I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fashion/Beauty Friday: Lashes Anyone?

I had never really considered them. In fact, until recently I had never seen any that I liked. Tammy Faye Baker was always the image that stayed in my head and that was way over the top. NOT Diva Approved! 

Honestly, I do admire them on  beautiful celebrities. But I always thought that those were "special" and cost prohibitive. So, needless to say,  they were off my Diva radar. That is until I became friends with  Alicia. Her eyelash extensions are simply beautiful. And when she bats those eyes, OMG! Men just melt.

Alicia had a lot of good advice and answered all of my pressing questions about her lashes, but I was still very very nervous. The more time that I spent with Alicia on her visits to Chicago, the more I considered having them done.  Then a few months back celebrity makeup artist, Tia Dantzler did my face for a Jet magazine photo shot and I was hooked. 

There are so many words to describe how eye lashes extensions made me feel. Glamorous, Beautiful, Fabulous, Girly, Feminine... The list just goes on and on. I concluded that they were DIVA approved!

I called Alicia immediately, "We have got to find me a place to get lashes!" I exclaimed.  Alicia is always game for new adventures, her "just do it" spirit is one of the reasons I love her so much. Anyway, she I and hit cyberspace and started tweeting. People were responding from all over the U.S. Alicia, living in Los Angeles, received a ton of west coast recommendations. I received recommendations from places that range from $30 to $300 around Chicago. It was all so overwhelming just trying to make a decision.

Then I remembered Brittany's lashes. She's the national coordinator for the Ambassador program for the Red Pump Project. But Brittany explained that her lashes were strips and she removed them each night and reapplied them in the morning. Glue in my hand near my eye was not a good idea. NOPE! Out of the question. 

I became so obsessed with lashes that I was making a stop at the Mac store right before each speaking engagement. For Real! One night after a gig I wanted to keep them on because I had another speaking engagement the next day before Mac opened.  But it is not advised to sleep in strips. You should have heard Brittany trying to explain to me how to glue the lashes over the telephone.  Too funny! I needed my reading spectacles just to see what I was doing and you cannot apply lashes with reading glasses on your face. Glue was everywhere. 

It had been confirmed. I was definitely getting eye lash extensions. My budget was a huge consideration in the deciding factor of where to get them, but so was my health. I have AIDS and I'm not confused that my immune system is not good. I didn't want to take a chance on an Asian nail shop so I settled on Amazing Faces.  Her prices were in between. Maureen is a licensed esthetician who specials in permanent makeup, lashes and no chip nails. (More to come on the no chip. I'm currently putting Maureen and no chip polish to the test.)

 Brittany came with me for moral support.  First, Maureen taped my bottom lashes down so they wouldn't interfere with the work being done on the top lashes. I have to admit, I was a little claustrophobic with my bottom lashes taped down, even if they were anti-winkle beauty pads. 

This is what my face looked liked before the lashes were applied. I was not allowed to talk which was also torture. LOL! But when you talk you change your face structure. During the lash application I felt absolutely nothing. I knew she was working but there is no pain involved at all. She applied the lashes individually with a permanent glue that will last approximately 3-4 weeks. 

This is what my face looked liked after the lashes were applied. They seem to open your eyes and complete your look. I simply LOVE them! Now I am going to be honest. They do take some time getting used to. If you have used the strips then the individual lashes will be a breeze. They are comfortable to wear, but those first few days you do know that they are there. 
The only thing that changed in my daily beauty regimen was using an oil-free makeup remover. Mary Kay's brand was highly recommended. I called my Soror for that hook-up! Other than that, I wash my face and apply make-up just like I did before I got the lashes applied. 

 Yes, this was a big plunge for me, but you only live once! The great thing is that they are semi-permanent, you can always change your mind, at no additional cost. After I got my lashes it was a call for celebration. Brittany and I made our way to Tavern on Rush for a light dinner and my wonderful assistant Jenna joined us. The suspense was way too much. She just had to see. All in all, everyone agreed that my new eye lash extensions were Diva Approved!

Note: Photos by Jason E. Jones Photography

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Press My Way Through...

Last week was no walk in the park for me. My body is currently being attacked by something that the doctors don't know and it seemed as if everything stopped. I barely had energy to go the bathroom. By Friday night I was in a real funk. I thought the week was an absolute bust! I missed important deadlines; barely got my blogs posted and did no work toward completing my Breast Cancer Collection bracelets.

My prayer was that people didn’t lose faith in me because I didn't produce like superwoman and couldn't really explain what was happening to my body that shut me down and gave me a funky attitude. Among other things last week, I had promised Jessica Walden a fellow jewelry designer and blogger, that we would do tea and cupcakes and share war stories on designing jewelry and I even failed at that. Later that evening, out of guilt and “over achiever syndrome,” I looked at Jessica’s blog and read her post about the Smart Jewelry Show.

