Friday, November 28, 2014

You Deserve It

“I’m so happy for you. You deserve this!”

My friend Susan and I were talking yesterday and rejoicing in the beautiful love I’m experiencing in my marriage.

It’s a lovely sentiment expressed by a caring friend. It’s not the first time I’ve heard something similar to this. Yet, every time, I recoil at the word, “deserve”.

“I don’t feel like I deserve anything,” I said.

Why is that?

My friend means it as an encouragement but somehow I hear it with foreboding, unworthiness, even guilt. It seems inherent in the phrase is the suggestion that “deserve” smacks of entitlement. Like I’ve somehow earned the right to be happy.

Deserve? What do I deserve? Sure I’ve had my share of sadness. Even in that phrase, there is a comparative term: “my share”. As if, somehow, I have “paid my dues” and now I have “earned” the right to be happy.

Life is not a competition, although many might view it that way. Some even find it motivating to “work hard, apply myself, so I can reap the benefits and earn what I’m worth.”

“It’s endemic in our religious upbringing,” Susan quickly points out. I know immediately what she means. We know we can’t earn salvation, that because of sin we deserve the punishment of death, therefore we don’t deserve the grace that God lavishes upon us. It’s unmerited favor. That’s why it’s grace. It’s a free gift.

Rather than take this blog into a long, heated discussion of differing theological points of view – like some of my early family holiday dinner conversations (shudder – can you say “indigestion”?) think about how much of life is competitive.

“Faster, Higher, Stronger”
“Auditions will be held…”
“Job competition”
“Performance bonus”
“The Top 40” (this week)
“You get out of this what you put into it”
“I must be living right” or “I can’t do anything right”
“I really worked hard for this”

We track games, races, sports scores and team records, tracking stats and doing analysis at the micro level to find yet one more way to give comparative status to the value of each player or athlete. If we take Second Place by one-hundredth of a second, the only title given is “Loser”.

We have regular performance evaluations in our workplace and annual salary reviews, which determine our compensation for services rendered. There are salary grids for different job classes and corporate guidelines about how quickly one can move up in their range. Bonuses, commissions, profit-sharing are all based on “What have you done for me lately?” There are companies that specialize in quantifying the value of a role and creating quantifiable measures for individual experience and skill.

Profit is good, loss is bad. We strive to choose the best financial products to achieve the highest possible return on investment (ROI). We seek out the “most reputable” advice and “most comprehensive” research and investment advisors with the best track record in financial markets.
Ultimately, the assumed truism is: “You earn what you deserve” or “You deserve what you earn”.

On the other hand, there are other voices using terms like:

“It’s God’s will/sovereignty/plan/judgment/punishment.”
“How lucky can you get?”
“How fortunate!”
“Just my luck!”
“The odds were against me.”
“The tide is turning in my favor.”
“The whole universe just waits for me to get cocky, then slams me down.”
“We lost because I attended the game, I’m bad luck.”
“You must have a horseshoe up your a**.”
“It just wasn’t in the stars.”
“It’s destined to fail.”
“That was a fluke.”
“It’s like magic.”

This second list reflects an opposite extreme to the first list. I’m sure philosophers, psychologists, social scientists and theologians all have their own terminology for these two opposing world views regarding our “deservedness” for blessings and benefits. I’m not going to research specific terms or cite scholarly sources (although the OCD side of me really wants to).

I want to get back to “You deserve this”. It seems this phrase could be used with equal convictions on both sides of the pendulum: grace or works. In my case, I fault on the “I didn’t earn it” side. (Please don’t comment on how worthy I am. I don’t write this to solicit any reassurances of my deservedness. In fact, I tend to dismiss that kind of sentiment).

I know when I’m giving my best and when I’m not. I know that many sad things have happened in my life and I spent more of the last couple decades grieving than celebrating. Yet I also crave affirmation when I have done a good job at something that mattered ANYTHING. In fact, I’ve spent my life measuring my worth by the applause of people. More recently, I’ve fought back against this compulsion and begun to understand the true measure of my worth is found in who I am, not what I do (but that’s another blog for another day).

