Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Inevitable New Year's Post - Mission Impossible

Greetings and salutations, dear Friends! Poised on the cusp of another year, I'm compelled to share some thoughts. The notion of new beginnings has always held great appeal. The approach of a new year is such a good time to do some looking backward to what has been and forward to what could be.

Blogging can be so helpful! (when it's not stressful and guilt-inducing... ) I've just been scanning my posts from the past year, and they've painted a pretty vivid picture of what 2016 has looked like for me.

It's been quite a year - big changes, high highs and low lows, painful challenges interspersed with calm and peace and beauty, growth and lessons learned, joy and sorrow, fear and faith, fruitfulness and rest. Call me crazy, but I'm starting to see a pattern here - that's what pretty much every year looks like, with a few differentiating details. This is real life.

This year has been a defining one for me - literally. It was the year in which I was finally able to put a name to my mental health issues. Bipolar disorder. This has been huge! While all labels are not necessarily helpful, this one is for me. It fits. Life has indeed become better since beginning to wear it. With the addition of a medication that balances my brain chemistry, I've been experiencing less intense highs and lows, which both myself and my family and friends have come to appreciate. By adding that element to my mental health arsenal (and assembling a mental health arsenal in the first place), I feel armed and dangerous (in a good way!) as 2017 approaches.

You may recall that, rather than creating a long list of New Year's resolutions (that I'll be sure to break), I've started the practice of choosing a single word each year to focus my thoughts and give direction to my choices. This year, my word is IMPOSSIBLE.

It may seem an unlikely and even counter-productive word at first glance, but let me explain. It was this quote from A.W. Tozer that really grabbed me: "God is looking for people through whom He can do the IMPOSSIBLE. What a pity we plan only things we can do ourselves."  

My plans in years past have pretty much stayed in the category of things I could do myself. This year, I was inspired to make a list of the elements of my life that seemed impossible to change. There are seven items on my list. I wrote them on a cue card, folded it, pinned it on my bulletin board and wrote on the front: 2017 Impossible -> possible (nothing is too big for God!)



 I recently had the privilege of reading through the gospel of Matthew aloud with a friend and of all the amazing things that inspired me, this was tops: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:26)

My focus on the impossible this year will be two-fold: I'm giving God my impossibles, and asking Him to give me His impossibles for me. I can't think of anything more exciting and scary, can you?

Happy New Year, my dear Friends! May 2017 be your best year yet - filled with deep peace and overflowing grace, much laughter and gentle lessons, great contentment and real joy!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Highs and Lows

Last night, I got to experience the highest and lowest of life - all in the span of about four hours. My head is still spinning a bit, my emotions reeling from the wild roller coaster ride.

I decided to attend a concert, to be held in one of the classier venues in our city, right in the heart of downtown. Coinciding with the decision to attend was the decision to take public transit. (I'm not a fan of driving in the city at night - or any other time, really...)

So I walked to the nearest bus stop and sat on a bench to wait, a little nervously. (There was a time that public transit was the only way I traveled, but that was several years ago. Now I take the bus a few times a year, max...) Already on edge, I just about had a heart attack when a cat was trying to cross the road and narrowly escaped being hit by a truck - right in front of me!

The rest of the bus trip was uneventful, thank goodness. Until I got downtown, that is. I got off at the right stop, but then I didn't know where I was in relation to where I needed to be - only a few blocks away, but more than enough to stump a directionally-challenged person like myself. So I started walking.

It was then that the juxtaposition of life hit me hardest. There, in the midst of enormous modern skyscrapers and old architectural masterpieces, resided the lowest of the low, the down-est and out-est. The homeless, the wanderers, the ones who had squandered their chances or never had any chance at all. And you want to know something? No one accosted me, no one asked me for anything...but more than one of these poor folks actually looked me in the eye and smiled as I passed by. It broke my heart.

I finally found my way to the concert hall and was immediately accosted by the opposite extreme - the wealthy, the well-off, the affluent, the comfortable, finely-dressed folks who had extra money to spend on tickets to a Christmas concert. And I was one of them.

The concert itself was lovely, the impeccable harmonies lifting praises to the heavens as obscure melodies and familiar carols were sung. My soul was well-nourished by the time the final notes had ceased. To say that the evening was a study in contrasts would be a bit of an understatement.

Kind of like my life these days.

(If you're still with me, Friend - bravo! You'll find a revelation in the following lines.)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll be familiar with my struggle with depression over the last few years. (Your support has been so empowering, by the way - thank you.) At the urging of family and friends, I finally gathered the courage to see my doctor a few weeks ago.

My doctor's a great guy. Very thorough, very efficient. He asked a lot of questions, had me fill out several mental health surveys and BOOM! Diagnosis: mild to moderate bipolar disorder.

Say whaaa? First of all, I one hundred percent didn't expect a diagnosis on my first consultation about this. In fact, I was kind of anticipating/hoping the doctor would say it's nothing to worry about, go ahead and get on with your life, or something to that effect to suggest that I really was okay. And bipolar disorder? Of all the things it could have been, I sure didn't foresee that.

Looking back, I'm not sure why it was such a shocker. I mean, there is a family history of mental illness, diagnosed and not, that goes back generations, and includes bipolar disorder. I guess if I had actually taken the time to find out what it was when it emerged in our family, I would have seen the symptoms in myself much sooner, and may have been spared some hard things.

Do you know about bipolar disorder? Boiled down, it's regular life interspersed with extreme highs and lows, or mania and depression. "They" believe it's caused by a chemical imbalance, serotonin and dopamine specifically. It's a spectrum disorder, with a wide range of severity and occurrence of symptoms. Generally speaking, someone with bipolar disorder has higher highs and lower lows than the average person - whoever that might be :)

I've experienced a wide range of emotions as I've processed this new label. I expect there will be more to come, but for now I've landed on acceptance. A very good, very wise friend gave me a great way to look at it - that we're trying this label on to see how it fits. If life gets better wearing it, maybe we keep it. If not, it's not a problem to take it off and try on something else.

I feel good about having taken this step towards health and wellness and knowledge. I'm happy to have the opportunity to be an ambassador for mental health, to help break down communication barriers and stereotypes and stigma. I'm anticipating the positive changes that will come in my life as a result of this step in the right direction. I'm thankful for a God and a family and friends who have never and will never give up on me, who give me strength and courage and hope in the face of what could be seen as a bleak outcome. I'm choosing to anchor my soul to hope.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Can

I returned home a few days ago from the first overnight trip I've taken without my family since 2011. I've been making an effort to process my experience, but it finally occurred to me that writing it all out would likely be the way to make some real progress towards dealing with this mental and emotional overload. (Duh, Joy...) And so, once upon a time...

...there serendipitously arose a last-minute opportunity to attend a four-day, out-of-town workshop. The stars aligned (i.e. my husband heroically rearranged his schedule) and I was able to go.

It was, in a word, amazing. But holy intensity, Batman! Long days, late nights, tons of new information, big ideas, fresh perspectives - more than enough to boggle my mind. Even more overwhelming was the constant challenge to assimilate, to incorporate, to apply what was being presented. But I was alert, focused, interested, excited - looking forward with great hope and expectancy to what could be. I was on board!

In retrospect, maybe what I experienced on the third morning was not much of a surprise at all. At the time, however, it came as though out of the blue - wholly unanticipated.

The morning session began with a time of singing together. In the middle of the second song, the all-too-familiar thick cloud of depression wrapped itself around me, choking me. I couldn't sing another word - I had suddenly lost the ability to believe that the beautiful words of acceptance and love and grace and forgiveness applied to me. Simultaneously, being around people became utterly unbearable. Without a second thought or a word to anyone, I headed for the door.

