Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Grief, Depression & Sharing the Tools I Need Daily: #1 ~ Calendars, Goals and Lists

In the past three years I've really struggled with staying focused and achieving goals. The past 8 months, when depression reared its ugly head, have been the most difficult. The only goals I seemed to be able to accomplish were the ones that were necessary--feed and clothe my family and keep the house semi-clean. Beyond that? The couch was my closest friend. Books and movies kept my mind off the pain. There were spurts of energy where I dove into the distraction the wool business could provide, but my heart wasn't in it.

This past February I was finally able to get some help beyond the "you know what you need to do" platitudes I heard far too often (sometimes you need tools, not just words shared and then dismissed, right?) and slowly I'm crawling out of the muck and mire, but it's a slippery slope. 

As I'm crawling out of the muck and mire, I've been struggling with this feeling that I should share some of these tools here on the blog. I can't be the only one who needs these tools. I struggle with sharing them because there are many people who have never experienced grief or debilitating depression and the silent judgement is often deafening...yes, we notice it.  I'm a people pleaser and some of the tools that have been life changing for me, will not please everyone. I struggle with that. A lot. Yet, these are tools I wish I would have had a long time ago.  So, I'm going to work at sharing these with you. One at a time. 

The first one is a pretty safe one 😉: Create a calendar with goals. Some people like to use the calendar on their phone. Me? I'm old school. I like to write it all out. 

 



Every Sunday I try to sit down and map out what I know about the week already and then each day I add what I need to add. Some days all I can handle is the Daily Cleaning. That's okay, I'm learning. 

I don't enjoy cleaning the house all in one day, so I divide it up to do a bit each day (and yes, I skip some of the items--a lot--let's be real). Laundry is the same. One or two loads a day and there's rarely a huge pile.


Having things written down is the only way they will get done. If I try to remember what I was planning on doing, 90% of the time I won't remember, unless it's written down. 

Completing my goals for the day is giving me a purpose beyond losing myself in feel good Hallmark movies and feel good Amish novels (the only drama I want to handle 😬). I've also been reading with students in Olivia's class twice a week. This too gives me a chance to get out and do something beyond my little world. 

Do you have a helpful tool that helps you stay focused and reach daily goals? I'd love to hear about it. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Droopy. The Dried Out. The Ready to Fall Apart.

 

I was about to throw out the tulips in this vase, but as I sat there, finishing my coffee, I was drawn to the droopy, the dried out, the ready to fall apart petals. They weren't perfect and fresh anymore, yet the beauty of the details still intrigued me. There was still so much to enjoy.

 

I think we all feel that way sometimes. Tired, dried up, droopy...and I don't mean physically (although...😉).  It pretty much sums up our weekend. Emotionally exhausting on many levels. Yet, God reminded me over and over that there's beauty in the 'droopy, dried up, falling apart' moments of life. What we think is ready to be thrown out, holds a beauty that the fresh, beautiful, and vibrant part of our lives never showed us. 

 

Friday, April 28, 2017

My big hearted little girl

Sometimes the big heart of my little girl blows me away.

Last summer she came home from Day Camp one day and told us she wants to grow her hair, then cut it, and send it away so that someone could make a wig for a little girl who lost her hair because she was sick. 

So she grew her hair and today it was finally long enough to cut and donate:

 





 
 
 

And now she starts the process again. 💗

My Mama heart is filled with joy and so is the cancer survivor part of me. 

* * *

We have chosen to donate to Hair 360. It's Canadian and affiliated with the Canadian Cancer Society. The wigs are made FREE for recipients under age 19. Each recipient's wig is custom made according to their colour, length and style preferences. Each recipient has a say in the wig made for them. And the biggest thing for me in choosing Hair 360 is that it's all done by volunteer professionals. It's not a money maker. They are truly there to help kids in need. How cool is that? 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Choosing Strength Amidst the Mess

 
As I sit here on our deck, enjoying a beautiful spring morning while having my quiet time, I'm tempted to post the above picture to my social media accounts. Sunny. Beautiful. Idyllic. And it's true, but reality also shows that if I look to my left, things aren't perfectly put together:

 

There's toys strewn about, cushions out of place, hornet spray on the coffee table, and insecticide on the fake fireplace 'hearth'. 

 

My cute vintage looking patio lights are tangled on the chair, waiting to be hung, and the deck needs a paint job. 

 

Our "Gather" banner is all wind blown and there's still a sled out behind the love seat. 