I’m coming to the conclusion here that the key factor in any of this “deservedness” is not how I come to receive blessing or bounty, but rather, “Am I thankful?” Do I have a heart of gratitude? Do I have eyes to see the myriad of gifts that I have received?

When I am in a hard or dark place, I often think about the scripture’s instruction in the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: “Don’t worry about anything. Tell God what you need. Thank Him for everything he’s already done and peace will follow” (my paraphrase of Phil. 4:6).

I believe “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17) and so God is the direct person to whom I offer thanks. But I don’t, not for one moment, believe that God gives these gifts because I deserve them. He gives them out of his rich generosity. Because God is love and all goodness, and thus, cannot give anything other than what is ultimately good for those who love him. He is a father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. Just like you.

So, whether I deserve it or not, I am grateful. And as I was looking for a proper conclusion to this musing, I thought of the phrase “after you have suffered a little while…”

It’s from 1 Peter 5:5-11
“… Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  (ESV, emphasis mine)
Yes, I have suffered. Just like every person on earth suffers. Perhaps more, perhaps less. Some of my suffering has been by my own hand, poor choices or sinful decisions. These have been and continue to be confessed, forsaken and forgiven because Jesus died and rose again to pay the price for that 2,000 years ago. Thanks be to God!

Other suffering I’ve endured (sometimes not so patiently) has come by the hands of others who put me down, rejected, abused or abandoned me. All of this is in process of being healed, as I release it and extend forgiveness where needed. I am being restored. I am, through this process, being confirmed in my thoughts and attitudes. I am being strengthened and established not only in my faith but in the safe, caring harbor of a loving marriage.

Thanks be to God, who daily loads us with benefits. (Psalm 68:19, paraphrase)

Undeserved favor.


I am SO grateful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Doubt in the Dark What God Has Shown You In the Light

Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty…Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find these words. – Rilke

It is so important to understand, in the midst of our darkness, that the one who brings comfort through their words and assistance may be bearing wounds far beyond what we ourselves are experiencing. I have been (and am still) on both sides of that equation, both giving and receiving comfort.

As I approach the second anniversary of my first husband's suicide, the grief is waning and overwhelming waves that blindside me are less frequent. Some parts of my life are happier now than I can ever remember being in my entire life. My new husband not only loves me well in every possible way, he makes me laugh, leans into the hard conversations, teaches me new things, helps in practical ways, coaches me to sleep, dries my tears and leads me to Jesus. And that is just the first 11 weeks.

Now that I’m in a safe place, growing stronger in this season of life thanks to a loving and stable environment, other parts of my life are beginning to require attention. Parts that have lived in shadow and shame. Parts I am just beginning to name. As others have said, we cannot heal what we do not acknowledge and it is in naming a thing that we take away its power. This is more than disconcerting.

She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful. – Terri St. Cloud

One of these places feels like an unmarked grave in the forest. Dark. Quiet. Frightening. If I begin to dig, not only will it be difficult work, I do not know in what condition the remains will be or if I’ll even be digging in the right place. While my impulsive, impatient, perfectionist self wants to pave this place over and put up an amusement park, my heart knows the offenses of another against my much younger self are hidden there and will undermine the foundation of anything I try to construct over it.

The worst form of censorship is when we edit our story to make it acceptable to others.
– People of the Second Chance

So I hold tight to that comforting, yet somehow disturbing portion of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Even better, how Eugene Peterson puts it into context in The Message:

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Recently, God told me to “Rest!” and to wait on him, watching where he goes and he invites me to walk alongside. I’m not digging up these old bones alone. He’s let me sleep in lush meadows and drink from quiet pools while I catch my breath. He’s given me the GPS coordinates and even though the way is going through Death Valley, he’s with me and for me, so I don’t have to be afraid.

