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It was a day that would be forever branded on my heart and mind.
I was running the worship rehearsal at my parents' church one Sunday morning before service.
My dad walked in and came to the sanctuary stage, where me and the band were.
He had a distraught look on his face. And his voice had an unusual heaviness.
"Maise, just got a call from her brother in Georgia," he said, referring to my uncle. "Her niece Paula, who is only 24 years old, committed suicide last night.”
Gasps and cries filled the air where songs of hope were just being sung.
Questions raced through this very heart, the same heart that was certain of who her God was prior to this moment. Fear pulsed through my soul.
How could this happen?
Why would she do that?
Is her sister Marie okay?
God, how could you let this happen?
What kind of a Christian am I that I can’t even be there for my own family?
These questions–and many more–came all at once, starting an inward uproar.
It was like there was an intense game of tug-of-war happening inside me, between what I believed and what this event is now causing me to consider about those beliefs.
I didn’t know what to do.
I called my mentor and few other close friends. Completely devastated and scared, I explained what happened.
And to the best of their ability they comforted me, prayed with me and even cried with me.
I wish I could tell you that after that, it was all good and I got up off the floor and kept going strong...but that would be a total lie.
To be honest, all of the doubts, questions and mind games that came over me with the news of Paula's death hurled me into a downward spiral.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, I choose to numb every thought with alcohol, unhealthy relationships and partying.
But my community didn't give up on me that easily.
I may have wanted to give up on myself, but the community of people I chose to live around wouldn't.
They wouldn't stop reminding me of my worth and my purpose.
They wouldn't stop praying.
They wouldn't stop calling and checking in on me.
Even when I deemed myself "worthless" because of the things I did in that time, my community didn't.
I remember my cousin Marcus leaving me a voicemail saying,
Now, 3 years later, I wish I could say I have peace, that I understand why my beautiful cousin Paula is gone, but I can’t.
I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I don’t know how to explain any of the terrible things you may be facing today either.
We may never understand on this side of heaven.
But the more I experience the many facets of tragedy, the more I understand that we find meaning and purpose in community.
I am certain that I wouldn’t be here, alive today, if it wasn’t for my community.
They too couldn’t answer my hows and whys, but they pushed me to live not carrying the guilt of not being able to help Paula. They gave me hope that I can help others who may be in the same place she was in.
As terrible and gut wrenching this season of my life was, with the help of my people, I am better because of it.
You may be thinking, what the heck is community anyway?
I define it as this:
Community is a group of people who have earned the right to hear your uncensored heart + speak truth in love without fear of hurting your feelings.
They are friendships that make you better than who you were the day before.
Community takes your pain + sits in it with you.
It carries you when you can't walk + fights when you've got no more fight in you.
It doesn't shame you for screwing up but lifts you back up + encourages you to keep going.
It celebrates with you + cries with you.
It makes you better.
If you wanna know what kind of community you have surrounded yourself with ask yourself this:
Are they helping me or harming me when it comes to who I want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Community is a crucial part of your life. You were created for it.
Suicide is in the top 10 leading causes of death across all ages, and isolation is one of the leading causes of suicide.
You are not what you feel.
You are not alone.
Often times our feelings can be pretty good liars but we've got to learn to tell them the truth: You are loved. You are seen. You are enough.
Life is hard and unfair. You're totally right about that. But that doesn't mean you have to face it alone.
I see you. Your lessons are my lessons. Your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy.
I love you not because of what you can do for me but simply because you are you.
Have you experienced losing someone you love to suicide? How does your community make you better? Tell us in the comments below!
If you're struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know that YOU ARE LOVED, YOU ARE ENOUGH, YOU HAVE VALUE + YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to someone who can help you. 'Cause it's okay not to be okay, but it's not okay to stay that way.