I was so intrigued that I tweeted her about it. But right after I had done it, I regretted it. I wasn’t feeling well and wondered if it was the wisest thing to do. But in no time flat, Jessica was sending an e-mail to the PR team on my behalf. It was late in the evening and I had no reason to believe the show would respond positively. But to my surprise, by the morning I had press credentials. My first as a blogger and I was VERY proud.

 I knew I could not let this opportunity pass me by. I wanted to get there for the ribbon cutting but my body said NO! I listened and decided to take my time. Jessica was definitely in sync with me. I walked into Navy Pier at 12:10. She had arranged for us to have a briefing with the press staff at 12:30. In its second year, the Smart Jewelry Show had 543 vendors, 1200 storefronts and an estimated 5000 participants. After the briefing, our first stop was the social media seminar learning how to use Facebook to expand your business. And yes, it was overflowing with people. We didn't stay long with Jessica being an expert in this field and most of the information was a refresher for me.

 After that, Jessica and I were like two kids in a candy store. We were a tag team all day long. Tweeting about jewelry, taking pictures, meeting designers and distributors. The vendors made it easy. Everyone was nice and approachable. The jewelry was unbelievable! Y'all know that pearls are my favorite gemstones. I’ve talked about it in several past blogs. So my first stop was Honora Pearls. I actually own some of their designs and was delighted that the staff was so cool. Before it was over, their Digital Marketing Director, Michael Schechter and Honora were following me on Twitter. I was so inspired by their bracelet designs. (More on that in a Fashion/Beauty Friday Blog.)

 For Real, Honora Pearls have given new life to your grandmother’s pearls with color and designs that have a modern twist. Their denim line is absolutely fabulous showing the versatility of pearls from jeans to dress. They are Diva approved! The funny thing is that the staff at Honora told me their designs have become so popular that grandmothers are actually wearing them. That just goes to show that you are never too old to update your look.

Jessica and I were among several bloggers and Tweeter's JewelryBizGuru, Trace Shelton and YaelDesigns were there too. You can also search Twitter hashtag #smartjewelryshow. But the vendors' responses  to us varied from: “What’s your Twitter tag,” to “Twitter who? Blog what?" But no one denied us the opportunity to discuss jewelry designs and techniques.

 I saw fabulous jewelry and tried lots on. I met female CEO’s, visually impaired designers, saw pearl necklaces designed with 45,000 peals, each pearl hand drilled.  Beautiful Carbon Setting Diamonds and Sterling that can easily compete with Yurman, but at a better price; Diamond Hoop earrings  that I can't stop thinking about, designed with oxidized sterling silver. The list goes on and on. I had a blast and learned a lot. Just in its second year, I  think the Smart Jewelry show is something to keep an eye on.

 Jessica and I ended the day with a great dinner at Mity Nice Grill. I was so tired that I went straight to bed when I arrived home and spent the following day resting. But it was well worth all the exhaustion my body felt.

 At the Smart Jewelry show I was inspired to be a better jewelry designer and to take RLT Collection to new heights. But most important, attending this show was one way that I fought back! I didn't allow AIDS take all of me! Sometimes you just have to press your way through... On the other side of the press is a blessing waiting on you!

 Post Script: To my surprise there were many questions about HIV/AIDS from designers and vendors to me. I was struck by the most basic questions people were asking and how shocked they were to learn that I had AIDS. The questions become so regular that Jessica even tweeted about the education I was giving at each stop we made.

I went to this show to learn about jewelry and in the end shared knowledge about HIV/AIDS. It illustrated to me, that there is still so much education to be done on this topic. It seemed to me that people’s basic knowledge about HIV hasn’t matured with technology about HIV/AIDS. The thing is, I’m always willing to share what I know wherever I go. My ministry never stops and there is never any shame in what I do. It is what it is... Just like having AIDS is what it is.... I Keep It Moving (KIM)!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fashion/Beauty Friday: Back of the Closet - Part Two

Last Friday I explained how I was one of those people that always had to have something new for every speaking engagement. Remember I said, "I had it bad! And to make matters worse, I always had some stupid ass rationalization of why I just had to have something new. But that reality has changed for me."
Well, a couple of days after I spoke at FAMU, I spoke at Davidson College. I was plagued with a different kind of problem that almost became rationale for a new ensemble: Facebook and Twitter. Yep, I knew that pictures of FAMU would be all over cyber space. And true enough, on my layover in Atlanta, half way home, my best friend Luke was already telling me how "wonderful" my pantsuit looked. Oh Brother! The challenge was on. Could I go to the "back of my closet" and pull together something equally as fabulous?

This time I went all the way wild. I broke a cardinal rule: Never wear a St. John Knit jacket with anything other then St. John separates. At least for a St. John purest and I've been a member of that club for the last 15 years. But I did it! This top picture is me and the Red Pump Ambassadors from Charlotte.  Brittani on the left and Tawanna on the right. They met me fresh off the plane and were a part of #teamRae all day. They had no idea what the other was wearing. I thought it was soooo cute how they were matching. They illustrate how you can have similar looks with different pieces. I also think them showing up in the similar ensembles showed that the Red Pump team was in sync. 

