I Call her Aunt SALT but her real name is Mrs. Bola Essien-Nelson. One Wednesday Morning, I felt it so strongly in my spirit to ask her to speak concerning GRIEF to us. I reached out to her without knowing she had just been hit by another death and was still trying to manage through it. In this chat, she bares her heart out and I believe you’ll find some sort of relief for your soul too.
Hello, Aunt Salt!!!! Thank you for agreeing to speak with us. I love you so much. Would you please tell us how you came about the name, ‘SALT’?
I am always happy any chance I get to explain where my name comes from. So, thank you for kicking off with this question.
I have always loved to write and in 2009, I began blogging. I called my blog ‘The Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman’ because I am a ‘Naija’ woman and I am desperate to be like Jesus Christ. It was that simple and while I knew it made some people think I was desperate for ‘other things’, I was proud of my self-given name and blog title. I hoped it would intrigue people enough to want to stop by😊.
Towards the end of 2011, I walked into one of the darkest seasons of my life. Until my sister, Sholly passed on in 2016, that time of my life was my most painful. I felt I had failed myself, my family and most importantly, my PapaGod and as dramatic as it may sound, I honestly gave up my pursuit of Jesus-likeness. I told God to leave me alone. I was ready to go to hell.
But God said ‘No’.
I remember the day well. It was January 2, 2012 and God spoke to me. He called me Salt albeit in Yoruba. Iyomi. You see, because of what had happened, I had given up on myself. In my mind, I was trash. But God was not done with me yet. He said to me: You are not trash. You are Salt. My Salt. Just like that, God brought me back from the brink. Life was worth living again. I changed the name of my blog to ‘The Salt Chronicles’ and continued to share how I was doing life as a working woman, wife and mom on a quest for Authentic Christianity.
Slowly but steadily, my new God-given name became my call name. as all my social media handles were updated too. Even at work. It keeps me accountable. I am God’s Salt so I must represent my PapaGod well.
I am Salt and I try to add godly flavor to lives as I’m led to do. I seek to draw people to the light of God’s love. My name also reminds me not to judge anyone because, but for God, where would I be?
You know how after eating loads of crisps or salty popcorn, you want to drink water? That’s what I wish. I pray that when you meet me, you leave thirsty for the Jesus Christ that I carry.
Many people still call me Bola or Bimbo or Abimbola and that’s fine. It is what they are used to. But those that understand the power of names, have learned to call me Salt. It is not just my name. It is who I am. It is a prayer. It is a confession. It is a prophesy. It’s my destiny.
The subject of grief is not often spoken or preached about in our churches, but I believe it is important to the healing of hearts. Why do you think this is and what does this feel like? Please tell your story.
I began experiencing grief before I even had the tools to deal with it. When my mom passed in 1986, I was about to be 18 years old and all I really remember was people telling me not to cry. They said I needed think of my then five year old sister. I had to be strong for my 15 year old brother and to help my Papa, my Prof. Not once did anyone from the church or anywhere offer me counseling.
So, I did my best to do my crying in secret. When my Papa, my Prof died in 2014, I had grown up and so did as I felt. I wept and wept for days. I could be brushing my teeth and remember and off I would go again.
For my sister, my Aburo, Sholly, my wailing game is still on. I am not sure when it will end. If it will end.
For me, grief is natural. Losing loved ones hurts! Allow me to mourn. God sees my heart and he knows that my grief does not negate his love for me. I think sometimes, we feel that crying when people die erodes our salvation. It does not.
This is one of the reasons why the Shola Adefolalu Gaska Foundation began holding programmes that provide a space for people to talk about and own their grief. We believe that this is healthier than bottling it all up in a bid to please people. Truth is many times, people want you to stop crying simply because they do not know how to comfort you. That’s fine. You do not need to comfort me. Just prayerfully hand me over to The Comforter, God’s Spirit. He will help me.
Grief is not a sin. I have checked the Bible and it is not listed as a work of the flesh. So, do not let anyone make you feel bad during your seasons of mourning. Cry. It is allowed. Nobody has the right to legislate your tears. My friend and sister, Bola just died, and I recall with shame, me telling my other friend and sister not to cry. Because she had told me not to try. So, I said to her, ‘Ah, don’t cry oh, remember what you told me. If you cry, I will join you’. How foolish. What else are you to do as you watch your friend being lowered into the ground? I share this to show how easy it is to forget how to just be real and human.
