Recently, I had a very healing conversation with a relative where our broken relationship due to familial strife and discord was mended by the grace of God. She called to share her own experience with grief. I think her vulnerability was what melted the barriers I had erected around my heart for anyone who has or will hurt me. We ended up reminiscing towards the end of the conversation; she told me about how I was such a pretty little girl. We laughed at tales of how tender-headed I was and she revealed that I would only let her do my hair. While I didn’t remember that part, our talk jogged my memory and I remembered that I did, in fact, spend a lot of time visiting her as a young girl. Ever since then, we text regularly to check on one another, share pictures with each other and affirm each other’s beauty.
What does it mean to be beautiful?
I have often pondered this question ever since I was a child. Hearing that you are beautiful and believing it are two very different things. In Haitian culture, comparisons are always being made which sometimes causes rifts in relationships of those being compared instead of motivation as intended by parents. For me, there have been times when I just didn’t like things about myself. What I had was an overly-critical lens that I picked myself apart with. I never measured up, was beautiful enough, funny enough, etc. because I often compared myself to others.
My first memory that made me feel like I wasn’t beautiful happened in the first grade. I was about 5 or 6. Although I had been told that I was beautiful by my family and family friends, I remember being in Catholic school and having to be paired up with a “big sister.” My “big sister” switched and paired with a girl who was lighter-skinned and had extremely long hair. While I didn’t have a name for what it was back then, I can identify it now as colorism. Colorism is the favoring of someone because of how light he or she is—definitely a by-product of racism and slavery.
Embarrassed and ashamed, I never talked to anyone about it, I just shelved it in my memory bank and tried to mask my hurt with nonchalance. I remember the first time I felt beautiful after feeling like an ugly girl for many years. I took my eighth grade picture and, to my surprise, I thought I was cute. I even got compliments. Unfortunately, we often base our beauty on what other people think. So if you feel unseen and unnoticed therefore you’re not beautiful. I think my definition of beauty and being beautiful was based in vanity, on my looks, and how much attention I got from guys.
There was also that one time when one of my coaches told me, in front of my peers, that if I wanted to run faster, I would need to lose more weight. I think I was about 100 lbs and 5 ft 5 in. at the time. Because he was no-nonsense when it came to training, I reasoned that this made his comment ok, but it stuck with me. You see, I have always had curves. Maybe he saw potential, but instead, I felt shame. Some might even say that I was too sensitive. I definitely had a complex about my body in high school. Here again, I silently shelved away this experience in my mind.
I remember going back home for my uncle’s funeral after college as a newlywed in 2004. The community that once embraced me, unknowingly, sent me into a silent retreat and a path of hiding. I was excited to introduce my Black American husband to my Haitian church community. However, what he witnessed was me literally shrinking back as a large group of people engulfed me hurling the Haitian Creole phrase, “Ou gro! Ou gro! Ou gro,” at me. It means, “You’re big!” “You’re fat!” At that point, I wore a size 10. One woman explained that they were just concerned about my health. Hassan, who has always taken his role as protector seriously, didn’t know what they were saying but based on my facial expression and body language, he knew I needed rescuing. He came and took me away from the crowd.
I never imagined this would happen to me, no less at my uncle’s funeral. Was that the proper place? Were they even qualified to weigh in on my body and what being healthy was? I will say that while their intent may not have been to hurt me, the negative impact is what I have carried with me through the years. This cultural norm of body-shaming needs to be challenged and changed. At the time of the funeral, it had been five years since the last time they saw me. Believe it or not, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve visited NJ since and have yet to visit my childhood church, sadly. This is a major reason why I had distanced myself from my Haitian community for a period of time. I was hiding.
I have many more stories I could share but this post would get very long. So, I share an excerpt of these experiences for my own healing and freedom from the bondage of allowing someone else to deem me unworthy because of what I looked like and how much I weighed. I also write for other people who may have carried the pain of being body-shamed around with them to let them know that they are not alone. There are also those like me, who have had medical and life challenges as well as impediments such as stress and sleep deprivation that have been conducive to weight gain and/or affected weight loss.