Now, where is that backhoe?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I love swimming. Dad gave us opportunity to learn early in life, taking the family many Friday nights to Family Swim Night at the Springfield YMCA. We did far more splashing and play fighting as siblings than we did swimming, but in the process, I learned a little about swimming. I got to visit a couple swim lessons with a friend along the way, so I learned enough to be comfortable and proficient as a swimmer.

Being in the water is a full-body sensory experience. It is my favorite sport and most relaxing activity of all time, even when pushing myself to swim laps at my local YMCA pool.

My sister-in-law, Wanda, was a lifeguard and swim instructor. When my brother, Steve, introduced us, one of our activities together included some time at the outdoor pool. I was in my mid-teens, she a college student. We talked about swimming as we swam and floating as she floated and I tried but failed, my feet always sinking to the bottom.

“I can’t do this. How do you float like that?” I asked, impatiently.

“There’s a trick that helps,” she said. “Do you want me to show you?”

“Absolutely,” I replied.

“Stretch your body out straight, then tuck your chin against your chest and look toward your toes,” she coached. I listened with great care to her instruction as she supported my body to keep me on the surface.

“Don’t lean your head back. Keep your lungs full of air and that will help give natural buoyancy.”
She let go and stopped holding me up. I tried and she would coach. Eventually, I got the hang of it and have never had a problem floating since that day. I spend many relaxing moments floating when I’m in any body of water.

Joyce and Sam were snorkelers. Sam was also a scuba instructor. We shared a trip to Kauai, Hawaii, not long after my late husband had died.

As we planned, Joyce said, “We spend lots of mornings on the beach snorkeling. You might want to buy your own gear in Canada rather than rent when you get there. That way you know it’s a good fit before you go and it saves time.”

I’d only played around with snorkeling on my first trip to Hawaii in 2007, so upon Sam’s wise suggestion, I also booked snorkeling lessons in Calgary. I felt a little sheepish at first even signing up. At my age, mid-fifties, shouldn’t I have learned how to use a little snorkel? But, I was honest enough to know I didn’t really have a clue.

We practiced with the mask and snorkel, filling and clearing it safely. No problem. Then I tried on the monster flippers and launched myself across the pool.

I didn’t move.

Basically, no matter how hard I kicked, I stayed in the same spot and just churned up the water. Odd, I thought, since I swim fine without flippers. It took me half the lesson, with the instructor’s help, to get the hang of the proper use of flippers. To me, it seemed completely opposite of the kicking motion I use when swimming barefoot. I had to retrain my mind to use the kicking motion the instructor modeled, and once I did, I rocketed across the pool. Ah, relief.

Once in Kauai, there was no need to rocket. The first beach we visited was full of all sorts of underwater life and I simply had to float. I’d use my arms to propel me until Joyce coached otherwise.

“Let your arms relax by your side and keep your flippers below the surface to move through the water. The fish get spooked by too much thrashing.”

Finally, I found the zone. The salt-water ocean added its own buoyancy and I could simply lay, relax and surrender to the ebb and flow of the water as it held me.

The beauty was stunning. So many vivid colors of fish and coral. Such unique and bizarre sea life. I had discovered a new world. In one sense, I became part of this world, going with the flow, like the fish. Like a fish.

