Friday, December 1, 2017

December Downer

Sometimes, the coming of December is hard. Such high expectations accompany it's arrival. Perfectionism that lies dormant most of the year - or is at least more or less under control - suddenly blazes to life, goaded into action by how things are supposed to be.

Whose idea was it, anyway, that everything had to be perfect at Christmastime? Where did that come from? All of a sudden, people feel the pressure to present a flawless - and more often than not, false - face to the world; to be merry and bright, regardless of reality.

But what if things aren't so merry and bright in your world? What if your life doesn't even remotely resemble what you hoped it would/thought it should by now?

Maybe it's your health - cancer was not in your life plan. Nor an early heart attack. And definitely not those forty extra pounds.

Maybe your family - or lack thereof.

Maybe your finances - or lack thereof.

Maybe your relationships - conflict and indifference and pettiness and strife and strain or abuse or neglect or abandonment.

Maybe your career - stuck in a dead-end job you hate; or no job at all.

I want to believe that it's the power of the true meaning of Christmas that overshadows all of these issues and fills us to overflowing with gratitude for Jesus and love for humanity and joy to the world - but I'm not convinced. I have no doubt that God wants to give us joy, no matter what our circumstances, but I don't think the joy of the Lord would manifest itself in over-spending and over-indulgence, denial and pretense.

Can we just stop all the forced merry-making? Can we stop spending hundreds of dollars we don't have on things our loved ones don't need? Can we stop feeling obligated to stuff our faces with every single goody offered us? Can we drop these ridiculous expectations to feel a certain way this Christmas?

Have I just totally thrown cold water on your Christmas warm fuzzies? I really am sorry if this post is a downer. Maybe you love Christmas - maybe, for you, it's the one time of year when everything is as it should be all the time - family together, giving generously, loving our neighbour, caring for the poor and needy, giving thanks for the real gifts...

Maybe that's the real issue here - all that's best and most genuine in this season should be evident year-round, not just for a few weeks in December.

All I know is that December's arrival set something off in me this year - a hunger, a wanting, an impatience, a yearning; a dissatisfaction with the way the season's been hijacked and distorted.

I want less, but I also want more - something essentially, qualitatively different. Is that even possible?

How about you? I'd really love to hear your thoughts on all this - I need a fresh perspective.

Image result for Christmas images



 

Monday, October 16, 2017

It's Not Easy Being Green

Maybe you heard about the crazy wind/rain storm that hit southern Ontario yesterday (October 15th)? Over sixty thousand homes without power, tons of downed trees and power lines, lots of damage to property. Not too far from us, four under-construction homes were flattened. Somehow, we escaped with no harm done. But what a wild storm! It didn't last long, but wow! Fierce winds, torrential rain, trees swaying and bending...

And leaves everywhere! We live near the top of a hill, and we watched in awe as swarms of colourful leaves chased one another down our street through the pouring rain.

Now for a little back story. We've been in southern Ontario since the middle of summer. We had lived in Edmonton for several years before we moved, where Autumn comes pretty early, usually by mid-September (or earlier!). I think that by now, most years, the majority of leaves have at least changed colour, if not already fallen.

And so, subconsciously, that was my expectation for Fall here in Waterloo. We happen to live in an area surrounded by miles of gorgeous woodsy trails - such a kind gift from a loving Father to His nature-obsessed daughter ❤ On my very first walk through those leafy woods, I looked waaay up at that whispering maple canopy and thought to myself, "How amazing will this be in the Fall?!"

Every time I had the chance to escape to the woods, I would look anxiously for signs of my favourite season, but was always left wanting. All I ever saw was green, green and more green! Which was lovely - it really was - but not what I was so eagerly anticipating!

(I caught myself a few times, each time admonishing myself to try to enjoy the moment, to not wish the season away, etc... but I forgot pretty quickly.)

Finally, but ever so slooowwwly, the leaves began to change. But even still, my heart wasn't satisfied. I was still chomping at the bit - I wanted more! More colour, more change, more cooler days and nights...