What is it about our society where it is acceptable to body-shame people and think it’s going to magically spur that person on to lose weight? Beauty, as the world sees it, is based on subjective measures and trends. Somehow, I learned that beauty was based on external characteristics and the views of others. As I watched how others were treated, heard what was said about them, and experienced disparate treatment due to weight and other external features, I internalized it all. However, as I grow older I have found that it is what is on the inside of a person that beautifies the outside. Inner beauty is reflected and radiated on the outside.
I thank God daily for uniting me with my husband, Hassan. He encourages me not to hide and to be seen no matter how big or small I am. He has affirmed me by telling me that I am beautiful and that I have to live regardless of my size. He has done exactly as his name means—beautified me with his words. Recently, our focus as a family has been health and wholeness so we often exercise together. When you are loved you for who you are, it is such a beautiful thing! The love of my husband and children has been refreshing and restoring.
I am no longer absent in pictures because I feel ugly or fat. I am embracing who I am and what I look like and resist the temptation to hit delete. I have lost valuable memories doing just that. Like a flower, I am blossoming and it feels good. Such a peculiar statement to make during this time, right? I don’t fully understand it either. But over the past 17 years of marriage, I have often confessed that I will flourish in times of famine and bear fruit in every season. (Jeremiah 17:7-8) It’s so interesting how a person can hold on to a promise and not see it manifest until it does. You realize that God didn’t forget about you. He really sees you and loves you for who you are regardless of how you look. Years ago, someone prophesied that if I could be loved, I could do anything. Well love, I welcome you. I receive whatever you have for me. Yup, I am learning to embrace me. This is what makes me beautiful.
I am so grateful for my community of “framily” who affirm me and have loved me no matter how small or big I am. They have shared weight loss tips, joined me on walks or in exercise classes, challenged me competitively, and have even gone as far as giving me exercise equipment. With them, I feel safe to be broken and share this struggle that was once a personal one. They don’t call me names or make me feel bad or unworthy; they love me too.
While I’m not where I want to be in terms of my weight loss goals, I am focusing on enjoying life, enjoying my journey, and healing from past hurts. With the help of the Lord, I am steadily charging at my insecurities refusing to let anyone, anything, or even my own self to keep me in a box of shame. God has called me out and is making me bolder than I’ve ever been and I refuse to hide any longer. I will not shrink back. This is me and I love this girl. I will no longer seek permission to live or to be accepted or to simply be who I am.
What does being beautiful mean to you? How are you embracing who you are? What is your manifesto on beauty? How are you breaking free?
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2 ESV
I am participating in an online bible study via blog and we are studying the book of James. In my response to the leader’s thought-provoking questions and discussion, I stated that, “I am stuck right there—trying to ‘count it all joy’ as I grieve.” You know what—that’s the truth. Many people have given me props because of the perceived strength that I have having gone through not one loss, but two...no wait—there were some miscarriages in there too...one too many losses to count. The notion of strength is an interesting one especially when I may not be feeling particularly strong. I know I have mentioned the obvious losses but in there, are losses of relationships and friendships too.
How am I making it? How can joy be paired with loss? Good questions! That’s what I’m figuring out. Honestly, I am learning to be present in my grief. I am learning to take life a day at a time; an hour at a time; a moment at a time; one breath at a time. If not, I find myself completely overwhelmed. I am learning how to make time for joy. I have intentionally made time to read for leisure again, to exercise, and to try things that make me happy; this may include doing nothing at times. I also lean heavily on God despite my hurt and pain believing that He will be amplified in my weakness to carry me when I can’t carry myself. I am learning to be vulnerable and to allow myself to rediscover who I am and what I am. I am learning how to count, I guess.
My joys are no longer measured by things and successes but by valuing my family and the time I have with people and making that time, quality. I am learning how to be grateful for the time I have had with my (deceased) loved ones and to relish in the fact that I have been loved. I am learning how to write with and through my tears, untold stories of shame and pain. Although I may struggle with whether people really want to hear about what I have to say especially in this season of grief, I am moved to write. So, I am making time to write.
Unfortunately, there is no set formula for overcoming grief; for I am not an expert despite my losses. All I know is that I have certainly had various trials; I am choosing to rest in my faith that God is preparing something great in me even in this season. I am trying to maintain a positive and godly perspective despite how I feel. I am fighting to LIVE because if I don’t, I won’t make it. I am counting. 1... 2... 3... Keeping it simple.
How are you counting it all joy?