My starting point was basic black. I was speaking for the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and I wanted to wear at least  one of their colors. My slacks are a European designer, Faconnable that I have owned for seven years. I paired these light weight wool slacks with a black shell from Ann Taylor that's five years old. By the way, Ann Taylor has some of the best classic, well made designs that last for years. I choose narrow pants, straight lines and a solid color so that my soft pink, white and black striped jacket would sit center stage. 

I remember the day I purchased this St. John jacket. I thought it was toooo cute! It took all of five minutes to make the decision that I had to have it for an upcoming appearance on BET with Tavis Smiley.  It's approximately 7 years old and is atypical in that it's not santana knit. This fact was also another rationale to buy it. It was a "different" St. John look. I remember the next day watching the View, Star Jones was wearing the same jacket and I was feeling even better about the decision to buy. Say what you want, Star does have good taste in clothes. She paired it with pink St. John, also another solid color look for this jacket. 

 This light weight wool St John jacket was perfect for Charlotte's climate. The fringe outlines the entire jacket and sleeves giving it a youthful appeal. And the fringe is the highlight of this very typical plaid design.

As usual, accessories are important. They help to pull an ensemble together. I choose a very wide black patent leather belt to give my waistline a slimming effect and 3 1/2" heel pumps to add even more length to the straight lines under the jacket. Both are Ann Taylor. My jewelry was simple. It completed the look. I choose multi-color pink and white pearls and layered it with a white gold and diamond cross. My earrings were the 12 mm south sea pearls highlighted last week. 

Of course, I completed my ensemble with 12 mm black onyx bracelets from RLT Collection, a preview for the fall 2010 collection. I think I pulled  my outfit together pretty nicely, proving two things. You can go to the "back of your closet" often and still look fabulous and you can create your own rules. Paring this St. John jacket with something other than St. John separates gave it a fresh look that still had that St. John allure.

By the way, the event was wonderful!  These Alpha men were the perfect hosts! I was proud of these young African-American men!  I was not only honored that they featured me as their Alpha Week speaker, but that they put HIV/AIDS and women at the top of their agenda. In conversations with them they clearly understand that African-American women continue to be the largest rising group being infected with HIV. 

It was a packed house, a great audience and God gave me something to say. As always when I speak, I don't come with some arrogant idea that I'm going to save these young lives. I know that they have to make their own choices. My prayer is that my honestly and transparency will be enough for them to take and use to save themselves. At the end of the day, the only person that can save you, is you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not what I wanted to do... What I had to do

I get asked often, "What made me want to talk about my life?" The truth of the matter is that you couldn't  have paid me to believe that this would be my life. If Jesus had come down from heaven and showed me this future, I would've said, "For Real? For Real?" After living with HIV in secret for seven years, this was not my first choice. Actually, it wasn't my choice at all.  It was something I had to do, in spite of what I wanted to do. The first time I was asked to speak, it was for Bowen High School in Chicago. I told Ms. Johnson flat out "NO!"  but she was not taking no for an answer.

 I remember that first day at Bowen like it was yesterday. I didn't consider myself a public speaker. Yes, I was active in politics but I was a behind the scenes organizer. So that day I was a nervous wreck. But it went smoother than I thought it would. I spoke to the first group of students, the bell rang and another group came in. The students seemed to like me and they had a lot of questions, especially about my dating life. So I figured that if  being honest meant that they wouldn't end up with HIV, then what the heck. I thought it was going really well and then, about the third workshop, I noticed that some students hadn't left the room. They were hanging around between sessions and took a seat when I started speaking again. I thought that was odd so I asked Ms. Johnson why they were making students stay. She looked me in the face and said, "Child, these kids are skipping class to here you speak." HUH???

I went home and thought about it.  I couldn't imagine that what I was saying was so important that students would ditch class to hear. The next day when I walked in the room, students were lined against the walls and sitting in the aisles. Those who had come the day before just flat out skipped calss to hear me again. It was incredibly overwhelming. At the end of the day, a young girl came up to me and said, "Ms. Lewis, I know you said you weren't a public speaker, but you shouldn't stop because the Lord is using you." Y'all know I hugged that baby and said, "Thank you." But under my breath, I said, "Now what the heck she know about the Lord using somebody." And went on about my way. But I couldn't shake it. I thought about those kids day and night. I just couldn't shake it!

And one morning two weeks later, it hit me like a ton of bricks: This is what God wants from me. That day I quit my well-paying job working on a mayoral campaign with no other speaking engagements arranged and no brochure. And the rest is history!

Recently, I asked on  my Facebook  fan page,  "When was the first time you heard me speak?"  Here are some of the uncut and uncensored responses:

Angela Gatherings: I must say I prayed & and  I cried the same night after you spoke at Hyde Park when I was a freshmen. And yes I'm in my 30's and I still remember your spirit and I've taken that with me all over the world. Thank you for stepping out on faith. You're a very powerful woman.
Stay beautiful and blessed!

