Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hold On

I am the widow of a dear man who died by suicide. In light of Robin Williams' death, I pray some of the following thoughts will bring perspective and offer guidelines on how you can respond in ways that help instead of creating further wounds.

My late husband was a fun guy, a respected businessman, a huge hockey and football fan, a loyal friend and a dedicated family man. That he would die by suicide is the LAST thing any of us who knew him would have expected. It was completely out of character for a man who spent his life trying to make others laugh, trying to lighten a mood, trying to make work life better for all his colleagues.

This is the devastating effect of depression and anxiety. The brain does not work as it should. No amount of self-discipline, determination, right thinking or willpower can change it. It is a physical disease which alters the brain. Treatment may help, but there is no cure.

The stigma regarding depression and anxiety, the societal bias and condemnation of those who suffer from it or the families who have lived alongside it (and the complete ignorance that some express about this) are some of the reasons my husband did not seek out professional help. He did not speak of it and, in fact, lived a very productive, rewarding life for many years.

I want to express my thanks to those who provide thoughtful, informed and compassionate fact-based responses regarding depression, anxiety and suicide. I am deeply grateful to you for doing your part to shed light on these tragic diseases.

To those who are less informed, please educate yourselves about diseases of the brain. Expressing opinions on any forum may be your right, but in matters of life, death and trauma, please do your research and consider carefully before you post opinions publicly. When my husband died, an innocent son and wife were unfairly subjected to cruel judgments and well–meaning but misguided "helpful suggestions" published on the internet in various forums.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of those left behind. reading your remarks when they've just lost the person they hold most dear in a shocking and unexpected trauma.

When a suicide happens, my heart breaks for those affected: the direct witnesses, the first responders and many more. I pray they find the help and comfort they need to process and move through this tragic event.

In the case of a talented and impactful actor like Robin Williams, we become secondary witness to his death. Do not brush aside lightly the impact of the deep-seated legacy this tragedy leaves. I would encourage you to seek help for processing your own response to this or any similar trauma.

As for publicly expressing your response, please remember that what you say matters. Can I encourage you to practice kindness? It costs you nothing and means everything. Think twice before you speak on any matter. Become informed about depression and anxiety. It affects SO many people. Your friends, your family, perhaps even you. Stop the stigma. Disease in the brain is the same as any other disease and those suffering from it need to be treated with compassion, not cursing, silent steady presence, not "helpful" opinions.

My friend, Author Margaret Terry shares this wisdom: "People say 'You ARE depressed' but they don't say 'You *are* cancer' - they say you *have* cancer. Even the medical community is guilty of using this language that contributes to the shame of living with the darkness depression brings, shame that is not felt by people who *have* leukemia or heart disease. No one wants to feel they *are* their illness. My hope is that all this coverage and talk about the devastating symptoms of depression helps our culture understand depression is an illness with no cure. It can (possibly) be managed with medication that can sometimes offer remission. But it still remains a silent killer that infects families and friends of the person who suffers with it."

Encourage the government to fund more comprehensive research into the complexity of diseases that manifest themselves in the physical brain. We know so little about the brain. Better yet, become the researcher who does this work. Currently we only have a "chemical soup" - many differing drugs to "try" which bathe the entire brain, take far too long to work and create all sorts of difficult side effects. Then add counseling which is hugely subjective at best, toss in some misguided mantras about just "change your thinking and you'll be better."

In the depths of depression and in the panic of anxiety the one suffering sees no light. They feel completely alone and isolated. They lose perspective, and forget about those who love them. They lose interest in their abilities, their gifts, and their blessings. The single-minded focus is on the black darkness and the pain. The disease affects their thinking so that they cannot think rationally but they are convinced that they are rational. To think about doing even one thing is overwhelming so that even one simple piece of advice becomes a hammer blow.

They think only of the pain, from which they believe there is no escape. Hope disappears. No one has ever felt this way before. They feel that how their life is now is the way that it will always be. They think they are so broken, they cannot be fixed. That helpless, hopeless, desperate, eternal pain is made even worse by physical pain, darkness, shame, self-hatred, desperation, or any combination of these which seem to ultimately suggest only one alternative: Make the pain stop.

