homes with their families, watching them be boys while also watching as a system turned them into monsters and I felt powerless.

Don’t be so quick to write off people who choose not to watch “When They See Us.” There are people who refuse to acknowledge the reality those five boys faced. People who have not had to deal with the reality of the system not being built for brown and black people. But some of us are all too familiar. Some of us watched Ava DuVernay’s 13th. Some of us spent days grieving the loss of Kalief Browder as though he was our little brother. Some of us got to sit in holding rooms of detention centers with black boys we knew wouldn’t taste freedom for a long time. Some of us simply cannot. I am glad this series is reaching the masses and I pray the world really takes the time to truly see us.

…justice and liberty for all.

Proverbs 21: 3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Happy Father’s Day

July 1994

When my sister saw this picture she said she has never seen me with this much personality in a picture. Although she was trying to be funny, she was right. I don’t remember this moment, but today, unlike most Father’s days, I feel like I look on this picture. To those who have loss, I promise it gets better!

In the Fire

As I get older, I realize I have the wonderful pleasure of sharing in the joys of my friends. From graduations to marriages to babies to new jobs to opening new businesses, just wonderful things happening. With these high highs, also come low lows. Just this past year I have had friends experience divorce, miscarriage, depression, bad break ups, death of loved ones, and the list goes on. It really just seemed like one fire after another and I’ve had to decide what I would do.

Jesus only had twelve disciples. He had many followers but only twelve walked with Him, day in and day out. So, I don’t believe we should be in the fire with everyone. It can be overwhelming to have that many people surrounding you when you’re going through, smothering almost. Sometimes we just need to be around the fire by checking in with our friends. Let them know you’re there if they need you. This is being around the fire. Now, being in the fire means consistently showing up. In fact, you don’t even have to show up because you’re already there. You’re asking the hard questions, you don’t believe them when they say “I’m okay.” Sometimes when they don’t want to, you drag them along anyway. This takes a special kind of relationship but it is necessary. How many people are willing to be in the fire with you? Better question, how many people are you willing to be in the fire with?

I recently told someone how grateful I was for my father figure (Raynard) because even at my lowest moments, he was there. As believers and followers of Christ we know God loves us and He’ll never leave us or forsake us but when we are going through, sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. But thankfully God uses people to remind us of His love.

In Raynard’s words, “You were in a pit and you didn’t want to get out. You grieved the loss of him (my father) and for a while you became your grief.” That would have been enough to make me take a step back and let my friend figure out their life. But Raynard still called and harassed me, asked me how I was doing, spoke life into me. He was there in the fire. Months after my father passed I was at church, and ran out of the sanctuary crying. Someone saw me and called Raynard. By the time I walked out of the bathroom, he was there. He wasn’t even at church (he was down the street), but when he heard where I was, he came. The fire of grief that was consuming me did not scare him. That’s a lie, he was terrified lol. But he did not allow the fear of the fire keep him from me. He stood with me in it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about loyalty. This is an aspect of that same loyalty. We talk about going to war for our friends and loved ones over whatever against whoever, but what happens when they’re in a battle with themselves? Will you jump in the fire with them while they’re holding the torch, uninterested in putting it down? There is no water in sight and even if it were, your friend would light you up if you dare touch their flames. There is no time limit, there is no such thing as too hot, it is a temporary home that in the moment feels permanent. Will you be there in the fire with your friend?

I am sure there were many days Raynard prayed God would just send the water and quiet the flames but I learned, and at the same time Raynard learned, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it, but you have to go through it. And in our going through, we see the hand of God. His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, His wisdom. All because a friend decided to stand in the fire with us. Just as Jesus stood in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Daniel 3), be the friend in the fire and watch them come out, not looking or smelling like what they’ve been through.

Standing in the fire

Earthquakes After Midnight

It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about how I upset I was with God about my dad dying. I recently went through my Instagram page and scrolled through the years. I could see how hard I was trying to be happy, to live happy. I was being blessed in different areas of my life, but this loss was a thorn in my side and no matter how many times I went to God about it, it remained there. For me the thorn was the loss of my father but for you it could be a bad break-up, losing your job, or a physical ailment. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to recover. You feel stuck in a prison of pain and God doesn’t seem to care. Little did I know, earthquakes come after a midnight praise.

Acts 16:40-60 tells the story of Paul and Silas and how having done nothing wrong they were beaten and thrown into prison. It does not say how long they were in prison but when midnight came they prayed and praised God. In the midst of their praise, there was an earthquake and the shackles that had them bound were broken and the door of the prison was opened. Despite how long you have been suffering and how beaten down you may feel, when your midnight comes and your prayer and praises have went forth, there will be an earthquake and you will be free.

My midnight came actually right after my church’s watch night service, going into 2017 when my goddaughter’s mom asked me if I had any godchildren. At that point I did not and I had no idea God would use my goddaughter as my earthquake. Despite how I felt prior to that moment, I trusted God. I didn’t know when He was going to bring me out or how but I believed He would. And through my prayers and praise, He did.

I had shed so many tears out of anger and sadness and frustration over my father’s loss, but when my earthquake came I found myself crying out of gratitude and happiness. Her staring at me, her laughing, her smiling, her rubbing my face, her talking, her eating solid foods, her spitting solid foods into my hand, her learning how to walk, just her. When you have been as sad as I have been, you cherish these moments no matter how insignificant they seem. My goddaughter has shown me that if I’m capable of experiencing such a profound level of hurt, I am also capable of experiencing that same level of joy. I am forever grateful to her parents.