In fairness to us, we did not want to cry because we were thinking of her husband and children and did not want to it harder for them. But that takes me back to my beginning. Why? Their mom was gone, they should be allowed to grieve. It is human.
As Christians, I believe we can grieve but not like people who have no hope. Me? I will continue to cry over Sholly and my parents and now over Bola. Not because God has ceased to be my God. Not because I do not believe they are in a better place. It’s simply because I miss them, and it hurts.
It is often said that Purpose is birthed in pain. Would this be true for you, looking at it from what you have had to go through, how had grief been turned around for your good?
The very first programme that Sholly’s Foundation organized was tagged “Sinking in Grief, Rising In Purpose’ and it is the answer to this question. I was in so much pain and had been banging on the door of heaven for answers to my questions. Why did my sister have to die? What really happened to her? Why was her husband behaving so odd? My PapaGod had to re-direct all that energy.
He needed to engage my mind or I would have driven myself mad. He gave me the blueprint for our ‘Rising’ programmes. To date, we have held two events and the third is on the way and I am so grateful to God for giving us this platform for people to come and be real with their pain/grief. It has touched so many.
This year, we launched ‘The Sholly Talk’ series which seeks to explore how Love, God’s way, Agape Love is everything. Again, this was birthed from me dealing with my need to forgive. I had so much bitterness against Sholly’s Polish family-in-law.
For my own sake, God had to work it out of me. It was a hard process but by the time he was done, I had come to a new understanding of how his love works. And how I had to love like he loves me. I continue to grow up into being the Jesus I call Lord.
The Shola Adefolalu Gaska Foundation, as an NGO, provides spiritual, emotional and financial help to individuals and families. Since April 2017 to date, we have put ‘Sholly smiles’ on the faces of many as God has helped us. The darkness thought it could snuff out my sister’s name just like that. No, we are keeping her name alive. She is living loud and people who did not even know her when she was alive, now give thanks to God for her life today.
Why have I shared the above with you like this? To show you how purpose can be brought out of pain. That is the story of my life since December 2016. The pain I feel about Sholly is my fuel. I will never get over her death, but God is helping me to move forward with it and use it to do good. In Love. To the glory of His name.
This life you and I are living is not for ourselves alone. Everything we go through, good, bad and ugly, provides the seed for fruit we can share with others down the road. At least, this has been my experience.
In the instance when one is greeted with a loss, how does being a Christian influence or affect your thought patterns? Are we all allowed to think wild?
We are first fallen human beings then we are Christ-Followers. So, our thoughts can run as wild as they please when confronted with loss BUT if indeed the spirit of Christ dwells in us, we must allow him take over and calm us down.
It is like temptation. Being tempted is not the sin. Even Jesus was tempted by the devil. It is giving in to the sin that is wrong. In my mind, grieving is not a sin. It is allowing the grief to make you think, say or do things that deny the Lordship and Sovereignty of Jesus in your life that is wrong.
How is crying a sin? God gave us eyes and tear ducts for heavens’ sake! When else do we use them? In times of joy only? Or when we are watching romantic comedies or America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer moments? No, we have eyes that cry because God knew that we would face times when tears would be a natural response. See, even Jesus wept. And weeping is a deeper level of crying. So, I just wish we Christ-Followers would read the Bible for ourselves and really get to know God one on one. Grieving and Mourning are allowed; God just does not want us to do so in a way that denies the Hope we have in Jesus Christ.
If we would just read His Word, he has given us enough consolation. I love God so much. He knew losing a loved one would be so painful, so he took his time to tell us what will happen to them and us in the end. Please let us take time to listen to Him.
Can God prevent pain? And what’s our role in Him preventing or allowing pain?
God can do all things. That is why he is Almighty God! I am not sure if He planned for pain to be part of Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden Life but after the Fall, pain was guaranteed. Why do I think so? Because God himself felt pain then.
His beautiful plan for mankind had been smashed to bits. I read that story and imagine God’s heart was broken.