So, suicide is not even a choice, at the end of the day, because the one suffering feels they simply have no other choice.

Everyone is fighting a battle of some kind. Let's not begin offering glib solutions. The one suffering cannot hear it.

There is no easy button. There is no magic formula. Depression and anxiety should be afforded the same funding, research and respect as brain tumours, cancer, diabetes and chronic pain. No judgement, no stigma, no hiding, no whispering, no clucking or shaking ones head.

Yes, it is sad. Yes it is tragic. But it must never be final. The person in darkness today may very well be the person who stands beside you in your darkest hour. I know. I'm in a good place now but I've been on both sides.

Hold on.

For additional perspective, may I recommend Anne Lamott's post today?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When Morning Breaks, Sharp but Soft

I'm sorry I haven't been a very good blogger lately. I've been busy being an awesome hermit.

Well, that's not totally accurate. I've actually been a busy and very active participant in my vibrant life. For those of you who follow this blog to keep track of my journey, you'll be well informed by the time we're done here.

On Feb. 24 I started a new job. Full time. Lovely people. Great mission and vision. A little further from home but well worth the additional transit time. See my previous blog post for more details.

On Feb. 27 I had my first outing with a lovely gentleman from my church. We've been acquaintances through choir and musical productions for many years. Since that first date, we have been connecting as often as our busy schedules allow and it's a lovely thing. He treats me with great honor and respect, we have lots of laughs and many meaningful conversations. Though we are very new into this journey, we are both feeling very much at home with each other and deeply grateful for this delightful parallel path. For those of you who are praying people, please keep us in mind as we seek to keep in step with the Spirit.

Most of March was a whirlwind of work, school and prep for Easter. My training in Soul Care - the art of spiritual direction - is a two-year cohort and I will complete my first year on May 4. I'm so grateful for all God is doing in and through this course. I am learning much about the various sacred pathways and spiritual practices that can assist us in discerning the movement of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we walk. My volunteer ministry at church is in the choir. As you can expect, Easter weekend was filled with amazing music and transcendent worship. One of the most rewarding musical experiences over Easter was singing Kyrie Eleison with an ensemble in the Good Friday service. If you’d like to listen to this beautiful arrangement, it starts at 17:10 on this video. A beautiful prayer. “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy.”

My sad news is that on April 8, my long time canine companion and confidant, Bernadette (Bernster, Bernie) was laid to rest. She was over 16 years old, which, according to one age calculator, could equal about 87 human years. A long, full life. I miss her by my side but it would have been unkind to prolong her suffering.

Today I am saying goodbye to a less important part of my life. I have struck a verbal agreement with the Porsche dealership in town to sell them Brent's Cayman S. It's a lovely beast, one I enjoyed driving but our season here is very short and my current lifestyle as a single mom supporting a full time student simply doesn't lend itself to the high maintenance and insurance costs of retaining this sort of vehicle. It is with mixed feelings that I let it go, but am grateful that the proceeds will help Andrew in his educational pursuits.

Andrew is currently in a 12 month program at Nimbus School of Recording Arts in Vancouver, enrolled in Advanced Music Production. He's studying the studio side of the music business and has had some high profile opportunities to learn from the best in his field. His goal is to do music production and digital mixing/mastering as a side career while he pursues his goal of becoming a law enforcement officer. His next step is returning to university in the fall and almost all his credits from Trinity Western University transferred to his chosen school: Simon Fraser University where he should be able to obtain his undergrad degree in Psychology within two years, including courses in criminology.

Here Andrew is, enjoying a dinner out with his love, Rebecca, they've known each other since he moved out to BC in 2010 and have been dating well over a year. I adopted Rebecca as my soul-daughter before they even began seeing each other, so I'm quite happy to see them so happy. She is finishing her degree in social work and will graduate this December.

As for the rest of my dear Canadian family, Roy and Lila have returned to Edmonton from their annual snowbird jaunt in Arizona and are feeling quite healthy a year after the surgeries they both had last summer. Brad and Tina are busy as always with his pastorate in Three Hills and their children Paige and Max are growing and thriving in their schooling there. Tina will be playing the Baroness in the Three Hills Arts Academy production of The Sound of Music. Keep all of these dear people in your prayers with me, okay?