*The beautiful card in the picture was lettered by Pamela Thompson. (www.peieagrace.com)
I shared with a friend yesterday that sometimes my grief seems unimportant because of all that we are experiencing right now—a global pandemic, social outcry and unrest, etc. She reminded me that we needed to make space to grieve our own losses. I know this is essential and yet the reminder was like a salve for my soul. I needed to unplug and thankfully, moving gave me a small break. I even spent time working on my plants with another friend. They had become too cramped. They needed room to grow and to be pruned. Thankfully, my friend is deft at gardening and came prepared to save my plants—she even brought me potting soil!
This morning, as I added more soil to a Peace lily I received when Kelyn passed, I
chuckled as I thought about how much happier it seemed. Its leaves opened up in its new pot and look like they have always been housed in this bigger pot. Like this plant, I look forward to giving myself more room—to grow, to be pruned, to be watered, to grieve, to cry, to feel, to process, to be happy. I am making space to just be.
As I gaze at this plant, I am reminded of this scripture in Isaiah 61:2-3:
[God will] comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve...[He will] bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning...[we will be] a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:2-3)
If you have been feeling like I have, I am declaring this scripture over you too. Let’s make room. May God give us beauty for our ashes.
"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
Forgiveness is an f-word that most of us certainly don’t want to hear. However, after reading such a quote, it propels you to self-reflect and think about forgiveness or the lack there of and its costs. This year, as challenging it is, I have endeavored to leave unforgiveness behind. Don’t get me wrong, I have forgiven many people but there have been situations that have really challenged this resolve, especially as it relates to the past.
You know what? Forgiveness is hard. I think one major issue for me is greatly one of memory. I have a very keen memory—the kind that is photographic in nature; able to recall: times, conversations, and details, DETAILS, and more DETAILS. I don’t forget.
Forgiveness isn’t simply forgetting what happened. It is intentional and it takes time. It is continually deciding to let go of your pain, hurt, negative memories so that you can be free. Forgiveness takes work. Your feelings may not even line up with your decision to forgive but for your own freedom’s sake, you must release your grievance.
At Kelyn’s funeral, I shared these words regarding forgiveness:
You know, funerals have a way of bringing people together in the way that it places you right in front of reconciliation to make a decision about how to proceed. It’s such a vulnerable and reflective time and with the reality that life is fleeting; forgiveness is waiting at the wings to be dispensed. But like my counselor once told me, forgiveness is a gift.
Every time I think of this last line from my speech, it hits me like a Mack truck. When someone hurts you, even if it is someone who loves you, you often want to repay them or make the feel the gravity of your pain. But what if he/she never apologizes? What if the person is deceased? What if you just don’t want to forgive? What if...? For your own freedom, what must you leave behind?
Despite how I feel or how wrong I feel a person is/was, I know that I am tired of carrying the pain and hurt of yesterday. I know that if I want to be forgiven, I have to let go of my unwillingness and forgive. (Matthew 6-14) Now, this doesn’t mean that we will go back to being the way we were before but it is my understanding that this is something required of me if I want to be forgiven. I realize that I must love myself enough to let go. I like to think of it this way—my heart to small to house negativity; there needs to be room for more love, good things, better relationships.
This blog post today, will also serve as a reminder of my resolve. I will try not to let the fact that I know that it is more difficult to carry this out in practice, keep me in bondage. Can you relate? If so, what will you leave behind as you journey to freedom.
Sometimes, it hurts to remember. Today, I was reminded of two memories that occurred on this day, May 14th, years ago.
Both pictures reminded me of happier times, when my children were toddlers. I remember the day the first picture was taken. I was at a two-day workshop on race and equity. Hassan was on daddy-duty. He bravely took the kids to the local playground by himself. I couldn't believe he'd done this because I had never ventured alone to the park with the kids by myself. I remember feeling a little left out but also so happy to see my sweet babies listening to and enjoying each other's company. Kelyn’s smile was everything! I wondered what they were saying to each other.
In the second picture, taken a year later in 2017, I insisted that I wanted professional pictures for Mother’s Day and Hassan obliged. It was so hard to make our children smile at the same time and cooperate with the photographer. As you can see, the twins looked amused but didn’t smile. I am so glad we took pictures that year. Before Amira passed, I deleted pictures that I'd taken because I didn't like the way I looked in them. After she passed, I regretted doing that. I wished I had gotten over myself and my insecurities and kept those pictures.