Back to yesterday's storm. Before the wild winds hit, maybe thirty percent of the leaves had shown their true colours. As I stood in my window, watching the foliage fly by, I realized it was only the leaves that had already changed that were being carried away on the wings of the wind. The green leaves, though violently tossed about, still clung to their branches.

If I had gotten my way, every leaf in Waterloo would be on the ground right now. Autumn would be over.

Maybe it's a bit of a silly lesson, but it spoke volumes to me. What this tells me is that I can trust God's timing. He's always right on time. So I don't need to worry or whine or push or plead or bargain or beg. He knows, and even more astounding - He cares!

And if this truth applies to something as minor as a little whim of mine, surely I can trust Him with the big stuff, too. And that, my dear friends, equals peace.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

So I'll wait for all that green to transform into the reds and oranges that my heart loves - at least a little more patiently 😊



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Right Stuff

I'm in the process of looking for a job here in our new city. On the one hand, I'm extremely thankful. It's been a very long time since I've felt able to work at all. The fearful, skeptical side of me keeps watching and waiting... for this motivation and desire to get out there and make a difference that has persisted for months now to fade away, but by the grace of God it's still here (hallelujah!).

On the other hand, it's a little stressful. The numbers don't lie, people. I really need to be working at least part-time - and soon - if our family is to thrive here long-term, which is the hope. And so the (self-inflicted) pressure's on to find that fantastic, elusive something... Something that will at the same time be fulfilling, valuable and lucrative. (And something I can actually do.)

And on the other hand (wait, that's three hands - oops), it's a little like torture for this recovering people-pleaser. Every time I submit a resume, an opportunity for rejection is created. Eek! (The only thing as bad as rejection is confrontation - which is the inevitable result of a positive response to said resume...) The fear of rejection is stirring up all kinds of muck from my past - that little voice that whispers coldly and cruelly, "Why in the world would anyone want to hire you?"

I'm applying for all kinds of jobs; from a cookie factory to a bookstore, from photography to farm produce sales, and more! As I read the many and varied job descriptions, I am continually self-evaluating: could I do that, be that, perform to that level, meet that employer's expectations? In light of all this soul-searching appraisal and my own checkered history of see-sawing self-esteem, it's a testament to God's gracious work in my life that I've had the courage and confidence to answer any of these ads!

So on the other hand (okay, this is really getting out of hand 😉), it's a really great opportunity to revisit the foundations of my true identity. My value lies not in what I do or do not do. Who I am is not defined by my work - or lack thereof. My job title does not determine my worth. Because, in short - I'm a daughter of the King of the Universe!

Today, that truth confirms two things for me: 1) My Dad - the King - has a great plan for me and my family, as well as the power and authority to carry it out and 2) He has given me/will give me the right stuff to get the job done - whatever it turns out to be.

And that takes me from fear and self-doubt to peace. I like it here, I think I'll stay awhile. ❤❤

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The First Day

It's so quiet. All I hear is the click of the keys as I type, the whir of my computer's fan, the hum of the refrigerator and the tick-tock of the clock.

I think it's safe to say it's never been this quiet here. Never in this case means in the last several weeks - we moved into our new place here in Ontario exactly one month ago. And in that month, my not-so-little ones have been with me more or less constantly.

But not today. It's the first day of school. The most wonderful time of the year, right? All four of us went to school this morning, to be a part of the new school's first flag pole assembly.

It was a zoo - several hundred hyped-up, lost-looking kids and corresponding parents searching the crowd for elusive sign-holding teachers; joyful reunions of friends, buses arriving late, little ones crying, in the cool, foggy, fall-ish morning air.

May I take this opportunity to brag on my kids for a minute? Their courage to walk into the unknown and willingness to embrace the unfamiliar continually astonish me. I'm not saying they weren't scared - there were some tears shed by the eight-year-old last night as we contemplated the uncharted territory before us, and both expressed some apprehension about the days to come. But by the end of our chat, they were rejoicing in their ability to make new friends and bubbling over with excitement about future possibilities.

