Saturday, June 28, 2014

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood - Chapter One

     Sometimes your life can take twists and turns that can overwhelm you. Some involve new found joys, some involve loss and all involve change. Some are downright traumatic. So someone I've been talking to lately recommended this book to me. I decided that since I've been having trouble with my memory lately (stress, plus I just found out it's a side affect of a medication I'm taking for nerve pain) I would take each chapter one at a time and then blog my thoughts and feelings about what I'm reading.

*Now, just a warning:  My life tends to be an open book. It's a gamble because it makes you vulnerable to others and it's not always safe. However, to live any other way means something in me is is discontent and so I take the risk and share my journey. Some people don't think that's a good idea. They think others will read it and wonder what's behind it all. They think people would get the wrong impression of me and judge me. Many don't want their bosses or people from their work knowing such personal things about them.  For me, I don't mind. If you read through this and you take anything away from it that helps you in your journey, then the risk is worth it.

The Prologue

The author has lost a daughter named Grace. This part of the book is filled with all the "helpful" things people say to you when you've suffered a traumatic loss...and the answers in the author's mind that negate them. What can you possibly say to a person who has suffered such a loss?  Nothing. I can tell this is going to be an intimate look at loss with this author. I'm already wanting to read on.

Chapter 1: Losing Grace

      While reading this first chapter I am struck by the emotion that jumps off the pages, grabbing me, dragging me into the scene. Little Grace has died within a day and a half after breaking her arm and getting a bad strep infection. The author writes in a way that is vivid and painful. As a mother I'm instantly in that place, putting my own children in that space where Grace is and quickly swiping that thought away.

     She talks about how she would hear a voice saying something and realizing it was her own voice. It speaks to a sense of unreality, like a bad dream you can't wake up from. Her physical reaction, normal I'm sure, in the circumstances, reminds me of the affects of adrenaline I had when my mom had her stroke and we took her to the hospital. Afterwards, you're so exhausted, but in the midst of all the trauma your energy soars.

     I want to say I can't imagine what she went through. That would be a lie. I imagine things like that all the time. Whenever I feel anxiety and depression creeping up on me I imagine all sorts of terrible things. When I'm driving home in the car I think perhaps the house exploded and my family is dead. When I walk into a public bathroom I'm afraid to open the cubicle door - there might be a dead child hung up on the hook. Terrible. They're visions I've had when I'm at the point I need to see the doctor.

     Being an analytical person, the logic in me says right away that's silly, there's nothing that's happened, don't be stupid just open the cubicle. However, the imagination of a creative person can be like a giant imax screen with colours of the rainbow jumping out at you.  I read an interesting article in The Atlantic about the creative brain and mental illness - here - and I was surprised that this runs in families. Often the creative person will suffer a less severe mental illness, but others in the family may have it worse, without the creativity. There is a link somehow.

     I don't think the experience of losing my mom was anything like losing a child. Although, whenever I would think about losing my mom before it actually happened, anxiety started and I wouldn't be able to control it. That was my first bout with it and I was unprepared for how I would cope with it. I think losing a child would bring with it a greater sense of tragedy. Your children are supposed to outlive you. Parents pass away. My mom lived to almost 89 years. She had a long and good life. It was expected. Anticipated.

     We have friends who live with the frightening thought of losing their child. Their son, Jesse, had a brain tumour that was cancerous and it morphed into an even more frightening kind of cancer. It's been removed successfully, but he still has a very high risk it will come back. How they cope is crazy. I don't know if I could get through it. They write about it on their blog, here.

     Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this book. It's drawn me in and I'm tempted to read it in one go. I'm going to resist that urge as I want to savour it and remember it so I'm going to take a bit of time to do this. (You may see more than one chapter posted in a day).

The next chapter is called "Knitting Lessons" so I know I already like this author.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lord, What Shall I Do?

As a Christian, I'm pretty sure I've been somewhat successful at figuring out what God wants me to do when it comes to some of my major decisions.

But who am I fooling?

How can anyone know the mind or will of God?

When you make decisions, do you use your heart?

For instance,  do you ask God to open a door to show you a path that you should go?

Or do you use your mind?

For instance, you tell God what you want to do and then pray for Him to bless your decision?