 Yameka Holmes:  I remember the first time I heard you speak. I was a student at Prosser High School in Chicago. I remember you walking onto the stage and how some of the guys were whistling at you and you asked them how many of them would have sex with you. All of a sudden, when you told everyone you have AIDS, the room just went silent. It was surely a wake up call.

 Tamara Linton: First let me say that you are an inspiration to so many. You have given people a different perspective on AIDS. I remember when you came to Hyde Park to do a workshop for the students, you blew our minds. You also gave us a serious wake up call. You told us what your life was like as a child, what your life was like then, and through your blog we witness your life now. Then you stated that by the time the Class of 1997 graduated, you would be very sick or dead. Look how far you've come. I actually wrote a story about you for our high school newspaper which I still have. You are one of those people that stand out. Thank you for being courageous enough to tell your story, informing people about AIDS, and for being you!


Latahsa Jackson: I remember I was in high school this was about 15yrs ago. I went to Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago. I remember u askin the fellas how many of them would have sex with you and every guy in there raised their hand then u said u were HIV positive and silence filled the room. To see such a beautiful person have what we all believe cant happen to ... was an eye open. Hearing u speak made me become more cautious and responsible for the decisions I make in life. Thank you for the information and education you continue to do.

Selina Rodgers:  It was my freshmen year of high school a Simeon 95'...it is kind of ironic because my niece attends there now. Anyway, I remember the room having a certain air about it when you first came in and how you kept us all at the edge of our seats with your powerful voice and the message that we would soon learn to understand. You gave us the reality of being in this world and making the right decisions so that we could become any thing that we decided to be without any limitations. 

Ryen Holm-Jeffries: u r an amazing woman when u spoke at Seton Academy (c/o 99) u took my my thought process 2 a whole other level. Thank u! U will stay in my prayers!

 Keyauna Franklin: I remember as well. It was My Freshman year at Hyde Park. I am now 30! And to this Day I Never forgot You! I can Honestly say that you had an affect on Myself and My Friends. You are Truly an Inspiration and Proof that God has the Last Say! May you continue to Inspire and Live a Long Wonderful Life!

 Jermella Ruther:  I remember hearing you speak for the first time at Lawrence Hall. I left that speech with a new outlook on HIV/AIDS. Than I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at Senn high school. Oh my god, my friends were so touched that I even knew someone so special like you. I continue to follow you after all years. Wow is all I can say.....I remember when you walked in to that room at Lawrence Hall and all the guys were checking you and joking how fine you are. Than they heard you speak and all they could do is sit there with their mouth open. I remember you saying "By the time your freshman class graduated, I will be... dead or to frail to take care of my self." Here we are 2010 and you still doing God's work. I am so happy to know someone so special and humble like you....all I have to say is Thanks.
Love always

Crystal D. Jackson:  The first time for me was at the Youth National Convention in Chicago. It had to be around 95-96. You talked about not being able to run the campaign for Jesse Jackson. There was a brother in the audience who just wasn't getting it. He talked about how he wasn't motivated and how he didn't know how your discussion applied to him. You simply ... See Moresaid, "I hope you will never have to stand in my shoes to 'get it'". I remember "getting it." This talked changed the way I viewed my close family members with AIDS and empowered me to make choices regarding my sexuality.

 Katalina Pool: I met you about 12 years ago with dr. hryram at hyde park academy in Chicago while in our aids peer education group! and i swear you were so inspirational. No I dont have aids but to hear your story was so live changing. No lie I was just wondering right before i found your page were u still living and how were u doing. Stay prayful and God will truly keep you in his grace as he has all these years.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hallelujah Anyhow!

I don't hate much but it's safe to say I HATE it when people start their conversation with me, "The Lord told me to tell you." Call it what you want: arrogance, Christian elitism, whatever! But this strong feeling of dislike became worse after I went public with AIDS. Everybody had the solution to my problem. Often they’d start the sentence with, "You know the Lord can heal you of AIDS."

Many times they'd come rushing up to me after I finished speaking with their revelation. I’d stand there graciously, but what I really wanted to do was scream at the top of my lungs.

I know, I know. I sound like one ungrateful woman. I do understand that they are only trying to help ease my pain. But curing me? Gee, thanks. Don't judge me first, just try living in my shoes and see how YOU WOULD FEEL. In the early days of my ministry, I became really frustrated with people telling me what God could do for me, like they knew this for sure. I read the same Bible. And now, having gone to seminary and earned a Master of Divinity Degree, I detest it even more. I mean, why do you think that I don’t already know about faith? My life is an example of faith, don't you think?

But in those earlier days of my popularity, so many people approached me about being healed that I started to wonder, “Had I missed something in my Christian walk?” Just the thought of it bothered me. With all the experts I had encountered on my miracle, I thought that maybe I was doing something wrong. So like with most things, I took my concern straight to the source. I started to have long conversations with God about it all. It went something like this:

“Hello God, these people say that you can heal me of AIDS. So, what do I have to do to get this particular miracle? I mean, they keep quoting the scripture, “Ask and you shall receive.” (Mat 7:7) I asked, but I still have AIDS. Do I need pray a certain way, or at a certain time, maybe like Hannah at the altar?” (1 Sam 1-20) No joke, sometimes you just have to lay it out to God, and I did.