Dr. David Benner, in his best-selling book, Surrender to Love, writes that we need to learn to “go with the flow” of life, almost like a fish…
To be human is to be carried along by the river of life. The river is our source and the essential dynamic of our being and becoming. The river is God’s providential love. 
Faith is trusting the river. It’s allowing ourselves to float in it rather than thrashing about as we try to swim against the flow. 
Early Christian writers often imaged the Christian life in terms of living in water like a fish. Tertullian called Christ the “Heavenly Fish” and Christians “little fish” who take their name from Ichthus (fish). Christians, according to these writers, are born and live within the divine waters of the Spirit. The Christian life is learning to be supported by these waters. 
We hear the same theme in the ancient Sufi allegory of fish that spend their days anxiously swimming around in search of water. Sadly, they fail to realize that they are in the midst of what they seek. Their distress is suddenly eliminated when they open their eyes and see where they really are. 
So it is with us. We need to stop searching and see that we are surrounded by the sea of Love. But we also need to stop our panicky thrashing about in an effort to float. 
Paradoxically, our efforts to stay afloat usually lead to sinking. Every time we start to panic and think we need to do something to stay afloat, we lift our head out of the water and no longer rest in it. As soon as we do we begin to sink. Our efforts to stay afloat may keep our head above the water for a while, but eventually we tire, and eventually our efforts to keep afloat will drown us. We float only when we stop trying to do so. And we never discover that we do not need to do anything to stay afloat until we let go. That is surrender. 
Surrender is the discovery that we are in a river of love and that we float without having to do anything. Apart from such surrender, we always are in the grip of some degree of fear. Apart from such surrender, we will always thrash about, trying to stay afloat by our own efforts. And apart from such surrender, we remain self-preoccupied as our willful attempts to stay in control cut us off from life itself. 
From Surrender to Love, (2003) ©Dr. David G. Benner ~

As I read this excerpt, it was timely, as I have just been thinking of myself as a fish, based on Albert Einstein’s famous quote:
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will spend his life thinking he is stupid.
All my working life, I have been a fish in a tree-climber’s world. I’ve been an administrator in some capacity in most of my jobs. Last week, I realized with startling clarity that it is simply not a strength. I am a writer, a poet, a singer, a photographer, most anything on the creative arts side. Those of you who know me have seen these areas in my life and how they energize me. In contrast, having to organize others, pay attention to detail, juggle multiple priorities while multi-tasking in a high paced, deadline-driven environment (all those catch phrases on administrative position descriptions) – these completely suck the air out of my sails. I can do it – or at least I used to do it – to varying degrees of success. But it’s not my strength. No wonder I felt like a fish out of water.

I was overly optimistic about my capacity to return to work full time after dealing with the death of my husband, adapting to life as a widow and finding myself 18 months later in a new relationship that led to marriage. This all compounded my ability to focus at work. The trauma affected how my brain worked, my ability to focus, to concentrate, to absorb what I was reading. When the majority of my job is done via email, you can imagine how much longer a normal task would take.

It was a perfect storm. I was in a high-paced environment, in a career that did not use many of my strengths and regularly challenged my weaknesses. I always felt like I was swimming against the current. I forgot the necessity of self-care, rest and boundaries.

Last week in a moment of clarity, I realized I couldn’t do the job. I couldn’t meet the expectations. There is no shame in this. It was a poor fit for me. My efforts to stay afloat led to further sinking. It was, literally, making me sick.

So, after conversations with my boss and her boss, I have resigned my position, relaxed into the river of God’s love and now am breathing a sigh of relief, planning to rest for a while. No fear. God is my provider, the source of the river. I am going with the flow, following the lead of the Spirit.

You will probably see more blog posts as I begin this journey back to the heart of who I am, to the person I have been called to be. I’m not sure what all this will include, but you can be sure there will be writing, dancing and singing. I’ll keep my lungs full of air, stop thrashing around, and perhaps I’ll even join the YMCA.

It will, most likely, be something along the line of what Frederick Buechner suggests, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Thanks for journeying with me.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Still Reflecting

View from Moose (Alces) Lake Campground, Whiteswan Provincial Park, BC

A friend asked recently when I was going to start blogging again. She missed it and others missed it. Another person who is very close to me doesn't have any framework for why writing publicly about one's life is of interest to others. These two opposing perspectives also exist in my heart and head when I consider writing.