It depends on what you believe about how God acts in our life and intersects with us.

Charismatic Christians will say they can hear God's voice and have visions, either waking or sleeping. They may receive a "word" from God for themselves or someone else.

Other Christians will say that God isn't a voice you can hear, but you can be guided generally by His word and other Christians who give good Godly counsel.

Others fall in between citing that they sense God's Spirit within them at peace or that something comes to mind and believe it comes from God guiding them.

Someone recently told me that God is not about to lead us to a place of anxiety or fear, but rather we should sense peace when deciding, a spiritual peace.

We pray for wisdom to know what to do, so if God gives us wisdom, we should use it, right? We're not puppets on a string with a master puppeteer lifting our arms in legs in the direction we should go. We're also not pawns on a chess board in some master universal chess game of good against evil.

What we think is important. From deciding the direction of our own lives and work, it affects what we tell our kids. I remember a well meaning youth leader at a camp telling our girls that they need to make sure they choose the right guy to marry. They sure don't want to miss going with God's "Plan A" and end up with God's "Plan B" or second best. They were so confused and asked, "What if I fall in love with the wrong man?"

So I want to know what you think? Do you hear God's voice? Do you sense His leading in your life? What does that look like for you.

Let me know.


Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Sometimes all it takes is to watch Dr. Phil to realize that whatever you're going through someone else has it worse. However, perspective doesn't erase the hurt and trauma you experience when going through a difficult time in your life.

Over the years in ministry, my husband and I have faced our share of difficult times. The first time was something we'll not likely ever forget - an angry person in our congregation. They were new folk who had joined and took offence at being politely called on their attitude toward Natives in the province. They seemed to think putting them all on a train and blowing it up was acceptable and even more so to tell your pastors what you thought was just fine. When we met with them in a public place - McDonalds - they told us we were terrible people, bad parents and threw their offering envelope in our faces. I remember calling our supervisor at the head office and debriefing about the whole thing. We felt supported and cared for and the encouragement kept us going.

For the most part ministry has been fulfilling even while painful. It's that eternal paradox -  no pain, no gain. It's like getting a massage from a Registered Massage Therapist and them finding all the pain points and kneading them deeply to release the tightness. Not only painful during, but even after when you ache and pain and need a couple of Tylenols to make it through the day and night. Only a few treatments later, when the pain is over do you feel better. Sometimes, ministry is like that.

Part of the problem for people in ministry is that ministry is becoming ever more complex as our society becomes more secular and governments enact laws that affect how we run our organizations.  My organization runs faith based ministry centres that help people and they are becoming more complicated to run all the time. Employment laws and Human Rights issues have brought about many fear based policies and hiring practices. No one wants to be sued for denying employment to someone based on their religious beliefs. However, how can you ensure that the spiritual mission of the organization is upheld and supported by the employees and managers? What does that look like? It's complicated - and a ministry leader is vulnerable and faces great challenges.

So how can a ministry leader make it through perilous times?

By focusing on what is important. That's what I've been doing lately. 

  • I Remember God loves me and no matter what anyone says about me, I know He loves me and He is the only one I need to please. That includes fulfilling my ministry obligations, but also ensuring that I remain true to my calling and covenant.
  • I pray. Even if it's just "God, hold on to me!" I say the words, repeat them. I pray the Psalms - they're all about crying out to God in frustration, anger and despair. I particularly like Psalm 13, it's a good one to read when I feel like rubbish. I also ask others to pray,  a select group that I know I can trust.
  • I breathe deep often. When the anxiety mounts from the extra cortisol stress brings, breathing deep helps.
  • I go for long and vigorous walks - exercise also burns cortisol.
  • I talk to a trusted friend or pastoral care counsellor and make sure that I say the truth about the deepest thoughts I have. Saying them out loud steals the power from my fears.

In the end, puppy kisses heal the heart. So, that's what I make sure I get a healthy dose of every day from Talulah, our Labradoodle puppy. She's so sweet and obliges me every time I ask for a kiss.

If you're going through a tough time, in ministry or some other type of work, I hope this helps and lets you know you're not alone, you're not the only one who feels lonely, betrayed, confused or anxious. Comment below, and I'll make sure I pray for you.