Well, the morning of my life is past, but I must say I feel a great sense of vitality and excitement about the afternoon and evening of my life to come. In many ways it feels like a new dawn, with morning "breaking sharp but soft", to borrow a line from a John Blase poem.

Thank you for being on the journey with me. I am sustained by your prayer and words of encouragement. May the Lord reward you for the way you have been a friend to me in my darkest hours. Let's walk forward together in the light, love and power of our precious Savior.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Keep Calm and Work Like Crazy?

"A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies..." 1 Kings 19:12-14 MSG

I am immersed in work. I like it. I like the people. There will be times when we may not quite see eye to eye (that is pretty normal, isn't it?), but generally, we're all mature and loving and able to work through those differences. I worked late today to finish a task and realized how easy it is to fall back into that mode of giving my all at the office. I remember that feeling even though it's been 22 years since I last worked full time.

If I'm being open, I have to admit it's a bit of avoidance. Tuesday is a free night. There's no one home but the dog. It seems more important and valuable to finish work for which I am being paid. However, I do not want this to be a habit and I treasure the ability to leave at 4 p.m. when office hours are over. Most nights the dog won't be able to hold it, after holding it all day. Today, however, she had no accidents.

I believe as I get used to the rhythm, ebb and flow of the office, I will find my footing and my boundaries. Prioritizing, ignoring the allure of rabbit trails, being willing to say "That's good enough," instead of being so thorough and perfectionistic that I force the need to work extra time to meet an impossible standard I've set for myself. The A-student syndrome. Even though saying "That's good enough" sounds like blasphemy to a recovering perfectionist, I am forcing myself to practice saying it and living it. Oh, but it's hard.

Guarding my personal time is an essential step in proper self-care. If I give all my extra energy and time at work, then the tasks at home don't get done. Then I don't feel I can relax and just unwind. When I do, it feels like a guilty pleasure instead of the necessary restorative practice it is. Am I alone in this?

I also have used the "no time" excuse blatantly in my spiritual life. I take a Soul Care class on Monday nights. As we learn the art of Spiritual Direction for others, we first have to learn to practice these disciplines for ourselves. The 15 minutes we spend in contemplation at the beginning of each class is a taste of heaven. It would be a simple thing to engage myself accordingly at home, but I don't. Why do I resist something so healing that creates a spacious place where I can encounter my spirit being open to God?

Lent is coming. These are the questions I need to sit with. To speak about with God. To consider Jesus, who though there were hundreds (perhaps thousands) of needy people pressing in to see him, to touch him, to ask his help and his healing, to hear his teaching, still... he withdrew often to solitary places to pray. He didn't work overtime and go to bed depleted.

I want to go to the Source.
This blog is my prayer.

Keep calm and stop carrying on.
Be still.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Dark Side of the Lens: Olympics, Surfing and Doing Something Worth Remembering

This is a day worth remembering, celebrating events worth remembering by athletes worth celebrating. The closing ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

After an early morning rise to cheer Canadian men to Olympic Gold in the hockey final, while the glow of the golden moment shone warm and I dig, in futile effort, through my ten bins of Christmas decor for the gold maple leaf ornament, hoping to photograph it in its perfect symbolism of this transcendent, if transitory, moment.

Giving up, I turn back to search the sites of my favorite pro photographers for new images; inspiration for my own feeble attempts at capturing and sharing beauty in all her forms. And I see John Marriott who leads me to Brandon Brown who leads me to a video of surf photographer, Mickey Smith.

As a poet, I was compelled to transcribe Mickey's last few words on why he does what he does. Enjoy the video, then read the words after in more depth. This is a clarion call to a deeper soul search:
am I doing something worth remembering?


The dark side of the lens
An art form unto itself
and us, the silent workhorses
of the surfing world
There’s no sugary cliché.
Most folk don’t even know who we are,
what we do or how we do it,
let alone want to pay us for it.

I never want to take this for granted,
so I try to keep motivation simple,
real and positive.
If I only scrape a living,
at least it’s living worth scraping.
If there’s no future in it,
at least it’s a present worth remembering.