And me? I'm definitely not 'selfie ready'. I just spent 30 minutes push mowing the front yard. I'm a sweaty, no make-up wearing, grey hair overtaking, pasty skinned, mess. 

But as I read this morning, God is reminding me that He is here to fill me up with His presence. I may be tempted to focus on the hot mess around me and the difficult life-path we walk that's draining me of my strength (and adding grey hair daily?? 😉). But this morning I choose the beauty and am grateful for the strength He gives us when we feel weak and messy. When we are tired and weary. I cling to the hope that is renewing our strength and helping us to soar like eagles. 

 
From Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Redemption in Brokenness


The very thing we are afraid of, our brokenness,
is the door to our Father's heart.
Paul Miller

I sat there, near the back of the little chapel hearing the murmurings of His truth from the pulpit.  Good, solid, Godly words being spoken loud and clear, but they only came through to me as murmurings. I willed myself to listen, to hear the words of Truth.  I begged God for the healing of my shattered heart. Take this fear away, God! It does not come from You! My heart pounded inside my chest. My mind swimming. My lungs gasping for air. My ears filled with cotton.... 

Continue reading at Compassion That Compels, where I am a guest blogger today:


Compassion That Compels 
provides HOPE to women battling cancer. 
They are a resource to equip cancer warriors 
spiritually, emotionally and in a tangible way, with Compassion Bags. 

Courageously yours,
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Nevertheless


I think we all go through times in life where we wonder, 'Why'?
Why are my children not following God?
Why did my marriage fail?
Why do I go through so much physical pain?
Why do I have to endure so much abuse?
Why do we struggle financially?
Why did my loved one die?
Why did I lose my job?
Why is cancer ravaging my body?
Why is everything in our home falling apart?
Why does my child suffer so much?
Why? Why? Why?

I have my own share of 'why' questions, and they all lead to the question of 'If God is able to change any situation for us, and I know that He can, with His mighty hand, then why doesn't He?'

I have learned that this line of thinking can lead to much toxicity in my mind and soul. The enemy loves weakening us through this line of thinking.

I think the biggest 'If You, God, were able, then why didn't you?" leads back to a cold winter day a few years ago when I sat beside the stiff, life-less, body of Mikail and begged God, 'If you raised Lazarus from the dead, You are able to raise Mikail to life. I know You can. Breathe Your breath into him! Please, God! Please!'

And He didn't.

Where do we allow our minds to go when God says 'No', even though we know He is able? The easiest thing is to turn our backs on God. Believe me, that was a real option for me at times, but somehow I always came back to the knowledge that God is sovereign. God is in control. There is a reason why the answer was 'No'. I may never know, this side of heaven, but I do know that God is good and God is sovereign. No, it doesn't make our everyday life easier. It doesn't make the 'missing him' go away. It does give some sense of comfort though.

One thing I started doing last year was what I call my 'Nevertheless' thinking:

Life hurts.
Nevertheless, life is a gift from God--a gift I must honour.

Mikail died.
Nevertheless, he is now with God.

People's words sting.
Nevertheless, God's strength is what will pull me through.

I feel hopeless.
Nevertheless, God is present in my depths of despair.

Regardless of the outcome of my life, the ultimate 'nevertheless' is that God has a plan. He is sovereign. If we focus on the negative, toxicity will take over our mind and soul, and open the doors for the enemy to darken our souls. And that's his plan. We have got to fight this. God is our hope.

Mercy Me solidified my 'Nevertheless' way of thinking with their recent song Even If:

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone

May you walk through today with thoughts of 'Nevertheless', that recognize that God IS able, but even if He doesn't, our hope is still in Him.

I hope you join me in making this our anthem this week:





Courageously yours,
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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Snowdrops

This winter has been pretty dreary. We didn't have much snow to cover the brown dullness of the bare trees and frozen grass. Somehow a white blanket of snow over the brown world makes winter more bearable for me. So, a couple of weeks ago, in February, when I was looking out our bedroom window at the dull brown and grey world before me, I saw a little blanket of white in the brown grass and went out to investigate:


What I found was a little patch of these snowdrops coming out from the frozen ground. Did you know that snowdrops have a hardened stem that help them push buds and leaves up from the frozen ground in ice cold temperatures? God created these delicate little flowers with much strength. The drop-like flowers make me think of tears of sadness in the winter of our hearts, but the strength that they show make me think of the 'hope' we have in the winter of our hearts. Hope for new growth, new beginnings, and a bright future.