And they just walked into that maze of students, found their places, said good-bye to us (well, the nearly-thirteen-year-old just gave us a nod) and that was that. My husband and I made our way out of the insanity to watch from the sidelines as speeches were made and songs were sung and classes entered the building.

And now I'm at home. Alone.

Normally, I'd be celebrating! Solitude has been my fortress and my strength for so long now. But things have changed for me in the past six months (yes, it's been six months since I last posted here!). Maybe I'll tell the whole story sometime, but suffice it to say that I'm feeling more ready than I ever have to get out into the great big world and do... something. Do some good, make a difference, get involved, find my place...

I'm kind of feeling like it's the first day for me, too. The first day of what? I'm not sure yet. But I'm determined not to panic and rush ahead. Nor do I want to lag behind. I firmly believe that God has a plan for me - a really good plan. I want to keep in step with it, with Him.

So stay tuned, dear Friends - the best is yet to come! I'm delighted to be sharing this journey with you again! Many blessings as you seek to keep in step with the plans laid out for you!

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Very Good Place to Start

Has anyone seen my motivation? I can't for the life of me figure out where I put it...

The urge - no, urge is too strong a word - the invitation to sit and stare out the window for hours is an enticing one today. No, not out the window - the blowing snow and minus a bajillion degree weather is too much dreariness when combined with my present emotional state. 

Days like today are joyless. Bleak. Blank. Dark. Dismal. (Thank you, thesaurus.com) They've come upon me often this winter. The weather, this mental disorder, and the fact that I haven't had a moment to myself in days have ganged up on me today, pushing me down into some dank abyss that I don't know how to find the desire to crawl up out of. 

I guess blank describes it best. I'm not sad, per se, but void of much emotion of any kind. Like Alexander Hamilton, I thought I'd try and write my way out of it. 

