Wednesday, December 23, 2015

More about "Someday."

Yesterday morning I was poking around in my Facebook memories, and I found a blog post that I wrote three years ago, called "'Someday' is waiting for us!" I wrote this at a time when I was feeling very alone and vulnerable, and deeply insecure.  I wrote about what I was feeling from the perspective of a disciple of Jesus Christ, as one who is being "transformed in His image." (2Cor3:18) I believe that being a follower of Jesus means change, not by my own feeble efforts but by my submission to the trans-formative power of God.  In the blog post of three years ago, I wrote that change comes, not by pursuing it, but by pursuing loving relationships with God and others.  I am in love with God, and because of this, I pursue Him. I talk to Him in prayer because I can't not talk to Him. I'd miss Him. I read the scriptures because He is there, and He speaks to me through them. I want to hear from Him. I strive to obey Him because I trust Him and His desires for me, and I believe that He knows the way to wholeness, to healthy, loving relationships with Him, with others and with myself.

Because of all this, someday is a very real place to me.  I realize, though, that in the social media world of sound bite pseudo-wisdom, looking forward to "someday" is not encouraged.  We are to live for today, rest in the moment, breathe, experience every moment with eyes wide open. And I agree. I am a "live in the moment" kind of person. I stop and smell the roses. And the cookies. And the autumn leaves. I am intentional about listening to my children, knowing full well that these days of adolescence and young adulthood will pass quickly. I practice yoga, and I know how to breathe out stress, to breathe in the calm.

I am convinced, though, of the importance of the somedays. Parenting teenagers has taught me this.  One of the most important words teens need to hear from adults is "someday."  Living is hard, and it is especially hard for our young people.  Teens feel things deeply. Emotions come fast and loud for them.  They feel the expectations of their parents, teachers, peers, society, expectations which are often conflicting.  They need to know that, whatever difficult thing they are feeling or experiencing, they will not always feel like they do in the moment.  Life does get better. Their emotions will calm, and they will become better at the whole "living" thing.  Someday is hopeful for teens, because it challenges the despair of strong, painful emotions that threaten to stay forever.

The promise of someday is not necessarily about different circumstances, though.  Stuff happens. Stuff will always happen.  Heartaches, jobs losses, conflicts with friends and loved ones, illness and death...the world can be a scary place.  Even when circumstances do become more favorable, good happenings can lead to new kinds of difficulties. For me, meeting Brian and falling in love was a wonderful thing.  It led to marriage, three brilliant step children, a new home and family, and a love relationship that is beyond anything that I could have imagined.   It also meant moving away from all of my people. Changing countries.  Lots of goodbyes. Kissing my sweet daughter good-bye as she headed off on her own adventure in England. Letting go.

 Within my happiness and security and peace, there is a heaviness.  In my life, someday meant changed circumstances, but more importantly, it meant a changed me. God has been strengthening and empowering me to be whole in the face of my losses, and I understand that He has done that by calling me to deeply and sacrificially love those that He has given me here in Massachusetts.  How do I nurse my wounded heart when I miss my daughter so much, it physically hurts?  By taking care of my father-in-law, or loving my step kids, or serving my husband.  Loving others does not replace Grace in my life.  Our hurts and losses are too real to simply be replaced.  Love does heal, though. It is powerful stuff.  God's love, poured through us onto others is a glory, blessing us as He blesses those around us.

When someday means, someday when I'm thin, or someday when I win the lottery, or someday when the kids leave the house, or someday when my dream job opens up, or someday when I meet Mr. or Mrs. Right, looking for someday will just hold us back.  There is too much living to be done, and too little time.

Still, looking forward to a "someday" that we can start moving towards right this minute is a blessing. If I reach out to God, if I choose to trust in His trans-formative work in me, if I remember how far He has already brought me, if I choose love over fear in the circumstance that is right in front of me now, someday I am going to be stronger, steadier, more secure, more loving. More whole.

To me, that makes "someday" a day worth waiting for!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Here's to being back...

Ah, the age old question - how to write a post in a blog that has been silent for ten months. Okay, maybe it's not an age-old question, but I've been thinking about it for ages, so...same thing. It has been an eventful ten months.  I spent the summer in Franklin Centre, Quebec, with my dearest friend and her family. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with her before I was to move six hours away, to Massachusetts. Which I did, at the end of August. I married my sweet Brian, became a step mother to three brilliant young people, and I have settled into my new home where we live with Brian's parents, Allen and Judy.  I spent hours Skyping with Grace in England, enjoying her stories about work as a receptionist at a holiday park. I started going to a new church, Bethany Bible Chapel. At least it's new to me.  Brian and his family have been going there for quite a while.