It was all so maddening. I know that there are miracles in the Bible of both the prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. And that made matters worse. With my all Biblical knowledge and people pushing their faith onto me, I was frustrated. One day a person even told me, “You should stop taking your HIV medication so when the Lord heals you, people will really believe that the miracle was of God.” I stood there with a blank look on my face. “I don’t think so buddy!!!!” is what I wanted to scream at him. So, I kept talking to God, waiting on the answer. I even changed my prayer. “Lord, just give me something to say to these people about my healing.”

Then people started to cure me in my mail. I received 25 copies of this little booklet, "By His Strips We Are Healed". I screamed, "Pleeeease GOD tell me what I’m missing." And that wasn’t the half of it. I received long letters with Scripture I was instructed to repeat every day, tapes, oil and prayer clothes. People were determined to heal me anyway they could.

Then one day after what seemed like an eternity, God gave me the answer I had been seeking. I was in Washington, DC speaking at a church. That particular night, there was a lot of press covering me.

No sooner than I laid the mic down, a woman rushed up to me, "You know the Lord can heal you of AIDS." I got that look on my face, “Here we go again.” I stood as she rambled and rambled on. "And it would be an awesome thing. With all these TV cameras and the press you get, you could go around the world and tell people how wonderful God is because He healed you of AIDS!" In an instant God spoke to my spirit, "I am a wonderful God, even if I never heal you of AIDS!" The testimony is: Hallelujah anyhow!

WOW! I was so overwhelmed tears starting streaming down my face. Of course the woman thought that her prophecy had moved me to tears. But it was nothing short of God sitting center stage in my spirit giving me with the answers that I had longed for. The easiest testimony on the planet is when God has done the thing you most wanted in your life. But can you love God in the midst of your pain? Can you love and praise Him when you are bearing your cross? I understood that day that my love for God was not predicated on my healing from AIDS. God is wonderful and sovereign without the extra that He gives to us.

Back to the healing, I had missed it all along. The miracle wasn’t the thing that people had been trying to force on me, but something even greater. In some ways, healing me of AIDS was an EASY testimony, almost expected of God. But living with AIDS was an INCREDIBLE testimony. God gave me the greatest gift of all: the ability to live and thrive with an illness that should’ve taken me out of here many a day. And believe me when I say I should’ve died 16 years ago.

When I made a transition to AIDS 19 years ago, the life expectancy was 3 years. And before advancement in treatment, I was staring death in the face. My t-cell count was 8, my viral load was 397,000, I was a size 0. You could see how frail I was in every picture that was taken of me back then. There is no doubt, my health was failing.

I had 3 bouts of PCP, the number one infection, at the time, that killed people with AIDS. You cannot tell me that I am not a walking miracle. I get it! I also get that we spend so much time expecting God to do what we want, we miss the wonderful things that He has done. I’m content with the miracle of my life. So what if it’s a hard life, He continues to give me all the tools I need to maneuver through the wilderness.
PostScript: By the way, God didn’t heal everyone. The Apostle Paul is one clear example. Paul had a thorn in his flesh. He asked God to heal him three times and each time God said, “No!” Christians are quick to quote from this text that the Lord told Paul, “My Grace is sufficient.” But God also told Paul,”My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” I know from this that when I am at my lowest point, God will do His best work. (2 Cor 7-10)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fashion/Beauty Friday: Back of the Closet

I was one of those people who had to have something new for every event, especially speaking engagements. I had it bad! And to make matters worse, I always had some stupid ass rationalization of why I just had to have something new. But that reality has changed for me.

As of late, buying an ensemble may mean that a bill will not get paid. In recent weeks, I have well documented my financial crises here on my blog and in the April issue of Ebony. I'm struggling like most of America is!  While I understand this, I have a reality that must be addressed, I still have this urge to shop. Maybe this demon is wrapped in childhood drama.  Mama was complex. While she beat and cuss me, she always bought me new clothes absolutely every pay period. So the more she bought, the more clothes I asked for. I think somewhere along the way, I equated these new things with love. So here I am at 47 years old, fighting this demon. And believe me it's a struggle. Like last week, when I went to speak at Florida A&M University, I had to talk myself out of buying a new ensemble that I really couldn't afford.

I debated and debated and after after much consideration, it was settled! Something new was out of the question. Then that little fashion demon started talking to me. It went something like this, "Well Rae, you at least need some new red pumps." She had a point and I was listening.  So I made my way down the Mag Mile as the fashion demon whispered to me, "See, its like this, you have an image to keep up Diva." She was right again. LOL! And I kept on walking and she kept on talking. "This event is a Red Pump Bruncheon and your red pumps have been seen on Facebook, Twitter and your blog A LOT in the last 4 weeks. "Come Onnnnnnn Diva," the fashion demon whispered, "You know you got to come with it."