I'm coming to see what depression means for me in terms of what it takes from me. It robs me of the capacity to believe truth. It renders me feeling-less, numb. And it severely limits the possibility of receiving help from people who love me, since it blocks my willingness to accept care - convinces me I'm not worthy of such.

I don't know what I hoped to accomplish by running away. I wasn't thinking rationally - it never occurred to me that my absence might be noticed and cause my group concern. But as I sat outside in the cold, crisp air, I began to observe myself as if I were someone else.

I noticed particularly that though there was beauty around me - ancient trees clothed in late-lingering leaves, blue sky and clouds creating gorgeous celestial artwork, fresh mountain air - it didn't penetrate into my soul. I saw that my surroundings were beautiful, but it failed to move me.

I'm not sure how long I sat there, staring at the cement staircase upon which I had landed. Eventually, I was discovered, reprimanded, loved on and returned to the workshop. In the far recesses of my mind, I felt the glimmerings of regret that I had caused my friends anxiety, but it was pretty dim. I was still moving in a fog at this point - the remainder of that session was completely lost on me. I felt powerless to re-engage.

Then came a coffee break, and the reckoning. I was pulled aside by my group leader. I heard the words being spoken to me - a wonderful, intricate blending of rebuke, encouragement, truth, care and challenge. I was able to respond, just barely. But a bit of anger and indignation was starting to cut through the fog. I hate being reprimanded. I do not do well with people telling me what to do.

But I did it. I think the initial motivation was to just smooth things over, to shift the focus elsewhere, to make it look like I was okay, to keep everyone from pouring on more care and concern. But that small step in the right direction, even for the wrong reasons, started an avalanche.

The activity immediately following all this was in a small group setting, with people I'd met only two days before - and all men at that. I had been strongly encouraged not only to attend but to engage. So I did. Maybe it was somehow easier to talk to strangers about it, but I ended up sharing some of my struggles. And the genuine outpouring of sympathy and concern and wisdom and knowledge and love I received from these big, tough, manly strangers broke through the fog and broke my heart - in a really good way.

After all the heart-felt prayers and cleansing tears, it was lunch time and down time - thanks be to God! I met my leader in the hallway, and the joy on his face as he beamed at me and exclaimed, "You did it!" was a lovely reward for the exhausting, soul-wringing work of confession and repentance. And after I apologized to my dear friends for shutting them out and rejecting their love and concern, it felt like the sun had just risen again.

Several questions have emerged from all this that will need to be examined at length (some other time!), but I'm taking one extremely encouraging and hope-giving truth from this incident: when I have help, I can overcome. In clinical terms, the duration of a depressive episode can be greatly diminished by outside intervention.

God, please help me remember this truth. Help me to have the courage to reach out, and the grace to receive Your love through those beautiful souls You've placed in my life. Amen!












Thursday, October 27, 2016

Help?


Help -  I need somebody
Help - not just anybody
Help - you know I need someone
Help!


I have never been one to admit I might need some help, let alone reach out and actually ask for it. I've written before about my fierce independence from a very early age (here), and how it eventually dawned on me that community was God's idea and plan for us all in the first place.  

That was before this depression reared it's ugly head - or at least before I acknowledged it as such. I'm now finding myself in very unfamiliar and unwelcome territory. I need help.

I don't want to need help. I very badly want to be able to "get through this" on my own. I've tried to convince myself that with enough prayer, enough soul-searching, enough self-care and positive thinking, that I can deal with it. Alas, it's becoming clear to me that my own efforts are insufficient.

I think there are several issues that are contributing to this feeling, and I wanted to sort through them so that I might better understand. The reason I'm thinking about this today is because my husband asked me this morning (carefully, gently, kindly, with much fear and trembling) how he could help me through this. 

My husband is an amazing man. His whole life has been full of challenges and injustices and difficulties. He allowed all that to shape him and enslave him for a long time. But in the last several years, that has changed dramatically - he has changed. Now, when a new or buried issue surfaces, he doesn't waste any time. He looks at it honestly, faces it head on and BOOM! - kicks it to the curb. 

I admire that so much. However, I have a sense that this process won't be so straightforward. I have to put it in motion by actually wanting help. As I explained it to him, I'm only at the point where I want to want help (which isn't much, but it's better than nothing).

There are various elements involved here. Pride, fear, shame, embarrassment, guilt, denial, a desire for independence and self-sufficiency, an aversion to self-revelation and a deeply-ingrained sense of being undeserving of such attention and aid all play a role in my reluctance to seek the assistance and guidance I know I need.

The laziness I've struggled with my whole life is also hindering me here. There are so many times when I just don't want to do the hard work of self-discovery and self-care and accountability and growth. I don't want any more soul stretching - it hurts. I want to avoid the hard conversations. Sometimes, I just want things to stay the way they are - I want to be content in my weaknesses and issues, and keep pretending that everything's okay.

But everything's not okay. And my struggles are not only hurting me, but the people closest to me, as well. I feel a little more willing to reach out for help for their sake rather than my own. 

Underneath it all is my overwhelming fear of failure and disappointing people. It sounds so ridiculous when I write it out - I'm afraid I'll fail at recovery, or healing, or whatever the eventual goal in all this might be. I'm terrified to reach out and receive support, only to let down those who are supporting me. I'm fearful that I won't "get better" and that my support network will throw up it's collective hands and give up on me if I'm not "coming along" as desired or expected. 

So really, what I'm looking for is unconditional love. Which I know can only be found in God. No one else can ever achieve it perfectly. And I've already practically rejected my not-yet-assembled mental health team because they won't be able to love me like God does. Yeah, that sounds pretty ridiculous, too. 

I know I can depend on God for that kind of love. But I also know that He's providing me with people who care about me enough to journey alongside me - to help and to guide, to encourage and to challenge, to bring healing and life and renewed hope. I'm so thankful for those who've already reached out to me, offering support and care and advice and grace. I'm praying for the courage to dare to take the necessary next steps.

Thanks be to God that we never walk alone.






Monday, September 12, 2016

Jekyll, Hyde, and the Other Guy

I'm trying hard to figure myself out. That's one major purpose of this blog -  "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say." (Flannery O'Connor) I spent most of my life ignoring myself while trying to help others figure themselves out, so I guess I had a lot of catching up to do.

The problem is, I keep changing. Sometimes it's good, upward growth (not literally, of course - I'm afraid that ship has sailed), sometimes I fall down, take steps backward and sometimes the changes are lateral ones, neither positive nor negative - just change. Now, I know I've just described life in a nutshell. For those who have been more or less self-aware, it's old hat but for me, at forty-one-and-a-half and just beginning to ask the questions in the last few years, it can still be a little disorienting.

In my most recent assessment, I've concluded that I have no less than three distinct personalities: one when I'm free from depression, one that emerges when depression envelopes me, and one when I'm teetering back and forth on the brink of depression. (Yup, it all centers around depression these days. And that's ok.)

When I'm free from depression, the world is my oyster! I'm the confident, people-loving, bubbly Joy with whom most people who know me are familiar. I am hopeful, full of plans and goals. I'm able to do the things I need to do, to participate in activities I enjoy and to delight in the world around me. I can care about people and share myself with them. This Joy has her issues and shortcomings, but she's learning to accept and even enjoy who she is.

Depressed Joy is best described as numb. (Incidentally, isn't numb a weird word?) Shrouded as she is in a thick cloud of nothingness, she doesn't feel much. Hope is gone, energy is gone, delight is gone, emotion is gone. The only real thing is delusion - which isn't real at all, by definition. She plods through her days in a dense fog, trying to do what's necessary. Being with people is agonizing at best; being alone is even worse. This Joy doesn't think much about accepting herself, her only goal is to keep her head above water, to keep herself from drowning in this invisible sea of despair.