Spring is coming...

Courageously yours,
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Friday, March 3, 2017

The Liturgical Calendar & Lent


In my lifetime there have been few times where I've attended a church that does not follow the Liturgical or Church Calendar, but when I have, oh what a deep, deep hole I am left with. I believe the New Testament is quite clear that through the freedom we have in Christ, we are not required to observe the church seasons, but are free to do so if we wish.

What is the Liturgical Calendar? It is the calendar that some churches use throughout the church seasons to follow the life of Jesus. Churches such as the Catholic and Anglican observe more of these days than the Protestant church does. The seasons which have been observed in my experience, are represented in this beautiful diagram:
Diagram by Katie at Look to Him and be Radiant
To me, the observance of the liturgical calendar represents a season of simplification, a time of  honouring the life of Jesus.  During Lent we are encouraged to look at the abundance in our lives and are invited to remove that which distracts us from living an abundant life--taking up our cross to deny ourselves. I've always loved the lighting of the advent candles combined with a short devotional shared by someone in the church to invite us to reflect and remember. I loved the contemplative invitations to prayer that Lent brought in the church I grew up in.

I can see how so much contemplation and self-examination could be uncomfortable for some, but for me its a true time of reflection, thanksgiving, and growth. Although I am drawn to the self-examination and contemplation that Lent invites us into, yet I believe that much has been lost in the idea of 'giving up' something for Lent. When someone says they having 'given up ____' it makes me wonder why they chose to give that particular item or practice up?

I remember the first time I gave up something for lent. I was teaching 29 grade one students at the time and it was a tough year. By 2 p.m. a can of coke was much needed to give me the energy needed to make it through the next two hours. That year I 'gave up coke' for Lent. I couldn't tell you why, I just did. It wasn't that giving up the coke was drawing me nearer to God, it was actually making my day more difficult. I didn't understand what Lent was all about. I didn't understand that the denying myself of something was so that I would be drawn nearer to my God. I didn't make the connection that in denying myself of something I was creating a deep connection with Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice of denying himself, taking up the cross and giving up his life so that we all would have the opportunity for eternal life--the ultimate sacrifice.

For the past number of years, I've missed the communal observance of the liturgical calendar, but it has spurred in me a deeper longing to personally take this time of simplification and reflection upon myself, but still miss sharing this holy time with other believers.

So, what is it that I do in this season of Lent?  Some years I've followed Ann Voskamp's Trail to the Tree and hung the corresponding ornaments on our 'easter tree'.


This year I am going through Paula D'Arcey's Daily Reflections for Lent and Easter and am drawn to Karen Ehman's Reverse Lent challenge.


I also see that Ann Voskamp has a new devotional tool to use through Lent this year. Can't wait to try it next year.

Do you observe Lent? Do you 'give something up' or 'add something' to spur on the abundant life within you and honour the sacrificial life Jesus lived for each of us?
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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lately...

...I've been feeling way too much. 

For years I have felt guilty about needing alone time, not liking to be in big crowds of people, preferring authentic one on one relationships with others, and being vulnerable to emotional and sensory overload. My parents and my dear husband have always been very understanding, supportive and accepting of this part of me--yet always encouraging me to grow. I am so grateful for this.


As a teenager, I went to a private boarding school, and I will never forget the one 'report card' I received and the Resident Dean's note included something to the effect of, Iris is very conscientious in her studies, has a few very close friends, and seems to spend too much time alone in her room. This statement was like a knife to my heart. What was wrong with me?


In my teaching career, I had a principal who knew that I was sensitive but didn't hold it against me. I had joked that I cry when I am happy, sad, proud of my students, broken for them, and when I am angry. So, the times I needed to meet with him, he would jokingly place the kleenex box in the middle of the table, knowing I'd probably need it. To me it was one of the most accepting and kind gestures anyone has ever done for me. He didn't judge me for my sensitivity or tell me to 'buck up'. He accepted me for who I was and didn't make me feel any less of a professional teacher.


When Mikail passed away, our family doctor (at the time) said that if we weren't done grieving by the one year anniversary of his death, we would have to look into medication. Although there is a time and place for medication, the finality of this statement showed us that he clearly knows little about loss and the non-existent timetable of grief, but that little comment put pressure on me to 'get it together' in one year. The reality of our grief is that year one was a piece of cake compared to year two.