I made my way down the Mag Mile straight to the door of Neiman Marcus. But as I entered reality set in. Rae, you CANNOT afford anything new!  That was a reality that shook me out of what was about to be my stupidity.

Yes, I love to look good and people except it from me. But the truth of the matter is, you don't always have to buy something new to look fabulous. Often times we have the  perfect ensemble in our closets, we just have to take the time and thought to pull it all together.  So I went home, opened my closet and pulled together a great outfit.

When coordinating an ensemble, you need a starting point. Red pumps were mine and I worked from there. Second, I knew I wanted to go with a light color and a light weight because I was going to the sunshine state.

This Ann Taylor silk pant suit was perfect! It's five years old and I have only worn it maybe three times. In the past, I paired it with a brown and beige shell and brown and beige spectator sling backs. But this time around, I gave it a fresh look to work with my red pumps.

I paired it with a  lace shirt that added  a little texture to the ensemble. This v-neck, cap sleeve shell is from Banana Republic and it is eight years old.  I originally wore this shell with a cream satin skirt suit to a black  tie affair.

Accessories are key!  My 10 year old  beige Gucci belt was added to draw my waist line in and give my boxy body a shape. Because this was a women's brunch I wanted to add femininity. I love pearls and they are perfect to achieve that goal.  On a side note, I LOVE pearls and own them in every price range.  My 10-12mm South Sea pearl post earrings are some of the best you can own because of their incredible luster.  I paired them with a 100 inch strand of freshwater pearls that I doubled and knotted at the bottom and added a 24 inch strand of cultured pearls for that layering effect.

And of course I followed a Diva Rule, an ensemble is NEVER complete without a bracelet. I am almost never "matchy-matchy," but after trying twenty different bracelets with this ensemble, these were the perfect match. It helped to bring the entire ensemble together best.

The red coral stackable bracelet is from my Celebrate America Collection 2009. The pearl bracelet is fabulous. It is designed with tiny pearls that have been weaved together to make each individual ball. I then took twenty-two balls to craft this bracelet. It's a one-of-a-kind in my personal collection. To sell this bracelet the cost would be no less than $300 because of the weaving.

While I use real pearls, you can achieve the same look with faux pearls. However, I do believe that every woman should invest in at least one pearl necklace, earrings and bracelet.  It will become an heirloom that you can pass from generation to generation. And just so you know, there are always affordable freshwater pearl bracelets in my collection.

OK... I think I pulled it together pretty nicely and in the process, I proved to myself that I didn't need to spend any more money to look fabulous. All I really had to do was go to the back of my closet, take what I already had and give it a fresh look.

The point for me is to always look well put together.  You only have one time to make a good first impression. It does not take money to achieve that goal, it takes a little thought and time in your closet.

P.S. The event was wonderful! While I ministered to these young people, God also ministered to me. This was my Facebook status the next day:  

I went to FAMU to minister to these wonderful young people yesterday. But in the midst of it, God ministered to me. He gave me the reminder that I NEEDED. "I planned my life, but miscalculated. God planned for my miscalculation." My life belongs to God. My purpose is His purpose. Anything extra is a gift. Stay focused my daughter. I'm doing some awesome work in your life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hello, My Name is Rae and I'm A Workaholic...

Some years back at the end of a meeting with my professor in pastoral care, Dr. Homer Ashby looked me straight in the face and asked, "So Rae, tell me why it’s so important to get an A?" Caught off guard, I sat speechless with this stupid look on my face. In the silence I started to squirm. I knew that my back was against the wall and there was no way out. I couldn't believe that he had put me on the spot. And he didn't seem phased by my discomfort. He sat with me in the silence and waited.

Sitting there I felt as if my way was being questioned and I resented it. I went through a platter of emotions. I even became mad at myself for requesting that darn meeting. But that too was a way of life. Those “A-’s” I had received were “not acceptable,” I told myself as I marched to his office. “I need an A!” He had struck a chord with me.  Call it over-achiever, workaholic, driven, type-A personality... whatever, but it is a way of life for me. It is my norm. I have this need to fill every waking moment with something. Whether it’s a thought, an act, or my words.

But that day in his small office, sitting in the silence, the tears started streaming down my face. The six year old little girl had taken center stage. I knew exactly what it was. I could hear Mama’s voice, "Bitch! You ain’t shit! You ain’t never gonna be shit!" That's what Mama told me from the time I could remember and since then, I had been working hard to prove Mama wrong. Enough was NEVER enough! The more I did, the more I needed to do!