And even if you do not agree with me, we know for sure that God felt pain when he had to stand aside and watch Christ die on the Cross for people like you and I who did not even have his time. So, if God had to deal with pain, why would he spare us this same pain? The beautiful thing is that, like his pain had purpose, so does all the pain he allows in our lives.
But can I say something? There is pain with purpose and there is needless pain that comes from our own foolishness or error. We owe it to ourselves not to go through unnecessary pain born out of us not heeding God’s leading.
What is our role in avoiding pain? Be led by God’s Spirit 1000%. This way, you will avoid needless shame and pain. And even the times of pain you go through, you will be 1000% assured that God will bring beauty out of your ashes.
Are there any words suitable to speak to a grieving person? I remember when a really close friend lost her dead. The moment I was at their house, from the entrance she told me not to come near her, somehow I knew it was the pain. So, I reached out and hugged her. She burst out in tears. For days, I was with her, but I did not know what to say.
Oh, how I wish we could put a paid advert on TV about this! People of God, please stop telling those mourning not to cry! Stop trying to legislate how people deal with their pain. It is very personal. Let them be. We are all different, so your way does not have to be the only way.
Personally, I have stopped saying anything. I just hug you and sit with you. And when I am not with you, I pray for you and thank God for sending His Comforting Spirit to you.
Because from my experience, I have figured out that none of your words even matter. People rarely even hear or remember.
It is your actions that speak louder. It is what you do that we remember. I remember my colleagues from work coming over to see me. I do not remember ONE thing they said but I remember they came with their lunch packs and had bought me lunch too insisting I had to eat. I remember it was Yamarita. I could barely eat it and I have no clue what we talked about, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. That is the power of action.
So, if you must do anything, find out how you can help practically. Help with the children especially if they are young. You can send scriptures. Bring food. Help with attending to guests. When s/he is overwhelmed and begins to cry, hold them close and let them cry. It is a healing process. S/he needs it.
In the initial days following the loss, I promise, there are no words that can help.
Can I also say one more thing? Do not ask silly questions like ‘What happened?’. Don’t make them tell the sad tale over and over. IF they want to share, they will. When you get there, at least in the very early days when the pain/grief is still raw, let your quiet presence and hugs be your gift.
As Christians and Humans on the earth, what is our consolation. Where do we draw strength for each passing day from? How does one get healed from the pain that comes with loss? Is there any such things as justice or answers to deep questions our souls keep asking?
I know I will never get healed from the pain of losing Sholly or my parents. But most especially Sholly.
But because of God, I am living purposefully with it. The healing is a never-ending journey that will only end when I see them in heaven. And THAT is my consolation: That I will see them again. For all of us that believe in Jesus, this should also be our Hope.
So many things happen in this world and you wonder why. It all seems so unfair. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are babies born blind? Why does a plane crash even after a whole family prayed before they got on board? Why does it look like God is standing by and allowing all these horrible things to happen? I do not know.
All I know is that God is Sovereign, and He is Love and to have faith in Him is to just agree in your heart that He can bring good out of any of the above situations. I am thankful that, in my life, I have seen how he does this, and this helps me believe even more. But even if I had never seen him move in my life, as long as His Word says it, I would believe it. That is what Faith does. You believe even when you don’t see.
For someone reading who might be going through a hard time from losing something or someone, I would like to know, does the pain ever go away?
For losing something, I believe the pain can go away. Especially when ‘new’ comes. And you realise that what you lost was not God’s best for you. Same goes for losing someone you thought you loved. It will pain you like hell, but this pain too dulls over time and goes away totally when you find the ONE that God kept for you. So, no matter how you feel today, that day is coming, when you will thank God for taking ‘that’ out of your hands. But for losing a loved one to death? This is another story altogether. I must be real with you. The pain never goes away. You learn to live with it and like I shared above, God can help you bring value out of your pain. Somedays, you remember and smile instead of cry. Some days, you cry like it happened just the day before.
There is something that Coach Olusola said to us during the first ‘Rising’ event. He said that nobody really dies. There are two parts to life. One, we live in these physical bodies and the other, we live as the Spirits we are. Our loved ones gone have just moved ahead of the rest of us to that part of Life’s journey that does not require a body. That consoled me a lot. Sholly is not dead. She has just gone ahead of me. So is your loved one gone. Let’s live today so we can be sure to go meet them.