Before Kelyn passed, I wanted her to take professional pictures. I discussed it with Hassan; I almost took her to get them without the rest of my family too. Unfortunately, due to the busyness of life, I failed to make it happen. I thought I had more time. The truth is life is short. Tomorrow really isn't promised. (Prov. 27:1)
What have you put off doing? It’s can be so easy to put off things you want to do even when you may feel a sense of urgency in your heart. You may even think there is more time.
Sometimes, it hurts to remember even when the memories also remind you of happier times. It's the dichotomy of life—joy and pain; laughter and sorrow; good times and bad ones. No matter what we feel, life keeps on going so we have to take time to feel even when it hurts.
Interestingly, my children can’t go to the playground due to stay at home orders/playgrounds being closed. Right now, cute pictures can't be taken on park benches. Most of all, their sister is no longer here. We sure do miss her! So much has changed in a short time. We are all adjusting.
As I reflect tonight, I promise to act when I feel urged to so. I will take more pictures and make more memories—beautiful ones that may one day cause me to laugh and cry at the same time. I will remember the past even when it hurts to do so. I will take time to feel...
What will you do more of as you grieve? Or as you live life in general?
This is a re-post of a memory I shared on my Facebook page on Feb. 25th of this year. Several people have requested that I re-share the post about my falling in El-Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico. I hope it makes you laugh, even at my expense.
Yesterday, a friend and I giggled when I recounted a story about the time I twisted my ankle in the tropical rain forest, El Yunque, in Puerto Rico. If you know me, I always have a story to share but somehow, I had filed away this memory until yesterday. As the Hassans and I (H2 was 4 months old) traveled down El Yunque’s mountainous terrain, I spotted yet another beautiful waterfall. Hassan Kingsberry and I had just finished arguing about something and to his dismay, I wanted to stop again so that I could take yet another picture.
Unfortunately, the picture was never captured because as I stepped out of the car, I tumbled downward after stepping out of the car, on a bed of rocks because there wasn’t a level path to stand on. I assumed that there would be one because I saw the perfect picture. Since I tumbled away from the car in my dress and flip flops (why did I wear a dress to the forest/flip flops anyway—trying to be cute) and Hassan was jamming to some song, he couldn’t hear me as I shouted for his help and cried in pain.
Sadly, he never came to my rescue so I had to crawl/climb back to the car. Did I mention I was wearing a long maxi dress? My feelings were so hurt. I will admit that I was upset because I thought he was purposefully "igging" me. It was funny yesterday to share that story but at the time it was a painful and embarrassing experience. I did learned a few lessons that day:
1. Sometimes, taking a step to get what you want can be a painful experience.
2. Beauty draws you—it’s worth the risk.
3. Know what kind of ground your standing on.
4. Some things are best captured with our eyes v. with our cameras so be in the moment.
5. Don’t argue before taking pictures in a rain forest. You need all eyes/hands on deck.
6. You need the right shoes for any adventure.
Thankfully, we found a CVS and I was able to wrap my ankle up. I enjoyed the rest of our trip even though I had to hobble around.
I will always remember the time I twisted my ankle in El Yunque.
This weekend, we explored the Harris Lake Peninsula Trail, a hiking trail said to be 4.2 miles but for us, it was about 5-miles. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not as graceful as I’d like to think. You guessed it, I fell down. My poor decision to start running at the suggestion of my five-year old, wasn’t wise—it was against my better judgment. And for a quick minute, we were happy until...I fell—(y’all remember my El Yunque story? I might have to re-post it on this blog.) Too bad it was short-lived.
It was unfortunate that I actually tripped on a very obvious and protruding stump, in the middle of the path. The Hassans, who were leading the way, rushed to my side. Hassan, my husband, helped to get the twigs out of my hair, brushed off the dirt off my body, and then helped me get up once I got myself together and felt well enough to get up. As soon as he figured I was fine, he started giving me his speech. He told me that I needed to watch the path. But the thing was, I really thought I was paying attention to the path! All we wanted to do was catch up to the guys.
As much as I hated listening to his lecture about safety and being careful on this hiking trail, I hated admitting that he was right; I guess I really wasn’t watching. I wanted to get to my destination quickly and disregarded the obvious obstacles. When I was sprawled out on the ground, face down, it wasn’t until I turned myself around and looked up and accepted his helping hand, that I got up.