So much has happened. There have been many changes, losses, gains, feelings.  So much living.  Some tears. A lot of laughter.  A crazy amount of hormones, thanks to the perfect storm of a house full of teenagers and peri-menopausal me.  Still, we've all survived and have been melding into a comfortable, weird, funny, loud, moody, messy, loving family.

I'm settled now, and I'm back.  With thoughts.  And pictures. And feels, and ideas, and questions, and confidence and doubts and stupidities.

It has taken me three days to break the ice and write this post. So, here's to pushing through, to broken ice and being back.

And this picture - just because.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Grace and Darren, A Visit from England. (Or the alternate title - The Quickest Three Weeks in History!)

Three weeks ago today, I was at the Trudeau airport in Montreal, waiting at the arrivals gate, staring intently at the people coming through the doors. My Grace and her love, Darren were arriving from England It had been three months since I had last seen Grace. I had yet to physically meet Darren, but I knew him well through Skype chats and instant messages, and through the best source of all, the woman who loved him. My daughter.
The reigning couple, at Yankee Candle

When they finally arrived, my world exploded into happy activity. Hugs and kisses for them both, the joy of holding my child again, of being with her. I may even have done a little happy dance, in spirit if not actually. Three weeks! We had three whole weeks together! So much to do, so many people to see, so much TIME to catch up and hang out and to talk and be like we used to be. Together!

I held on to every moment. I tried, I really did. Three weeks went by much too quickly and today I saw two teary young people off on a plane back to England and my heart hurts again.

Fish Fry
It was harder this time. For one thing, I was sending them both off, and I have grown to love Darren. He is everything I could have asked for in a partner for Grace. He is sweet and intelligent, unfailingly kind and creative and he adores Grace. Plus, don't tell him I said this, but he is beyond adorable. Like, seriously. The dimples? Oh my goodness!

It's so hard.

It feels a bit like the air has less oxygen in it when Grace leaves.  Like it hurts a little to breathe, to think, to be. I don't worry about her. Instead, I long for her. I want her with me. Or at least nearby.

Which candle to buy? Duking it out...
She belongs in England, though. She has blossomed there. She is happy, although I know that she misses her home and people very much.  She is surrounded by an amazing group of family and friends in England, and I know that for her, home is where Darren is. Seeing them together these past few weeks has been a joy.  They truly do take care of each other. They bring out the best in each other, and they encourage each other on to great things, especially in their faith in God.  It's so exciting to watch.

Leaving the Montreal Holocaust Memorial
I don't know if I'll ever get used to this, but I do know that I'll adjust.  Grace posted a status on Facebook this morning, writing about how grateful she was to have so many people in her life that she loves and misses. She's right, of course. The more beautiful life gets, the more potential, and likelihood there is that there will be pain.  That's part of the beauty of being human. The pain of loss and separation doesn't have to make us love less, in order to avoid it. We can choose to love better, more deeply, with more intent and freedom.  In this way, we make it worth the pain.  In this way, we transcend the pain.

In this way, love wins.

So...feels like time for a Skype date!
Baymax, from the movie, Big Hero 6, courtesy of Grace, Darren and
the endless winter of 2015.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Montreal Holocaust Centre, Part Two

 Today I went with Grace, Darren and Grace's dad, Mark to  The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.  It was a second visit for all of us except for Darren, and it was good, in the way that difficult and powerful moments are good. Darren is an English historian, an expert on the world wars and the 1940s. Still, he felt that there were gaps in his knowledge about the Holocaust, and the Memorial Centre was the perfect place to help fill in some of the blanks for him.
Picture courtesy of The Montreal Holocaust Memorial

I wrote about my first visit to the Memorial Centre here.  At the time, there really were no words, I felt the pain and horror of what I had seen and heard deeply and to try to put my feelings into words would only serve to minimize the unfathomable.

Today was different.  There still are no words. No words that I can speak or write, that is. For the past few months, the thought that God keeps bringing to my mind is "listen."  I've spent a lot of time, over the years, finding my own voice and trusting God's encouragement to use it in His wisdom and will. Becoming acquainted with  my own voice has made me more aware of the voices of others.