The fires of happiness
and waves of gratitude
For everything that brought us
to that point, enough,
at that moment in time
to do something worth remembering
with a photograph
or a scar

I feel genuinely lucky
to hand on heart saying
I love doing what I do
I may never be a rich man
If I live long enough
I’ll certainly have a tale or two
for the nephews
and I dig the thought of that

-Michael Lee (Mickey) Smith

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Black and White of Death and Life

This is the transcript of a devotional talk I gave tonight to the First Alliance Church Photography Group monthly meeting. I post it here by request for those who wish to read it again.

“There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Prov. 14:12 KJV (There is a way that seems right to a woman also…)

What are “the ways of death”?  Things that cause death? Is this only spiritual? Let’s list a few:
  • The thousands of choices that don't bring life
  • Words that tear down
  • Critical spirit
  • Waste
  • Sin
  • Ingratitude
  • Looks can kill
  • Withdrawal
  • Weapons
  • Self-protection
  • Covetousness
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Comparison
  • and more...
A college classmate of mine in a large town was recently found dead. He had passed away almost two weeks before, they think. His lack of close relationships, solitude and loneliness led to his death. Scientists say you can literally die of a broken heart. Emotional diseases can kill your “life” before your body ever takes its last breath.

I’m going to focus for just a moment on how “comparison” brings death. I personally believe comparison is the eighth deadly sin.

When I compare myself to others, two possible things happen. If I think myself "better", it can lead to a superiority attitude and condescension. If I view myself as "worse", it leads to humiliation, shame or covetousness.

Feeling like I’m better or like I’m worse are two sides of the same coin of pride. Heads or tails it's all the same: Heads I win, tails you lose. Heads you win, tails I lose.

We may have emotional or mental storehouses, hordes of “pride coins” - different denominations by which we compare ourselves to others.

The pennies of possessions.
The silver dollars of wealth.
The gold bullion of appearance.
The platinum of position.

Each, with purely symbolic face value, minted by the Kingdom of Self, hoarded in the Bank of My Own Mind. Tokens with no guarantee that debase another's currency. Or that minimize our value before God and others. Or that give us a sense that somehow we deserve to stand before a holy God.

Listen to this life-giving perspective from Romans 12:3 MSG:
"I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God."

I'm sort of on the flip side of the coin that what I bring isn't good enough (still another comparative term).  So many of us struggle with this basic lie in our lives: “Nothing I can do is ever good enough” or I am not pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, tall enough, rich enough, nice enough...  The end of it is simply, "I am not enough."

I struggle with this in photography. I know there are those of you who produce a much higher quality photograph, so I have to intentionally choose to offer what I can, from where I'm at, knowing that if I come to these monthly meetings and participate in the bi-weekly challenges in our Facebook group, I will learn something or possibly even help someone else. It is life-giving to participate in a community like this. Each of us has something to contribute. Each of us can learn from one another.

The best example of this is how the Body of Christ operates when it is healthy and all are exercising their God-given gifts. See the Apostle Paul’s take on this in 1 Corinthians 12 MSG:

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
  • wise counsel
  • clear understanding
  • simple trust
  • healing the sick
  • miraculous acts
  • proclamation…”
Here we see the list of the ways of life, rather than "the ways of death". Paul goes on:

“All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. God decides who gets what, and when.

“Think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together… As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

I learn more of God by seeing how these gifts are used in each of you. So, no comparisons, okay? Respect the gifts, respect the Giver. Use your gifts, whatever they may be. You are right where God wants you. And God will be glorified.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How Did I Get Here?

I’m short listed on a very short list (one of two) for my dream job.

Dream job, I tell you.

I know, I know, no job is perfect. But when the job description lists all the requirements and I tick them off one-by-one, and the “required experience” sounds like you’re reading my résumé? And when I’m in the first job interview and the man lists the additional parts of the job they expect and my heart skips a beat and I literally fist pump right there in front of the three of them in the interview because he’s listing things I’ve always wanted to do and loved to do and didn’t dare dream enough to even write it down but held it safe hidden away in the corner of my heart where only impossible dreams live?

I think that’s a pretty good fit for the way I’m wired.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the job I have. I have a Facebook album of photos called “I Love My Job” because many days, I do. It’s been a good three years. It was a quality of life choice in March 2011 to take this part time position to help cover the cost of my son’s university tuition.