Those who know me well will tell you I’m a gangsta (yes with an a, don’t debate me), so I’m not very expressive, but that changed last year. I’m still not walking around telling everyone I love them and hugging people (a post for another day), but I smile bigger and laugh louder and tell people how grateful I am for their presence in my life. I don’t think there was anything I could do to get to this place any faster. You can’t speed up time but you can take God at His Word. He said my mourning would turn into dancing (Psalms 30:11). He said joy came in the morning (Psalms 30:5). He said His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And He is a God that cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).

Safiya and I

My goddaughter was my earthquake. Maybe your earthquake will be a new relationship, a friendship, a weekday service, a scripture, a child, or simply a whisper from God. Midnight is coming, go ahead and praise Him, because I assure you an earthquake will follow.

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” Acts 16:26

Keep Going: Ride the Wave

 

My parent’s reception (1988)

 

My parents’ anniversary is Christmas Eve and a good friend passed away last year on December 20 so the past couple of Christmases have been rough, to say the least. I remember the first Christmas without my father (2013), I slept most of the day; to be present was simply too much. Last year, I didn’t sleep the day away but I wasn’t quite myself. My mind wanted to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time (or maybe it was my heart). These past few days leading up to Christmas have been familiar. I have fought to be present and even berated myself for not fighting hard enough. Then it hit me: I don’t have to fight. I can be where I am and who I am. If that leaves me sitting and doing nothing, that’s okay. If that means I don’t want to deal with people, that’s okay. If that means having to fake smile my way through the day, until I can be by myself and cry my eyes out, that’s okay. I’m not wallowing in my sorrow (one of my biggest fears), I’m living my reality.

So often during this time of year those who have loss, get caught in this wave of grief. They (we) feel helpless, as though they are drowning. You are not drowning, you are surfing. Yes, surfing in your sea of pain. You are in the barrel of the wave, surrounded by walls of water, guiding your surf board. This is not uncharted territory, you’ve been here before. The water is not something to be afraid of (remember, 60% of your body is water). Even if you wipeout, you will come up for air; you will not drown, just keep going.

Some days are more difficult than others, but every night I lay my head on my pillow, I know I’ve made it through. I’ve surf through the day. And I know, no one wants to just get through life but some days that’s all you have to give and that’s okay. Tomorrow (and today), keep going. Cry, laugh, smile, be silent, be loud. Live your reality, ride the wave until you find yourself back on the shore.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

How Loss Can Lead to Lost (and Faith Can Find)

My father died on October 30, 2013 around 12:30am. He had been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer on October 8, 2013, went through major surgery, spent less than a week on a respirator, and less than a month after entering the hospital, smiling and laughing, he was gone. Getting through this part was not as difficult as some may imagine (maybe because it happened so fast), but having to get up every day and him not be there seemed unbearable at times.

My father and me (2009)

My father and me (2009)

I miss my father intensely; so much so, I believe I missed out on a lot of life. I was so busy thinking about what could have been and spending countless moments calling myself back to the reality of my father being gone, that I was not paying attention to my life. I would wake up, get through the day, go to bed, and then do it all over again. There were good days, but most days were really bad or I was really absent, trying to keep it from being so bad. Have you ever been driving and realize you have no idea where you’re going, but you’re in no rush to get there, so you just take your time finding your way? That was me, except I was not interested in finding my way. I did not want directions. I did not want help. I did not want to be made to feel better. I just wanted to exist. I am grateful I had friends and family who let me do that, even though it was painful for them to watch me go through it. They did not try to make me smile or make me talk, they were themselves and that is the kind of stability I needed.

As people we are often times in a rush to run away from pain. We don’t like the aching feeling in our chest and the emptiness in our stomachs and the warmth of tears on our face. We would much rather push through to the happy feelings, but sometimes we have to sit in those uncomfortable emotions. I am not saying you should go around crying ‘woe is me’ forever, but give yourself time to be there. Give yourself time to be lost and trust that you will find your way. There will be days you have to fight to be present. These days may be difficult but it is a good sign. It means you’ve managed to gather the energy to start finding your way. If your friends invite you to go out, do it, even if you don’t really want to. You may not feel any better, but it’s putting one foot in front of the other. Get out of bed at noon instead of 3pm, even if it means you’re moving from your bed to the couch. Go back to the place you call home even if you can only bear to stay a minute or the tears won’t stop falling. All of these things are steps in the right direction.

If I were to describe my relationship with God through the year after my father died, I would say we were cordial. I prayed, I read my bible, I attended service, I worked in the church, but I felt distant from God. I remember feeling betrayed by God (me the sinner feeling betrayed, go figure). I felt as though I was doing my part as a follower for Christ, so how could something like this happen and God not warn me about it. I’m honestly not sure what kind of warning would have made me feel better about this situation (none which involved my father still dying), but my feelings seemed logical in the moment. I never felt like a bad Christian, but I felt like a broken, suffering, lost Christian who only God could repair but I was not interested in talking to Him about feeling better, so I kept right on being lost.

While I was lost, I reminded myself that God will not leave me nor will He forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8). I would say it in my head over and over again. At night when I would pray, even if I cried all day and my grief was overwhelming, I repeated to myself that God was still God and He was great and He was faithful. It’s so easy for your heart to turn cold while your lost and not trying to be found, but even if you have to be numb for a moment, keep reminding yourself that God is still good. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). It was my faith that allowed me to feel every emotion and still know God was God. It was my faith that told me weeping may endure for a night but joy will come in the morning (Psalms 30:5). It is my faith that allows me to have lost moments and be able to find my way back. Loss may lead to being lost but know that you have a Creator who specializes in making sure you’re found.