I've only recently identified the third Joy - the one who is somewhere in-between. It's a strange place: hope is there, but delusion is there, too. It often feels like a tug-of-war for my soul, between two well-matched competitors. One will have the upper hand for a time, and then without warning, the tide will turn and the other side looks as if it will win. I've spent the last few weeks there, and it's terribly confusing and unstable. (I think I feel most sorry for my family and friends when I'm this Joy - like me, they never know what's coming next...)

You'd think that this discovery would be demoralizing, maybe - even frightening. However, instead of bringing me down, this observation has been most beneficial and freeing for me.

One of my newest disciplines is to consciously look for God's hand in everything. And the more I look, the more I see that His fingerprints are all over my life. Even in this.

So, armed with this new self-knowledge and more aware of God's presence than ever, I put one foot in front of the other, again and again. And when I can't, I can still know His peace, because peace is Jesus and He will never, ever leave me.

Thanks be to God.






Monday, September 5, 2016

I Hate Myself Today

I hate myself today.*

I didn't know I felt this way until a relatively minor mother/son clash occurred. Some disrespect, some defiance, some almost-eight-year-old attitude - nothing I haven't encountered before. But after sending the culprit to his room, I retreated to my own (isn't it funny how that's a reward rather than a punishment as we get older?) and as I collapsed onto the trunk/bench at the foot of my bed - which incidentally is right in front of mirrored closet doors - it all came pouring out, along with my tears.

I hate myself for being a bad parent (I must be a horrible parent to have such a brash, undisciplined son); I hate myself because I've somehow managed to put on yet a few more pounds this summer (which I definitely did not need); I hate myself for gradually falling out of several disciplines that have been so life-giving (I've been so lazy and undisciplined and indulgent this summer); I hate myself for feeling so aimless, direction-less, purposeless (shouldn't I know what God wants me to do next?); I hate myself for being a terrible wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend (seems like I've neglected everyone I care about); I hate myself for worrying about the future, about finances, about my family (seriously, haven't I learned anything about trusting God?)...

I'm so tired of trying and failing in so many vital areas of my life, trying again and failing again, and again, and again... Looking back over the summer, I'd have to say that I've pretty much stopped trying.

My summer has had the appearance of productivity and fullness on the outside. Packing up, moving, unpacking; backyard fires and gardening; little family outings; preaching and leading worship; getting up early to walk - these things filled my days with activity, but little else. The depths have remained unstirred, have stagnated. The inner life - real life, one might even say - has shriveled up.

The overall effect of this whirl of activity has been that I've allowed myself to give up on the things that are hard, that take effort, that aren't fun, that don't come easily and naturally. Disciplines that are refreshing and life-giving and healthy and beneficial - but not amusing or sugary or undemanding. More like challenging and painful - at least at first.

But now it's Fall - or soon will be. A new season is a gift from God, a chance to begin again. And oh, I'm so grateful! But will I take this opportunity and run with it? Or will I let it slip through my fingers yet again? Stay tuned...

*In case you were wondering, this intense hating myself moment didn't last very long. But the fear to try remains. It was about a month ago that I wrote about falling down and getting back up. I wrote from a burst of motivation that quickly fizzled out. In fact, that's where most of my blog post come from - a place of fallenness, of brokenness... Ughhh.

But that really shouldn't come as a surprise. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9) This is where God's light shines the brightest in my life, when I'm weak and powerless. He loves to come in and pick me up, dust me off and set my feet on His path once again. It's only by His grace that I can remember at all that my feelings aren't the boss of me; that the way of least resistance is rarely the best way; that my value and worth are inherent, NOT based on my actions (or lack thereof).

Into this and every new day, we can venture forth with courage and hope - armed with His power, filled with His peace, covered by His grace, drenched in His love.








Sunday, August 7, 2016

We Fall Down

Humbled - broken, really - by one simple lyric in the first song of today's worship set: "we are here for You". We are here for YouWe are here for You. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten.

This very morning while getting ready for church, instead of preparing my heart to worship, I was wondering what I might possibly "get" out of the day's message - if anything. The night before, I had asked what team was leading the music, and I'm pretty sure I said something like, "It shouldn't matter, but it does."

Even last week, when I was a guest worship leader at another church, I distinctly remember being two or three songs in before I stopped focusing solely on how awesome it was to sing with old friends again and directed some attention to the words I was singing and to Whom I was singing them.

These last few weeks have been busy, hectic ones, with lots of decisions, new things and general unsettledness. The cause was a good one; moving a few blocks down the road from our small townhouse to a larger house. As much as I'm beyond delighted to be living in this wonderful place, my familiar routines and practices - those things that have proven essential to my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being - have almost completely fallen by the wayside.

I hate it when that happens - when I allow it to happen. When I lose sight of what really, truly matters. When I, thanks to the tyranny of the urgent, pursue good things (and not-so-good things) yet fail to make time for the best things.

It makes me feel really small. When I finally do come to my senses after a period of upheaval and fuzzy focus, my tendency is to hesitantly approach God with my head bowed low, tail between my legs. It hurts me when I remember that I've forgotten Him - again.

But instead of pouring on guilt and shame, rather than responding in anger or derision or even sorrow, once again it was His grace-drenched kindness that brought me to a place of true, genuine repentance there in my tucked-away balcony seat.

I'm coming to see that this falling down isn't really the important thing; it's the getting up again that's crucial. In fact, those two actions seem to be what makes a life. One hopes to walk calmly along, but that's rarely the case, is it?

I'm so grateful for the Hand that never fails to reach down when I've fallen flat on my face again; already with me when I stumble, always ready to help me regain my balance and carry on.




Monday, July 18, 2016

Limbo

Hey, Friends - remember me? In looking back over my recent posts, I was shocked and a little ashamed to note that my last post was over a month ago. What's up with that?

Well, the short answer is: there's not much going on in my life that's worth writing about. I'm in limbo... not a terrible place to be, but not very wonderful, either.

If the first thing you think of when you hear the word "limbo" is the bending-over-backwards-under-a-stick game, then keep moving. (Though I must admit to being pretty good at that limbo - not because I'm particularly flexible, but being naturally low to the ground tends to give one a certain advantage.)

To me, limbo means caught in the middle, on the edge, on the cusp, in transition. I was surprised to discover that the word originally comes from Roman Catholic theology, and refers to the realm on the outskirts of Heaven or Hell where they believed unbaptized infants and the faithful who had died before the coming of Christ would spend eternity.

These days, I feel very much on the edge of Heaven... or Hell, depending on the day. Here's the scoop:

As many of you already know, we're not making a life-altering trek across the country to relocate at this time, as we had previously hoped and anticipated. (People here seem happy we're staying; our family and friends in the East, though gracious and understanding, are not so much - which is the way you want it, I guess...) It was a pretty big shock when we got the news that this plan was a no-go; we had felt very sure that this was the path down which we were being led.

For a little while, we felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under us; completely disoriented, off-balance, about to fall over. It was not a pleasant sensation.

May I take a moment here to brag on my husband a little bit? This amazing man, in the face of such shocking, dream-shattering news, just took a deep breath, picked himself up and committed to travelling the new path set before him - and has never looked back.