It was a conscious, intentional choice to put myself in what I knew was a subordinate role, even though my skillsets and experience could have probably fit better in a supervisory position in a corporate setting. But God knew I was going to be wounded. And God knew I needed a safe place to be when the police came knocking that December morning that my husband took the train to heaven.

And God knew I needed people around me who could love on me and support me and extend grace to me and be patient with me while I limped along in a blinding grief fog for nearly a year, forgetting things along the way, dropping duties like pennies through the grate of the sidewalk and still they let me stay and I grew stronger. And God knew I needed the intercessory prayer team that prayed every week for my personal requests that I tagged onto the ones that were in the request box from Sunday. And God knew I needed to get to know Kim and Tina and Curtis and Sammy and Jenn and Ashleigh and Nairn and David and Sarah and most of all Jared and Awlwyn and Craig. And time and space doesn’t allow me to list all the people who are part of this little church who have loved on me – all 200+ of them. And God knew I needed to be in a place that agrees with Him that spiritual gifts aren’t gender based and allow a woman to share His word and His work and lead His worship.


Even though I like my job, it doesn't cut it any more (economically), since I am the sole breadwinner for myself and my university student son. Sure, I have my husband's sports car to sell. His hockey season tickets won't be renewed, I can eventually downsize my home and invest the difference and there's a modest nest egg which is well invested for retirement, but that's got to last for my whole retirement and I plan to live a long time. So in the meantime, I have living expenses that exceed my income and the savings account is dwindling.

I have resigned my position. The people in leadership who need to know already know this. There are a myriad of reasons why I chose to do it now, and those reasons don’t belong in a public forum. If I am not the selected candidate for my dream job, then I confidently say it was not God’s dream for me and I wait again, in anticipation of what is next.

So how did I get here?

In December, we focus on the Advent, the waiting, the anticipation, of the coming of Christ. And I read and meditate and feel like I’ve spent my whole life waiting.




For what?

God has already shown up. I wait on the Spirit’s movement. Wait for that Voice behind me that says, “Here is the way, walk ye in it.”  The Voice that says, “Behold, I am doing a NEW thing!”  The one who is Emmanuel, God with us.

God. With. Me.

He is here. How did I get here? Through the with-God life. Holding onto God and when I had no strength to hold, God holds onto me. He always holds me. And whispers, "I am your sheild and portion; your protection and provision. I’ve got you.”

“I’ve got this.”

Sitting with my Spiritual Director one cold Tuesday in November, knowing the last job search took seven months, I'm looking for discernment in how to proceed in my career shift. She asks, “What is your dream job?” I list everything off, thinking it sounds like a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” résumé. But it would be my dream to do it all and in God’s great wisdom and omnipotence, did I dare believe that it would be possible that all these things could come together in one place? I have a tiny sliver of hope.

And so I wait.

And one month later, a friend sends me a job description for a place I’d be honored to work and I meet all the job requirements and I have the required experience and I decide to apply. In the meantime, two more friends send me the same job description. These friends don’t know each other, all three are from different social circles. They all thought the job sounded like me.

So here I am. After one interview, I’m on the very short short list, I’ve submitted requested samples of my work, provided my references, and completed the Ministry Match Assessment to see if my gifts, personality and preferences would be a fit with their current team. The next step would be a phone call booking a second interview. More in-depth, they say.

Interesting. The first interview was one of the most in-depth I’ve ever had.

As I told some friends last night, if I am not the chosen candidate, then I have to believe it was not the perfect job for me.

Every every struggle and every success in my past has shaped me into the person I am today. I will take God's hand and step into the future without fear.

Update: I was offered the job and accepted. I start Feb. 24.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Father's Poems

I have created a blog page where I will be posting my father's poems. Frank P. Nickel was a prolific writer of poems, hymns and spiritual songs. There are hundreds, some serious, some lighthearted, all intended to share truth and encouragement with his readers. Due to the sheer volume, this will be a labour of love transcribing poems one by one over many months. I will add one or two poems every few days as time allows. 

As a minister of the Gospel, Dad's style was simple rhyming poetry on spiritual themes. If you like them, feel free to subscribe by email on the site so that you can receive them in your inbox as they are published.

You can find the site by clicking this link: My Father's Poems