Sometimes in life, the journey is full of uneven terrains and hurdles and we have to decide the best way to navigate them and how to move forward. If we’re not paying attention, we might stumble and even fall. Sometimes, if we get ahead of ourselves, a fall is inevitable. It’s a good thing that God’s promises that if we do fall, we will get back up again (Ps. 24: 16). And just as Hassan did for me, God’s hand is extended to help us up (Psalm 37: 24). Funny enough one version of this scripture states, “When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand (NASB).” I am encouraged to know that when we are at our lowest point, God will hold our hands through life's situations.
Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt too bad especially since we still had about 3-miles to go. Believe me, Hassan kept stopping to give me more speeches, along the way. I know it's because he loves me. As I stumbled the rest of the way, because the twists and turns didn't stop, I tried to be careful and you know what? I finished the trail at my own pace.
I went back to walking and my picture-taking.
Today, my very dear friend, Katie gave me the most beautiful gift. It was a picture of Amira and Kelyn holding hands. She commissioned the very talented Susan Kelly to make this piece for me. When I unwrapped it, the image immediately brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart with hope. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Together in heaven.
My heart is in heaven. What a reunion we will have. Can’t wait to see y'all again!
To my sweet friend, thank you! I love you! God knew what my heart needed and used your thoughtfulness and Susan’s beautiful work to comfort my heart. I needed an image of them like this—healed. Standing!
*For more information about Susan's work, go to www.susanwoodard.com
Please support her. She is immensely talented!
Tuesday night, we decided to try a trail we had never walked before—The Tobacco Road Trail for PE. This 23-mile trail is an abandoned railway that stretches between Wake, Chatham, and the southern part of Durham. Not only was the trail beautiful, but it also allowed me to bring this week’s "homeschooling" lesson on shapes, straight v. curved lines, and vertices alive to the kids. They really got into it, to my satisfaction.
Have you ever noticed bent trees and wondered how this came to be? Was it the wind or the rain? Was it the impact of repetitive storms that caused a structural change? Or simply an adaptation made for survival? It’s a fascinating phenomenon that I never considered before. Maybe I was too busy to notice. I guess, I don’t expect trees to bend. It’s quite beautiful and poetic, actually. Like a dancer—so graceful. Humble.
I imagine it took some time for those trees to get that way. It is difficult to yield when it’s not in your nature to do so. Like trees, we may be linear, rigid, inflexible even. And yet, so many trees appear to do just that--bend. Adjust. Surrender.
Reminds me of worship...
In my last meeting with my counselor, he suggested that I may be dealing with something called “Survivor’s Guilt.” Because I am wide awake at three in the morning again, I decided to finally explore what this is. According to Dr. Nancy Sherman, a blogger for “Psychology Today,” this is a continuous cycle of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong.” Another blogger, Dr. Diana Raab, highlights that survivors may be susceptible to this due to unsettled, losses from the past. In short, I may be troubled by the false notion that I could have saved my daughters' lives if...
I have so many "ifs."
If only I had stayed awake a little longer.
If only I had woken up sooner...etc.
The truth is, I had no control over the timing of their deaths. They had rare, incurable/fatal, genetic diseases. In both cases, I was in deep sleep and even in the same room, as they slipped away from this life into eternity. I couldn’t do anything to extend their lives here on earth—here with me—with us, for that matter. I could not heal them. In both cases, once I realized something was wrong, I immediately jumped into emergency mode. Yet, I was rendered powerless against God’s eternal clock.
I realize that I have to stop this "Survivor's Guilt" cycle. I have been and I am traumatized. (Never articulated this to anyone but my husband before.) All I know is that I tried my best.
My invisible limp.
Caveat: 1. I really tried my best to resist the urge for using APA citation (for my academic friends). 2. I still believe...yes, my girls are now forever healed.
New Jersey Native. Proud Haitian-American. UNC-Chapel Hill (First-Generation College) Graduate. Double Tar Heel who obtained a Doctorate from NC State. Educator. Devoted Daughter and Sister. Loving Wife and Mother. Lover of People. Photographer. Poet. Home Chef. Singer. Worshiper. Preacher and Motivational Speaker. Virtuous Woman. I am who I am by the Grace of God.