The results of this obedience and acceptance can only be described as miraculous - mind-blowing. Doors began bursting open like you wouldn't believe! Let me describe just one here:

In anticipation of moving cross-country, we had been doing a bit of dreaming (ok, maybe I was slightly obsessed) about what our new home might be like. (We're currently renting, and our landlord had very kindly allowed our lease to lapse and revert to a month-to-month rental without penalty, due to our uncertain circumstances.) Once we knew we were staying put, I started looking for rentals in our area, just for fun. I didn't imagine I'd actually find anything - our time-frame was pretty tight.

Well. On Kijiji, of all places, I stumbled across a freshly-posted ad for a house for rent in our neighbourhood. A really lovely place, only a few blocks from where we live now. We've been living in a fairly small-but-sufficient townhouse for the past two years; this place was literally everything we were looking for: a single-family home, walking distance to school, fully renovated, four bedrooms, a dishwasher, a back yard, a garage, pet-friendly, even a living room fire place and a back yard fire pit!

The one major drawback - the rent was a little steep. So, not very expectantly, I responded to the ad, asking if they might consider lowering the rent for the right family. It seemed like a really long shot, one of those too-good-to-be-true scenarios. Well, lo and behold, they said the price was negotiable! So we all trooped over to see the place - it was even more lovely in person! And we really seemed to connect with the young couple who owned the home. So we filled out a rental application and went on our merry way.

Let me pause here to highlight the timing. We were due to sign a new lease on our present home by the end of the month if no other arrangements were made. We looked at the house on Friday, June 24th...and then we waited (which was especially horrible, coming on the heels of having waited for three months to hear whether or not we would be heading East).

Didn't hear a thing until June 29th, when I received a brief email from the landlord stating we were still in the running for the house, but that they hadn't yet been able to get in touch with our current landlord for a reference. They said they knew we were on a deadline and would contact us soon. So now we had some hope, but still no certainty. The tension cranked up another notch or two...

June 30th. The day we had to let our landlord know whether we were staying or going. No call from the house people all day. Still, we held our breath, hoping against hope. I was at one of my part-time jobs that evening, a rather un-demanding job in which I mostly hang around, unlock a few doors and answer a few questions. At 7:19 pm, my phone rings. It's the house people! This is it - the moment of truth...

Here's what he tells me (this amazes me more every time I tell it!): They've had lots of people apply to rent their house, all of whom are willing to pay the listed rent. And they haven't been able to get in touch with our landlord. BUT, they think WE will look after the house the best and appreciate the neighbourhood the most! They want US! And so that evening, we agree on a rental price and sign the lease papers! We give notice on our current place around 9 o'clock that night, and that's that!

Oh. my. goodness. I still get chills when I think of how serendipitous-ly everything came together. Only God could pull off something of this magnitude. There's no other plausible explanation. We're extremely grateful!

And so, even though we still miss our family and friends in the East so much and are very disappointed that we don't get to be closer to them; all things considered, we're pretty content to be staying here in Edmonton. We do love it here.

But we're still waiting - ARGHHHH! It's still a week-and-a-half until we move, and there's very little I can do to prepare. Because our place is so much smaller than our last few homes, we've had to pare down significantly, until what we have is what we need, what we use. There's just not a lot of stuff I can pack yet. And since it's such a short move and will happen over a couple of days, we'll just be throwing most of our stuff in our van and making a million trips back and forth. But we are SO counting down the days!

So I guess that's why I haven't written anything for the past month - my whole being has been completely consumed with various waitings. Limbos.

The most amazing thing in all this waiting, though, has been the peace. I haven't freaked out (much), haven't spiraled down into a pit of depression, haven't neglected my family or descended into worry or sadness or anger or fear. Haven't lost hope. And that's all God.  So I'm all grateful.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

(...or something like that - I found fifty variations of this general idea, not sure which one is the "real" one. But you get the picture.)

Over the past few weeks, I've found myself drifting back into several old (bad) habits I thought I had left behind for good. The most obvious and disheartening is that I've started turning to food for comfort again. This has been accompanied by a general sense of discontentment and lack of joy.

The issue became glaringly apparent the last couple of times I went grocery shopping. First of all, I went without a list - this is NEVER good. Much to the delight of the many men of the house, I came home with a wide variety of treats and indulgences - items that haven't been seen in our cupboards for months, or even years...at least not all at once!

(Now, I'm not saying that we never indulge in the occasional treat, because we do. But I have been trying to have only one treat-ish item in the house at a time, and usually things I don't particularly care for...)

My ultimate comfort and pleasure equation has always been books plus food. This combines two of my favourite activities, and always takes me back to my younger, relatively-carefree days. It's a form of escapism, really. Ironically, I can happily read without eating, but I hate to eat without a book in my hand. The problem with this practice, of course, is that one can consume many, many calories without even being aware of it.

I've tried umpteen times over the years to break this particular habit, with limited, temporary success at best. I have found that when I decide to eat without reading, there are lots of things that I just don't end up consuming. And that's a really good thing!

It's when a stressful situation arises that I run back to these vices. Every. Single. Time.

And guess what? Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of another stressful situation! Say it with me: "Duh, Joy!"

Our family is facing the possibility of a huge change this summer. It'd be a really good thing for us, but requires a major relocation. I've always liked moving - I'm up for it. We'd be closer to family, in a beautiful part of the country. That's not really the stressful part for me.

And if it doesn't work out? I'm good with that option, too. I love where we are right now.

What I've never been very good at dealing with is the waiting. We've been waiting for almost three months for a final word from the powers that be - though, to be fair, we have received encouraging signs along the way. But we're still waiting, though we're hopeful it won't be too much longer before a decision is made.

I've never had much sympathy for people who believe they're victims of their circumstances when they're really not. When they could just brace themselves and make different choices to change their situation. People who act like victims when they're clearly not victims drive me crazy.

But that's exactly what I'm doing! I'm acting as if I have no control over how I react to my circumstances. And I do! I so do! I always get to choose! Unconsciously, I've been using our present situation to justify slipping back into those comfortable, ugly old habits.

That's not to say it's easy. You know - all you brave souls who choose to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the face of overwhelming odds and temptations - you know. My metaphorical hat is off to you.

I really want to get back on the wagon, or is it horse? But even as I start formulating a plan of action, my lazy, indulgent side whispers discouraging, defeatist rhetoric - that I'll never really change, that it's not worth the effort, that it's too good to give up, that things are fine just the way they are, why even bother?

The thing is, I feel gross right now. When I eat good food in proper portions, my mind is clearer, my body functions more effectively, my energy levels soar - everything is just better! I know this to be true. So why the heck can't I, in the wise words of Nike, just do it?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it.

But guess what? I know the answer - I have the answer. In me. Rather than just trying harder, and inevitably failing sooner or later, I can relax and agree with what the Holy Spirit wants. It's more of a letting go, a leaning in... a bit from Philippians chapter three comes to mind, "It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose..." He wants to be my comforter, my strength.

Kinda sounds like a cop-out, doesn't it? In reality, I think it's the hardest thing of all - to consciously, deliberately, continually let go of my own agenda, my own desires, my own devices - and to embrace His, in spite of how my circumstances make me feel. (I am not at the mercy of my emotions, I am NOT at the mercy of my emotions, I AM NOT AT THE MERCY OF MY EMOTIONS!)

Well, thank you so much for the reminder, Joy! It's my pleasure, Joy - so glad you got there in the end. (This is why I write - so I know what I think...I'm not the only one who has these kinds of conversations in their head, am I??)

And so here, by the grace of God, we go - again!