As I write this blog, I find myself driven to the point of exhaustion. In the last 11 weeks I have gone non-stop. I not only designed the spring line for my bracelets, I designed a Diva AIDS Awareness Bracelet Line, had a photo shoot with models for the collection and then revamped the entire web-store. I launched a blog, established a partnership with BlackDoctor.org and became a contributing writer for SouthsNews.com. I revved up my social media campaign, created a fan page on Facebook and started tweeting like I have lost my mind. (Over 7,000 tweets in 8 weeks.)  I didn't stop to take a breath and I rarely stopped to sleep.  Even when I try, most nights I lay in bed thinking. My mind is working constantly. Even on the road I work before I speak, answering e-mails, checking on my Facebook and Tweeting along the way. I seem to never shut down.

 I will admit that I attribute some of my breakneck schedule to being self -employed and basically a one woman show. My new personal assistant, Jenna, told me the other day, "Umm Rae, I think “normal” people who are self-employed take breaks and don't work all day and night. We’re here to help. Whatever you need us to do.” I know she’s right. In the last few weeks I have been blessed with some very talented volunteers, Jenna included. I even picked up a bead apprentice, Renisha. #TeamRae is helping to make my life a little easier, I just have to be willing to delegate. And I must do it because I'm starting to feel the weight of it all and that could make me sick. Stress is not a good thing for anyone, it is especially not good for people with AIDS. On Twitter I laugh it off with a tag #workaholicsUnite, but this really is serious.

 Eddison, my host at Davidson College told me, “I think your hard work has made you what you are Ms. Lewis-Thornton.” He is correct. My drive has helped to shape my life’s accomplishments. It’s not enough to want to do it. You have to be willing to put in the hard work and make real sacrifices. I get all that. For Real. But the fact is, I wonder what it will take for me to balance my life.  I wonder what it will take for me to meet the approval of that little girl, still fighting for approval.

Yesterday, as I was trying to shut my mind down to take a nap before my speech at Davidson, I remembered a book I read in seminary about Sabbath. I started to think that maybe what’s going on is much deeper than meeting ones' approval. I wonder if somewhere I have a fear of rest. The author of the book states:

“We are terrified of the painful grief that is too hot to touch, sharp and piercing, so we keep moving faster and faster so we will not feel how sad we are, how much we have lost in this life: strength, youthfulness, playfulness, so many friends, lovers, dreams that did not come true. When we stop for a moment we can feel the burning, empty hole in our belly. So we keep moving, afraid the empty fire of loss will consume us.... while speed keeps us safe, it also keeps us malnourished.”(p.53)

Yes, there have many been many losses in my life. Not only from my childhood and HIV/AIDS, but of love, space and things. In spite of these losses, I have to find the strength to stop the madness. I agree with the author, “while speed keeps us safe, it also keeps us malnourished.” Trying to balance ministering on the road and my other projects has indeed left me malnourished. I am certain that this is not what God had in mind when he gave me this assignment. Even Jesus took breaks for renewal.

So, starting today, I’m giving myself permission to read a book, bake Paula Deen’s lemon curd pudding, go to the Friday noon-day concerts at my church, knit and take long walks on the lake front. Yes, I understand that when I stop moving I may be forced to face the very painful losses in my life. But in rest, I will also face the things that will keep me safe: “prayer, touch, kindness and fragrance.”(p.53) In this stillness, I am sure that God will renew my spirit.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Making of a Diva...

I have always been full of life, zeal and determination. Even as a child I was never afraid to see what was on the other side of the tracks, to learn and grow in all areas of my life. Growing up we didn’t shop at the big fancy department stores like Marshall Field’s, but it never stopped me from opening those doors to see what was there.

 I will never forget the first time I went into Marshall Field’s one Sunday after church. My church, Second Baptist, was located in downtown Evanston, a north shore suburb of Chicago, literally next door to Marshall Field’s. For months, I’d stand and look for long periods of time before and after church admiring the window displays. One Sunday, I made up my mind; I needed to see if what was in the store, was as pretty as what was in the window. From the moment I walked in I was mesmerized by all the pretty things I saw. I went from floor to floor, looking and touching the soft fabrics. On each floor, people would look at me with puzzlement. I knew I must have been out of place, this 11 year old little black girl cruising the rich department store in 1972, but I didn't care. I was in heaven.

 That day, I fell in love with fashion. And this was the beginning of my transformation into a Diva! I started making weekly stops after church to see what was new, coordinating ensembles from head to toe, day dreaming about the day I would be able to shop at this store. At such a young age, I had concluded that  the best look was a totally polished look, so I’d even stop at the Este Lauder counter and play with makeup colors that matched the ensembles that I had coordinated.   I loved those Sundays afternoons, and I  couldn't wait for the day when I’d be able to shop at Field’s.