But it doesn't seem to be doing me much good today. Minutes tick by as I stare at the blinking cursor on the page.
~~~~~~~~~~ 

I guess I might as well get this revelation out of the way: I lost my "job" recently. (I put job in quotation marks because it was hardly a job - just one hour a day, every school day.) I ended up missing too many days - partly due to physical illness, partly due to mental illness. While they were very compassionate and understanding, we all agreed that they needed someone who could be more consistent. 

I'm disappointed in myself. Embarrassed. Discouraged. Wondering where to go from here; not wanting to go anywhere. A little bit relieved, too. It is what it is. (insert eyeroll emoji)

My life these days is a constant tug-of-war between accepting myself as I am and pushing myself to my limits; between the highs and the lows and trying to keep myself anchored to what I know to be true, even when I can't see it. 

"Faith is hope with a track record, " writes Anne Lamott. I'm thankful for having journalled and blogged and kept gratitude lists over the years - physical evidence that God is indeed at work in my circumstances, that I can return to again and again when I've forgotten or temporarily lost the ability to believe. 

So that's where I'll start. I will NOT let this entire day slip away; I will start with truth, with God - a very good place to start. 




Friday, February 10, 2017

Good-fer-nothin'

Illness and infirmity often give birth to contemplation, generally tending towards the negative or at best the more realistic. Would you agree with that statement? I'm on day three of a migraine that has gone from raging to borderline, and day eleven of a cold/flu that just won't give up. In the process of dealing with it all, some questions and doubts have surfaced that I may have buried at some earlier occasion.

Thanks in part to a stint of unemployment for our family's "breadwinner", I find myself questioning my own usefulness, specifically my employ-ability. Between coughing up lungs and downing many Tylenol, I've been taking a good hard look at reality in terms of what I can reasonably expect from myself. I've been working at my kids' school as lunchroom supervisor for a few months now. On my best days lately, I've contemplated returning to teaching or doing something in the field of education. However, I've come to the (sad?) realization that a regular job is not a possibility for me at this time - maybe never.

It's largely the symptoms of the bipolar disorder that have led me to this conclusion. The medication I've been prescribed has been helpful, but has not made my symptoms disappear, nor is it expected to do so.  My doctor suspects that I've been dealing with this illness for many years, even since adolescence. Perhaps not coincidentally, I have a long history of quitting pretty much everything I've ever started. To put it briefly, I would take on jobs, projects, hobbies, goals, etc... in the "highs" and then let them all go during the "lows".

I don't expect this to change much. This inevitably leads to queries about my ultimate purpose and value. But what's needed here is some adjustment of my own expectations. There are things I've been made and called and equipped to do, and I will pursue those things as I am able to do so. Writing this blog is one of those things. Singing/song writing is another. I will keep my one-hour-a-day school lunchroom job, challenging as it is some days to get myself out of the house for that hour. And I will keep an open heart and mind to whatever God may have for me in the future - with Him, all things are possible.

You may read this and think I've given up, or lost hope. Not in the least, dear Friend! In fact, I have a firmer grip on hope than ever. To "know thyself" holds great power and possibility. And to know my God - even more so! He walks with me through all of this, beside and behind and before. I have this hope as an anchor through the highs and lows - firm and secure.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Honestly?

I've been doing it again. As much as I rail against it, as much as I vow not to do it, I've been doing it again. I've put my happy face mask back on, and have been hiding behind it. AND, I've been avoiding anyone who might care enough to notice and try to get a peek behind the mask.

I attribute it to a number of causes. It's been a ridiculously difficult month - I'm likely in denial a bit. I don't want to sound like I'm whining and complaining - evoking sympathy is not my goal here. And I do want to focus on the positive, because there are always positives.

But I don't want to be fake, inauthentic. There's enough of that in the world, even in my little world - I don't want to contribute to it or even just encourage it by example.

So what's the proper balance? I really don't want to "let it all hang out", but isn't anything less than that less than real and honest?

I dunno.

I've been sick for the past week, with a flu the likes of which I've not experienced in years - thank heavens! I think I've finally turned a corner toward wellness, but it's been the bitter icing on the cake of a month which has been filled with challenge and hardship and angst and fear and doubt and pain and grief and plain ol' worry. And as awful as January was, it's not looking as if February will be much better in terms of the issues to be dealt with. To be honest, I'm weary of it all.

That's not to say these past few weeks have been devoid of joy - to the contrary! Take a look at my Facebook news feed, for example - joy abounds! And I'm thankful to have it recorded in a place where I can go back and remind myself that no, January did not totally and completely suck.

Any real joy had to be fought for, hunted down, distilled from all the difficulty and distress.

Maybe that's the lesson here.

Because the negatives will always be there, to varying degrees. And the joy will always be there, too - fighting for its fair share of air time.

What I don't want, though, is for anyone to think that joy is all there is. While that would be lovely (or would it?), everyone knows the truth. Everyone suffers - mostly quietly, alone. I think that's such a shame. We all have so much common ground, similar experience, universal understanding... We could help each other so much just by being up front about our struggles. It's such a comfort to know we're not alone, isn't it?