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Shaken AND Stirred

Have you ever read anything by Anne Lamott? Thanks to the magic that is Facebook, I've seen bits of her writing over the past few years - always raw, gritty, real, funny, poignant, intriguing, offensive and full of truth that nobody wants to admit to. But I'd never picked up a book of hers until a few weeks ago. Full of sudden resolve, I grabbed everything that was available at my neighbourhood library one day (after I'd finally paid my shockingly large overdue fines): a novel from 1983 (Rosie) and two more recent non-fiction titles (Small Victories - Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace and Help, Thanks, Wow - The Three Essential Prayers). I highly recommend them, but at the same time - read at your own risk!

I'm still trying to decide. or figure out, what reading these works is doing to me, in me. I feel shaken and stirred, strengthened in spirit but somehow depleted as well. I can't say that I encountered any brand new ideas or had my mind blown in any major way, but there's something...

First of all, I'm incredibly inspired. I want to live a life worth writing about, and I want to write stuff that's worth reading, that stirs hearts and allows people to say in response, "me, too!" I want people to know that they're not alone by sharing my story, my journey. I want to be honest about my struggles and victories, my joys and sorrows, my doubts and fears. I want to be my own keenest observer, eyes and heart wide open to what God is doing in me, around me, through me, in spite of me...

But there's also a faint, lingering note of panic, of urgency. I have a sense that my time of study, of rest, of wisdom-gathering, of reading and writing, of observation and learning, is coming to a close, and that a new, challenging-in-a-different-way season will soon be upon me. And so I want to cram in as much as I can while I still have the opportunity.

I'm concerned, though. (Who am I kidding - I'm downright worried, no - terrified...) I don't feel at all prepared to leave this chapter behind - I don't feel like I've learned enough, changed enough, absorbed enough. But that's just like God, isn't it...from what I've seen, He tends to equip as we obey, as we take steps of faith beyond our current capabilities. And maybe, just maybe, this foundation He's been building in me these past couple of years will be firm enough to withstand the inevitable strain of the days to come.

I guess it all remains to be seen...



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Singing in the Rain

I took a walk through the woods in the rain today. I heart rain. So much so that most people think I'm a little weird in this respect. When I was as young as three years old, I would sit out in a lawn chair in our yard during thunder storms, my small heart thrilling to the wind and wet, the crash and flash. "Pluviophile", while not a real word, is the urban dictionary's term for my condition: "a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days." Next to walking on a beach, this is the activity that most feeds my soul.

And my soul needed...something. Since becoming aware of the imminent possibility of being consumed again by depression (as described in this  post), I've been seeking out ways to avoid it, to counteract it, to rebuke it, to nullify it, to appease it, to fend it off...if that's within my reach at all.

So I took to the dripping trees. As previously mentioned, I love rain in general, but after a very dry winter and spring, it was exceptionally delightful. As the rain poured down, it seemed as though Nature was exhaling a satisfied, rose-scented sigh of pure gratitude. As though the earth had plucked up courage, refreshed and recharged and ready to fight another day, through drought and storm and whatever challenge might come along.

My own spirit responded. Seated on a rock beside a rushing stream, the soothing, soaking rain drenching me thoroughly, I breathed in that unique, invigorating scent that rises from wet woods and with it, renewed courage to resume my own battle, come what may. Whether it leads me through that deep, dark valley or across a serendipitous bridge to the other side, I will fight. Fight for freedom, for peace, for hope - for joy.

video

Friday, May 20, 2016

On the Edge

Oh, my dear Friends...I'm so afraid. What began as a slight unease in my soul seems to be slowly but surely nudging me closer and closer to the edge of that deep, dark, delusional pit of depression...and I so desperately want to avoid falling over the edge.

I know what lies over the precipice of this particular pit - been there, done that, got the t-shirt - several t-shirts. It's more awful than anything I've ever walked through. "Walked" isn't even the right term; more like slogged through, waded through, sat-inertly-like-a-bump-on-a-log through...

I DON'T want to go there again! I don't, I don't, I don't! It's such a scary, solitary, sad, surreal place. A place in which it seems impossible to even see the truth, let alone believe it. Where I yell at my kids and then cry, and buy chips and eat them all and feel even worse, where my house is even more of a wreck than usual and my relationships are sorely neglected, where it's painful to be with people but the loneliest place I've ever been, where joy is elusive and hope non-existent. I feel like a toddler on the verge of a tantrum, stamping feet and pounding fists and screaming, "nononononononono!".

Is it remotely possible to avoid going there? Or even desirable? Should I simply embrace the inevitable, trusting that this too shall pass and that all things will work together for my good?  I'm not sure I have any other option, to be completely honest.

I can't recall ever being aware that a "depressive episode" was imminent; only finding myself in the middle of it and waiting for it to lift. And the lifting, I definitely remember the lifting.

So maybe this is something else. Maybe I'm not about to go over the edge. Oh, I hope so.

But I'm hedging my bets. You may recall that in at least one other post, I begged you not to advise or sympathize. Well, I'm reversing that. Please, please share with me your own stories, what has helped you or someone you know in a similar situation. Comment here, Facebook me, email me, text me...And please pray for me, if praying's your thing. Bless you, Friends.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Am I Living the Life I Want to Live? (and is that even the right question?)

It's quiet in my house today - no music blaring, no TV on, no family scurrying around...just the tick-tock of the clock, the hum of the refrigerator and the chirping of a bird outside my window.

I'm generally a fan of silence and stillness. I find I need lots of both in my days in order to deal with my life. I guess it helps me connect with God, and lets me really hear from the depths of my own soul. I've come to discover that these things are important factors that enable me to live the life I want to live.

There are times and seasons, though, when I shrink from such solitude. Fears and worries and doubts and conflicts have a way of sending me running from my thoughts. Escape and comfort come in the form of good books and loud music, usually in tandem, so that I am afforded no opportunity to dwell on these peace-shattering, joy-stealing issues.

The irony is that I need that soul-quiet in order to address and process such events and emotions. But it takes courage to turn off the noise and face the music. It's a kind of bravery I'm not always able to summon. When I can, it ends up being its own reward.

I've been thinking today about purpose and calling and goals and dreams. Asking big questions, like, "Am I living the life I want to live?" "What kind of life do I feel called to live?" "Am I enough?" "What gaps exist between the life I'm actually living and the life I want to live?" "What priorities and values and beliefs is my life communicating?" "Do I practice what I preach?" "Is anybody even watching/listening?"

Are these even the right questions? I dunno.

But I do know that, right here and right now, I'm content with my life. With the choices I've made, for better or worse. With the path that has led me to where I am right now. As bumpy and winding and uphill and uncertain as it has been, I look back at a path strewn with breath-taking beauty, true joy, life-changing lessons, unbounded grace, unshakable hope and deep peace.

I Timothy 6:6 is a verse I keep thinking of today. In the New International Version I grew up with, it says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." In this chapter, Paul is warning Timothy about those who love money and only care about amassing wealth, to the exclusion of more worthwhile, more eternal pursuits. It's a beautiful thought, and expressed perfectly in The Message: "A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God."  

That hits the nail on the head for me: the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. It unequivocally sums up what I want my life to look like.

I've spent a lifetime in fear of not having enough, not being enough. Now, I can see clearly that God has filled my lifetime with comforting assurances and undeniable proof that He is enough, will always be enough.

And now, looking back, I can see that this is the path I've been following all along - learning to simply be myself, the person God has created and called and equipped me to be, and to agree with Him in all of it. Therein lies great contentment, and real joy. Thanks be to God!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fires and Songs

Today is an anniversary - one that's very significant, almost miraculous, to me. One year ago today, I sat at my dining room table and scribbled words on a page. Then a tune came out as I sang the words into my phone's voice recording app. Later in the day, I sat at a keyboard and pounded out chords until they fit the melody, with much more scribbling, erasing (I ALWAYS work in pencil!) and recording.