Over the span of my life I have heard the comment, "You're just too sensitive" or "You're one of those sensitive people" many, many times. In the past two years these comments have stung the most and left me deeply wounded, even though I believe they were never made maliciously, just out of a lack of understanding and perhaps fear.


All of these deep feelings leave me filled with guilt and shame, as though there is something innately wrong with me. There's this deep pressure within me to be 'normal'.


In the past six months all of these things have been magnified by grief, depression, and disappointments, leaving very few places that feel safe for me.  All because of this 'feeling too much' thing I am battling. 


Sometime in the past two years, Jason and I were talking to one of those few people, who is never afraid to ask those 'hard' questions that most people steer away from. We were talking about our grief and I was sharing how I feel so guilty about needing time away from the noise of life to re-fill my cup. I feel like I need too much of that time according to the 'norm' I see of those around me. He encouraged me to take the time, without guilt, and spoke about the concept of being wired as 'highly sensitive' and that there is nothing wrong with that. I didn't look into it further until recently when Jason and I were visiting family one Sunday afternoon and I was sharing similar thoughts with a dear, dear aunt about this journey of 'feeling too much', being so exhausted, my mind feeling numb, and my body physically aching. For the first time I wasn't met with a confused blank stare or given the 'buck up buttercup' speech of 'encouragement. She hear my heart and recommended the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Eileen N. Aron and for the first time in a very long time, I felt understood. I ordered the book and took the little self-test online. It claims that if you score 14/27 or higher, you are most likely a highly sensitive person. My score? A resounding 27/27! Wow!


As I am reading this book, there is an amazing sense of self-recognition I have never experienced before. 






 My whole life, I have loved this passage:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. 
Psalm 139:13-16

It confirms that God did not make a mistake in how He created us. We are 'fearfully and wonderfully made'. No matter how much we try to meet the expectations of the world around us, our frame was not hidden from Him. He knows the way we think and feel-- better than anyone does. There's a reason God created each one of us the way He did and He is continually shaping us to become a better version of ourselves (if we allow Him to). I have always known this to be true, in my soul, yet the following quote describes how the world has left me feeling less than 'wonderfully made':


“ Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. 
Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, 
they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. 
Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. 
But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. 
Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.” 
Eileen N. Aron

To me, this book is confirming with current day examples, that I am okay. There may only be 15-20% of us who are wired this way, but...

...we are God’s handiwork, 
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
Ephesians 2:10


And now that I have all of that off my heart (teeheehee), maybe this little place on the big wide web will feel like a safe place to share my thoughts and share encouragement for you once again.

                                   Courageously yours,
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

cour·age


I am not one for New Years Resolutions. I am famous for not keeping them, but one thing I have done for several years now is pick one word to guide and encourage me throughout the year. Choosing one word has provided me with clarity in the big dreams I have for life. The word centers around my character and creates a vision for the year.

Last year I clung to the word 'hope' and even now as I look back at 2016, I know I felt hopeless a lot of the time, but having picked the word 'hope' spurred me on. I think I expected the year to be easier than 2015. You'd think it would be. I went into 2016 filled with so much hope for what was ahead of us, but the year landed up being more difficult than 2015 in many ways. Picking the word 'hope' encouraged me to surround myself with scripture and art that reflected the word 'hope' and reminded me that even in the midst of what felt hopeless (grieving Mikail, miscarriage, change in relationships, disappointments around most corners etc), I have One I can turn to for hope when it seems there is none left.

When looking ahead at 2017 there are a few things that we have set forward to do and these things frighten me ~ in a good way. They bring with them a lot of unknowns and will need a lot of faith and grace and courage as we strive toward the goals we believe God has placed on our hearts. Amidst this all we still bear a lot of pain and grief and have to consciously look to Him for our strength. This too takes courage. So, as I was thinking about my one word for 2017 it soon became abundantly clear that COURAGE was to be it.

When I think of courageous people, I think of their strength and their bravery. Not often do I think that the journey they have been on to get to the point they are at, was probably filled with many uncertainties, fear, and hardships. They have courage because they faced their fears face on. They didn't give up when everything about their situation should have made them give up. They had strength in the face of great pain or grief. This year I need to remember this...that courage isn't easy, but it's worth getting beyond the fears and unknowns and facing all that is ahead. Why? Because through it all God is there with us...wherever we may go.


Do you make resolutions or have a one word for your year?
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