The answer to why I do or don't write is not so simple. I began blogging in 2005. It was a space to dump the jigsaw puzzle of my thoughts out onto the table of the Internet and sort through it all to make some sort of connections between both my thoughts and the lives of others. It was sometimes humour, sometimes angst, often juvenile and beginner level writing. I took classes to hone my skills, increase the complexity and accessibility of my poetry and articles and began publishing certain pieces. This is a life-long pursuit: to articulate that which the heart struggles to convey in hopes another will say, “Oh, now I see.” Or “You too? I thought I was the only one who felt that way.”

As a writer who was compelled to write, I used to say, "I simply can't NOT write" (and yes, I know that's incorrect grammar). In the processing of blogging and increasing Facebook posts and the trauma of losing my spouse of 31 years, a number of people began following my blog and Facebook page. I was both perplexed and grateful. Many are interested because they love me, many knew and loved my late husband, some are like-minded writers and bloggers, some are strangers who find a kindred voice. For whatever ways we may have found each other, I believe we share a resonance in matters of life, death, heart and soul.

David Whyte describes the phenomenon in this way: "You could say people are reading me like they read my poetry and they are following the unfolding of each chapter. None of us really knows how the chapter is going to proceed or what themes or characters are going to make themselves known."1

One of my ongoing themes has been “busyness.” This is a challenge to every writer – the tyranny of the urgent which crowds out the more important issues of life. Early this year, I returned to full time work for the first time in twenty years. This, in and of itself, was a phenomenal challenge, as I was still emerging from grief in the extraordinary loss of my spouse and had not had a significant break from work since his death, all while trying to maintain a home, wade through legal and financial matters and support my son as a widow and single mom.

The very same week I began my new job, I had my first date with a very interesting man.

Since these two significant life events began, I've written very little about my inner life. Work and romance have filled my days. This has also made less room for photography, singing and poetry, along with my blogging, but they each have filled my soul in different ways, so I was not found wanting.

The job has a steep learning curve and high workload. It has only been the past couple of weeks as we have become fully staffed, where I feel I have finally hit my stride. Woken up, as it were, to the strength of my former gifts and found a rhythm with my duties and become comfortable in the dance of teamwork with my colleagues. It's inappropriate to blog about work, so there was nothing out of which to write there. Duties also included much editing and writing, so the compelling need to write in my spare time was lessened.

The budding relationship captures my remaining time and thought. The intellectual and emotional processing of a new relationship after such a wounding loss has been a significant draw on my emotional resources. The one great gift in my new love is that he also has experienced deep loss and is a few years further down the road in the healing, so can understand much of my pain and provide perspective from his own healing journey. He speaks peace into places of my life where I didn't even realize I was wounded.

Our ongoing relationship and subsequent marriage on August 30 has been a sacred space, and inappropriate to parade publicly before blog or Facebook followers. It is a place of wholesome, holy wholeness.

That being said, I am now at a place of personal contentment and joy beyond anything I ever anticipated. I could shout from the rooftops the incredible delight which this man has brought into my life; the beautiful sense of home we find in each others’ heart; the daily satisfaction of job well done as we put order to our household and find shelter in each others’ arms.

So, Jill, for you, I offer this blog. And for the rest of the family and friends (new and old) who wish to follow the unfolding of each chapter, I write this for you. I write it for the joy of finding that beyond shadow, beyond living to the point of tears, there is hope because a new day has dawned, a new chapter has begun.

It is only by God’s sweet mercy and generous grace that I am healing and becoming whole again. Human efforts are limited and skewed, rife with mixed motives and complex, intricately-crafted defenses. Ultimately, this is a story about our lives being the roads God travels – it is his work, to will and to do of his good pleasure as he makes everything work into a pattern for good in the lives of those who love Him.

I can’t promise how often I’ll write, but I’m still here, and I’ll write when I can. If you’re hearing me, keep talking, liking, loving. We are on this journey together. Be brave and make yourself known. We need each other to help find our courage and have those difficult conversations, living to the point of tears2, experiencing, as Yates would have said, “A fierce, terrible beauty.”3

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 from August 12, 2014?

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.