That very evening, I had the audacity to announce to my worship team leader that I'd written a song, and the even greater audacity (with much fear and trembling) to let him hear it. A few days later, I sat at that same keyboard and timidly offered my song to Jesus in the presence of a (very gracious) congregation. My very first song was born. (So, if you want to get technical, it's actually a birthday I'm celebrating...)

That one little song unplugged a previously-unsuspected but much-desired fountain in my soul, and I went on to write over forty more songs in the following six weeks. Some were pretty good, others... not-so-much. But each one expressed a little piece of my heart and brought me great joy.

But after that, the fountain seemed to dry up. Or more accurately, life got in the way and I neglected to let it flow...

...until about a week ago. I was sitting on my backyard swing, enjoying a little break from the hustle and bustle of managing a home, delighting in the cool breeze and bursting buds on the trees. I got to thinking about how we needed rain, and how wonderful it would be to have some big, fat raindrops pour down. All of a sudden, a whole verse and chorus of a new song came to mind, and I got out my phone and typed it out:

My soul craves You, Lord
In this dry and weary land
Only You can slake this burning thirst
My soul is parched and cracked
As I travel this long road
Only You can make these dark clouds burst

Pour out Your love, pour out Your grace
Soak us in mercy, come drench this place
Pour out Your healing, pour out Your peace
Let these dark clouds burst and release
Pour out

I worked with it a bit more that evening, coming up with another couple of verses and a melody, then left it for a few days. I sat with the lyrics again today. They conveyed an entirely different flavour. 

In light of the tragically devastating situation in Fort McMurray these past few days (massive, out-of-control forest fires have destroyed much of the northern Alberta city and forced complete evacuation of some eighty thousand people - for the information of my international readers), these quickly-penned lyrics now seem eerily prophetic. 

As a country, we've been praying for rain. That seems like the most expedient, logical way to bring this horrific nightmare to some kind of end. And we continue to pray.

But what an incredible outpouring of love and grace and mercy! It is simply astounding, the thousands of acts of generosity and offers of hospitality and demonstrations of selflessness that have flooded, soaked, drenched the landscape of northern Alberta in the last three days. And where there is love, there is God, smack-dab in the middle of it all. Pouring out His boundless love through those who aren't even aware of it. 

Isn't that just like God? Such beautiful, bountiful grace.

{And anyone, anywhere can join in the grace-fest! Visit www.redcross.ca}


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Friends of ours took a trip recently, and blessed the rest of us land-locked souls by posting the highlights of their journey to social media. 

It was really delightful to follow along, living vicariously through their pictures of beautiful and amazing places and new and wonderful experiences (and food, oh the food!). 

On their last post, they left one golden piece of advice: travel, travel, travel! Words to live by.

But then, the reality of my own life hit me: I have never traveled just for the sake of traveling. (Well, hardly ever...one vacation to PEI when I was twelve, a few Labour Day weekend jaunts to Saint John and a handful of mountain and ocean day trips definitely count, but that's the extent of it.)

I've never even left North America. I've crisscrossed this great country more times than I can count, both by land and by air, but each trip had a purpose, whether we were moving lock, stock and barrel for a new job or getting home for Christmas or performing two hundred and fifty concerts in ten months...there wasn't much time for sightseeing. 

To be perfectly honest, I've never even wanted to travel much until quite recently. (Then I joined a website that posts unbelievably beautiful pictures of Australia...) And even after I had been bitten by the travel bug, I was able to put it off quite comfortably and contentedly. Now I'm wondering why.

I think I know. For me, it's all about beauty - that's what feeds my soul, what gives me joy, what makes my heart sing. And I never have to go far to find it. Beauty is everywhere, everywhere - if you know how to look. 

In the glory of sunrise and sunset; in the eyes of my sons; in the simple intricacy of a spring violet; in joyful birdsong; when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity; in tears of joy; in well-chosen words; in a deep belly laugh and a star-lit sky and the crash of waves on sand. Life is beautiful.

Any maybe it's true that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - I never really thought about it like that before. Maybe it's less about what we see than how we see it. 

My hope is that I will have a chance to see beauty in other parts of the world someday. I know the experience would be enriching and broadening and altogether delightful. 

But even if I never have the opportunity, I choose to be content. I choose to seek joy right where I am. This is the gift.  

 
Never lose an opportunity for seeing anything that is beautiful;
for beauty is God's handwriting - a wayside sacrament.
Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower.
And thank God for it as a cup of His blessing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Not As Those Who Have No Hope

The world lost a good man yesterday. It was a sudden thing, completely unexpected. It left so many of us stunned, flabbergasted, shocked.

Thanks to the wonder that is Facebook, the news quickly made its way around the globe. Tributes poured in all day, vainly attempting to express the inexpressible - the pain and sorrow and fear and anger and questions that death always brings, co-mingled with gratitude for this life well-lived and joy at the thought of his new, permanent residence.

You know all those syrup-y, overblown accolades that generally appear in obituaries, whether the person to whom they pertain deserves them or not? Well, it would be difficult to exaggerate in this case. This particular man really was one of the most joyful people I've ever known. He was completely head-over-heels for his wife of many years - in fact, he was often teased for celebrating their "week-a-versaries" online. He was a devoted servant of Jesus, having spent over twenty years as a missionary to the children, youth and youth workers of Italy. He had a wonderful voice and played piano beautifully. But he was probably best known for his contagious laugh and completely goofy sense of humour. In typical Baptist style, he loved good food and good fellowship. He was just a really great guy - beloved by all who knew him. For real.

And that's just the general stuff. As for my own story: I've known him since I was very small - we attended the same church and the same Bible camp. He would have been just starting to assume leadership roles as I began elementary school, I think. Our paths crossed many, many times as I was growing up, particularly in all things musical. Even then, what stands out most in my mind is his constant encouragement. He was a born cheerleader.

That's what I will miss most now. Thanks to social media, we reconnected after many years of living in different countries. And this man, on top of his full, full plate of family and friends and ministry and other responsibilities, has been one of my most vocal, constant, dependable sources of feedback and encouragement. As I read the many tributes on his FB page yesterday, I noticed that the man had close to 2000 "friends" listed on his profile. Yet he took the time to read my little blog and follow our ministry and make comments and jokes on my posts... It has been an honour and a privilege to occupy even a teeny space in his life.

I'll miss him. Certainly, his absence will not affect me to the extent that it will affect his dear wife, his sisters, his mother and other family members and close friends. His sudden exit from this sphere will rock their worlds, and rightly so. My heart aches for them. But his departure leaves a little, painful gap in my own world, as well.

As I've written this, I've been writing in the past tense, as is proper when writing of the deceased. But it just feels wrong. And I'm thinking that it's because he's not past, he's incredibly present! Maybe more so than he has ever been - present in the presence of God. Maybe it's okay, then, to speak of him as if he still lives because he does! In a more real and alive way then ever before, in fact!

I am so grateful for the hope of Heaven. The older I get, the more friendly and welcome the notion becomes. I even get Homesick sometimes. It will be so good to go Home. But I used to be afraid. Not of Heaven itself, but of the inherent unfamiliarity. However good Heaven might be, it remains unknown to us in the here and now.

One of the most beautiful and helpful passages about Heaven in literature can be found in the pages of Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery. Anne is comforting Ruby, who has just acknowledged her swiftly-approaching death and accompanying terror of what was to come:

I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about Heaven, what it is and what it holds for us. I don't think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we'll just go on living, a good deal as we live here - and be ourselves just the same - only it will be easier to be good and to follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly.

We will grieve and mourn, cry and question, wonder and wait. 