I had to call in sick five days in a row for my school lunch room job and felt so awful leaving them short-handed. On the fifth day, my supervisor responded that she had had the same flu over Christmas. All she said was, "I feel for you", but it went deep in erasing my sense of guilt.

It doesn't take much! A second of real connection, of genuine compassion, of shared emotion goes a long way.

So I'm intentionally peeling off that mask yet again. That's when you get the real joy :)


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let's Talk




If you're in Canada, you've probably heard of this campaign. Since 2010, Bell has been raising awareness, funds, and discussion to benefit the mental health of all Canadians and to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

It's always seemed like a good idea to me, but I'd never taken a participatory role in the day's tweets and texts and posts. I just discovered that this particular effort has raised almost eighty million dollars for mental health initiatives! Real ones, too - there's a list on the Bell site that details where the money has actually gone. Places like big hospitals and major universities and the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, as well as much-smaller-but-just-as-significant programs like Partners for Youth in Fredericton, NB and the PEI Family Violence Prevention Services. This is very good.

And so today's the big day and yes, we should talk - #BellLetsTalk. But since I've become so much more aware of my own mental health - having been diagnosed in November of 2016 with bipolar disorder - and with my new self-appointed position as an ambassador for mental illness, I think it's a much better idea to talk every day. All the time. Out loud.

Because there's so much to talk about! My hope is that one day mental health will be included in all things health-and-wellness-related as a matter of course. That admitting to being on an anti-depressant medication will come as easily and guiltless-ly as talking about being on insulin for diabetes, or having a cast on a broken leg. That workplaces and schools will take the same measures to ensure mental wellness as they do physical safety. That suicides will be prevented because allowing anyone to suffer in silence will have become obsolete, unthinkable.

I started taking a mood stabilizer medication a few months ago. I had been doing everything I knew of to combat my highs and lows - healthy diet, exercise, meditation, counselling, nature therapy... but I continued to experience extreme mood swings. For the first few weeks, I thought it was truly the answer to my prayers - everything seemed so stable and secure.

But then, as life continued to happen, I began to notice occasional ups and downs sneaking back into my days and weeks. It's been different though - better, more manageable, lower highs and higher lows. I'm grateful for the addition of the medication to my mental health arsenal. It's really making a positive difference. A Carrie Fisher quote often comes to mind these days:



It feels foreign and a little wrong to write it out, but I am proud of how I'm functioning with this disorder. I am learning not to be ashamed of how I'm wired. Of the fact that I need help. That I have awesome days and awful days, days of great accomplishment and productivity and days when I can barely get out of bed and being with people is out of the question. It's all me, and it's all okay.

So that's a little bit of my story. But mental health touches ALL of us, all the time. So let's talk. Without shame. Without fear, Without blame. Without prejudice. With the mindset that everyone's story matters. That everyone has something significant to contribute to the conversation. Let's keep that conversation going.



Monday, January 9, 2017

42

We are the authors of this new story, 
so let our words be fierce,
so let our words be true.
Tyler Knott Gregson

One of the benefits of having a birthday so close to the dawn of a new year is that I'm still pretty focused on new beginnings. I'm a big fan of fresh starts - there's a lovely grace inherent in the thought of second (and forty-second) chances. Maybe that's why I've always considered the anniversary of my birth to be a good time to look back on the year before and forward to what's to come. 

I had a friend over a few weeks ago and in the course of our conversation mentioned that I'd be turning 42 in January. She looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you were in your thirties!" (she's in her thirties) We then talked a bit about how old 42 seems. 

I guess it does seem old. Not old - mature. Experienced. Seasoned. After all, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything (see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for reference - maybe one thing I'll do this year is actually finally read it). 

The funny thing is, I've never had less answers (and more questions!) than I do right now. This, too, is a phenomenon I'm noting as the years pass - I know less and less as time goes by. But - I am more and more sure of the few things I do know, and I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions, so that's a fair exchange.

Getting a handle on my mental health issues has been huge for me this past year - it gives me so much hope for the future! I've been thinking about all the things I've given up and failed at over the years. When interpreted through the lens of too-low lows (depression) and too-high highs (mania), everything makes so much sense. A lovely side effect of this is the lifting of a lot of guilt and shame. I feel so free, so light, so steady and ready to sally forth, quietly confident, into the great unknown that is 42. There will be challenges, I have no doubt - but I feel much more able to face them.

I sense a stirring of the soil of my life, that the furrows have been turned and are ready to receive seed that will grow into a beautiful harvest of health and freedom and growth and productivity and wisdom. I've never faced the future with such joyous anticipation!

So I'm asking for the impossible. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I'm giving God my impossibles and asking Him to give me His. I foresee much stretching in the coming year as a result. But it doesn't scare me (much!). I know who holds me, who loves me, who fills me. With God as my rock, my shield, my stronghold, my refuge, and my deliverer, I have nothing to fear - so bring on 42!