 To my surprise, it only took two years for my dream to come true. One Saturday morning, Mama called me into her bedroom. “Here girl, take this money girl and go get yo Easter outfit.” I had learned to not ask questions, so I took that money and went straight to Marshall Field’s. I spent hours making a selection, but I finally settled on this beautiful peach dress that fit me perfectly. I decided that day that peach was a great color for me. After I finished up, I went home and showed Mama my dress. She stood there looking puzzled. “Ok, and your shoes?” she asked slowly. “I didn't get any shoes,” I declared. “I need some mo money.” Mama looked at me like I had lost my mind. “Bitch!” “Oh boy,” my heart dropped to the floor. I knew it was coming. “You spent all of my fucking money on a dress?” I stood there, looking all silly. I knew not to open my mouth or it would be over. There was a long silence and then Mama said, “Hand me my purse.” She just shook her head as she handed me more money. I couldn’t believe it! She didn't cuss me out much. She didn't beat me. I took a deep breath, “Thank you Mama! I love you soooo much!” “Mmm huh” was her response still shaking her head.

 As I made my way out the door, I took it as a sign from God that I must be doing something right. My relationship with fashion had been approved by God because Mama didn't beat me for spending all the money one dress. After that day it was a wrap. A Diva was born! There was no turning back for me. By the time I was 14 I had subscriptions to Vogue, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. I learned how to coordinate an ensemble with the blink of the eye. I learned about color and texture. I was fast becoming a fashion guru, at least in my own mind. By the time I was 17, I was seriously considering a job in the fashion industry, I had decided that I wanted to become a buyer for the big fancy stores like Marshall Field’s. Then, of course, in college I got hooked on politics and the rest was history as the saying goes. But, I never lost my love for fashion. If I do say so myself, I have impeccable taste and an eye for whipping together a fabulous ensemble. That will always be a part of who I am! AIDS will never take that away from me! #StillaDiva. Welcome, to “Fashion-Beauty Fridays” @ The Diva Living With AIDS Blog. More to Come....

 Post Script: Five years ago, Macy’s purchased Marshall Field’s. Like most Chicagoans I was sad. But when Macy’s changed the name I was outraged! I felt like a part of my history had died with this change. I have tried and tried, but I have not been able to bring myself to purchase anything beyond candy at the old Marshall Field’s. Thank God they didn’t change the recipe of Frango Mints...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Together We Stand!

Today is a big day for my social media campaign around HIV/AIDS. I am proud to announce my partnership with BlackDoctor.org. Unbelievable! The Diva Living With AIDS Blog is going mainstream in record time of four weeks flat.

This partnership is important for many reasons, in particular but for one that is really close to my heart. I often get asked by the media and some well-meaning people, “What are African-Americans going to do about HIV /AIDS in the Black Community?” Over the years, I have graciously answered the question to the best of my knowledge and ability. But recently, the radical in me has begun to resent the question and the irony of it all. Ok, hear me out. They are asking a black woman, a member of the race in question, who has dedicated a good portion of her life to dealing with the “AIDS issue” what are “we" doing? As if to put in question, not only my work, but every other African-American that has in some way addressed HIV/AIDS in our community since the beginning of the pandemic.

 When this light went on in my head, I flipped the script and asked these questions, point blank, “What is the AIDS community going to do about HIV/AIDS in the Black community? What is America going to do about HIV/AIDS in the Black community?” How dare you drop the entire HIV/AIDS problem in our laps. Don't we deserve the same help that the Gay community received in the first half of the epidemic?

 I bet I I know what you are thinking and probably mumbling to yourself, “OMG! She is soooo politically incorrect.” But like I used to tell my ex-husband, don't make me lie because you can't handle the truth. The fact is, a free-standing Black America would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with HIV. That seems to me, to be an “us” issue rather than a “them” issue. Ok, I've said it. I feel better now. I’m moving on. I’m not gonna press the issue, at least not today. Just wanted to give you something to think about.

As an African-American woman living with HIV/AIDS I am proud of my commitment and the commitment of those I have worked with along the way. I have used every avenue available and now, despite  the critics, I am using modern social media avenues such as Facebook, Twitter and now my Diva Living With AIDS Blog. The World Wide Web is where the people are and BlackDoctor.org is proof of that fact. They have over 1.8 million readers.

 BlackDoctor.org is a credible and trusted resource for African-Americans to get healthy lifestyle information. They are a "WebMD" for Black consumers with a comprehensive database of accurate, relevant information. They have become the first point of call whenever African-Americans need medical/dental information or a referral to a qualified Black doctor.

 Beginning today, BlackDoctor.org will feature weekly one of my Diva Living With AIDS Blog posts in their HIV Learning Center. While they have had a long standing commitment to educate on HIV/AIDS, I am especially proud that this trusted medical resource is partnering with me to educate their readers on the issue of HIV/AIDS. They understand that I am not a doctor or a journalist, just simply a woman living with AIDS and having her say, her way. We are both hopeful that their readers will be enlightened about HIV/AIDS through my lens. And likewise, my readers will utilize BlackDoctor.org as a resource on HIV/AIDS and other medical issues.

 Today, I am especially proud that BlackDoctor.org believes my voice should be heard and are giving me a new avenue to do work around HIV/AIDS. For sure, the next time I get asked the question, “What is the Black Community doing about HIV/AIDS?” I can proudly point to this partnership as one more way we are working hard to educate our community about this disease.
Clicky Web Analytics