But we will not lose hope. 

~We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.~ 
Hebrews 6:19

Friday, April 15, 2016

When You Just Can't Seem to Get Out of Your Own Way

Here's the situation. A couple of years ago, I took a leap and joined up with a direct sales company. (Notably, this wasn't my first forage into the direct sales world. In fact, I'd been down that same road no less than three times before.) I did a few shows, earned some free product and some welcome cash, retained a few customers. Then, circumstances beyond my control dictated that I take a little-less-than-a-year's break. So I did.

Well, that break is now over, by nearly a month. I'm free again to pursue this path if I so choose. And it's a good path! I actually believe in this company; improving health and caring for the Earth are very good goals that I can endorse whole-heartedly. I actually use these products - pretty much daily - and love them! It's a mission I can really get behind, along with an incredibly supportive, empowering team that graciously offers every tool I could ever need to succeed. It offers the potential to significantly increase our earning power and can be done alongside of caring for my family and moving forward in ministry. "Yahoo"s all around!

Yet here I sit - frozen, stagnant. Oh, I've been engaged in prep work for weeks; I've attended training seminars and team meetings; I've been fully equipped and encouraged in every way. But I'm terrified. Absolutely terrified.

I'm so afraid to fail that I cannot move forward. My next step is to reach out to people, share how these products and this company have improved my life and how it can improve theirs, too. Simple, right?

There's so much at work under the surface here that I'm just beginning to see. One thing about me: my biggest fear is having people not like me, particularly through any action/inaction on my part. I have ALWAYS gone way out of my way to avoid confrontation; I run screaming at the slightest approach of conflict. It breaks my heart to think that I've hurt or disappointed or even annoyed someone, or put someone out or asked something of them that has made them uncomfortable in any way, shape or form. (For me, asking someone to support my business definitely falls under this category.)

It's silly, really. I know it is. I mean, most people who know me like me (or at the very least, haven't indicated otherwise). I'm sure there are a few out there who could do without me - that's gotta hold true for everyone, right? (Except maybe for my upline in this business - she's seriously the people-y-ist people person I've ever met!) And in a way, that's kind of the point - generally speaking, in this direct sales stuff, people are buying you as much as they're purchasing product, if not more so.

And that's what sticks in my gullet - the thought of someone "buying" me. I have made great strides towards loving and accepting myself for whom I am (and am not) over the past few years. I can see for myself that I've come a long way. But I guess I still don't feel that my customers would be getting their money's worth :)

The other bit to this puzzle is my lesser-but-still-significant fear of success. A lazy person at heart, I'm afraid (and yet I hope at the same time!) that this will take off and I'll have lots of homes/lives to help change and lots of presentations to do and lots of customers with which to build relationships...

So that's it! I woke up this morning filled with a vague, unidentified dread. It has now been identified. Now it can be worked through and dealt with and perhaps even conquered. May it be so.

(to be continued...)


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wake Up!

I've been attending an afternoon Bible Study for a few months now. It's become one of the highlights of my week -  never have I been surrounded by such an authentic, seeking, open, questioning, grace-filled group of people. It's a loosely-structured discussion of the selected readings for each week of the church calendar. We share about what words, images and ideas attract or repel us; we ask what Jesus might be saying to each of us; and we try to discern to what action God might be calling us. We talk a lot about historical and cultural context and intended audience and what might lie beneath the most obvious, literal interpretation.

It's really delightful. Under the (often) gentle, (usually) tactful, broad-minded and knowledgeable guidance of our leader, I'm gradually being unfettered from some legalistic shackles that have weighed me down since childhood regarding biblical study and interpretation. Looking at the Scriptures with fresh eyes has been...well...refreshing!

Sometimes I come away from having met with our study group filled with joy, sometimes in tears, sometimes with even more questions. But today, disappointment was the overwhelming emotion that accompanied me as I walked out the door.

Since Easter is this coming Sunday, one of the readings was, of course, the resurrection account - this year from the book of Luke. (You know, the one about the women discovering the angel in the empty tomb early in the morning on the third day,  and then running to tell the disciples.)

We spent a lot of time looking at the details, comparing each Gospel's similarities and differences, imagining the deep grief and fear the disciples must have been experiencing. There was thoughtful, thought-provoking conversation.

But no one - not even me - expressed even a speck of  the wonder, the amazement, the marvel, the joy of the actual event itself. Maybe we were saving it for Easter? Maybe we'd heard it so often it had lost it's meaning?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I know my own heart. It was definitely NOT bubbling over with gratitude, bursting with joyful song, reveling in the reality of forgiveness and grace and new life and deep love that wouldn't be possible without Jesus' death and resurrection...

This hit me hard in the middle of our discussion, and I wrote this in my Bible, below the passage: "I miss the wonder I used to feel at this wonderful, wondrous story. On Easter morning I used to almost jump out of my skin with excitement, delight, joy that Jesus had risen and was alive. What happened?!?"

And while I had gleaned some new and interesting thoughts that helped me appreciate parts of the story in a deeper way, I walked out of the room deeply disappointed...in myself.

But now, I'm thankful. It feels like a wake-up call of sorts, like a kind of murky film has been peeled off my soul. I think I'll journey through the rest of this most Holy week with eyes and heart wide open, better prepared to grieve and mourn and repent and marvel and rejoice and celebrate.



Some beautiful words to ponder as we follow the path of the Passion:


WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.




Monday, February 29, 2016

The Elephant in the Room Part Two

Let me begin by expressing my heart-felt gratitude to you good people.Your kindness and concern and especially your sensitivity have been beautiful to behold. Thank you.

The dense fog of this depression lifted on Sunday afternoon. My overwhelming desire is to dissect the experience and name a cause, but I simply can't. All I know is that in the middle of making lunch on Sunday afternoon, I stood in the middle of my kitchen and realized that whatever had been pressing down on me and confusing my heart and mind had gone. I was thinking clearly again, seeing clearly, feeling clearly.

I think the fog started to lift Sunday morning. I attended two worship services that morning, at two different churches, and each seemed as though it was tailor-made just for me, right where I was. The tenderness and intimacy and graciousness of this gesture on the part of my Father touched my heart. It was the first time I had really felt in about four weeks.

Today has been really good. It felt so good to smile and mean it. There was such a freedom, a lightness, in not having to force myself to go through the motions of living. It was the first morning in ages that I wasn't wading through a thick, mucky swamp of exhaustion, completely overwhelmed by a simple task like deciding what to serve for breakfast. My husband said to me, "It's so good to have you back."

Now I'm faced with the temptation to live in fear of when the shadow might fall on me again - because it very likely will. I resolve here and now not to ruin these good days, however few or plentiful they happen to be.

I came across an incredibly insightful quote on Facebook last night. It addresses depression with the distinct clarity of one who has been there. Stephen Fry said this:

If you know someone who's depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. 
Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, 
like the weather. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is 
one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

Thank you, Friends, for journeying with me. You bless me in ways you can't even imagine.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Elephant in the Room

I'm not at all sure I should be writing in the middle of whatever it is I'm in - I usually wait until I can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel before attempting to put it all into words.

But I feel the need to write. Whether or not I'll hit "publish" remains to be seen. (If you're reading this, I guess I did...)

I feel like I'm at the bottom of a deep, dark hole that keeps getting deeper and darker with every passing day, too exhausted to even consider clawing my way back up. But it's a dim, faded feeling - I hardly feel capable of feeling at all. It's like I've been split into two parts - one acutely suffering, suffocating at the bottom of this bottomless pit, and one that's separate, apart, observing the first part with only the vaguest interest.