Oddly enough, I talked more and listened less when I didn't trust my own voice or accept the freedom and responsibility of using it.  Going into the Holocaust Memorial Centre today, I was eager to listen to the voices of the survivors, to hear their stories, from their thoughts and their words. I spent almost an hour and a half in the Memorial, equipped with an iPad and ear piece, lingering over the pictures and artifacts, reading the stories and listening to the experiences of those who had survived.

The first time we went to the Holocaust Memorial, it was with our CEGEP history class.  Someone asked me, at that time, why I wanted to go. To be honest, I wondered the same thing. Not because I thought I shouldn't want to go. I just wanted to know why. Curiosity? To gain knowledge? Was I looking for something? 

Today, my reason for wanting to visit the Memorial back then and even today became clear.  The Nazi Holocaust was an organized, brutal, horrific attempt to silence the voices of an entire people. In the process, they sought to also silence anyone that they deemed unworthy. Millions and millions of voices were silenced forever. The sick and disabled, the poor, homosexuals, immigrants, people of color, political prisoners. What can one do against such evil? It is despairing, tortuous to learn of the depths of horror and tragedy, the torture and death, degradation and destruction, and to feel helpless to do anything.  Not only was it so long ago, but it was so overpowering and demonic. My heart is compelled to do something, anything. But what can I do? What can any of us do?

What is the ultimate rebellion against an evil that seeks to silence the voices of others? The ultimate rebellion is to listen. Hear. Absorb. Believe.  I wanted to step into the light of truth that shone over the darkness of hatred, violence, deceit and secrecy. I wanted to hear the voices calling to me, from letters and videos and pictures and dolls and prayer shawls and blue and white striped tunics and shoes and trains and death camps disguised as train stations, death chambers as shower rooms.

I wanted to honor the memories of the dead by listening to those who remained to tell their stories. Because evil doesn't want these stories told.    And because there are voices, even today, that are being silenced and I want to be in the habit of listening to the stories of others, of reaching out and connecting to people who have stories that they need to tell. And who may need to hear some of my stories.

There are people in all of our lives who need us to listen to them.  How did the Holocaust get so big, so evil, so quickly? The answer is, by the powerful ability of the Nazi party to silence the victims and the equally powerful determination of the people not to listen.  We say, never again. But are we willing to live lives that says, never again? 

We are surrounded by powerful voices that tell us what to believe about people groups that do not have strong voices of their own. I will not rely on the media or politicians or advertisers or televangelists or actors to tell me about those living in poverty, about people of different religions, about prisoners and immigrants and addicts and the mentally ill and the many, many groups that struggle daily just to get by.  If I want to know about them, I will do two things. I will go Jesus and ask Him to give me His heart for people, and then I will go to them and listen to their voices. I will choose not to fear, because love casts out fear and anyone who tries to instill and control me through fear will be shut down and thrown out of my head.  I will answer to a call to the courage and power that is found in the powerful love of God.

Mostly, though, with God's grace and help, I will listen. 

It may not seem like much, but I am beginning the think that it just may be the most powerful thing.
After all, if it wasn't so powerful, it'd probably be a lot easier, wouldn't it?

Lord, give us strength....

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bell ~ Let's Talk

Today, Wednesday, January 28th, is Bell Let's Talk Day, an initiative from Bell Canada that focuses on raising awareness about mental health issues.  The premise is simple and one that is close to my heart, that if people will tell their stories and listen to the stories of others, much of the stigma and shame associated with mental illness will be replaced by understanding, compassion and empathy.

My sister, Dana, started the story telling this morning by sharing her struggle with depression. The truth is that my family is and has been full of brave, intelligent, capable, resilient people who have walked their life paths hand in hand with the darkness of mental illness, including the black dog of depression, and in my life, anxiety.

I can't remember ever not being anxious.  From infancy and probably even earlier, for various reasons, my body and brain, my personality and intellect developed while awash in a potent cocktail of stress hormones, specifically cortisol.  From a very young age, I learned to deal with overwhelming stress by "disappearing."  I froze, withdrew, and was compliantly, passively and quietly non-existent.

Anxiety controlled my life.  "Disappearing" could, at least in some respects, protect me from the outward stressors, but I could never get away from the inner turmoil.  As an introvert, when faced with a fight or flight trigger (which, due to the chronic anxiety, happened often), I withdrew.  Shut down. Shut up. My mind, though, was rarely quiet.  I was, and am an introvert, but I am also passionate, thoughtful, strong minded and full of questions.  I struggled with the silence. I was bright and opinionated, but repeatedly had to choose safety over freedom.