I'm going through the motions of living - I get up every morning, see my family off to school and work, and then I just sit - sometimes for hours at a time - staring at my screensaver, or out the window, or at a candle flame, or at the ceiling...Sometime I'll get a burst of energy and do some dishes or laundry, or go for a walk or look at Facebook. Sometimes I'll escape the agony by medicating myself with a good book and a snack.

In the evenings, I cook supper, interact with my family, put the kids to bed and surrender to the lure of sleep. But even there, I find no respite - my dreams are deeply troubled and disorienting. I often wake in the night with a gasp and a wide-eyed "was that real?" whisper on my lips before turning over and delving back into that tumultuous land of dreams.

I feel stuck, trapped, like someone pushed the "pause" button on my remote - I can't seem to look to the future at all, to make any plans or pursue any goals. And yet I can hardly bring myself to care.

On the bright side, I'm not remotely suicidal. I want to live; there seems to be, buried deep within, a weak hope that things will change someday, that my life will resume, that someone will push "play" again.

Some moments are even beautiful - sweet snuggles with my kids, shared laughs with my husband, sun and sky and wild winds... but even the beautiful can't seem to penetrate for long this fog that is my current reality.

I've been avoiding close contact with people who care about me. One of my dearest friends was in town for a week, and I only saw her for about twenty minutes on the day she arrived. Granted, I have actually been quite sick with a violent cough and various other cold/flu symptoms that have passed through the family this winter, so I did have a valid reason to cancel our plans. But even though part of me was incredibly sad about missing out on spending time with her, that other part of me was beyond relieved to not have to be cared about and questioned.

On the other hand, I recently spent a fairly enjoyable day working at an event that had drawn a large crowd. My main job ended up being emptying garbage cans and restocking washrooms. There was lots of interaction throughout the day, but it was very much of the small-talk variety. It was easy, even pleasant, to pretend to be joyful and helpful and humble with the kindly strangers who stopped and thanked me for my efforts.

It struck me as rather strange, at first, that I had so enjoyed the day. In general, being with people these days has been excruciating. But it was the stranger aspect of the crowd that was my sword and shield - I could be anyone I wanted to be with these people; it was just a different form of escapism. And there was a vague pleasure in serving, in doing something useful with my time.

In contrast to the pleasant anonymity of being in the midst of a crowd, the thought of a one-on-one, beyond the surface, me-focused conversation...I can't even go there in my mind right now. It's too heavy, too immense, too much like being thrown into the middle of the ocean with no land in sight, armed only with little arm floaties and not knowing how to swim...

Interestingly, God has been remarkably present throughout this ordeal. My prayers have changed drastically, however; much more simple and direct, less grand and wordy. I think this is a good thing.

I guess I wanted to write in the middle of all this to preserve a record of what depression looks like, feels like...I've experienced valleys of depression in the past, but never have I been so aware of it, and at the same time so powerless to move beyond it.

Dear friends, I have not written this to cause you to worry, or to fish for affirmations, or to get advice or sympathy or a quick fix. (Please don't give me advice or solutions - I just can't handle it right now.) But if someone out there is in a similar place, know that you're not alone. And if you're a friend of someone who suffers from depression (and you probably are, it's sadly common), may this help you understand a bit of what they might be going through. Depression is ugly, but it needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

(If you see me sometime after reading this, please just act normally. I may want to talk, I may not - and you'll know :)  Just know that I value your friendship and your presence. Thanks.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Stir the Soil

Here we are, poised on the cusp of yet another Lenten season... Ash Wednesday is tomorrow! (Lent is simply the forty days before Easter, traditionally characterized by fasting, confession, reflection and preparation; Lent is not "in the Bible" per se, but it's kind of modeled after Jesus' forty days in the desert. There - Lent in a nutshell.) 

I have never felt more in need of a quiet, contemplative time in all my life. I'm just coming out of one of the best times of my life. Up until ten days ago, I was gainfully employed at a job that made good use of my gifts; working with encouraging, wise, intentional, life-giving, fun colleagues and a congregation whom I adore; making a difference in people's lives (I hope) by pointing them to Jesus. 

Bliss, people - pure bliss. Sure, there were challenges to be faced and overcome, questions to be answered, difficulties to be endured. There were times when my weaknesses and short-comings (yep, pun totally intended) became painfully evident. But overall, it was such a satisfying time. 

I knew it was temporary. That was a given from the get-go. I was pretty tempted to hold myself just a teeny bit aloof, to not give myself whole-heartedly to the endeavour. But I decided against that, figuring that the joy of jumping in with both feet, of being fully immersed in the give-and-take of community for a time would more than compensate for whatever pain might be involved when it came to a close. 

I'm still trying to determine if that has indeed been the case. Maybe I need to allow more time to pass before I can be sure? But no - it was absolutely, totally, one-hundred-per-cent worth it! These past ten days have been pretty rough, though, to state it mildly. I feel adrift on a vast sea of uncertainty. The plans and projects that seemed so sure before I entered into this look differently to me now, somehow. I just don't know where to go from here.

Enter Lent. A time to seek, to search, to question, to consider, to ponder...to clear away the mind-clutter and get quiet and still before my God. I am beyond grateful for God's perfect timing.

A prayer "randomly" came across my screen a few weeks ago (thanks, PB) - and something about it really resonated with me. I've determined to pray it, and mean it, daily - or even more often - during Lent. Join me? And watch and see what God will do?


God, stir the soil,
Run the ploughshare deep,
Cut the furrows round and round,
Overturn the hard, dr
y ground,
Spare no strength nor toil,
Even though I weep.
In the loose, fresh mangled earth
Sow new seed.
Free of withered vine and weed
Bring fair flowers to birth.
Amen.

(Prayer from Singapore, Church Mission Society)




Saturday, January 9, 2016

41

It's my birthday tomorrow. My forty-first birthday. To get in the birthday-blogging mood, I was re-reading my previous birthday posts:  39 and 40  (such original titles, I know...).  Each pretty traumatic in it's own way. In comparison, this promises to be somewhat of a dull post, since I'm perfectly ok with turning forty-one.

Truth be told, it's been another crazy year. Seems as though every year holds it's own brand of crazy, I'm coming to discover. Unlike most of my years to date, however, this one has been characterized more by peace and joy and gratitude and grace - a refreshing change, to say the least.

But mostly peace. Not because it's been a particularly peaceful year - lots of unexpected and unwelcome things have happened, intermingled with much that was wonderful and very welcome. Rather, I think it's because I've been learning to be a more peace-filled person; and to take that peace with me into whatever storm may arise.

The statements above sound a little misleading - as if this peace has been achieved through any effort on my part. That couldn't be any farther from the truth. In fact, the only reason I've been able to (sometimes) practice peace in stressful situations is because God has been revealing to me more and more of who He is:

That peace is a Person - One who is with me always. That His love never, ever fails. That His kindness and goodness toward me are completely consistent and dependable. That His joy really is my strength. That He has endless patience with me. That He delights in me.

I wouldn't call it a perfectly peaceful year, however. It's so easy to forget that God is for me, not against me. It's so easy to make a mistake, then another, spiraling down into that dreaded place of discouragement and doubt. It's so easy to forget who I am, whose I am. And that makes all the difference in how I respond to challenges and difficulties.

I saw the term "imperfect progress" for the first time this past year. I guess that's how I'd best define my journey - not a steady, predictable ascent, but more of a meandering, three-steps-forward-two-steps-back kind of awkward-yet-joyous dance. And you know what? I'll take it!

All things considered, forty has been my best year yet; and I have every confidence that forty-one will be even better. Not because I've got everything figured out, but because I'm learning to trust the One who does.