Because I had never been free from anxiety, I thought everyone felt this way.  As an adult, I became a Christian and began to grow in faith. I heard over and over, "Fear not."  It had the authority of a command, but there was always a whisper of hope attached to it.  Fear not. Was that even possible? The God I knew, the One who had rescued me from a life of darkness, who loved me in ways that I was only beginning to understand, would not ask something of me that wasn't possible, that He couldn't or wouldn't help me acheive.  As I walked with Jesus, through Bible study and with the help of faithful and honest counsellors and friends, I began to gain control of my thought life. The Scriptures and God's intimate counsel led me through a path of cognitive training that set me free from negative thoughts that kept me trapped in fear.

One of the aspects of mental illness that is often overlooked involves physical symptoms. A lifetime of chronic anxiety had conditioned and fitted my body to react in extreme ways to situations and circumstances that my mind, emotions and stress hormones were slapping danger signs on.  Retraining my mind, and even my emotions set me free to some extent, but I soon realized that my body had a mind of its own in these matters.  I was diagnosed with a chronic bladder disease called interstitial cystitis (IC) or painful bladder syndrome (PBS) when I was in my early 30s.  One of the most consistent and frequent triggers was stress.  A few years after the IC diagnosis, I suffered a heart attack. I had no markers for heart disease, other than the fact that I was overweight.  My blood pressure and cholesterol were low to normal, I had no family history of heart disease, I didn't smoke or do drugs, and I was young. The diagnosis was coronary artery spasms, a condition that was very susceptible to stress. 

It felt like my body was saying, that's enough! I had to face the possibility that cognitive training and the peace that I felt in God was not going to stop my body from reacting to the stress of life.  I prayed for healing, and I knew that it was possible.  I had experienced healing in my mind and heart.  As I continued to struggle with the physical effects of stress, I began to think about asking for help from my doctor. As in meds. I hated the very thought of it. Nerve pills. Oh, pshaw.

I saw it as an easy fix, a sign of my weakness.  I never questioned the strength of my faith. God and I had been though that when I first got IC. I knew that He could heal me. There was no question in my mind. I struggled with Him, when He didn't heal me, and we worked it out.  Somehow, though, I had gotten to the point where I believed that I had to tough it out to be strong, that being brave always meant pushing through the fear, pushing, pushing, pushing until I wasn't afraid anymore.  Unfortunately, my body wasn't getting the message, and the pushing through was killing me. It was one thing when the stress only meant searing pain in my abdomen, but when it also meant my coronary arteries spazzing closed, choking off the blood supply to my heart, I needed to pay attention.

So I went on meds.  The first time I took a anti anxiety medication, I was at home. The phone rang, and as I answered it, I was acutely aware of an odd sensation. Or, more accurately, an odd lack of a sensation. Fear.  Every single time I heard a phone ring, a swoosh of adrenaline would go through my body, burning through my stomach and bladder, trembling my hands, muddling my thoughts. Except this time.  This time my stomach stayed calm. My hands didn't shake.  I was amazed.  Is this what normal feels like?

Adding anti anxiety medication to the cocktail of daily meds that I take for the IC and heart problem was the right choice for me.  I still struggle with anxiety, and I have moments when my body spirals out of control and all I can do is hang on and wait it out.  I have discovered that sorrow feels very much like fear to my body. Sometimes I choose to deal with triggering events and the resulting flash of anxiety and pain through yoga, meditation, deep breaths, laughter and reaching out to loved ones. The amount of medication that I take daily works for the stress of daily life. Sometimes I take less. Sometimes more. I pay close attention to my body, and try to take care of myself. I am learning to nurture my body in the same way that my heart calls me to nurture and care for those around me.

Chronic anxiety is still a part of my life, but it doesn't own me.  I am grateful for the availability of medications that can help, for the grace and understanding of my family, and for the opportunity to tell my story, and to listen to the stories of others.  Yes, there are dark voices from the past, taunting, mocking, complaining voices that grew angry at me when I could not be what they demanded me to be, but the loving voices are stronger, bolder and most importantly, truer. 

I pray that as we walk this path together, we will be encouraged and emboldened to turn to the voices that are saying to us, "Tell me your story. It's okay, I'm listening."

Tell me your story.  It's okay, I'm listening.
My Zimbio